Archive for July, 2010

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #23


Morning Lemmings and well done for having survived an entire week without me. The pain, I realise, must have been close to unbearable but you’re through to the other side now, basking in the warm glow of our shared love for Question Time. So kudos to you.

Anyhoo, I’m back and if I’m not mistaken, this appears to be the last episode in this series of Question Time. That’s right, the Series That Stubbornly Refused To End appears to have finally chuntered itself into a state of coma, leaving us all to twiddle our Thursday night thumbs for the next six weeks. So, with this in mind, let us gather round the hospital bed as the Good Doctor Dimbers makes ready to yank out the power cord from the life support whilst we mouth empty platitudes and extrapolate wildly on the contents of the will. This, dear Lemmings, is The End. At least until September, that is.

The Menu:

Q1: Was it right to revoke Nick Griffin’s invite to Buckingham Palace?

Q2: Is The Big Society Big Cover for Big Cuts?

Q3: 67% of the population want a burqa ban but Damian Green says it’s “un-British”. Who’s right?

Q4: Should Alex Salmond account for the release of alMaghari to Obama instead of David Cameron?

Q5: Is the Tomlinson case a cover-up?

In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Damian Green, Minister of State for Borders and Immigration and one time Man In The Frame for a very fishy bit of policing.

I’m always at a bit of loss with Damian Green because although he’s been knocking about on the Tory frontbenches since 2001, the only thing that springs to mind when his name is mentioned is the rather sketchy looking incident when he was arrested (and then subsequently cleared) for misconduct in public office. To be sure, that was a grubby looking brouhaha that deservedly filled the front pages for a good long while, but it’s had the effect of defining his period in parliament and I really can’t recall a time when Damian Green has been on my radar for any other reason.

Part of this is down to the fact that it was a genuine scandal in which he appears to have been stitched up, but some of it is also to do with the fact that he simply isn’t that memorable. On the one hand, he’s certainly not incompetent and I can’t recall a time where I’ve thought ‘that there Damian Green, he’s a right numpty’, but on the other hand, he simply doesn’t seem to have that much of a presence and his MO very much seems to be ‘say things with an air of mild understatement, stick to the middle, don’t rock the boat too much and it will all be gravy’.  So yes, he’s political semi-skimmed: Serviceable in a workaday manner, but hardly the heady luxury of vein clogging silvertop.

His general reasonableness was very much on display in Q1 where he gave props to The Red Team for beating the BNP in Barking and generally sidestepped any potential booby traps by simply saying it was the Queen’s call. Q2, however, was less benign and he had to resort to the ‘it’s all Labour’s fault’ defence after Dimbers started looking dangerous with talk of unbuilt schools. Now, the Coalition have to be careful with this particular attack because it’s fast approaching it’s sell by date and will start to look pretty shabby if they carry on using it at its current frequency after September. Following this, the schools issue continued to be a thorn in his side, but he did have a brief flourish at the end when he declared that Labour would have probably done something pretty similar themselves (whilst simultaneously trying to look very, very upset and serious. D- for feigned indignation). That just about got him off the hook. Next up was Burqagate in Q3 and the mood in the room suddenly soured. Sensing some easy points, Farage lost no time in huffing and puffing about the madness of it all and he was soon scrapping with Green about what happens when burqa wearers go to banks. The audience then bundled in with supplementary ‘we have to show our faces in Tesco/BBC studio’s/etc, etc’ but credit where credit’s due, Green stood his ground and then went on the offensive by asking everyone to imagine just how stupid it would look if the police actually started arresting burqa wearers. That was a nice little switcheroo. Unfortunately, that was pretty much it from him as Q’s 5-6 mainly consisted of empty waffle and hedged bets that didn’t really go anywhere. Still, it could have been a lot worse and all-in-all, it wasn’t a bad effort, even if it wasn’t exactly gripping stuff. Still can’t say that he left much of an impression though.

A low fat 6/10

In The Red Corner: Sadiq Khan, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport and pay rise turner-downer.

