Voices: This is who won the latest election debate (and it’s not who you think)

The Magnificent Seven have been on the telly again, the supporting players in the drama of British politics representing their respective parties – on a set vaguely reminiscent of The Weakest Link.

For the record, the stars of this particular show are: Angela Rayner (Labour, or “Proper Labour” as she might say); Penny “Stand Up and Fight!” Mordaunt (commendably poised for someone about to lose her job); Stephen Flynn, the best performer the SNP have got, on either side of the border.

Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, living under the shadow of Ed Davey’s horseplay; Carla Denyer, the new face of the Greens and destined to win Bristol Central for her party; Nigel Farage, “out of retirement” but not running out of scapegoats for his Reform UK vehicle (he actually owns it, you know); and Rhun ap Iorwerth, the leader of the Party of Wales, Plaid Cymru – who plays rugby and whose mellifluous voice sounds like he ought to be in a valley choir.

So, who won? They were, once again ably moderated by Julie Etchingham, and some tweaks to the format made the 90 minutes pass a little more entertainingly this week. So the biggest winner can be said to be ITV News, because we even got some “moments” and one outstanding zinger out of the proceedings.

When Mordaunt teased Rayner about having had 14 years to come up with some ideas, Rayner launched the zinger – “you’ve had 14 years in government”. Simple but effective. Don’t mess with Ange, as Keir says, and he should know.

Old Farage was purring like a Cheshire cat at the start of the show as he informed the audience that Reform UK has reached “inflexion point” – albeit only in one opinion poll – ahead of the Conservatives.

But when he came out later with his usual populist line about everyone else on the stage lying and he declared that he “always told the truth”, it was too much for the studio audience who merrily hooted their derision. Satisfying as his poll ratings may be, he should be worried about his public image as a slightly dodgy snake oil salesman.

The public are starting to suspect he may be nastier than he likes to seem. A few years ago, he managed to flog us a crate of one of his patent quack cures for our national ills, the bitter and ineffective cure called Brexit, and now he is trying to shift his unworkable policy of Net Zero migration to solve that troubling problem of a bloated population.

It was an intervention by the cool and collected Flynn who pushed Farage into public ridicule. We should be grateful, because Rayner and Mordaunt just chose to ignore Mr Brexit, rather than demolish his half-baked economics.

For his own part, though, Farage can still be judged to have had a reasonably good night; simply because, just for a change, he decided to behave himself and not come out with any of his usual Islamophobia and dog whistle remarks. He’s playing an interesting game.

By much the same token, Rayner also emerged a bit of a winner by avoiding making any gaffes, instead concentrating on judicious references to her moving personal backstory of a childhood in poverty (so she knows all about that issue), and shamelessly and faithfully repeating the well-used official Starmerite “Changed Labour” soundbites, up to and including those “iron clad” fiscal rules. Survival, for Rayner, constitutes victory.

The biggest winners, interestingly, were in the middle rank of this second tier collection – Daisy Cooper and Carla Denyer. Both were more assertive, engaging and convincing than in the first edition of these debates, which was dominated by Rayner and Mordaunt shouting and pointing at each other.

Given a bit of space and time, Cooper and Denyer both came across as rational, generous of spirit and trying to reflect back the best of us. Denyer, in particular, was populist and punchy. They’ll both be bigger stars in the next parliament.

The biggest loser – which she hardly deserves to be – must be Mordaunt, forced to defend Rishi Sunak, a man she must hold in the greatest contempt (she hardly mentioned him by name), as well as having to justify the combined ruinous idiocy of Liz Truss and Boris Johnson.

She must be imagining how different things might now be the party had put her in charge in 2022, and she’s probably right.

Now, Mordaunt certainly won’t get to be the next leader of the Conservative Party because of the collective failures of her variously corrupt, lazy, complacent, entitled, sex crazed and incompetent “colleagues” over the past few years. Their actions will lead to her losing her beloved home town seat in Portsmouth, normally reasonably secure.

But, given what else is about to befall her party, including being faced with a takeover by Farage, she’s better off out of it.

For reasons entirely beyond her control, Mordaunt was the “weakest link” in this novel ITV reality show, and soon we shall have to say goodbye – or at least au revoir – to her, too.