Archive for April, 2010

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #14


SMOKE

A man of my own heart...

Morning Lemmings. So this is it. The final instalment of the Leaders’ Debates and Question Time before the nation descends into an orgy of anarchy, disorder and Final Demands. I, for one, am somewhat glad the end is in sight as these protracted Thursday nights have been absolute killer, beating me round the head with gnarly cudgel of current affairs until reason becomes but a distant memory, but I must concede that this election really has been one of the most mindbending spectacles I’ve witnessed to date. So summon your energy once more good people, for the end is neigh.

Ok, so let’s start off with a quick look at last night’s Leaders’ Debate. This ended up being a much meatier affair than its predecessors and it actually contained (shock horror!) some genuine debate. This is partly down to the candidates finally getting their heads round the bizarro-format, but also because the subject matter was the big issue in this election: The economy (stupid). Possibly the most pleasing thing for me was that Brown looked properly pissed off this time (although it’s a fine line between ‘pissed off’ and ‘unhinged’). During the previous two debates he’d half-heartedly gone along with the charade that he’s just as much the good natured Everyman that the spinners seem to think we want, but it hasn’t worked. Instead, he’s looked like a man who knows that his flies are undone, but can’t risk zipping them up in case it draws attention to the fact. ‘Uncomfortable’ is the word I’m looking for here. What we got tonight is a man who’s pretty much reached the end of his tether, has absolutely nothing more to lose and seems genuinely angry that Cameron may get the chance to bugger about with his beloved economy. Seriously, all through the first half he looked like he was about to lamp him and in many ways, it’s a shame he didn’t because if Bullygate taught us anything, it’s that the British public really don’t mind having a violent sociopath at the helm and if anything, they might actually quite like it. Unfortunately, he didn’t manage to sustain that rage into the second half and he kind of killed it for me when he finished off his final statement with that shiteating grin of his. Note to Gorgon: Never smile. Not to the public, not colleagues, not to your wife, not even to a new born child because frankly, it’s just scary.

Cameron also changed his tactics this time, did less of the ‘Man of the People’ bullshit (nary a mention of Big Society and the ‘change’ blather was reigned in to some extent) and instead opted for a more princely, ‘I’m above all this’ posture. On paper, that should work. In practice, it didn’t as the noble/highminded poise he was going for often ended up coming across as somewhat aloof and arrogant. The instant polls (of which I’m very cautious of) seem to have handed him victory but I just don’t see it. Looking ‘Prime Ministerial’ may well have been the aim, but the outcome was looking like a precocious child with an inflated sense of entitlement. Not nice.

And what of Clegg, the new Messiah sent to guide our fractured tribe through the dessert? Did he get his barnstorming OK Computer of a third album? Not quite. He faltered quite a lot during the opening questions and his attempts to mine the seam between the other two were somewhat overshadowed by the far more entertaining prospect of Brown totally losing his shit and biting Cameron. He rallied later on, seemed to give the only convincing answer on immigration and ended solidly, but a deal clincher this was not. So no more Radiohead for him and much more Alkaline Trio: Two very fresh and robust albums followed by a not-so-overwhelming but perfectly serviceable third record. That sounds a bit negative, but considering he came from absolutely nowhere, it’s no mean feat.

Other random points of note:

1. Cameron has a very shiny chin.
2. Clegg seems to think we have a vice-Chancellor. Does anyone want to break it to him that we’re not at uni any more?
3. The set was an assault of lavender but looked very scholarly.
4. Edina, the woman who asked the first question, has positively insane eyebrows. They looked like the logo you see on the back of No Fear T-shirts.
5. Dimbleby wiped the floor with the other presenters. Intimidated by the set up? No. A little bored by the constraints placed on him? Most probably. Absolutely gagging for a fag by the end (for I have it on good authority from numerous sources that he is not just a smoker, he’s a veritable smoking machine)? Without doubt.
6. The young teacher who asked a question near the end has one of the most impressive perma-scowls I’ve seen to date. At first I just thought he was pissed off with Cameron doing his ‘hardworking/people who just want to get along’ shtick on him, but then he turned it on Brown and even managed to combine it with nodding when listening to Clegg. Good scowling, sir.

Enough of that. We can safely close the lid on the Leaders’ Debates until which ever party gets in disintegrates like a cake in a bath (so we’ll probably see them again in a couple of months time). Farewell then, passing fad of lip service to democracy and hello to the stout, impervious citadel of Question Time.

The Menu:

Q1: Now we’ve had the debates, who’s won them?

Q2: Have the debates changed politics for the better?

Q3: Have the party leaders told us the truth about tax-and-spend?

Q4: Are you a bigot for asking the PM about immigration?

Q5: Do LibDem attacks on Cameron mean we’re heading for a LibLab pact?

In The Red Corner: Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, man who’s prospects aren’t looking so great these days.
There’s something deeply unsettling about watching a condemned man and in terms of the current government, no one is closer to having their goose cooked than Ed Balls. Right from the word go, he’s been Brown’s creature, his fortunes entirely shackled to his patron’s and right now, that’s about the last place in the world you want to be. He also has the added disadvantage of a haircut that makes him look like either a crew member of the Memphis Belle (see Fig. 1) or one of those weird ‘I’ll play whatever wanky instrument is left over’ types from the Arcade Fire (ginger guy who just seems to bang a drum occasionally and flounce about on stage, I’m looking at you). He is also a terrible, terrible liar. I could see him as some sort of middle ranking apparatchik from Collectivisation-era Russia who’s been tasked with guiding a visiting Commintern delegation around a Model Farm. Unfortunately, as the party rock up they find the crops are ablaze, the villagers ariot and the homesteads aruin. “Comrade Balls”, they enquire, “why is the wheat on fire?”. “Oh!” comes the reply “The diligent workers are roasting the fruit of the soil so that it may be easier to digest!”. “I see” they say, sounding less than convinced, “and why is it that the workers are stabbing each other with pitchforks?”. “Ah!” says Balls, “They are expressing their love for the Motherland in an ancient and much documented ritual”.
“Really? In years of study of these people I have never come across such a ritual. And what of the smouldering buildings? Has there been some terrible accident?”
“No, no! Of course not! It’s just that in this climate, smouldering buildings have been shown to provide the optimum level of comfort and shelter! With these fantastic facilities I can guarantee that next year’s grain yields and steel production figures will be 10 billion percent higher than this years!”

You know what I’m getting at, right?

Memphis Balls

Fig 1

Arcade Balls

Fig. 2

Anyhoo, he got off to a not bad start on Q1 by having a go at Cameron for avoiding questions and that was well received and a call to focus on policy in Q2 also did OK. However, Q3 (totally the best question of the night) was where it started getting sticky and he tried to duck the question by going on an extended waffle about how crap the Tories are. Sensing that wasn’t exactly warmly received he started chanting the electoral Get Out Of Jail Free Card of ‘doctors, nurse, teachers, nurse, doctors, doctors, nurses, blah, blah’ like a mantra. That didn’t in any way do the trick and things went from bad to worse as Dimbers got a bit personal (he must have had a lot of pent up energy after the Debate) and insinuated that he’d never be Chancellor. Smelling the blood in the water, pretty much everyone then got in on the act and started tearing strips off him as he tried his very best to not answer whether Labour would put up VAT or not. That ended up just looking crap and hamfisted. After this battering Q4 started with tumbleweed for him, but there was a brief flicker of Politburo Approved Honesty when he didn’t try to defend Gordon Brown’s Bigotgate comments and he finally limped away on Q5 after some LibDem brown-nosing. Bad do’s.

I’m struggling with Balls (fnar fnar!) right now because although he is the clumsiest of fibbers, I’m not sure that many other politicians are intrinsically more honest. They’re probably just better at bullshitting. Having said that, he has been right at the heart of the Treasury for years and it was the policies that he and his colleagues devised that laid the groundwork for the Great Economic Clusterfuck. When seen from that angle, this very much boils down to case of ‘you shat your pants, now wear them’. For that, my funny haired friend, you get low points.

A convincingly unconvincing 3/10

In The Blue Corner, Liam Fox, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence and general harbinger of doom.
Well hello there Death. Oh, sorry, my bad… It’s actually the ever morbid Liam Fox. Yes, Dr. Fox is back in the game again and can I just say how glad I am that he’s not my GP. It’s not that I doubt his medical skills, it’s just that everything that comes out of his mouth sounds like such bad bloody news. If he delivered a baby, I’m pretty sure he’d welcome this miracle of nature by saying “well done Mr Loudribs, you have a baby boy but can I just take this opportunity to remind you that it will one day die and that this event may well occur during you’re lifetime”. Thanks, Dr Fox. Worse still, I can also imagine that if I did present at his surgery with a problem, it would always end up (no matter how inexplicably) being my fault. Broken leg? You shouldn’t have tried walking and talking at the same time. Flu? That’s what you get for eating bread. Ebola? I told you not to use the internet! So yes, generally speaking Liam Fox is the bearer of bad news. Even if it’s good news.

Last night’s performance started pretty bland, waffling something neither here-nor-there on Q1 but he did get some gentle claps for saying he hoped that voter turnout would increase in Q2. Less clement weather prevailed in Q3 as he (like Balls) tried to dodge the question and instead read a charge sheet on Labour (including invoking that perennial Tory shibboleth, the selling of the gold. The way they go on about it leads me to think that the country is awash with insomniac Big C Conservatives, kept awake night-on-night by the sheer horror of the memory). Dimbers started to look dangerous as he prowled about in the background so he threw in a quick ‘Labour waste your money’ feint (which sort of worked) and followed it up with an NI jab. If the question had ended at this point, he’d have probably got away with it, but he took it full in the chops when an audience member asked whether the Tories would raise VAT. With Dimbleby now looking very dangerous he flapped about helplessly, tried an ill fated semantic defence and got clobbered with a whole load of booing. It was a sorry spectacle, but also highly entertaining. A slight recovery followed in Q4, although this was tainted when he got some mild heckles on the immigration cap issue and got into some inconclusive little skirmishes with audience members. Finally, he ended it all with one of the loudest bouts of booing I’ve heard for some time as he overplayed his ‘hung parliaments are bad’ line by wheeling out his ‘the Pound will tank’ bogeyman. Not the most graceful of exits.

Generally speaking, it wasn’t a great performance. There were moments where he got quite feisty and combative, but on the whole it was like a picnic in a graveyard. He gets one more point than Balls, but that’s only on account of not looking quite as pathetic and considering he set the bar very low, that’s not exactly a glowing achievement. So Liam Fox, how does it fell to be given some bad news? Hmmm? Hmmm?

A Danse Macabre of a 4/10

In The Yellow Corner: Vince Cable, LibDem Treasury Spokesperson and patron saint of global financial meltdowns.
Prostrate thyselves for St Vince is here to bless us with his trademark brand of unassuming wisdom and refreshing ordinariness. Actually, I have to say that St Vince isn’t quite as good at Question Time as I  thought he might be and that’s because it sometimes takes him out of his comfort zone. That’s the trouble with patron saints, they’re all just to damned specialised. Let’s say that one day St Adrian of Nicodemia, patron saint of arms dealers, butchers, guards and soldiers, calls in sick and the only saint available to cover his shift was St. Martin de Porres, patron saint of hairdressers (seriously, I’m not making this stuff up….here’s a big list). Obviously, carnage would ensue. Armies would find themselves armed with nothing more than GHD’s and tub’s of Dax, meat would start being cut into all sorts of fruity styles and shoplifters would run riot. So yes, saints need to stick with what they know. The same thing happens to St. Vince. Send him on Newsnight to harry Osborne and Darling and you can rest assured that he will emerge triumphant, smiting his foes with quiet, understated common sense. However, send him on Question Time and that cast iron guarantee simply evaporates in the face of non-economic policy.

