Morning Lemmings and rejoice! Summer has finally started looking like summer ought to after what seems to be decades, we are still tentatively in the World Cup and Civ 5 is set for release in October. Enjoy that rejoicing? Good, because that’s all the rejoicing you’re going to get to from here to eternity according to our new masters. Remember that state you loved so much? Gone. Kaput. Can’t afford it any more. And that pesky VAT that you didn’t love? Well, it’s now gone meta and is all up in your face, raining on your parade. So kiss goodbye to all you hold dear and beckon forth that last remaining vestige of days gone by. Welcome, once more, to Question Time.
Q1. Is it right to describe the budget as ‘fair’ with the increase in VAT and whatnot?
Q2. If the cuts are ratified, is it the beginning of the end for the LibDems?
Q3. Will we have to work until 70 to protect someone else’s gold plated pension?
Q4. Is Obama’s ego dictating ISAF military policy?
Q5. In a week of cuts, do you think Free Schools are a wise use of funds?
In The Yellow Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and performer of epic U-turns.
The Heresy of St. Vince
And so it was that in the year of our Lord 2007, a great calamity befell the earth and the gold lenders rained hellfire upon the heads of men. Through the fire and smoke emerged a man of great wisdom and humility who said unto the people “Behold! Your market! It is knackered!”. His name (for it is the name of a man) was St. Vince of Cable (seeeth Figeth. 1eth) and although without power, he had the ears of the people.
“You’re banks. Give them unto me and I will make a heaven on earth!” said St Vince and the people cheered, for it was good.
“You’re taxes. Let me spendeth them on infrastructure and createth jobs!” said He, and this too was good… So good that even Jerramiah of Paxman could not harsheth his buzz.
And lo, it was that he laid out his vision in the Gospel of St Vince and the people cheered for in this Gospel they saw their salvation.
Yet dark forces were at play and in 2010AD he madeth a pact with his sworn enemies, The Toryites of Homecountia. The people, confused by this cruel twist of fate tugged at their forelocks and cried to the skies for they did not know the nature of the Chimera before them. Maddened and harried by Boy George of Osbonia’s Plague of Cuts, they knelt before St. Vince and beseeched him to temper Osbonia’s fury.
“Verily, I hath” said St Vince unto the huddled masses, but convinced they were not.
“I would protecteth you more so, but I have a terror over the plight of the Grecians and the Spaniards” spake St. Vince, but still, the people doubted his word and thusly did they turneth on him and ripeth up their membership scrolls for the Liberals of Democratia.
To be thusly continued…
So that was fun, but within lies a serious point: Does Vince Cable actually believe what he’s saying these days? He’s certainly struggled to look like he’s totally signed up to Osborne’s Brave New World and in recent media appearances, he’s been wearing this slightly guilty/hangdog expression like a puppy who’s just shat in your bed and is aware that this is a very bad thing to do. However, after this episode, I’m not so sure.
Q1 pretty much set the tone of the evening and after a by-the-numbers roughing up from Balls, St. Vince responded with a by-the-numbers defence (‘we are protecting everyone/Labour left everything in a bloody mess’). This earned mild applause, but not half as much as when Balls got very personal about his rather dramatic change of economic heart and forced Cable into a now weary “firestorm running through Southern Europe” defence. Pretty much everyone bundled in after that and in terms of audience response, he very much found himself on the wrong side of the fence. However, he did appear to look quite steadfast in his convictions and I got the sense that he either does genuinely believes this stuff, or that Osborne had a sniper watching him. Much the same followed in Q2 as he gingerly picked his way through the minefield that is Simon Hughes’ recent comments and then unfurled the banner of “national emergency” once more. But again, it failed to find much warmth from the crowd and he seemed to cut a lonely figure (although that Brent guy… more on him later… seemed to have his back). Q3 saw him scolding Balls’ “wilfully misleading answers” quite effectively, but it wasn’t long before he started muddling about and resorting to talk of ‘proposals’ and ‘consultations’ with regards to pensions, none of which was carried off that convincingly. However, there was a reversal of fortunes in Q4 as he cunningly sidestepped the issue by choosing to invoke the “illegal” Iraq war instead of Afghan war and did so with a very gruff looking face. That went down a treat and for a brief moment, he bathed in the fuzzy warmth of audience acclaim. However, it was not to last and he trailed off on Q5 by asking “what’s wrong with pushy middle class parents?” and then looked a little blank when nobody bothered dignifying that with an answer. All in all, a rather fraught affair.