Now here’s an interesting specimen. Oft-mooted as a potentially British Obama, Khan sports a set of pretty much spotless credentials, marred only by some minor expenses shenanigans. After being raised in a council estate, he’s gone from being a human rights lawyer to a Labour councillor before finally making it to the Commons in 2003 and then on to the Cabinet in 2010. So far, so admirable. However, there is one vital ingredient  missing in this otherwise beneficent mix and that, I’m afraid to say, is charisma. It’s not that he’s a bad communicator or that he has a habit of sticking his foot in it. It’s just that it takes him so long to get going, like an engine that’s lubricated with Marmite. He also has hair like Guile from Street Fighter 2. That’s cool though.

So yes, he’s not noted for his acceleration, but he did get off to a reasonably good start on Q1 by looking stern and telling everyone that it ‘served Nick Griffin right’ to get his invite to the Palace withdrawn. Boxes ticked and applause received, he then went on to Q2, a question that had a lot of potential for a Labour panellist. It started promisingly enough when he accused the Tories of being “vacuous branding men” who weren’t fooling anyone, but he didn’t drive home the attack and the initiative passed him by. Later on, he came back for another swipe, this time aimed at the middle-classes for receiving too much Tory money (which is a very dangerous game) and soon found himself handing over some easy points to Green. Hmmmm… Not the wisest strategy. Q3 resulted in much scrapping between himself, Farage and the audience and although he did make a good stab at taking the high ground, it wasn’t entirely effective and Farage managed to reap some fairly handsome applause when he played the old ‘you guys had 13 years to do something about this’ card. Ouch. Finally, along limped Q’s 4 and 5, but everyone had pretty much given up caring at this point and not much was made of it.

The above is a good illustration of why Khan has never managed to convert his ‘British Obama’ props in to the cold, hard, political power that such a title demands: You just don’t get the sense that he has the killer instinct. Yes, he’s clearly a clever guy who’s achieved a great deal in his life and yes, he has an admirable record in all of his dealings with the exception of his (admittedly minor) expenses claim. However, when it comes to the crunch, his manner just doesn’t carry that much weight and I found myself to be left wanting by his performance. I hope that this changes over time because I do think he has a lot to offer, but until then, he really needs to start pumping some oratory iron.

A somewhat clumsy but somewhat acceptable 5/10

In The Red White And Blue Corner: Nigel Farage, UKIP leader and shamelessly death defying self publicist.

Look who’s back! It’s Britain’s favourite value-for-money demagogue and amateur cad, Nigel Farage! That’s right, for as we are all aware, just prior to the election, Nigel Farage literally crashed and not so literally burned as an oh so UKIP publicity stunt went oh so predictably wrong. Yet from this wreckage emerged a man who will not let anything as trivial as death stand in the way of his tireless defence of our green and pleasant land. Gawd bless yer Nigel, the yeomanry of Great Britain are forever indebted to you. Speaking of which, I have noticed that a photo of the incident, featuring a dazed, battered and dishevelled looking Farage has since disappeared from Google Images, which is a shame as it represented the perfect juxtaposition of both comedy and tragedy. Luckily, I managed to save a copy myself, now proudly displayed below in a somewhat enhanced form below (see Fig. 1).

Yowzers!

Fig. 1

Anyway, it was pretty much stock Farage tonight and he stuck to his tradition of starting out on a semi-reasonable footing before picking a fight with everyone and then consequently drowning in a sea of animosity he himself created. I call it The Farage Trajectory. Here’s how it worked last night: Q1 had him sounding, dare I say it, very sensible as he took the now familiar ‘hate the BNP, but they are elected’ line which was received with some very sensible sounding applause before then embarking on a bit of a non-answer to Q3 that was saved at the last minute by some ‘isn’t the voluntary sector great’ cheapery. However, it was Q3 where the more confrontational Nigel (who I’ve perversely come to actually quite like in a completely counter intuitive way) emerged and scraps were had with all. Some nonsense was spouted, some wide eyed monkeyshine invoked and a telling off from Dimbers received but oddly (and worryingly) the crowd seemed to be mostly behind him. The Farage Trajectory then asserted itself with renewed vigour as he made a fairly long winded stab at Americans in general, only to find that there was an American woman in the audience who happened to take offence. Doh! Bad luck there Nigel! Finally, he managed to buck his eponymous trajectory on Q5 as he got a brief squirt of applause for saying that the Tomlinson case “stinks”. Damn. I hate it when a trajectory doesn’t come together.

