Iain Macwhirter Iain Macwhirter

Nigel Farage will be disappointed by his BBC debate performance

Reform leader Nigel Farage in action (Getty)

It had been called the dinner party from hell. A seven-strong convention of the also rans. But only one dinner guest really mattered: Nigel Farage. The populist politician’s last-minute decision to stand as a Reform candidate in Clacton has struck fear into the hearts of Conservative MPs across the country, but especially in the 60 marginal seats that Professor John Curtice says Reform could help the Tories lose on 4 July.

The surprise of the night was a new coalition on electoral reform between Farage and the Lib Dems

But none of tonight’s participants in the BBC debate were going to allow the debate to turn into the Nigel Farage show. He was largely closed down by the other six politicians who were determined to paint him as an anti-immigration ‘bigot’ as the Plaid Cymru leader, Rhun Ap Iorwerth, put it, who would privatise the NHS as soon as look at. 

Farage did actually say the NHS model is ‘broken’ and called for insurance-based funding as in France. He got in some Trumpist jeering. Sir Keir Starmer is ‘Blair without the flair’, he said, and he branded the PM, ‘Rishi slippery Sunak’. He also said Angela Rayner is the real Labour leader. 

But the audience didn’t warm to Farage’s claim that this is ‘the immigration election’ and that it is causing a ‘population crisis’. The SNP Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn, earned one of the few spontaneous outbreaks of applause for saying we need more immigration not less. No doubt Farage will think the audience was rigged by the BBC globalists. 

Penny Mordaunt agreed that with Farage that ‘immigration is too high’ and warned that there would be ‘uncontrolled immigration under Labour’ because they have ‘no plan’. Angela Rayner also seemed to agree with Farage that immigration is too high and blamed 14 years of Conservative government for it. Her plan is a border force and scrapping the Rwanda scheme. 

Rishi Sunak’s early departure from the D-Day commemorations was inevitably the first question from the audience. Was the Tory leader of the house, Penny Mordaunt, a naval reservist, going to defend her leader? Not a bit of it. ‘What happened was completely wrong and the PM has rightly apologised to everyone’. Nigel Farage said the PM’s ‘desertion’ of the D-Day event revealed him as ‘an unpatriotic Prime Minister’. 

The liveliest exchanges of the evening, if you could call them that, were unsurprisingly over Sunak’s £2000 tax bombshell, which has blown up in the Prime Minister’s face after the Treasury permanent secretary, James Bowler, suggested the costing was misleading. Mordaunt tried to mobilise the tax artillery but it led to an incoherent shouting match between her and Angela Rayner. ‘That was terribly dignified wasn’t it,’ said the Green co-leader, Carla Denyer. It wasn’t.

Mordaunt accused Rayner of voting to scrap Trident. She denied it. ‘We will keep (the) nuclear deterrent’, she said, though only this week the Labour deputy leader said that ‘she hadn’t changed her mind on nuclear weapons’. Stephen Flynn too called for the abolition of Trident. He also unveiled a new SNP slogan: ‘It’s Scotland’s wind and Scotland’s waves’, he said, that is powering the green energy transition. Everyone supported the transition except Nigel Farage who said it was too expensive. Mordaunt had a poke at Labour’s new state owned energy company, GB Energy. It stands for Giant Bills, she said. Boom boom.

The surprise of the night was a new coalition on electoral reform between Farage and the Lib Dems’ deputy leader, Daisy Cooper, though neither of them seemed very interested in celebrating it. Cooper tried the old trick of accusing the big parties of being unable to keep their promises. That was until the moderator, Mishal Husain, asked her if she remembered that promise about abolishing tuition fees. Ouch. 

Join Fraser Nelson, Katy Balls and Kate Andrews for a post-election live recording of Coffee House Shots in Westminster, Thu 11 July. Bar opens 6.30pm, recording stats 7.15pm. Www.spectator.co.uk/shotslive