Questionable Time: The Reckoning


questionable time the reckoning

Good morning Lemmings and (as self-indulgently promised) I’m back for one last hurrah – a sort of summary of what 5 years of Questionable Time has left me with - before signing the lease over to Elizabeth and hanging up my QT cap for good. In fact, you can think this post much like the movie Downfall: Simply replace Hitler with myself as the increasingly unhinged tyrant refusing to believe that his nearly-5-year QT Reich is now but a charred wasteland, my cat Champ in the role of post-facto voice of reason Albert Speer, my other cat – Miss Penis-Marie – as the ever-doting Eva Braun and a hammock in place of a bunker. This is it, my Götterdämmerung, my Rapture, The Day It All Falls Apart… To the bitter end Lemmings, to the bitter, bitter end!

The Devil really does have the best tunes…

I’m not really a team player: If push came to shove I’d reluctantly throw my lot in with the Red Team but I’ve been known to stray to the Yellows when Labour have got a little giddy with the precision guided democracy and the Greens on the rare occasions where I’ve had too much hope for breakfast. However, the one consistent feature in my political make-up is that I can’t stand the Tories and on the most base, visceral level there will always this suspicion in me that they are up to no good. As you can probably tell, this is just as much a matter of the gut as it is of the head.

This is not a new thing either. I’ve always been this way and when I first started writing Questionable Time I was acutely aware that it could become a problem – you know, putting together an ostensibly ‘non-biased’ blog when you’re actually prejudiced up to the eyeballs. The weird thing though is that my fears never came to pass and despite some early editions which were a little ‘Rah Rah Tory Twaddlepots’ in the worst possible way, actually being fairly balanced came quite easily. Why? Because Blue Team panelists tend to be infinitely more interesting than their multi-coloured adversaries.

Here’s a good example: Anna Soubry, the newly promoted Minister of State at the MoD with hockey sticks so jolly that they turn water into Pimms – should, by rights, check a respectable number of boxes on my list of Tory allergy warnings but she’s actually ended up being one of my favourite panelists. How can this be? Well, largely because she’s a) human (and by ‘human’ I mean ‘fallible’/’good at buggering stuff up’/’equally good at apologising for stuff buggered up’) and b) she looks incredibly comfortable in her own skin. Granted, our opinions tend to diverge widely and with great velocity but never do you get the sense that she’s contriving to be anything other than Anna Soubry. Hell, even the Tory Rotters of Yore – the Michael Howards, Nigel Lawsons and John Redwoods – they may have an outlandish and frankly dangerous worldview but you know where you are with them: They’re the Baddies, but at least they play the part with aplomb (the same goes for their supporting cast – the Peter Hitchens and Douglas Murrays of this world).

Now – for the purposes of contrast – take Douglas Alexander, the Red Team’s election co-ordinator and Shadow Foreign Secretary: Here’s a man whose every appearance is characterised by a mania for control. You can see it in his face, the way he runs the numbers on every question, treating them like inputs in an algorithm. To him, every statement, every utterance, every gesture is a threat to The Message and must be neutralised with a carefully triangulated response delivered with the use of a cut-and-paste emotional repertoire. It’s not just him either. Much of the Red Team’s newer faces (I’m thinking Reeves, I’m thinking Umunna) also have this inbuilt veneration of The Message that leaves them too terrified to show us anything other than highly censored and vetted glimpses of their true selves.

This isn’t to say that you don’t get ringers on the Blue Team (IDS is still the same zealous missionary of a discredited gospel that he always was while Matthew Hancock appears to be developing an endearing knack for cack-handedness) or that the Red Team are without stars (Alan Johnson – when he’s not suffering from that jerking knee all ex-Home Secs end up with – springs to mind) but taken as a whole, the Tories are – well – just more interesting.

The last 5 years have left me with a grudging respect for both politicians and the QT team.

What do we want?

‘Normal politicians!’

When do we want them?

For breakfast, dinner and tea!

Here’s Tim Farron/John Cruddas/Patrick McLoughlin, will that do?

No! When we said ‘normal’ we meant ‘normal’ like Boris, Farage and Galloway!

…Said every QT crowd/#bbcqt twitter lynch mob ever and do you know what? I’m getting a little bored with it. Yes, we know politics has a massive problem when it comes to connecting with the public and yes, I’ve come to despise ‘professional’ politicians as much as the next man but seriously, this endless demand that we find ‘regular’ politicians comes across as a bit lame when you dismiss anyone who isn’t a dancing horse in the Boris/Farage/Galloway mould as ‘boring’ and ‘just another suit’. Politics isn’t a Michael Bay movie. It’s not something where you can be spoon fed MASSIVE EXPLOSIONS and GRATUITOUS SEXINESS from the comfort of your own sofa. No, the governing of 60 million people is a complicated affair that runs on a protracted timescale and requires more than a little patience and compromise on the part of both the governed and the governors. If you haven’t got the time or inclination for it then fine, but don’t be surprised when your demands for politicians to be everything to everyone leaves them looking like nothing to no one.