So that was that and as usual, I really quite enjoyed it. Yes, he’s crazy as a shit house rat and yes, he’s full of tawdry, two-bit plays, but come on, he really does bring something to show. Never change Nigel. Never change.

An awe inspiringly tacky 8/10

In The Independent/Brainy Corner: Ruth Lea, hard headed economist type and purveyor of all round wtf?!-ness.

Ok, ok, so I’ve done the ‘doesn’t Ruth Lea look just like that weird little boy from the Antiques Roadshow who ended up being a woman’ gag before (see title image), but c’mon, gags like that come but once a lifetime. In fact, so taken am I by this rather cheap trick that from here on in, Ruth Lea will always be represented by a picture of the aforementioned Weird Little Boy From The Antiques Roadshow Who Ended Up Being A Woman. My blog, my rules, ok?

Anyhoo, Ruth Lea’s back she’s usually pretty predictable. It works like this: If it’s anything to do with the public sector, it’s bad. If Gordon Brown’s been within 500 miles of it, it’s bad. If there’s the slightest whiff of anyone trying to pour cold water on the throbbing sinews of dog-eat-dog capitalism, it’s not just bad, it’s an affront to humanity and the perpetrator fully deserves to have their eyes poked out with a statuette of Milton Friedman. That’s how Ruth Lea works and providing there’s someone around at the other end of the spectrum to put up a bit of a fight, it can be quite fun watching her get all fundamental and crazy about all things economic.

When I saw the line up tonight, I was delighted. I wasn’t too bothered by either the Red or Blue team, but the thought of Ruth Lea going toe-to-toe with her polar opposite, Bob Crow, filled me with giddy optimism. This had to result in an epic and bad tempered shitstorm, right? Wrong. In actual fact, what we got was a quite sedate Ruth Lea who failed to build up to her usually ginormous levels of moon howling lunacy. Q1? Perfectly reasonable. Q2? Low levels of bureaucracy and Gordon Brown bashing, but nothing like the torrent of fervent zeal we’re accustomed to. Q3 A picture of even handed tolerance (and she told Nigel Farage to “put a sock in it”) Q4? Neither here nor there. And Q5? Not even worth mentioning.

Well, that wasn’t very fun, was it and if I’m being totally honest, I feel a little cheated. So come on Ruth. You’ve got a role to fill and that’s the role of Never Say Die, snake eating, free market extremist. Next time, I expect to hear at least one reference to how the Invisible Hand is going to bitchslap me silly for paying my taxes or a call for Parliament to be sold to Primark. Now be off with you!

A disappointingly sane 4/10

In The ‘I’m The Funny One’/Just Like You Corner: Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT and Salt Of The Erf.

I have a theory about Bob Crow. I contend that there are in fact two Bob Crow’s and that they alternate their media appearances on a random basis. Sometimes, it is the principled, down to earth, Defender of The People Bob Crow who sallies into the studio, ready to fight the little guy’s corner and stand up for a fairer society. On other occasions it is YOU’RE GOIN’ ‘OME IN A FACKING AMBULANCE, Scargillite bull-in-a-china shop Bob Crow who bludgeons his way through the door, ready to pick a fight with anyone who grew up in a house that had an indoor toilet (as aptly represented in Fig. 2 and in this episode of Have I Got News For You).

SHADWELL ARMY!

Fig. 2

Tonight, we got the former and I must say, I was quite impressed. On pretty much every question, he made his point in a robust way that managed to stay on the right side of anger and even when he was harried by a bloke in the audience who clearly was a bit of a tit, he managed to keep the aggression that can so often be his undoing in check. Ok, so his performance was littered with an inordinate number of slightly bizarre World War II references (his granddad in the 8th Army, the uncle shot in Rangoon, Q2’s “Dad’s Army” barb , government spending in 1945, etc) and his bankers/Dick Turpin joke fell a bit flat, but the audience were behind him in impressive numbers and he came across like a man with genuine convictions who was in it for the right reasons. I will admit to being slightly pissed off that the other Bob Crow didn’t turn up, if only to have a fight with Ruth Lea, but I can’t deny that there was a lot to like about this outing.

