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?
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.
I should have watched these much earlier than I did.
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.
Similarly, I’m a little upset that Nick Bowles stood me up twice – I’ve always had a feeling he’d be QT gold.
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.
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.
Rhyming scores were the biggest rod for my own back I ever did make.
And lessons learned?
A few of them as well…
Writing 1200 words with a 9am deadline and an 11.40pm kick off is an unremittingly bleak experience.
Writing 1200 words with a 9am deadline and an 11.40pm kick off whilst drunk is an unremittingly farcical experience.
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.
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.
David Dimbleby looks best in green eyeshadow.
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…