Archive for May, 2010

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #17


*@£&^

Morning Lemmings. A slight caveat before we start: If you’re looking for detail, you’d better go the hell some place else because I couldn’t make heads nor tails of this episode, largely thanks to Campbell and Morgan turning it into a brawl rather than a debate. To illustrate the point, take a look at a page from my notes (See Fig. 1):

Everyone! Just STFU!

Fig. 1

Now usually, I just about get the bulk of an episode down on paper, even when the panellist take it upon themselves to yap a lot. However, this only works when one person is talking at a time and when they do start to get a bit testy with each other, I tend to draw a little cloud (which is the internationally recognised comic book shorthand for a scrap). On the average episode, this may happen once or twice and precious little semantic juice is lost. On this instalment however, my notes are bloody covered in them, mainly with the letters ‘AC’ (for ‘Alistair Campbell’) or ‘PM’ (for ‘Piers Morgan’) written inside them (although if you look at the picture you can see one involving ‘Everyone’ and one with just ‘PM’. He was probably arguing with himself at that point). So apologies for some inevitable vagueness and condolences to anyone who has had the misfortune to converse with either of these individuals. My heart goes out to you. Right, Question Time… erh… time.

The Menu

Q1: How will the spending cuts affect jobs and the economy?

Q2: Will extra academies make for a two tier education system?

Q3: Why are both the Miliband’s and Balls now criticising the Iraq war?

Q4: What steps can the government take to stop backbenchers derailing the coalition?

Q5: Is entrapment journalism in the public interest?

In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner – John Redwood, weird looking poster boy for the Tory right and Welsh national anthem forgetter.
So, the Tories refused to send a front bencher up against Alistair Campbell. Bad move Cammerclegg, as hell hath no fury like a Dimbers scorned (and muchly scorned was he) and just to drive the point home, they invited arch rightwing axe-grinder and bête noire of the Brave New World of Consensual Politics, John Redwood, instead. And what a funny creature Redwood is, representing, as he does, that totally batty ‘Get Your State Out Of My Every-Man-For-Himself Utopia’ right wing of the Tory party (you know, the guys and gals who seem mental enough to warrant close supervision from a Community Mental Health Team, but not so far gone as to join their UKIP brethren on the HMS Oddball). He also has the appearance of a man who is deeply unsettled by the rest by the rest of humanity and I have images of him as an adolescent, digging holes in empty fields and then sitting in them for hours on end whilst hissing at anyone foolish enough to stray too close. ‘Discontented Loner’ is the phrase I’m looking for. However, this can’t be the full story as during my usual Thursday trawl through Google Images for pshop fodder, I came across this little doozie (see Fig. 2):

Come on Sonya, let's be appalling!

Fig. 2

Look at him! He’s with a woman! And a half fit one at that! Never mind the fact that his get-up looks like it was borrowed from Paul Daniels back-up wardrobe, let us just revel in the fact that someone as weird as Redwood can at least seem to find something that halfway resemble happiness. There is hope for us all yet.

Anyhoo, this is getting a little bitchy so let’s get back to the point: John Redwood is pretty much a living Geiger counter when it comes to gauging how close to the edge the coalition is as he is the de facto headboy of the Tory Awkward Squad. If Cammerclegg can keep this motley collection of hardbitten ideologues onside, then the chances that things are going to be OK and the Blue/Yellow Team can continue not being driving around in ministerial cars for the foreseeable future. However, the act of keeping them onside is going to be a truly Olympian feat as this crowd have swallowed just about as much touchy/feely/’hug a hoodie and keep moisturised’ crap as they can possibly tolerate and there seems to be a steady chunter of treasonable mutterings emanating from the backbenches right now (as illustrated by Cameron’s failed 1922 gambit). With this in mind, what is to be made of John Redwood’s performance?

Well, things started out on a pretty standard footing on Q1 as he pulled the classic ‘translate national debt into a figure for every man, woman and child’ trick that is so beloved of pathological spending cutters before getting very starry eyed about the private sector (in an almost cute ‘women will leave you, men will betray you, but the private sector will always be there, comforting you with its tender embrace’ kind of way). Much the same followed with Q2 as he again slipped into ‘set adrift on memory bliss’ mode and eulogised academies as “ladders of opportunity” (before referring to his brand new best friends in the House of Commons as the “Liberal Democrat people”), much to no-ones surprise.

But wait! What’s this in Q3? Is that a Geiger counter I hear chirping into life? I think it is. Q3 should have been a straight forward exercise in ‘have a pop at Labour’ tactics that don’t go too far, so as to prevent any backwash from the Tories own voting record. Sure enough, he did have a token swipe at the Red Team, but then went to great lengths to stress (and I must say that it did look heartfelt) how much he regretted voting for it out of “loyalty” to David Cameron. I’ve got a feeling that isn’t quite the wholehearted endorsement that the Tory leadership were looking for. Not content with merely crackling out a few Rontgens on that matter, he then went into full Chernobyl mode on Q4 by roundly rubbishing the rise in Capital Gains Tax and saying that he hoped the government would change the policy before there was “a need for rebellion”. You don’t have to be an expert at reading between the lines to see what he was getting at. He calmed down a bit after that, wibbling some weird point about Royal access being free on Q5, but he certainly managed to drive the message home to his own party: ‘You’re on notice. Stop arsing about with hemp wearing hippies or else.’. They have been warned.