A sturdy 7/10

The Crowd: Hartlepool

Ok, so I don’t quite know what to make of this lot. On the one hand, they were a pretty noisy, knockabout crowd with some good stand out solo’s (American Farage Mauler, I’m looking at you), whilst on the other, the reaction to the burqa question scared me a little and I sort of got the feeling that quite a few of them were there simply to have a go at someone (which is the point of Question Time, but you know what I mean, right?). This wasn’t really helped by having Red and Blue panellist who were competent enough to not really bugger anything up, but not seasoned/skilful enough to build a head of steam and smite their foes. Add in to that the fact that Ruth Lea’s medication has obviously kicked in while Bob Crow has experienced some instant mellowing and the show as a whole ends up looking a little frustrating. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad episode and there was some interesting stuff there, but in general I just found it a little incoherent and slapdash. Thank god for Farage, eh?

Oh Christ… I really did just say that, didn’t I…

A confusing 5/10

So that’s it! This series over! While this is the first series that I’ve actually written about, it totally does stick in my mind as one of the more eventful and dramatic ones, particularly during the March-June arc. Since then we’ve been through a period of politics that really has completely turned everything on its head and we emerge at the other end in a very uncertain, but utterly fascinating landscape that continues to shift and contort. I have no idea where things are going at the moment. I have suspicions and inklings, but nothing that I’d take to the bank. All I do know is that it’s watching the flux of events through the window of Question Time is a whole bunch of fun and that I’ll be back for more in September.

If you’ve been following this blog, many, many thanks. It’s sometimes a pain in the arse to write and produce as I work full time and you’d be surprised just how much long it takes to make, but it’s all worth it when people say nice things to me about it. I’m not entirely sure what’s going to happen to it by the next series. It’ll be back in one form or another, but it just might be on a different platform. Anyhow, check back in from time-to-time, because you never know, I might get round to finally updating the scoreboard-that-is-of-my-own-devising-yet-I-still-don’t-understand. Emphasis on the word ‘might’. MIGHT

And finally some special thanks go out my Mum for the proof reading and gentle ticking offs whenever the spelling/typos/swearing got too appalling (I was born in 1979. I am living proof of 18 years of Tory education policy), the good people at reddit’s /r/unitedkingdom and /r/ukpolitics (your upboats and comments gave me a major morale boost at exactly the point when I needed it most) Jalf for techy brain picking/holiday Friday escapism, Benry for Spreadhead, Rick for the banter and most of all to my partner Hannah for putting up with what could quite often be quite the curmudgeonly Loudribs. xx

See y’all in September.

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #22


Speed QT Reporting...

Morning Lemmings. Slight change of format this week because as of now, I am officially on holiday and not just in a ‘me and Jalf are going to stay up all night hammering tf2 with our nerdy headsets on‘ type way but in a proper ‘I’ve got a week off work and I’m outta here!’ type way. So, as you can probably imagine, kicking off my jollies by feverishly slaving over a keyboard until gone midnight isn’t the most appealing prospect and as a result, tonight’s instalment of LCCPQTMR will be oh so short and oh so sweet. Go!

The Menu:

Q1. Since most people voted against the coalition, what mandate do they have for the cuts?

Q2. Should we have confidence in an Education Secretary who doesn’t check his own homework?

Q3. Do you agree with the US on the need for an inquiry into the Libyan prison release?

Q4. Should the withdrawal from Sangin be seen as a retreat?

Q5. Does holding the AV referendum on the same day as the Scottish elections conform to David Cameron’s ‘respect’ agenda?

In The Yellow Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Michael Moore, Secretary of State for Scotland and generally unknown quantity.

