Morning Lemmings and apologies in advance for the inevitable typos that are going to occur. My excuse is solid: My living room has been over-run by cackling harridans who are intending to watch Eclipse, which I believe is part of the Twilight Trilogy of Toss. Now, I’ve had my share of pain and discomfort in life. I’ve survived dengue fever, been held hostage and once sat through an entire episode of Hollyoaks (true story!), but I have to draw the line somewhere and right now, that somewhere happens to be anywhere even remotely related to Twilight. As a result, I have gone into self-imposed exile in the bedroom and am using my netbook to write this week’s Question Time Report… my netbook who’s keyboard was obviously designed for the hands of a tiny infant. Consequently, I’m expecting typos to flourish with wild abandon and make no apologies for this turn of events. If you were in my shoes, you’d do exactly the same. Right, on to the show.
Ok, so first up on last night’s show we had Damian Green, Minister of State for Immigration and the sole representative of the coalition present. Now, I’ve got a little bit of a soft spot for Green as he comes across as quite affable, doesn’t tend to say things that are too crazy and generally seems like an alright kind of guy. Like most of the panel, he spent most of the Egypt question conducting a grand exercise in fence-sitting (‘I just LOVE freedom and all that but let’s not get too carried away now’) and mostly pulled it off, hedging his bets without looking like he was downright evading the question. So far, so good. However, it all started going a bit pear-shaped when the matter of the coalition selling off all our forests came up. Clearly, this is a half-baked policy that will get itself a damned good u-turning in the weeks ahead, but since it’s not yet been through that rather undignified process he had little option but to defend the indefensible. Unfortunately for Green, I don’t think Christ himself could have assuaged the crowd’s lust for blood and he was battered about from all sides, mangling his words as he desperately tried to cling to whatever gossamer thin lifeline his lackies had provided him with prior to the show. It didn’t work and he ended up looking thoroughly bruised by the encounter. The following question on Lord Carlisle’s terror quotes provided a brief respite and he went straight back into fence-sitting mode with an extended version of the ‘it’s complicated’ defense, but by-and-large got away with it. However, this reprieve was short-lived and before long, he was back on the ropes, this time trying to explain the unexplainable in the form of the Big Society. Unfortunately, no one bought this and he finished the show looking thoroughly roughed up. All of the above sounds pretty bad, but I’m inclined to cut him a bit of slack as he was in the unenviable position of trying to make some of the most ill-conceived policies in modern history sound like they weren’t entirely made of crazy. Although he might not have achieved this end, he at least managed to not look like a complete prat and that’s no small feat, given the context.
Next in line we have Andy Burnham, Shadow Secretary of State for Health. Now, before we get stuck into his performance, there’s been something I’ve been meaning to mention for quite some time: Burnham should grow a beard. Every time I see him on TV, he’s got this amazing 5 o’clock shadow that points towards the potential for some truly regal facial growth. I’ve even gone to the trouble of mocking up how he may appear by adding my own beard to his face (and Dimbers’) in this weeks title picture, a process that left me feeling a little weird, but there you go. As you can see, it clearly suits him and it is my opinion that if he had gone into the Labour leadership contest sporting a full, grizzly facial mane he would now be Leader of the Opposition.
Anyhoo, back to the show. Much like Green, Burnham chose to tackle the thorny issues of both Egypt and domestic terrorism by firmly planting himself on the middle of the fence but didn’t do it quite so well, largely because Green seems capable of looking quite comfortable whilst precariously perched while Burnham keeps having to shift his weight by babbling quite a lot in order to avoid crashing to earth. This manifested in his claims to LOVE freedom (Green got away with only LOVING freedom… just caps, no bold type) and it gave the impression that he was playing for time. However, he did find his stride later on with the forests question (despite getting caught out on Labour’s own record of forest sales) and especially in the Big Society car-crash where he got very Liverpool about things and looked like that might actually have some genuine anger building in him. Given the mood of the audience, this was received with open arms and it is tempting to say that he emerged the political victor. However, I am inclined to knock a point off as it was essentially like shooting fish in barrel whilst Green’s task was on a par with President Ahmadinejad trying to appear all nonchalant and groovy with everything at a Pride march. Not bad though.
