Morning Lemmings and well done for having survived an entire week without me. The pain, I realise, must have been close to unbearable but you’re through to the other side now, basking in the warm glow of our shared love for Question Time. So kudos to you.
Anyhoo, I’m back and if I’m not mistaken, this appears to be the last episode in this series of Question Time. That’s right, the Series That Stubbornly Refused To End appears to have finally chuntered itself into a state of coma, leaving us all to twiddle our Thursday night thumbs for the next six weeks. So, with this in mind, let us gather round the hospital bed as the Good Doctor Dimbers makes ready to yank out the power cord from the life support whilst we mouth empty platitudes and extrapolate wildly on the contents of the will. This, dear Lemmings, is The End. At least until September, that is.
Q1: Was it right to revoke Nick Griffin’s invite to Buckingham Palace?
Q2: Is The Big Society Big Cover for Big Cuts?
Q3: 67% of the population want a burqa ban but Damian Green says it’s “un-British”. Who’s right?
Q4: Should Alex Salmond account for the release of al-Maghari to Obama instead of David Cameron?
Q5: Is the Tomlinson case a cover-up?
In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Damian Green, Minister of State for Borders and Immigration and one time Man In The Frame for a very fishy bit of policing.
I’m always at a bit of loss with Damian Green because although he’s been knocking about on the Tory frontbenches since 2001, the only thing that springs to mind when his name is mentioned is the rather sketchy looking incident when he was arrested (and then subsequently cleared) for misconduct in public office. To be sure, that was a grubby looking brouhaha that deservedly filled the front pages for a good long while, but it’s had the effect of defining his period in parliament and I really can’t recall a time when Damian Green has been on my radar for any other reason.
Part of this is down to the fact that it was a genuine scandal in which he appears to have been stitched up, but some of it is also to do with the fact that he simply isn’t that memorable. On the one hand, he’s certainly not incompetent and I can’t recall a time where I’ve thought ‘that there Damian Green, he’s a right numpty’, but on the other hand, he simply doesn’t seem to have that much of a presence and his MO very much seems to be ‘say things with an air of mild understatement, stick to the middle, don’t rock the boat too much and it will all be gravy’. So yes, he’s political semi-skimmed: Serviceable in a workaday manner, but hardly the heady luxury of vein clogging silvertop.
His general reasonableness was very much on display in Q1 where he gave props to The Red Team for beating the BNP in Barking and generally sidestepped any potential booby traps by simply saying it was the Queen’s call. Q2, however, was less benign and he had to resort to the ‘it’s all Labour’s fault’ defence after Dimbers started looking dangerous with talk of unbuilt schools. Now, the Coalition have to be careful with this particular attack because it’s fast approaching it’s sell by date and will start to look pretty shabby if they carry on using it at its current frequency after September. Following this, the schools issue continued to be a thorn in his side, but he did have a brief flourish at the end when he declared that Labour would have probably done something pretty similar themselves (whilst simultaneously trying to look very, very upset and serious. D- for feigned indignation). That just about got him off the hook. Next up was Burqagate in Q3 and the mood in the room suddenly soured. Sensing some easy points, Farage lost no time in huffing and puffing about the madness of it all and he was soon scrapping with Green about what happens when burqa wearers go to banks. The audience then bundled in with supplementary ‘we have to show our faces in Tesco/BBC studio’s/etc, etc’ but credit where credit’s due, Green stood his ground and then went on the offensive by asking everyone to imagine just how stupid it would look if the police actually started arresting burqa wearers. That was a nice little switcheroo. Unfortunately, that was pretty much it from him as Q’s 5-6 mainly consisted of empty waffle and hedged bets that didn’t really go anywhere. Still, it could have been a lot worse and all-in-all, it wasn’t a bad effort, even if it wasn’t exactly gripping stuff. Still can’t say that he left much of an impression though.
A low fat 6/10
In The Red Corner: Sadiq Khan, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport and pay rise turner-downer.
Now here’s an interesting specimen. Oft-mooted as a potentially British Obama, Khan sports a set of pretty much spotless credentials, marred only by some minor expenses shenanigans. After being raised in a council estate, he’s gone from being a human rights lawyer to a Labour councillor before finally making it to the Commons in 2003 and then on to the Cabinet in 2010. So far, so admirable. However, there is one vital ingredient missing in this otherwise beneficent mix and that, I’m afraid to say, is charisma. It’s not that he’s a bad communicator or that he has a habit of sticking his foot in it. It’s just that it takes him so long to get going, like an engine that’s lubricated with Marmite. He also has hair like Guile from Street Fighter 2. That’s cool though.