So that’s him. I’m not a big fan of Redwood, what with his fairly crazy outlook and generally humourless approach to everything, but I do enjoy watching a troublemaker at work and in this respect he did pretty well. However, I do worry about his liver function, given the really odd orange/yellow skin tone he has. I can’t see it being down to booze (there’s too much of a puritanical streak in him for that), but something ain’t right. Go and see Dr Liam Fox, John. I’m sure he’ll handle the matter with the utmost sensitivity and compassion.

A meddlesome 5/10

In The Yellow Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Susan Kramer, ex-LibDem MP and Cosmo Kramer hair-a-like (see Fig. 3)

Giddy up...

Fig. 3

Ok, so I get the Tory logic about not putting up a front bencher against Campbell, despite it being Queen’s Speech week. It was a pretty wanky move that’s caused a minor brouhaha, but yes, I see their reasoning. However, I’m at a loss as to why the Libs didn’t even bother to send an MP and to be honest, I think that’s pretty yellow bellied (ha!). Still, I can only work with what I’ve got and what I got on this episode of Question Time was Susan Kramer, one time Richmond Park MP who was recently ousted by Arch Cameron Chum, Zac Goldsmith. I’m not overly familiar with Kramer and I can’t really find much of note in this outing other than a) a nice deployment of a slightly ropey metaphor (the coalition is “something of camel, but camels get things through the desert” So they do) and b) she has the stance of a silverback gorilla: Head down, shoulders forward and elbows way the fuck out there. At times, she did come across as quite spirited, but for most part she just seemed to be largely irrelevant, given that she has absolutely no say in the running of anything. Actually, thinking about it, that’s a pretty cunning move from the Libs, considering that tonight was always going to be an exercise in getting hammered. Hmmmmm, Ok Yellow Team, maybe there was method behind the madness. Touché.

A so-so 5/10

In The Red Corner: Alistair Campbell, unflinching enforcer of Tony’s media will and father of Malcolm Tucker.

I’d love to see Alistair Campbell’s daily routine. I imagine it would look something like this:

0200: Awake to a CD of human screams, played at all times in my bedroom.

0230: Punch myself in the face repeatedly to banish any sleep addled delusions of mercy.

0300: Eat a bowl of rust and battery acid.

0330: Sprint for 20 miles whilst wearing shoes full of broken glass and listening to white noise at high volume.

0600: Ring up every newspaper editor on their home phone, call them “wankers” and then hang up.

0630: Throw ice cold water on the wife and children to wake them up.

0700: Shit brimstone.

0800: Threaten paperboy and accuse him of authoring smear stories in The Daily Mail.

0900: Arrive at work and partake in a varied mixture of circumventing democracy, intimidating opponents, intimidating colleagues and intimidating employers.

2200: Arrive home and read the children extracts from Machiavelli’s The Prince (or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road if they’ve been good).

2230: Feast on human souls.

2300: Shout at the sky for being there and shake fists at passing satellites.

0000: Shower in the blood of innocents.

0100: Update my Shit List.

0159: Sleep

Seriously, this guy’s like a political Terminator. He is out there. He can’t be bargained with. He can’t be reasoned with. He doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And he absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead. Nice guy.

So yes, Alistair was on the show and after watching him, I can see why the other parties ducked out: Fear. Pure, visceral, makes you want to throw up and cry fear. And to be honest, I can’t blame them as it’s a perfectly rational response to being confronted by a man made of anger. Trying to decipher what he said is pretty hard (given the reasons at the start of the article) but it can be generally summed up as ‘an all out offensive, all the time’. No-one was safe. The Tories were bastard cutaholics, the Libs were shifty turncoats, Piers was, well, Piers and Max Hastings lives in “an ivory tower”. The only people who were spared his ire were the saintly Labour party with their 13 Years Of Indisputable Achievements, David Miliband and the usual touchstones of “nurses, teachers, blah, blah”. Things started to look a little uncomfortable when Piers took him to task on the war and an exceptionally brave member of the audience enquired as to how he would feel if kids had died in Iraq, but it was a passing affair and one that was snuffed out when he scolded all of those who had the temerity to clap the question. Having said that, he did get strong applause at points but I can’t rule out the possibility that he rocked up at each audience members’ door the night before, brandishing a long length of rope and photos of their children.

And that’s the problem with Campbell. At first glance, he always appears triumphant, taking the fight to the enemy and smiting as if smiting were going out of fashion. But after you regain your senses in the wake of the Blitzkrieg, you suddenly realise that what you’ve just heard is nothing more than weaponised versions of the blindingly obvious that completely fail to account for any nuance or shades of grey. What’s even worse is that because he’s constantly on the attack, he never gets a chance to stop and consider the fact that maybe he should just shut the hell up from time to time. A killing machine without a feedback mechanism. Now that’s a dangerous thing.

A ‘does someone want to tell him that they lost?’ of a 4/10

In The Independent/Brainy Corner: Max Hastings, former Telegraph editor and massively spectacled war buff.

I love military history, which is very odd since I’m about as passive as they come and have absolutely zero compulsion to put myself at risk from any form of pain/mild discomfort. But still, I can’t argue with the facts and the fact is that since I was 9, I’ve devoured military history books like I was hooked on nerd crack (I know I’m ill and these days I trying to read something that’s a little less social maladaptive in between war tomes…like economics and politics books. No one said recovery would be easy). A by-product of this rather shameful fascination is that from time-to-time, Max Hastings crosses my path and I end up reading his work. Now don’t get me wrong, they’re not bad books. It’s just that every time I read them, I can’t help but see that droopy, washed out of face of his, pleading with me through the pages. “Please like me!” it says. “I’ve just written this book that’s full of tales of daring do but that goes out of its way not to trample on any holy cows like the unimpeachable reputation of the British military! Please like me!”.