Ahh, bless… Another generic LibDem n00b is sent out to soak up some punishment on behalf of their Brand New Best Friends/Dark Coalition Overlords. After the perfunctory Greece!/Debt!/Labours Mess!/Econogeddon! roll call it all went decidedly pear shaped as everyone with the exception of Forsyth tore a strip off him and kicked sand in his face. Boos ensued, attempts at a semblance of a defence floundered and he finished up looking very much worse for wear. Welcome to the Corridors of Power, Mike!

A ‘taking one for the (extended) team’ of a 4/10

In The Red Corner: Douglas Alexander, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development and card carrying Scottish Labour Mafia member.

Even though Wee Dougie looks like a miniature replica of an actual person, he did manage to make a better fist of this ‘opposition’ malarkey than Johnson did last week. Having said that, making Labour hay in Lothian isn’t exactly akin to mapping the genome or curing cancer, but it was a serviceable enough outing. Sticking closely to Labours’ post election Divide and Rule/Wind Up The Libs playbook, he got a few good claps in without ever once being in danger of looking charismatic. He also looks a little like Alan Titchmarsh. Just without all the smutty novels. I hope.

An even keeled 6/10

In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Lord Forsyth, ex-Secretary of State for Scotland and Stone of Scone liberator.

He may be Scottish, but by God is he Tory. Making no pretence of being an unreconstructed Thatcherite, Forsyth used some wonderfully extravagant analogies to crank up the Deficit Scare Factor (‘1.3 trillion! 46’000 years at a pound a minute! 200 trips to the Moon and back!’) whilst standing idly aside as Mann was savagely mauled. His message didn’t exactly go down too well, but points are deserved for being brutally, unflinchingly true to his kind.

An unshakably contrary 5/10

In The Pale Yellow corner: Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister for Scotland and sidekick to Churchill The Insurance Dog.

The slightly tomboyish Nicola Sturgeon joins us once more, but this time the Blame Everything On Westminster ploy seems to have lost some of it’s magic. Whilst occasionally getting some crowd love here and there for the odd pop at her London based foes, she also came a cropper a number of times herself, notably on Q2. The last ditch tactic of squealing ‘Trident!’ was deployed a few times, but overuse made it look slightly iffy by the end. Also, why is that I can’t help thinking she was the captain of her school hockey team? Maybe it’s the eyebrows.

A slightly sketchy 4/10

In the I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Ed Byrne, comedian and….erh….comedian.

Ed Byrne has a propensity to annoy me with his lurking smugness that only just manages to partially submerge itself, but I must say I was quite rapt by his ‘Yay for Keynes!’ turn on Q1. It tailed off after that, but the crowd had made their minds and from their point of view, it was all fireworks and icecream when ever he opened his mouth. Good result for the hairy, specky one.

A crowd pleasing 7/10

The Crowd: Edinburgh

Given the truly inordinate levels of pantomime applause and booing in this episode, I had to check to make sure that I hadn’t gone back in time and arrived at the 16th Congress of the All-Union Communist Party, Ed Byrne wasn’t Stalin and Michael Mann wasn’t a Troskyite Stooge. The odd thing was that when the camera panned out at the end of the show, it revealed the crowd to be tiny and for the most part, sober. So yes, it was a very busy affair and without a doubt, the Audience Member of Note goes to the weirdly androgynous ginger thing who told everyone to “get a grip” whilst looking to be on the verge of tears/death. Well done, that man/woman/whatever.

A fervid 8/10

Aaaaaaaaaand that’s it. I’m afraid next week’s LCCPQTMR is slightly up in air right now and is almost wholly dependent on whether my dear friend, the Megabus, gets me back home from my hols in time to watch the show. The ticket says it might, a tenner says it won’t. However, I can in full confidence say that normal service will definitely resume the week after and that’s just as well as it will be the last episode in the series. After that, I’m free! Free from Dimbers evil clutches to fill my Thursday and Friday nights with…erh…erh…. I’ll get back to you on that one.