So yes, he’s not noted for his acceleration, but he did get off to a reasonably good start on Q1 by looking stern and telling everyone that it ‘served Nick Griffin right’ to get his invite to the Palace withdrawn. Boxes ticked and applause received, he then went on to Q2, a question that had a lot of potential for a Labour panellist. It started promisingly enough when he accused the Tories of being “vacuous branding men” who weren’t fooling anyone, but he didn’t drive home the attack and the initiative passed him by. Later on, he came back for another swipe, this time aimed at the middle-classes for receiving too much Tory money (which is a very dangerous game) and soon found himself handing over some easy points to Green. Hmmmm… Not the wisest strategy. Q3 resulted in much scrapping between himself, Farage and the audience and although he did make a good stab at taking the high ground, it wasn’t entirely effective and Farage managed to reap some fairly handsome applause when he played the old ‘you guys had 13 years to do something about this’ card. Ouch. Finally, along limped Q’s 4 and 5, but everyone had pretty much given up caring at this point and not much was made of it.
The above is a good illustration of why Khan has never managed to convert his ‘British Obama’ props in to the cold, hard, political power that such a title demands: You just don’t get the sense that he has the killer instinct. Yes, he’s clearly a clever guy who’s achieved a great deal in his life and yes, he has an admirable record in all of his dealings with the exception of his (admittedly minor) expenses claim. However, when it comes to the crunch, his manner just doesn’t carry that much weight and I found myself to be left wanting by his performance. I hope that this changes over time because I do think he has a lot to offer, but until then, he really needs to start pumping some oratory iron.
A somewhat clumsy but somewhat acceptable 5/10
In The Red White And Blue Corner: Nigel Farage, UKIP leader and shamelessly death defying self publicist.
Look who’s back! It’s Britain’s favourite value-for-money demagogue and amateur cad, Nigel Farage! That’s right, for as we are all aware, just prior to the election, Nigel Farage literally crashed and not so literally burned as an oh so UKIP publicity stunt went oh so predictably wrong. Yet from this wreckage emerged a man who will not let anything as trivial as death stand in the way of his tireless defence of our green and pleasant land. Gawd bless yer Nigel, the yeomanry of Great Britain are forever indebted to you. Speaking of which, I have noticed that a photo of the incident, featuring a dazed, battered and dishevelled looking Farage has since disappeared from Google Images, which is a shame as it represented the perfect juxtaposition of both comedy and tragedy. Luckily, I managed to save a copy myself, now proudly displayed below in a somewhat enhanced form below (see Fig. 1).
Anyway, it was pretty much stock Farage tonight and he stuck to his tradition of starting out on a semi-reasonable footing before picking a fight with everyone and then consequently drowning in a sea of animosity he himself created. I call it The Farage Trajectory. Here’s how it worked last night: Q1 had him sounding, dare I say it, very sensible as he took the now familiar ‘hate the BNP, but they are elected’ line which was received with some very sensible sounding applause before then embarking on a bit of a non-answer to Q3 that was saved at the last minute by some ‘isn’t the voluntary sector great’ cheapery. However, it was Q3 where the more confrontational Nigel (who I’ve perversely come to actually quite like in a completely counter intuitive way) emerged and scraps were had with all. Some nonsense was spouted, some wide eyed monkeyshine invoked and a telling off from Dimbers received but oddly (and worryingly) the crowd seemed to be mostly behind him. The Farage Trajectory then asserted itself with renewed vigour as he made a fairly long winded stab at Americans in general, only to find that there was an American woman in the audience who happened to take offence. Doh! Bad luck there Nigel! Finally, he managed to buck his eponymous trajectory on Q5 as he got a brief squirt of applause for saying that the Tomlinson case “stinks”. Damn. I hate it when a trajectory doesn’t come together.
So that was that and as usual, I really quite enjoyed it. Yes, he’s crazy as a shit house rat and yes, he’s full of tawdry, two-bit plays, but come on, he really does bring something to show. Never change Nigel. Never change.
An awe inspiringly tacky 8/10
In The Independent/Brainy Corner: Ruth Lea, hard headed economist type and purveyor of all round wtf?!-ness.
Ok, ok, so I’ve done the ‘doesn’t Ruth Lea look just like that weird little boy from the Antiques Roadshow who ended up being a woman’ gag before (see title image), but c’mon, gags like that come but once a lifetime. In fact, so taken am I by this rather cheap trick that from here on in, Ruth Lea will always be represented by a picture of the aforementioned Weird Little Boy From The Antiques Roadshow Who Ended Up Being A Woman. My blog, my rules, ok?
Anyhoo, Ruth Lea’s back she’s usually pretty predictable. It works like this: If it’s anything to do with the public sector, it’s bad. If Gordon Brown’s been within 500 miles of it, it’s bad. If there’s the slightest whiff of anyone trying to pour cold water on the throbbing sinews of dog-eat-dog capitalism, it’s not just bad, it’s an affront to humanity and the perpetrator fully deserves to have their eyes poked out with a statuette of Milton Friedman. That’s how Ruth Lea works and providing there’s someone around at the other end of the spectrum to put up a bit of a fight, it can be quite fun watching her get all fundamental and crazy about all things economic.