So yeah, me and Max go back a long way and over the years, I’ve built up this picture of him as a genuinely clever guy, but one who never felt comfortable with his place in the world. I can almost see him walking into his local country pub, a place where he’s been going for 20 years (yet still no-one refers to him by name) and asking for a pint of Directors. The barmaid politely pulls the pint, serves it too him in a regular glass and the tension in him begins to ebb. “Here I am,” thinks Max, “just a nice normal guy, doing normal things in a normal setting. Maybe I am normal!”. But then he looks across at the other regulars, all happily supping away, talking about things he’s not privy to and the anxiety begins to tug. It’s not the being left out of the conversation bothers him as being left out of conversations is pretty much a fact of life for him and one he has learnt to accept. No, what stings is that they’re all drinking out of those pint glasses with handles that look like oversized grenades. Everyone knows that the only people who get those glasses are people who’ve drunk in that pub for over a decade and are proper ‘regulars’, but he’s dunk there for two! “Why won’t they let me drink from the big glasses? What have I done that’s so terrible that they won’t let me drink from the big glasses?!”. The doubt begins to spiral, his car windscreen-like glasses begin to steam up and he leaves after drinking only half a pint. Poor Max.

Wow, that was a fun little diversion, wasn’t it? Ok, ok, enough with the Tormenting of Max Hastings and back to the question in hand: How did he do? In a word ‘alright’. There were moments when he got the crowd behind him, describing himself as “a useful idiot” for initially supporting the Iraq war showed a commendable level of self awareness and he wasn’t afraid of getting into the odd punch up here and there. However, despite not saying anything really stupid (apart from that we’re all in “deep do-do”) the points he made that did have merit just didn’t seem to be backed up by the self confidence to make them stick. Part of this may be the fact that he was up against Campbell and Morgan, but I think it goes deeper than that. I think it’s down to the fact that he really does doubt himself and feels his life’s just seems like an endless charade that’s just waiting to collapse around his ears. It’s either that, or maybe it’s just me who’s a bit weird.

A sorrow tinged 5/10

In The I’m the Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Piers Morgan, ex-Mirror Editor and media whore at large.

Oh Christ. Did I just sneeze on the screen without realising I did? I ask, because it appears to be coated in a slimy, green mucus that is slowly oozing its way to the bottom. Oh, wait a minute, it’s Piers Morgan! Yup, Piers is back and true to form, he’s as annoying as ever, yammering away at points that seem to be rooted not in conviction and simply serve as (yet another) vehicle for self aggrandisement. Actually, that’s not entirely fair as some of the stuff he came out with on education and the war were pretty reasonable, the crowd were behind it and he was the only person on the panel that came close to holding Campbell to account. So yes, in terms of content, it was better than his average but I still have a problem with how he says it: All lowest common denominator mixed with unhealthy levels of showboating. Oh, and the joke about sucking Fergy’s toes wasn’t funny. So let us not dwell on Piers, because that’s exactly what he wants us do and that would break Rule #1 of the Interwebz: Don’t feed the troll. May his mark be middling to low.

A grudging 4/10

The Crowd: Gravesend

As I said at the start, this was quite a hard show to keep up with, what with the running fights between Morgan, Campbell and anyone stupid enough to get caught in the cross fire. As a result, the audience appeared to be slightly marginalised and much more in ‘spectator’ mode than they have been of late. That’s not to say they were quiet, it’s just that whatever noise they did make was soon drowned out in a hail of Campbell/Morgan twatery. The other thing that struck me was that the political landscape seem to be firming up. On the last two shows, people have struggled to know which side they were on and the crowds came across as unsure and divided. On this episode, they appeared to be much more clear blue water between those who were ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ coalition but the bad news for the LibDems is that quite a lot of those who voted for them now seem to be on the ‘anti’ side. Ouch.

Audience member of the night totally goes to the guy who asked Campbell about his kids. You’re a very brave man and if I had medals to give out, one would be in the post as we speak. Oh, and one last thing… WHAT THE FUCK WAS GOING ON WITH CAMPBELL’S PICTURE OF DAVID LAWS?! IT WAS HUGE! IN A FRAME! WHERE THE FUCK DID HE HIDE IT?!

Actually, don’t answer that.

A beginning to smell the coffee 5/10

See yers next week, fellow QT dorks.

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #16


Let us pray...Morning Lemmings. As you may or may not have noticed, there is still a gaping void where the oft-mooted ‘Awards Ceremony’ should be, largely on account of me being back at work and the highly clement weather. Speaking of the weather, I’m going to try and keep it short tonight as I’m presently semi-naked, sweating bullets and wanting very much to have nothing to do. That, and I’ve noticed that not many people go searching out for Question Time dorkery when the sun’s out. Well done everyone, you have lives. Anyhoo, back to the task in hand.

So, last week was the first outing for the ConDemocrat chimera and sweaty confusion was the name of the game. Will this trend last? There’s only one way to find out. En garde!

The Menu

Q1: Was Nick Clegg right to defend Pakistani terrorists under the Human Rights Act?

