Archive for March, 2010

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report Occassional Score Round Up #1

Ok, so ages ago, I threatened to get all Excel about the scores. Well that day has arrived (although I actually got all Open Office about it as I’m a cheapskate) and the fruits of my labours are proudly displayed below.

The scoring system works as thus. If you come first on any given show (or joint first), you get six points. If you come second (or joint second) you get five points, four points for third place and so on. After that, your total points are averaged through your number of appearences and the contenders are ranked in order. Once this has happened the contenders are then ranked by their average score (that is toal score divided by total appearances) and the whole thing looks like it starts to make sense. I realise that this is all a little messy and probably not that fair but then again, I’ve never really had to create a scoring system out of thin air before so improvisation is the name of the game.

At present, we can see that Elfyn LLoyd is sitting pretty on top, but not without some fierce competion from the likes of Conti, Williams, Murray, Middlesbrough and Belfast while down at the other end Jim Allister is on the naughty step, followed by Fox, Street-Porter, May and of course, Vorderman. This series is technically moot as I missed  bunch of shows near the start, but it should serve as a good dry run and the winner may recieve some completely arbitrary award of absolutely no monetary value when we reach recess. So there you go, that’s how it all works. Let me know if you detect any glaring errors and check back for regular updates. See you next week for Stevenage. Hertfordshire, innit?

Appearances Average Score 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th Average Points
Elfyn Llwyd 1 9 1 0 0 0 0 0 6
Shirley Williams 1 8 1 0 0 0 0 0 6
Tom Conti 1 8 1 0 0 0 0 0 6
Middlesbrough Audience 1 8 1 0 0 0 0 0 6
Belfast Audience 1 8 1 0 0 0 0 0 6
Douglas Murray 1 8 1 0 0 0 0 0 6
Justine Greening 1 7 1 0 0 0 0 0 6
Monty Don 1 7 1 0 0 0 0 0 6
Dewsbury Audience 1 7 1 0 0 0 0 0 6
Claire Short 1 7 1 0 0 0 0 0 6
David Starkey 1 7 1 0 0 0 0 0 6
Caroline Lucas 1 7 1 0 0 0 0 0 6
Alex Salmond 1 7 1 0 0 0 0 6
Cardiff Audience 1 8 0 1 0 0 0 0 5
Canary Wharf Audience 1 7 0 1 0 0 0 0 5
Rory Stewart 1 7 0 1 0 0 0 0 5
Shaun Woodward 1 7 0 1 0 0 0 0 5
Gerry Kelly 1 7 0 1 0 0 0 0 5
Margaret Ritchie 1 7 0 1 0 0 0 0 5
Jo Swinson 1 6 0 1 0 0 0 0 5
George Galloway 1 6 0 1 0 0 0 0 5
Lord Lawson 1 6 0 1 0 0 0 0 5
Wythenshaw Audience 1 6 0 1 0 0 0 0 5
Sayeeda Warsi 1 6 0 1 0 0 0 0 5
Jane Moore 1 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 5
Basildon Audience 1 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 5
Nigel Farage 1 7 0 0 1 0 0 0 4
Lord Adonis 1 6 0 0 1 0 0 0 4
Boris Johnson 1 6 0 0 1 0 0 0 4
Roy Hattersley 1 6 0 0 1 0 0 0 4
Caroline Fint 1 5 0 0 1 0 0 0 4
Lord Falconer 1 5 0 0 1 0 0 0 4
Melanie Phillips 1 5 0 0 1 0 0 0 4
Jenny Tonge 1 5 0 0 1 0 0 0 4
Charles Kennedy 1 5 0 0 1 0 0 0 4
Margaret Beckett 1 5 0 0 1 0 0 0 4
Glasgow Audience 1 5 0 0 1 0 0 0 4
Baron Trimble 1 4 0 0 1 0 0 0 4
Peter Haine 1 6 0 0 0 1 0 0 3
Will Self 1 5 0 0 0 1 0 0 3
Ruth Lea 1 5 0 0 0 1 0 0 3
Coventry Audience 1 4 0 0 0 1 0 0 3
Ben Bradswaw 1 4 0 0 0 1 0 0 3
Andrew Lansley 1 4 0 0 0 1 0 0 3
Martin Sorrell 1 4 0 0 0 1 0 0 3
Julia Goldsworthy 1 4 0 0 0 1 0 0 3
Liam Byrne 1 4 0 0 0 1 0 0 3
Sammy Wilson 1 3 0 0 0 1 0 0 3
Kelvin MacKenzie 1 4 0 0 0 1 0 0 2
Lynne Featherstone 1 4 0 0 0 0 1 0 2
Carol Vorderman 1 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 2
Liam Fox 1 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 2
Janet Street-Porter 1 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 2
Theresa May 1 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 2
Jim Allister 1 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 2

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #9

Sweet 9% Lord...

Thanks to the paucity of amusing images of this week's panellist I've had to fall back on crude caricatures of regional stereotypes.

Morning Lemmings and welcome to another trudge through this week’s topical blabberfest. And a trudge it is this week, given that it was one of the more lacklustre outings. With that in mind, steel thyself and summon all your mental fortitude for this weeks QT Post Match Report, brought to you by the denizens of Glasgow.

In The Red Corner: Liam Byrne, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and noted demander of scheduelled cuppuccinos.

I have to admit that Liam Byrne freaks me out a little. His rise up the ranks of the Labour party has been way too quick for someone who appears to be running a sizable charisma deficit (elected in 2004, under-secretery in 2005, full blown minister in 2006, in the cabinet by 2008… either he has some remarkable hidden talent or he knows where a lot of bodies are buried) and in terms of public persona, he’s incredably hard to draw a bead on. I saw him on Newsnight the day before this episode of Question Time and was struck by just how thoroughly he strips all the emotion out of everything he utters. That’s not to say he isn’t totally unflappable because he does display a few tells when he’s under pressure (like speeding his speech up and sometimes dropping his ‘t’s) and although he’s not quite as dull as Des Browne (a man who is forcefully boring), there’s something going on that I can’t put my finger on. I don’t like things that elude my fingers being put upon them. He also looks a little like a cross between William Hague and a baked bean, but that’s by-the-by. Tonight’s little jaunt with Liam was pretty much a textbook case of general ‘staying on-message’-ness, kicking off with the obligatory budget question (‘has Darling “shot Labour in the foot” with his red box). Byrne’s response was straight down the party line (as one would expect from a Treasury minister), emphasising their pop at the rich and warning of mad-slasher-Tory-antics. Some complex little skirmish involving numbers and such like broke out between himself and Dimbleby, but nothing of great import occured. That’s ok I guess. It was a boring budget (although not a bad one, all things considered) and it’s pretty rare that anyone from a ruling party picks up any QT love on the back of them. The second question, (‘can Gordy survive until the election with all the strikes loomin’), elicited a rare stumble when he said Gordon Brown will survive “until the next election” and then got jumped on by Dimbleby. After some quick backtracking, he was right back to the script, packaging up the strikes as a matter between companies and unions but Dimbleby knew he’d rattled him and got stuck in with some mischevious Bob Crowe quotes. Sensing that the plan was in grave danger of going awry, Byrne muttered a few platitudes and withdrew under the smokescreen of a non-point from some audience member. Lucky escape. Question 3 (“Is Lobbygate indicative of the dying days of the last conservative government”) saw the plan back on track (in theory, at least) as he spoke of his “sheer fury” at the matter whilst looking very un-furious as well as cramming in another outing for that well worn “the best disinfectant is sunlight” line (which the audience fell for and rewarded him with some nice little claps). Dimbers goarded him a little by poking around the Mandelson/Adonis angle but Byrne was not to be drawn and retreated in good order. He got a little more proactive later on when he went for in some “public have a right to know” action, but that swiftly devolved into a confusing little skuffle between himself and Warsi about some inquiry that lasted 20 minutes. I wasn’t really sure what was going on (and neither were the audience, judging by their lack of response) but it looked like Warsi sort of won. Don’t quote me on that though. The next question (is the SNP exclusion from the leaders debates “an afront to democracy”?) had him making the pretty reasonable point that until they fielded a candidate in every constituency, it wouldn’t really be fair if they did, but after that he sloped back to his bunker and looked on as everyone else duked it out. The final question (is the expulsion of Israeli diplomats enough of a response to “an act of terror”) had the potential to get messy but it was one of those last minute affairs and he was saved by the bell after some “strong relations with Israel”/”need for trust” hedge betting.