Here’s how he did: Q1 was fairly standard ‘3 horse race’ stuff, not bad but generally unremarkable while there was some love for him when he bashed First Past The Post in Q2. Q3 saw him on much me solid ground as he came across as someone who genuinely does care that the numbers add up and avoided falling into the VAT trap by simply saying he couldn’t rule out a rise. There was no applause on this, but I don’t think it was the sort of question where crowd love would ever be forthcoming. You’re telling them that you’re probably going to raise their taxes so to escape from the field of battle unscathed is bloody good going. It was Q4 where he started coming unstuck and when he was pressed on the LibDems immigration ‘amnesty’ he started to get mired, mangling the point a little and not looking like he was in control of his answer. The same thing happened on Q5 when he tried to explain how the Libs would clean up parliament. That easy, straightforwardness that we usually associate with St Vince simply wasn’t on display and he became tangled, seemingly unable to turn his point into something of value. While his performance was way better than either Fox’s or Balls’, it’s weird and unnerving to watch someone who has become such a trusted voice of reason so quickly look just a little, well, mortal. And that’s the problem with saints. You’ve got to use them sparingly and pick their battles, otherwise they lose their saintliness. Keep Vince saintly, that’s what I say.

A comparatively good but uncharacteristically poor 6/10

In The Independent/Brainy Corner: Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland and insurance mascot impersonator (see title picture).

Ahh Alex, being troublesome and awkward again are we? Thought so. I have a feeling that Salmond’s was only on QT that night because he kicked up such an unholy and wholly unjustified fuss about the Leaders’ Debates that BBC threw him a bone in a return for a quieter life. It was a pretty Berlusconi-ish thing to but to give him credit, he did look like he knew he’d been busted and therefore reeled his mouth somewhat tonight. In fact, he even went as far as acknowledging this in Q2 when an audience member asked him whether the whole Leaders’ Debate brouhaha was a “cheap political trick”. “It wasn’t that cheap” came the reply. So in general, we didn’t see much of Salmond on this show and after a brief outburst of sour grapes in Q1 (‘at least Clegg got to go on the debates!’) he then had the good sense to generally shut up. I don’t know, as I’ve said before with Salmond, I shouldn’t really like him. He always looks like he’s involved in some sort of swindle, he relies quite heavily on rhetoric and there is just something a little ‘tin-pot dictator-ish’ about him. Having said that, he does have a level of self awareness that I like, he’s nimble in a debate and there’s a knowing look in his eye that says “My time will come”. I like that, even if I have to put up with listening to endless stories of what dazzling utopia of a country Scotland is as a consequence. So yeah, he shouldn’t really have been there, but at least he had the good sense to realised that.

A ill conceived but not badly executed 5/10

In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Janet Street-Porter, angle grinder voiced media type and Viperfish lookalike (see title picture).

JSP? Really? In the last show before the election? Man, what a burn. Talking about men, did you happen to know they’re crap? No? Well Janet Street-Porter thinks so and never wastes an opportunity to drive home that point in the most screechingly, searingly awful way. So yeah, JSP was on this episode and when I found out on the Wednesday, I could feel the anger rising me in. I knew what happen. A totally innocuous question would be posed, her mouth would open out would pour a mixture of white noise and man-hate. Sure enough she got straight to it right from the word go (“macho politics” dontchaknow?) and I felt like throwing the cat at the telly. In fairness, that was her only real, extended rant about the evils of men, but it still pissed me off and I found it really hard to listen to her after that. The crowd seemed more sympathetic and she did make some OK points later on, but her earlier rant really got under my skin. Yes, we know that there’s still a lot to be done about gender equality and yes, politics is ridiculously biased towards males, but having a go at me on account of my bollocks isn’t going to change that. It’s simply going to turn people off the more serious issues. That aside, I just find it hard watching her in general as everything she does or says just seems to have this nightmarish, bad acid trip quality to it. That voice, those jerky movements and that mouth that looks like it could bite your head clean off, it all genuinely scares me. So crap marks for you JSP. You get one more point than you got last time, but that’s because you actually did make every point into one about men on your last outing. This was marginally more tolerable.

A horribly predictable 4/10

The Crowd: Birmingham

The audiences in these post-Debate QT’s having been getting progressively more lively and this bunch ended up positively boisterous, what with all the booing and whatnot. Actual, despite the largely non-epic marks that everyone has garnered, this was a great episode and that was largely down to the audience being very engaged with the show. Yes, there was some tribalism, a few scatty points were made and they were far too kind to Janet Street-Porter for my liking, but on the whole, there was a lively ebb-and-flow as people fell in and out of favour. Dimbleby was also on great form tonight, after having probably smoked an entire packet of Marlboro Reds and eaten a 2oz pack of Golden Virginia in the interval and this translated into very entertaining level of mischief. In terms of which party came out on top, it’s hard to say. Certainly Balls got a trouncing, but I think that was more about him and there was sympathy for the party in parts of the audience. Similarly with the Tories, it was Fox who took the flak for most of the bad stuff and yet again, they got a lot of support when it came to NI. The LibDems are now very much more relevant and as a result, they are getting a tougher ride than usual, but much like the country as a whole, this was too close to call. All good stuff (particularly the question about VAT. That totally ruined the night for Fox and Balls). Finally, audience members of note included a guy who looked like a pubescent Smiths fan but sounded like an old women and another guy who looked like Fig.1 in the Old School LibDem Recognition Manual. Long, straight, ginger hair, round glasses, slightly alternative looking clothes, making a point about Trident. It’s good that there still are some certainties in this world.

A highly unrestrained 8/10

So that’s it for this parliament. Come this time next week, we will either be quivering in terror at the majesty of our new overloads or running amuck as society falls apart under the chaos of coalition government. Personally, I’m for the latter (and will spend the next week in blissful denial at the possible of any other outcome) as it sounds much more fun and lets face it, the results of thirty years of ‘strong’ governments haven’t exactly the best advert for our system. Anyhow, as this is technically the end of this parliament (at least I think it is… someone please correct me if I’m wrong) I’m going to update the scoreboard at some point next week and hopefully dish out a few completely valueless awards, accolades and Marks of Cain. Question Time’s back on the 13th of May, so I too will return, just in case you happen to like all this nonsense. See you on the other side people.

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #13


By the power of Ann Lesley!

Morning Lemmings. OK, I have to admit that I totally underestimated just how much craziness these Leaders’ Debates would cause. Even when I was watching the first one, I thought it was so dull that it would probably drive the electorate to unheard of heights of apathy, but at is turns out they’ve pretty much turned post-war politics completely upsidedown. So I was wrong, but in a good way. Anyhoo, last night’s debate was Nick Clegg’s Tricky Second Album and he was the one with everything to lose. So did he do a Bloc Party and follow up the brilliant Silent Alarm with the lacklustre Weekend In The City? A categorical no. In fact, I would go as far as saying that he’s actually put himself on a Radiohead trajectory and followed up a nice little breakthrough Pablo Honey with a more assured and fleshed out The Bends. Whether he can stick to this course and bust out a genre defining OK Computer remains to be seen, but it’s safe to say that although last night was very close, his Round One performance was not a flash in the pan. As for Cameron, well I’m slightly annoyed as I had a great Scouting For Girls metaphor all lined up (awful, turgid, monstrosity of a record followed by an even more awful, turgid, monstrosity of a record) but he actual did quite well, coming off as less nauseating and hucksterish than the first time round and even gracing us with a rare appearance of Angry Dave. Don’t mess with Angry Dave or he’ll get jolly well upset. As for Brown, I’ve already fleshed out my New Labour/Weezer theory at length, but that doesn’t quite fit either as he also did quite well in that he stopped pretending to be a human. We love you just the way you are Gordon: A lumpen, constant and inevitable body of mass that Christ himself cannot bend to his will. So with all that in mind, I’m assigning Brown to the Metallica plan (most of this year has been St. Anger while last night was much more Death Magnetic), Cameron to the Van Halen template (all good times until Diver Down, but a return to form with 1984… don’t worry though, Sammy Hagar’s début is just round the corner) and that’s the end of that. Other points of note include:

  1. The set looked like some dystopian rendition of a future Krypton Factor where the contestants have to fight to the death.
  2. Boulton is a million times better than Mitchell but a million times less great than Dimbleby… and he looks like he has gills.
  3. Using the words “Afghanistan” and “blown away” in the same sentence isn’t the best plan, Mr Cameron.
  4. Nick Clegg did a lovely little saunter towards the audience at the end. I have lots of time for good sauntering and he saunters well.
  5. At one point Cameron managed to use the word “change” three times in the space of a single sentence.
  6. Less colouring-in took place than in last week’s outing.

Enough already. Time for some real debate. Take me to London or lose me forever.

The Menu:

Q1: Cameron presents himself as an agent of change but is his impression of Nick Clegg good enough?

Q2: Does Nick Clegg’s funny-money allegations mean that the LibDems are any different from the other two parties?

Q3. Will a hung parliament be bad for the UK?

Q4. With inflation and unemployment up, why should we trust Labour?

In The Red Corner: Yvette Cooper, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, MP for Pontecarlo and Cas Vegas, husband of Balls.

It must be hard being Yvette Cooper as every time she appears on TV she looks absolutely knackered. Actually, I guess this isn’t that surprising given that not only has she been working deep within the bowels of Brown’s Treasury (a place not noted for its touchy-feely, ‘take all the time you need’ work ethic) since time immemorial, she’s also married to it in the form of Ed Balls (who just happens to be one of the most unpopular politicians in the country). On top of this, she seems to be one of the few members of Brown’s inner circle who seems to have some sort of contact with reality and as a result, she always looks like she knows that whatever idea she’s been wheeled out to defend will probably go pear shaped, but she carries on regardless, possibly out of a misplaced sense of duty. I like that. It’s not the flashiest of traits, but her mixture of grim resignation and ability to sound reasonable is actually quite endearing. This episode was a slightly easier ride than she’s had on past Question Times given that Gordon didn’t do too badly but also because of the weird mood that’s swept through Labour in the last week. Prior to the debates, most of the Red Team were locked in a death grip with the Tories, knew things were looking terminal and you could sense their despair at the futility of it all. However, that was before Clegg completely trashed the entire scheme of things with his performance and now Labour look like they’ve found a diamond in a turd. Sure, the most likely outcome isn’t amazingly brilliant (a hung parliament and possible coalition), but it’s a damn sight better than it was (probable defeat or a short lived embarrassment of a minority government), they don’t have to do any of the heavy lifting and hell, the sheer stupidity of our electoral system may see them come out smelling of roses. This has put a bit of a spring in their step and their attitude seems a lot more carefree than it was.

Was this reflected in Cooper’s performance? Pretty much. Q1 was a straightforward affair, with some standard Tory bashing at the start, a few doffs of the cap to Clegg and then a surprise swipe at him on Trident (which went down surprisingly well). Much the same followed in Q2 where, after a bout of waffle, she chided the Tory press for ganging up on The New Boy and then landed a himdinger on journalists in general (a brave thing to do in front of Ann Leslie) for treating the public “like idiots”. That was all very well received, much to absolutely no-ones surprise (accusing someone else of treating the audience like idiots never fails… Unless you’re Nick Griffin). Q3 wasn’t so easy as Labour can’t really come out and say ‘we love hung parliaments now’ without looking poisonously cynical, so she reverted to orthodoxy and wheeled out the standard ‘First Past The Post Is Well Cool’ arguments but did manage to fold in a nice little dig at Ken Clarke. Muted applause followed. Finally, she gave Q4 a fairly dull blathering of Treasury-speak before making sure that she gave the Tories one more slap for their economic policy. Sorted.

All-in-all, it was a fairly good performance and for once, she didn’t look like she’d only had half an hour’s sleep in the last month. I’m pretty sure that this is down to the sudden change in circumstances and the fact that most Labour MP’s seem to be in end-of-term mode. Seriously, most of them look like they just don’t give a shit anymore and not necessarily in a bad way. It didn’t all go her way and she took a lot of stick in counter-claps from the audience when it came to the NI rise, but by and large it was perfectly serviceable outing.