Q2: Clegg and Cameron seem happier with each other than their own parties’. Have they betrayed their core vote?

Q3: Will Liam Byrne’s ‘there’s no money left’ letter be New Labour’s epitaph?

Q4: How can the country move forward when the Equalities Minister is anti gay adoption and against transsexuals from changing gender?

In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Theresa May, Home Secretary, Minster for Women and Equalities and out-of-the-fucking-blue minister of state.

*sigh* May’s back. Actually, everyone on this episode is a repeat offender when it comes to LCCPQTMR, but I was especially deflated to see her return, given how life drainingly crap her last outing was. Furthermore, listening to her being introduced as “the Home Secretary” caused my brain to suddenly crash as I’ve still not got my head around the complete wtf?!?-ness of her appointment and I spent the first five minutes wrestling with a spiritual Blue Screen Of Death. If you didn’t catch her last appearance, it was like listening to a scratched spoken word CD of Tory election soundbites (“Change!”, “We’re All In This Together!”, “Brokun Britun!”, Shut Up!) that had been set on infinite repeat and piped directly into your brain. Even more concerning was the fact that her first big public outing (her speech to the Police Federation) was exactly the same, an endless roll call of squawked crapitudes that rolled on into eternity. So no, I didn’t have high hopes for her on this show.

Anyhoo, this episode started on a sticky wicket with Q1 so lots of flapping about and trying to look even-handed ensued, but largely failed to convince anyone. Commissions and reviews were promised, uncashable cheques were signed and the first evidence of the Crapitude CD being updated for this brave new world of consensual politics emerged: “5 Years of Stable Government!” Ha! After having so successfully put the ‘lack’ into ‘lustre’ with Q1, Q2 took a turn for the worse as the CD skipped back to some pre-election tracks (including such classics hits as “Deficit!”, “Strong and Stable Government!” and a new entry for “The Tory’s are for Freedom, Fairness and Responsibility!” That one even got some mild heckles) while Q3 contained basically nothing of note. However, Q4 was the real doozy and as soon as it was uttered, she was pretty much doomed. It did, briefly look like she might be able to squirm out of it when she muttered some ‘it was a long time ago and things have changed’ guff but that was before it all went south in a welter of incoherent ramblings (including a weird reference to “careers advice” as a panacea for all our equality woes). So that was pretty shit.

I’m really struggling with May as I go out of my way to try and find some redeeming features for the unwitting subjects of these reports, but I simply can’t find them her. Try as I might, every time she’s on I’m left with the impression of some self important local dignitary who’s trying to impart some arbitrary advice to a stationary rabble whilst on the back of a horse that won’t behave and keeps wandering off. It doesn’t matter what they’ve got to say, it’s just too distracting to listen as they wind in and out of earshot and writhe in the saddle, desperately trying to stay facing the crowd. That’s fine when you’re just another body on the opposition benches, but it actually starts to get frightening when you get some real power and the ability to mess about with people’s lives. So expect the entire Police Force to be in kitten heels by this time next week.

A habitually superficial 3/10

In The Yellow Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Menzies Campbell, MP for North East Fife and high mileage elder statesman.

Poor Old Ming, it’s not been his decade. Not only was he rather callously deposed from his position as LibDem leader (largely on the grounds of being a bit old and a bit knackered), but now the Libs finally do have a taste of the power action, Poor Old Ming is nowhere to be seen on the frontbenches and is instead sent out for repeated Question Time floggings. There’s gratitude for you. Anyhoo, Ming’s Question Time form is well documented and as I’m pushed for time, I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty and instead confirm that it was a pretty standard affair for him: Good on open water with a gentle breeze but not exactly the most stable of vessels when things start to get choppy. Actually, tonight he did a little better than usual, picking up some much deserved plaudits for his stand on the Human Rights Act in Q1 and indulging in some ‘read between the lines’ Tory baiting in Q2 so he’ll get an extra point or two for that. There’s also a question that occurred to me when watching him that warrants further examination: Is Ming a Big Beast?

On the face of it, he must be as he ticks all the right boxes. For one, he’s old, which is not a prerequisite for Big Beastery (take Mandelson, for example), but something that certainly helps and he’s also held the top job in his party (again, not a compulsory qualification, but one that lends extra credibility). On top of that, he’s a pretty good orator on certain matters and he’s got an interesting enough background (what with all his Olympian claims to fame and whatnot). However, I cannot in good conscience declare Ming to be a Big Beast and here’s why: He’s just so damnably innocent. Look at this way, Big Beasts come in many different shapes and sizes. At one end of the spectrum you’ve got your Tory Rogues whose very mention impart the sensation of brandy-on-stomach-lining (such as the late, great Alan Clarke) while at the other end you’ve got your Principled Firebrand types like Shirley Williams and (had he lived long enough) Robin Cook. In between, there are all sorts of randoms such as your Jazz And Good Times Ken Clarke types, your Balls Out Nutter Michael Heseltine types and your Craggy Faced Killer types such as Ashdown and Davis. The one common strand that links these disparate groups is they all seem to have the measure of humanity, viewing it as a creaking edifice of tangled imperfection that require either spirited leadership or damning to hell and back to stop the whole thing from crashing to the ground. Ming doesn’t have this and seems to be genuinely shocked when confronted with man’s inhumanity to man, aghast that people could be anything other than altruistic Good Samaritans, hell bent on all just getting along. In many ways, his wide eyed school boy enthusiasm for his fellow man is both refreshing and commendable, but it can also be a weakness and it certainly keeps him out of the hallowed ranks of the Big Beast’s for now. Maybe if kicked a puppy on live TV or spent an afternoon writing hate mail to the Pope, people would get a bit more on board with him, but until then he will stay as Poor Old Ming. Poor Old Ming.

