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.
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?
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.