Based on the guest list, one might say that the descent into madness on BBC Question Time was inevitable. Indeed, after a fairly civilised debate on grammar schools, madness was exactly what it turned into.
Now, when I say "debate" on grammar schools, what I really mean is that nearly everyone on the panel and most of the audience disagreed with Theresa May's proposals and so there wasn't really much to "debate" about. Even Anna Soubry, despite being part of May's government, didn't really support grammar schools and so just um'd and ah'd like any good fence-sitting, answer-dodging politician would when faced with a decision to either ignore all the evidence and public opinion or to disagree with your party leader. This left the pro-grammar argument (not that there is much of an argument, in my opinion) to a few audience members and the Daily Mail's political sketch artist, ironically the closest the DM actually comes to respectable journalism, Quentin Letts. As soon as Quentin, of Daily Mail fame, compared the 11+ to some of the country's most humiliation-based 'talent' shows, he quite quickly lost the slither of credibility he had left after David Dimbleby announced Quentin's day job at the start of the show. Unsurprisingly, the grammar school question was the soft beanbag; the cricket ball was shortly to follow.
This was about when the supposedly respectful Anna Soubry turned on John McDonnell like a leopard on a nearby antelope. "He's a nasty piece of work" she bellows across the aghast David Dimbleby who looked like Mary Berry would if confronted with the wrong kind of soggy bottom. McDonnell managed to rise above this and not engage in such abuse and luckily Dimbleby, despite ignoring Soubry's blatant verbal assault, managed to move the conversation on pretty rapidly. You can imagine the BBC producers in Dimbleby's ear getting panicked. After all, tonight's bust up was meant to be between Alastair Campbell and John McDonnell. You know, in order to show the divisions in the Labour Party that the media keeps blair-ing at us (pardon the pun) in hope that we'll forget about the imminent recession, rising poverty and the mass insecurity we face as a post-Brexit, austerity nation.
The show then progressed in a more heated but otherwise pretty QT-standard fashion. Alastair Campbell would tell the audience how beautiful and wonderful Tony Blair was in hope that no one would remember Iraq. John McDonnell would then be given a chance to challenge this ("Come on, come on! Fight! Fight!" say Dimbleby's ear-worms) but would instead nobly TRY to talk about how Jeremy Cobyn's Labour planned to bring back the honesty and care that was stripped from politics during the pseudo-spin-deception-propaganda-brigade era of the last, what, twenty odd years? Anyway, John would try to talk about actual plans and policy before either being dragged into pointed closed questions from Dimbleby or being interrupted by more socialist-bashing from Campbell and Soubry. Then Joanna Cherry, representing the Nicola Sturgeon fan club, would be allowed to politely say a few things about the issues whilst pretending not to be a nationalist or pro-austerity. Finally Dimbleby would allow Quentin to put his foot in it with some usual, blatantly inaccurate Mail-esque quip and voila. A BBC Question Time much like any other. Then came the most blatant attempt to start the inter-Labour confrontation that definitely wasn't set up at all. No way. Nope.
Whilst slamming his pen on the table like a chess player moving his queen into a checkmate, Dimbleby ignites the brewing flames by asking Campbell whether Tony Blair was to blame for the current state of the Labour Party. Obviously, daring to question Alastair's idol, companion and (definitely not a war criminal) former colleague should have been the spark needed to actualise a confrontation. And Alastair did begin to reel off trigger words but just about maintained the 'relaxed' appearance and spin that we've been sick to death off since 'New Labour' began. John McDonnell managed to robustly racket each throw back into Campbell's court with neither side instigating the personal attacks the producers had hoped for. Obviously, Soubry's attacks don't count because she's not in Labour so it's fine. Just forget about that bit, yeah?
All in all, the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell was, for me, the clear victor of this so-called 'debate'. I must commend him for not stooping to Soubry's level of petty insults, for rising above Campbell's spin and for consistently trying to drive home the messages and policies of a Labour government under Corbyn with the passion and strength of an electable party leadership team. I must also commend Alastair Campbell for at least keeping things civil. Unlike Anna Soubry, who was clearly the loser in tonight's debate having taken up the petty, abusive mantle usually reserved for Question Time's Daily Mail representative. Surprisingly, Quentin Letts kept his remarks trivial and his views restrained.
Also, Joanna Cherry was there.
Watch this BBC Question Time in full here (if you can bear it)