Archive for November, 2010

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #32


Morning Lemmings and welcome back to LCCPQTMR, now skippered by a year older (although probably not a year wiser) Loudribs. Ok, so this week we’re in Maidstone and I had high hopes for this episode as it contained not one, but two panelists for whom I have a perverted political crush: Step forward Ken Clarke and Nigel Farage. Anyhoo, did this episode deliver the goods or leave me wanting? Did Farage finally just flip out and start goosestepping through the audience or did serenity reign? More importantly, am I going to get this finished before the new series of Peep Show begins? Let us stop with this time-wasting and find out.

 

The Menu

 

Q1: In the light of the Greek and Irish bailouts, is the Euro doomed?

 

Q2: Do today’s comments by Howard Flight really show us what the Tories think of the citizens of this country?

 

Q3:Does this week’s immigration cap match the Prime Minister’s rhetoric?

 

Q4: In view of the current climate of austerity, is it ludicrous to spend £2 million on a happiness survey?

 

Q5: Is it OK for the PM to take part in a joke that calls the Speaker a dwarf?

 

 

In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Kenneth Clarke, Secretary of State for Justice, Lord Chancellor and all round good times guy.

It struck me today that Ken is like one of those kids at secondary school who should, by rights, be bullied absolutely mercilessly but for some reason isn’t. Let’s take a second to ponder the evidence. First off, it’s always been abundantly clear that Ken doesn’t go with crowd. Whilst all the other kids are listening to N-Dubz or whatever ‘Urban’ sounds constitute ‘cool’ for the teenage demographic these days (or in the case of the Conservative party, pathological Euro scepticism), Ken isn’t. So surely he’s part of a catch-all subculture that provides a veneer of social acceptance for his fellow misfits and instead listens to My Chemical Romance and paints his nails black (or in the case of the Tory party, hangs out with Phillip Blond and the rest of his bleeding heart Red Tories)? Well no, he doesn’t do that either. In fact, no one knows what Ken Clarke is into because the one time someone was brave enough to sneak a peek at his iPod, they were confronted a list of bands that no-one had ever heard of. Imagine a contemporary teenage Slint fan, that’s where Ken’s at. On top of this, he gets good grades but is never accused of being a swat, he smokes behind the bikeshed but no-one ever nicks his fags (mainly because they’re Gitanes or Sobraini Black Russians) and he always manages to avoid PE without ever being tarred as wimp. How the hell does he do this?

 

Part of this is inevitably down to his record: All the kids remember how he managed to sneak a ‘teenth into his bag for the Year 9 Residential (or in parliamentary terms, how he was one of the most successful Chancellors of modern times) and there’s also universal (if grudging) respect for the way he always gets served at the offy whilst even the kids with beards are turned away (or in his case the way in which he commands a certain level of respect from all parties in Parliament). But that’s not the whole story and to piece together the rest of the puzzle it’s worth taking a look at how he operates.

 

I’ve already highlighted a fair few Kenisms in past Post Match Reports, such as his trademark Damning With Faint Praise routine, but I noticed something else this time his round: His ability to milk a good lie. For more orthodox politicians, getting out of a politically sticky situation is usually an exercise in the deployment of either Mobility (the art of convincingly brushing a subject under the carpet before anyone notices) or Sincerity (no matter how faux that sincerity may be). Blair was very good at the Sincerity thing and manage to squeeze just about every ounce of utility out of his “Look…guys…” shtick for a good few years before everyone got wise to it. Brown, on the other hand, always knew he couldn’t do Sincerity (although he was quite adept at Gravity) and would try to go for Mobility instead. Unfortunately, he also sucked at the Mobility thing and we all know how that ended up whilst Cameron seems very good at both of these aspects and if I’m honest, that rather worries me. What makes Ken special he is that he spurns both of these methods and instead concentrates on turning his own lies to his advantage. Take Q1. Here, he was ambushed by Dimbers on his long and extensive history of Euro Lust and asked whether he still wants in on the whole Eurozone deal to which Ken replied “I have no idea”. Clearly, this is a lie. A big, fat, stinking whopper of a lie, yet it was delivered in that ‘nudge-nudge, wink-wink, read between the lines’ sort of way that left you in absolutely no doubt what his true opinion was but never being explicit enough to land him in trouble with his own team. Now, that’s harder to do in practice than it seems (just look at Ed Balls and his distinguished track record of Rubbish Lying) and goes a long way to explaining how Ken has managed to keep this unimpeachable air of independence about him despite being a high-ranking front bencher. Plausible deniability: It’s the name of Ken’s game.

