Morning Lemmings and as the title picture indicates, I am still without internet, hence my having to fall back on sticking pictures of my cat’s head on Dimber’s face. Actually, this situation could change at any moment as I’m currently waiting for the BT engineer to arrive and hook me up with some of that sweet, sweet data. I hope he comes soon. It’s been a hard week. I’ve had to ‘talk’ and ‘read’ and other such antiquated activities that have no place in the fast lane that is my life. The whole experience has been distressing to say the least so hurry Mr BT Engineer… This situation cannot persist.
Enough of that and on with Question Time, brought to us this week by the good people of Norwich. First on the stump we have Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development and all-round interesting guy. I say this not only because he’s at the liberal end of the Tory party and looks like his hair was borrowed from a Beano character but also because he pulls a neat trick: He appears to be a True Believer but not in a way that scares me. Most True Believers (politicians who look really, really into what they’re doing) fill me with horror as they have a habit of taking their pet ideas and running with them with wild abandon whilst giving nary a thought for the consequences (Blair and Thatcher being the textbook examples with the likes of Gove and IDS propping up the second rank). In short, not only have they drank the Kool Aid, they are also attempting to drown everyone else in it as well. Now Mitchell certainly has the look of the True Believer as his default posture seems to be one of alert engagement and he certainly seems convinced that his little corner of policy is a matter of life and death but there also seems to be something else going on with him that makes me think that he probably isn’t a nutter. I’m not quite sure what that thing is but should I find out, you’ll be the first to know.
In terms of performance he did ok last night although it was quite a scrappy start as he went through the compulsory ‘Labour inheritance/grasping the nettle’ stuff that neatly divided the audience into Booers and Cheerers but you could tell that he wasn’t really into making a big deal out of this subject. His responses to the Libya and sexualisation questions were also pretty standard and without excess vim, but serviceable enough nevertheless. Where he did do well was on his home turf of International Development and here he let rip with a well thought out robust defence of the concept of aid whilst also acknowledging that there was still a lot of work to do. Personally, I thought it was great as it combined a moral imperative with a hearty dose of realpolitik but unfortunately for Mitchell it just seemed to pass the crowd by and left them in a state of blank silence. That’s a shame as I thought it was a rare moment of clarity in an otherwise very scrappy show and I think he deserved a little more for his efforts. Oh well, at least he won the top prize in Parliament’s Westminster Dog of the Year award back in 2009. Norwich may be fickle but at least he can always hark back to that crowning glory.
Moving on and we are soon confronted by none other than Charles Clarke the fourth ex-New Labour Home Secretary in as many weeks who also seems to have a big hairy bollock in place of where his head should be. Now I’m not really not a fan of Clarke, partly because of the standard charge list I associated with New Labour Home Secretaries (see LCCPMQTR passim), partly because he’s one of the most inept plotters that parliament has seen for a good few years but mainly because he always reminds me of an imbittered Deputy Head who has a burning resentment for both the students and the staff for not appreciating him quite as much as he thinks they should. To be fair to him, he wasn’t that bad last night as he refrained from using Question Time as a forum to pour scorn on his own team but also because he had quite an easy ride (lets face it, dishing out additional beat downs after the Archbishop of Canterbury has righteously smote you foes is hardly rocket science).Having said that, he did annoy me a slightly as he appeared to be gunning for the world record of how many times he could use the word ‘incoherent’ in one sitting. I totally agree Charles, the coalition’s policies are wildly incoherent but I, like the rest of the country, somehow managed to arrive at the conclusion myself and I really don’t need to learn it by rote. However, I am inclined to slip him an extra point for coming to Mitchell’s defence of the foreign aid issue. Very big of you Charles, very big.
