Pugnacious Farage lands a blow that leaves rivals in pursuit of the BBC election debate

They say you shouldn’t pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel, and that adage should now include not picking a fight with someone who has his own TV show.

Nigel Farage, who started a live debate for the first time in this election, was polished, pugnacious and popular.

Penny Mordaunt, the Leader of the Commons, made a reasonable fist of trying to keep up, but disturbing the reality of 14 years in Government, she was second only to the leader of the charismatic Reform UK.

A live Telegraph online poll on who was up and down put Mr Farage well ahead for the BBC’s 90-minute show, with a net positive rating more than twice that of Ms Mordaunt.

Angela Rayner was the big loser of the night. Sent out with a mission to be the wise voice in the room, she struggled to think on her feet, her views on the nuclear deterrent were skewed and she repeatedly returned to her safe ground of “the Tories’ crash the economy “.

Accusations fly between Angela Rayner, left, and Penny Mordaunt during the debate

Accusations fly between Angela Rayner, left, and Penny Mordaunt during the debate – Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Mr Farage looked the most comfortable of the seven politicians on the platform. After spending three years presenting his own show on GB News, he has rehearsed his lines to the point where he could recite them in his sleep, and having survived everything thrown at him on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! it is no surprise that he emerged as the king of this particular jungle.

By the end of the night, where others were shaking their heads and knitting their eyebrows, Mr Farage was enjoying himself so much that he was grinning like a naughty schoolboy as he glance at his opponent’s impassioned speeches.

Mr Farage’s trick is that he doesn’t look like a politician. On knife crime, Ms Mordaunt said: “We need more police and we need police in communities who can follow up with people.” The audience was silent.

When it was Mr Farage’s turn, he spoke directly to the audience, applauded and told them: “You can go shopping now, any of you. You can shop with £200 worth of benefit and not be prosecuted. We are witnessing a societal decline of law and order in this country.”

Ms Mordaunt entered the debate in the worst possible circumstances after Rishi Sunak apologized for leaving D-Day memorabilia early.

Her job was to try to get the debate back on tax, and to repeat the claim that Labor should raise taxes by £2,000 per family, and she tried to do that unfairly. to do, saying that tax cuts were “in our DNA as a Conservative”, but Mr Farage was ready for her.

He accused the Tories of “dishonesty on a staggering scale”, saying: “Even under Tony Blair the highest rate of tax in this country was 40p, and it was paid by a million people in this country . By 2029, eight million people will be paying the 40p tax rate… That’s why life is so tough.”

Ms Mordaunt does not expect many punters to lose her Portsmouth North seat, and she has had far more to defend than in her 85-day stint as defense secretary.

Mr Farage struck a tone: after Mr Rayner and Daisy Cooper, the LibDem deputy leader, answered a question about protection by teasing out their policies, Mr Farage used it to hit the attack.

Rishi Sunak had “abandoned” veterans by coming home early from Normandy, he said, “an absolute disgrace which shows that we have an unpatriotic Prime Minister. It was terrible”.

With a further rhetorical boost, Mr Farage said: “If his instincts were the same as the British people’s he wouldn’t think for a moment not to be there for the big international ceremony. It shows how disconnected he is from the people of this country.”

Throwing a gravity-defying blow, Ms Mordaunt said it was “absolutely wrong” for Mr Sunak to leave France early and turned to Ms Rayner, standing next to her, rather than risk a counter-attack on the Reform UK leader .

First, she did a good job of standing her ground. She reminded Mr Rayner that she “recently voted, along with the man who wants to be foreign secretary and half the Labor backbench” to get rid of the nuclear deterrent.

“Imagine what is on Putin’s mind. Without credibility, we become a target. Becoming a target will make you less safe. It is too late for this generation of Labor politicians, that credibility is shot. Don’t vote these people in.”

Unleashing her sword of truth to jab her opponent, she said: “If your enemy doesn’t believe you will use these weapons, the barrier is gone and that’s where you are. It’s a serious thing. This is what will happen if you choose these people.”

But Miss Mordaunt struggled badly on the immigration issue. When Mr Farage mocked the others for their “Open Doors! Everyone come! Benefits for all!” Ms Mordaunt got distracted from the topic and had to remind moderator Mishal Husain of the question.

She can now focus on defending her seat, while Mr Farage will head to Clacton to focus on his own long-running battle to win a seat in Parliament.

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