 

Aside from that, other notable turns by Ken this week include his zinger of a line on Q2 (“people breed for other reasons”), a chosty little scrap with Gloria de Piero and even a brief outburst where he ‘shhhed’ Dimbers. He even got to cram a nice bit of vintage Damning With Faint Praise on Q5 (John Bercow is “very good… Can be a little School Masterly”) so in general, it was your usual Ken. However, the thing that got me was just how far removed from government he seemed. Seriously, I needed reminding that he is actually Secretary of State for Justice and the by-product of this ability to distance himself from his role is that he managed to avoid taking any serious flak from the crowd. Ok, so it wasn’t an incendiary performance by any measure, but in terms of showing off a political larder that’s stocked with the most exotic of goods it was all good stuff. MOAR PLZ KEN.

 

A crafty 7/10

 

In The Yellow Bit of the Blue/Yellow Corner: The Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, ex-Lib Dem Leader and one time de facto ruler of large swathes of the Balkans.

Paddy Ashdown has no eyes. I have suspected this since being a small child but there has been no means of verifying this assertion as the place where his eyes should be lie so deeply recessed within his skull that you would need one of those probes they send to Venus to actually find out for sure. At least that is what I thought until I came across a piece of shocking photographic evidence that I have displayed below (see Fig. 1).

 

Fig. 1

 

You see? No eyes! Just a pair of obsidian sink holes that appear to exert their own gravity and are probably composed of anti-matter. Shocking, I know but you can’t argue with the facts.

 

Anyhoo, Paddy’s in town and he, much like Ken, also has this air of separation from the mainstream world but in a different way. Whilst Ken seems very comfortable in his oddness and carries it well, you get the sense that with Paddy, separateness is something that was inflicted on him rather than something he chose to wear. I say this because he always seems very detached from the rest of his peers, but in a way that’s hard to pin down. Part of it may be that he’s lived quite an extraordinary (and probably at times horrific) life, what with being ex-SBS and effectively ruling Kosovo for a period but there’s something else there that just makes me think that he walks in a different world to you or I. For example, his performance tonight was a pretty by-the-book affair where most of the stuff he said was reasonable enough (although he did get pulled up by the crowd for claiming that it was the Lib Dems who were stopping the Tories from being Uber Tories in Q3), but never was he able to really carry the audience with him and I was left with the impression of a little boy who was trying desperately to impress his parents whilst simultaneously striving to appear like he wasn’t trying to impress anyone. I know that sounds all very Freudian and hyperbolic, especially as there were moments (like when he seemed to have a genuinely good laugh at Cameron’s dwarf joke) where he seemed authentically human but I still think there’s something about him that makes him look a little, well, haunted. Mind you, he did have to go up against Thatcher at the Dispatch Box for a couple of years and if that doesn’t send you a little plumb loco, god knows what would.

 

An emotionally orphaned 5/10

 

In The Red Corner: Gloria de Piero, Shadow Minister for Culture and Media and former GMTV hackette.

Move over Ol’ Snaggletooth, there’s a new contender for Shadow Minister for Sauciness in town! Yes, that’s right, de Peiro has upped the Fruity Pictures Stakes to the point where you could probable get into quite a bit of trouble for running a Google Images search on her at work and I fear that Flint may have quite the fight on her hands. However, before I get too stuck into a raging torrent of misogyny there’s another issue at stake when it comes to de Piero and that’s what would have happened if she had entered parliament in 1997? I asked this because she seems to the manifestation of what pure New Labourism would have ultimately developed into if it had not been so rudely interrupted by a crushing electoral defeat. I don’t mean this in the sense of her beliefs (in fact I can’t really tell you about her beliefs as this is the first time she’s crossed my radar), but in terms of pedigree and posture, she appears to be pure NuLab. For a start, she’s from a media background and not just any media background but from the weird half touchy-feely, half uncompromisingly authoritarian netherworld that is GMTV but she also seems to travel very light when it comes to such trivial matters as beliefs. Seriously, in terms of her answers to last night’s questions, it’s very hard to get a sense of what bricks her political house is made of and all of her responses relied very heavily on the potency of her delivery (and it was potent at times) rather than their content. Take Q2 for example: Here, she started off with a slightly hot under the collar telling off about what a nasty man Flight is that eventually resulted in applause after a brief and slightly bewildered silence, but then spent the rest of the question biting off any head that dared to question this and generally looking for any reason to have a go. Similarly, Q4 was just a lunge at the obvious (politicians should “talk to people”) and never was there any danger that the wider issue (which was ‘should we care about happiness?’) should creep into the frame.

 

This is why I can only see her through New Labour lenses: Pretty much her whole performance was based around the use of single, sweeping and simplistic statements and then a fall back position of combative reactiveness in much the same way that the governments of both Brown and Blair were based on a larger version of this principle. That’s not to say that her delivery wasn’t good (it was) and I have a feeling that I may be being a little unfair here as a) it’s her very first time on and I don’t really know that much about her, b) I missed her response to Q5 as I was too busy scribbling down the name of a dwarf activist group that Dimbers mentioned (Walking with Giants. Catchy name!) and c) she was up against some very seasoned veterans, but the original question still stands: What would have happened if she was in Parliament in 1997? She’d be Leader of the Labour Party by now, Jeremy Kyle would be Home Secretary and Question Time would be hosted by Fern Britton, that’s what.