Right, next up is our final politico of the day, Jo Swinson, Deputy Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and frighteningly young (frightening in that she’s younger than me) MP. I feel bad for what I’m about to say next as I get the feeling that she probably has genuinely good intentions, but she really could crank the perkiness down a notch or two, if only to stop her delivery sounding like that of a BBC Breakfast News weather reporter (a la Carol… “Good Mooooooooooooooooooooooooourning!”). The other thing that slightly irked me was that all of her answers reminded me of one of those nightmare job interviews where you’re really not sure what answer your prospective employer wants to hear and you end up hedging your bets by attempting the ‘balanced argument’ approach in the hope that you’ll come across as a well-rounded and thoughtful individual. In fact, what tends to happen is that you end up getting tangled in a mess of self-generated contradictions that make you look like an indecisive prat or worse still, an Apprentice candidate. Now, to be fair to Jo, she never outright contradicted herself but her whole line of being scrupulously fair and reasonable combined with a dose of youthful optimism (I really did think she was going to end every sentence with a ‘Yay!!!!!!’) was just a little too odd for my tastes and actually made me feel old (which is even odder as there’s only a few months between us). As I said before, I feel a little bad for saying this as she does seem like a nice person but I’m not in the market for nice on Question Time. I’m in the market for blood and stomach pills, sturm und drang, Sodom and Gomorrah, that sort of thing and I’m afraid that affable young whippersnappers just don’t cut that kind of mustard. So sorry Jo, I have no doubt your intentions are good but we all know what the road to hell is paved with.
So that was the party political crowd and to be honest, they weren’t exactly electrifying. Good job then that waiting in the wings we have salty old figurehead of Wimminism Germin Greer and Eeyore of the right, Peter Hitchens. Given the fairly placid reaction of the panel to the Archbishop question, I was pretty much relying on Greer to spice things up a little only to be let down by the fact that she had absolutely no intention of addressing any matter directly. No, instead we were treated to a round-the-house spiel about presidential politics and her own record-breaking attempt involving the word ‘fiat’. ‘Oh well,’ thought I, ‘at least she’ll be able to sink her teeth into the child sexualisation question’ and sink teeth she did…. into a big fat sandwich of crazy. It started with a slightly odd grumble about how it was impossible to buy “non-tarty” clothes for little girls and then rapidly descended into a Freudian hell hole in which girls learn to flirt by kissing their fathers goodnight. An audience member understandably took the hump at this and demanded an explanation but was instead treated a lengthy, wordy and utterly impenetrable academic tract about culture and a bunch of stuff I couldn’t really work out. That pretty much spelt out the shape of things to come and after yet more interminability on the foreign aid question she made ready for a coup de grace concerning Libya. The question had originally been about whether the rape allegations warrant sending in ground troops, but it was the ‘rape’ bit that Greer homed in on and what came next was utterly bizarre. First of all she stated that “rape is always present with slaughter” a point I largely agree with but then it got weird as she started ranting about why the Libyan soldiers need Viagra to rape (as well as mentioning the word ‘fiat’ again) before demanding that they be given loads of the stuff as our troops would rape everyone anyway.
So Greer certainly set the bar high for crazy but at least she had a worthy challenger in the shape of Peter Hitchens. By rights, I should hate Hitchens, embodying as he does pretty much the purest form right wingery that runs completely contrary to my own political tastes but I must admit that I do have a certain level of grudging respect for him as at least he seems to think about stuff a little, unlike Melanie Phillips who simply has a direct link between that megacity of irrationality that lives in her skull and her mouth. Anyhoo, it all started standard enough with Hitchens adopting the Anti-Everything line on the Archbishop question (he hates Williams, hates Cameron, hates the Libs and most probably hates you) but it was in on the sexualisation question that he really got going, denouncing sex education and labelling it as “propaganda for promiscuity”. That really got the audience wound up but he wasn’t through with them by a long shot and went on to accuse them of actually wanting to sexualise kids. Brave move Pete, brave move. He managed to wind it back in briefly when it came to the aid question (although his reference to “teaching Africans to dance” was a little…odd) but what happened next was quite the sight to behold.