Again, I find myself a little non-plused by Byrne. On the one hand, the stuff that comes out of his mouth is all pretty safe, largely reasonable and wholly uncontroversial, but that general lack of human spark/frailty make him seem a little odd and disconnected, as if the wheel is turning but the hamster isdead. I don’t know, maybe I’ll warm to him in time but for that happen, he really needs to give me something of character to hold onto. So that’s your job for next time Liam, grow a little soul.

A disconcertingly detatched 4/10

In The Blue Corner: Baroness Warsi, Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion and Social Action, Undeserved Target for Extremist Eggs.

Baroness Warsi has been on my radar for quite a while now and I’ve been somewhat critical of her tendency to over extend herself on Question Time in the past. It usually goes like this: She starts off with some fairly solid stuff, gets in some early successes and then wazzes it all up the wall with some ill-conceived all-out offensive. However, I do like her tenacity and even if she does make some pretty junior errors, she takes her licks well. So, how’s she doing? True to form, she got off to an ok start with the budget question even if the material was a bit a dull (constantly chanting “deficit” does not a strategy make). Considering she’s a Tory and Question Time was in probably the most un-Tory place in the world, ‘ok’ is good enough. However, she soon started to overplay her hand when she produced this really contrived little laugh when Byrne was whittering on about cuts. It wasn’t that her point wasn’t valid, it was the way she had to almost shit this laugh out. It just sounded over the top and a little cynical. Question 2 (the rampant communism apparently sweeping the nation) was a similar affair as she started with an OK-ish joke about Gordy visiting the Queen before wrapping it all up very quickly with “the country’s unravelling!”. Again, not brilliant, but then again, no-one threw any cans of OPT at her so I’m happy to call that a draw. What did it for her this time was that when Liam Byrne said the Tories were “salivating” at cuts (a word he used twice in the space of five minutes. Probably a glitch in the matrix) she let out this theatrical moan that this was “really unfair!”. Again, the point may have been valid, but she said it such a way that made me instantly lose any sympathy. So far, so Warsi. However, things did begin to pick up on the Lobbygate question when she had a fairly good rant about the horror of it all and called for an inquiry. That was warmly received by the audience and she got a happy little shower of applause. That was followed by the inconclusive and confusing scrap with Byrne, but credit where credit’s due, she earned some hard claps there. The leader’s debates matter was more sedate as she went through the obligatory “Scotland is important” motions but made it clear that Salmond will “never be PM of the UK” (which is entirely true) while the Israel question brought forth nothing of any relevance. So here we are again with Warsi getting some things quite impressively right while horribly misjudging some others. However, I do think she’s improving and given enough practice, she could become a pretty formidable front-of-house type. I don’t think that she’ll necessarily make a brilliant minister, but she’s certainly interesting to watch. And that’s worth a bob or two.

A work-in-progress 6/10

In The Yellow Corner: Julia Goldsworthy, MP for Falmouth and Camborne, tireless Facebook campaigner for Cornish network recognition

Julia Goldsworthy should, by rights, be an ideal Question Time panellist. She’s young, not unattractive and bright, but there’s something that just isn’t quite working for her. I first started noticing it when she went on the scorn-inducing First Time Voters Question Time. That should have been the ideal vehicle for her, but somehow she didn’t manage to make as much hay as I expected her to. After this episode of QT I’m pretty sure I know what it is: It’s the not-quite-convincing urgency in all of her responses. All through the show, she seemed to be hellbent on crowbarring her way into every question before it was her turn and while I’m quite the fan of proactive strategies on Question Time, this tack just simply didn’t work. Rather than coming across as genuinely concerned (which I think she probably was), she ended up looking a little desperate and contrived. Take the first question, for instance. She started with a fairly straight forward ‘government think people are idiots’ line and then hurriedly pulled cutting Trident out of the bag (a wise move as Faslane is only down the road and Glasgow has never been too keen on being nuked… wimps). The problem was that she looked in such a manic rush to get the missile on the table that the point got lost and she ended up being cut off by Dimbers. Not to let this get in the way, she tried again, but the audience remained unswayed, even when she upped her bet to Eurofighter. If that wasn’t bad enough, Salmond was up next, took a leisurely stroll about the place, stole her Trident point and was then saturated in applause. Harsh. Stinging from this episode, she tried to barge in at the end of the question with a blurted “Vince Cable!” (“Matt Damon!”) but again, was met with silence. She did win some favour from the audience later with some good stuff on Lobbygate and the leader’s debates, but throughout most of the show she looked twitchy and preoccupied. That’s a shame because most of the things she said were pretty good and she does seem to be in politics for the right reasons. However, she really needs to take some deep breaths and calm-the-fuck-down because it doesn’t matter what you say, if it seems like you’re pinging off the walls at Mach 3 while you’re saying it, people simply won’t take it in. I hope she can get to grips with this because she’s got a lot of potential and it’s a shame to see it squandered. So how about it Julia? Some herbal tea, bit of Massive Attack on the ipod ? The world could be your lobster.

A fatally flawed but not irretrievable 4/10

In The Independent/Brainy Corner: Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland, SNP Leader and Scourge of the Union

I don’t know what it is about Alex Salmond, but something about him reminds me of Silvio Berlusconi. It’s not the scandal/lothario/verging on dictator angle that sets me off (in fact, Salmond seems relatively free of anything too untoward, minus the odd lunch expenses jiggery-pokery), but there’s something there, albeit something muted (like Berlusconi after drinking three bottles of cough medicine or overdoing the tamazepam). I think it’s probably something to do with way he often tries to portray himself as quietly confident, but instead sometimes comes over as cocksure and smug. He also bears a remarkable resemblance to Churchill, the eponymous insurance company mascot (see Fig. 1), although that could be a blessing in disguise as Churchill is a very lovable corporate mascot.

No no no.....

Fig. 1

Tonight, he started out with the wind on his back, brazenly stealing Goldsworthy’s Trident point on the budget question and then tacking on all manner of unpopular schemes to cut, such as ID cards. That went down very well and he seemed to have control of the commanding heights at this point, but failed to consolidate his position with a long and largely irrelevant ‘blah’ on the strikes issue (my notes from the night actually read as “blah” and I remember him talking for quite some time on that one). Luckily, this appeared to only be a temporary snag and he soon had the audience back on side with a thorough damning of lobbying in all it’s form before threatening to run nationwide with Plaid on the leader’s debates saga (everyone knew it was a rhetorical point, but at least it was a bit of a laugh) and labelled the whole affair as a stitch-up. Good times all round. He was also the only panellist to really break cover on the Israel question, suggesting that the government action was nothing more than a “gesture” and was thusly well received by the masses.