Moving on, we have the Terrible Twins, Claire Short and Melanie Phillips, effectively cancelling each other out on all matters Egypt and terrorism (Claire Short sees your “Londonistan” and raises you a “don’t get rid of freedom to protect freedom”!). Now, both of these two have the potential to be annoying, but I must say that neither really wound me up. Granted, the bar is very low for Phillips as I’ve built up a rather worrying tolerance for her absolutely batshit crazy views and bulging eyed method of delivery, but by her own standards, she wasn’t as bad as she could have been. Ok, so by any other measure, that’s still pretty bad and it was uncomfortable enough for me to run this weeks topical pshop (see Fig.1) without feeling guilty, but it could have been worse and lets face it, watching her dig the knife into the nearest Tory present when it came to forests and Big Society was bloody good fun.
Similarly, Claire Short’s performances over the last 6 years or so have always seemed a little tainted by her record of ‘will she, won’t she’ resignations and her own awareness of this, but she was on pretty good form last night and started to look like she’s comfortable in her own skin again. Furthermore, at least the pair of them actually had a bloody opinion on the Egypt situation which is more than can be said for the rest of the panel. For that, they are rewarded with points.
Our final meat puppet from last night comes in the shape of economics bod Noreena Hertz, and I must say that I’m slightly at a lose as to what to make of her. On the matters of Egypt/terrorism, Hertz chose to join the big fence sit with Green and Burnham, but did so in an odd way, forcefully planting herself right in the middle and almost telling people off who ventured forth with an opinion. Even weirder was when she managed to big up the Internet in one sentence (it’s single-handedly liberating Egypt, dontchaknow?) whilst bigging it down only moments later (cyberterrorism will single handedly de-liberate the UK, dontchaknow?) all the while maintaining an air of peevish annoyance. So far, so not-so-great but things get even stranger when you look at her response to forests/Big Society questions. She was on fire, getting well stuck in to Damian Green and whipping the audience into to a right old frenzy of excitement! Seriously, I find it hard to recall a member of the panel being so well received. That in itself should warrant high marks but I find that I just can’t award them and I think I’ve figured out why: She reminds me of Gillian McKeith. Part of that is down to her somewhat washed out, could-do-with-a-pub-lunch look but I think it’s more to do with the way she just seems really pissed off with everyone for not taking everything she says ultra-seriously. It’s a shame because she came out with some really good stuff and the crowd obviously agreed with her, but there was just something that stopped me getting on board the Hertzwagon. Mind you, at least she didn’t examine the contents of anyone’s shit.
Finally, we have the Workington crowd who, as mentioned above, went frankly mental at times. However, the show itself was weird and I think that’s mainly to do with the fact that it was dominated by the Egypt question. Obviously, that had to be the first question as it’s a truly monumental event that deserves our full attention, but in terms of it’s Question Timeability, it’s an odd one as no one in the room could really do anything about it and as the situation is so fluid right now, nobody really had a clue what’s going on. As a result, the first half hour was a stilted affair that didn’t really go anywhere and a similar scenario unfolded with the terrorism issue. However, in contrast to these rather odd sections the questions that addressed coalition policies drew such a level of excitement/ire that I thought the assembled rabble may well take up arms against their Southern Overlords, jump on the next train to London and raze Tory HQ to the ground. Seriously, they were like people possessed (especially the oldish looking guy who like dressed like a twenty-something hipster) and if the coalition are in the market for bad omens, they need look no further than this episode.
So yes, this was quite an odd experience and one that wasn’t too different from sitting in a room with faulty fluorescent tube that spends half of its time stutter and flickering before finally bursting into blinding, retina burning light. In a word, ‘unhinged’.
A lucky non-escape
Should grow a beard
Annoying, but could have been worse
A timely return to form
Stay off the mung beans
Ok, that’s me done. I’m going to skulk off to the bath and try avoid going downstairs, lest I be asphyxiated by a fug of oestrogen and age-inappropriate crushes.
Next week Lemmings, next week…