 

A well delivered but paper thin 4/10

 

In The Red, White And Blue Corner: Nigel Farage, MEP, Leader of UKIP (again) and all-round comedy demagogue.

Here he is, Inexplicable Political Crush #2, Nigel Farage! Yes, that’s right, my favourite Amateur Cad/Cheater of Firey Plane Death is on again and boy did I have high hopes for him tonight given that not only is Europe in a whole heap of trouble but also because one of his colleagues had just this week thought it prudent to shower a German MEP with a mouthful of Nazi slogans. Thus thought I, the scene would be set for a perfect example of the Farage Trajectory and I could have a good laugh as he lurched from The Giddy Highs of Victory to the Crushing Lows of Defeat. However, I was to be disappointed and while we did get to see him being fairly mental about Europe (although only mental by normal standards, not by Farage standards), no-one mentioned the whole ‘ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuehrer’ incident and as a result, there was no real opportunity for the whole Crushing Lows of Defeat scenario. All of which is a double shame as I spent ages on Wednesday night messing about with stuff I don’t know how to operate in order to make an animated picture that perfectly encapsulates the Farage Trajectory in all it’s glory (see Fig. 2).

 

Das Trajectory

Fig. 2

 

 

So yeah, I’m a bit miffed, particularly as I have to credit Farage with quite a lot of applause and not very many boos last night. Still, at least I can take comfort in the fact that he will inevitably be back on in less clement circumstances sooner or later (providing that UKIP hasn’t imploded under the weight of its own absurdity) and when he is, that animated picture will have at least three frames in it. Three frames, Nigel, THREE FRAMES. You have been warned.

 

A not nearly mental enough 5/10

 

 

In the Independent/Brainy One Corner: Kate Mosse, author and QT n00b.

Ok, so here we have a very interesting approach to being a Question Time panelist. I’m guessing that by and large, when people know that they’re going on QT they probably try and bone up a bit on stuff that’s going on and how they feel about that stuff because if you don’t, you’ll probably end up looking like a bit of a tit. Kate Mosse however has chosen a slightly different approach and I must say, not a fully functional one at that. Take Q1. As soon as it came to her turn, rather than make any attempt to answer it herself, she violated The Protocols of Dimbers by simply asking the guy who asked the question what he thought the answer was and then lifted that as her own. Genius! No wait, actually it wasn’t genius and no one bought it. At this point, I’d probably try and rethink my tactics and to her credit, she did. However, her new tactics weren’t so great either and Mosse’s response to Q2 was “I agree with everyone here”. Ok, I’m being cruel now as she did eventually cobble that into a semblance of a platitude, but still, it was fairly shonky. Q3 was also quite confusing when she recited a big list of things that could be good or bad about immigrants and then gestured to the audience to carry on going (which they didn’t) and at this point I thought the game was pretty much up for her. However, what I hadn’t counted on was her response to Q4 and that totally blindsided me for it seemed that she had been boning up, just on one, very specific subject. As soon as that happiness question landed, she was all over it and even went to lengths of throwing in references to the relevant literature as she went before finally petering out and calling for libraries not to be shut. Stunned, the audience clapped in an effort to comfort themselves in the face of information overload.

 

So yes, a very odd appearance that encompassed some very peculiar tactics with wildly varied results. It wasn’t terrible but if there’s one tiny bit of advice that I might impart it would be ‘spread your boning up butter on your Question Time toast a little more evenly next time’. That is all.

 

A slightly head scratching 4/10

 

The Crowd: Maidstone

My my, they’re a well turned out lot in Maidstone and with the exception of one old man who looked like he lived in a house made of coal, everyone looked rather dapper. Politically, it was an odd show as their didn’t really seem to be a representative of the government there (despite there being two coalition members on the panel, one of whom is on the front bench) and most of the argy-bargy tended to be Europe related (I think the Euro Sceptics made the most noise all-in-all). What particularly struck me about the Maidstone crowd was the names of the question askers, two of which had very confident monikers: Mark Power and Mark Everest. I so wish my last name was ‘Power’ or ‘Everest’. Loudribs Power. Dr Loudribs Power. Who the hell wouldn’t be impressed by that? No one, that’s who.

 

An odd but enjoyable 6/10

 

So there we go. A bunch of oddballs yacking in front of a very dapper crowd. Here’s a picture of Beefy.

 

...and lo, there was Beef.

 

Next week, Lemmings.

Loudribs Lack Of Gumption Corner #2


PARP!