On the face of it, it was a strong performance (he is a good showman) and there are a lot of areas where I find myself agreeing with Alex Salmond. However, and for the life of me I can’t think why, there’s just something about him that I simply don’t trust. I’m happily prepared to accept that it’s probably one of those random instances of someone rubbing you up the wrong way for absolutely no reason, but no matter how objective I try to think about it, I simply can’t shake it. Maybe it’s because any thought I have about Scottish independence inevitably leads to a mental image of Buckfast swilling hordes of pale Highlanders laying siege to Newcastle and deep frying our young. That’s not rational, I know, but we all have our demons.

A sturdy 7/10

In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP Group and stern looking money bloke.

Ok, ok, so this guy’s a million miles away from either ‘funny’ or ‘just like you’ (unless you happen to be an All Powerful High Priest of Capitalism, in which case I take it all back) but I don’t want to mess with the format. It’s taken me 9 weeks to get the bastard thing standardised and I’ll be damned if the capricious vagaries of the Question Time production team are going to get the better of me on this one. The fightback starts here. Anyhoo, just who in the hell is Martin Sorrell? Well, it turns out that he somehow made a massive advertising conglomerate out of a company that made wire shopping baskets and is the guy who came up with the Conservative’s “Labour Isn’t Working” slogan of yesteryear (something that prompted much blowing of one’s own trumpet later on in the show). I’m never quite sure why they invite the heads of massive corporations and companies on QT because most of the time, they play the neutrality card to hell and back so they don’t have to say anything that could have a possibly negative impact on sales (Sir Stuart Rose, I’m looking at you). To these guys, politics is a sideshow, a necessary evil that takes away from the much more important job of making piles of money. Only if politicians have the temerity to start seriously messing about and getting in the way of this will they start to get involved and then god help any poor soul who gets in the way, but as this is an election year which is looking increasingly difficult to call there was precious little chance of anything substantial passing his lips. And so it was. He did some numbers stuff about the budget, made it abundantly clear he was ‘apolitical’ and then damned all politicians for thinking people were “imbecilic”. The crowd were into that, but he really didn’t give anything away other than a general disdain for politics. Naturally, on the strikes question he poured scorn on the unions so no surprises there, but something interesting did occur on the Lobbygate issue. Before he had a chance to speak, Dimbleby mentioned that Sorrell himself had a hand in the lobbying industry. This led to the somewhat bizarre outburst of ‘hooray for me’ for the ‘Labour Doesn’t Work’ campaign (which seemingly came from nowhere) and some sly little moves to throw Dimbers off the scent. This mainly involved invoking Blair’s South Korean oil interests in the hope that the crowd would pick on this as the big issue rather than the lobbying industry as a whole. The crowd started to take the bait but Dimbleby was one step ahead and started reading out some ominous sounding bumph from a lobbyist promo brochure which led to some squirming from Sorrell and a lively little offensive from Salmond. At this point, the crowd turned on him and he ended up looking worse for wear when he tried to get off the hook by saying the Ashcroft affair was even worse. Two wrongs don’t make a right, Sir Martin. Sensing that things might have gone south in a big way, he spent the rest of the show skulking in the shadows, although he came close to an opinion on Israel when he rejected the notion that it was a “terrorist state”, but saying little else. I don’t know, I guess that in some ways, having proper business types on Question Time makes for good anthropology, but they’re so damn cagey that it rarely makes for incendiary telly and with the exception of the Lobbygate moment, this was pretty much the case here.

A cards-too-close-to-chest 4/10

The Crowd: Glasgow

Alright, alright, so yet again I have fallen into the trap of pernicious national and regional stereotypes. Here was me, expecting a harsh sounding, braying mob of angry Glaswegians when what we actually got was quite a mild bunch who (with the exception of the Lobbygate and Israel question) remained mostly unenthused by all that occurred. I guess they got behind Alex Salmond a bit, but I’m putting this down to the newly created Loudribs 2nd Law of Question Time Dynamics which is that all regional parties get a +3 saving throw on their own turf. If you don’t know what a saving throw is, look it up. And then try and guess how many friends I had as a teenager. There was one guy who caught my eye though, a nervous but very wise sounding man who made a great comparison between the industrial disputes of the Winter of Discontent and the present unrest. Apart from that, nothing really leapt out at me and I must say I feel a little short changed. Come on Glasgow, you are all in possession of one of the most easily weaponised accents in the world and you have no idea how much it scares English people. Use it or lose it Glasgow, the choice is yours.

A highly mediocre 5/10

And with that, I am done. My dreams will now be haunted by the special unit of Glaswegians who will be sent to hunt me down for giving out bad marks, pending the inevitable invasion. Roll on Stevenage.

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #8

Margaret Beckett walks into a bar...

Morning Lemmings and welcome once again to the weekly trawl through the bowels of televised public opinion. I make it sound so glamorous. Anyhoo, it was a funny old show this week, one of those one with a panel that looks great on paper but doesn’t quite cut it when confronted with the horror of reality. Enough of this. Let us proceed into the aforementioned bowels.

In The Red Corner: Margaret Beckett, MP for Derby South and equine looking lady.

Margaret Beckett is the archetypal survivor. Over the last 26 years she’s been in and out of parliament, on the front benches, on the back benches and even became caretaker leader of the Labour Party after John Smith’s death. That’s not bad going for someone who looks strikingly like a Windsor in the (supposed) party of the working classes. However, this rather eventful career has not been without its downsides, the most apparent of which is that she looks absolutely knackered. I don’t mean that in a mean spirited, catty sort of way (I’ve already got that base covered by taking the piss out of her exceptionally long face), it’s just that she strikes me as someone who’s had decades worth of rocks thrown at her and is now so battered that the pain no longer registers.  Somewhere along the line, the internal justification for putting herself through all this seems to have been lost and whatever motivated her to carry on going has been buried under an accumulation of scars and bruises that will not heal. She started out ok with the Unite/strike question (which I’m chalking up a non-issue that the Tories are desperately trying to inflate in order to cover the can of worms that is Ashcroft), getting into a few scraps with ever-beligerent Starkey but generally muddling through. The second question was a different kettle fish though (did Big Gordy get his sums wrong or was he lying about spending?) and looked ominous for her as (for the second week in a row) a parent of a soldier got in on the action before it was her turn to answer. Considering that parents of serving soldiers are the Question Time equivalent of atomic weaponry, there wasn’t a great deal she could do except waffle about stuff that no-one was particularly interested in while the audience embarked on a rising chunter. This in turns led to accusations from the crowd that she thought they were “stupid” and a sudden outburst of arm flapping rage from Starkey (who was promptly told off by Dimbers). Faced with a complete no-win situation, she did her best at damage limitation by deploying a lot of “concerned”, “I understand” and “it’s complicated”, but it was all too late. Dems the breaks, kid. Question 3 (was the Children’s Commissioner right to talking about raising the age of criminal responsibility?) wasn’t quite as cataclysmic, but it was hardly a victory either as she tried to support the principle but damn the opinion. This largely resulted in waffle and tumbleweeds ensued. Things picked up slightly for her in Question 4 (is the reduction in unemployment vindication for the government’s policies?) as she spotted the trap (if you say it is a vindication then you open yourself up for attack from all sorts of angles), exercised restraint by simply calling it “good news” and then got in a quick swipe at the Tories. The audience seemed content with this and she was given a fair few claps for her efforts. However, it started to look shaky later on as an unemployed audience member pulled her up and she had a brief scuffle with Lansley while the final question (is the Lib Dems new porn director candidate a good thing?) only allowed her to fire off a brief sentence about the “private grief” she felt over the matter. So that was her. It was a bruising encounter, not a disaster but still a million miles away from a triumph. What was most upsetting was how resigned she seemed to the hammering she took. I always have a certain level of admiration for people on QT who take their licks, but there didn’t seem to be any dignity in it and she appeared to be simply going through some over-familiar and rather unpleasant motions. Margaret my dear, I think it could be time for a very long caravan holiday.

