Morning Lemmings. Ok, so I’m sort of better, but ‘sort of’ in a way that means that it’s probably going to be quite a brief report tonight, which is just as well as it was quite a sedate and middling Question Time last night. However, I’m glad that in writing this I have some sort of distraction from the telly because if I hear another goddamn thing about the Chilean miners, I might just go over the edge. I was off work on Wednesday and Thursday this week and it was like they were being rescued from my basement. Seriously, I know it’s joyous news and all, but enough already. So anyway, buckle up and hunker down as we tear through this week’s episode, bought to you by the good people of Cheltenham.
Q1: Have the LibDems sold out younger voters on tuition fees?
Q2: Does it smack of incompetence that we don’t know how much will be saved by cutting the Quango’s?
Q3: What is the point of the BBC getting rid of a deputy if they send 26 people to Chile?
Q4: Ed Miliband said he chose Alan Johnson because he’s the right man for the job. Will he live to regret this?
Q4: In light of Liverpool’s current problems, is foreign ownership bad for the game?
In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: David Willets MP, Minister of State for Science and Universities, Tory Brainiac of note.
I have to say that it was quite brave of old Two Brains to do come on QT last night, given that he and his partners in crime have pissed off pretty much everyone on university funding this week. Even more surprising is how relatively unscathed he emerged and a great deal of that is down to the fact that he’s quite good at not coming across as a politician. He does this by talking at around 75% of the speed of a regular politician and he also avoids getting too carried away with the histrionics if he does find himself in a tight spot. Warsiesque spitting of feathers? Oh no, not on Two Brains’ watch. Instead, he manages to get points across in a considered yet quietly persistent sort of way and the overall effect is to quietly lull the audience into a mood of passive acceptance. Granted, this approach isn’t great when you’re on the offensive. But in a week when he was on the hook for a pretty unpopular policy, it did the job.
Take Q1, for example. Now this could have gone very sideways, very quickly, but he did a good job of smothering it in studious mumblings of “complex stuff” and later even went on the offensive about the graduate tax, a move that knocked Jowell totally off-balance. Similar plays occurred on Q2 too much the same effect while Q3 saw a sudden outburst of geek love for Brain Cox’s The Solar System and A History of the World in 100 Objects, before then having a quiet go at the Beeb. Fired up by this, he then went on the offensive in Q4 (whilst making sure everyone knew that he “really likes” Alan Johnson), picked up a few claps and then quickly lost them in a past-it’s-sell-by Greece/Spain/Ireland rant.
So yes, Willets did good, all things considered and will be a handy man to have about, should his party have to break any really bad news in the not too distant future. But that’s not going to happen, right?
A scholarly 6/10
In The Red Corner: Tessa Jowell MP, Shadow Minister for the Olympics and Brass Eye hater.
I’m not a big fan of Tessa Jowell, but I take comfort in the fact that as she grows older, she looks increasingly jowelly and that this trend is likely to accelerate in time. There’s some sort of cosmic justice to be had in this. Anyhoo, it was a mighty odd performance from Jowell tonight and one in which there seemed to be a danger of her outflanking herself (let alone her party) on the right. I guess some of this is down to circumstance: The new shadow cabinet is barely a week old, no one’s quite pegged down the policies yet and the bets are off until Wednesday’s Impending Doom clobbers us all, but she could have at least tried to look like she was a Labour MP, rather than a gritted teeth uber-Blairite who’s not received the news that the game is up.
She appeared to get off to a good start with Q1, giving the tuition fees plan a resounding thumbs down to inevitable applause, but soon lost her way when pulled up on the matter of the graduate tax. Unwilling to state any firm opinion, she flapped about and evaded, making herself look like a bit of a tool in the process. Q2 saw her accusing Max Hastings of a “slur!” before garnering some tidy little claps on Q3 by sticking up for Auntie and then picking up a few more with some fairly standard ‘you knew about the numbers before you got in’ tomfoolery in Q4. On paper, that all sounds like a pretty reasonable performance but when I was watching it, I couldn’t help thinking that she didn’t believe a word that came out of her own mouth and was just grudgingly going through the motions, as if it was a chore. Never did I get the feeling that she was truly signed up to coherent agenda.
I guess the weirdest thing about Jowell is that despite a career that is memorable more for her ex-husband’s shenanigans with Berlusconni than any deed of her own, she somehow survives, even if only in very borderline jobs such as Minister for the Olympics. Whatever it is that keeps her hanging on, I must say that I hope it stops and soon. 13 years of mediocre is more than enough for me, thanks.
A suspicious 3/10
In The Yellow Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Lord Willis of Knaresborough, LibDem peer and very wooly looking man.