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #21


Morning Lemmings. As is usually the case, I’m going to start with my customary threat to keep this week’s post-Question Time report very brief. Yes, yes, yes, I know I’m beginning to sound like an awful lot of mouth with precious little trousers, but I mean it this time and here’s why: Last night I had band practice for the first time in around 8 months and as a result, I can barely feel my fingers, what with all the high tempo melodic hardcore thrashing that form of the basis of what we do. Add in to this the fact that I also picked up Street Fighter IV in the Steam sale and I’m left with not hands, but gnarled claws that seem to creak and groan their way around the keyboard. So yes, I am truly suffering for my ‘art’ today. Enough of my lamentations and on to what turned out to be a truly Bizarro World rendition of Question Time. Say hello to Ipswich, Lemmings.

The Menu:

Q1: With the Treasury saying that there are going to be huge cuts to the public sector, are we on the road to ruin or the road to recovery?

Q2: Who’s right about prison? Ken Clarke or Michael Howard?

Q3: Is the emergency cap on immigration just a Band Aid for a bleeding wound?

Q4: Is the government going back to the old Tory mantra of ‘on your bike’ with regards to benefits?

In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Ian Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, ex-Tory leader and volume turner-upper.

Once upon a time, Iain Duncan Smith was pretty much the personification of the Tory party at its lowest ebb. Cast into the wilderness after the 1997 election, I really enjoyed watching the Conservatives effectively eat themselves for a few years and in this orgy of self destruction, IDS was a key figure. Picking up the reigns from Hague (who was just way too odd to hold the job down), Duncan Smith managed to turn what was already a dire situation into a complete and utter clusterfuck by a) wielding absolutely zero charisma, b) trying to make up for zero charisma by acting all tough (which is pretty hard when you look like a 50 year old toddler) and c) giving Private Eye writers the easiest 2 years of their life by gifting them with a near endless supply of shonky lines/policies/CV embellishments. Needless to say, the Tory party reached breaking point and did what it tends to do best: Wanton regicide.

Following his unceremonious exit, IDS seemed to be destined to live out his fate in much the same way as most failed Tory leaders do (Hague being a notable and incongruous exception to the rule): Wandering the Desert of Ignominy until someone bothers to give you a peerage and/or a column in The Telegraph. However, in Duncan Smith’s case something very odd happened. After a brief stroll through the barren wastelands of obscurity, he suddenly decided to get rather interested in poverty. Coming from a guy who’s time at the Tory helm was marked by some very bombastic Old Right drum beating, this seemed to be a very odd turn of events and people paid him very little attention, convinced that the trauma of rejection had driven him quite, quite mad. But nevertheless, he persisted and by the time Cameron had risen to power, he seemed to actually know a thing or two about the subject. Fast forward a couple of years, and what’s this I see before me? Why, it’s IDS, sitting comfortably on the front benches and not only that but sitting on the front benches, talking what appears to be a some sense.

For a default Tory sceptic like myself, witnessing the conversion of IDS from Hardcore True Blue to Bleeding Heart Red Tory has been an awkward experience that tends to leaving me feeling out of sorts, but I must confess that on the evidence of this episode, the change seems to be the real thing and not just another strain of Hug-A-Hoody posturings. Starting with Q1, he got away quite lightly with some ‘Greece/countries broke/hell in a handcart’ type stuff that for once, played well with the audience but it was Q2 where he really got in his stride. After a preamble full of social worky type terms (like “polysubstance abuser”) he suddenly started looking very serious and cranked that volume right up. “I sound a bit passionate because I really am” said he and for once on Question Time, it worked (people are usually lying their face off when they pull the ‘passionate’ line). Bolted on to the back of this was some ‘system in a crisis!’/’we’ll all suffer!’ cries and the job was a good ‘un. Q3 was a little ropey (especially his rather half hearted footy joke), but he turned it around on Q4. Now this question could have been really tricky, considering that on the face of it, the policy does have some pretty dubious connotations. However, he again slipped into that super-serious ‘I’ve spent the last 5 years knocking about on council estates’ mode and he actually managed to make it sound like it might be something other than a Tory ploy to deport all welfare claimants to the Isle of Man. Ok, so his “We cut NI!” response to an audience member who asked what they’d done about jobs was slightly rubbish, but the way in which he came across for the bulk of the question was as a man who had seriously thought about this stuff and was coming up with policies because he had genuinely thought about them. Kudos, IDS.