Going back to the original point, is Vince being straight with us when he says he really has had a change of heart? Well, I have to say that I really don’t know. He certainly doesn’t look particularly comfortable in his new role as Bearer Of Shit News, but he seems less knackered and a little more resolute in his delivery than he was a few weeks back. Whether this is a byproduct of a genuine Damascene Conversion, or a fairly impressive turn of ‘needs must’ deception I honestly couldn’t tell you, but considering both outcomes are pretty bad news, I can’t say it fills me with hope. Watch this space for further developments in the Parable of St. Vince.
An unholy 4/10
In The Red Corner: Ed Balls, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Labour leadership contender and electoral hemlock.
Ah Balls, still ploughing relentlessly on, eh? From his previous outings, we’ve already established that he’s pretty rubbish at telling convincing porkies, but now he’s in opposition (and thus might not have to lie with such regularity) has anything changed? In a word, ‘no’ and if this episode is anything to go by, he’s just as clumsy as he ever was, much like a burglar who dresses in black and white stripes, carries a bag that says ‘Swag’ and leaves signed photos of himself along with all his pertinent details at the scene of every crime he commits. Now I don’t mean to say that he’s stupid, as everything he did on the show was pretty much Politics 101 and if I was in his shoes, I’d be pressing the same buttons, but the way in which he does it is just so overt and blatant that it totally lacks finesse.
Take Q1: This pretty much added up to ‘divide and rule’ with a special focus on St. Vince and his new found belief system. This is the angle that any opposition MP worth their salts would take (after all, the Libs are the weak link in the coalition chain), but a more sophisticated operator would have at least indulged in a spot of Damning With Faint Praise. Not Balls, oh no. Instead, he just went for the sledgehammer approach and might as well have just started shouting “YOU’RE GOIN HOME IN FACKING AMBULANCE” at Cable. Q2 wasn’t quite as brutal and he did show some nouse in bringing up the Orange Book divide within the Libs without getting too rabid while Q3 failed to provoke any major scuffles. Later on, there was nearly an outbreak of nuance as he started off quite even handedly on the Afghan issue, but luckily for fans of Schoolyard Politics, he traded any intellectual high ground he might of gained for a grubby little swipe at Liam Fox. Finally, with the end in sight, he got very hot under the collar about Free Schools, called the Libs “stooges” and then completely overreached in his final sentence by calling the scheme “unfair, uncosted and deeply… deeply… erh”. That’s right Ed, you wanted to say ‘unfair’ again, but realised at the last minute that you’d already said it. n00b!!!111!
So yes, that was Balls and it was all pretty standard, given his past form: Thoroughly pugnacious and belligerent. However, I will give him this: He does have remarkable tenacity. Despite being one the most tainted politician in Britain and one who’s associated only with the bad bits of New Labour, he still seems to believe that he can pull it all back and finally get his hands on the leadership. Clearly, this is not going to happen, but I have to admire his either remarkable capacity for absorbing punishment and complete disconnection from reality.
A relentlessly average 5/10
In The Green Corner: Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavillion Leader of the Green Party and elfin soy champion.
So, it’s Caroline Lucas’ Major Label Début! No longer slumming it in the 4th panellist position, she’s now a fully paid up member of the political classes and thusly entitled a stab in Seat #3. Now, I know that I tend to hammer the music analogies rather frequently, but you’ll have to forgive me this time because a) it was just too hard to resist, b) coming up with different analogies every week is bloody hard work and c) I still think my New Labour/Weezer rant is the best damn thing I’ve ever written. Anyhoo, it’s her first time as a proper MP and with that comes risks. Will she be able to hold onto her indie cred and keep things subterranean enough to hold on to her fan base (a la Jawbreaker’s Dear You), or will the demands of mass marketing dilute her sound and lead to accusations of selling out (a la Against Me’s New Wave)?
Well, the first track in her new EP started promisingly enough with fierce attacks on both Labour and the Coalition (plus use of “a plague on both your houses”. I love that phrase) and an attack on the bankers to wrap it off (which is the political equivalent of a key change). A good opener and well received by all. However, as is often the case with new musical directions, tracks 2 through 4 didn’t really hit the spot and sounded distinctly like fillers. There was a bit of an uptick when she got in a fight with Brent Whatshisface, but generally speaking, it was pretty mediocre. Luckily, she had managed to save a little something for the last track, which had a great “it will further segregate the system” chorus, but I have to say that the verse could have been better. Still, not bad for what could have been a very tricky record.
So yes, Caroline did ok and when she did get in her stride, it was easy to get behind her. Next time though, a slightly more consistent record would be nice.
A Less Than Jake of a 6/10
In The Independent/Brainy Corner: Peter Hitchens, Mail columnist and general purpose sourpuss.