An easier than usual 6/10

In The Blue Corner: William Hague, Shadow Foreign Secretary, former election loser and Mekon impersonator.

I don’t know why, but there’s something about Hague that I actually quite like. Actually, let me rephrase that: There’s something about Hague that I actually quite like providing I know he’s nowhere near the levers of power. I think it’s because deep down, he knows he shouldn’t be where he is as he’s a manbaby (see Fig. 1) with a wobbly head, blighted by the oddest of Yorkshire accents and with enough embarrassing stock footage of him to last a lifetime (the 16 year old fawning over Maggie, the ‘Hague’ hat, the 15 pints or whatever it was, etc, etc). On top of that, he always looks out of sorts with the rest of the party and terrified of being found out as a fraud (you know when he’s feeling like this because his voice starts to wobble mid-sentence in a very Alan Partridge sort of way). That all sounds pretty sad, but there’s another, more cheery side to him when he sometimes looks like he’s only just realised he’s a frontbench MP and can’t believe his luck. When this happens, he can actually bust out some pretty funny stuff, have a good knockabout with whoever he’s up against and actually appear semi-human (you know when he’s feeling like this because he delivers every line like a punchline, his voicing rising slightly at the end of every sentence). Luckily for Hague, tonight’s Question Time was an easier prospect than last week as Cameron had managed to get his act together in the debate, but still, the onus is on the Tories to convince the public right now, not the other way round.

avert thine eyes...

Future Foreign Secretary?

So which Hague did we get tonight? Sad Hague or Happy Hague? A bit of both really. Kicking off with Q1, he did his best his best to chalk up Clegg’s recent run of form as “novelty factor” stuff, but came off looking a little shifty and worse still, Cooper nicked his Trident point seconds after he said it and came away with all the applause. Gah! Sad Hague is sad. Q2 was more fun though and Sad Hague was displaced by the much more forthright Happy Hague who wasted no time in whipping out the “holier than thou” stick on Clegg and getting perhaps a little too much applause for demanding that all parliamentary spending goes online. Happy Hague is happy. Q3 saw some nice banditry from Dimbers as he casually tinkered around with some insinuations about Ken Clarke and Hague looked like he’d been busted and reverted to Sad Hague. This went on for some time and ended with a very shaky sounding “right behind” Osborne and a weary defence of First Past The Post that not even a makeshift offensive against the NI raise could save. Sad Hague is sad. Finally, Q4 saw the late re-emergence of Happy Hague when he got very giddy about the private sector and the audience went with him, giving him a nice round of applause to finish the night with. Happy Hague is happy. Yay!

So yes, neither Happy nor Sad Hague dominated and we are left with a curious Yin-Yang Hague, composed equally of both factions and locked in a sublime celestial ballet. I think I just got a bit carried away there.

A curious reflection on the duality of man 5/10

In The Yellow Corner: Menzies Campbell, MP for North East Fife and former didn’t-get-close-enough-to-an-election-to-lose-it Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Dammit Ming! You were only on two weeks ago! Just how the buggery hell am I supposed to come up with new material in that time?! Truly, this is merciless, Ming. Actually, I have a theory as to why he’s on again in such a short space of time and that’s because he got lost on his way out of the studio last time. For the last fortnight, he’s been wandering the corridors of the BBC, politely asking uncaring members of staff where he might find the tramstop and a copy of Punch magazine until he finally gravitated back towards the studio and dozed off in a chair, only to be woken by Dimbleby stubbing a cigarette out on his forehead. Alright, that’s enough of that. I’m being wantonly cruel to poor old Ming and he doesn’t really deserve it because despite his sometimes frail demeanour, his intentions are always resolute and he can put on a great display of gravitas. In many ways, he’s like a less-than-well looked after vintage sports car (a Triumph Stag, let’s say) that appears to go bloody well on the motorway, but gets into all sorts of trouble in the city because it’s clutch has gone. That’s Ming’s problem, his clutch. When he’s dealing with something he knows about, has plenty of time to build up speed and no difficult corners to make him change the tempo, he’s great. But if you start throwing a few sharp turns or other obstructions, he has to change gear. This causes all manner of grindy/crashy noises, the car jolts and stutters and sometimes even stalls, making him look pretty goofy. Usually, this isn’t a major problem as the LibDems simply haven’t been in the spotlight and that’s given Ming an empty motorway to show off on. That, unfortunately, is no longer the case. Now that Clegg’s completely put the zap on everyone’s heads, both parties are wilfully constructing roadblocks and pouring oil about the place, making what is usually a jolly jaunt up the M5 into a hellish Central London gridlock. Looking back on my notes, there was only one time when Ming got any decernable applause and that was off the back of ‘let’s change the subject’ sideswipe at Ashcroft in Q2. The rest of the time he just failed to get in his stride and kept juddering away, never really getting enough traction to carry the audience along with him. None of what he said was inherently wrong and this wasn’t a disaster, but you’d think the Libs would be in a commanding position tonight. I guess that’s what happens when you hit the big time, kiddo.

A non-Synchromesh 4/10

In The Independent/Brainy Corner: Elfyn Llwyd, MP for Meirionnydd Nat Conway (?!?), current frontrunner on the LCCPQTMR Scoreboard.

Elfyn’s back! Hooray! The last time Elfyn Llwyd was on, he had an absolute belter of an episode, so much so that he still reigns supreme on the infrequently updated Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report Scoreboard. However, that was to a home crowd and as regular readers will know, Loudribs 2nd Law of Question Time Dynamics dictates that “all regional parties get a +3 saving throw on their own turf “. Is Elfyn Llwyd about to bring my meticulously researched scientific theories crashing down about me? Of course not. I wrote the theory and bloody well give out the scores so there’s absolutely no chance of that happening. Having said that, he again put on a really good show, basically reminding everyone that there is a different way of running a country and that’s what we used to call ‘social democracy’. We’re often told that there is no appetite for the left (and by that I mean the traditional left) in this country, but if the response to Elfyn is anything to go by, this is patently wrong. The bulk of his answers drew solid applause and there was genuine support behind him for his ‘living pensions’ line on Q1. Ok, so he didn’t really appear to be as relevant as he was on his last appearance and there were a couple of moments where his ‘impassioned criticism’ face looked a little too much like his ‘grumpy’ face, but generally speaking, I can’t knock it. Not good enough to break my own rule though, OK?

A theoretically contiguous 7/10

In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Dame Ann Leslie, Mail Hack-of-Note and Phlegmatic Institution.

I really should take umbrage with Ann Leslie, what with her being so intrinsically associated with the Daily Fail but I have to admit that this isn’t the case and if anything, I really quite like her. It’s not out of agreement with her views that I say this and in terms of outlook, we couldn’t be further apart but there’s a certain breed of rightwinger that I’ve always had a great deal of respect for: the gin soaked, Sobranie smoking, blood and stomach pills, ‘to hell with the lot of them’ type of rightwinger (think Alan Clarke). Not only does Ann Leslie tick all the above boxes, but she also has the added advantages of looking like Skeletor (see main picture), a razor sharp tongue and a complete lack of interest in anyone else’s opinion of her. That makes for a fun combination. As is usually the case with the 5th panellist, I won’t go into detail, but here are some pearls of wisdom/turns of caustic wit she left scattered about the place:

  • Cameron was “limp” last week while Clegg is “not the messiah, but a very pretty boy”.
  • LibDems are “sandal wearing” and “self righteous”
  • “Diddums”
  • When asked about LibDem policies she responded “They suck, frankly.”
  • She voted for a “lap dancing madam” in the last election.
  • Gordon brown is “always saving the country after half ruining it”.

What I like about people like Ann Leslie is that you know where you are with them. If they were going to bring in some crazy eugenic policy or sell all the council estates to Tesco, they wouldn’t bother dressing it up with euphemisms and would probably even take the time to come and personally laugh in your face. They are comfortable with sin, make no apologies for their own and have none of that puritanical streak that less colourful strains of the right have. In short, they’re honest bastards. As for her performance, I liked it, the audience liked it and that gets points.

A Bloody Mary for breakfast of a 7/10

The Crowd: London

So this is second post-Debate crowd and they certainly seemed a little more awake than the last lot, not needing a full quarter of an hour to emerge to merge from their slumber. They were also genuinely without a favourite, treating all the parties in similar fashion and giving no-one an easy ride. If ever you needed confirmation that this is now a three horse race, this was it. Two things that did strike me were just how anti the NI rise they were and just how much love there was for private sector growth as opposed to public sector growth. Both of these issues drew the biggest applause and they are still a potential weaknesses for Labour (not that they seemed that bothered right now). The other thing that struck me were how cool the names were of the people asking the first two questions: Jack Warrior and Otto Balsagar. I wish I was called Jack Warrior. Or Otto Balsagar for that matter. But yes, they were a pretty lively bunch that adequately reflected the mood in the country: The cosy two party relationship is dead and the game has changed. That’s exciting stuff.

An sturdy weather vane of a 7/10

Alright, that’s your lot. Check back next week for the last Question Time report before the election…Yikes! Oh, and by the way, if you like what you’re reading, there’s a Facebook fanpage you can join. It’s like being in a gang. A rubbish gang with no obligations or responsibilities, but a gang nevertheless. Anyway, it’s here and if you’d care to stroke my ego, my ego won’t complain. Next week, Lemmings, next week…

Morning Lemmings. OK, I have to admit that I totally underestimated just how much craziness these Leaders’ Debates would cause. Even when I was watching the first one, I thought it was so dull that it would probably drive the electorate to unheard of heights of apathy, but at is turns out they’ve pretty much turned post-war politics completely upsidedown. So I was wrong, but in a good way. Anyhoo, last night’s debate was Nick Clegg’s Tricky Second Album and he was the one with everything to lose. So did he do a Bloc Party and follow up the brilliant Silent Alarm with the lacklustre Weekend In The City? A categorical no. In fact, I would go as far as saying that he’s actually put himself on a Radiohead trajectory and followed up a nice little breakthrough Pablo Honey with a more assured and fleshed out The Bends. Whether he can stick to this course and bust out a genre defining OK Computer remains to be seen, but it’s safe to say that although last night was very close, his Round One performance was not a flash in the pan. As for Cameron, well I’m slightly annoyed as I had a great Scouting For Girls metaphor all lined up (awful, turgid, monstrosity of a record followed by an even more awful, turgid, monstrosity of a record) but he actual did quite well, coming off as less nauseating and hucksterish than the first time round and even gracing us with a rare appearance of Angry Dave. Don’t mess with Angry Dave or he’ll get jolly well upset. As for Brown, I’ve already fleshed out my New Labour/Weezer theory at length, but that doesn’t quite fit either as he also did quite well in that he stopped pretending to be a human. We love you just the way you are Gordon: A lumpen, constant and inevitable body of mass that Christ himself cannot bend to his will. So with all that in mind, I’m assigning Brown to the Metallica plan (most of this year has been St. Anger while last night was much more Death Magnetic), Cameron to the Van Halen template (all good times until Diver Down, but a return to form with 1984… don’t worry though, Sammy Hagar’s début is just round the corner) and that’s the end of that. Other points of note include:

  1. The set looked like some dystopian rendition of a future Krypton Factor where the contestants have to fight to the death.

  2. Boulton is a million times better than Mitchell but a million times less great than Dimbleby… and he looks like he has gills.

  3. Using the words “Afghanistan” and “blown away” in the same sentence isn’t the best plan, Mr Cameron.

  4. Nick Clegg did a lovely little saunter towards the audience at the end. I have lots of time for good sauntering and he saunters well.