A tired and despondent 3/10

In The Blue Corner: Andrew Lansley MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Health and regular controversy magnet.

Andrew Lansley has a strange capacity for never effectively lodging in my memory, despite the fact that he’s been in parliament since 1997, on the front benches since 2004 and regular gets caught out for saying some pretty stupid things. With this in mind, I made a conscious decision to pay attention to him this time round, hoping that something about would finally stick in my febrile brain. As it happens, something has stuck and that is just how damn angular and jagged he is. I don’t mean that in any particular physical sense (although he is somewhat pointy in his features) but it certainly shows in the way he carries himself. On this episode, you could always see him in the background, looking predatory and waiting for someone to a mistake so that he could pounce on them and give them bally-what-for. His face seems to have two modes: That scrunched up, listening hard for any sign of weakness look or his suddenly alert ‘I’ve just heard the calls of a wounded antelope and the intoxicating whiff of the blood of the feeble’ pre-assault look. I’m sure that amongst his peers, this peace-through-superior-firepower posturing is a positive attribute and marks him out as the sort of man you wouldn’t want to tangle with, but it doesn’t go down so well with the public, especially if you happen to be Shadow Secretary of State for Health (while the parties may want their health ministers to be fairly tasty in a fight, the public tend to like them a little softer around the edges. A good example is the difference that those working in the NHS felt after Hewitt was replaced by Johnson. I was one of those people and although policy didn’t change dramatically, we didn’t feel so picked on. That counts for a lot). On this episode, he kicked off by aggressively milking what little he could from the less than fertile Unite issue. That line didn’t seem to produce any real gains for him and by the end of it he was on the backfoot, getting ribbed by Dimbers for not knowing who Pinocchio was. Question 2 (The ‘Stan) should have provided much easier pickings, but he didn’t manage to press home the advantage and got mired down in the regular ‘kit for the boys’ Tory line that seems to be rapidly losing its potency while the Children’s Commissioners number bought forth a somewhat predictable outpouring of ‘kids should know right from wrong’ and a delicate confrontation with a very reasonable sounding women in the audience. He did get a few loud but solitary claps when he accused Labour of having it in for small businesses on the economy question and I must say that he sounded surprisingly reasonably on the final, blurted LibDem/porno matter (“It takes all sorts to make a world so it must take all sorts to make a parliament”. I quite liked that), but mass appreciation was certainly not on the cards. So all-in-all it wasn’t a great performance. I do accept that it was a tough brief as Starkey had all the ground on the right and the freedom to really exploit it, but I think his technique also has something to do with it. Looking like you’re constantly about to pounce on whoever’s talking at the time and then start feasting on their still-warm-body may be a beneficial attribute in the gladiatorial rough-and-tumble of Westminster, but when employed in front of the public it makes you look like a bit of a dick who’s spoiling for a fight.

An overly keen (and not in the enthusiastic sense) 4/10

In The Yellow Corner: Charles Kennedy, MP for Skye, Ross and Lochaber, former Lib Dem leader and self confessed lush.

Yay! Chatshow Charlie’s back! I’ve always had a massive soft spot for Charles Kennedy (which only grew when he came out as a committed booze hound) and he will always represent one of the big ‘what ifs?’ of modern British politics. Like many other regulars on the show, Kennedy has built a modus operandi that has served him very well in the past. It goes like this: Upon receiving a question, either a) dissipate any heat with some light humour (which he excels at) or b) soften up the audience with some folksy charm, usually involving namedropping some regular people or with an earthy anecdote that relates to how he’s ‘just like you’. After that, it’s a simple matter of gently ramping the pressure on the opposition with softly spoken but reasonable sounding criticism before finally delivering the knockout punch with understated passion and a hint of only-just-submerged anger. As a game plan goes, it’s right up there with Ken Clarke’s ‘damning with faint praise’ manoeuvre or Shirley William’s ‘righteous but harnessed indignation’ ploy. However, the plan has a couple of weaknesses. In the first instance, it needs a willing audience to conspire with and bounce off. Secondly, he needs to be deeply invested in the point he’s trying to make, otherwise the killer blow (the ‘understated passion’ component) comes out all limp and cockeyed. The plan swung into action straight from the get-go as he reigned in the tempo, told of how he’s chummy with many BA cabin crews (and managed to get a joke in about his carbon footprint), highlighted their plight and then socked it to the Tories and Labour for electioneering on the issue. Unfortunately, the crowd didn’t go for it and the initiative passed to Caroline Lucas. He had a little more success on the ‘did Brown tell porkies about the defence budget?’ question as he quite cleverly managed to turn it in to matter of the Lib Dems bringing up the issue in the first place, which was pretty well received, but again, he didn’t quite manage to sink his teeth in. In a similar vein, he managed to convert the Children’s Commissioner debate into a love letter to the Scottish legal system but it didn’t really work, probably because he wasn’t in Scotland. He did get to have some fun on the economics question when Starkey accused David Blanchflower of being “eccentric” and thus set himself for a hearty dose of pot/kettle pisstaking from Kennedy. The audience may not have been massively impressed with it, but I quite liked it and I think Dimbleby (who looks like he’s thoroughly sick of constantly having to babysit Starkey) did as well. Even on the porn question, he wasn’t at his best and although though it was a potential joke factory he only managed to cultivate a few polite titters. As I said before, Kennedy is at his best when he builds some audience momentum and he’s talking about something he genuinely feels strongly about. On this episode the crowd simple weren’t in the mood to go along with his usual game and he seems to have lost the fire in his belly (no vodka related pun intended) he showed back in 2005. He still came out looking like a perfectly reasonable and nice bloke but it was a real shame that the old magic I usual associate with him just wasn’t there. So come on Charlie, buck up your ideas matey, because the Lib Dems desperately need someone with more charisma than a cup of service station tea and there’s only so many seats you win on the back of Vince Cable being generally right.

A sadly underplayed 5/10

In The Independent/Brainy Corner: Caroline Lucas, Leader of the Green Party and most definitely called ‘Caroline’, not ‘Carol’.

Lock up your baby seal furs and CO2 collection because here come the Greens! Actually, that’s a little unfair of me because one thing that Caroline Lucas is good at is not coming across as a dirty cotton picking hippy or a Croc wearing guilt monger. In fact, she regularly does very well on Question Time and is a central plank in the pompously named Loudrib’s 1st Law of Question Time Dynamics (there is yet to be a 2nd law. Give me time though). Unfortunately for the Greens, the above named law refers to the inverse relationship between applause and votes and while she’s been very popular with past audiences, this rarely translates into support that you can take to the bank. Nevertheless, she’s a very competent panellist who performs a deft balancing act between offering idealistic visions of how things could be without spilling over into pie-in-the-sky fantasies about a world where cars are made of hemp and run on petiole oil. She’s also not afraid to stand up for herself, as was wonderfully illustrated by her numerous “it’s Caroline, not Carol” spats with Starkey. Right from the off, she got straight to the heart of the Unite issue by calling bullshit on the Tories for their Ashcroft monkeyshine and making it clear that no only did she support the right to strike, she also had (shock horror) “socialist” principals. One bucket load of claps please. The Afghan question garnered some reasonable applause as well as she declared the whole messy business as “not right” and had various entertaining tête-a-tetes with that night’s Queen of the Ball, David Starkey. The age of responsibility issue was slightly more fraught and although she did make some good points, the audience weren’t as vocal in their support for what they thought might be a controversial opinion (even though it wasn’t that controversial) and similarly her call to scrap Trident and ID cards didn’t get as much love as I was expecting. The final micro question looked in danger of becoming a mini-lecture on the evils of porn, but she luckily ran out of time before really alienating anyone and thus managed to round off the show without any major mishaps. Given that the crowd were quite a mardy bunch that night, that’s pretty good going.