A cut above the baseline 6/10

In The Red Corner: Caroline Flint, MP for Don Valley and female window dressing (her words, not mine).

Ol’ Snaggletooth’s back! Hooray for Snaggletooth! Actually, I thought she was quite interesting to watch tonight as being in opposition seems to suit her quite well. Back when she had to go out and defend the government, she reminded me a lot of the Red Army prior to Stalingrad: She was always fighting hopeless battles that she could never win, but through sheer dogged resistance and a remarkable capacity to sustain punishment, she would survive just long enough to trade territory for time and keep the sinking ship afloat. Now, she’s much more reminiscent of the Wehrmacht circa 1943-44: Although bruised and strategically on the retreat, she’s still a force to be reckoned with that is skilled at fighting withdrawals and ferocious local counter attacks. Don’t pity me, pity my better half.

The above was reflected throughout the episode, but especially in Q1 when she got to fool around with some gleeful knife twisting at the expense of the ConDemocrats and also in some rather deft little retreats on Q3 that managed to avert a potentially disastrous bout of Labour bashing from turning really sour. Towards the end, she even managed to pick up some praise from Shami Chakrabarti and that, my friends, is no mean feat. Sure, the crowd didn’t go wild for her, but she’s never been a favourite with the audience, what with being so jagged around the edges (although her “grubby speed dating” line went down very well with them) and Labour are very much in the background at the moment so I’d say that it was a pretty good performance. However, there is a caveat to all this and it’s a big one: She has Warsi Syndrome (the propensity to overplay one’s hand after initial success). It’s not a terminal case and she looks treatable, but there were times in the evening (such as when she went too far with the Labour Rollcall of Past Triumphs in Q3) when earlier gains were gravely jeopardised by reckless lunges and this slightly tarnished what was otherwise a pretty good innings.

A definite signs of improvement of a 6/10

In The Independent/Brainy One Corner: Shami Chakrabarti, tiny Liberty boss and perennial QT crowdpleaser.

Another week, another Shami and as always, it’s what we’ve come to expect: A pretty impassioned (although sometimes bordering on ‘overwrought’) knockabout that everyone liked and clapped along to. As you’d probably expect, Q1 was fertile ground to get hot under the collar about Liberty type stuff so she hit the ground running and then remained fairly combative throughout, bloodying noses here, there and everywhere. The thing is though, I get a little bored of watching Shami win all the time. That’s not to say I don’t think she’s good to watch or that what she does isn’t important (the world could use a few more Shami Chakrabarti’s), it’s just it all seems a little unfair, like when a sport gets totally dominated by a single player or team for years on end. For example, when exactly are Liberty going to be in a position where it has to deliver bad news (“Erh, sorry, but we just accidentally ended up lobbying parliament for a network of secret torture camps and now they’ve gone and passed a bloody bill to that effect! Our bad!”)? Never, that’s when! And asking people to go along with having more freedom is hardly rocket science is it? It’s like saying “who likes having a good nights sleep?!” and getting a bag of sweets every time someone says “yay!”. However. I do concede that in terms of applause, she was clearly on top and who the hell I’m to bugger about with peoples right to bash their hands together? No one, that’s who.

An inevitable 7/10

In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Douglas Murray, intense young man and rightwing nutjob.

True, dat...

Fig. 1

Are you obviously scarily brainy? Do you stare at things with such focused ferocity that the objects themselves turn to dust? Do you think the state should be no bigger than a cornershop? Do you consider laser guided bombs to be the solution to most problems? Did you write this book (see Fig.1)? And do you really not like terrorists? If you answered ‘yes’ to all of these questions, you are Douglas Murray and if that is the case, I’d advise you to stop reading this now. Actually, I never end up being that nasty to Murray because even though he is quite, quite mad, he does make for ace telly and I’m a fan of ace telly.

As always, it was suitably rabid stuff from Murray tonight, damning all those pot smoking, peacenik, coalition types who refused to blast the terrorists into outer space or some other crazily draconian measure. “Any society that wanted to survive would not do this” he seemed to say through the foam that had formed in the corners of his mouth before damning Britain for being “a retirement home for would-be jihadis.”. Subtle as ever then. He did get some applause on stuff in Q2 (although it was usually a few people applauding very, very loudly. Comes with the territory) and there was even an outburst of reasonableness in Q4 when he had a pop at the Tories for their record on homophobia. Generally though, it was wild eyed and batty enough to hold my attention and that’s a good thing. One thing I did notice tonight though was that I felt differently about what he is than I had on his previous appearances and I think this has something to do with the death of New Labour.

Even towards the end of their tenure, when neoconservatism was totally discredited and had pretty much died in the US, I still got the feeling that this guy was somehow relevant and that in itself made him seem a little scary to me. It wasn’t that Labour were neocons or anything like that, but the views that Murray espouses belonged to the bit of history that occurred on their watch. Now they’ve gone, I can mentally bookend that period and put Murray on the shelf next to MySpace, Ali G and “the end of boom and bust”. As a result, I now feel a bit sorry for Murray when I see him, as if he were a member of the Flat Earth Society or one of those people who get angry about fluoride in water. So I’m afraid your time has passed Douglas and I, for one, will greatly miss your trademark brand of lunatic interventionism. Godspeed Dougie, Godspeed.

