Good morning Lemmings and welcome the hell back. Before we get stuck in, let me take this opportunity to offer my sincere apologies for the recent lack of Post Question Time activity. After unilaterally declaring Easter and buggering off on tour it never quite crossed my mind that Question Time itself might take a couple of weeks off so sorry for the absence but rest assured that regular service has now resumed.
Anyhoo, it’s a good job that I’m all refreshed as it was a feverish episode last night that at times seemed more akin to a middle class version of the Jeremy Kyle Show and was all the better for it. Basically, it can be summed up as a game of two halves, both of which featured large doses of Paddy Ashdown and also contained within it one of the most dramatic reversals of fortune I have seen on Question Time to date. It started like this: After a small bout of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown sounding very concerned (she always sounds very concerned. It’s her thing) about the legality of Bin Laden’s killing, Douglas Murray nonchalantly stepped forth and instantly polarised the crowd by declaring in a very gleeful way that he was “elated” by the death of Bin Laden and that Yasmin should really just STFU. That on its own is a pretty bold statement, but when coupled with the fact that he looked like he’d only just sobered up from a week-long ‘Bin Laden’s Dead’ pub crawl (what do you wear to a ‘Bin Laden’s Dead’ pub crawl? A Bin Laden costume? Special Forces garb? Black tie? I have no idea what would be appropriate), it becomes positively incendiary and stunned Alibhai-Brown into some very concerned sounding “goodness me”-ing. This however, was just the beginning as waiting in the wings was Paddy Ashdown and not just any old Paddy Ashdown but Hard Bitten Ex-Instrument of Foreign Policy With Blood On His Hands Paddy Ashdown.
“How old are you Douglas?” he asked, “because YOU SEEM TO YOUNG TO DECIDE ON AN EXECUTION!”.
ZING! The crowd loved that, but he didn’t stop to soak up the applause. Oh no, he had yet even more of the beat down to deploy and deploy it he did by striking a 1000 yard gaze (which is very impressive for a man who doesn’t actually have any eyes) and following it up with this little gem:
“I have seen people killed. Some of them my friends, some of them my enemies… I cannot rejoice in the killing of anyone.”
BOOM! He might as well have just screamed “YOU DON’T KNOW CUZ YOU WEREN’T THERE, MAN!” at Murray and the crowd went totally bonkers (to be fair to Paddy, he really doesn’t pull the whole ‘I’ve killed men with my bare hands’ thing out of the bag often enough. Hell, if it was me I think I’d finish just about every sentence with “and by the way, did I ever tell you that killed a man with my bare hands?”. More tea Mr Loudribs? “Yes please and by the way, did I ever tell you that killed a man with my bare hands?” You see what I’m getting at.)
So yes, from that point on, the tone was set. This was going to be a fight to the death affair and one in which only the strong would survive. Sensing that things were getting pretty hairy, Philip Hammond and Andy Burnham quickly went to ground and ventured out only to big up the Arab Spring while Armando Iannucci correctly guessed that comic intervention probably wasn’t called for at this point and found a foxhole of his own to cower in. By now the whole show had swung to focus exclusively on the running battle between Ashdown and Murray and what a battle it was. For his part, Ashdown would start every sentence with some reference to his days as a shadowy bringer of death (“I’ve been interrogated/fighting terrorism most of my life”) and finish it with a reference to “the rule of law”. This certainly proved to be a very potent weapon and one which the crowd loved, but lets not forget who he was up against: Douglas Murray, The Mentalist Bastard In Town.
It’s easy (and often entirely appropriate) to bash Murray given that he has fashioned an entire career from simply blabbing the most intensely crazy brand of ultra right-wing interventionism, but the man does deserve some credit for being utterly, utterly fearless. Sure, Paddy may well have had the monopoly on harrowing war stories but as powerful as they are, they are still given a run for their money by Murray’s insane capacity to soak up punishment and carry on as if nothing had happened. So it went that for every haymaker that Ashdown landed, Murray simply got straight back up, dusted himself off and then went on to say something even more potty than the last thing that left his mouth (“Killing terrorists is a good way to keep us safe” springs to mind). Neither would it be fair to say that he was without support from the crowd because he also had some fairly vocal cheerleaders, a few of whom also decide to get stuck into the ruck themselves (a special mention is warranted for the guy who objected very strongly to Paddy Ashdown referring to Bin Laden as a ‘man’. He was a special type of crazy, that guy). Anyway, whilst these two slugged it out and the other male panelists did their best not to soil themselves in the heat of combat we were also treated to the spectacle of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wandering in an out of the Danger Zone like a hippy who had inadvertently stumbled into a riot police convention. In a way, I feel slightly sorry for her because she did make some valid points but in the face of such sustained firepower, it was pretty much impossible for her to stand her ground without being beaten to a bloody pulp. Sorry Yasmin, but this ain’t the Wright Stuff (which, by the way, is totally the best thing about sick days).