A solid and well deserved 7/10

In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: David Starkey: Insistent historian and panto villain.

The Land of Oz's Historian in Chief

The David Starkey Story: When Flounce and Crazy Right Wing Opinions Collide

As regular readers may or may not have figured out by now, it is not uncommon for me to end up avidly endorsing panellists who I completely disagree with and David Starkey is pretty much the embodiment of this tendency of mine. On the one hand, he’s like a cross between a petulant child genius who’s bored with teacher and a full blown drama queen who does a cracking trade in over-reaction and intemperate finger pointing mixed with high camp. Taken in isolation, these tendencies are pretty wearisome, but when put in the context of an episode that was in danger of becoming a rather dull stalemate they provide some much needed action that kept me from drifting off in a drunken haze. Clearly, David Starkey is a pretty right wing sort of guy which should have been pretty good news for Andrew Lansley. Unfortunately for the Pointy One though, Starkey is far from sold on the Cameron brand of conservatism so no one was getting a free ride on tonight’s show. As has now become standard with blabbermouth panellists, I won’t go into the near endless details of everything he prattled on about as I want to get this out before next weeks show, but here are some snippets.

Britain is doomed to “national bankruptcy”, “desolation” and blighted by “rampant trade unionism”. Really?

‘Carol’ Lucas is “a Socialist with green paint”, something she happily admitted to.

Gordon Brown “Preened and pranced” around Afghanistan, for which he should be forced to “kneel down and apologise”. I like that mental image.

25% (?!?) of British youth are “wild, feral children” so lets sack the Children’s Commissioner.

Ill-advisedly called David Blachflower eccentric whilst spending most of the episode contorted in various eccentric and angry poses.;

Said that Dimbers “envy’s porn workers”

Amongst all this, he found the time to butt in on nearly everything and get red around the face with everyone. The stuff coming out of his mouth was largely bollocks but he’s a good showman so the crowd lapped it up and according to my notes, he was easily the biggest recipient of applause. Given that he agrees with absolutely no-one other than himself, I began to wonder what kind of world David Starkey would be happy with. From what I can gather from his previous appearances, it would be a Georgian era utopia where the worthy would traverse the skies in huge, Union Jack emblazoned blimps, throwing pennies from aloft to the huddled masses of wretched poor. Our collective will would be enforced by the laser rifle totting ranks of The Very Royal And Splendid British Army, all clad in dapper red jackets while those of ill repute and lefties would be deported to Her Majesties Moon Colonies to dig up Moon Cheese in the Mines of Correction and better themselves through the merits of hard labour. Or at least that is what I like to believe. So yeah, what he had to say was of little nutritional value but was bloody tasty.

An oh-so-wrong but somehow right 7/10

The Crowd: Wythenshaw

As I’ve said throughout this instalment, this was quite an odd crowd. None of them had any time for the politicians and were more than happy to take anyone to task about more or less anything they uttered. In terms of viewing, that’s not great as it means that no one gets any real momentum behind them and the whole thing becomes a series of inconclusive altercations without any defining narrative. However, I think that this audience were very reflective of what’s going on right now in that no single party is really in the clear. Labour have just about stopped bleeding all over the place, the Lib Dems are still stuck around the 20% mark and although the Tories seem to have the advantage, they haven’t quite got the oomph to finish the job. In many ways, we’re now entering the Western Front period of the election where the opposing sides simply can’t break the deadlock and end up fighting over wanky little things at huge cost to themselves and their opponents. From that point of view, they did their job so although it wasn’t great telly, it was good politics. I’ve half a mind to knock off some points on account of the guy who had his beard in a mini-ponytail (something I really can’t abide) or the bloke with a strange shaped head, Elvis T-shirt and braces, but now that I’m nearly finished writing this and can go and have a beer I feel overcome with a sense of mercy and forgiveness. For that, Wythenshaw, I leave you these points….

A slightly dull but quite instructive 6/10

So there we go. More again next week…providing I haven’t been disembowelled by a roving pack of savage, feral children. They account for 1 in 4 of the blighter’s, dontchaknow?

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #7

Hubba hubba!

It's a good look, Dimbers. you should go with it...

Morning Lemmings and welcome once more to the weekly QT round up, bought to you this week by the Wimmin of Dewsbury. That’s right pilgrims, Wimmin. I, for one , welcome our new beskirted overloads, but how did they fare in this week’s instalment of topical earbending? Only one to find out…. Onwards, to Dewsbury!

In The Red Corner: Caroline Flint, Labour MP for Don Valley, founder member of Blair’s Babes and political bullet magnet.

Caroline Flint seems to forever be on borrowed time. Every time she crops up, a memory stirs of some not-too-long-ago brouhaha involving Old Snaggletooth (as I affectionately refer to her), but I still decide to give her the benefit of the doubt until a new brouhaha ensues and the cycle rolls over again, repeating into infinity and beyond our limited lifespans. The most prominent example was her seemingly principled resignation over being used as “female window dressing” by Broon. “Fair play to you, O Snaggletooth” thought I, “Sisters doin’ it for themselves, yeah?”. I thought she came out looking pretty good from that but then she promptly managed to piss all the good press up the wall with her borderline saucy photoshoot for The Observer where she looked exactly like ‘female window dressing’. And so it goes on. Tonight was pretty much a case in point on this front. She got off to a good start on the first question (which was about whether Jon Venables’ as yet undisclosed offences should be made public) by deftly stradling the line between ‘Think of the Mother!’ and ‘Think of Justice!’, managed to sound pretty sensible and looked satisfied as the audience lapped it up. Further crowd love followed when she dismissed the whole Brokun Britun kerfuffle as nonsense and worrisome thoughts about her previous transgressions began to fade. But things were about to get pretty ugly pretty quickly. Dimbleby, who must have felt like a pimp on the night (what with hundreds of Wimmin arrayed obediently before him) used the second question (on bastard ‘spenses. Please, people of Britain, please let this issue die. It bores me to tears) as the launch pad for a cheeky ambush, bringing up some of her own sins on the matter. Flint squirmed about for a while, babbling on about a “washing machine” for some reason, before pulling out of the dive by saying that expenses were necessary to stop parliament being full of “millionaires and geeks”. That seemed to stop the bleeding but worse was to come with the question on whether Broon had used his trip to The Stan as a distraction from his appearance at Chilcot. This was clearly going to be trouble as an audience member who had a son in the forces managed to get her two-peneth worth in, bemoaning the fact that she had just had to shell out for her sons webbing. Snaggers flapped about for a while on this one, blaming “the terrain”, telling her to see her MP and saying that armies have a “tradition of swapping kit”, but the audience was not convinced and a quiet, rolling chunter began to build as she spoke. Sensing an opportunity to stir things up, Kelvin MacKenzie weighed in with a fairly lurid denunciation of Broon as a “compulsive liar” with “no truth in his soul”. The audience liked this and poured further petrol on the fire when a woman claimed that British troops were “not killed by the Taliban” but “killed by their equipment” (I have to say that this is patently bullshit as the kit may be bad, but it really doesn’t go around blowing up or shooting at our troops and the Taliban are pretty serious about this whole ‘killing our guys’ business. Or maybe I’m just being pedantic). Despite the complete fiction of this statement, the assembled gaggle of Wimmin went completely nuts for it, working themselves into quite the frothy state. Further assaults followed, this time from the direction of Monty Don and Snaggers was left completely over a barrel, pleading with the audience to “think of the dead” (they were. That was the point), but her entreaties were met with silence. Big, female, silence. Harsh. At this point, I would have called it a day, hid under the table or tried to fashion a makeshift foxhole on the studio floor but there was more bad news to follow as Dimbers nonchalantly twisted the knife with a crafty little one-two. First off he asked whether Flint thought Broon was liar. Predictable denials followed, only to be blown out of the water as Dimbers read out an extensive list of Snagger’s quotes to the contrary. She attempted a half hearted defence, but is was too late and a ripple of heckles swept the crowd. Ouch. By rights, it should have been all over at this point with Flint slumping limply in her chair, emitting barely audible grunts as her brain processed the thrashing she had just taken, but it wasn’t and after a not bad stab at the ASB question, she actually picked up some ok applause on the women’s shortlist one. And I think this is why I keep giving her a second chance. On the face of it, she’s not a brilliant politician. Wherever she goes, she leaves an inevitable wake of gaffes and as a minister, she was pretty mediocre. But what she has got going for her is an incredible toughness. The sort of sustained and overwhelming drubbing she took on the show is enough to make your average panellist buckle and send them running to the cover of one word answers, but not Old Snaggletooth. In the middle of the show, she took an epic trouncing yet she carried on going, toughed it out and even managed to salvage a bit of credibility at the end. And that’s quite cool in my book.