In a similar vein, I’d like to extend my sympathies to the QT production crew. I’m not a cheerleader for them by any means and they are not without their sins (the chief one being their tendency to overuse panelists to the point of destruction – I’m sure there’s a refuse area at the back of the QT offices that’s filled with broken Shami Chakrabartis, knackered Baroness Warsis and clapped out Diane Abbotts), but the constant chorus of ‘QT is too right-wing/left-wing/up-wing/down-wing’ gets a little tired when you look at what they have to work with. First of all, they need to make the programme relevant to what’s going on in the here and now while balancing it out so that all ends of the political spectrum get a look in. On this front, I think that they actually do quite well and the panel composition does tend to rotate on a fairly proportional basis (ok, so they did over egg the UKIP pudding but I think the fact that UKIP only ever seemed to want to send Farage amplified this tendency). The same is true of locations for the show and again, despite my constant griping about the number of Scottish episodes, they do tend to share them out reasonably enough. However, the thing that animates the naysayers is always about the questions and it’s here that we only have ourselves to blame.

The process for picking questions on QT is as follows. All of the questions submitted (every audience member gets two – one submitted a few days before via email and one just prior to recording) are gathered up and then formed into piles based on topic. The topic with the biggest pile ends up being the first question, the second biggest the next question and so on (I’m not sure about the final ‘funny’ question though – that might just be at their discretion). As to which question gets picked is up to them to decide but generally speaking it is the audience who dictate the agenda. So how about this for an idea? If you feel that the show’s not adequately representing your corner, why not apply for the audience the next time QT’s in town? You might get picked, you might not (again, this is done proportionately and based on your answers in the application form), but there’s nothing stopping you from giving it a punt and should you get on you’ll probably discover that trying to put a sentence together in the knowledge that several million people are watching is easier said than done. Or done than said. I don’t know, one of the two. Anyway, trust me – I know.

Regrets? I have a few…

…And here they are in no particular order.

  1. I should have watched these much earlier than I did.

  2. Totally gutted that Michael O’Leary never appeared on the show. Yes, it would have probably turned into an hour-long Ryanair commercial but that’s a chance I’d be willing to take.

  3. Similarly, I’m a little upset that Nick Bowles stood me up twice – I’ve always had a feeling he’d be QT gold.

  4. I’ve been sitting on a killer piece about Ed Davey for a good six months now. It was along the lines of how he’s like my ‘smart’ shoes that I have had since I was 18 and only get to see the light of day for weddings and funerals. Explaining it like this makes it sound a bit crap but trust me, it had legs.

  5. I never got to see Grant Shapps drown in a torrent of his own bullshit. He’s come dangerously close on a couple of occasions but the jammy little sod always lives to fight another day. Oh well, the law of averages will inevitably catch up with him. It just won’t be on my watch.

  6. Rhyming scores were the biggest rod for my own back I ever did make.

And lessons learned?

A few of them as well…

  1. Writing 1200 words with a 9am deadline and an 11.40pm kick off is an unremittingly bleak experience.

  2. Writing 1200 words with a 9am deadline and an 11.40pm kick off whilst drunk is an unremittingly farcical experience.

  3. The Internet is a harsh and capricious mistress who will invariably reward your worst posts with the most traffic and the best ones with the least.

  4. If you’re looking for fame and riches, don’t start a blog based on a current affairs show. Start one on pictures of cats or simply scrape and repackage other people’s content into list form if that’s your game.

  5. David Dimbleby looks best in green eyeshadow.

  6. A kind email or comment from someone who ‘gets it’ can suddenly make the 10 hours a week of unpaid labour seem worthwhile.

And that really is your lot. I hope you all stick around for the next stage of Questionable Time’s evolution but this is where we go our separate ways. Thanks for reading and I’m sure our paths will cross again.

Some other time Lemmings, some other time…

Questionable Time #106


questionable time 106 david dimbleby thats all folks

Good morning Lemmings and as the above picture suggests, changes are afoot around these parts – big changes that mean that this will be my last post-QT write-up for the foreseeable future although not the end of Questionable Time itself. However, before I get stuck into explaining all that, there’s still the matter of last night’s show to contend with. Fear not though– this won’t take long.

It’s almost like they knew this would be my last show…

…And decided to celebrate the good news by engineering an episode specifically designed to irritate me. I mean c’mon – Scotland? No politicians? Only four on the panel? Jesus guys, a carriage clock and some WH Smith’s vouchers would have sufficed – no need to go to all the trouble of putting together a personalised nightmare just for me. But they did. They went to all that trouble and more, going so far as to book a panel that is known by no-one in the whole world ever and in a location primarily associated with gorse and darkness. If that wasn’t bad enough there was also a very cruel raising of hopes when I googled “Ricky Ross” and was delighted to find that we would be spending the evening with ‘Freeway’ Rick Ross – an ex-drugs kingpin from LA and all round ne’er-do-well who was sure to spice things up by recommending which asses caps should be popped in and who exactly should lick a shot. Alas, it was not to be as what we were actually getting was Ricky Ross, frontman of seminal mid-80’s twaddle pedlars Deacon Blue and all round walking haircut. Thanks QT production team! This is the best send off a boy could ever hope for!

Things can only get better, right?

Well, sort of. The lack of politicians made for a really odd atmosphere where the crowd – all geed up with the usual appetite for a damn good blaming – found themselves a little stymied by a lack of anyone to really blame for anything other than Alan Savage, a harried looking man who repeatedly got it in the neck for no lesser crime than simply existing/pointing out that a currency is sort of a helpful thing for a country to have. The others fared better though, what with Scott Hastings doing his best to prop Savage up yet ultimately looking like he’d got lost somewhere between a Rotary Club meeting and the Grandstand studio, Joan Burnie displaying an aptitude for both the having and eating of cakes and Ricky Ross actually turning out to be very good despite occasionally veering a little too close to the Bono/Sting Line and hoping that claiming not be a politician would somehow disguise the fact that he very clearly wants to be a politician.

