Mornings Lemmings. Ok, I have to confess that this was a weird episode of Question Time (for reasons that I will come on to later) and I must confess that I’m having a bit of trouble making much out of it. For that reason, this is probably going to be quite a brief affair, although I am aware that I’ve made similar threats in the past, only to waffle on for pages on end. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Let us plough relentlessly on.
Q1: Was David Laws right to resign?
Q2: Following the murders in Cumbria, should the gun laws be changed?
Q3: Is piracy on the high seas justifiable when Israel does it?
Q4: Should top civil servants be paid more than the Prime Minister?
Q5: Is Harriet Harman right to suggest that at least half of the Shadow Cabinet should be women?
In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: David Willetts, Minister of State For Universities and Science, noted Tory brainiac.
Ahhhhhhhh! The sun! It’s disappeared! End days are upon us! Oh, wait, my mistake. It’s simply been obscured by David Willetts’ enormous cranium that is rumoured to contain ‘Two Brains’. Considering that he’s the minister for both science and universities, I take quite a lot of comfort in this fact and it also marks him out as someone rather special on the Tory frontbench: A proper, no holds barred poindexter. Sure, Letwin and Gove get some wonk cred by virtue of coming up with the meatier aspects of policy, but by-and-large, towering intellect doesn’t appear to be compulsory.
So, it’s well established that Willetts’ is scholarly in the extreme, but what hasn’t been resolved is where he fits in the pantheon of brainy subspecies and to aid us in this endeavour, may I point you towards this informative Venn Diagram of Geeks, Dorks, Nerds and Dweebs. I’m guessing that quite a few of you are thinking ‘does it really matter which brand of buff he is?’ and I say to you “Yes! In the utmost!”. Having been labelled with all the above at various points in my life, I and my dorky brethren are acutely aware of the distinctions. Bookworms have feelings too and this stuff matters, Ok?
Back to the question in hand: Considering he’s already written ten books on very clever sounding matters, intelligence is an area that he clearly isn’t lacking in (although trying to get Neil Hamilton off the hook wasn’t exactly a moment of incandescent genius) so we can clearly cross ‘Dork’ off the list of possible charges, leaving us with the matters of Obsession and Social Ineptitude to investigate further. On the subject of Obsession, at least three of his books are about welfare reform and considering that welfare reform isn’t exactly an area that just casually fall into, I think we can safely say that we’ve narrowed down the search to a straight out fight between ‘Nerd’ and ‘Geek’, a tussle that can only be resolved on the battlefield on Social Ineptitude. And what better arena to stress test the Not Gud Wiv Peepol Hypothesis than the fight to the death that is Question Time? To the show, dear friends, to the show.
Right then: Q1. Had this question been asked three or four days ago, I would have envisaged a right ruck kicking off, but in the light of events over the last few days, it’s potency seems to have been somewhat diminished. In many ways, that was quite a luck escape for Willetts and he seemed perfectly content to whip out the old ‘Individual Decision’ ploy whilst invoking a ‘All Above Board/Standards Commission’ play. Not exactly a frontal assault on the Coalition’s critics, but serviceable enough. Q2 was pretty much a no-brainer: Acknowledge the tragedy and then follow up with a soothing ‘Let’s Not do Anything Too Rash Now’ call to inaction. Simples. The Israel question (Q3) was the one that looked like it could start a bit of a barny, but Willetts did pretty well at a well balanced response that implied that Israel had acted like dickheads without going as far as actually condemning it and that earned some moderate applause. More claps were to come when he pulled MacKenzie up by reminding him that Hamas had been democratically elected, but he wasn’t able to sustain it as fudged together a bunch of platitudes in response to Q4. Silence reigned. Finally, he stumbled around a bit on Q5, told us that he’d had an argument with a French woman and then got suspiciously chummy with Diane Abbott, extolling her to “Go for it!”… Which was weird.
So how does the above translate into our Geek or Nerd diagnosis? Well, it’s pretty hard to call. On the one hand, he’s not unlikable, does seem to genuinely think before speaking and is free from any majorly socially dysfunctional traits. However, he’s not exactly Mr Excitement either (you not going to find him swinging from chandeliers, shouting “Kegger! Kegger! Kegger!” and puking into pot plants… Unless it’s a party at Diane Abbott’s house) and although considered, balanced answers probably make for good government, they’re not going to put a song in the hearts of the world at large. As it’s a nice sunny evening, I’m feeling generous and am thusly conferring on him the status of Tenuous Geek. Be warned though David: Nerdiness is mere millimetres away and you may still have your dinner money stolen.
