Morning Lemmings and gentle Jesus am I cold. Basically, my heating went on the fritz two weeks ago and despite pleading/shouting/going absolutely mental with the lettings agency, it is still knackered. As a result, my fridge is now like a crap oven that keeps my food a few degrees above room temperature, the gas hob is now my central heating and I think I can hear wolves in the garden. In short, it sucks.
Despite this though I soldier on, braving frostbite and hypothermia to bring you your weekly dose of post-Question Time nonsense. All I can say is that it’s a good bloody job I started growing my beard out in August this year. Onwards…
Q1: Did the BBC Panorama special wreck England’s World Cup chances?
Q2: Does the possibility of the LibDems abstaining make up for their broken pledge on fees?
Q3: Is it fair that we have educational apartheid with Welsh and Scottish students paying less than English ones?
Q4: Do you agree with Hilary Clinton that Wikileaks is a threat to the United States?
Q5: Given that it was forecast, why has snow bought us to a stop?
Q6: Is it better to be a child of Thatcher or the son of Brown?
Q7: Figures released today show that MP’s claimed £3.1 million in expenses. Is this a step in the right direction?
In The Yellow Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and all-round whipping boy.
Remember how I said last week that Ken Clarke is the kid in the playground who inexplicably doesn’t get bullied? Well, Danny Alexander is the kid who very explicably does. Part of this is due to circumstance as poor old Danny is the unfortunate LibDem who has to carry the can for the cuts (see Fig.1) but the other side of it is that he has a face who’s default position is Imminent Foreboding and more advanced settings include Impending Doom, Anticipated Calamity and Outright Fear. Given that Westminster is pretty much a giant playground, these are not good facial settings to possess and I have visions of MP’s of all strains forming an orderly queue outside his office with the intention of stealing his football sticker/giving him a wedgy/calling him a “ginger rodent”. Basically, the guy is a walking ‘Kick Me’ sign, none of which bodes well for a Question Time appearance on a week when students who voted LibDem are going absolutely ape shit about tuition fees. Tough break Danny, tough break.
Actually, I have to say that he did much better than I was expecting and even managed to garner a few laughs with a joke about Scotland beating England in Q1, but this clement weather didn’t last long as he found himself in much choppier conditions on Q’s 2 and 3. Obviously, he was going to be Jonny On The Spot with regards to anything fees related and as soon as Q2 landed you could see his face creeping back into its default position as he desperately tried to square the circle of why he thought fees are ace but might not vote for them. Sure enough, the familiar orderly queue formed up with Sergeant first in line to call the whole shebang “pathetic” and an audience member hovered behind him, getting ready to deploy his “Shame on you, shame on you for turning blue” chant. I was personally heartened by this turn of events as I’d very much like to see more chanting in QT but for Danny it was the precursor to a facial lapse into Impending Doom territory as a last-ditch attempt to rescue the situation and cast the policy as “progressive” ended up producing some fairly ugly noises from the audience. He seemed to fair a slightly better in Q3 (in that no one poked his eye out with a pitchfork) but he also made the fatal error of personally pissing me off by invoking a very dodgy vignette that has being doing the rounds in Westminster of late. Excuse me while I digress for a second (and advanced apologise for the heavy use of Caps Lock you are about to witness):
During Q3 Alexander used the example of the graduate who gets a job as a care work and earns £20k a year. When I graduate, I also became a care worker and was paid the princely some of £10k a year for working in what was one of the most literally shitty and distressing jobs you can possibly imagine. 8 years later, I still work in the field, am considered to be pretty good at what I do and have advanced through the ranks to earn a, you guessed it, £20k a year, despite an unblemished record and having gained post-graduate qualifications (through work) in this time. I realise that the £10k figure is rather old but I can assure you that the starting salary for anyone in my line of work, degree or no degree, is very much around the minimum wage. So tell me Danny (and Miliband… he also mentioned the 20k Care Worker earlier this week), TELL ME WHO THIS MYTHICAL 20K CARE WORKER IS, BECAUSE I’D LOVE KNOW SO I COULD FIND OUT HOW IN GODS NAME S/HE ACHIEVED SUCH A THING. Westminster, stop with this folly and at least give us the basic courtesy of acknowledging that you pay the people who pick up the pieces in society appalling. Fair warning given, rant over.
