Morning Lemmings and say hello to Middlesbrough. I had to say hello to Middlesbrough recently. It was on a stag do and we had, for convoluted reasons, ended up drinking in the town’s Walkabout at around lunchtime on a Saturday. It was a new low. As it is unwise to delve deeper into this traumatic episode, let us hasten on the action: QTime meets M-Bro.
In the Red Corner: Lord Roy Hattersley, former Labour Deputy Leader and Spitting Image mainstay.
Who’s this odd looking creature that has emerged from the depths of the oceans? Why, it’s Roy Hattersley! It’s easy to be mean to Roy as he has a face built for ridicule but he is also somewhat of a political oddity as well. Back in the day, poor old Roy was often pilloried in the Labour party for being far to right wing. Luckily for him, when Tony Blair came along the left of the party pretty much ceased to exist and many of those who had been calling him names made their way quietly into the night. Unluckily however, Tony Blair drove the party so far to the right that it wasn’t long before he had a brand new set of tormentors who were now wailing on him for being too far on the left, quietly tutting away as he ensconced himself on the backbenches. Fair play to him though, he has survived and in many ways he represents the conscience of the Labour party, not so much in a fire-and-brimstone, old testament way, the likes of which Tony Benn busts out now and again, but in a much more quietly naggy way, chiding it for not doing it’s homework or hanging out with bad lads from the City. From the party’s point of view, he was a good choice for the show as there was a lot of potential for trouble that night. Middlesbrough, it seems, is inches away from having it’s industrial guts wrenched out again and Labour are highly vulnerable on this front as there’s only so many times you can play the ‘global recession’ card. Damage limitation is pretty much the best you can hope for and you could do a lot worse than sending in a back bencher who people associate with Labour’s much more pro-industrial past. It was a nice little sidestep and one they nearly got away with.
OK, so down to the action. First question up was about Gordon Brown’s interview with Piers Morgan. As he’s not in the cabinet, Roy had a certain amount of leeway on this and got away with damning our fickle culture whilst also concluding that actually, Gordon came out of it looking alright. The crowd were into that and buoyed by this, he had a crack at a mild joke (which was so forgettable that I forgot to write it down). This was met with sympathy titters but he was later thrown a bone by Ruth Lee who got a bit excited about Brown tanking the economy. Spotting an easy point, he confidently threw down the ‘global recession’ card and basked in the glory of solid applause. So far, so good Roy. Things were about to get tricky though, as the next question was about the Corus ‘mothballing’ and the room was positively seething about this (they applauded the question, for Christ’s sake!). I must confess that I’m not particularly up together on the ins and outs of multinational steel shenanigans, so when both he and Ruth Lea started getting deeply involved in a lot of talk about complicated sounding steel stuff, I drifted off a little. However, what was clear was that the crowd were not exactly enthused about what he had to say and although he escaped without getting mauled, neither could he claim any sort of victory (although he did get a brief flurry of applause by chastising his own party for neglecting industry), which is probably as good as it’s going to get for Labour right now. Calmer waters prevailed later as he picked up some low hanging fruit on the Nicholas Winterton question (the Tory MP who effectively called anyone travelling by second class ‘scum’), calling the man an “ass” and telling tales about David Cameron, while the Afghanistan and Ray Gosling efforts were fairly steady affairs. Encouraged by this, he went for a late flourish by defending the right to offend and warning of (perhaps a little over dramatically) ‘totalitarianism’ if we didn’t. As with most Roy Hattersley performances, it wasn’t an earth shattering affair, but it did allow Labour to escape relatively unscathed from what could have been a nightmare evening.
An assured 6/10
In Blue Corner: Rory Stewart, prospective Conservative candidate, former Deputy Governor of Maysan province, Afghan rambler and generally interesting bod.