A just about socially acceptable 6/10
In The Red Corner: Diane Abbott, Labour Leadership Contender and Portillo’s on-screen other half.
She’s somewhat of a conundrum, Diane Abbott. On the one hand, she’s a genuine trailblazer, what with being the first black, female MP, she’s never had a problem with going against the party line if she thinks the party line is stupid and she is capable of some genuinely inspired and heartfelt oratory. However, the picture’s not entirely consistent and there are a few things that stick in my craw, such as sending her son to private school whilst simultaneously criticising others for doing the same thing and the ‘Finnish Nurse’ debarcle left a nasty taste in my mouth. Having said that, she does seem to know when she’s crossed the line and is prepared to admit when she’s wrong (quite a rare thing in Westminster) and let’s face it, The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name (although it does sometimes dare to) between her and Portillo on This Week is genuinely endearing (see Fig. 1).
Speaking of This Week, I have a bone to pick with that show, namely WHAT’S GOING ON WITH THE SODDING VOLUME? I walk a tight rope on Thursday nights, trying to keep the volume loud enough so I can hear what’s going on Question Time, but not so loud that it wakes my better half and I get a telling off (she’s a saintly person, unless unduly woken up, in which case she’s quite the semi-conscious authoritarian). After years of experience, I totally know where the sweet spot on the volume knob is and Question Time always passes without incident. However, the plan, without fail, always falls apart when that pseudo-rave This Week theme kicks in at 120dB and is then followed up by Andrew Neil’s twat-of-a-face, a scramble to find the remote and an inevitable bollocking. So take warning This Week. You’re on thin ice. That is all.
Back to the point: She got off to a good start on Q1 by making the David Laws issue more about spending cuts rather than sexuality or money and that went down pretty well. Q2 was straight by the book and pretty much echoed everything Willetts said while Q3 saw her on more proactive footing, going out of her way to condemn Israel (as well as MacKenzie’s weird-as-you-like ‘Snickers’ gambit) and reaping much applause for her efforts. Q4 once again saw bankers and cuts in the frame (and was again roundly applauded) while Q5 saw her resist a Sisters Doin’ It For Themselves chorus. Not bad.
Looking at the above, you’d be forgiven for thinking we’ve got a genuine contender for the Labour leadership on our hands. However, there is one slight problem: We’re so used to her being matey and very honest on the This Week sofa that I think people would have real trouble getting their heads round her actual being leader, a position that requires high levels of non-mateyness and dishonesty. It’s like when a close colleague who you genuinely like gets a promotion and suddenly ends up in charge of you. You all try and maintain the charade that nothings really changed, but deep down, you both know things will never be the same again. I hope it doesn’t pan out like that because that’s a rubbish reason to lose, but I have a feeling it will. So sorry Diane, you’re great on the couch, but unfortunately you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.
A generally well rounded 7/10
In The Orange-ish Corner: Leanne Wood, Plaid bod and generally unknown QT quantity.
Ok, this is the panellist I’m having real trouble with as nothing she did or said made any form of impact on me. All her responses were pretty standard Plaid lines, all tacking well to the left of the mainstream parties and which were generally well received, but that was more about the content than the delivery. Even after going through my notes, I can’t really find anything worth repeating so I’m going to wrap this up pretty quickly. Lustre: She lacked it.
An underwhelming 4/10
In The Independent/Brainy One Corner: Matthew Parris, former Tory MP, Times Columnist and drowning dog rescuer.
I never quite know where I stand with Matthew Parris. I like the fact that he’s a former Conservative MP in the ‘Action Tory’ mould (what with the all the offers to be a spy, marathon running, living everywhere and dog rescuing) and that he’s capable of some pretty impressive bile laden writing, but there’s something that’s just too mercurial about him. Having said that, he did start off by tacking his colours firmly to the mast on Q1 by bashing the anti-gay media “lynch mob” whilst getting involved in many a (highly predictable) to-do with MacKenzie. I think most people didn’t entirely agree with him (the public seem way more concerned with the 40k than the sexuality aspect), but anyone who picks a fight with MacKenzie is on to a winner. Easy money. Q2 saw him largely sidestep the issues at hand, but he did go on a bit of one when he suddenly started ranting about “machets” (as opposed to ‘machete’s’), “petrol soaked rags” and “cyanide” which was both batty and entertaining. Not satisfied with Q2’s sidestep, he then pulled off the most epic dodge I’ve seen yet on Q3: When asked about his view on Israel’s actions, he simply told all and sundry that he had given up giving a shit and couldn’t give two hoots about the Middle East. That shut everyone up. It was downhill after that as Q4 offered little way in the excitement department, apart from the fact that it’s a “scandal” how little we pay the PM while Q5 had some wibbling about how we’re all “holding women back”.
