Former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie earned boos and catcalls from the Question Time audience after suggesting people are “not struggling” and are “better off now than they have ever been”.
The TV pundit was rowing with Labour MP Cat Smith over whether the state should be funding the struggling steel industry when he suggested Britons are “thriving”. He appeared to shrug off her invitation to visit a food bank in her Lancashire constituency.
While some would point to a growing economy and record unemployment, others argued inequality is growing and there is vast regional and local differences in wealth - as well as hundreds of thousands of food parcels being relied upon.
The flagship BBC political show, which was returning after the Christmas break, was criticised for the right-wing bias of the panel even before it started - but the audience appeared to be dominated by doctors defending the profession for striking over pay and conditions.
In one of the more provocative exchanges, Mr MacKenzie took issue with the notion of a state bail-out to create steel industry jobs because it would mean making “steal that no-one wants to buy at any price”.
He went on: “From the left we always get the same thing, turn on the printing machine. Explain to this audience how their money is going to keep people in work.”
Ms Smith, MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood and a member of Jeremy Corbyn’s front bench, replied: “It’s funny how you manage to find money for war but not enough to support people in this country with jobs.
Mr MacKenzie hit back: “Is that what you are saying - you would rather create steel in one part of the country …. rather than go to war.”
“It’s about priorities,” Ms Smith responded. “I want to be on the side of working people in this country who are quite frankly struggling right now. There is a reason we are seeing an increase in food banks.”
But Mr MacKenzie was having none of it, as the Labour MP urged the journalist to “come with me to my local food bank”.
“Oh, working people,” he opined. “They are not struggling right now. They are better off now than they have ever been. You’ve got no idea.
“They are not struggling. They are thriving. You’re in London. The global capital of the world. Ridiculous.”