A newly obsolete 6/10

The Crowd: Richmond Park.

So things seem to have settled down this week. People are still a little confused, but that freefall, ‘stop the world, I want to get off’ sensation that permeated last week’s show has certainly been cranked down a notch or so. We’re still in a position where the lines of defence and attack are only just being drawn and no-one’s quite sure how things are going to pan out, but you get the sense that initial shock of the hung parliament is giving way to the reality of a coalition government. In terms of the this show, it was a pretty scrappy affair and no-one (excluding Shami) seemed to have an overall advantage. As for the crowd, they were pretty noisy, but you got the feeling people aren’t quite sure to how to react to this new government, straddling, as it does, two very different camps . As a result, I felt that this was quite a fragmented episode where no single section of the audience could build a sufficient head of steam to deliver a knockout blow to another. Instead, it was an uncoordinated scuffle where no one quite knew what side of the line they should be standing on and ran about screaming instead. In a word, ‘odd’.

Only one audience member of note tonight and that was an Australian woman who looked quite a lot like Kath from Kath and Kim although it might have just been her accent. I’m not good with faces.

A neither here nor there 5/10

Ok, that’s your lot. It’s half 10, I’m still roasting and I’ve still got to bugger about with the internet and all that. So much for doing nothing, See you next time.

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #15


Scariness...

Good mornings Lemmings. And we’re back. Ok, so I know I promised a small award ceremony at the end of the last QT Report, but a number of developments emerged in the intervening period that stymied my progress. They are as follows:

  1. I developed a very unhealthy News 24 addiction. Reality for me is now a flurry of high velocity red and white graphics, relentlessly dramatic drum backed pips and Nick Robinson’s smug little face. It’s reduced me to a level of such helpless passivity that I’m not even sure who I am any more.
  2. I spent most of this week in Barcelona, desperately trying to mangle French and Spanish together in a doomed effort to pretend that I can speak Catalan and failing miserably. I also spent much of this period in awe of the inexplicable concentration of mullets and tattoos that the city has generated. Seriously, even the pigeons have ape drapes and full sleeves. I thought about threatening to do a Lloyd-Webber, but all the hair and body art put me off.
  3. I bought Just Causes 2 and have spent most of those precious moments where I could tear myself away from the Soma of rolling news blowing the living crap out of everything that moves or stays still too long. The reasons for blowing up said crap still elude me, but that doesn’t stop blowing crap up from being awesome.
  4. The world as we know it has ended. From the moment that exit poll came in, the Earth’s magnetic field flipped polarity, wing-ed beasts took to the sky, stars began to fall from the heavens and death stalked the land.

So that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. I haven’t forgotten though and there is an outside chance I might manage to shoehorn it into next week. Enough already. Time to re-engage with the one constant in this disorientating flux. Welcome back to Question Time.

The Menu

Q1: Should LibDem voters feel betrayed by the deal with Tories?

Q2: Has David Cameron sacrificed too much to the LibDems?

Q3: Who should be the next Labour leader?

Q4: Are we really in an era of ‘new politics’ when the government is full of white, middle class, Oxbridge educated men?

In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Lord Heseltine, wild haired big beast and Mace defiling big shot of yesteryear.

Heseltine used to scare the absolute shit out of me. He was everywhere when I was a kid and although I didn’t have much of an idea about whatever it was he was ranting about, I did know that he looked like a genuinely dangerous berserker of a man. These days though, he doesn’t carry the same whiff of cortisol and testosterone. Instead, there’s something endearingly vulnerable about him. This is not say that he isn’t still quite, quite mad, it’s just that he sometimes gets stricken by this haunted, frightened look, as if he’s just spotted Death himself in the audience, beckoning him towards a pool of pure obsidian. Actually, it probably isn’t Death. It’s probably Liam Fox (he will come for us all in the end).

So yes. Heseltine is not the cataclysmic destroyer of worlds that he once was and is now like a gummy old tiger who has lost the ability to kill, but will still indulge in the odd ill-tempered outburst to remind us that he still has a taste for blood. On this episode, Heseltine turned out to be quite a lot of fun, just about keeping his instinct to damn the coalition to hell and back in check and instead, blaming it on the voters, fickle creatures that they are. In practice, this boiled down to repeated, through-gritted-teeth chantings of the National Interest/Strong Government/Pound Through The Floor mantra coupled with some rather wonderful ‘you bastards voted for this so tough shit’ rebukes to every man, woman and child in the country. It’s nice to see a politician go out of his way to alienate absolutely everyone and I must admit that he does have a point. Which ever way you cut it, this is what the votes stack up to so yes, we only have ourselves to blame. This rather spirited display of bloodymindedness also had the effect of making him more or less immune to tricky questions that would have totally derail more consensual types. Take for example Q2. For a wet behind the ears Tory noob, this would be a nightmare as every answer you could give would be wrong. If you say ‘yes’, you have sacrificed too much, you risk upsetting your brand new bessies and thus incurring the wrath of your own masters while if you say ‘no’ you’ll surely be called out for blatantly lying. None of this bothered Heseltine and he was refreshingly blunt about it: ‘This is what we’ve got. It stinks to high heaven, we’ll be hugely unpopular but that’s what you idiots voted for. Suck it up’. Refreshing and refreshingly well received by an audience who were taken off guard by it. He also had some nice little scuffles with Mehdi Hasan, confessed to being around for the last coalition (which was in 1721… or there abouts) and although he tailed off somewhat on Q4, his response to Q3’s ‘who should be the new Labour leader’ was great. “I don’t care”.