  5. At one point Cameron managed to use the word “change” three times in the space of a single sentence.

  6. Less colouring-in took place than in last week’s outing.

Enough already. Time for some real debate. Take me to London or lose me forever.

The Menu:

Q1: Cameron presents himself as an agent of change but is his impression of Nick Clegg good enough?

Q2: Does Nick Clegg’s funny-money allegations mean that the LibDems are any different from the other two parties?

Q3. Will a hung parliament be bad for the UK?

Q4. With inflation and unemployment up, why should we trust Labour?

In The Red Corner: Yvette Cooper, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, MP for Pontecarlo and Cas Vegas, husband of Balls.

It must be hard being Yvette Cooper as every time she appears on TV she looks absolutely knackered. Actually, I guess this isn’t that surprising given that not only has she been working deep within the bowels of Brown’s Treasury (a place not noted for its touchy-feely, ‘take all the time you need’ work ethic) since time immemorial, she’s also married to it in the form of Ed Balls (who just happens to be one of the most unpopular politicians in the country). On top of this, she seems to be one of the few members of Brown’s inner circle who seems to have some sort of contact with reality and as a result, she always looks like she knows that whatever idea she’s been wheeled out to defend will probably go pear shaped, but she carries on regardless, possibly out of a misplaced sense of duty. I like that. It’s not the flashiest of traits, but her mixture of grim resignation and ability to sound reasonable is actually quite endearing. This episode was a slightly easier ride than she’s had on past Question Times given that Gordon didn’t do too badly but also because of the weird mood that’s swept through Labour in the last week. Prior to the debates, most of the Red Team were locked in a death grip with the Tories, knew things were looking terminal and you could sense their despair at the futility of it all. However, that was before Clegg completely trashed the entire scheme of things with his performance and now Labour look like they’ve found a diamond in a turd. Sure, the most likely outcome isn’t amazingly brilliant (a hung parliament and possible coalition), but it’s a damn sight better than it was (probable defeat or a short lived embarrassment of a minority government), they don’t have to do any of the heavy lifting and hell, the sheer stupidity of our electoral system may see them come out smelling of roses. This has put a bit of a spring in their step and their attitude seems a lot more carefree than it was.

Was this reflected in Cooper’s performance? Pretty much. Q1 was a straightforward affair, with some standard Tory bashing at the start, a few doffs of the cap to Clegg and then a surprise swipe at him on Trident (which went down surprisingly well). Much the same followed in Q2 where, after a bout of waffle, she chided the Tory press for ganging up on The New Boy and then landed a himdinger on journalists in general (a brave thing to do in front of Ann Leslie) for treating the public “like idiots”. That was all very well received, much to absolutely no-ones surprise (accusing someone else of treating the audience like idiots never fails… Unless you’re Nick Griffin). Q3 wasn’t so easy as Labour can’t really come out and say ‘we love hung parliaments now’ without looking poisonously cynical, so she reverted to orthodoxy and wheeled out the standard ‘First Past The Post Is Well Cool’ arguments but did manage to fold in a nice little dig at Ken Clarke. Muted applause followed. Finally, she gave Q4 a fairly dull blathering of Treasury-speak before making sure that she gave the Tories one more slap for their economic policy. Sorted.

All-in-all, it was a fairly good performance and for once, she didn’t look like she’d only had half an hour’s sleep in the last month. I’m pretty sure that this is down to the sudden change in circumstances and the fact that most Labour MP’s seem to be in end-of-term mode. Seriously, most of them look like they just don’t give a shit anymore and not necessarily in a bad way. It didn’t all go her way and she took a lot of stick in counter-claps from the audience when it came to the NI rise, but by and large it was perfectly serviceable outing.

An easier than usual 6/10

In The Blue Corner: William Hague, Shadow Foreign Secretary, former election loser and Mekon impersonator.

I don’t know why, but there’s something about Hague that I actually quite like. Actually, let me rephrase that: There’s something about Hague that I actually quite like providing I know he’s nowhere near the levers of power. I think it’s because deep down, he knows he shouldn’t be where he is as he’s a manbaby (see Fig. 1) with a wobbly head, blighted by the oddest of Yorkshire accents and with enough embarrassing stock footage of him to last a lifetime (the 16 year old fawning over Maggie, the ‘Hague’ hat, the 15 pints or whatever it was, etc, etc). On top of that, he always looks out of sorts with the rest of the party and terrified of being found out as a fraud (you know when he’s feeling like this because his voice starts to wobble mid-sentence in a very Alan Partridge sort of way). That all sounds pretty sad, but there’s another, more cheery side to him when he sometimes looks like he’s only just realised he’s a frontbench MP and can’t believe his luck. When this happens, he can actually bust out some pretty funny stuff, have a good knockabout with whoever he’s up against and actually appear semi-human (you know when he’s feeling like this because he delivers every line like a punchline, his voicing rising slightly at the end of every sentence). Luckily for Hague, tonight’s Question Time was an easier prospect than last week as Cameron had managed to get his act together in the debate, but still, the onus is on the Tories to convince the public right now, not the other way round.

So which Hague did we get tonight? Sad Hague or Happy Hague? A bit of both really. Kicking off with Q1, he did his best his best to chalk up Clegg’s recent run of form as “novelty factor” stuff, but came off looking a little shifty and worse still, Cooper nicked his Trident point seconds after he said it and came away with all the applause. Gah! Sad Hague is sad. Q2 was more fun though and Sad Hague was displaced by the much more forthright Happy Hague who wasted no time in whipping out the “holier than thou” stick on Clegg and getting perhaps a little too much applause for demanding that all parliamentary spending goes online. Happy Hague is happy. Q3 saw some nice banditry from Dimbers as he casually tinkered around with some insinuations about Ken Clarke and Hague looked like he’d been busted and reverted to Sad Hague. This went on for some time and ended with a very shaky sounding “right behind” Osborne and a weary defence of First Past The Post that not even a makeshift offensive against the NI raise could save. Sad Hague is sad. Finally, Q4 saw the late re-emergence of Happy Hague when he got very giddy about the private sector and the audience went with him, giving him a nice round of applause to finish the night with. Happy Hague is happy. Yay!

So yes, neither Happy nor Sad Hague dominated and we are left with a curious Yin-Yang Hague, composed equally of both factions and locked in a sublime celestial ballet. I think I just got a bit carried away there.

A curious reflection on the duality of man 5/10

In The Yellow Corner: Menzies Campbell, MP for North East Fife and former didn’t-get-close-enough-to-an-election-to-lose-it Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Dammit Ming! You were only on two weeks ago! Just how the buggery hell am I supposed to come up with new material in that time?! Truly, this is merciless, Ming. Actually, I have a theory as to why he’s on again in such a short space of time and that’s because he got lost on his way out of the studio last time. For the last fortnight, he’s been wandering the corridors of the BBC, politely asking uncaring members of staff where he might find the tramstop and a copy of Punch magazine until he finally gravitated back towards the studio and dozed off in a chair, only to be woken by Dimbleby stubbing a cigarette out on his forehead. Alright, that’s enough of that. I’m being wantonly cruel to poor old Ming and he doesn’t really deserve it because despite his sometimes frail demeanour, his intentions are always resolute and he can put on a great display of gravitas. In many ways, he’s like a less-than-well looked after vintage sports car (a Triumph Stag, let’s say) that appears to go bloody well on the motorway, but gets into all sorts of trouble in the city because it’s clutch has gone. That’s Ming’s problem, his clutch. When he’s dealing with something he knows about, has plenty of time to build up speed and no difficult corners to make him change the tempo, he’s great. But if you start throwing a few sharp turns or other obstructions, he has to change gear. This causes all manner of grindy/crashy noises, the car jolts and stutters and sometimes even stalls, making him look pretty goofy. Usually, this isn’t a major problem as the LibDems simply haven’t been in the spotlight and that’s given Ming an empty motorway to show off on. That, unfortunately, is no longer the case. Now that Clegg’s completely put the zap on everyone’s heads, both parties are wilfully constructing roadblocks and pouring oil about the place, making what is usually a jolly jaunt up the M5 into a hellish Central London gridlock. Looking back on my notes, there was only one time when Ming got any decernable applause and that was off the back of ‘let’s change the subject’ sideswipe at Ashcroft in Q2. The rest of the time he just failed to get in his stride and kept juddering away, never really getting enough traction to carry the audience along with him. None of what he said was inherently wrong and this wasn’t a disaster, but you’d think the Libs would be in a commanding position tonight. I guess that’s what happens when you hit the big time, kiddo.

A non-Synchromesh 4/10

In The Independent/Brainy Corner: Elfyn Llwyd, MP for Meirionnydd Nat Conway (?!?), current frontrunner on the LCCPQTMR Scoreboard.

Elfyn’s back! Hooray! The last time Elfyn Llwyd was on, he had an absolute belter of an episode, so much so that he still reigns supreme on the infrequently updated Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report Scoreboard. However, that was to a home crowd and as regular readers will know, Loudribs 2nd Law of Question Time Dynamics dictates that “all regional parties get a +3 saving throw on their own turf “. Is Elfyn Llwyd about to bring my meticulously researched scientific theories crashing down about me? Of course not. I wrote the theory and bloody well give out the scores so there’s absolutely no chance of that happening. Having said that, he again put on a really good show, basically reminding everyone that there is a different way of running a country and that’s what we used to call ‘social democracy’. We’re often told that there is no appetite for the left (and by that I mean the traditional left) in this country, but if the response to Elfyn is anything to go by, this is patently wrong. The bulk of his answers drew solid applause and there was genuine support behind him for his ‘living pensions’ line on Q1. Ok, so he didn’t really appear to be as relevant as he was on his last appearance and there were a couple of moments where his ‘impassioned criticism’ face looked a little too much like his ‘grumpy’ face, but generally speaking, I can’t knock it. Not good enough to break my own rule though, OK?

A theoretically contiguous 7/10

In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Dame Ann Leslie, Mail Hack-of-Note and Phlegmatic Institution.

I really should take umbrage with Ann Leslie, what with her being so intrinsically associated with the Daily Fail but I have to admit that this isn’t the case and if anything, I really quite like her. It’s not out of agreement with her views that I say this and in terms of outlook, we couldn’t be further apart but there’s a certain breed of rightwinger that I’ve always had a great deal of respect for: the gin soaked, Sobranie smoking, blood and stomach pills, ‘to hell with the lot of them’ type of rightwinger (think Alan Clarke). Not only does Ann Leslie tick all the above boxes, but she also has the added advantages of looking like Skeletor (see main picture), a razor sharp tongue and a complete lack of interest in anyone else’s opinion of her. That makes for a fun combination. As is usually the case with the 5th panellist, I won’t go into detail, but here are some pearls of wisdom/turns of caustic wit she left scattered about the place:

  • Cameron was “limp” last week while Clegg is “not the messiah, but a very pretty boy”.

  • LibDems are “sandal wearing” and “self righteous”

  • Diddums”

  • When asked about LibDem policies she responded “They suck, frankly.”

  • She voted for a “lap dancing madam” in the last election.

  • Gordon brown is “always saving the country after half ruining it”.

What I like about people like Ann Leslie is that you know where you are with them. If they were going to bring in some crazy eugenic policy or sell all the council estates to Tesco, they wouldn’t bother dressing it up with euphemisms and would probably even take the time to come and personally laugh in your face. They are comfortable with sin, make no apologies for their own and have none of that puritanical streak that less colourful strains of the right have. In short, they’re honest bastards. As for her performance, I liked it, the audience liked it and that gets points.