A last-ditch but valiant 5/10

In The Blue Corner: Justine Greening, Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government, owner of an exceptionally wide mouth (see above).

I had absolutely no idea who Justine Greening was before tonight and feared we’d be presented with another of this weird, faceless breed of Tory young pups who have so far failed to make an impression on me. However, I have to say that she did pretty well, getting a lot of love from the audience and coming across as the most confident of the three party panellists. I think that this is partly a consequence of her pulling off being Northern far better than most Tories do. If you think about it, the Conservatives only really have three Northern faces that get any attention these days: William Hague, Ed Pickles and Baroness Warsi. Hague has never looked too comfortable in his Northern skin as it made him look like a bit of an oddity amongst his peers. I suspect that he probably received quite a bit of ribbing from The Old Boys for his Rotherham roots and as a result, he always seemed very conscious of it and perhaps a little ashamed. Pickles looks far more at ease with his heritage, but his problem is that while he tries to play the Salt Of The Earth Northerner card, it doesn’t quite work. Instead, he comes across as a provincial shopkeeper who resents selling stuff to the tourists who keep his business afloat and to anyone who isn’t ‘his kind of person’. It’s all a little bit self important and twatty. The final contender, Baroness Warsi, simply doesn’t register on the scale because her Northern-ness is completely eclipsed by her Asian-Toriness, something which is so novel that it completely overpowers the fact that she’s from West Yorkshire (and her Pulled Up By The Bootstraps schtick does grate a little). Justine Greening, by contrast, has managed to hit the nail on the head by coming across as slightly novel (for a Tory), yet unpretentious and down to earth. On the show she did pretty well considering Dewsbury isn’t natural Tory territory. The Venables case brought out some fairly standard “risk to the public” stuff, but there was an appetite for it and it went down well. MP’s pay also went pretty smoothly, but she hit the big time on Afghanistan by having a go at Broon for the lack of equipment and generally going with the will of the crowd. With the wind behind her, she continued to rack up some easy points on Askew/ASB (if in doubt, blame ‘paperwork’) and topped it all off with the big, pink love-in that was the shortlists question. OK, so it was pretty easy to look confident and in control after Snaggers had been kicked all over the place, but she didn’t bollocks anything up and clocked a few wins in any area that isn’t really her turf. So well done Justine Greening, you have escaped the curse of the Faceless Tory Noobs.

A well handled and confident 7/10

In the Yellow Corner: Jo Swinson, Lib Dem Foreign Affairs Spokesperson and sickeningly young MP.

There’s a lot to like about Jo Swinson. She does a good line in well reasoned argument as well as being a consistent and vocal critic of the war(s). Tonight, she was on pretty good form, sounding very grounded yet principled,when it came Venables/Askew cases (particularly her “difference between…public interest and of interest to the public” piece) as well as getting in on the collective hug that was the shortlist question. The audience responded well and it’s fair to say that she looked like someone who you’d want in Parliament. My only beef is how she handled the Afghanistan question. From the Lib Dems point of view, this is an open flank on both parties that should be worked relentlessly and without mercy as not only has the issue been festering for an epic 8 years, but it is also one of those fault lines where public opinion is markedly and stubbonly in opposition to both Labour’s and the Tory’s. This should be her natural territory as she has both credibility and form on the issue and no-one else has a satisfying answer when it comes to the big question of just why the hell are we in Afghanistan. When it came to her turn to answer the question she started well by asking why soldiers aren’t paid more (big applause) and then promptly ran out of steam. All she needed to do was to point to the massive elephant in the room, call bullshit on her parliamentary colleagues and then retire to a safe distance as they both took one in the chops. But she didn’t and as a result, Greening was given a free ride and held the initiative for the rest of the show. As I said before, the rest of it was all good stuff that worked, but she lacked the killer instinct to deliver the decisive blow and walk out the victor. So let this be a warning Swinson, I like you, you’ve got lots to offer, but QT requires some ruthlessness that I’m yet to see. Be a bastard and I’ll give you more points.

A could-have-been-a-contender 6/10

In the Independent/Brainy One Corner: Kelvin MacKenzie, ex-Sun editor and full time bigmouth.

You know that there’re just some things that you’re never going to like? Well for me, Kelvin MacKenzie is one of them. Just like being sold insurance by Iggy Pop or watching Josh and his Supergroup Based Around The Concept Of Free Texts Being The Key Ingredient To Instant Stardom (come on Josh, I’ve been in a band for 6 years that fuck all people have heard of and I get shit loads of free texts) he just sets my nerves on edge and there’s nothing I can do about it. Fortunately (or maybe disappointingly) he wasn’t quite cranked to the odious nines on this episode, although his opening gambit on the Venables case was a truly squalid affair. Kicking off with a good long rant about how he’s “hostile to” a whole heap of things to do with criminals, he lunged down the ‘lock ’em up for all eternity’ line and was met with both stony silence and audience accusations of the Sun being very much a part of the problem. That prompted an ill advised pop at the Beeb which was laughed out of town and kicked off a spat of nasty little scraps with most of the panel. I think at this point he realised that you can’t get away with the ‘I know I’m right and to hell with you pinko commie bastards’ act with an all female audience (it only just works on a mixed one). Consequently, he reigned things in a bit and even picked up the odd clap here and there. I know I’ve said in the past that I try and keep these reports as neutral as possible, but I’m afraid that no matter what he does (other than renounce everything he has ever stood for), he’s always going to get shit marks from me. It’s just they won’t be AS shit this week.

A grudgingly restrained 4/10

In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Monty Don, Gardener Bloke and Possessor of Inscrutable Features.

I’m on board with Monty. He seems well intentioned enough, has this far-away look about him that adds a certain layer of mystery and has something that gardeners are not usually noted for: Opinions. I hear he’s also quite a hit with Wimmin in general, so tonight was a pretty easy gig, what with the massive abundance of Wimminz and all. On the show, his approach can be mainly characterised as ‘ponderous’ with the occasional spark of fire. Starting off with the Venables case he got some good claps in with a very solemn “people are not born evil” and some anti-lynch mob posturings as well getting in a few jabs at MacKenzie. He went on to stumble a bit on the dreaded ‘spenses by saying MP’s should be paid 100k a year (I think the audience were in the market for seven quid an hour, tops), but soon recovered and made the point that Swinson failed to make on Afghanistan (and also got a bit disingenuous with his maths. The Afghan war has been going on twice as long as World War 2? No, Monty, it hasn’t). An endorsement of “clip round the ear” discipline was warmly received by the assorted Wimmiz on the Askew question while a pop at Harriet Harman and a call for an all women parliament (which earned him a ripple of flirty giggles from many Wimminz Of A Certain Age) sealed the deal for him at the end. I don’t want to get carried away here because it doesn’t take a genius to do well as the 5th panellist (all you have to do is mirror the audience, throw in the odd gag, don’t piss off anyone too much and the day is yours) but there’s not much to dislike about him and the ponderousness works well for him. It makes him like a tortoise. A sexy tortoise.