So that was him and I must say, I was caught off guard by it. Yes, he was playing to a largely friendly crowd who were receptive to the Tory line, but there’s more to it than that in that he projected a believable image of someone who does actually care about peoples’ welfare. Whether this translates into policies that do actually work has yet to be seen and I wouldn’t go so far as saying that his filled me with hope for the future, but I will venture than I’m less scared than I would usually be of a Conservative Work and Pensions Secretary. And that’s quite the achievement.

A convincing 7/10

In The Red Corner: Alan Johnson, Shadow Home Secretary, ex-postie and Bowie look-nearly-a-like.

Not content with shaking my world view with IDS’s sudden outburst of rationality, this week’s Question Time continues on its Bizarro trajectory with a quite uncharacteristic performance from all round man of the people, Alan Johnson. I’ve said before that since the election, Labour panellists seem to have slotted into the opposition slot quite well. Finally free from having to defend the indefensible week in, week out, most of them have appeared much more relaxed and actually seem to be enjoying the novelty of harrying the coalition without all the hassle of having to do anything about anything. Considering that Johnson is far and away the most human member of the Shadow Cabinet, my gut told me that he would be in his element now and could turn his talent for sounding reasonable into quite the potent weapon. Yet it was not to be and in actual fact, he came across as a bit of dick.

Given a different crowd, Q1 might well have gone a lot better than it did, but as it was, his ‘Road to Ruin’ and ‘just where in hell are all this jobs going to come from’ pitch failed to ring a bell with anyone. However, it was Q2 where things started getting a bit ugly and when presented with the ‘does jail work?’ question, he lashed out at the Tories for being ‘soft on crime’ and suddenly became a dogged defender of New Labour’s penchant for locking everyone up. Now, I expect this sort of thing from the likes of David Blunkett or John Reid, but from Johnson it just sounds wrong and at odds with his otherwise sane temperament. Q3 did contain some valid stuff about the immigration cap being “snake oil”, but again, the audience weren’t biting and stony silence was the order of the day, much to his chagrin. Finally, there was Q4 and here he committed a bit of an error by saying how much he’d love to hear Duncan Smith worm his way out this one. As it happened, IDS not only wormed his way out, but actually sounded genuinely sapient and all Johnson could do was then try and extract himself with a no ‘money argument’. Now I’m not saying that that point isn’t valid, but he had to deliver it whilst off balance and that made it look somewhat desperate.

So yes, this was not the Alan Johnson that used to be able to mop our brows and cure our ills every time that New Labour dropped a clanger. In power, he was a formidable defensive player, able to smooth the harsher edges of  Blairism’s more authoritarian traits and adept at appealing to the common good. What we saw on this episode however, was a man who is still obsessed by Labour’s legacy and hasn’t been able to adjust to his new position as a centre forward. True, he wasn’t exactly on friendly territory last night, but that doesn’t mask the fact that his performance was overly aggressive, overly partisan and slightly twatty. And that, I’m afraid, is a damn shame because underneath it all is a decent guy, but one who is still stuck in a world that no longer exists.

An unexpectedly fumbled 4/10

In The Independent/Brainy One Corner: Prof. Mary Beard, brainy bookworm and Classicist of note.

I know very little about Mary Beard (except that I like her name. I wish my last name was ‘Beard’. It would go well with my beard), but I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. For a start, she does the whole ‘red wine, Moroccan solids, hemp clothing, child of the 60’s’ thing in way that somehow manages to avoid being utterly nauseating (a tough act to pull off) and also seems to harbour some pretty good opinions. Out of all the panellists tonight, she far and away had the most leeway to take whatever line she wanted and by and large, she pulled it off. Q1’s acknowledgement that “All I know is that I know I don’t know” but “I don’t like how it’s shaping up” set the tone well and applause poured forth, much in the same way that her ‘3 months for riding first class’ anecdote did on Q2 (not to mention her scuffle with a smug looking audience member who went down the ‘prison’s a right larf’ line. She got a “have you ever been to a prison?” slapdown for her efforts and ended up looking like a right tit). Q3 was light on substance but contained a well received quip about students needing to get Holy Orders to study that went down well while Q4 turned into some little chunter about some Ruth Kelly report that no one cares about. That was received with some puzzled looks and nothing else, but overall, it was a pretty solid effort in which she came across as pretty clued up, but also quite grounded. And for me to say that about someone who looks so much like a Womad attending dreamcatcher weaver is quite something, so well done Beardy, you’ve acquitted yourself well.

