Morning Lemmings. So then, the traditional title picture and title itself all seem to indicate that things are back to normal at this end, right? Wrong! No Lemmings, I’m afraid to say that I’ll be messing with the format yet again, mainly in the interests of keeping these reports a little shorter and thus emancipating me from 6 hours chained to a keyboard every Friday night. As a result, those of you with strong OCD tendencies may find themselves all at sea but my advice would be to view this as a form of treatment: We’re pushing the boundaries, breaking new ground, feeling the fear and doing it anyway…this is our Brave New World. Anyway, if this sudden wrenching away of the familiar leaves you feeling out-of-sorts, please feel free to let me know but if you couldn’t give a toss (and I strongly suspect that 99.9% of you don’t) then sit back and prepare thyself for what turned out to be quite the epic Question Time last night. Welcome, Lemmings, to Burnley.
Perhaps the best way to describe last night’s Question Time is to look at it as some fraught tale of maritime woe. Imagine if you will a dingy, probably named ‘Coalition’, adrift in the ocean and occupied by the now very guilty conscience of the Liberal Democrats, Simon Hughes and the ever fishy (what with all the expenses, nannies and whatnot) Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Caroline Spelman. Life on the Coalition isn’t that fun. Neither of them really wanted to sign up for this trip, the dingy appears to have sprung a few leaks of late and there is no disguising the fact that Hughes and Spelman clearly can’t stand each other. Nevertheless, here they are and for the most part, they at least try to make a pretence of some united front, even if that means extended bouts of lying to themselves.
But wait a second…what’s this? Two triangular fins, poking above the water and moving erratically? Clearly they were shark fins and if I’m not mistaken, they belonged to the well-known man eaters that are Gorgeous George Galloway and Malcolm Tucker Alastair Campbell! Sensing that some first class flesh tearing and access to carrion action could be in the offing, a flock of seagulls began to gather whilst another boat containing Clever Footballer (purely on account of appearing on Countdown… the bar’s pretty low, OK?) Clarke Carlisle approached from a safe distance.
“Oi! You guys down there!” squawked the gulls, “What do you think about Alan Johnson resigning and Ballsy getting the job?”
“We bloody love it!” growled the sharks in unison. “Balls is just as sharky as us and he’s going to duff Osborne up good and proper! Go sharks! Go sharks! Go sharks!” Sensing that things probably aren’t too rosy when the killers of the deep circling your boat start chanting “Go sharks!”, Spelman did her best to look imposing and immediately launched into the now well-past-it’s-sell-by deficit/’living beyond means’ spiel, but failed to convince anyone that she wasn’t heading for a sticky fate in a matter of moments. Hughes however, knew that this was a doomed venture and instead tried to placate the sharks (by paying “tribute to Alan Johnson in passing”… He’s resigned Simon, he’s not dead) before bopping the marauders on the nose with a well delivered ‘Balls = Brown’ jab, much to the amusement of the seagulls.
Then something weird happened: Just as it seemed that it was only a matter of time before the good ship Coalition would be condemned to a toothy death, another onlooker (called David Starkey no less) chirped in with a question about the Iraq Inquiry and all hell broke loose. Suddenly, the sharks lost interest in mauling the Coalition and instead squared up to each other, much to the visible relief
of both Hughes and Spelman. The first to lunge was Gorgeous George who lost no time in popping open a bottle of Vintage Dastardly Rhetoric from which he poured references to “establishment stooges” and “war crimes” before climaxing with a shower of likening Tucker Campbell to “Goebbels” and “Lord Haw Haw”. This drove Tucker Campbell into a frenzied semantic defence (and a hairy moment where narrowly avoided confirming that he should stand trial if the Inquiry found him to be a big fat liar) whilst Spelman and Hughes looked on with bewildered delight. Surely these sharks are drunk! Also notable at this point was Clarke Carlisle’s first intervention (that wasn’t based on purely sports based analogies) which involved a rather impassioned tract about his cousin being in the forces and how those in power should be “held responsible”. The seagulls loved that and heartily brayed their approval before throwing him completely off-balance with a question about the NHS (“I’m not familiar with the complete mechanics”).
Sadly for Hughes and Spelman, the respite did not last and by the time the NHS question got round to Tucker Campbell, both he and Gorgeous George swiftly sobered up, dusted themselves down (if you can ‘dust yourself down’ underwater) and returned to original object of their blood lust. First up was Tucker Campbell with accusations of “broken promises” and the seagulls all bundled in, dive-bombing the coalition in formation whilst Galloway harried their flanks and got Lansley’s name wrong (“Stuart” Lansley?). Presented with this renewed onslaught Spelman did the political equivalent of clicking her heels three times whilst repeating the phrase ‘there’s no place like home’ by claiming she was delivering a “message of hope”. No-one bought it and the beasting continued. Even more interesting was Hughes who was clearly aware of how much trouble he was in and began flat-out pleading with his assailants: “I’m not a Tory!” he wailed to which Tucker Campbell replied “you’re getting there…”. Ouch.
By now, the once pristine dingy was rapidly being reduced to matchwood but worse was to come when one of the seagulls chipped in with a question about youth unemployment, driving his brethren into a maelstrom of murderous intent. Tucker Campbell got the ball rolling by shifting the argument in the direction of EMA’s but to be honest, the sharks were pretty much surplus to requirement as the gulls descended to peck out the eyes of Spelman (who was just whittering bollocks at this point) and Hughes (who finally gave up pretending that he was in any way on board with most of this and was consequently spared quite the hammering Spelman took). Broken, battered and listing heavily, the dingy managed to limp onto the final question about Oldham, but it was clear that they had only just escaped with their lives. Moments later, the gulls dispersed, the sharks got bored and went to look for something else to bite whilst Carlisle weighed anchor and pootled off into the sunset leaving Spelman and Hughes to ponder just how much fun the next four years of bailing/arguing over the freshwater/watching each other pee/mutual loathing would be. A cautionary tale if ever I heard one but a ripping yarn nevertheless.
I try very hard to be impartial, but something about her just stinks. Lucky to leave the studio alive.
Malcolm Tucker Alastair Campbell: 6/10
Yes, he’s an unrepentant ball of belligerence with a book to plug and possibly a war criminal too, but you have to admire just quite how proficient he is in the Dark Arts.
A valiant and spirited effort, but it’s actually rather disturbing to watch a man rend his soul apart on live television.
Gorgeous George: 7/10
Pompous and self-serving rabble-rouser that he is, it has to be said that he still represents Question Time Value For Money on a par with Farage.
Clarke Carlisle: 6/10
Actually quite good, despite the nervous start, occasional manglings of his own arguments and inherent sportiness. Kind of makes me feel a little guilty for doing a sarky pshop of him (see Fig.1).
The Crowd: 9/10
A well deserved whopper of a score for the most awesome crowd I’ve seen in ages. Reet Northern, reet pissed off and reet keen to get amongst it. Burnley: Walk tall this week… you’ve bloody well-earned it.
So that’s that. If this slightly different format has left you pining for the old/enthralled by the prospect of a brighter future, feel free to let me know. Oh, and just before I go, remember how I said ages ago that Ed Balls is probably the world’s least effective liar? Well, I think I might have just found the most compelling piece of evidence to date…
Next week Lemmings, next week…