I like Rory Stewart. He’s got a backstory and manner that are from a completely different age and he tends to talk a great deal of sense when it comes our deranged foreign adventures. In the past, he’s absolutely run circles around MP’s on the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan and he can back up his impressive knowledge with equally impressive first hand experience. That sort of thing terrifies professional politicians Tonight though, was going to be interesting as I’m pretty sure this has been the first time he’s been on under the official Tory banner and that meant he was going to have to at least try and do the party line thing. So how did he fair? Well, on the Gordon Brown/Piers Morgan number, he was actually quite nice to the big man which was quite refreshing really and he too had a pop at a joke (about the ‘mile high’ club question) which went down better than Hattersley’s effort but failed to set the world aflame. However, the Corus question presented a much thornier problem as if Labour were in the dog house on the issue, then the Tory’s were even further up to their necks in it, particularly given some painful memories that are still very much alive in the North-East. Wisely, Stewart stayed well away from the whole mess, uttering a few sentences of not-a-great-deal before slinking back into cover and letting Hattersley and Lea fight it out. He did look out of his depth, but at least he resisted doing a Baroness Warsi by diving in straight at the deep end on matters he really wasn’t up together with. He even got some props from the audience later on when he ventured out for a quick dig at Mandelson. Let us not forget though that saying nasty stuff about Mandy is pretty much an assured win where ever you are, so let’s not get carried away. On Winterton, it was fairly easy as the Tory’s have pretty much disavowed him and he was free to bad mouth the guy. He also managed to see Dimbleby’s “would you go 2nd class?” raise by inviting him to go with him and that was duly rewarded by the audience. Afghanistan was the question that he really got to flex his muscles on and it was a tour de force, appearing grown up and yet far from patronising. His main strength on this front was that this guy does nuance in a big way and isn’t afraid to tell people that the reality of the situation is going to be long, difficult and messy. People appreciate being treated like adults and it is fair to say that he came across as totally devoid of bullshit. Saying that we need less troops rather than more is also a winner and while he wasn’t saturated in applause, you could see that the crowd took him seriously. A robust performance. The rest of his answers weren’t so steady and he got sidetracked by some Commandments quoting on the Ray Gosling question and a minor tiff with Hattersley on the same subject. Although he ended well on the freedom to offend question, you can tell he has some work to do when it comes to the whole politics deal and that when people start asking about things other than foreign policy, he has dangerously little to say. Take my advice Rory, stick with what you know and don’t get blagged into being a party man. No one will thank you for it.
A potential laden 7/10
In the Yellow Corner: Lynne Featherstone, Lib Dem Youth and Equality Issues Spokesperson and Stationary Hoarder.
I’m not overly familiar with Lynne Feathstone and can’t recall whether she’s been on before or not. Sadly, I’ll probably be saying the exact same thing next time she appears as she really didn’t stand out too much last night. She had a solid start by confessing that she actually quite liked “grumpy Gordon Brown” and that trying to rebrand him was a bit sad, which seemed to resonate with the audience, but she failed to really get stuck into the Corus question (which was a shame as she represented the only political party that could have possibly made some hay out of the issue) and simply concluded that investing in jobs is “good”. Well done there. She did pull it back a bit with an answer that sounded heartfelt on the Ray Gosling hot potato, but on everything else she was just a little flat. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a cock up by any measure but I couldn’t help thinking that if she was just a little quicker on her feet, she could have scored some big points for the Lib Dems.
A ‘Must Try Harder’ 4/10
In the Independent/Brainy Corner: Ruth Lea, Right Wing Economics Fruit and Nut Bar and Perennial Spinster.
I only noticed yesterday quite how much Ruth Lea resembles that odd little boy who was an antiques expert on Wogan when he was 12 and then grew up and had a sex change (see Fig, 1).
Anyhoo, Ruth Lea occupies a similar place in my heart to Douglas Murray: I couldn’t disagree with her more on pretty much everything, but I have all the time in the world for people who really don’t give a shit about what everyone else thinks. In the past, Ruth Lea has demonstrated this complete lack of social fear with considerable aplomb, but tonight I felt there was something lacking, that some vital spark simply wasn’t there. I think this was partly to do with who she was up against as there’s usually a culpable frontbencher for her to sink her teeth into. On this week’s show, she had to make do with a back bencher who hasn’t been anywhere near the levers of power for nearly 20 years and although she did get into a fair few scuffles with him, it failed to draw out her usually torrent of blood and stomach pills. The only other people who seemed to be up for a scrap were the audience and although she had a good crack at defending the indefensible, even she sensed she was out numbered and outgunned. On the non-economic questions, she was unable to get into her stride and adopted a position of minor belligerence that failed to provoke any decent outrage and much to my disappointment, she failed to wind me up. Come on Ruth, I’ve grown accustomed to your rabid free market tirades and I won’t settle for anything less. Next time I demand to see at least a little bit of foam around your chops.
