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The Bonfire Of Insanity That Was The Labour Leadership Debate

Meet Corbyn’s Caretaker, Sir Permaworry, and the First Lady Of Wigan

Murray Clark | 19.02.2020

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This week, Channel 4 held the first televised round in an interview for the nation’s worst job: Leader of the Opposition. Yes, following one of Labour’s worst kickings since a Home Secretary’s husband was found to be expensing hotel pornography to the taxpayer (yes, that did actually happen), three people have made the final ballot of voting, and will be put before the mercy of party members on April 2.

Call them heroes, call them patriots, call them mentally ill, but these individuals believe they have what it takes to wrestle Labour back to power. And you’re promptly forgiven for having no idea who they even are. Unlike the veneered showbiz of American politics, our elected representatives often lack a national profile until they’re on a pulpit being jeered by lots of pallid, old white men.

Or, at least, until they’re being jeered by millions of viewers at home. For those cushioning Monday night misery could take sweet relief knowing that at least three Labour MPs were having a worse day than them, as Krishnan Guru-Murthy posed nonsensical questions in another nail in the coffin of reasonable debate.

Here’s the highlights and the lowdowns faced by the unlucky candidates in the race for the Labour leadership.

Keir Starmer

The frontrunner and bookies’ favourite, Keir Starmer’s constant expression of dadly worry was on full display. And with good reason. The man who many see as a shoo-in for leader quickly realised that the cement mixer of questions would amount to nothing but rubble.

He pointed out that the top 1% wasn’t surrounded by 99% of pure, unadulterated destitution. He was also at a loss as to why, despite vocally supporting the trans community, there were repeated attempts to ask why he hadn’t signed one pledge against the other.

But the most absurd question of all came on the back of Caroline Flack’s tragic death. Starmer, who once presided as the head of the Crown Prosecution Service, was asked to speculate upon that same body’s continued investigation into Flack’s assault charge after her boyfriend dropped charges – ten years after he left the role. Starmer refused to be drawn on the question. Such a refusal explains why he’s the frontrunner.

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Rebecca Long-Bailey

Jeremy Corbyn’s heir apparent had a relatively solid night, but did nothing to differentiate herself from Labour’s left-wing Momentum movement (a powerful if not slightly dogmatic faction of the party). Dressed like a villain from a Tomb Raider sequel, RLB touched upon the Green New Deal, and even managed to make a little joke about people laughing about her eyebrows. See, politicians: just like you and I!

Except this MP for Salford and Eccles isn’t the unity candidate, and following the stain of anti-semitism on the party, garnered just 1.4% of support from the Jewish Labour Movement. And, as the debate descended into the nuances of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it was clear to see how much the Labour Party naval gazes upon such issues – issues that much of the wider electorate, whether rightly or wrongly, just don’t care all that much about. With RLB closely twinned to her predecessor, that may leave her as vulnerable. And we all know what happened to him.

Lisa Nandy

Though considered the wildcard candidate in the race, the more people see of Lisa Nandy, the more they like her. Perhaps it’s her slow evolution to become the meme queen of Wigan. Perhaps it’s her no-nonsense tone of which northerners consider a lullaby. Or perhaps it’s because she regularly confronts the problem of Labour’s last leadership head on, and articulates the added (and often unseen) costs of being poor: ATMs are more likely to charge transaction fees in low-income areas, insurance premiums are higher, even taxis can increase fares.

That said, her performance wasn’t immune to the idiocy of Channel 4. “One second to answer the rights of the Palestinian people? Okay,” she withered. Nandy let out a laugh when Guru-Murthy asked for a "yes or no" answer to the complex issue of the monarchy’s abolition. She also nodded furiously in agreement with Starmer every time he pointed to the debate’s illogical structure.

But, against the exasperation, and the sting of string music that sounded like it was taken from an Alton Towers advert, a woman was seen clutching for her handbag before the curtain even fell. If this was a paying Labour member, invested and present and involved in the leadership debates, then heaven help the next leader at holding the attention of those who’ve left the party entirely.

IMAGES | SHUTTERSTOCK

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