Considering what a minefield tonight could have been for the Tory panellist, all the above is quite an achievement and a testament to the fact that although he looks like his marbles are being mislaid at a steadily accelerating rate, there’s life in the old boy yet. Call Liam Fox and tell him to delay his visit by a year or two.

A couldn’t give a shit (in a good way) of a 7/10.

In the Yellow Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Simon Hughes, LibDem MP for Bemondsey, never-quite-makes-it-loiterer-on-the-cusp-of-greatness.

Hughes is the one I’ve had the most trouble pegging down this week as there’s something I just can’t fathom about him. On the one hand, he’s an able debater who’s made stands that are both principled and commendable yet on the other, there’s ‘a day late, a buck short’ quality about him that somewhat tarnish his other achievements and he strikes me as a man very much destined to be an ‘also ran’ in the mould of Peter Hain.

This will creep you out....

...sometimes google images just delivers.

This episode of Question Time was going to be a nightmare for whichever LibDem went up, given that no one was happy with the Condemocrat Alliance and straight from Q1, he was having to straddle an unstraddlable divide. To the left of him he had Hasan and Falconer, both sticking in the knife about the “betrayal” of the centre left while to the right was Phillips, bleating on about what a “sordid” “stitch-up” the whole deal was. In theory, Heseltine should have had his back, seeing as they’re ‘all in this thing together’, but Tarzan was having enough trouble biting his own lip and thought it far more fun to pick on the nation as a whole. That’s not what you really need when your appearing as a spokesperson for the Reasonable Team. Given this background, he struggled to keep his head above water, fending off blows from both sides whilst flailing away desperately in a bid to at least inflict a minor injury on his tormentors. Q2 had a similar ‘no-win’ quality to it, the same pattern applied and he ended up being laughed at by the audience when he said, with gallant levels of inexplicable conviction that the current coalition would last 5 years (although there was some love for him when he reminded the crowd that they’d be doing away with ID cards). For the best part of Q3, he wisely stayed behind cover, venturing out only to declare New Labour “irrelevant” before retreating in the face of Hasan baiting him on immigration while Q6 saw him call for positive discrimination before sloping off under another volley of Hasan’s fire. Hard times.

Judging by the audience reaction, this episode’s effort was pretty poor but I have sympathy for the fact that he was having to defend the indefensible. While there is no way that he can chalk this up as a victory, he can take comfort in the fact that most of the ire was aimed at the LibDems rather than at him personally and although he seemed to be the most grieviously injured party at full time, when he did get a chance to counter attack he took it, even if the odds were massively stacked against him. However, there’s something that still doesn’t add up about him and he reminds me of one of those weird middle management types who, although able and largely likeable, can no longer fit in with the shop floor staff nor swallow enough of their pride in ingratiate themselves with the bigwigs. Instead, they inhabit a shadowy world of lunches eaten alone, rounds bought for whole departments who still ignore him and suspicious looks from the boardroom. He’s not a tit, but he is a bit odd.

A distinctly undecided 5/10

In The Red Corner: Lord Falconer, lawyerly New Labour type and Blair cahooter.

Bah. Falconer’s back again and I can’t say feeling him any more than I did last time. On the one hand, I shouldn’t really care as on the face of it, he’s yesterday’s man and his views should be of little consequence. However, it’s also too early to write him off as people like Falconer (your behind the scenes, quietly scheming types) have a nasty habit of surviving and although they may fall out of the limelight, they’ll still be furtively scuttling about, doing something fishy and wielding power they don’t necessarily deserve. His appearance on this episode was also of little consequence as the focus of the show was squarely on the coalition and the impending doom that appears to be bearing down on us all. As a result, most of his answers were pretty much stock affairs, a dig at the LibDems for their supposed treachery here and a jab at the Tories for being Tories there. All standard stuff and nothing which warrants repeating at length. His only slightly interesting moment of the night was on Q3 when he did some less than subtle ‘isn’t David Miliband grand’ manoeuvrings, but then again, it was always pretty much assured that he’d back him so it wasn’t exactly earth shattering news. There was also a brief outburst of fun when an audience member whipped out a very tasty little jibe about him leaving documents on trains which went down very well, but Falconer didn’t cop as much grief as he should of on this one and managed to slink off largely unscathed.

So yes, not much to report on Lord Falconer and that’s the worrying thing: You never really know what’s going on with him until it’s too late. Most people, when asked to point out a villain in the Labour party will go for Mandelson and on the face of it, why not? He’s just as unelected, has been mired in deeper scandals and wealds terrifying amounts of power like a sledgehammer. However, he does have one saving grace that Falconer doesn’t: Showmanship. Love him or hate him, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer skill of his Machiavellian antics and there’s a perverse elegance in the sinister little dance that he does (he was a brilliant on election night. Watching him scheme in real time was a master class in the dark arts). All of this adds up to a sense of knowing what this man is about and although he might not be about very nice things, it’s cool to watch in the same way that documentaries about sharks are cool to watch. The only thing you can say about Falconer is that you’re not sure whether he’s up to something or not and that makes watching him like watching a documentary about carbon monoxide poisoning: Dull, banal and terrifying.