Right, back on track. The rest of Alexander’s performance was pretty subdued and his brief flurry of applause for bashing Gordon Brown in Q6 was perfectly offset by a failed joke about the Highlands being unable to deal with sunshine or somesuch twaddle in Q5. Now, if this had been anyone other than Danny Alexander, I’d probably be inclined to dish out some fairly poor marks because it was hardly a blazing turn. But considering that he’s probably one of the most vulnerable politicians in the whole country right now, I won’t and all things considered, I have to say I’m quietly impressed. Sure, Nadine Dorries played the role of unabashed villain with considerable vim, soaking up a fair but of hate along the way but still, he managed to leave the studio without someone Tipexing ‘DICKHEAD’ on his satchel and that is actually quite an achievement. So well done Danny, you get an above average mark and a fleeting taste of dignity.
An expectation defying 6/10
In The Red Corner: Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London and self confessed reptile nut.
Ok, first off, what the hell is Ken Livingstone doing in Coventry? I know Labour are all at sea at the moment, but seriously, a former Mayor of London is the best you can do? To shame. Anyhoo, the Newt King is back and there really isn’t that much to say because it was an entirely predictable display in Livingstoneism: 50% populist rhetoric, 30% semi-valid points and 20% lingering smugness. That’s not say I’m completely anti-Ken as I do quite enjoy the way he pops up from time-to-time with the sole intention of annoying someone or throwing a spanner into whatever works look like they may need a spanner throwing into but I just found it quite hard to pick out the relevance of him being on the show last night. Rather than going into detail, let’s see how the various elements of Livingstoneism were doled out last night.
His ‘Tories “pulling up the ladder”’ line (although that was also semi-valid).
A pop at MSP’s and AM’s for bossing the English around.
“Ordinary people” paying for the recession (also semi-valid, but delivered rhetorically and in a populist fashion)
His ‘the Beeb could have waited a couple of days’ point.
Pointing out that the Olympics managed to are fairly uncorrupt so it’s not unimaginable that FIFA couldn’t be sorted out.
Repeated inferences that he pretty much won the Olympic bid single-handedly
Now, if I’m not mistakes, those responses seem to mirror the above stated proportions of Livingstoneism pretty faithful and I hereby declare my Theory of The Constitutional Proportion and Functional Units of Livingstoneism to be absolutely watertight. Goddamn I’m good. Next!
Ken, innit? 5/10
In The Blue Bit Of The Blue Yellow Corner: Nadine Dorries, MP for Mid Bedfordshire and self confessed blog fibber.
Now this is a strange specimen we have right here and one that defies the usual process of categorisation as on the one hand, she looks very Notting Hill Hugs And Cuddles New Tory whilst her history and record hint far more at On Your Bike And Hard Work Never Did Me Any Harm Old Tory. On the Notting Hill front, she ticks the boxes by dint of looking fairly approachable, having founded her own start-up at one point and generally engaging in non-Old School activities such as blogging (even if 70% of it is “fiction”). However, a brief look at her track record soon puts paid to any notions of The New Politics and what we find is a Hardcore Tory in Fair Trade clothing. Consider the following: Heavy campaigning for limiting abortion, feathers spat over all women shortlists, expenses jiggery-pokery and some fairly hardline attitudes towards benefit claiments. However, the real kicker in the Old School hypothesis is that she’s a member of the Cornerstone Group, a Tory faction dedicated to all things hardcore (their motto is Faith, Flag and Family). So yes, ignore the outward appearance as what we have here is a Proper Tory, red in tooth and claw.
In practice, this lead to a fairly scrappy affair with a whole-loada-nothin on Q1, much talk of being “proud” of the coalition in Q2 and some very ropey evasion at the start of Q3. However, it was in Q4 where her true colours began to shine through when she had an almighty go at students for not valuing education, not taking “proper courses” and generally being a burden on taxpayers. Thusly did the booing begin. The other thing that caught my attention were her rather frightening paeans to Thatcher, one of which was inexplicably crowbarred into the Wikileaks question. However, the real doozy was when she used Q6 as a platform to do the ‘my mum lived in a council estate’ routine which climaxed with the immortal line “I am truly a daughter of Thatcher and immensely proud of it!”. Dammit Nadine! Have you not talked to anyone normal since 1990?! You might as well have called yourself a Sister of Mugabe for all the good it would do you. So yeah, she deserved her boos on that one.
So that was her and I’m left with the lingering sense of someone who is trouble, full stop. Admittedly, she did a show a bit of conviction which is nice to see once in a while but if I was Andy Coulson, I’d have a full-time minder following Dorries 24/7 with strict orders to chloroform her should there be any risk of her speaking her mind. Actually, if I was Andy Coulson, I’d probably be better off making contingency plans for a hasty trip to a country that we don’t have an extradition treaty with, but that’s a different matter all together.
