Morning Lemmings and praise be, I managed to stay conscious throughout last night’s Question Time, a titanic feat made easier only by the absence of Danny Alexander and his voice. So bully for me, bully for you and bully for everyone. In short, bully all round. Right, let’s get on with this.
Ok, so the first (repeat) offenders in my sights tonight take the shapely form of Boris Johnson and Diane Abbott, both of whom are very much personality based politicians (although cut form very different cloth) and both of whom, I suspect, are sitting on the horns of a dilemma right now. In the case of Boris, it’s very much to do with the fact that he’s been slightly wildernessed by events and that his naturally ambitious streak is having to rub up against the cruel mistress of reality. If we cast our minds back to a few years ago, you literally couldn’t switch on the telly without being assaulted by some sort of Borisness and despite the occasional gaffe, this worked very much in his favour as he had carved a very comfortable little niche for himself as The Nation’s Favourite Posh Idiot. Sure, technically he was a shadow minister, but by having fostered a cult of personality based largely around buffoonery and bluster, he was given a very generous portion of latitude with which to clown about and cement his position as the only Tory who people could actually begin to relate to (I use the term ‘relate’ in a very loose sense, like in the way we instinctively relate to people who accidentally wet themselves in public or walk around with spinach stuck between their teeth for days on end). However, Boris is a man who never seems content with his current position and beneath all the red-faced boyish caperings, it was clear that he was desperately searching for a bigger fish to fry and that ultimately, the biggest fish would always be the leadership of the Tory party. Unfortunately for Boris, these ambitions were very much put on ice thanks to the ascendance of David Cameron and never being one to play second fiddle, he instead focused on becoming Mayor of London, something that he inexplicably managed to achieve.
On the face of it, this should have been a triumph and for a good two years, he was the only Tory in the country who actually wielded any power. However, this seemingly benign turn of events also contained some nasty, jagged reefs just beneath the surface and as time went on, it became clear that this probably wasn’t the cushy number he had hoped it to be. Sure, having some real power is nice and all, but it becomes increasingly difficult to arse about on Have I Got New For You when you’ve got to wake up in the morning and run one of the largest cities in the world and the brand of endearing klutzery that you peddled prior to being in office is no longer the Get Out Of Jail Free Card it once was. “Never mind though” thought Boris, “it’s only a matter of time before the right-wing of the party get fed up with Cameron’s Bodenocracy and as soon as he appears to falter, there I will be, ready and waiting to seize the reigns of power”. On the face of it, that was a pretty good plan but unfortunately, the right wing insurgency hasn’t seemed to have materialised, Cameron is proving to be much more resilient than many gave him credit for and Boris is still knee-deep in being Mayor and having to appear like he isn’t a total disaster. Worsts.
The upshot of all this is that Boris is now rather boxed in when it comes to shows like Question Time. In the past, he could happily play things for laughs, do that whole ‘look at me, using long words and getting in flap’ thing and still go home knowing that one day, the time would be right for him to go for the leadership. Now, he has to temper all the idiosyncracies with a measure of sensibility and present a picture of someone who might actually be capable of getting dressed in the morning, let alone be charge of the capital. That’s not to say that he didn’t have the odd flourish here and there on last night’s show and there were times when he made the odd funny, but I can’t help thinking that he just seems a little frustrated and lost at the moment. It’s also personally galling as I spent a fair bit of time making this pshop of him last night (see Fig. 1) in the certainty that he was going to drop a clanger when it came to the inevitable protest question, but he didn’t really go beyond the standard ‘oiks are bad’ line, much to my chagrin. So come on Boris, let’s just drop the façade. Yes, you were infuriating when you were knee-deep in your ‘Blimey, I think my flies are undone’ phase but I prefer outrage to muted ambivalence so buck up your ideas and stop being so damn…. so damn… not weird! Enough said.
So, on to Diane who is also in a not dissimilar pickle having hewed her public persona out of the quarry non-conformism, an exercise that is pretty easy from the backbenches but much tougher when you’re having to at least make a semblance of toeing the party line. In actual fact, I think she came off worse than Boris did because she seems so unused to speaking anything other than what’s on her mind. At points, it seemed the two of them were engaged in a contest of who could apply the word ‘vindictive’ the most times to the other’s policies, but despite a late rally on the EMA question, Boris emerged the victor. Also, when it came to the questions about the protest march and Libya, it was pretty clear that she was really having to reign herself in and not just march headlong into a protracted rant about where Labour went wrong, a situation that lent an air of uncertainty to her performance. Not all of this is Diane’s fault as Labour itself is still grappling with the thorny issue of what they actually stand for and just what in the hell to make of the Blair/Brown legacy, but I very much got the impression that she was pulling her punches last night. For someone who made their name by having principles that went beyond the straight jacket of party politics, that’s not a good look, even if it is a look that inevitably comes with the territory. My advice Dianne? Just jack it in now. You were very effective at playing the role of conscience to the Labour party and I miss you trying to grapple with The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name between you and Portillo on the This Week sofa. In fact, I’ll pay you to go back on This Week because if I see Jacqui Smith on there one more time, I don’t know what I might do. Seriously, I could become capable of some horrible, horrible things if I have to go through that again. So, please Dianne, for the sake of the nation.