A Bloody Mary for breakfast of a 7/10

The Crowd: London

So this is second post-Debate crowd and they certainly seemed a little more awake than the last lot, not needing a full quarter of an hour to emerge to merge from their slumber. They were also genuinely without a favourite, treating all the parties in similar fashion and giving no-one an easy ride. If ever you needed confirmation that this is now a three horse race, this was it. Two things that did strike me were just how anti the NI rise they were and just how much love there was for private sector growth as opposed to public sector growth. Both of these issues drew the biggest applause and they are still a potential weaknesses for Labour (not that they seemed that bothered right now). The other thing that struck me were how cool the names were of the people asking the first two questions: Jack Warrior and Otto Balsagar. I wish I was called Jack Warrior. Or Otto Balsagar for that matter. But yes, they were a pretty lively bunch that adequately reflected the mood in the country: The cosy two party relationship is dead and the game has changed. That’s exciting stuff.

An sturdy weather vane of a 7/10

Alright, that’s your lot. Check back next week for the last Question Time report before the election…Yikes! Oh, and by the way, if you like what your reading, there’s a Facebook fanpage you can join. It’s like being in a gang. A rubbish gang with no obligations or responsibilities, but a gang nevertheless. Anyway, it’s here and if you’d care to stroke my ego, my ego won’t complain. Next week, Lemmings, next week…

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #12


Ol' Big Neck and Wonky Eyes

Morning Lemmings. Ok, so I guess I’d better pay lip-service to the Leaders Debate as it provided the backdrop to last night’s Question Time and the world seems to have got its knickers in a twist about it (except, strangely, the Mail and Express, who are going with volcanogeddon on their front pages today… Your boy not do too well then?). I’m not going to get too deeply embroiled in it all as we’ll be here all day, but here’s a few choice titbits for you:

1: The format is super weird, like an episode of Blind Date where the audience couldn’t be bothered to turn up, Cilla’s been at the catnip and the girl who does the picking is in a comma. I know that everyone’s bleating about what a revelation it all was but I have to confess that I found it half stultifyingly dull, half mindbendingly bizarre (at one point I began daydreaming about how cool it would be if Cameron’s head just exploded, showering Clegg and Brown with blood and propelling fragments of skull into Stewart’s face. See what it’s done to me?) Debate without a feedback mechanism is an odd puppy indeed.

2: Alistair Stewart is a tool and a very staccato one at that. I know it was hard brief, given the Byzantine rules involved, but constantly barking “MR BROWN! MR BROWN!” does not a Dimbleby make.

3: Clegg did do well. I’ve been very scathing about him of late, mainly because he comes across as the political equivalent of skimmed milk: Sensible but life drainingly limp. However, he did manage to look like someone with two, possibly three dimensions last night and clearly stood apart from Brown and Cameron as a person who may have some non-crap tricks up his sleeve. So well done Cleggers, your stock’s just risen in my book.

4. Brown wasn’t that bad. Yes, ‘the big list’ is a very worn and dull tactic and desperately shoehorning shonky jokes into places where you shouldn’t isn’t exactly edifying, but he did win some points on the ‘steady pair of hands’ scale. If I was him, I’d knock these efforts to humanise himself on the head because it isn’t fooling anyone. We know he’s a creature who dwells in a netherworld of abstract numbers and ethereal statistics, but that’s actually part of his appeal (in an odd sort of way). Stick with what you know, Gordy. Oh, and watching him try to bum Clegg was pretty entertaining.

5. The biggest revelation for me was just how bad Cameron was. I was fully expecting him to walk this, but it was not to be. The main problem is that his ‘reduce hugely complex and nuanced issues into a happy little tale of how cocking normal I am’ tactic that works so well on soundbites and news bulletins simply can’t sustain 90 minutes of scrutiny. Seriously, if he had tried to boil the global economic crisis down to some anecdote about how he was hanging out in a Spar shop, buying something excruciatingly normal amongst excruciatingly normal people one more time, I swear to god I would have forced lit cigarettes down my ears, hot end first. The flakiness of the Tories latest wheeze (power to plebs, yo?) also began to look suspiciously flimsy after a few minutes and I can’t help but think that they are really going to have to up their game to stop the other debates going sideways.

6. The set looks like is was borrowed from a daytime telly gameshow, possibly involving William G. Stewart.

7. When the candidates weren’t talking they looked like they were messing about with colouring-in books.

8. 90 minutes is a bloody long time.

So that’s that: A rather disorientating experience that left me salivating for the fillet steak of Dimbleby after the gruel of Stewart. Waiter!

The Menu: This is a bit of format tweak, largely to curb my tendency to waffle about the finer points of the various questions. So, from now on, the questions go up first, I get to have a bath and read the New Statesman a bit earlier while you don’t have to trawl through quite as much blabber. Everyone’s a winner, kapeesh? So, what’s on tonight’s menu?

Q1: Who won tonight’s debate?

    Q2: The debate is being described as “historic” but will it make a difference?

    Q3: Does the Tories ‘people power’ wheeze represent an abdication of the state in providing services?

    Q4: Does Gordon Brown’s omission that he should have supervised the banks more closely mean he’s not fit to lead?

Q5: Is a hung parliament the political equivalent of volcanic ash (topical!)?

In The Red Corner: Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and somewhat boss eyed (see above) brother of David.
Another week, another Miliband, although this time we get the slightly more human of the pair. I’ve got quite a lot of time for Ed as he does seem to genuinely think about what he says and has an air of conviction that doesn’t spill over into sounding desperate. His career path hasn’t been quite as meteoric as his brother’s, mainly because he’s always been on the Brown side of the Labour fence, but to be honest, that seems to work in his favour as I’m natural suspicious of high achievers and their ilk. He also has much softer edges than David, mainly because he trades less in pure politics (which the younger Miliband excels at…. excels at far too much in fact) and more in ideas. That gives him a little more depth and a little less jaggedness. It was an easier show than it could have been for him tonight, considering Brown managed not to completely faceplant himself into the pavement while Cameron didn’t manage to live up to his own hype. Q1 was a pretty chushty affair that simply involved giving the obligatory props to ‘how great for democracy’ the whole shebang was, a few nods in Brown’s direction and a nice little crack at the Tories for Cameron’s China faux pas. Nothing of revelationary significance, but steady enough. Minor applause was the order of the day for Q2 as he needled the Tories again for Cameron’s weak effort and declared Gordon Brown to be a “man of substance”, but he overplayed this hand when he went back for a second bite and no-one would play with him. Q3 provided a rich seam to mine as it was pretty clear that the crowd weren’t on board with the whole ‘Big Society’ flakery and they dished out some love when he managed to big up the state without badmouthing the voluntary sector and generally harried Gove on some education do-dahs. Things could have got pretty difficult on Q4, but it seemed that the audience had made up their mind that this was going to be a fairly anti-Tory night and despite wheeling the standard issue ‘global recession line’ (this time working in references to “houses in Mississippi”… go on Ed! Paint a picture!) things did get sticky when an audience bought up that weird story about some department that had a “contemplation suite”. Miliband did the honourable thing in the face of this and dropped Ed Balls right in it (if in doubt, blame Balls) while the final question had him making some ‘we love constitutional reform now that the LibDems look like they might have a fighting chance’ gestures that didn’t look entirely heartfelt. So, all-in-all it was a pretty good turn and at the end of play he looked entirely unscathed. Some of this is down to circumstance. I’m guessing that the Leader’s Debate went way better than most Labour bigwigs hoped and the inevitable hammering he expected to take never materialised. Instead, all he had to do was not get over-cocky and just go with the audience, which he did and it worked. The other part of this is down to Miliband himself and the fact that he’s good at getting the pitch right. While his brother plays a very impressive offensive game, the political equivalent of Shock and Awe, Ed seems much more well rounded and flexible. He’s good in defence without appearing conceited and has the umph to take the fight to the other side as well, all of which goes in his favour. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m saying that this was some earth shattering display of statesman like qualities, but it was quite a nice, measured bit of play that sounded mostly convincing.

An above par 6/10

In Blue Corner, Michael Gove, long neck having (see above) Shadow Secretary for Children, Schools and Families and man made entirely of Play Dough
I have a hard time pegging Gove down. On the one hand he’s clearly bright, tougher than he looks (and he does look like his face was made by a three year old potter who’s been at the E-numbers…See Fig. 1) and tends to do quite well on the likes of Newsnight.

Zoinks!

Fig. 1

Like Ed Miliband, he’s more on the ‘ideas’ end of politics and he seems to be a lot better at nuance than most Tories are. Having said that, I have reservations about the ideas he comes up with (being mainly of the vague and woolly variety, dressed up to sound much more solid than they actually are), his body language points to a squirrel based ancestory and his ‘angry’ face is really irritating. It was a tough deal for him on this episode, considering he had only half an hour’s thinking time after watching his leader do a less than great job and the lack of feedback from the Leader’s Debate audience probably had him making wild guesses about how it went down with the public. The lack of response he got to Q1 (‘of course I love Dave but politicians “shouldn’t pass judgement” on this’…wtf?) was pretty much the shape of things to come while Q2’s little pop at LibDem immigration policy also failed to find it’s target. However, it was Q3 where things started getting messy and when he tried to explain why the whole ‘Big Society’ thing was so great (and he has his fingerprints all over this policy), he was treated to a full blown tumbleweed moment. Sensing that things were looking ominous, he rashly declared that he “loves” Shami Chakrabarti, only to have the subject of his affection turn around and call him a liar. Bad move. Q4 was a safer affair and a recitation of the standard Gordon Brown charge sheet and a sly little swipe at Law’s for being a banker back in the day seemed to do the trick. Moderate applause was his reward, along with a slight respite from the growing anti-Tory sentiment. Finally, he conjured up some thinly veiled warnings about a hung parliament for Q6 and then shuffled off, bloodied but not entirely unbowed.

Truth be told, he didn’t do so badly as the crowd were most certainly not in the market for the regular Tory line and as I said earlier, events conspired against him. If that had been May, Osborne or Lansley, I could see it degenerating into rout, but he did pretty well to keep a semblance of a defence up and although he comes across as quite odd, he isn’t totally unlikable. So bad luck Michael, that was a choppy crossing but you can take comfort in the fact that you didn’t throw up all over yourself.

A spirited, if not entirely successful 5/10

In The Yellow Corner, David Laws, Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and slightly David Caruso-esque ex-banker.
I haven’t been impressed by laws to date, mainly because there’s something a little jobsworthy about him (“pleeeeease let us have power”) and he can be a little over assertive, but he was in a great position tonight, given Clegg’s out-of-fucking-nowhere turn. Naturally Q1 was a love-in with Nick and a fall-out with Dave, all of which went down with predictable well while he continued to keep the pressure on Cameron in Q2. Q3 saw him do really well as he managed to knock Labour for the nanny state whilst also bashing ‘Big Society’ as being deeply divisive, something that clearly resonated with the audience and made him a whole stack of hay. I have to confess that I missed him on Q4, having to both go to the toilet and find a bottle opener, so no searing insights from me there while Q5 saw him quietly fade out, chuntering about this, that or the other . On the face of it, he seems to have won the political argument but I can’t really put that down to any particular personal trait. Ok, so he seems competent enough and there was nothing I didn’t particularly dislike about his performance, but I still can’t quite get behind him yet. Maybe that will come with more exposure and there’s every possibility that I’m just being a mardy old hack, but for now I am going to suspend opinion on him. Laws: Make me like you.

A technically victorious but not-quite-there-yet 6/10

In The Independent/Brainy One Corner: Nigel Farage, ex-leader of UKIP, ventriloquists dummy (see Fig. 2) and wearer of naff suits.

gogtle of ginglish gere?