So yes, it wasn’t as bad as I feared but there was something missing in that the stakes weren’t high enough: No one involved was going to get a bollocking if they messed up, no careers were on the line and as a result it all felt like an end-of-term game of rounders where you’re only allowed to throw underarm rather than the usual bare knuckle brawl that’s driven by fear, malice and reckless ambition.

Then something magical happened…

So there I was, drifting in and out of the show as I sat inches away from the telly, trying to get a shot of a man in the crowd who looked like Central Casting’s go-to guy for any Vietnam Vet related role and feeling vaguely miffed that I was going out with such a whimper. Then the camera fell upon a gentleman of advancing years and a very stiff gait – let’s call him ‘The Highlander’. At first it appeared that we were in for a standard ‘doddery old man in very drawn out response’ offering but a few seconds in things started to get weird: First there was talk of love for both Scotland and the Union – fair enough really – but then his face started contorting into this sort of rolling snarl and an arm came jerking up as he moved on to other, more dramatic subjects. There was talk of dead relatives, the Highland Regiment and then – out of nowhere – “BRITISH ARMY! [Unidentifiable chunter] BRITISH FOREVER! WE WILL NEVER CHANGE! WE WILL KEEP OUR UNION TOGETHER IN THE NAME OF JESUS!”. Lemmings, I could have died with delight. They hadn’t forgotten me! They’d laid this guy on especially in lieu of the carriage clock!

But that wasn’t even the half of it: In a breach of the usual Do Not Give Clearly Unhinged Audience Members A Second Bite Of The Cherry protocol, The Highlander was returned to later in the show and treated us to an extended encore that covered the poor (he’s CONCERNED FOR THEM), showing the losers down at the rugby team what’s what (“WATCH ME!”), and blood (I think he was referring to his own but probably wouldn’t have minded if it was someone else’s either). Basically, it was the single greatest display of frothing randomness I have seen to date and a fitting way to draw the curtains on my Questionable Time career. My sincerest thanks go out to whoever booked the audience this week – you’ve made my year – and should anyone wish to relive the glory of The Highlander’s headlong plunge into the abyss, you can do so here and here.

Tl;dr

Ross: 7/10

Slick

Hastings: 5/10

(Built of) Brick(s)

Burnie: 6/10

(Is in good) Nick

Savage: 4/10

(Got a lot of) Stick

The Audience: 5/10

(Were) Quick (to have a go at Savage)

The Highlander: 100/10

Tick(s every single box I ever wanted ticking)

And that was that – a victory from the jaws of defeat that has bookended my time here with considerable aplomb.

So that’s nearly it from it – I say ‘nearly’ because I’m hoping to put up a post next Friday that sort of outlines everything I’ve learned about QT over the last 5 years (5 years!) and also I’m hoping that the new management will let me return to do the odd post every now and then. And who is this ‘new management’? Well, I’m delighted to say that regular Questionable Time contributor Elizabeth has been blagged into willing taken on the role as QT Fuhrer and will now be in charge of things around here.

As for me, well I’m moving on to other things – like colourising photographs for cash monies – but I’ve had a hoot doing this and would like to thank all the regular readers for making this little corner of the internet the strange and rather special place it is. Huge thanks also go out to the following: Jalf, Rick, Benry, Kev and Beef for the years of looking on in a bemused fashion, @markinreading for being a clown of note, @dimblebot for services to evil and nefarious scheming, members of the QT production team past and present for aid afforded, Ellen E. Jones at The Independent for taking a massive punt on me, James Corrigan for all the kindness and assistance, Elizabeth and Mike for their outstanding contributions (both past and future), the Ribs-in-Laws/Frere Ribs/Elder Ribs/Step Ribs for the years of support, the Frau Ribs for putting up with me for all this time and most of all to my mum who – believe it or not – has proofread every one of these reports over the years and made up for the fact that I’m a 34-year-old who still struggles to arrange letters into a coherent order. None of this would have been possible without you guys so heartfelt thanks all around.

Right, I’m done. Come back next week if you wish to see what five years of Questionable Timing does to man (it’s not pretty, I can tell you that for free), but if not then thanks for reading and I hope you continue to come back here when Elizabeth takes the helm in September.

so long lemmings

Questionable Time #105


questionable time 105 david dimbleby dolly parton

Good morning Lemmings and ‘welcome’ to that time of year again. ‘Welcome’ to the dried up creek of political news, ‘welcome’ to that vague sense of unease at the overfriendly weather and more importantly, ‘welcome’ to the season where we get to show the world who’s the #1 nation when it comes to being comprehensively crushed in any number of sporting events. That’s right Lemmings, summer is here and what better way to herald its arrival than by watching 5 random busy bodies try to chug down the dregs of the political cycle without gagging on the futility of it all? None, that’s what. None more better.

Life’s one big exam…

I get this creeping sense of panic whenever I see Jo Swinson on QT, a sense of panic that’s horribly familiar and takes me back to around – ooh, let me see now – almost exactly 18 years to the day. As it happens, it’s also a sense of panic that’s rooted at exactly the same point in time for Swinson as we are but two months apart in age and consequently sat our GCSE’s simultaneously, both in bog standard schools and – I imagine – both in gyms that reeked of both Lynx: Africa and fear. The difference between us is that I’ve somehow managed to forcibly repress those memories into some subterranean strata of my brain so that I may lead a life that isn’t constantly plagued by terror. Swinson, on the other hand, hasn’t and every media appearance she gives just seems to be a rehash of those terrible summer days we both lived through a generation ago.