An Unduly Moderate 5/10
In the I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Tom Conti, actor and thesp.
It seems that Tom Conti is largely famous on account of being in Shirley Valentine. Considering I was 9 when it came out and thought that it definitely needed more explosions to be watchable, you’ll forgive me for having no string recollections of him (although I am into his daughter’s awesome ventriloquist act). Having said that, he was pretty entertaining tonight, coming across as a slightly drunk uncle who thinks he’s just found the answer to some pressing issue and gets wildly evangelistic about it over dinner, even though it’s as clear as day that his idea is totally shit. He started off by completely blind siding everyone by simple refusing to answer the first question as it involved the death of a child and could not be coaxed to comment further on the matter. However, he roared back to life for the Corus question and lost no time in making a full blown economic recovery plan on the fly. It went a little like this:
Cars → Made of steel → Tarta make steel and cars → Tarta make cars out of steel → Corus is owned by Tarta → Blah!
I have a feeling the audience was aware that it was probably slightly more complicated than this, but his slightly lopsided enthusiasm was hard to resist and he picked up a fair bit of applause. He then heard someone mention something about “orders” and seized on this as the crux of the whole issue. Looking gravely concerned about these “orders” he demanded to know why no one was getting any of them and then seemed drift off, consumed by vision of invoices and stock ledgers. Snapping back to life in time for the Winterton chunter he then took the deeply unorthodox position of saying that MP’s lived “a hand to mouth existence.” and that they “need” to travel first class. “Need”. That’s a brave man right there. Afghanistan was a similar cocktail of bat shit crazy as he pointed out that we were way “too nice” to win, the logic being that the Soviets were well nasty and even they lost. Continuing this reductive path, he ended the question with a call to “help women!” and that was the end of that. Talk of murder and Ray Gosling bought lead him into some feverish speculation about his “motives” while the right to offend drew out a Braveheartesque “Freedom!” outburst followed by a less Braveheartesque “Society is crumbling!” eruption. I’m not sure if he himself entirely understood what he was going on about but he said it all with such conviction that I’d happily go along with it.
A random but enthralling 8/10
The Crowd: Middlesbrough
I felt so sorry for the audience tonight. Over the last 30 years, the North East has been consistently dealt a shitty hand and within that hand, most of the worst cards ended up in Middlesbrough. With very fresh, bad news, steaming away on their front door, it’s understandable that people would want to lash out a little. However, on tonight’s show, there really wasn’t a suitable target. Sure, Ruth Lea got herself into hot water a few times but she doesn’t really have that much blood on her hands and in the place of the real baddies (i.e. a frontbencher from either Labour of the Tories) were a guy who’s too old, reasonable and too far removed from power to be implicated and a new boy who simply wasn’t going to get in a fight. They did succeed in making their anger very visible and the best point of the night was made by a guy who pointed the grim truth that it would be the BNP and UKIP who would clean up on this, but they certainly didn’t get there pound of flesh and that’s unfair. Having said that, there were some notable individuals in the crowd including the most awesome moustache I’ve seen in a long while on QTime, a guy with a sore face and my mate Laura’s mum (who had the good fortune of sitting behind the guy with the awesome moustache). Middlesbrough, it was a valiant effort that was not without dignity, but I’m afraid the major parties managed to do a number on you this time. Gutted on your behalf.
A brave endeavour, sadly stymied. 8/10
So there we have it, our first tie. Congrats to the audience for their justified anger and well done Tom Conti for being off your tits. Come back next week for further nerding out.