Fig. 2

I’m going to say something rash now: Politics is a better place with Farage in it. Now hold on there, don’t phone the duty mental health team and arrange a sectioning just yet because this doesn’t mean that I agree with him about…well…pretty much anything, it’s just that he’s a genuine character . A demented, small minded demagogue of a character, yes, but a character nevertheless and characters add much needed spice to what can otherwise be a dull and overly dry subject. He also looks like a cad who’s just a little bit too dorky to be a proper cad and I imagine him being stuck at Cad HQ, doing the accounts while all the real cads are out shagging emotionally vulnerable countesses and swindling impressionable young nobles out of their fortune. That thought cheers me for some reason. Sadly, I was kind of disappointed with tonight’s effort as there was nothing he could get really off his tits about and he kept having to invent reasons to be crazy, usually by making totally unrelated topics somehow link to the EU. Calling the LibDems “the modern day CND” and a brief seizure about Gordy selling the gold looked like they could have developed into some awesomely batty tirades, but alas, it was not to be. Instead, what we mainly got was ‘blah blah referendum, blah blah throwing the doors open, blah blah”. Now I know that UKIP’s main (and only) selling point is the whole Eurobashing thing, but come on, you have to bolster that up with obnoxious opinions about other things as well if you want my continued tolerance of your outlandish worldview. So step up your game, Farage. Next time your own, I want to at least see some hair on the palms of your hands.

A disappointingly flat 3/10

In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: John Sergeant, reassuringly un-handsom ex-journo and buggerer-up of Strictly Come Dancing.

Ahh, John Sergeant… while nature may have given you a pretty ropey deal in the looks department, it more than made up for it by blessing you with the most soothing voice in Britain. Seriously, it’s like swimming in a pool of Ovaltine and if ever anyone has to break some bad news to me, I’d like it if they could contact Sergeant first and get him to do it instead. He’s also one of the most reasonable sounding people on telly, taking his time to softly impart little nuggets of considered wisdom that seem to waft out of his mouth in a fine, sweet smelling mist. Tonight saw him being incredibly sympathetic towards Brown, swimming against the tide a little but getting away with it because it’s just impossible to be angry with someone who looks that much like a comedy cartoon sidekick. Worthy of note was his rather wonderful lambasting about the ‘Big Society’ issue, but unfortunately this got taken the wrong way by an overly eager audience member who thought he was being nasty about the voluntary sector and he had to crank his voice from ‘soothing’ to ‘ultra-soothing’ in order to extricate himself. Mostly though, it was good, thoughtful stuff and while I didn’t agree with it all (I, for instance, really want a hung parliament), it was said in such a way that it came across as it should: an opinion, not an existential threat to my beliefs system. Given that the prevailing wind in politics seems to be a very reductionist, with-us-or-against-us hurricane, it’s really refreshing to listen to someone who actually bothers to look at things in depth. So well done John, now come over to mine and gently lull me to sleep with some Beatrix Potter and Winnie the Pooh. And some warm milk. And tuck me in. That’s enough now. You can go.

A wonderfully contented 7/10

In The There Goes The Format Corner: Shami Chakrabarti, OO gauge defender of Liberties and formidable Question Time performer.

If there’s one person who you can safely bet on to wipe the floor with everyone on Question Time, it’s Shami Chakrabarti. In some ways it’s a little unfair because pretty much no one would disagree that having their door kicked down by the police is something they’d rather avoid, but for the most part it’s down to the fact that she’s passionate, eloquent and doesn’t pander to anybody. She also (as my better half spotted some time ago) looks a lot like a school boy and I’ve often wondered how she’d look in traditional cap and blazer (not in a pervy way, you understand?). Well, thanks to the judicious use of commercially available photo manipulation software, that moment has now arrived. Behold, Middle School Chakrabarti (see Fig. 3)!

Fig. 3

Ok, so it was a little weird having to type ‘boy in traditional school uniform’ into Google Images, but I feel that the end justifies the means. As always tonight, she did a sterling job, going with Clegg on the Leadership Debates, pouring scorn on ‘Big Society’ and generally making sure that none of the politicians got a free ride. The crowd were on board with her as they always are, even as she performed a fairly risky manoeuvre in which she implicated every one of us as a culprit in the credit crunch. That’s an important point right there and one that doesn’t get aired enough, mainly because people are too afraid it won’t go down well. Thankfully, Shami has no such qualms and will routinely point the finger, no matter how much of a holy cow the culprit is. I won’t get too carried away in praising her to high heaven as she does have a blessed position on the show, beholden to no-one and peddling an idea that’s almost universally agreed upon as ‘a good thing’, but there’s still an awful lot to like. So that was pretty much her lot and as usual, it was a very good lot which leads me to conclude that should ever the facility to gamble on Question Time exist, always go with Chakrabarti. You’ll be rich in no time.

A fully great 8/10

The Crowd: London

I had the deepest sympathy for the audience tonight, enduring as they did the full 90 minutes of Leaders Debate but without access to booze, fags, internet and things to throw at the screen. The strain was evident during the opening question and it took them a while to shake off the torpor that seemed to envelop the studio. However, once they regained consciousness, they proved to be a great crowd and one that was very much into Nick Clegg. The other interesting thing was that they were probably one of the most anti-Cameron audience we’ve seen all series which is saying something given that we’ve already been to Scotland and the North East. That’s not to say it was all one way traffic, but if I was in the Tories right now, I’d be seriously looking for that thinking cap of mine. One final thing that struck me about them: this was one of the first shows in a long time when expenses and ‘all MP’s are crap’ didn’t form the backbone of the audience argument. I’ve been quite negative about the Leaders Debates tonight, but if Clegg has somehow managed to drag the argument out of the Swamp of Culpability and into the Savannah of Possibilities, then that is good thing. A very good thing. But yes, generally they were a good bunch and made for a lively show. Members of note this week include a women who made a sentence out of seemingly random words (“more slightly a bit like a puppet show”), a guy who’s shirt looked like a tube of Cresta toothpaste and a women who forgot what she was saying before she said it. I fucking love it when that happens.

A refreshing and zesty 8/10

So Chakrabarti and the crowd carry the day. Well done to them and a ‘not a bad show’ to everyone except Farage. Come on Nigel! Stop with the non-crazy!

See yers next week.

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #11


Woking, yeah?

Is that a gang sign he's pulling?

Wtf Question Time?! Wednesday?! I haven’t yet got my head round the carnage caused by the bank holiday jiggering my week and now you go and throw another spanner in the works? It’s as if the International Date Line has somehow achieved sentience, given the mid-Pacific the old heave-ho and is currently pacing around West Yorkshire, confusing my fragile grip of the days of the week. Colour me unimpressed. Anyhoo, Wednesday or no Wednesday it’s still Question Time, brought to you this week by the good god-fearing folk of Woking. Brace thyself for some dormitory town action…

In The Red Corner: David Miliband, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, erstwhile will-he-won’t-he Labour leadership maybe and apple of Hilary Clinton’s eye.

He’s a strange beast, David Miliband. His rather speedy trajectory through the ranks of the Labour party has been remarkable, but it also belies his fundamental weakness: He’s a purely political animal. Formally a think tank policy wonk, he worked his way from parliamentary researcher to Tony Blair’s inner circle, then onto parliament and then to some of the highest offices of state. Not bad for a 44 year old. The problem is that while this has made him an incredibly difficult and determined political adversary to anyone foolish enough to stand in his way, a life led in the political bubble means that he doesn’t quite have that knack for the common touch, unlike his brother who does seem to be a genuinely nice bloke. He also looks alarmingly like a teddy bear, what with that happy little fuzz of hair that sits atop his head (see above), although this seems to have gone down very well with Hilary Clinton. Eww. He got off to a rough start on this episode and faced an uphill struggle with the ‘Is Gordon Brown more qualified than business when it comes to the NI raise?’ question. Nevertheless, he went straight into ‘not one step back’ mode, pulled his ‘intense’ look and tried to make it all about the Tories (they’re “coming after your public services!”). That didn’t go down well and some moderate heckling developed (as well as some feisty little tiffs with Dimbleby and Daley), although another lunge at the Tories did bear some nearly ripe fruit. Further audience intervention aimed squarely at Big Gordy (to the effect that he was “economically illiterate”) soon followed, but again he kept driving at the same point, oblivious to the political shrapnel flying all over the place and scornful of any notion of retreat. At this point it’s tempting to say “Well done Mr Minister of Teddy Affairs. You stick to your guns sir! Hail fellow and well met!”, but it just didn’t seem to work. Sure, he looked cool as a cucumber, despite the apparent mauling, but it left you with the impression that this guy just doesn’t work on the same wavelength as everyone else and maybe in not such a great way. Question 2 was a much easier affair (‘is Chris Grayling and his gay B and B comments a sign that the Tories haven’t changed?’), so much so that he even had a set piece lined up for it. Again, looking very serious and intense, he took his time laying up his “Camera on. Camera off.” manoeuvre before a hearty bout of ‘same old Tories’ and ‘thin end of the wedge’-ing. That got a healthy response, but let’s face it, scoring points against gum flapping Tory with Victorian values is hardly rocket science. The third question caught him strangely off balance (‘what’s the point in voting Labour if they’ll have a new leader in a couple of years?’) and Dimbers took a personal interest in tightening the screws by reminding him of his own leadership ambitions. This did cause him to wobble but credit where credit’s due, he did do a deft little recovery with his “Lord Mandelson works in mysterious ways” gag before attempting a fighting withdrawal with ample use of words like “judgement “, “values” and “commitment”. It sort of worked, but his subsequent ‘I’m totally behind Gordon’ bluster didn’t look so great. The audience got in on the act later, slapping him about for some of his off camera comments about Brown and they did manage to draw some blood. However, being who he is, Miliband didn’t seem to notice the bleeding and looked totally unmoved. The next question (‘would the LibDems get in bed with a party who promised PR’) was less dicey, but he still took some flak for Labour’s piss poor record on all of their promised reforms and he had to resort to using the intense look directly against the audience which is always a risky strategy. Finally, with the end nearly in sight, he had a stab at the ‘Is Gordon Brown’s middle class act essential to politics these days?’ with another preplanned response (a Bevin quote about ‘it’s not where your from, it’s where your going’) before going straight back on the offensive and lashing out at inheritance tax. That confused the bejesus out of the audience who clapped and booed in equal measure. And so ended a rather belligerent appearance.

The thing that gets me about Miliband is that although it’s clear that he is bloody clever, very quick on his feet and properly knows his stuff, that does not translate into someone you’d want in charge. Sure, the Terminator-esque ‘hell or high water approach’ may work very well when employed against political opponents and scare the shit out of anyone who may have a beef with him, but to most people it just looks like he’s a bit of a weirdo with an obsession for pain, combat knives and air pistols. That, combined with the teddy bear look, is just far to much for my brain to take in.

A Blitzkrieg in a civilian area 4/10

In The Blue Corner: Theresa May, Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, token ‘stylish’ Tory.