You can see it in the way she carried herself: There she sat, a little too alert, eyes just a little too wide as she carefully arranged her collection of lucky rubbers on the desk, just waiting for Dimbers to give the word to turn the paper. Then the moment arrived – “Swinson. What say you?”

Come on Jo, come on Jo, you know this stuff. You’ve spent the last 6 months boning up on it while all the cool kids were necking Cherry 20/20, purposely overfeeding each others Tamagotchis and insisting that you don’t need GCSE’s to work in the arcade. You know it, you’ve just to get it on the damn paper!

And so she did. She got it on the paper. All of it. Every last bit that she could think of, all going at a million miles an hour in an effort to impress upon the examiner that she really knows her onions. But there was also something else she was trying to impress the examiner with and it’s something that was very big in the mid-90’s: Giving an answer so balanced that there’s next to no room for an actual opinion in it. It looks like this:

So there’s this thing that some people think are ‘good’ because of X,Y, and Z but not everybody thinks it good and would even go so far as to say it’s ‘bad’ because of A, B and C but at the end of the day we can never really know so wouldn’t it be nice if could just all be friends and come up with a bland compromise that doesn’t really satisfy anyone?

That bit where she tried to point out that people shouldn’t have to move to Manchester but furiously backtracked with a spiel about how the North is actually a very nice place to live in and then name checked every major urban centre in turn? That’s what I’m talking about and had she been sitting a 1996 GCSE paper then it would be A*’s all round. But unfortunately she wasn’t: She was on Question Time and the marking regime around these parts is structured to reward confrontation, bloody-mindedness and a certainly level of skullduggery, not the high-velocity blancmange of sat fences that Jo gave us last night.

I however am a little more forgiving and inclined to cut her a some slack as it’s hard to describe just quite how hellbent the education system of the mid-90’s was in making sure that you never really believed in anything. You could know a great deal but to believe? Well that just wasn’t on.

So Jo, fair-to-middling marks for you although I suspect I’m in the minority on this front. Don’t listen to the naysayers though. They don’t know. THEY DON’T KNOW CUZ THEY WEREN’T THERE, MAN!

The promising backstory that never quite delivered…

I had high hopes for Bernard Jenkins last night, hopes based highly around the following:

  1. He’s a Tory back bencher of the nuttier, self-destructive ilk and they tend to make for QT fun.

  1. Being the MP who had to pay back more than £30k in the expenses scandal gives him a Kryptonite like vulnerability to pretty much everything.

  2. He is reputedly “the most famous occasional natureist in the Palace of Westminster” (see Fig. 1).

bernard jenkin nudist

Fig. 1

Sadly, this magical cocktail of potentiality failed to deliver any true displays of weirdness but did lead to a very disappointing moment of level headedness on all things housing. Bah. What’s wrong with Tory backbenchers these days? It’s almost like they don’t want their party to implode into a miasma of internal strife and recrimination.

T’was a night for the Old Boys…

Jo Swinson may well have been doing ten to the dozen last night but it was a wholly more relaxed affair when it came to Alan Johnson and Peter Hitchens, both of whom kept their blood pressures well and truly within the recommended limits. For Johnson this was largely achieved by not having to answer any question that bring out the ex-Home Secretary in him, but also because he just seemed to casually stroll through the show, occasionally trading the odd blow here and there but always on the ground of his choosing. As for Hitchens, well I can only assume that his late addition to the line-up didn’t give him sufficient time to fully spin up his Tizzy Circuits but he did at least paw gently at Jenkins from time-to-time.

In a word, ‘mellow’.

And Blower?

Hard to say really given how routine everything appeared. No major calamities, no shocking gains, just a by-the-numbers stroll through a park called Question Time. However, I am glad that a member of the teaching profession was there – even if only to add another layer of terror to Jo’s GCSE flashback.

Tl;dr

Swinson: 5/10

(Appeared) Glued (to her exam paper)

Jenkins: 5/10

(Disappointingly not in the) Nude

Johnson: 7/10

(Bit of a) Dude

Hitchens: 6/10

(Was uncharacteristically) Subdued

Blower: 5/10

Exude(d teacherliness)

The Crowd: 6/10

Ballyhooed (and whatnot)

And so it was… A fairly unremarkable affair for a fairly unremarkable week enlivened only my some oddball bellowing about Batman and the Riddler to no obvious end. Right, I’m done – come back next week for the final of the series which sounds both unconventional and Scottish. Joy.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #104


questionable time 104 david dimbleby streaker wimbledon
Good morrow lemmings, Elizabeth here, filling in for Ye Webmaster, with one eye on the tennis, another one on Dimbleby’s horrendous blue toad-patterned tie, and another on my extensive 50,000 word text document ‘dedicatedtoandycoulson.txt’ which consists only of the words HA HA HA HA HA repeated over and over again.

I think we can all agree that it’s been a long ride, but finally the wait is over: journalists across the country have stepped blinking into the light as the trial of the century is finally over. No mention of the gloriously vindicated Madame Curly Wurly in this edition, but plenty of hand-wringing and harrumphing nonetheless.

