LIKE contestants on the Weakest Link, the UK’s seven leading politicians lined up against each other – locked in a brutal battle for survival and power. After all the fuss about his participation in TV debates, it was reassuring to see that David Cameron actually bothered to turn up.
At points, he must have wished that he hadn’t. “Et tu Cleggus,” the Prime Minister could have been forgiven for thinking when his former deputy in his coalition plunged the knife in.
“Actually, I want to put a question to David Cameron,” was Clegg’s opening gambit as he tried to recreate the Cleggmania of a few years ago.
Clegg asked why the Conservatives were not going to tax the rich more, saying: “just imagine – the chaos in people’s lives” if NHS and education spending was cut.
Then it was Ed Miliband’s turn. The Labour leader was disparaging about Cameron’s talk of his economic plan rescuing the country.
“There you go again,” taunted Miliband. “You can’t talk about the future. You can’t talk about the present. You can only talk about the past.” True to form, it was Nigel Farage who demonstrated a knack for hackle-raising north of the Border.
“The English.” Farage said, were “cheesed off” by the amount of English taxpayers’ money going over “Hadrian’s Wall”, as he called for a cut in the amount of public cash per head spent in Scotland.
His attack on the Barnett Formula led to a swift retort from Sturgeon, who was keen to point out that Scots had contributed more in tax than was spent in Scotland for most of the past 34 years.
Notable by its absence was any effort by the First Minister to acknowledge that the SNP’s plans for full fiscal autonomy would also see the end of the Barnett Formula.
But her pleas for an end to austerity found an ally in Natalie Bennett, the Green leader. “Nicola is absolutely right,” said Bennett, perhaps anticipating an anti-austerity, progressive wing developing in a post-election rainbow coalition.
Meanwhile, Farage was beginning to showcase his full talents as a controversialist (an excessively polite description given the remarks he was about to make).
Farage said Britain’s NHS was spending too much money to treat foreign nationals with HIV.
“We have to look after our own people first,” Farage said, triggering a storm in the twittersphere and the real world.
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” was Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood’s angry reaction, a response that drew the first round of applause from the audience.
“That kind of scare-mongering is dangerous and divides communities,” Wood added, to the obvious approval of those watching in the television studio.
As Anne Robinson might have said: “Nigel, you are the weakest link. Goodbye.”
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