It’s May’s second appearance on the old LCCPQTMR and I have to say that she didn’t do too well the last time (a paltry 3/10). So, was that just a bad day? Was I being overly unkind? Is there life in the old girl yet? Unfortunately, it seems to be a categorical ‘no’ on all three and if anything, I was being generous in my write up last time. The trouble with May is that she seems utterly devoid of independent thought and totally reliant on whatever line has been fed to her by Tory HQ beforehand (the same accusation can be levelled at Miliband, but you get the feeling that he created the party line in the first place so at least it’s original material). I say ‘fed’, but I think ‘pumped’ is a more appropriate term, as if they hook her up to a machine like the ones they use to milk cows, just reversed and fixed to her mouth. Once the nozzle is firmly in place, a high pressure stream of soundbites, platitudes and buzzwords are forced in, filling the vacuous caverns of her head with precious substance. This process isn’t particularly unusual and all political parties have people who need a thorough pumping before being let lose on the public, but May has one other fatal weakness that was all too evident on this episode of Question Time. The valve that she uses to release all this political slurry has only two settings: Full Blast or Not A Cocking Drop. Take the first question about NI for example. The Tories have had the initiative on this issue all week and the crowd seemed to be onside so it was a simple case of turning on the tap and drenching everyone in a torrent of party approved blabber. And so it was as she switched the valve to Full Blast and poured forth some “jobs tax”, “cut waste” and “kill recovery” (a line that keeps switching sides between Labour and the Tories with alarming regularity at present). Job done, the valve was switched back to Not A Cocking Drop and some audience love duly came her way. So it’s in the bag, right? Wrong. Despite Miliband taking it fully in the chops from the audience, Ming came to his aid and started to lay into George Osborne, much to the approval of the crowd. Maybe at this point it would be prudent to change tack, try a different angle or head for higher ground, no? Wrong again. Faced with a swiftly developing threat, she switched the valve back to Full Blast and out came a load of ‘threaten jobs, jobs, threaten, jobs jobs threaten jobs economy, jobs…..threaten’. Unconvinced, the audience decided that any lead she had was probably an aberration and took it upon themselves to have a pop at politicians in general instead. A brief glimmer of independent thought stuttered to life when she tried a ‘Labour will only save one pound in a hundred’ gambit, but the meagre glow was swiftly extinguished when it turned out that no one gave a shit. So that was pretty ropey. Question 2 (Grayling’s off message rascality) was a much more dangerous affair, but her tactics were the same as ever and she kicked off with a spurt of ‘we believe in the law’, ‘we love gays’ and bizarrely enough ‘we love the NHS’ hokum. Clearly, no one was buying this and Dimbers started to tinker about, stirring things up. Again, on went the valve and out came a load of ‘we believe in the law’. After that, it turned into a bit of a free for all, but not once did she offer a convincing defence, other than ‘we’re nice now’ and ‘we believe in the law’. Basically, it was a bit of a rout. Question 3 (‘will Gordy go after election?’) should have been a cake walk, but she wazzed away the opportunity with a slew of unconvincing ‘change’ stuff (although there was some minor applause for that) while the response to the constitutional reform question was entirely forgettable. Finally, as she limped towards the finish, she opened the valve for the last time on the middle class issue, but it seemed that she had exhausted all the good, high pressure stuff earlier on and all that was left was the vapour from the last question’s ‘change’ platitude. And with that she was wheeled back to the depot where she would be refilled and primed, fresh for whatever the next day may bring.

Ok, that all sounds really unkind as she didn’t receive the same sort of roughing up that Miliband did, but the point is that this should have been a walk over. The Tories have had a good week, the audience seemed largely sympathetic (except on the Grayling matter) and there was real potential to wipe the floor with the opposition. Instead, what we got was a whole bunch of boil-in-the-bag semi-opinions served with a glass of flat diet cola (not the real stuff, own brand) and that’s just not bloody good enough. I know that her whole footwear saga has helped bridge the gap between the two Tory tribes of Maillites and Telegraphios (spicy enough for the Mail! Not too brash for the Telegraph!) but seriously, is that a price worth paying for guaranteed mediocrity? I think not.

Again, a vapid 3/10

In The Yellow Corner: Menzies Campbell, MP for North East Fife, former Olympian and victim of Long Knives.

Oh Ming, what became of thee? Back in 2003, when parliament took complete leave of its senses and dashed headlong into the Iraq fiasco, Ming was the voice of reason. His opposition to the war was resolute, forthright and simply oozed gravitas, making him a natural figurehead for those like myself who had a really bad feeling about the whole clusterfuck (and there were millions of us). Thus it was that when he came to replace Chat Show Charlie as leader, I was quietly confident that he would bring some much needed oak and copper cladding to the otherwise balsa and string LibDem Ship of the Line. Oh how wrong I was. Teased mercilessly by all and sundry before being forced out to pasture, Ming’s stint at the helm will pass into history as a footnote that the LibDems would rather forget, like when Ashdown was caught shagging his secretary. That’s not to say that I don’t think he’s a wise, honourable and decent sort of guy, it’s just that he seems to be from another age and almost looks like a helpless innocent amongst the rough and tumble of the Westminster Ghetto. Having said that, he got off to a pretty good start on this episode with the NI question, natural offering prayers to St. Vince, calling shenanigans on efficiency savings and vilifying Osborne. As St. Vince is eternally benign, heaven opened and applause did poureth forth. Question 2 (Gayling…sic) also saw him on good form as he rightly pointed out that this isn’t the first time Grayling’s buggered things up, pointed out the Waffen SS venerating European company the Tories are keeping and capped it all off with a splendid “still the nasty party”. The crowd got right behind that and stayed with him as came back for a few further swipes at May. All good stuff. The next question (will Brown stay on?) saw him go a bit flatter, just giving a matter-of-fact ‘I know him and he won’t’ response while the PR issue had him skitting about, trying to say very little in a lot of words. Finally, he rounded the show off on the ‘middle class’ question with some pretty vintage LibDem ‘we want a tolerant society’, which was fairly warmly received and that was that.

Out of all the party political panellists, it’s safe to say that Ming was the winner and when he gets in his stride, he’s great. The problems arise when he’s not in his stride and he just looks a little lost and confused, as if someone’s has just told him that the popular beat combo, ‘The Beatles,’ have just split up. Stick with what you know Ming and you’ll be fine.

A mature 6/10

In The Independent/Brainy One Corner: Simon Schama, wobbly historian and dictionary swallower.

Seriously Question Time, before you put this guy on again please display a warning that watching him will likely cause motion sickness, disorientation and nausea. He simply can’t sit still, jerks about like a marionette being operated by a detoxing alcoholic and his joints are like those of an Action Man: Fully articulated and capable of traversing a full 360 degrees, head included. If that wasn’t enough, the stuff that comes out of his mouth takes an equally circuitous route, full of flowery, impressive sounding words but somehow skinny on the substance. Having said that, there is something oddly compelling about this otherwise incongruous combination and while most of the stuff he said can either be filed under ‘I’ for ‘Incomprehensible’ or ‘O’ for ‘Of No Great  Import’, you end up convincing yourself that because it all sounds so bloody wordy, it must be true and of great relevance. To illustrate, here are the notes I took for the NI Question, verbatim.

SS – la de dah

don’t know how I’ll vote

la de dah

[doodle of wobbly stickman to remind me that he looked like a bourgeois Thunderbird]

Labours are deficit hawks

Tories are Keynesians

[picture of upward arrow to indicate applause]

That first ‘la de dah’ bit went on for bloody ages and didn’t seem to make a lick of sense, but watching it was strangely captivating. The conclusion, on the face of it (having been completely baffled by the explanation) also seems fairly mad but like the audience, I was clapping in my head and I have no idea why. He was a little more rooted in reality for the Grayling question, busting out an epic phrase in the form of “homophobic hyenas” while the ‘will Gordy stay’ matter had him wetting his pants about how great democracy is. I was dying for a wee myself at the end of Question 4, so I only caught the last bit of his stint but he was back on ultra-elaborate form for the final act, merrily taking us through the backwoods of Gladstone, Sociology 101 and normality before leaving us with this: “leave circumstances of pedigree and swap it for political philosophy”. That sentence only just makes sense and the audience had to pause, perhaps to gather their senses after this whistlestop tour of goddamn everywhere before finally bursting into applause after concluding that it sounded clever, so it must be clever. Did I learn anything from Schama that night? Not really. Did I feel brainier afterwards? Yes! Yes I did! And I’ll never know why! Damn you, Schama!

A doesn’t-stand-to-reason 7/10

In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Janet Daley, Telegraph columnist and scary haired lady.

I’m not familiar with Janet Daley and the only thing I can really say with any certainty is that her hair is absolutely mental (see Fig. 1), something which came as quite a shock as I thought the Telegraph only permitted bowler hats and tiaras.

FUCKING HAIR!

Fig.1

I haven’t got an enormous amount to say about her because she didn’t really make much of an impression on me, despite being quite combative at points and taking the fight to Miliband at regular intervals. That’s not to say it was a bad performance and her “economical illiterate” accusation that she aimed at Brown went down like a storm with the audience who then recycled it three times hence, it’s just that it wasn’t stellar. Maybe when I’m less distracted by trying to decipher just what the hell Schama is talking about I’ll be able to give her a fairer go, but for now she’ll just have top live with moderate marks.

A neither here nor there 5/10

The Crowd: Woking

I’ve only ever been through Woking on the train to Portsmouth but the very brief impressions I have of it are generally in the ‘leafy’ category. Given where it is, I was pretty sure that this would be a firmly Tory crowd and this seemed to be confirmed during the first question. However, it went downhill pretty quickly for the Conservatives after that and I must say I was pleasantly surprised by how much anger there was towards Chris Grayling and his being a totally div. As an audience they were a pretty vocal lot and as has become near compulsory of late, pretty pissed off with politicians in general. Can’t say that I noticed any real stand-out members, but in general they were a fairly solid crowd and made for a not bad episode. A sound effort, Woking.

A steady away 7/10

And that brings us to the end. Sorry it’s a day late, but as I said earlier this whole Wednesday thing (combined with a thorough Schamaring) has got my head swimming. Down is up, up is down, rivers flowing backwards, etc, etc. See you next week when I’ve rotated back to reality.

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #10


COO! COO!

Pigeon action, yeah?

Morning Lemmings. After last week’s anticlimax I was hankering for a more substantial undertaking and the panel for this episode looked good on paper. However, good paper panels have often let me down so it was with baited breath that I plunged into the behemoth that is Question Time this week. So, to hell with this idle banter and onwards we must go, onwards into the depths that are Stevenage.

In The Red Corner: Alan Johnson, Home Secretary, ex-postie and oft mooted Brown antidote.

I don’t know if it’s just us, but my better half and I have always been aware of something very pigeon-like when it comes to Alan Johnson. Maybe it’s the beady eyes, the raft of grey suits or the way his head wobbles about when he speaks but there’s something there that leads us to believe that he actually lives in a nest atop Nelson’s Column and and survives on a mostly crumb based diet (see Fig. 1). That aside, I’ve got a big soft spot for Johnson, largely down to the fact that he seems very human (well, human/pigeon, like if The Fly starred a dumpy David Bowie impersonator and it was a dove that had got into the teleporter) and he doesn’t entirely fit in with the rest of New Labour. He’s also one of Question Time’s most proficient defensive players and has a gift for sounding sincere when breaking bad news, a rare trait in an age when hard-truths usually end up spun into an sprawling mass of bullshit. Take tonight’s first question, which was about whether the rash of business leaders who came out for Cameron’s NI cut had “sealed the deal” for Cameron. This would present a problem for most New Labour meat puppets who are usually afraid of offending anyone (hence their love of triangulation) and especially the Holy Cows of Enterprise. Not Johnson though, who was pretty blunt about the fact that of course business wouldn’t like this, but tough shit. The money’s got to come from somewhere and at least we have a plan as to where that is (unlike the Tory’s). That’s actually surprisingly refreshing, watching a Labour front bencher basically telling the high and mighty of commerce to go and get bent. Of course, it didn’t entirely go his way and he was harried by both Clarke and the audience for effectively taxing the recovery, but he didn’t yield on this one and managed to land some fairly heavy blows on the Tories for their lack of coherence on the economy.. Nice work. Question 2 was pretty straight forward (did St Vincent of Cable win the Chancellors debate?) as Darling had acquitted himself well that night, but I was a little disappointed to see him resist the urge to stick the knife into George Osborne. I know that a lot of Johnson’s strength lies in his coming across as genuinely nice guy, but it has to be tempered with at least a little killer instinct and to miss an opportunity to really hammer the weakest link in the Tory chain is frankly a little limp. However, he did win back a few points when an audience member got all hard left about things and he countered with a list of Labours achievements (a recurring tactic throughout the night). That got him his first smattering of applause on an evening where Labour should have been entirely on the backfoot so kudos on that one Pigeonface. The next question (is the re-emergence of Blair a help or hindrance to Labour?) had the potential to go horribly sideways, but he managed to defuse the situation with a canny little flurry of nudge-nudge-wink-wink (an unspoken ‘you guys know what I’m thinking but you also know I’ll be in a whole heap of trouble if it slips out’), before flipping the whole issue 180 degrees and laying into Cameron’s ‘heir to Blair’ routine. The brief outburst from Littlejohn that followed was swiftly suppressed by again going through the list of Labour achievements (which again got applause) and he emerged unscathed from what could have been a sticky wicket. The outcome of Question 4 (is Brown a big fat liar?) was less certain and Johnson wisely decided to keep a low profile, venturing out only to defend the immigration statistics as ‘an honest mistake’ before reminding everyone that Chris Grayling has dabbled in similar roguery on the knife crime stats. To the extent that he himself came out relatively unscathed, it was a good move and by the end of it, it was Littlejohn who looked to be the biggest twat. The last question (does Lumley deserve an apology from Kevin Jones?) was a no-win situation for him (as is pretty much any situation involving a scorned Lumley), but he did his best to switch the heat over to the Tories for not having done anything about the Gurkha s on their watch. It wasn’t entirely successful, but yet again, any anger that emerged appeared to be directed at Labour rather than at Johnson himself. And that was pretty much it from him.