Not-so-jolly hockey sticks

Last night Chortles was back and more Head Girl than ever. She shook her head at John Prescott in the manner of a disappointed sixth form prefect telling off a naughty new bug. She rigorously defended David Cameron from any abuse hurled his way, whacking great unanswered questions about Essex boy Andy back at the audience with her metaphorical hockey sticks of terror. Based! On! The! Knowledge! He! Had! At! The! Time! A perfect volley, which despite Prezza’s best efforts he was not quite able to break through.

Speaking of terror, was she deliberately channelling Maggie Thatcher or what? The pearls, the hair, the dead-eyed stare…the only difference was her choice of a red jacket, no doubt stained in the blood of visiting netball teams.

Later on, on the extremism question, she seemed to have calmed down. But then, out of nowhere, Paul Nuttall suddenly decided to go for her. “NUT ‘ER, NUTTALL!” the spirit of Nigel Farage, which permanently haunts the Question Time set, roared in a drunken stupour. From then, all bets were off. From testing out her variety of withering looks to artfully breathing the words “six hundred thousand?!” in disgust, Nuttall, despite having tried out the ‘no really, I’m a reasonable guy, please believe me’ tactic pretty well for most of the show (the ‘not-Roger Helmer’ approach, it’s no doubt called, complete with lack of spectacular moustache and more of a bargain bin Al Murray’s Pub Landlord aesthetic) was so thoroughly sent flying that Dimbleby had to stop the programme briefly to remind everyone to tweet in or whatever it is these young folks are doing these days.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

Despite all this, the highlight of her performance was still the understatement of the century: “I don’t agree with Ken [Clarke] on this one”, referring to yet another edition of Ken-says-whatever-he-damn-well-likes. Not many Tories do, Anna. Not many Tories do.

‘Connecting’ with the public

Everyone’s out to get John Prescott. I am, you am, your mum probably am. But most of all, the bloody newspapers am. Prescott is always entertaining on Question Time, partly because his entire being bobs up and down in his seat like a boat wobbling in the harbour. Neil Wallis attemped to push the great beast back, but could only get into a yelling match over who was the most, and I quote, ‘bloody incompetent’, which basically went like this: “No you!” “No, you!” “Noooo, yoooou!”

It doesn’t matter if he was Deputy Prime Minister or President of the World, Prezza has passed the point of caring and can shake his head at Ed Miliband posing with the Sun all he likes. He also spent a lot of the time grinning as Soubry and Nuttall had a fight, like an excitable toddler waiting for his puréed banana at dinnertime. So really, in conclusion, he didn’t score any knock out blows, and indeed missed more than he hit last night. And yet I don’t mind purely because he still says the word ‘bloody’ on camera much to David Dimbleby’s general exasperation with everything.

Also, could Prezza take Suárez in a fight? Even if he is getting on a bit, I’m betting yes, and would pay gratuitous amounts of money for this epoch-making event to be televised.

I’ve covered Nuttall already, damn

Meanwhile, Neil Wallis had a bit of a tough job on his hands. He was there as the representation of all that is evil in the world – he knew that, and he hated it. He was greatly offended when Paul Nuttall declared that, rejoice rejoice, newspapers were SO OVER. He huffed and puffed as the audience, that judgemental bunch of fools, attempted to imply that Andy Coulson was anything less than a lovely chap who just lost his way, the poor love. He delicately described Damian McBride as ‘an interesting person’. He was everything you expected him to be and nothing less and/or more.

Maajid Nawaz, who I must say has some great hair, was much the same. Maajizzle was here as an outlier, an extremist, a dangerous ideologue – that’s right – …a Liberal Democrat. So for the first two thirds of the programme he adopted his party’s fail-safe tactic of sitting on the fence and being pretty dull. Let’s be reasonable here, guys. Everyone hates us already, so it doesn’t matter if we slag off Murdoch!

He also took the time to remind us that Muslims generally aren’t evil soul-sucking monsters. Thank you for this information. It is a sad world we live in that we have to be actually reminded of this fact.

I was hoping for more arguments but then the programme devolved into a pun-off. So here’s the scores.

Soubry: 6/10

Kept score

Prescott: 5/10

At one point almost swore

Nawaz: 5/10

Decent if a bore

Nuttall: 4/10

Euroscepticism galore

Wallis: 3/10

Please, no more

The Crowd: 5/10

Who cares about Juncker anymore?

Now clear off or I’ll hack yer phone.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #103


questionable time 103 david dimbleby back tattoo

Good morning Lemmings – actually no, it’s not ‘good morning Lemmings’ at all and more like ‘Bah. Must we do this Lemmings?’ because for some reason last night’s very ill-tempered episode has left me in a thoroughly unpleasant mood. With this in mind, we’re going to dispense with the usual even-handedness, line the panelists up against a wall and make a series of rash decisions as to who’s to blame for the cloud of animosity that’s currently hovering over me. Ready? Let’s do this.

Was it Iain Duncan Smith’s insistence on ruining a perfectly good pshop?

Prior to the show I came up with this (see Fig. 1)…

iain duncan smith dog cone

Fig. 1

…And pretty pleased I was with myself too because it was going to be so easy to fold into the write up: All it would require would be one question about how the Universal Credit programme has gone so spectacularly awry that it’s now been reclassified as a ‘new project’ and that would be it – IDS would put on that face that’s supposed to look ‘appropriately concerned’ but actually comes off as ‘pleading desperately’, Hislop would have a field day and I’d be able to segue into the pshop with a killer line about how the only way you could make him look any more hapless is by sticking one of those dog cones on his head. In fact, so confident was I that this would come to pass that I even had a tweet of the pshop all ready to go during the show, just waiting for his inevitable downfall so that I could press the button and then bask in the satisfaction of all-too-easy victory. But the button was never pressed.