Morning Lemmings and welcome to another Lack of Gumption Corner! That’s right, I took an executive decision last night not to do this week’s QT for the following reasons:

A: It’s my birthday tomorrow and it would be quite nice to have a weekend that wasn’t characterised by mashing F5 on the Site Stats page and the pegging of self-worth against the traffic graph that ensues.

B: It was in Wales last night. I have nothing against the Welsh, but let’s be honest, I barely knew a single member of the panel and lovely though Palid are, they’re not exactly calling the shots in my life.

C: Kelvin MacKenzie

D: I fell asleep at 10.30

So there you go. You’re just going to have to soldier on without me this week, you poor souls. Should you be at a completely loose end though, I was recently reminded of the Golden Age of Photoshop Phriday and in particular the classic Terminators in Hats and Double Booked Venues themes. However, I realise that for some of you, clicking a blue highlighted link represents an impossible task and for all those people, here’s a photo of Beefy.

I say!

Beef for all.

 

Next week, Lemmings…

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #31


Morning Lemmings. It’s going to be a super short QT Report tonight for two reasons: First off, remember how I said that last week has been completely mental? Well, somehow this week has cranked up the inexplicability by a fairly substantial number of notches. Seriously, I had moments this week where the world just stopped making sense and the only thing to do was either burst into tears or laugh like a maniac. Consequently, I’m conscious of the fact that for my own sanity I need a bit of downtime otherwise I will find myself writing a referral for my own services and talking myself into an inpatient unit. Secondly and in a rather more mundane vein, this week’s show was quite frankly crap and even if I was on top of the world right now, I’d still have trouble making much out of it. With this in mind, let us make haste and surge forth into the bowels of a rather non-episode.

 

The Menu:

Q1: Is yesterday’s riot the beginning of the public fight back against the cuts?

Q2: Are IDS’s welfare reforms an attack on welfare dependency or necessary to stop our culture of worklessness?

Q3: Is George W Bush right to say waterboarding saved UK lives? If so, does the end justify the means?

Q4: In the light of the backbench mutiny, are Labour MP’s right to back Phil Woolas?

Q5: Has the Prime Minister been spineless by putting profits before human rights in China?

In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Theresa May, Home Secretary and fashion mentalist.

Prior to the election, I wrote many a scathing report about May and I stand by them as she was truly awful, repeatedly spouting shonky slogans with precious little regard as to whether they were relevant or not. As a result, I was a little surprised to see just how calm she was last night, especially given that oiky students had just smashed up her teams HQ and she’s the one in charge of ensuring that things like that don’t happen. It turns out that I’m not alone in this assessment and others have also noticed that May has so far managed to keep quite a steady hand on the tiller at the Home Office. That’s not to say that this was a brilliant performance, but it was certainly a world away from her previous form and she managed to look like she’s actually quite comfortable in power. I’ve also noticed that she has taken to wearing a top that looks like a space suit of late (see Fig. 1) and for reasons unknown, this pleases me. So well done Theresa, I believe you are at Junction 2 of the Road to Redemption, headed south but with a moderate prospect of congestion in the near future.

Ground Control to Home Secretary...

Fig. 1

An above personal par 6/10

 

In The Red Corner: Caroline Flint, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Shadow Minister for Fruitiness.

You’d be surprised how much traffic I get from the search term ‘Caroline Flint hot’. Clearly, there is many a man (and possibly many a woman) who hold a torch for Ol’ Snaggletooth and I think it’s only right that she now gets to bear the moniker Shadow Minister for Fruitiness. Anyhoo, aside from such implied innuendo I must also concede that Flint did quite well last night, especially in comparison to her pre-election form. Back then, while it was always clear that she’s a very able player, her performance was usually slightly marred by an innate crotchetiness and a rush to the offensive. Now that she’s in opposition, Snaggers seems to have mellowed somewhat and appears much more able to play the long game of giving the government enough rope to hang themselves. I think some of this is slightly incidental and down to the fact that Labour don’t really have a coherent policy base at present, but a lot of it is also down to her exercising a little more restraint of late. Sure, she’ll still get a little all up in your grill when anyone has the temerity to mention Labour’s record, but there was also a smidgen of contrition when she did admit that they could have done better on benefit reform in Q2. So not bad Snaggers… You’ve come a long way and it would be nice if you and May could hook up for coffee on the Road to Redemption Services. I believe it’s just off Junction 4.

 

A pleasingly mellow 6/10

 

In The Man Of The World Corner: Sherard Cowper-Coles, possibly ex-diplomat and ‘extended leave’ taker.