Ok, I confess. I had no idea who Phil Willis was until tonight. I still don’t have that much of an idea, but he seems reasonable enough, even if he looks like a rather tired St. Bernard. Like Willets (more so in fact), he was pretty vulnerable on the night, especially on the tuition fees question. His first move on this front was to bang on about the progressive elements in the plan, a move that sort of worked, but he later played a blinder by admitting that the government really didn’t have a clue about scholarships (“we haven’t cracked it yet”). Stunned by this sudden outburst of honesty, the crowd ended up clapping (possibly involuntarily, such was the surprise) and he walked away smelling of roses. Not bad, all things considered. The rest of his performance was pretty measured, sticking vaguely to the coalition line whilst making sure both feet were in LibDem territory while his rather impassioned tirade about big money “debasing” football went down a storm, capping things off nicely for him.
Much like Willets, this was all quite well thought out stuff that carefully avoided falling into traps or ambushes and while it will hardly set the world ablaze, is was good enough to see him through what could have been a very choppy passage. So yes, nice going, Ol’ Woolchops, you live to fight another day.
A sturdy 6/10.
In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Max Hastings, war bod and True Blue journo.
Poor old Max. Last year, everything seemed to be going so well. The Tories were set to romp home in a landslide, the wrongs of the last 13 years were due to be corrected and he’d even managed to blag the Guardian into printing opinion pieces that he’d written. What could possible go wrong? We’ll, what went wrong was that the landslide never materialised and instead of being in a position where he could triumphantly crow over his vanquished foes, Max had to instead face the reality that his side were now bumping uglies with dastardly LibDems and all of that good, honest, red meat Tory stuff he yearned for was now going to be diluted by a bunch of treehugging upstarts. For most right-wing commentators, this wasn’t too much of a problem as they could simply continue to be angry and turn their ire on the Cameroons for failing to clinch the deal without even breaking a sweat but for Hastings however, this was a problem. Why? Because Max Hastings is crap at getting angry. Actually, let me rephrase that: Max Hastings is crap at looking convincingly angry. Instead, he just looks out of sorts and a bit limp, like a frustrated lettuce.
In practice, this boiled down to the first good tumbleweed moment of this series when he sounded grumpy about universities (culminating in talk of ‘2.1’s in clubbing’ later on), extended whittering in Q2 (plus Slurgate), a brief reversal of fortunes in Q3 when he leapt to Radio 4’s defence before a terminal decline that spanned both Q’s 4 and 5 that plumed new depths is the field of irrelevancy.
Ultimately, it was a pretty shonky affair and one where he looked a man who really wanted to look mad as hell, but just didn’t know how to pull off. Oh, and on top of that, he looks a little like Droopy (see Fig. 1).
A flaccid 3/10
In The Independent/Brainy Corner: Dr Maria Misra, lecturer in Modern History at Oxford and generally cerebral sort.
Gah! Another one I know nothing about! Well, that’s probably a good thing as it turns out that I’m really not as well as I thought I was and should probably be in bed by now. In short, Dr Maria won and quite convincingly at that. Basically, she capitalised her ‘at the coal face’ status on all things academic, did a much better job at being angry than Max did and utilised all the ground to the left that Jowell couldn’t be bothered to work. Oh, and she came right out and said that she knew nothing about football, a move that will always win marks from me. So well done Dr Maria, you did a good job at spicing up an otherwise bland episode and for that, I doff my cap to thee.
A redoubtable 7/10
The Crowd: Cheltenham
I think it’s fair to say that I couldn’t really get behind this episode, what with both the coalition members doing such a good job at defusing what could have potentially explosive issues and the general lack of fireworks. The crowd themselves weren’t bad and seemed to have some fight in them during the first half, but much of this capital was consequently squandered when some pillock bought up the expenses issue again. Cheers for that matey, I totally needed reminding about the most tedious story ever to have cluttered up an entire years worth of QT. Sadly, there’s no Audience Member of the Week given that no-one had a suitably outlandish appearance/vocal tic for me to mock. However, Dimbers does deserve a little praise for wibbling some epic claptrap about The Government Hospitality Advisory Committee for the Purchase of Wine. Thanks for that Dimbers. First class bollocks.
An inconsequential 4/10
Right, that’s it. I’m off to steam this damn cold out of me in the bath. After all, I want to be fighting fit to see Middlesbrough’s reaction to the Comprehensive Spending Review next week. I bet they’ll love it and that the coalition will be welcomed as liberators, much like the way the good people of Iraq greeted us in 2003. Next week Lemmings, next week.