It started when a young, well-spoken audience member with ginger hair got a go on the mic and in her best ‘Dear Sir, Imagine my concern’ voice tried to set up a fairly ropy ambush. Following a slightly annoying “in my gap year” preamble she then went on to ask if Hitchens had ever been to a developing country in the hope he’d say ‘no’ and look like a right stuffy old pillock. Unfortunately, she didn’t contend with the fact that Hitchens is one of those rare commentators who actually bothers to bone up about the subjects of his blatherings and was right back at her with a “Yes. Loads. Somalia for one.”. That really knocked the wind out of her sails and she had to resort to a not entirely appropriate outburst of “LET ME FINISH!” before waffling on about Nepal. According to the crowd, her little turn was a triumph but I’m afraid I have to disagree with that assessment. She got pwnd. By Hitchens. That has to suck.
Given the above, you’d expect the rest of the audience to be shying away from prodding Hitchens in future but a little later on another member of the crowd got a similar taste of the PH Treatment after trying to make the point that Libya looked like a just war. “You’re about the right age” said Peter, “Go ahead, sign up.”. BOOM!I have to admit that was pretty cool and even the otherwise unapproving audience also had to agree.
All of which pretty well sums up Hitchens: His ideas range from the abhorrent to the plain old barking but he’s a tough cookie who gives as good as he gets and doesn’t care who he tangles with. As howlingly mad as he is, I have to doff my cap to the fact that he’s very good at being howling mad and he certainly makes a better fist of it than Greer does. Were he ever to end up on my caseload, I think I would be quietly pleased.
That’s the panel done so on to the audience and I must confess that this lot really were an odd bunch who may or may not have had complete control of their faculties. For one, the applause/heckles were all over the place and at times seemed to be divvied up on a completely random basis. Crowd member gets too big for her boots and gets mauled by Hitchens? Everyone goes nuts and the girl’s a hero! Mitchel makes a well-reasoned yet passionate appeal to the benefits of foreign aid? Tumbleweed. However, I can forgive them this as Greer and Hitchens had already made the atmosphere so weird that it became less of a topical current affairs show and more of a bad acid flashback. The other thing I picked up was that although the crowd seemed fairly even split in terms of ‘for’ and ‘against’ the coalition, you could sense real anger in the room and that seems to tally with the felling in the country in general. So far, the recession has unfolded as thus:
1. Headless Chicken Phase: Lehman’s goes under, the world and his wife predict imminent apocalypse, people get in flap yet life in the real world continues apace.
2. Impending Doom Phase: Osborne delivers Comprehensive Spending Review, people predict imminent apocalypse, some start losing their job’s and life starts getting harder but is still relatively normal.
That’s what’s happened so far, but right now we’re about go into the third phase, the Actual Doom phase where all the nasty stuff that was in the CSR starts to feed through to everyday life and shit gets real. It’s taken two and a half years to get here (two and a half years where every news bulletin is telling us that we only have minutes before we’re all destitute) and I must say it’s been a surreal experience: You know you’re angry, you know that a bunch of insanely rich people have just seriously screwed your life up, yet the actual evidence on the ground doesn’t tally up with the vision of desolation that you see in your mind’s eye and it leaves you feeling rather discombobulated. Well, the good news is that pretty soon that feeling of discombobulation will be a thing of the past as we’ll all have plenty of actual, tangible and real stuff to be angry about (which is, as you’ve probably guessed, the bad news). In essence, this is where the actual recession begins for the bulk of the population, with everything up to now being little more than a phoney war. Now, somewhere in the frenzied nightmare that was this episode I could sense that feeling beginning to bubble up. It’s not that people are angry as people (myself included) have been angry from the start of the crash but I got the feeling that the anger is now taking on form and direction and as soon as the real world starts to tally up with that bleak portrait of the future we’ve all been gazing at for the last two and a half years, the coalition will be in trouble. In short, things are about to kick off.
Oh, and just before we finish up on the crowd, the Best Name of the Series So Far Award goes to Jodie Shanahan-Prendagast. Stirling work there sir.
The Crowd: Scatty
Ok, we’re done. Since I started writing this, the BT man has been so I now have the internet and by rights, I should be beavering away, scouring Google Images for fresh material with which to further distress my victims but you know what? I’m not going to do that. I’ve got 35mb line, a Steam account full of all sorts of chostiness and a fridge full of beer. Nope, tonight I pick up my love affair with online gaming where we left off and to hell with the pshops! This is our time!
Next week, Lemmings… Next week…