An in-no-hurry 7/10

The Crowd: The Wimminz of Dewsbury

Ok, I have to admit that I was expecting a different kettle of fish tonight, mainly out of some rather unfair prejudices I harbour about Dewsbury. I live in Leeds and (as the handy diagram below shows) if there’s something tabloidy and nefarious going on in West Yorkshire, it’s quite often in Dewsbury.

Diagram Alert!

A geeky friend of mine has already pointed out that my boxes are in the wrong configuration. Spreadhead does respond to poindexters.

I know, I know, that’s a massive generalisation but the Matthews case, the stirrings of the BNP and other such untowardness haven’t exactly done the place many favours so I was basically expecting a hard faced, very white and angry lynch mob to rock up from some of the nastier estates and basically shoot down any MP’s who had the temerity to turn up. As it it turned out, the audience was primarily composed of of middle aged women who work in the public sector (The Backbone of West Yorkshire! You remember that ‘trickle down’ thing that you promised us from London? You know, all those vast sums earned by the City which would somehow end up in our pockets? Well, they never arrived so I guess you’ll just have to keep giving us public sector jobs to keep t’North afloat) and I must say that they made for a pretty interesting crowd. Unlike most of the mixed audience shows, this mob came across as a lot less tribal. With the exception of Flint and MacKenzie (who were eventually forgiven), they seemed willing to listen to the panellists without sinking into default positions and everyone was given a fair shot. It also seemed to be less about specifics and much more about tone. For instance, Ashcroft didn’t come up once, despite it being plastered everywhere and I think that’s probably because they didn’t care about the buts-and-bolts ‘whodunnit’ aspect of things and were much more concerned with the broader implication of the effect of money on politics (hence the MP’s pay question). They were also very vocal in their support/disdain for various viewpoints. When I watch the show, I take notes and I draw arrows of differing sizes and thickness so I can see how much applause each point got. With these guys, they started loud (so big thick lines then) and then just kept getting louder and louder (completely fucking up my system… I ended up gouging holes in my pad trying to keep up with the volume). I actually think it would have been better if there were male panellists from the parties involved as if Kelvin MacKenzie is anything to go by, it must be pretty bloody frightening being held to account by that many women and I could see that some hilarity would ensue. Nevertheless, it was a pretty bracing affair and even if the whole ‘equipment, not the Taliban killing our boys’ thing wound me up a little, the rest of it was a refreshing break from the usual state of affairs. Stand-out members of the night include a woman with very loud off camera jewellery and a surprise appearance from Claire Young from The Apprentice. Considering she was always noted for wanting to have the last word on The Apprentice, there was a strange yet nice symmetry to her having the actual last word on QT. But yes, I digress. Wimmin of Dewsbury, you did good in my book.

A refreshing, if at times scatty 7/10

So that’s that then. A first in the form of a three way draw between Monty, Greening and the Wimminz. All male audience next time plz. See you next week, yeah?

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #6


That's a Type 47. Don't ask me how I know...

Morning Lemmings. Before getting stuck into this week’s action, a few brief points on Wednesday night’s ‘First Time Voter’s Question Time’ on BBC3:

  1. First time voters are divs.
  2. Jamelia really doesn’t have a clue about politics (“Thatcher was for the working classes”. O rly?)
  3. Dermot is very nice, but no Dimbers.
  4. Throwing in a couple of off-beats to make the QT theme tune all ‘down wiv da kids’ is a very bad idea.
  5. According to the audience “Obama smokes weed, yeah?”

Enough of this sorry effort and on to Canary Wharf, scene of this week’s proper, grown up Question Time. No offbeats here, thank you very much.

In The Red Corner: Lord Andrew Adonis, Secretary of State for Transport, Minister for Nerds and possessor of a highly incongruous name.

Geek alert! Lock up you’re slide rules and airband radios because Lord Adonis is in the house! To the uninitiated, the cry of “Lord Adonis in the house!” should be met with the swoons of women, prostrating themselves before a heavenly vision of male perfection while the men scurry for cover, powerless against the radiance of his beauty. As it turns out, this is not the case and what you actually get is a wonky little man who never, ever got picked first for anything in PE and probably has a large collection of 1/72 scale Airfix kits (still in the shrink wrap). A man of my own heart then. I’m actually pretty pleased Lord Adonis is about as geeks are thoroughly under represented in government and although he looked at one point to be a bit of a Blairite nut, he’s actually turned out to be a very able, if understated, Transport Secretary who’s deeply, deeply into trains (I come from a family of unrepentant trainspotters and consequently feel very much at ease with them… they may be a little odd, but they are a people absolutely without malice). This week’s QT was quite a tall order for him as it was quite the gobby panel in attendance and for the most part he tended to stay in the background, fending off the odd jab here and there but very rarely venturing out of cover. He did have an early pop at the Ashcroft issue, doing his best to look shocked and indignant at the whole bloody mess, but there wasn’t any real fire there and he looked like a man going through the motions, fearful of what the rough lads from Millbank would do if he didn’t at least give it a crack. Most of the other questions were similarly muted affairs with some half-hearted parroting of the party line (plus a small outburst of squirming when pressed about why Alan Johnson had gone off message on the Venables case) and lots of staying out of the numerous Boris centred scraps that erupted throughout the show. However, something changed on the last question, the one about whether televised leaders debates are a good idea. Personally, I’m having trouble getting fired up about this issue but Adonis suddenly came to life, gripped by an enthusiasm that seemingly came from nowhere. And this is why I like Lord Adonis: He knows what he likes and when he does he’s positively evangelistic about it. While most QT fodder are willing to have a crack about things they know precious little about, Adonis isn’t, preferring to keep his powder dry and marshal his reserves for an all out push on stuff he thinks does matter. In today’s increasingly gladiatorial political arena, this is virtue that should be cherished as it belies a mind that’s not going to be sullied by the screams and clamour of the playground. Does it make for incendiary viewing? No. Does it give me much needed reassurance that Westminster isn’t entirely populated by dicks? Yes. And for that reason he gets points.

A mostly avoidant but occasionally irrepressible 6/10.

In The Blue Corner: Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, Unreconstructed Shambles and Perennial Wildcard.

Oh Boris, has it really been 12 years since you first graced our TV screens? Shockingly, it has, but that just makes it all the more impressive that he can still be counted on to put his foot in whatever ‘it’ is, despite having had such long and extensive practice in trying not to. Anyhoo, it’s always nice to see Boris on. He may produce a lot more heat than light and his ‘jovial buffoon’ act is wearing gossima thin now, but the randomness that always follows him is something to be encouraged and he’s a bastion of hope to men with unconventional haircuts everywhere. On this week’s show, he was as phlegmatic as ever, seemingly unable to reel in his mouth and constantly being put on the naughty step by Dimbers. Rather than go too far into the nuts and bolts of what he said, I’ve picked out some of his choice phrases from the episode, handily displayed below…

  • Accused Labour and the Libs of being falsely “bathed in the odour of sanctity” on the Ashcroft question (a phrase that seemed to be in danger of becoming a full blown meme after it infected Williams and Dimbers).
  • Went on to call “Rhubarb!” on the issue (inducing a counter “Rhubarb!” from Williams).
  • Correctamundo!”
  • Accused Dimbers of being “very rude” to him during the televised mayoral debates (a very risky move considering that Dimbleby was spoiling for a fight with him).
  • Let out this little gem: “Elucidate the vacuity at the heart of Labour”
  • Codswallop!”
  • Further threw caution to the wind by jabbing fingers at Dimbleby and sweatily highlighting the Big Man’s Bullingdon past.
  • Got into a fight with pretty much everyone.