A ticking bomb of a 4/10
In The Independent/Brainy Corner: Christopher Meyer, former Ambassador to the United States and post career tell-tale.
A few weeks back, I mentioned how diplomats tend to fall into the either the Fererro Rocher category or the hard-bitten, Graham Greene type bracket. Well, I’m afraid to say that I’m about to knacker my own theory as Christopher Meyer doesn’t seem to fit either, largely because he comes across as so emphatic. This is largely down to his delivery as some of the things he says are fairly nuanced, but the way in which he says them always makes them sound like cast-iron opinions and that’s not necessarily something you want in a diplomat. The other thing with Meyer is that he is definitely on the ‘Ho-ho’ side of the ‘Ha-ha/Ho-ho’ argument. I realise that the last sentence doesn’t make a lick of sense, so allow me to expand: When I’m taking notes for this and someone says something genuinely funny, I tend to mark a little ‘Ha-ha’ next to whatever they said. However, whenever Meyer came out with anything that drew a chuckle, I couldn’t quite bring myself to write a ‘Ha-ha’ as it just didn’t seem to fit. No, a ‘ha-ha’ is an involuntary thing. You ‘ha’ because you can’t help it. A ‘ho’ by contrast is something you do because you think you should or because social etiquette demands it. His “in all good bookstores” and his epic “you’re not dancing now” remark to John Sergeant probably were ‘ha-ha’ moments, but the rest of his quips (and there were many) all seemed just a little too prefabricated and pointed to be anything other ‘ho-ho’s’. Content wise, it was decent enough and his point about collective responsibility in Q2 was well received, but you always got the feeling that he probably put far too much effort into playing the Realpolitik Diplomat Extraordinaire act, especially when he started casting some very shady aspersions about Russia and FIFA in Q1. So yes, he wasn’t bad but I like my diplomats to be, well, a bit more diplomatic and I also don’t like it when a theory I up made about diplomats is rendered obsolete two weeks later. Points off for making me look stupid!
A heavy footed 5/10
In The ‘I’m The Funny One’/Just Like You Corner: John Sergeant, ex-Beeb political correspondent and Strictly stick-in-the-mud.
I hate Strictly. I hate Strictly because it’s about dancing and I hate dancing with a passion as it serves no purpose other than to make me feel intensely embarrassed if I ever find myself in a situation that might require me to engage in the act of dancing. Ever wondered why guitar based genres of rock are so popular with white males who have little coordination? Well, here’s your answer: It’s because dancing is bollocks. That should naturally lead me to have an instant disdain for John Sergeant but it doesn’t because a) I have fond memories of growing up and marvelling at how a man with a face like his could ever a appear on TV, b) I hear he upset a lot of people on Strictly by dint of being a crap dancer and c) I like to think that him and Dimbers may one day share a tender waltz together (see Fig. 2).
Aside from that, it’s also hard to dislike John Sergeant as he has a wonderfully benign manner which can be deployed as a highly effective cover for some absolutely blistering attacks such as he previously mentioned stab at Alexander in Q2. However, he walks a fine line as he can sometimes be a little naughty and abuse these powers, not in downright nasty way, but enough to conjure up a whiff of malevolence. I’m struggling to find a concrete example from the show last night, but I did get the feeling that he was fighting the urge to really lay into another panelist whilst projecting the image of a kindly soul who probably spends his weekends taking orphans on steam train rides. Oh, and a rather liked the somewhat bewildering vision of a Terminatoresque scenario he came out with in Q4 and involved humanity being enslaved by computers. He also somehow managed to work Lady Gaga into one that as well. Don’t ask me how, I just work here.
A largely affable 6/10
The Crowd: Coventry
Good crowd, this lot. There was plenty of cheers, plenty of boos, a nice audience member quip about whether the Tories were giving the LibDems slack or enough rope to hang themselves and of course, a chanting solo! That sure as hell ticks a lot of my boxes. Politically, it was a little odd as Labour weren’t exactly represented but the overall tone was that the students are winning. Sure, the counter argument did find some support, but the crowd seemed very much behind the anti-fees brigade and the subject provoked the fiercest responses.
Unfortunately, the standard of audience member’s names falls short of last week’s giddy highs (the best I can do you is Zoe Organ… Interesting, but no Mark Power) and yet again no bow ties. However, this should take away from a busy (seven questions) and somewhat boisterous episode despite no real stellar performances from the panel. Nice work Coventry. Continue apace.
A noisy 7/10
Right, cobblers to this for a game of soldiers, I’m bloody freezing and the monitor needs de-icing again. If you don’t see a post up by next weekend, send out a search party out for me.
Next week, Lemmings.