A shifty 4/10

In The Independent/Brainy One Corner: Mehdi Hasan: Political Editor for the Staggers, ex-C4 News politics bod.

I’m largely on board with Hasan. His pieces for the New Statesman are usually well researched, pertinent and very readable while his time with C4 was also characterised by a good nose for a story and a refreshing level of passion for his tribe (which is quite clearly the left). However, he does have to be careful as quite often his writing skirts very close to the border between ‘urgent’ and ‘shrill’ while his combative style can sometimes slip over into belligerence. He was on good form on this episode however, being presented with what is very much a target rich environment as now that the LibDems have come out on the Tory side of the divide, the left can (quite justifiably) kick them about all over the place. So no more ‘I agree with Nick’, no more ‘brethren progressives’, the gloves are well and truly off and what we got so it was an all out assault on the government of “Tweedlecam and Tweedle Clegg”. Many a scrap was had (largely with Hughes as Heseltine wasn’t playing ball), the word “betrayal” was bandied about a great deal and if the audience are anything to go by, it struck a chord with quite a few people. He did slip into a more thoughtful frame of mind in Q3 when he said that hoped the Labour leadership contest would be a long, drawn out affair that would allow time for proper reflection and also dropped in tacit support for the younger Miliband, but by and large he was on the offensive. As I said before, he does need to exercise some caution as shouting too loud at everyone makes you look a nutter and that wouldn’t really be a fair reflection on the man, but by and large it was a spirited affair that summed the sentiments of some of the audience very well. It’s also nice to see a little fire back in the belly of the left. For far to long, the right has had the monopoly on righteous indignation so it’s nice to see some angst going in the other direction and who knows, maybe a few years in the wilderness will finally get the left back where it should be: In the business of ideas.

A rousing 7/10 that just about avoided becoming a rant.

In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Melanie Phillips, standard bearer for right wing disgruntlement and Daily Fail foghorn-in-residence.

I fear many things in life. I fear war, destitution and teenagers playing music through mobile phones on the bus, but the thing I most fear is this: Watching Melanie Phillips after having just learned of a landslide Tory victory. Could you imagine just how smug, how ‘I told you so’, how ‘now you’ll get what’s coming’ she would be as she unfurls the schematics for her Immig-Paedo Re-Education Internment Centre she’s been working on when she hasn’t been too busy making sure that Middle England’s blood pressure never drops below 160/100 she would be? It’s enough to drive a man insane. Imagine then, my relief, upon hearing that not only was it not a landslide but that in fact Phillips’ beloved party would have to snuggle up to the filthy Libs. Gone was threat of undue smugness and apparent was the reality of another unspecified period of seething hatred from Ms. Phillips to an ungrateful nation. Bullet: Dodged. Actually, I have to admit that on this episode, Phillips wasn’t quiet as ghastly as she usually is and at times, I actually found myself agreeing with her, particularly her point on the 55% rule looking very dubious and some of her stuff on why New Labour failed (“Blairism could never explain what the left stood for”. True, dat). The rest was your standard welter of abuse aimed at anyone to the left of Franco, but with particular spite reserved for the Libs, perfidious upstarts that they are. Heavily used words include “betrayal” (a favourite for many on the night), “squalid”, “stitch up” as well as a new entry for “Cleggaroon”. So yes, pretty standard piss and vinegar but given that we’ve avoided having to deal with a post-landslide MetaPhillips I’m happy to award her slightly less crap marks than usual.

A lucky escape of a 4/10.

The Crowd: London

If there’s one thing that became apparent from this episode, it’s that I wouldn’t want to be a LibDem right now. People were really pissed off them and sided equally with both Phillips and Hasan when it came to pouring scorn on them. I know that u-turns in opinion are fairly common in politics, but to go from nobodies to saviours of the universe to lickspittle turncoats in the space of a month is pretty impressive. I also suspect that the Tories would have got a much rougher ride, had it not been for Heseltine’s inspired ‘blame the audience’ tactic (a manoeuvre that will known as a ‘Heseltine’) and it also seems clear that Labour very much on the sidelines for the time being. By and large though, the overriding sense I got from the crowd was the same as the one I’ve picked up from pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to of late which is “What the fuck is going on?!?” and this made for a vocal, if not somewhat bewildered mass that made for a lively show. Good work all round.

Members of note include the guy who asked the ‘leaving stuff on a train’ question to Falconer (well done sir, fine display), the poser of Q1 who’s name was ‘Diggory’ (absolutely fantastic name you have there sir) and a girl who looked a boy from McFly (well done Miss, top notch gender bending).

A struggling to comprehend but pissed off anyway 7/10

So there you go. Heseltine’s right. We got what we deserved. I wanted a hung parliament and here it is, grinning at me through it’s jagged, mangled teeth whilst making as much sense as an Escher staircase. But you know what? I’m actually quite liking it (it certainly makes for great TV) and I get the feeling that the next 12 months are going to be fairly epic in terms of things being turned on heads. One thing I will go out on a limb and predict is that there is no way this government is going to last 5 years (which really isn’t much of a limb to be going out on). This episode of Question Time is some of the first evidence of what a volatile mass of tension this coalition is and something will happen that’ll make the whole bloody mess explode, showering us all with fragments of Clegg and Cameron. I, for one, will enjoy the fireworks and hope to pick up a few souvenirs of the blast in the aftermath. Osborne’s severed and scorched nose would be particularly choice. See you next week for another voyage into the uncertain.


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