Diplomats can usually be divided into two categories: Your Fererro Rocher good times ambassadors (see Fig. 2) and your hard-bitten Graham Greene style shadowy instruments of nefarious statecraft. The reason why I find Cowper-Coles so interesting is that he manages to straddle both of these worlds with considerable aplomb. Take for example his name and the fact that he is referred in Bridget Jones’ Diary: The Edge of Reason (not that I’ve read it. Honest): Both of these are clearly points towards the Fererro Conjecture. But, if we take a closer look, we can also see that his postings (Afghanistan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan amongst others) and some of the things he said in memos that were leaked both paint a picture of someone who is very much a sharp end sort of guy and has probably seen/done things that belong in a netherworld that few of us will ever be able to comprehend. All of this makes Sherard a very interesting man and also as it turns out, quite the QT panellist.

...you are really spoiling us

Fig. 2

Of particular enjoyment last night was his ever so diplomatic chiding of the LibDems in Q1 and his sparring with Douglas Murray on the matter of waterboarding. What made it so interesting though was how understated it all was. There was no ‘on his high horse’ showboating or overuse of the ‘expert’ card, just a quiet yet assured performance that left you in absolutely no doubt that this guy really knows what he’s talking about and should be listened to. That’s a hard act to pull off, but he made it look easy, landing significant punches on other panelists whilst appearing to be totally non-threatening. So Sherard Cowper-Coles, I may disapprove of your name (as it makes keep flicking over to Firefox to make sure I’ve spelt it right), but I very much approve of your style. Have yourself an extra Rocher for your efforts.

 

A iron fisted yet velvet gloved 8/10

 

In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Clive James, TV bod of yore and notable bald man.

I really don’t know what to make of this, just in the same way that I’ve never really known what to make of Clive James. One problem I have with him is that I’ve never quite understood what it is he does. I remember that he used to be on TV on a Sunday night in some ‘slightly more highbrow than Chris Tarrent’ context, but I’ve never been able to understand why as the shows never seemed to hang together properly. Anyhoo, this was a pretty ropey performance and it also resulted in two excruciating tumbleweed moments where the audience generated a deafening silence after points that I think he intended to be funny. It was also really hard to see what his angle was as on the one hand he seemed to be playing everything for laughs (he did get the odd chuckle here and there) but yet he could suddenly flip into quite snappy and very scathing criticism (usually of Labour) in the blink of an eye. That sort of left me feeling off kilter and as a result, I could never get behind him and almost ended up feeling sorry for him which is not something I want to do when I’m watching Question Time. Love or hate, mockery or acclaim, that’s the currency I like to spend on QT and as a result, I have to award him low marks. So sorry about that Clive, but do take heart in the fact that I didn’t mark you down for baldness.

 

A rather sad 3/10

 

In The Off His Tits Corner: Douglas Murray, Neo-Con headbanger and man with a permanently raised right eyebrow.

Usually, I’m fully behind Douglas Murray appearing on QT as he’s one of my favourite baddies, embodying both way-out-there extreme views and a ‘shut up, YOU ARE WRONG’ attitude. All of this usually makes for some ace fights, some suggestion to nuke a foreign nation and some stern rebukes, all of which are fun to watch. However, there was one vital ingredient missing last night and that was a suitable sparring partner who could give as good as they got and even though Cowper-Coles wiped the floor with him, it was done in such a low-key manner that we missed out on any real fireworks. As for the other panelists both Flint and May are too familiar with how QT works and have learnt to Never Feed The Troll while Clive James was so seemingly strung out that he couldn’t rise to the challenge. And that’s a shame because shorn of his talent for generating strife, all that Murray is left with is a clutch of unpalatable views and that doesn’t exactly make for good telly. So bad luck Douglas, but fingers crossed that next time you get a more appropriate adversary. Personally speaking, I’ve got my fingers crossed that it will be Gorgeous George Galloway or maybe the Ghost of Marx. Now that would be good telly.

 

A disappointingly neutered 3/10

 

The Crowd: London.

Ok London, just what in the hell is going on here? Sure, the panel’s chemistry wasn’t exactly brilliant, but at least try to make a fist of it and only a few isolated boos for Murray is just not cutting it in my book. There were a few good moments here and there and I thought it was pretty interesting that no-one was buying the tabloid Anarchy On the Streets line when it came to the student protest, but by and large, the crowd seemed to be largely mute and with the exception of a bearded guy who managed to make a point about China into a point about the Middle East, no one really seemed to get hot under the collar at all. That, frankly, is a bit of a poor show in a week when people have been taking to the streets and as a result, you are going to get low marks. You could have turned it around if you had heeded my advice from the past few weeks and inserted a bow tie wearer or two into the audience but no, you thought you were cleverer than that. Well, I’ve got news for you London, you’re not and here’s you prize for not being clever.

 

A largely rubbish 3/10

 

Well, that brings us to the end and I apologise for the brevity, but let’s face it, it was a bit of a clanger. Still, if you’ve made it this far then I am indebted to you and by way of reward I give to you another picture of Beefy. Revel in it’s majesty.

One Nation, Under Beef...

Next week, Lemmings.