O HAI!

Even pigeons can be terrorists... Best keep an eye on them.

All-in-all, it was pretty impressive performance given the circumstances and it highlighted the fact that he excels at fighting proactive and fluid rearguard actions whilst simultaneously appearing to be bracingly normal. It’s like when you turn up to the airport and find that you’re plane’s been cancelled, the hotel’s burnt down and your luggage is on it’s way to Kinshasa. In this situation, the last person you want to talk to is the overly aggressive holiday rep who bungs you some half-hearted platitudes, blames everyone on earth but steadfastly refuses to accept any responsibility themselves (a Ryan Air version of Jack Straw for instance). Instead, you want the guy who calmly takes you off to one side, admits that this is a all horrendous fuck up, seems genuinely sympathetic to your plight and subtly implies that the bigwigs upstairs are way out off their depth. It flies totally in the face of New Labour orthodoxy, but it’s a potent and powerful tactic in the right hands and Johnson gets it very much right. So well done Pigeonface. Although I wouldn’t mind seeing something a little more predatory from you, you can fly back to your Nelson’s Column homestead safe in the knowledge that you did a good job. Go and treat yourself to some discarded chips and to hell with the crumbs.

A proficient and authentic 8/10

In The Blue Corner: Kenneth Clarke, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, jazz hound and good-times Tory.

I sometimes have this dream where I’ve been caught poaching on George Osborne’s estate. I’m bundled off to some barn by his squires (which in the dream include Hague, Lansley and bizarrely enough, Widdecombe dressed as a man, moustache and all), tied to a chair and then subjected to a very landed-gentry form of roughing up as Osborne looks on with that perma-sneer of his. Just as all appears lost, Ken Clarke walks through the doors, calmly beseeches my antagonist to “Go easy on him, chaps” and then tells them that he just saw local government killjoy sizing up Osborne’s planning permission infringing gazebo down in the meadow. Gripped by this alarming new development, the assembled mob run off with pitchforks and 4-10’s , determined to stop the tentacles of authoritarianism encroaching on their green and pleasant land. Ken then cuts be free, offers me a pull from his hip flask and apologises for their over-exuberance. “They just get a little carried away” he says before giving me a comforting pat on the shoulder , slipping me a tenner for a taxi and showing me the quickest way to town. Thanks Ken! You’ve saved my bacon yet again! Yes, it’s true. I have a slight political crush on Ken Clarke and during the dreary days of the Major government I must confess to developing a textbook case of Stockholm Syndrome around him. At the time, there was little to love about government. Howard was criminalising everything, Widdecombe (this time dressed as a woman…sort of) was all up in my face and Portillo had yet to chill out. Yet despite all this I could take comfort that somewhere, deep inside the Treasury, there was Ken Clarke, listening to Charlie Mingus, puffing on a stogie and getting slightly tipsy. Somehow, that thought got me through. So what of Ken last night? Pretty darn good, as is usually the case. The first question about the NI cut gave him ample room for manoeuvre and he wasted little time into laying into Labour for taxing small business. The crowd were largely (although not wholly) on his side and although he got clobbered by Dimbers on ‘efficiency savings’, he somehow managed to bluster his way out of it. Question 2 (Chancellor’s Debate) was a bit of a landmine (thanks to barely contained tension between himself and Osborne), but he did a good turn in pretending he wasn’t really bothered by it all and gave a slightly less-than-convincing endorsement of Boy George which ticked the party line box but also implied that he wasn’t completely blind to the glaring weakness in the Tory team. It looked like it was played for laughs but there were plenty of between-the-lines messages in there. He also managed to bust out some of his trademark ‘damning with faint praise’ routine where waxed lyrical about how Cable was a good guy, but he never has deal with anything serious because he’s a LibDem. Vintage Clarke. The Tony Blair question time saw him sounding very forthright about how Gordon Brown was the real baddy and also taking the piss out of Blair’s tan , much to the amusement of all, while the immigration stats point had him being pretty fair about the whole deal (‘it’s all a bit naughty, stats are sacred’ type stuff) until he was ambushed by Dimbers on Chris Grayling’s knife crime number mischief. This caught him off balance and he flapped around a little (you can tell when Clarke’s in a flap because he stutters a little) before falling back on a rather desperate ‘it’s all very complicated’ defence.. The final question (Gurkhas) was a hurried affair, but he did manage to make the point that it was the Commons that had defeated the government when it came to their right to stay. So there we have it. A typically robust and impressive performance from a man whose primary virtue is being just so bloody reasonable. I know there are a million issue on which I disagree with Ken Clarke, but I will always give him the time of day because there seems to be a genuinely interesting person underneath it all. That, and he’s a troublemaker. I like troublemakers.

An as-we’ve-come-to-expect 7/10

In The Yellow Corner: Sarah Teather, LibDem Spokesperson for Housing, former Baby of the House.

Who’s this collection of interlocking spheres? Why, it’s Sarah Teather! That may sound cruel, but I don’t mean it from a bitchy angle. I’m simply fascinated that someone can be entirely formed out of such geometrically perfect circles (seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if she could recite pi to a million intervals, so spherical is she). Anyhoo, I’ve got a lot of time for Teather. She’s by far the most impressive of the younger LibDems, her opposition to the war was eloquent and categorical and she’s proven herself to be a solid Question Time performer. Given the opposition that she was up against tonight, I rather feared that she would be drowned out but happily, this was not the case. The opening question had her socking it largely to the Tories for their parroting of the mythical ‘efficiencies savings’ line and she got a fair bit of support from the crowd for her efforts. Question 2 was an absolute doozy (did Cable win the debates?), especially as Littlejohn was going out of his way to desecrate the shrine of St. Vince and thus incurred a heavy bout of Mail-damning from Teather, much to the delight of the audience. The Tony Blair number had her rightly pointing the ‘war’ finger at him and the crowd response once again highlighted the fact that this is very much an live issue, no matter how much Labour (and the Tories) pretend it isn’t, while a late attack at Cameron for aping him also did some damage. The question on the immigration stats saw her in a less aggressive posture, chiding Littlejohn for being “unfair” to Brown whilst simultaneously castigating Brown for not taking enough care, all of which sounded pretty fair. Finally, she got the last word on the Gurkhas, calling Labour “bad losers” and wisely staying on the right side of Lummers.

Given the company she was keeping that night, this was a pretty impressive performance. Where Sarah succeeds is in coming across as sincere and principled, but not blind to nuance. It’s not entirely perfect and she does display some signs of ‘Goldsworthy Syndrome’ when she tries to barge in on questions, but unlike last week’s LibDem panellist, she does it in a way that doesn’t appear overwrought or needy. So well done Sarah, you took on some very old, skilled hands and lived to fight another day. Kudos.

A resolutely spherical 7/10

In The Independent/Brainy Corner: Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail Columnist, right wing foghorn.

Sigh… Must I write this guy up? In the interests of fairness, I suppose I must, but there’s little of merit to say about someone who doesn’t appear to have any redeeming features. Littlejohn’s Question Time gameplan is always as thus: Identify the lowest common denominator on any given subject and then relentless plumb the depths until the opposition are too exhausted to contest you. That’s it. Tonight’s particular line of attack more or less amounted to ‘Tax is bad, politicians are shitbags and Brown is the biggest shitbag of them all.’. Most of his answers resided within this rather tired, limited framework and the only point of note was when an audience member baited him about the BNP admiring his column. This bought forth a biblical sounding “WITH DRAW THAT, YOUNG MAN!” to which he obligingly did (“fair enough”), but it was clear who the audience were clapping for. It’s not the fact that I fundamentally disagree with 99% of everything Littlejohn says that winds me up, it’s that his methods are so crude and brutal. Having someone who’s a little ‘out there’ is vital to a good Question Time, but they’ve got to bring at least a little something to the table in terms of style. Littlejohn does not. All he brings to the table is a casserole of contempt with a side order of intolerance. That’s a dish I will always pass on.

A depressingly predictable 3/10

In The ‘I’m the funny One’/’Just Like You Corner’: Victoria Coren, poker champion, columnist, comedian and of-late-omnipresent TV bod.

I really don’t know where I stand on Victoria Coren. On the one hand, she’s a poker champion (which is always cool, doubly so if you’re a woman), can have genuine turns of wit and sometimes writes some OK stuff. On the other hand, the comedy is a little patchy, she seems to try too hard to come across as clever and her ‘jolly hockeysticks’ accent cuts through me like a knife. By the end of this episode of Question Time, I was pretty much of a similar opinion but I reckon that the main element is that I simply can’t get a handle on what she believes in. Most of her responses on the night started out vague as she played for time, thinking of something brainy and witty to say before rambling on a while and then she’d suddenly tack some on-the-hoof joke to the back of them. Sometimes the jokes were OK (the ‘Tony Blair as violent ex’ turn was pretty good) and the audience seemed to like them, but the substance underneath was shaky. Take the first question (NI) for instance. Her response was a round-the-houses ‘they’ve lost our trust’ lament (but dressed up to sound shrewd and canny) that somehow morphed into a call for better accounting in government. I get what she was driving at (as did the crowd, who did clap), but the message was in a grave danger of being lost under this need to make everything sound terribly bloody brainy. Fair enough, she was very reasonable on the ‘is Gordy a liar’ question as well as the Chancellors Debate one, but I always felt she was thinking too hard about what she was saying, as if terrified that she’d be caught out as a fraud. Don’t get me wrong, it was an unpleasant affair, but it did leave me strangely non-plused. A little more heart and a lot less head Victoria, that is what you need.

An oddly perplexing 5/10

The Crowd: Stevenage

After last weeks disappointing Glasgow affair, I was praying that tonight’s rabble would be better but was unconvinced that Stevenage (which resides in the Meh-Belt that orbits London … hardly creativity central) could come up with the goods. How wrong I was. Once again, it seems that my shaky grip on socio-geography has let me down and eaten-hats are the order of the day as the Stevenage crowd turned out to be great. What was interesting about tonight’s show was that that it appeared to be largely good natured affair, but never veered off into cosiness. I suspect that part of this is because Johnson, Clarke and Teather actually seem to like each other but the audience had a role in this as well, mainly in the way that didn’t have any firm favourite and applause seemed to be doled out on merit rather than through any tribal instinct. On top of this, they were by no means a pushover and also managed to resist the temptation to embark on one-dimensional tirades. Notable show-goers that night include the aforementioned Littlejohn baiter (Point Of The Night goes to he) and a church treasurer who displayed the most emphatic clapping I’ve seen to date. Seriously, this guy looked like he was going to clap his hands clean off. So well done Stevenage. Hertfordshire has just gone up a notch in my book.

An even-handed and enlivening 8/10

Right, that’s your lot. Johnson and Stevenage reign supreme, closely followed by able performances from Teather and Clarke. Good show, QT, good show.

Have a Good Friday, y’all .


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