In terms of substance, it was an uninspired and muddled affair, ticking compulsory Old Tory boxes (choppers for the boys in Afghanistan, banging on about debt, pot/kettle accusations on Ashcroft) mixed with some ill advised bluffs and messy little skirmishes (with Shirley Williams and Will Self providing excellent breakwaters against the Great Blonde Tsunami). He did manage to sound semi-rational around the Venables questions, but on most issues he just ended up being steadfastly incoherent. And that’s the trouble with Boris. On the one hand, he represents much that ‘real Tories’ hanker for: Deep seated scepticism on anything related to the state (minus defence and law and order), a devil-may-care approach to most things dear to the left and above all, a personality. However, with all this comes a mind that’s averse to detail, easily bored and rarely thinking more than two steps ahead (pretty much the polar opposite of Lord Adonis). His presence in politics is generally a good thing (if only for the fact that his barely disguised desire for the Tory leadership and unabashed popularity amongst the Conservative rank-and-file is a complete headfuck for Cameron) and he’s not a man to be written off, possessing a mildly Churchillian air about him (Churchill was oft ridiculed and derided in his earlier days), but right now he needs to tighten things up and learn when it’s prudent to just shut up. But he is good viewing. And good viewing means points.

A harebrained but entertaining 6/10.

In The Yellow Corner: Baroness Shirley Williams, Lib Dem Peer and QT Stalwart.

After being shunted off most this series’ episodes, the Libs are back and who better to lead the charge than Shirley Williams, the Libs’ only real contender for the title of Big Beast (what with Ashdown being way too involved in other peoples wars and Ming’s tragic downfall at the hands of The Young Meh’s). Apparently, Williams has been on QT more than any other panellist and it’s easy to see why. Although nearly 80, she has this alert and steely manner, backed up with lashings of principal that make her a favourite with the crowd and tonight was no exception. Kicking off with Ashcroft, she made short work of sticking it the Tories whilst ably countering any assaults on the Lib’s position, aided in no small part by Boris setting the bar very low. The ‘Brown at Chillcot’ question was an equally impressive affair as she brushed straight through the Snatch and Choppers bullshit and went straight for the heart of the meaty principals (which the audience were very much into). The Venables issue had her in a less forthright but more nuanced mode that again, went down impressively while the leaders debates bought out a well reasoned lament at the superficiality of modern politics. All good solid stuff. However, it is her general manner and the way in which she deals with other panellists that really win her points, displayed throughout the show in her dealings with Boris. Far from being cowed by the onslaught of blabber, Williams always stood her ground, gave him enough rope to hang himself and then switched to the offensive (exclaiming at one point “I want my one minute, dammit!”). With the others she was slightly more generous, but still, this is someone who is not going to pushed about or bullied (the fact that she pulled off wearing some sort of Chinese tunic that would appear on most 79 year olds as a little batty is testament to this). Gravitas, my boy. They call it gravitas.

A thoroughly robust and dignified 8/10

In The Independent/Brainy corner: Will Self, author, ‘commentator’ and generally concave looking man.

I have trouble with Will Self. On the face of it, he should be right my street. He’s a talented writer whose politics chime well with my own and I admire the fact that he’s no-one’s man nor has trouble with speaking the unspeakable. But there’s something about him that gets stuck in my throat and after tonight, I’m pretty sure it’s the disdain he has for everyone and everything. Although I agreed with pretty much everything he said and was into him playing Devil’s Advocate on the Venables case, it was the way he treated other people that made me loses sympathy. Calling politics “seedy” and politicians “poor sad folk” is all very true, but saying it in a way that makes no effort to disguise the malice lurking beneath the surface doesn’t really help matters. Not even the audience were safe from his ire and his digs at them made him come across as a man who is terribly impressed with the sound of his own voice and not terribly impressed with the sound of yours. Then again, I did like it when he snapped at Carol Vorderman when she was being especially mental and maybe there’s just a little jealousy involved on my part. Come on, how much fun would it be to totally not give a shit about anyone’s feelings?

A technically correct but practically wrong 5/10.

In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Carol Vorderman, Maths Nerd turned Maths Vamp turned Tory advisor.

OK, someone’s going to have to help me out here as something weird has been going on that I’m not privy to. One day you’re watching Countdown and there’s dowdy old Carol with her oversized glasses and book smarts. A couple of years down the line you switch over to Countdown again and Carol Vorderman is suddenly all sexed up although not entirely hot as it all just seemed a little wrong. I could cope with that change. I found it a little uncomfortable, but you know, she was doing her own thing so more power to her and all that. So anyway, I switch on QT last night and bugger me, there’s Carol Vorderman, still a little sexed up but now frothing with righteous indignation and kneejerk right wing posturing straight from The Daily Mail Field Manual. Now that’s just too much for my head to cope with and in future Carol, I’d like a little warning before you miraculous reinvent yourself.


Making this wasn't nice. Carol 2.0 was just a bit....wrong

Anyhoo, what’s the cut of Carol 3.0’s new jib? Fairly rabid and very confrontational. Right from the start she was leaping down people’s throats, looking sincerely pissed off and invoking the weary touchstones of ‘think of the children’, ‘more choppers’ and ‘paedo-correctness-gone-mad’. Firmly taking the offensive line, she managed to make the Ashcroft issue all about Peter Mandelson and spent quite some time earbashing the poor Lord Adonis for not thinking about “The Families” more. Luckily, she was up against some pretty steady competition who generally didn’t rise to the bait, but I’ve got to say that I was a little shocked by this latest incarnation of what was already quite an odd puppy. She did get a bit of love from the audience, but then again, the 5th panellists usually do (unless you happen to be Douglas Murray…. not that he cares) so I’m not chalking this up as any huge victory. Instead, I’m giving her a piss poor mark, largely for freaking me out.

A shrill and from the middle of fucking nowhere 3/10.

The Crowd: Canary Wharf

This is always an odd audience as no one really lives around Canary Wharf so everyone looks like they’ve just rocked up from a board meeting. Suits were the order of the day and could be divided into three categories: The Posh (you can tell by their lips and teeth), the Wouldn’t Mind Being But Aren’t Really Posh (who seemed to make up the bulk of the crowd) and the East End Boys Turned Good Who Made It To A Trading Desk (one of their number had clearly borrowed his jacket from Deckard in Blade Runner). What was left was comprised of a lippy Northerner, a stoned looking guy and some fellow with a goatee who made the Point Of The Evening (a concise and blistering attack on the Tories for “giving people enough news to make them angry, but not enough to make an informed decision”. Kudos Sir. You are tonight’s winner). Oh, and there was a very preppy looking girl who would have made a lovely companion for Lord Adonis. By and large, they were quite vocal, a bit pissed off and seemed to be enjoying the rolling rucks that continued to flare up throughout the show. With the exception of Goatee Man, no killer points were delivered but they were up to the job and made for a pretty good show. So well done Canary Wharf, you may be an odd demographic, but you didn’t cock it up.

A well rounded 7/10.

So that’s that. See you next week for Dewsbury’s all-fem shit fest. I can’t wait.

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March 2010

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