 

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #30


Morning Lemmings and why don’t we start with the traditional parade of dog-eared excuses and semi-plausible sick notes? Why not indeed. Ok, first up, sorry for the paucity of the photoshop effort this week. Basically, they didn’t announce who was on until Thursday evening and due to other commitments, I only had 15 minutes to slap something together, hence the reliance on recycled images and shonky comic ploys. I ain’t happy with it, but whatchagonnado? Secondly, I’d better point out that the only thing keeping my eyes open right now is the cat’s incessant whining to be let out and the packs of feral youths, roaming streets with fireworks who are preventing me from letting the cat out. In short, I’ve had a pretty mental week (literally) and have spent all of today embroiled in incidents of the distinctly dicey variety. I’m currently chugging industrial quantities of cola in a bid to attain some sort of state of alertness, but if the writing seems a bit off this week, look no further than the above.

 

Right, that’s any form of personal responsibility dealt with. Let’s crack on.

 

The Menu

 

Q1: Does the panel think that Sheffield Halham will decapitate Nick Clegg at the next election on account of tuition fees and Forgemasters?

 

Q2: Should prisoners be allowed the vote, especially if they have committed heinous crimes?

 

Q3: Does the recent Anglo-Franco treaty mean the end of independence and sovereignty?

 

Q4: Is fear around the air freight bombs being used to justify further restrictions of our liberty?

 

Q5: Will Obama end up like Blair: Trying to please everyone and satisfying no-one?

 

In the Yellow Bit of the Blue/Yellow Corner: Jeremy Browne MP, Minister of State at the Foreign Office and QT Virgin.

Boy, am I going to have fun with this guy, but in the interests of fairness, let me quickly make a case for his defence. First off, being a LibDem in Sheffield at the moment must be like being an underweight nerd at the International Bully and Victimiser Conference. Pretty much every promise that the LibDems have had to go back on of late has hit Sheffield particularly hard and I think it’s fair to say (just look at Q1) that whoever was on the stump for the Yellow Team was going to get a bit of kicking. Secondly, this is his first time on QT and he’s part of a panel that contains no less than three seasoned Question Time veterans which again is hardly the most comfortable place to be. Lip service to fairness paid, let us now engage in the far more pressing business of ripping poor Jeremy to shreds.

 

Ok where, to start? Well, I guess the first thing that struck me was his voice. It’s just so damn jaunty and un-LibDemmy. If I was listening to last night’s show on the radio and didn’t know who was speaking, I would swear to god that he must be some Tory backwoodsman of the Old School who was campaigning vociferously for a cull of something or other, but he’s not. He’s a LibDem minister. As well as being thoroughly merry, his voice is also characterised by having only one volume setting and this appears to be ‘loud’, something which again is far more Tory territory than LibDem. Sure, his vocal chords aren’t exactly his fault and can be forgiven, but what can’t is his general approach to answering questions. At best, this tends to involve some plumby variation on the “Yes but no but yes but…” routine, something that doesn’t really cut it when you’ve got a blood soaked brawler of the likes of Straw in close proximity and at worst, it’s a straight-forward case of him wedging his foot so firmly in his mouth that medical students will puzzle over how he managed to do this for years to come. A case in point: After being asked for his take on Q3, Browne gaily frolicked into a nice little tract about how the treaty wouldn’t mean we have to “speak French, wear onions round our necks and stripy T-shirts or ride bicycles.” Dammit man! What in the hell do you think you’re doing?! Sure, the crowd want a little red meat from time to time, but times and places fellah!

 

So yes, that didn’t go down too well and he was in fact heckled at this point, much to no-one’s surprise. As this was truly his lowest ebb, I guess it’s only fair to counter it with a high point, but the truth is that I can’t find one. Going back over my notes, most of his answer really didn’t say much about anything and the vast majority of them are summed up by the word “BLAH” in capital letters, a trend that doesn’t bode well for his political future. But here’s the thing though: I actually quite enjoyed his performance and not just in a sadistic ‘let’s watch the new boy give up his dinner money’ sort of way. No, the impression I was left with was of a Labrador driving a train: There’s Jeremy, miles out of his depth, yanking on random levers for the sake of yanking on levers, hurtling towards certain death but utterly oblivious to this eventuality and actually somewhat enjoying the experience. I like that mental image. It makes me smile and for some reason, so did Jeremy Browne’s performance. Ok, so the fact that he is actually a Minister of State is a little unsettling, but that weird inability he has to see that he’s neck-deep in shit and sinking fast is actually rather endearing and for that reason, he gets a slightly better mark than the technicalities of his performance merit. Oh, and he rather aptly looks quite a bit like Jeremy from Peep Show (see Fig. 1).

 

Fig. 1

 

An enjoyably crap 5/10

 

In the Blue Bit of the Blue/Yellow Corner: David Davis MP, stone cold ex-SAS type and general man of principle.