So yes, quite an odd performance and one marked by a willful contrariness that is by turns quite fun and somewhat refreshing. However, there’s still something that’s gnawing at me about him and I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s that the contrariness is just a little too willful (although it’s presented as very casual) or maybe it’s just that he looks inexplicably young for a 60 year old but either way, there’s something stopping me from fully getting on board the train to Parris. Come back again and we’ll see if that changes, Matthew.
A solid but yet-to-convince me 6/10
In the I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Kelvin MacKenzie, abrasive ex-Sun editor and no friend to Scotland, Sheffield, Neil Kinnock, journalistic integrity, Freddie Starr, etc, etc, etc…
Why God, why? Why torment us on an otherwise pleasant day with this diabolical creature that sweats belligerence? Is the price we have pay for Lembit Opik losing his seat (an event which I found thoroughly humourous), because if it is, it’s not worth it. Yeah, Kelvin’s back and true to form, he’s a prat who’s pathologically contrary and not in a ‘I’m knocking on a bit so I don’t really care’ Matthew Paris kind of way but in a ‘whatever society deems to be acceptable/progressive I deem to be tantamount paedophilia’ kind of way. Straight out of the blocks he started to froth about David Laws and “our money”, used the term “reverse scamboli” and tried to imply that The Sun is bastion of gay friendly good intentions these days (a point that was aptly blown out of the water by Parris reminding him of recent Sun poll that asked whether gays should be MP’s). This was followed by some fuming about gun laws on Q2, a strange little rant about “strange places like Finland” and a rather hamfisted attempt at sensitivity when he branded the Cumbria murders as “a shocker”. Times and places, Kelvin. Times and places.
But wait! He’s barely in his stride and here comes Q3, the ideal vehicle to crash headlong into any notion of reasonableness. It started off pretty standard, with the usual invocations of Plucky Little Israel, dastardly Muslim martyrs and a barely relevant doff of the cap to Churchill, but he saved the best to last: Apparently, there’s an oversupply of Snickers in Gaza. So that’s ok then! No sanitation or reliable power source? Stop whining and get this peanut infested chocolate down your trap! House blown to pieces by IDF ordinance? Pull yourself together and count your confectionery blessings! Health and livelihood in grave peril thanks to collective punishment? STFU and start building a utopia made of Snickers! Seriously, I’m pretty much sure that this is stupidest point I have ever heard on Question Time outside of the Nick Griffin episode.
So yeah, I pretty much stopped listening to him after that and if he did say anything of merit in Q’s 4 and 5, it fell on deaf ears. I do make a point of playing Devil’s Advocate on LCCPQTMR from time to time, but this guy is so far gone that I can’t find it in myself to do such a thing and I hope he gets pelted to death with an excess of Snickers bars.
A new low of a 2/10
The Crowd: Brecon
I said at the start that this was a really weird episode and it’s pretty easy to see why: For the last three months, Question Time panellists and audiences have been slugging it out in the sweltering, oppressive heat of the Election Jungle. Every point, no matter how small or inconsequential has been bitterly fought over and every square inch of ground has mattered. Then suddenly, two things have happened: Israel has reminded us that there is an outside world that’s got an alarming tendency to go wrong and the Cumbria murders have genuinely shocked us back into remembering that stuff, sometimes very bad stuff can happen outside Westminster. Suddenly, the jungle warfare becomes entirely irrelevant and we’re all left looking rather dazed and only able to utter one appropriate answer: ‘Oh dear’. Don’t get me wrong, that response is entirely right and proper, but it makes for a very odd debate and leaves everyone feeling somewhat lost and stranded. That’s not to say that the audience didn’t find things to get heated about (although that might have something to do with MacKenzie) but I came away with the feeling at times, they we’re simply going through the motions and that gave the show a very odd quality. It’s not the crowds fault that it ended up like this, it’s just a consequence of being human and in that respect, it was nice to see a general consensus around the big events. However, gripping, it was not.
An understandably shaky 5/10
Right, that’s done. Oh look, nearly 3000 words. Told you I never come through with that ‘keeping it short threat’. See you next week.