Farage feeds on the fish he shot in a barrel at the Hunger Games

Nigel Farage enjoys some fun and Hunger Games
Nigel Farage enjoys some fun and Hunger Games - Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The BBC leaders’ debate was a bit like Voltaire’s description of the Holy Roman Empire. It was neither a debate nor did it involve actual leaders.

A seemingly random selection of people, from Nigel Farage and Angela Rayner to Carla Denyer and Rhun ap Iorweth (no, me neither) were gathered into a large mausoleum-like space and encouraged to bellow at each other. Think Fifteen to One meets the Hunger Games.

Adding to the sense of “80s game show” about the whole affair was Penny Mordaunt’s bouffant; pure Dallas, with just a hint of Mrs Thatcher.

It was like something from a nature documentary; designed to intimidate shorter, balder candidates, like Stephen Flynn and the woman from the Green Party.

Host Mishal Husain introduced the panellists, then the audience – optimistically adding that “they may find themselves persuaded by something they hear on stage”.

The first question, inevitably, was about defence. Nuclear disarmament fan Angela Rayner hammed up Labour’s defence record as best she could; thanking the questioner and “all those who have served in our Armed Forces”, citing Labour’s recent triple-lock on a nuclear deterrent; quite a volte-face from Ange.

Invariably, with the first mention of D-Day it turned into a game of Bash the Sunak.

“Unforgivable!” cried Daisy Cooper, who also bizarrely claimed the Lib Dems could be trusted with nukes by invoking a man who’s been dead for over five years. “We are the party of Paddy Ashdown”.

At the end, and visibly relishing the question, was Nigel Farage who’d packed his knuckle dusters. The D-Day veterans, he said, had been “deserted in Normandy”. “We have an unpatriotic Prime Minister!”

Even HMS Penny indulged in a bit of friendly fire. The PM’s D-Day desertion was “completely wrong”, she began (ouch!). “I’m from Portsmouth”, she intoned, sounding genuinely wounded. Remembering where her barrage was meant to be aimed, she tried to bring in Angela Rayner’s position on Trident. “Without credibility we become a target.” Rayner chuckled. “Why do you keep pointing at me, Penny?”

Plaid Cymru guy unwisely began with a sideswipe at Farage; implying he’d attended D-Day for “staged photo ops”. Speaking of nuclear weapons, Nigel Farage dropped one. “I raised £100,000 for the taxi charity for veterans, that’s why I was there”. Rhun ap Iorweth wilted like an overcooked leek.

Hilariously, the Green Party were even quizzed about their defence policy, which is a bit like asking the late celebrity chimp Harambe his view on the Nasa space programme.

Inevitably, their plans revolved around “investing in tackling climate threats”. Defeat Putin with wind turbines! Eat lentils for victory!

The next question came from a medical student who wondered whether she would “graduate into a fully-functional NHS”. “Good luck”, said every single panellist. (You’ll need it).

Flynn made a shameless play for the student vote; promising the questioner that in SNP-run Scotland “you wouldn’t pay a single penny in tuition fees”. The audience applauded this, even though as English residents they would actually have to pay full whack in Scotland. But reality didn’t matter here in the Thunderdome.

The longer things went on, the more it began to resemble a Wild West shootout; all had a particular target in their crosshairs. For Nigel Farage, it was Penny Mordaunt. Mordaunt and Rayner went at each other like it was chucking-out time at a dockside Wetherspoons; “you crashed the economy” snarked Rayner. Penny jabbed her arm at Rayner and repeatedly boomed “they are going to put up your taxes”. Stephen Flynn of the SNP aimed squarely at Labour; with the occasional bitchy side-swipe at Nigel Farage. Business before pleasure and all that.

A young man from Essex was concerned about recent levels of migration. Flynn ignored his complaints and launched into a paean to open borders; easy to do when your country hardly attracts any migrants.

The Plaid Cymru guy, still smarting from his last attempt to whack Farage, branded him a bigot. “Is that the best you can do!” grinned Farage. “Open doors, everyone come, benefits for everyone!”

Mr Farage rubbed his hands with glee when it was his turn and simply listed the migration stats Blair-onwards. It was just too easy. Flynn tried to butt in again. “Listen to the numbers, you probably don’t know them”, snapped Farage. Fish in barrels duly machine-gunned, we moved onto the Green Party woman. “How cold-hearted do you have to be?”, lamented Carla Denyer of Reform UK’s immigration policy, awaiting applause that never came.

All in all, the biggest clap of the evening went to the questioner who asked why politicians promise things in an election campaign, then deliver nothing once they’re elected.

Good question; just a pity that not one of the seven had a convincing answer to it.