Up next we have Sarah Teather, a woman so geometrically round (not fat, just round) that she appears to be constructed from a set of interlocking circles (see Fig. 2) and is enduring a similar fate to that of Baroness Warsi; the post-election shunt to the political broom cupboard. Prior to last May’s WTF-ery one could be forgiven for thinking that Teather was the only Liberal Democrat in existence thanks to her seemingly endless appearances on shows like Question Time, but since then she’s been notable only by her absence. I’m wondering if some of this is actually of her own volition because she spent most of last night looking like a naughty school child in the middle of receiving the mother of all bollockings (much like Cable in the earlier post-election chapters of The Passion St. Vince) and given her generally hangdog demeanour, it was pretty clear that she wasn’t enjoying herself. Part of me thinks this is shame because when she was in heavy rotation, she was bloody good, harrying both Labour and the Tory’s in equal measure whenever the opportunity presented itself and you could occasionally see some of the residue of her past glory on last night’s show, like when she came out fighting about the proposed replacement for EMA. However, another part of me thinks that actually, this is a necessary part of the process: Watching people like Teather go from being some of the most persuasive proponents of genuinely progressive policies to playing the gimp in Osborne’s S&M Dungeon has been painful for me to watch and I can at least take a little comfort in the fact that these people still have a conscience left to punish themselves with. In that sense, we really are All In This Together.
OK, I’ve waffled about the first three quite a bit so let’s make it brief for Victim’s #4 and #5. First up is TUC bod Mark Serwotka who did a decent job at not being Bob Crow. Yes, some of it sounded a bit pious and soapboxy, but at least I didn’t have to hide under the covers through the fear that he might physically smash his way out of the TV screen and then punch me repeatedly for not going on the march (I am sorry Bob. I was at home playing Battlefield: Vietnam. I think that makes it even worse, doesn’t it?). But yes, he did pretty well and there was fairly broad (but by no means unanimous) support for the union position last night. I must say though, he does have a really weird accent, almost like it’s half Welsh and half Yorkshire. In purely geographic terms, that would place him somewhere around Congleton which is fortuitous because I happen to love the word ‘Congleton’. Try it. ‘Congleton’. ‘Congllllllllllleton’. Ace isn’t it?
Finally we have Clive Anderson and I must say that I was left a little confused by his performance (I think he was as well). I think it stems from the fact that his brain clearly works at a million miles an hour but isn’t very good at discriminating between the Relevant and the Only Just Sort Of Relevant, as was evidenced in most of last night’s responses. He’d always start by attempting to address the question but then keep jumping onto minor tangents as they popped into his head. As these tangents multiplied, he’d get further and further from the original point and would eventually end up in a position that was only very tenuously related to the topic in hand. The stuff itself all seemed to sound OK and he’s clearly not an idiot, but all the mental hop-scotch made him appear a little like a labrador chasing a plastic bag and I just ended up a little nonplussed by it all. The other thing I noticed is that he’d make a very good mascot. His face has a very mascot-like quality to it. If the showbiz work ever dries up Clive, give me a bell. You’d look great on my mantlepiece.
Final lap now. This is usually where I fob the crowd off with a few muttered platitudes and then leg it on to the scores so that I can get on with my Friday night, but not tonight Lemmings. In fact, I’m actually going to give the crowd a bit of a fairer do in this report because there was a marvellous little scene near the end that warrants a little extra attention. It started when the girl who asked the EMA question, Gladys, got offered a second bite of the apple by Dimbers. Pitching her tone just right (she sounded thoughtful but concerned), Gladys explained how EMA had really helped her and that she and her mates had used the money to buy sensible, education type things. Well done there Gladys, nicely put, have some claps. Then, out of nowhere came this proper foghorn of a woman in a red top who a gave it a bit of the old “I had a part-time job when I was a student”. BOOM! Half the crowd went mad for that and it looked like the Foghorn had delivered a match winning blow. But what’s this? It’s Gladys and she’s right back in there with a “So did I”! ZING! The other half of the crowd go mad as Gladys goes on to explain how she couldn’t have afforded books without EMA, unaware that she’s just exposed a flank for the Foghorn to exploit: “Go to the Library then” intones the Foghorn and the crowd now rips itself in two, half cheering, half booing. “But the libraries are all being closed!” says Gladys and KABLAMO! It’s all over. Bloody great. More of that please. And the rest of the crowd? Yeah…. whatever.
So there you go, a LCCPQTMR first: A score to an individual crowd member. Truly, we are breaking new ground. Right, I’m done here and am going to get about the business of having a Friday night. Next week Lemmings, next week…