I like Davis and always have, mainly on account of you know exactly what he stands for. Yes, he’s sort of a one trick pony in that his platform is built almost entirely out of civil liberties timber, but that’s not a bad thing in itself and parliament needs people like him to make a hullabaloo when the likes of New Labour get totally carried away with the whole power deal. The other thing I like about Davis is that he looks hard as nails and you know that it’s not an act. Like Paddy Ashdown (also former special forces), his eyes seem to be recessed several inches into his skull and he has the look of a man who could quite nonchalantly kill you but wouldn’t even bother mentioning this to his wife because it seemed like such a mundane occurrence. So yes, I’m on board with Davis in a kind of ‘fear and respect’ sort of way. I don’t agree with him on a great many things, but I will always give him the time of day.

 

In terms of performance, it was stock Davis in that he was beholden to no man, not afraid to criticise his own side if he thought they were playing fast and loose with civil liberties and wonderfully bullshit free. Whilst he said nothing that’s particularly worth repeating at length, his responses were all very consistent and managed to pull off the very difficult trick of splicing self-evident common sense with a very strong helping of principle (especially around Q4 where his arguments for intercept evidence but against Control Orders won him a great deal of sincere applause), all of which led me to wonder why he isn’t running the country. Then I remembered that the Tory party turned him down and instead went for a PR man who looks a little like a boiled ham, which in turn made a something inside of me die a little.

 

An uncompromisingly rugged 8/10

 

In the Red Corner: Jack Straw MP, former warmonger-at-large and perennial survivor.

I don’t like Straw, never have, but by god is he interesting. In many ways, he’s like Davis’ evil twin and they even have similar upbringings in that they both grew up on council estates and suffered family tragedies in their early years. However, this is where their paths diverge and while Davis spent 17 years with Tate and Lyle going from the shop floor to the upper echelons, Straw took the default New Labour route of briefly practising law before going down the career politician route. In outlook, they are both polar opposites, what with Straw being the man who laid most of the foundations for some of New Labours over zealous authoritarianism, but it is in the way that they operate that the differences are most glaring. I mentioned before that Davis looks genuinely tough and tends to do things in a very straight forward, no compromise sort of way. Straw, by contrast, looks anything other than tough (in fact, he looks the Demon Headmaster from the eponymous Children’s BBC show of yore… See Fig.2), so much so that I reckon I could have him and instead has to rely on cunning, an area that he utterly excels in. The other key of difference is that Straw has legacy to defend whilst Davis has nothing of the sort since he has never been in government, all of which conspires to make watching the two of them together rather interesting.

Fig. 2

 

Ok, so getting down to his performance, it was largely what we’ve come to expect: Combative, emphatic, but also slightly twitchy. Take Q1 for example: Early in that question, he got to make a lot of hay by opening both barrels on the coalition, threw around words like “deceit” and “laughable” and generally played to a receptive gallery. Then things got tricky as people bought up his own past as leader of the NUS and his support for tuition fees whilst in government. Some politicians get derailed by moves like this, but Straw is way too grizzled and started to dig his heels in, refusing to give ground to the opposition and making sure that he had the last word. Now, this isn’t a pretty tactic (in fact, it borders on being disingenuous) but it is effective if you know what you’re doing with it and Straw does. Yes, it doesn’t look entirely convincing, but it’s better than the alternative of looking like a numpty who’s been caught out. A slightly different ploy was on display in Q4 when he did his ‘solemn’ look and then cast a smokescreen of technicalities, but the intent was still the same: Never go down without a fight, never give an inch, not one step back unless it’s to lead the enemy into a trap. Again, not entirely edifying but always purposeful. However, what did surprise me was his reaction to Q3 when he flat-out condoned the government’s policy on the Anglo-French treaty and gave it two resounding thumbs up. Now, I’m pretty sure that this is a sign of a slight mellowing now that he’s out of government as I really can’t remember a time when Straw has done anything other than just relentlessly attack anyone who happened to be sat opposite him in the Commons. I could be wrong on that one, but I suspect that I’m not.

 

So that’s the bulk of Straw’s performance and as I’ve already mentioned, I’m generally not a fan (particularly given his involvement in the Iraq War and his role in slowly grinding my post 1997 optimism into a fine powder). However, he is a survivor and with good reason: He knows where the bodies are buried and isn’t the least bit frightened of disinterring them with a mind to reanimation. Is this a noble calling? Probably not. Is it interesting to watch though? Most certainly.

 

Finally, how can I leave Straw without mentioning his little comic turn in Q5 where he asked Dimbers if he remembered FDR’s 1938 election victory and then called him “sweetheart”? Straw, I may question your motives, but I sure as hell admire your chutzpah.

