Channel 5 rang up and asked if I’d take part in a live debate show about benefits. They said that Edwina Curry and Katie Hopkins would be involved. Now, there are those who consider that particular type of reactionary pundit to be an insult to public discourse on a serious subject. But I think it’s a right laugh arguing with them – and easy too because they’re quite rude and a bit dim and nobody watching takes them seriously. The whole things is a silly pantomime anyway. Every one gets hot under the collar but, ultimately, the vast majority of people in this country are proud of our welfare state and know that most benefits claimants are honest people struggling through hard times.
Anyway, I went along to the studios in Covent Garden on Monday night. The green room was a like a particularly batshit dream: Terry Christian and Sophie Anderton rubbed shoulders with Ken Livingstone and White Dee off of Benefits Street. I chatted to Shaun Bailey, an old acquaintance of mine who is now a special advisor to Michael Gove. Don’t hold that against him though, he’s actually a nice bloke. Ken Livingstone approached me outside the make-up room and said he got into politics because he relished lengthy and detailed debate – not ludicrous carnivals of claptrap like the one we were about to engage him. I told him that I felt almost exactly the opposite way.
Then I went into the studio and sat with Baby Faced Socialist Owen Jones while the show began with a wholly inappropriate chorus of whooping and cheers from the audience, cajoled and enthused by the barmy production crew. “Yay! Go Benefits!”
The first part of the show cast Hopkins as the villain of the piece: she was aggressive and spiteful from the get go; almost wilfully ill-informed; angry in a completely contrived way; a bit like Kim Jong Il in team America but with a harder edge.
In part two of the show I was up on stage as part of a panel with White Dee, Hopkins and former model Anabelle Giles. The whole thing was so strange. The host was Matthew Wright. He asked me if the media was to blame for the confused and nasty nature of the benefits debate. I said ‘Yes it is.’ Then I had a mild pop at Hopkins and told White Dee she seemed lovely.
After that I sat back in the audience, this time next to Hopkins who whispered at me in a terrifyingly flirtatious manner while the rest of the show proceeded. “Is there any way we can both sneak out of here unnoticed?” she said with a blood-curdling ambiguity. “Well, I reckon I could but you certainly fucking can’t” I said. “Why?” she asked. “Coz they’re going to lynch you,” I told her. She laughed. “When are you going to check your tweets?” I asked. “Tomorrow morning I think,” she grinned. “Mind you, nothing they’ve written will surprise me. Someone threatened to ass rape me with a hand gun the other day.” She giggled as she carefully eyed my response. “Welcome back to the show!” shouted Wright. Things ended shortly afterwards. I got in a cab, went straight home and had a large scotch.