So that was the first half: An almighty clash of arms in which the crowd decreed Ashdown the winner while Murray never seems to have received this message and just carried on regardless. Emboldened by this triumph in the face of insanity, Ashdown thought himself to be in the perfect position to drive his offensive home and marched on to the sound of gunfire (which actually turned out to be a question about the coalition) with his back ramrod straight. Little did he know of the calamity that was to befall him and what appeared to be the Wide Open Plains of Imminent Victory actually turned out be the Hellish Quagmire of Crushing Defeat, but for the most unexpected of reasons: Andy Burnham. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s unexpected because I think Andy Burnham’s a crap politician. He’s not, but by the same token I wouldn’t exactly describe him as the world’s greatest orator AND he’s never killed anyone before. However, he is quite canny and while the whole Ashdown/Murray bunfight was going on, he had the nouce to find a place of relative safety and keep his powder dry for a fight he was more suited to. His opportunity came with the ‘will Clegg be blamed for the AV defeat’ question. After being given the first bite of the cherry by Dimbers, he moved into a more offensive disposition and warmed up with a hearty round of Lib Dem baiting that made much use of the word “betrayal”. At this point he was joined by Iannucchi who had been also waiting for more benign circumstances to prevail and lost no time in unleashing Teh Funneh along with a further side dish of “betrayal”. Sensing that this new alliance could quite possibly harbour the seeds of his destruction Ashdown attempted to defuse the situation with a light-hearted appeal to talk about torture some more, but the crowd didn’t bite. Worse still, those audience members who had only minutes earlier been cheering him as if he were the Second Coming now started to hurumph and appear positively restive. Faced with a heckler calling him a “sell-out”, Ashdown retreated to the only place coalition members seem to know when the going gets tough: The Bunker of Blame Labour. That really didn’t work and Burnham was right back in there, giving him what-for with regards the NHS, fees and anything else he could find to be semi-convincingly outraged about. A kerfuffle ensued but this time the action was very much one-sided as Ashdown kept tripping up as he tried to retreat and mangled his account of the coalition negotiations. The result was pretty ugly and despite a fairly spirited (if misguided) attempt at a last stand it all ended up with the hero of the Bin Laden question becoming the Bin Laden of the coalition question. Oh London, how fickle you are.
So that was that: Paddy Ashdown was Icarus, Murray was mental, Alibhai-Brown pained yet impotent, Iannucci had his moments and Burnham was a bolt from the blue. But wait! Aren’t we forgetting someone? Oh yes, there was Philip Hammond as well. You may be wondering how we’ve got so far with his name barely being mentioned but in actual fact, the explanation is pretty straight forward: The man is so intrinsically dull that he could well have been replaced with a stack of Readers Digests and no one would have noticed. Take for example this picture (see Fig. 1).
Here we have Philip Hammond in front of Monet’s Venice Twilight. As we can see, the power of Hammond’s congenital greyness is actually leaching the colour out of the painting and rendering the area immediately around him devoid of hue (although interestingly, his tie appears impervious to this effect. I hear it was crafted from materials as yet unknown to science). Such is the power of his all-pervading insipidness that it actually has the power to cancel out excitement. Sure, he has a reputation as a steady pair of hands but in this episode he appeared like a supply teacher who had given up trying to actually teach anything years ago and instead just reads out loud from a textbook as the class run amuck and set fire to each others hair. Even when he was being quite spitefully needled by Dimbers (who had props in the form of posters Hammond had given the OK to) I still found it hard to muster any emotion beyond pure ambivalence and if I hadn’t spent a fair bit of time knocking up that photoshop on Thursday, I doubt I’d have anything to say about him at all. I never thought I’d say this but thank god for Douglas Murray.
Hammond: 100% Grey
Ashdown: 50% Man of the Hour, 50% Whipping Boy.
Burnham: 25% Shirker, 25% Politician Trying to Sound Convincingly Angry, 50% Smiter of Ashdown.
Iannucci: 50% Sidelined, 50% Funny.
Alibhai-Brown: 33% Bleeding Heart Peacenik Commie, 33% “Dear Sir, Imagine My Concern”, 33% First Casualty of War.
Murray: 110% Sectionable.
The Crowd: 25% Andy McNabb Wannabes, 25% Well Rounded Individuals, 1000% Not Fans of the Lib Dems.
So there you go… An absolute belter of an episode that satisfied some deep-seated lust for blood that has haunted me for years. Now, as is customary from time-to-time, here’s a quick reminder that you can follow these reports on Facebook and Twitter and if you’re into these reports, do us a favour and pass ‘em on to people who might like them. Oh, and just in case anyone was remotely interested in how the tour went, let me tell you that it was bloody ruddy great… until our other guitarist trapped his thumb in a taxi door and we had to cancel half the dates. Here’s the thumb in question:
I hate that thumb.
Next week Lemmings, next week…