And why was the button never pressed? It was never pressed because a) aside from a few reflex jabs from Bryant and Yaqoob, matters relating to the DWP never really came up and b) he emerged from the rolling to-do with Yaqoob (more on that later) looking rather good. True, there were moments where his trademark brand of Trying To Look Very Cross Indeed But Not Quite Getting It Right (“Do me a favour Salma…”) had the potential to go sideways but so busy was the intemperate traffic between the combatants that it never developed into anything truly cringeworthy.

So here I am with a useless pshop, an unslaked thirst for ministerial blood and an embarrassingly abundant clutch of marks for the man in question. Iain Duncan Smith, I find you partially guilty for buggering up my QT experience and hereby sentence you to read your own novel.

Right, who’s next in the dock?

Was it Salma’s fault or was she stitched up?

So Salma ended up in hot water with the rest of the panel last night but I can’t quite fathom whether she was unjustly martyred or the victim of a kerfuffle of her own design. And why can’t I tell? Because I’ve not got a clue what’s going on with this whole Trojan Horse business – not the merest inkling other than it made for an entertaining intra-cabinet spat and that it just won’t get off the bloody news (however it’s worth pointing out that the arrival of Big Brother has once again lead me to surrender custody of the telly to the Frau Ribs so I haven’t had Newsnight to spoon feed me any ready-made opinions).

Anyway, it went like this: Salma slightly overplayed her hand on the Iraq question – a forgivable offence since she’s the leader of a party that came into being because of the war – and then went on to defend the schools in the Trojan Horse affair. Now I don’t know if she was right or wrong on this matter as it’s a story that just makes my eyes glaze over but the reaction from the rest of the panel was pretty full on and it wasn’t long before I started to get the feeling that they were ganging up on her. That’s rarely a good look but then again, she was having to defend her point so doggedly that I got the feeling they might actually be on to something.

I dunno, it might six-of-one and half-a-dozen-of-the-other but the real problem was that it went on for what seemed like hours and the temperature got so heated that it killed the third question dead in its tracks. Anyone want to talk about British values? No? Shall we just keep shouting at Salma instead? Ok then! Basically, it felt like I was being forced to watch a very long running and involved soap opera that I’d never seen before and to have an opinion on it. For better or worse, right or wrong, I lay the blame for this at Salma’s door and hereby sentence her to a candle lit dinner with George Galloway. Ooph… Rough justice.

Was it Tessa Munt’s… very… very… slow… delivery?

Initially, yes – it was definitely her…very… very… slow (and rather matronly)… delivery that had me all out of a kilter but I ended up warming to her, mainly because she seems pretty genuine and in it for the right reasons. Granted, ‘genuine’ and ‘the right reasons’ tend not to make for the most electrifying QT performances (for that you want ‘mendacious’ and ‘entirely the wrong reasons’) but I feel that they mitigated some of the grief caused by her rather ponderous vocal stylings. Community Service for you, Munt. 60 hours of coming up with rhyming scores for me and we’ll call it quits.

Was it Ian Hislop’s particularly irksome mood?

I’m usually a big fan of Hislop on QT but last night he just seemed a little bored and difficult, like he couldn’t really be bothered to play the game. However there are a few things that can be said in his defence, the first being he did make life a little awkward for the rest of the panel and secondly, Private Eye are the only national publication who bother to send out very nice rejection letters – a courtesy that counts for a lot in my book. I think an informal caution is all that’s required here.

Was it Chris Bryant’s fault for simply being Chris Bryant?

Yes! Probably! I don’t know! He was just as rabid as everyone else but I’ve got a soft spot for him so his sentence will be suspended. Stay out of trouble Chris and I won’t have to repost that photo of you in your pants.

Tl;dr

IDS: 5/10

Bah!

Bryant: 5/10

Rah!

Munt: 6/10

Fah!

Yaqoob: 5/10

Wah!

Hislop: 5/10

Yah!

The Crowd: 5/10

Pah!

So that was that then: An ultra-scrappy episode where the panel got very hot under the collar about things I don’t understand and – in what was undoubtedly the highlight of the show – Dimbers got attacked by a fly. Pffft… Says it all really…

Right, thanks to the footy I’m done for two weeks but should you have money burning a hole in your pocket then please feel free to go and buy this Grand Theft: New Labourt-shirt I designed (and then – in the interests of fairness and all that – go and buy the Grand Theft: Coalition one as well).

gta-new-labour-final-tagged

In a fortnight Lemmings, in a fortnight…

Questionable Time #102


questionable time 102 david dimbleby terminator

Good Morning Lemmings and todays Questionable Time comes from Llandudno, seaside town par excellence and universally-recognised Lovely Part Of The World. Not for us the seafront, the Great Orme, and an afternoon trip to Conwy Castle, though: our lot is to listen to politicians say “all the spam on my email, that’s what winds me right up” in the first ever 68-hour episode of Question Time. I’m Mike and I’m taking over from his Loudribsness this week, so trust my luck to get a real baptism of Something Like Fire But Boring. As I watched the crowd move from “disinterested” to “borderline catatonic” I began to go a bit strange, and found myself wondering if the reason for the panel’s dullness was that they were hiding secret identities as superheroes. Surely, only the Clark Kents of this world say so little… but if they were concealing secret powers, what would they be? And more importantly, could I actually get a Questionable Time article out of it? Read on…

Liz Kendall, The Human Windmill: Liz Kendall’s arms are the closest thing that mortals will ever see to perpetual motion. Every time she spoke her arms took over, whirling in a way that’s unfortunately reminiscent of a very agitated Kermit The Frog. Liz would undoubtedly be the plucky-but-always-in-trouble one of the superhero group, until the chips were down and Mecha-Kendall would chop up the villains in a spurt of impassioned fury with her aircraft-propeller limbs. Or perhaps we could combine her with Simon Scharma and wipe out the necessity for all of the UK’s wind farms.