When I saw the line up tonight, I was delighted. I wasn’t too bothered by either the Red or Blue team, but the thought of Ruth Lea going toe-to-toe with her polar opposite, Bob Crow, filled me with giddy optimism. This had to result in an epic and bad tempered shitstorm, right? Wrong. In actual fact, what we got was a quite sedate Ruth Lea who failed to build up to her usually ginormous levels of moon howling lunacy. Q1? Perfectly reasonable. Q2? Low levels of bureaucracy and Gordon Brown bashing, but nothing like the torrent of fervent zeal we’re accustomed to. Q3 A picture of even handed tolerance (and she told Nigel Farage to “put a sock in it”) Q4? Neither here nor there. And Q5? Not even worth mentioning.
Well, that wasn’t very fun, was it and if I’m being totally honest, I feel a little cheated. So come on Ruth. You’ve got a role to fill and that’s the role of Never Say Die, snake eating, free market extremist. Next time, I expect to hear at least one reference to how the Invisible Hand is going to bitchslap me silly for paying my taxes or a call for Parliament to be sold to Primark. Now be off with you!
A disappointingly sane 4/10
In The ‘I’m The Funny One’/Just Like You Corner: Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT and Salt Of The Erf.
I have a theory about Bob Crow. I contend that there are in fact two Bob Crow’s and that they alternate their media appearances on a random basis. Sometimes, it is the principled, down to earth, Defender of The People Bob Crow who sallies into the studio, ready to fight the little guy’s corner and stand up for a fairer society. On other occasions it is YOU’RE GOIN’ ‘OME IN A FACKING AMBULANCE, Scargillite bull-in-a-china shop Bob Crow who bludgeons his way through the door, ready to pick a fight with anyone who grew up in a house that had an indoor toilet (as aptly represented in Fig. 2 and in this episode of Have I Got News For You).
Tonight, we got the former and I must say, I was quite impressed. On pretty much every question, he made his point in a robust way that managed to stay on the right side of anger and even when he was harried by a bloke in the audience who clearly was a bit of a tit, he managed to keep the aggression that can so often be his undoing in check. Ok, so his performance was littered with an inordinate number of slightly bizarre World War II references (his granddad in the 8th Army, the uncle shot in Rangoon, Q2′s “Dad’s Army” barb , government spending in 1945, etc) and his bankers/Dick Turpin joke fell a bit flat, but the audience were behind him in impressive numbers and he came across like a man with genuine convictions who was in it for the right reasons. I will admit to being slightly pissed off that the other Bob Crow didn’t turn up, if only to have a fight with Ruth Lea, but I can’t deny that there was a lot to like about this outing.
A sturdy 7/10
The Crowd: Hartlepool
Ok, so I don’t quite know what to make of this lot. On the one hand, they were a pretty noisy, knockabout crowd with some good stand out solo’s (American Farage Mauler, I’m looking at you), whilst on the other, the reaction to the burqa question scared me a little and I sort of got the feeling that quite a few of them were there simply to have a go at someone (which is the point of Question Time, but you know what I mean, right?). This wasn’t really helped by having Red and Blue panellist who were competent enough to not really bugger anything up, but not seasoned/skilful enough to build a head of steam and smite their foes. Add in to that the fact that Ruth Lea’s medication has obviously kicked in while Bob Crow has experienced some instant mellowing and the show as a whole ends up looking a little frustrating. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad episode and there was some interesting stuff there, but in general I just found it a little incoherent and slapdash. Thank god for Farage, eh?
Oh Christ… I really did just say that, didn’t I…
A confusing 5/10
So that’s it! This series over! While this is the first series that I’ve actually written about, it totally does stick in my mind as one of the more eventful and dramatic ones, particularly during the March-June arc. Since then we’ve been through a period of politics that really has completely turned everything on its head and we emerge at the other end in a very uncertain, but utterly fascinating landscape that continues to shift and contort. I have no idea where things are going at the moment. I have suspicions and inklings, but nothing that I’d take to the bank. All I do know is that it’s watching the flux of events through the window of Question Time is a whole bunch of fun and that I’ll be back for more in September.
If you’ve been following this blog, many, many thanks. It’s sometimes a pain in the arse to write and produce as I work full time and you’d be surprised just how much long it takes to make, but it’s all worth it when people say nice things to me about it. I’m not entirely sure what’s going to happen to it by the next series. It’ll be back in one form or another, but it just might be on a different platform. Anyhow, check back in from time-to-time, because you never know, I might get round to finally updating the scoreboard-that-is-of-my-own-devising-yet-I-still-don’t-understand. Emphasis on the word ‘might’. MIGHT
And finally some special thanks go out my Mum for the proof reading and gentle ticking offs whenever the spelling/typos/swearing got too appalling (I was born in 1979. I am living proof of 18 years of Tory education policy), the good people at reddit’s /r/unitedkingdom and /r/ukpolitics (your upboats and comments gave me a major morale boost at exactly the point when I needed it most) Jalf for techy brain picking/holiday Friday escapism, Benry for Spreadhead, Rick for the banter and most of all to my partner Hannah for putting up with what could quite often be quite the curmudgeonly Loudribs. xx
See y’all in September.