 

A hard-bitten 6/10

 

In the Independent/Brainy Corner: Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty and furthest thing away from a Question Time Virgin possible.

Cripes, it’s been months since we’ve seen Shami, that endearing little boy who always ends up with more applause than Christ himself could garner and I briefly feared that she may have been sent away to boarding school and thus couldn’t partake in her usual schedule of at least ten appearances per series. As that last sentence suggests, Shami is no stranger to LCCPQTMR and as result, I’m going to keep it brief. Needless to say, it was the usual potent mix of impassioned calls to reason, breathless exhortations and non party political latitude that also had the usual result of driving the crowd wild and inevitably leading to victory, so no surprises there (although it has to be said that she shares this week’s victory with David Davis so sorry Shami, but this can’t be claimed as an outright win). All of that sounds like a rather begrudging endorsement and in a way it is because if I’m totally honest, I just get slightly bored with the fact that Shami winning is usually a forgone conclusion. However, I will try to not be completely po-faced about this as I am glad that there are people like her about and I agree with the majority of what she says.

 

One thing that did mark this performance out from some of her other appearances was the weird interplay between her and John Gaunt, a man Shami made an unlikely ally of when she threw Liberty’s weight behind him in the whole Nazigate business. You could tell this left both of them somewhat bewildered as to how to react to each other as they clearly still retain the ability to grind each others gears but aren’t quite sure whether formal hostilities have resumed (her was-it-sarky-was-it-witty “my old friend John Gaunt” quip being a case in point) and this added a little extra flavour to an otherwise standard Chakrabarti outing. Oh, and her performance is also responsible for Least Deserving Outburst Of Wild Applause In The Series So Far Award when the crowd went absolutely batshit after she spoke a little French in Q3. She could have said “Let’s lock up all the children in the land and make them eat coal” and they would have still slapped their hands together in unquestioning adoration, so blinded by the wildly improbable feat of someone actually knowing a few words in a foreign language. Has it come to this, Britain? HAS IT?

 

An inevitable 8/10

 

In the I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: John Gaunt, former TalkSport Radio presenter, Sun columnist and Nazi accuser.

I’m having trouble here. By rights, he should be my perfect Bad Guy by dint of holding a wide and varied array of right-wing views that are delivered in the most belligerent of tones. But wait! What’s this? We’re only into Q1 and we’re hearing an employee of News International knocking the government for being full of millionaires? Something ain’t right here. But there’s more! Here comes Q4 and if I’m not mistaken, I’m hearing the self-same Sun hack having a pop at Control Orders! Ok, so he tempered that by making it clear that he would still like to see Muslim extremists locked up and he did have the compulsory rant/wild speculation of doomsday scenarios whenever Europe was mentioned, but I must say that this turn of events has left my head spinning because dammit, I want to able to categorically hate the Bad Guy and I can’t do that if he’s talking about things I agree with. I can semi hate him, if only for talking a little bit LIKE THIS, turning every sentence into a crescendo that Godspeed would be proud of and his general knack for demagoguery also steams my bean (“this is Great Britain not GREAT BURMA!”), but I just can’t give him thoroughly horrible marks. Neither, it seems, could the crowd who were right behind him, especially in Q1 and thus we witness the strange spectacle of a Sun man cleaning up in a Mirror city. What with Glasgow refusing to tar and feather the nearest available coalition candidate last week, I now no longer know anything. Down is up, up is down, rivers flowing backwards, etc, etc.

 

An annoyingly not entirely awful 4/10

 

The Crowd: Sheffield

This was always going to be an odd show, mainly because three of the panelists were ‘we like liberty’ types whilst the other two were either too cunning or just too completely off the planet to really buck the consensus. Throw into this mix a list of question that hinge heavily around a civil liberties agenda and what you get is an episode that’s much more about the Y axis than the X of the wonderful Slomp Projection. I guess that’s quite nice for a change but I hope it doesn’t become a habit because I’m a sucker for the X axis. In terms of working out whether Sheffield is approving of the coalition it was also a little odd as they weren’t really represented. Yes, there were members of both parties there, but the LibDem panelist was so far removed from reality that he didn’t really count and the Tory member sounded so distant from government that he couldn’t really act as gauge either. Still, I must say that it was a fairly lively affair and if anything can be drawn from the crowd’s input it is that Nick Clegg should be seriously worried about his prospect for re-election and that no one really felt like defending Europe. Furthermore, I’m sad to say that the glorious run of two bow tie wearers in a row has come to an end. Bad move, Sheffield, you could have got some easy points there.

 

A slightly different but regrettably un-bow tied 6/10.

 

And that’s that. Right, I’m knackered and sober so I’m out of here but I will leave you with a small something by way of apology for this week’s poor pshop effort. Behold, Beefy (the bassist in our band) looking massive and chasing all sorts of crap.

 

Run. Just run.

 

 

Next week, Lemmings…


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