OK, let’s get the for-the-record bit in: Kendall had a good night. The NHS question was something of a grenade, but she negotiated it (just), partly by spinning a smart “How dare Cameron say Wales is crap” but mainly with the unusual tactic of actually sounding like she gave a damn about the subject. Her performance wasn’t without wobbles – interrupting an audience member is always dodgy ground – but she wasn’t patronising and came across as a rare thing, a politician who’s both knowledgeable and – shock horror – likeable. But well-deserved praise is no fun and I’ve got a tenuous analogy to continue, so let’s keep going.

David Jones, The Human Suit: If you show me a photo of Jones in a T-shirt, I’ll simply assume that a: you’ve gone to unfeasible lengths to hire a double or b: I’m hallucinating. Jones is clearly The Boss in our superhero collective, who runs some shady government department or other and tells all the other superheroes what to do while negotiating with his shadowy masters. He rather looks like he’d enjoy it. Plus, like all those figures, he has a mistake hidden deep within his dark past. It seems he broke the two primary Westminster rules: Don’t Seem Too Posh and Don’t Do Anything John Prescott Ever Did. A hundred-yard Jag ride is very Bloke In Charge.

david jones MP sedan chair

Fig. 1

Hywel Williams, The Human Shadow: I generally like the Welsh episodes because Plaid Cymru have a solid repertoire of good QT performers and can present an interesting alternative voice. Williams may even fit the bill, but it’s difficult to tell because he barely bothered to turn up at all and ended up resembling a sort of avuncular absence. Having spent most of the show avoiding answering anything in any meaningful way – his invoking of the IRA on the terrorism question looked like it might go somewhere interesting, but he then effectively shrugged and changed the subject – he finished off with the most spectacular backfire of a joke since, um, last week. I think it was meant to sound like “I lie to telesales peoples so they leave me alone” but instead came out as “Nobody can sell me anything because I’ve already got it, I’m so insured you’d be amazed.” Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the man who wasn’t there… but might good for the end-credits bad gag in our superhero show.

Isabel Hardman, The Human Chameleon: I suspect Hardman would be pretty good on a livelier panel, but she couldn’t lift this tepid affair and the most creditable thing she did was opt out of the POW-negotiation question. What started as sharp analysis lapsed into seventy-four variations on I Love Accountability, Me and her “I can’t stand pizza menus” contribution to the last question was a peak of banality. So I just found myself looking at her weirdly familiar face trying to work out who she looked like, and this morning I still haven’t managed it. My search for the answer has so far revealed she doesn’t like anyone in The Breakfast Club, Dark Season, Blake’s 7, Elastica, or my class at school. If nonspecific familiarity isn’t a superpower, I don’t know what is.

Nev Wilshire, The Human… Human? Apparently I was supposed to know who Nev Wilshire is, and I didn’t. Gah! Some frantic research revealed a BBC3 docudrama and that most things written about him use the phrase “real life David Brent” at some point, so you can understand why someone thought he’d be good Question Time box office. Well, sort of… after all, nobody wants to spend an hour with David Brent. So it was a relief when he turned out to be just some slightly gruff bloke, but the superhero throughline clearly collapses and dies here. He didn’t do anything terrible, and shrugged off the telemarketing question with a sort of weary bravado, but if you told me they’d pulled a randomer from the crowd and made him sit there I wouldn’t be so surprised.

Kendall: 7/10

(Not short of) Animation

Jones: 5/10

(Solid) Presentation

Williams: 3/10

(Brought me much) Aggravation

Hardman: 4/10

(A bit short on) Oration

Wilshire: 3/10

(Nope, I can’t even be bothered)

The Crowd: 5/10

(Were practically in a) Hostage Situation

And that’s that, an episode that started out as a reasonably diverting and informative affair but tailed off into something between “dreary” and “I have a nostalgic yearning for the days of Closedown.” Look to the future, Lemmings. King’s Lynn awaits.

Questionable Time #101


questionable time 101 david dimbleby wolf gladiators

Good mornings Lemmings and oh boy, do we have a random one on our hands today. Novelty panel? Check. The odd spectacle of the entire show being stuck airside in trans-national limbo? Check. A textbook case of brain-in-foot/foot-in-mouth blooperism that’s going to ensure that ‘Joey Barton Ugly Girls’ is going to clog the search terms section of this site’s stats page for the next 6 months? Check check check! Break out the Sharks Off Cornwall Repellent Lemmings, Silly Season has landed early this year and is currently boarding in Terminal 2. To the departure lounge we go!