Peter Hitchens is a paeleoconservative and I bloody love the word ‘paeleoconservative’. Go on, say it out loud… ‘pay-lee-o-con-serv-ativ’. See how it positively slides off your tongue? That’s some good linguistic shit you’ve right got there. Aside from liking the word, I’ve also got a bit of a softspot for paeleoconservatives and this largely boils down to the fact that you can be completely sure where you are with them. Unlike neoconservatives (or ‘neos’ of any ilk…liberal, fascist, Marxist, whatever. All ‘neos’ tend to be dangerous nutters), paeleoconservatives wear their intentions on their sleeve, see the world in slightly more complex terms and are pretty forthright when it comes to being angry about pretty much everything. In a nutshell, their beliefs can be summed up thusly: If it’s new, it’s probably bad while if it’s old, it’s probably good. That’s somewhat of a simplification, but you get the gist.
So anyway, Hitchens is a paeleoconservative and as a result, he hated everything everybody else stood for and didn’t try to disguise this in anyway, shape or form. Right from the get-go, he laid into all the parties and mourned the fact there wasn’t an “exaggeration contest in the Olympics” because we’d win. Very drole Peter, very drole. Q’s 2 and 3 contained little of note, but he got very irate in Q4, frothing about the fact that neither Monty nor the Duke of Wellington knocked about with the dirty cotton hippies who write for Rolling Stone. Hot on the heels of this was some assorted humbuggery about the war in general, a bizarre little tangent about opium poppies in Oxfordshire and general ‘pull your socks up’ type rantings, all of which was very well received. Finally, he got to bash the “pushy middle class” and big-up grammar schools in Q5 and that was that… everyone got a telling off.
The slightly more tribal part of me always wants to mark Hitchens down, mainly because I rarely agree with a word he says. However, what separates him from the slightly more turgid contributors to The Mail is that he’s not shrill with it. Yes, he’s a grumpy, misanthropic dark cloud who hasn’t got a good thing to say about anything, but there seems to be a fatalistic acceptance in him that this is because people are shit and that you can’t really change them. The important bit in that sentence is the ‘change’ bit, because it means that people like Hitchens tend not to do anything too apocalyptic or completely batshit crazy, unlike their ‘neo’ brethren who are fully signed up to apocalyptic batshit (check out John Gray’s brilliant Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia if this sort of stuff sounds up your street… It will twist your mind inside out). He’s also got a pretty good way with words, even if all the words are doom laden harbingers of woe and misery. For that, he gets a decent mark.
A hell in a handcart 7/10
In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Brent Hoberman, joint founder of lastminute.com and WhoTheFuckExactly.AreYou?
So this is Brent… Brent Hoberman to be precise and you know what? I don’t like him. Let’s start with the obvious: He’s called Brent. In my book, ‘Brent’ equates to one of three things: Some place in Essex, crude oil or geese and since I’m not a particular fan of any of these entities, that’s already a black mark against him. Apparently, Brent warrants a QT appearance because not only did he co-found lastminute.com with Martha Lane Fox (MLF, dontchaknow?), he also advises the Tory party on business type things. Now I know that you can end up in Seat #5 on the ropiest of pretexts, but for the above? Srsly? It’s not like he invented the bloody internet or anything. Finally, I don’t like him because he was rubbish. Pretty much every answer he gave during the show can be summed up as ‘Aren’t the Coalition a wonderful bunch?’ and ‘Isn’t the free market just so chuffing great?’. Fine. We get it. You’re one of these shiny New Tory types who knock about in Notting Hill and wax lyrical about how ‘totally amazing’ Glasto was but come on, get some more opinions man (other than “people love working when they’re older!”)! Enough. I’m getting annoyed just writing about him.
A failed start up of a 2/10
The Crowd: Canary Wharf
Yes! The game’s back on! After a fairly mixed bag of episodes where people were agreeing with each other far too much, the Budget has propelled Question Time back to it’s natural habitat: The dark, satanic jungle that’s red and tooth and claw. As always with the Canary Wharf audience, they were an odd, rootless bunch, but they were also pretty vocal and the weight of opinion seemed to just about fall on the ‘this Budget was unfair’ side of the line. That’s not to say it was all one-way traffic and the Coalition did find some friends in their ranks, but by and large, the mood was largely anti. Audience members of note include a guy with a beard who did some lovely chin stroking, the woman who set Brent straight by pointing out that most people really don’t want to work when they’re old and a goggle eyed Sting lookalike who rightly pointed out how weird it is to see St. Vince tacking to the right of Hitchens. Good show Canary Wharf, good show.
A return to form of a 7/10
Ok. I’m done. I hear it will be sunny this weekend. Enjoy it before it’s subjected to 25% cuts.