An encouragingly unhippyish 7/10

In The Independent/Brainy One Corner x2 (?????): Camila Batmanghelidjh, Yoof champion and sartorial nutbar.

She’s all about the kids! She dresses like a fruit salad laced with bad acid! I can barely spell, let alone pronounce her name (except for the ‘Batman’ bit)! It must be Camila Batmanghelidjh! Yes, that’s right, the authentic voice of youthly worthiness is upon us and once you get past the sheer madness of her get-up (especially the fingerless/thumbless gloves), she’s actually pretty sound. Virtually all her responses hinged around some sort of ‘think of the kids’ angle, occasionally spiced up with some other ‘right on!’ attitudes, but it wasn’t done in a way that winds me up, so nice work there. However, the really interesting thing to watch was her sizing up IDS. Like Batmanghelidjh, I too work in the voluntary sector and our default position is to be terrified of whatever the Tories are proposing. We’re all feeling the cuts already, there’s more to come and we’re dreading the rolling back of the state as it means that many of the services we rely on to do our jobs simply won’t be there any more. However, I got the sense that she, like myself, couldn’t bring herself to write off Duncan Smith and although she didn’t go so far as to give him an outright endorsement, you could see that he had her interest. Interesting times indeed.

A perfectly acceptable 6/10

In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Simon Heffer, True Blue Telegraph Columnist and puffy looking type.

Name: Simon Heffer

Appearance: Much like a boiled sweet, possibly orange flavoured (see Fig.1).

Likes: Low taxes, using the words ‘wretched’ and ‘poor’ in close proximity of each other, ‘family’ and other ‘bedrock’ type things.

Dislikes: A big state, lefties, druggies, scroungers, Europeans, paedos, rapists, crims, liberals, humanity in general, etc, etc, etc.

Most likely to: Look a little sweaty whilst bemoaning the collapse of civilisation.

Fig.1

‘Nuff said.

Ok, ok, despite my better judgement, I suppose I’d better give him a little more page space… Here we go!

Q1 was your standard Deficit Bollocks, Q2 was a bunch of ‘it’s complicated stuff’ question avoidance, Q3 was all about ‘sorting out’ illegal immigrants and Q4 was a sustained session of wanking over low taxes. Let’s just say I’m not Heffer’s biggest fan. Yes, he’s not as rabid and torrid as Phillips or Littlejohn, but he’s still a pretty one dimensional attack dog who gets on my nerves and I’m going to wrap it here before I say something I regret.

A regrettably predictable 4/10

The Crowd: Ipswich

As I mentioned at the start, this was a really weird show. Not only were some precious assumptions of mine thrown into doubt, but the format was slightly wonky (what with there only being two party political panellists) and the crowd also freaked me out a little by applauding absolutely bloody everything anyone except Johnson said for the first 40 minutes before becoming very subdued in the final leg. By and large, it was the pro-coalition section who won the day and I think it’s pretty safe to say that Labour’s goose is cooked when it comes to Ipswich. There’s only one Audience Member of Note this week and that goes to the Scottish guy with the pony tail who spoke in that slow but forceful ‘I might be drunk and dangerous but you’ll never really know’ manner. He called for all MP’s to be locked up and then managed to short circuit the Tyranny of Dimbers by totally cutting in on a question without even being pointed to! So impressed was I with this one man insurgency that I haven’t got a clue what he said. Well done sir. Carry on being quietly threatening in a Scottish manner.

A bucket of oddness of a 5/10

2500 words! That is relatively short! I can come through on a threat! See you next week, Lemmings.


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