The relentless tide of fresh Kippers shows no signs of abating…

Another week, another spin of the absurd tombola marked ‘UKIP Talking Heads Who Aren’t Nigel Farage’ and what do we get for our trouble? We get the Purple Team’s latest bid to convince us they’re not in fact the paramilitary wing of the Rotary Club but a party that can also do ‘normal’ (‘normal’ being a highly subjective term that essentially means ‘someone who sounds a little Northern’ and doesn’t look like a potential suspect in a game of Cluedo). Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Louise Bours or – as she was formerly known before dropping her suspiciously continental sounding stage name – Louise van de Bours.

So how did she do? Well, I’m a little torn to be honest. In her defence, this was never going to be an easy pitch, what with a panel made up of big-ego civilians and two politicians desperately playing the Voice of Reason card (there wasn’t even the hope of distracting them with the gory results of this year’s annual Lib Dem Cull as the Yellow Team wisely decided to stay at home this week) but her approach wasn’t exactly an exercise in subtlety. No, instead she’s been boning up on the latest revision to the UKIP Field Manual which can basically be summed up thusly:

1. When assaulting enemy held positions, deploy the terms ‘The Establishment’, ‘Political Classes’ and ‘Media Spin’ while juxtaposing ‘Ordinary People’ and ‘the 5 million you’ve just insulted’ into the mix. Should this strategy fail, simply combine or rearrange the words (‘Political Establishment’, ‘Media Classes’, etc, etc), rinse and repeat.

2. In the event of inevitable counter attack on the grounds of policy, simply insist that the new manifesto will solve EVERYTHING.

From a short-term point of view (and let’s face it, pretty much everything in UKIP-land appears to be based on short-term reasoning) this is quite a canny play and one which Bours – what with her surfeit of aggression – is actually quite good at. Alright, so it wasn’t the most polished affair, what with the calling everyone ‘Sir’ and ‘Mr’, not to mention just how proactive she was at getting in people’s faces but this was her first time in the Major Leagues and I can’t deny that there was an appetite for what she said amongst a sizeable chunk of the crowd.

The problem is that her style of QT-ing has a shelf life and it only works at the moment because UKIP have ended up in this sort of Goldilocks zone where they can legitimately claim some sort of mandate but effectively dodge scrutiny because of the rapidity of their rise. That won’t last, not when the new manifesto inevitably turns out to be the same old bag of spanners that the last one was. When (not ‘if’, ‘when’) that happens, Bours’ brand of pushy DON’T TREAD ON ME-ing will be looking a lot less like an authentic insurgency and a great deal more like the melodramatic whinging you get when a bunch of cockeyed yoghurt tops hang out together and pretend they’re a political party.

Until then though, credit where credit’s due: This wasn’t a bad performance for a first timer on a hostile panel. Enjoy it while it lasts Louise, enjoy it while it lasts.

Gone for a Barton…

Given that I know absolutely nothing about football I only had a vague inkling as to who Joey Barton was prior to the show (the gist of it being a domestically produced Cantona knock-off with a bit of a Napoleon complex, a propensity to throw around Nietzsche quotes and a dazzling command of the French language – see Fig. 1) but that inkling sat well with me. It said ‘Watch this guy. He has the sort of form that makes for good QT-ing’ so I was – dare I say it – actually a little excited that he’d be on. Alas, despite a promising half a minute where he seemed to be building up to something rather good, he then went and blew it all by saying to Louise Bours:

If I was somewhere and there were 4 really ugly girls, I’m thinking ‘Well, she’s not the worst’ because that’s all you are”

KLANG!

So yes, that was a monumentally boneheaded/dumb-as-rocks thing to say that roundly deserved all the derision it got but I think the worst part of it all was catching that split second where his feedback loop finally kicked in, just about when he first mentions ‘ugly girls’. At this point the crowd take a sharp intake of breath and a flash of panic crosses Joey’s face.

Oh bollocks oh bollocks oh bollocks I’m too deep into this sentence that I haven’t really thought through to turn back so I’m going to have to run with it but why am I looking Louise Bours straight in the face while I’m saying this oh bollocks oh bollocks oh bollocks”

Yeah, pretty toe curling all told and unsurprisingly it scuppered the rest of the show for him. Oh well never mind Joey, doubtless they’ll have you back on again in which case I advise that you try doing the whole thing in a French accent.

joey barton napoleon

Fig. 1

And the rest of ‘em?

Time is of the essence so let’s be quick:

Willetts straddled the thoughtful/boring line with some aplomb but never once threatened to add anything more than some gentle chin stroking and an aversion to confrontation while Margret Curran breathlessly said the same sentence over and over again in slightly different forms before occasionally pausing dramatically as if she was going to say something very important only to then go and breathlessly say the same sentence over and over again in slightly different form. Finally, Piers Morgan put in an annoyingly good performance that was only really marred by him barking orders for airports to be built in every town in the land like some sort of jumped up Luftfuehrer. Bah. I hate it when Piers does well.

Tl;dr

Bours: 6/10

(Isn’t) Shy

Barton: 4/10

*Sigh*

Willetts: 5/10

(Can be adequately summed up as ‘Some) Guy(‘)

Curran: 5/10

(Should) Try (talking a little slower)

Morgan: 7/10

Why?

The Crowd: 6/10

(Probably came to the airport to) Fly (somewhere but never made it to the plane).

Well, that was a load of half-term silliness, wasn’t it? Not that I’m complaining mind – sometimes a good all-heat-and-no-light episode is needed, even if it does occasionally mean I have to award Piers Morgan annoyingly high marks from time-to-time. Right, Wales next week, undoubtedly to be set in the newly constructed Llandudno International Airport as per Luftfuehrer Morgan’s orders…

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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