Morning Lemmings and let’s make this quick, a) because this week’s Question Time wasn’t quite up to the high standards set by last week’s pitched battle and b) our Clown Thumbed guitarist is on his way over to help me blow up virtual stuff on my non-virtual computer (which, by the way, now has wheels. I bought a graphics card that was so big it necessitated a wheeled case. That’s well cool).
Ok, so this show didn’t exactly have the most exciting panel in the world but it did kind of make up for it by having a crowd who had a very clear agenda, but more on that later. To kick off though let’s start with the main event which is in this case was Vince Cable, a man who presently seems to be in the grips of a fairly substantial identity crisis and appears to have several separate media incarnations that manifest at random. Sometimes it’s Troublemaking Agit-Vince who appears to be inches away from jacking it all in and going out in a ball of flames while at other times we get Nervous Breakdown Cable who seems to be vying with Simon Hughes for the Samaritan’s Most Frequent Caller of the Year award. As it happens, we got Glutton For Punishment Vince who basically spent the first twenty minutes getting an utterly relentless pummeling from anyone who cared to have a go. He tried all the routine maneuvers such as the “save the country from economic disaster” and “Labour spendthrifts” plays but there were no takers and by the looks of it, he didn’t really care. In fact although I wouldn’t go as far as to say he was actually enjoying the experience, he did seem strangely inured to the pain, as if his nervous system had simply called it a day and redefined constant agony as the norm. Luckily for him, the crowd either realised that actively ragging on someone for such a sustained period is actually quite knackering or got frustrated by the fact that he wasn’t breaking down in tears and he managed to sneak off to the Hidey-Hole of Irrellevance to lay low for the rest of the show. My theory is that either the Business Secretary has somehow managed to temporarily amputate his soul from his body in order to survive or that he’s addicted to some pretty heavy-duty pain killers. I’m no doctor but take your pick…
Next up we have David Blunkett, local boy come good/bad (depending on your opinion) and someone who is rarely flavour of the month with me. I’m like this with all ex-New Labour Home Secretaries because there was something about that post at that particular point in time that just seemed to turn its incumbents into utter, utter divs. Even Alan Johnson (who I’ve always had a soft spot for) couldn’t manage to do his stint without engaging in some very suspect chest puffing and ‘check out my guns’ swinging-dickery, although his efforts were not a patch on those of the likes of Smith and Straw. Neither did Blunkett’s post-governmental career do much to commend him to me as he managed to segue himself into one of the least likable for-profit-yet-doing-state-work chimeras that were spawned in the wake of New Labour. So yes, I’m not a fan. Having said that, I must say that he didn’t do too badly last night and I was largely without rage for most of the show. Some of this is down to circumstance, like being with a friendly crowd on home turf and enjoying a fairly benevolent political backdrop but yeah, it was mostly a fairly mundane and straight-forward affair.
Oh no wait! I tell a lie… There was something that really ticked me off and that was when he reached new heights of hyperbole by claiming that the internet was a hotbed of “mad, free-for-all Libertarianism that will bring society to its knees”. Now, I totally agree that Mad, Free-For-All Libertarians are two-a-penny on the internet but the whole “bringing society to its knees bit?” A little shrill, methinks. Oh, and before I forget, there is one thing I like about Blunkett (or more accurately, liked): Back in the mists of time, before his beard had turned grey, Blunkett appeared to have a fully reversible head (see Fig. 1)
See?! Look at that bad boy! You can flip it a full 180 degrees and he still looks the same!
Right, next we have a bona-fide Question Time n00b, Anna Soubry. Now, this may well have been her first time on QT but it all honesty, it definitely wasn’t a n00bish performance and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a fair bit more of her. The first thing I noticed is that she’s pretty tough, but not that “I’LL SHOW YOU HOW TOUGH I AM BY JUMPING DOWN YOUR THROAT” tough that the likes of Warsi are wont to indulge in. No, Soubry seems more clued up and opted for a fairly measured yet resolute line while still managing to get the odd dig in at Labour from time to time. Understandably (considering she was in Sheffield at a time when the Tories are slaughtering Northern Holy Cows on an industrial scale), it didn’t all go her way and she came off for the worse in a scrap with Blunkett on the NHS (as well as rightly being told off by Dimbers for going straight into Blame Labour mode right for the get go) but it could have been a lot worse. I have also discovered that she’s got some pretty interesting views for a Tory so yes, she shall be added to my Watch With Interest List.
Ok, so that’s the politco’s done with, time for the civilians. First up we have James o’Brien, a presenter with LBC radio who I know absolutely nothing about but found to be alright. I’m totally guessing here, but he seems to be one of those middle-brow, daytime/telly radio types who’s opinions are just at the margins of what that particular genre allow (which is no further to the left than a Back-in-the-Day Social Democrat and no further to the right than Marshal Petain) a la Matthew Wright and Nick Ferarri and if last night was anything to go by, he’s quite good at it. O’Brien had some nice turns here and there, such as a hefty broadside on the coalition at the start (“Osborne will take the credit and the LibDems will take the blame”) and the bit where he got the whole audience to denounce Andrew Lansley en masse but it must be said that it wasn’t all plain sailing and at one point he became the victim of a genius little audience ambush. This occurred just after he’d given David Laws the all-clear and a crowd member manage to sneak in this question: “What if he was a Housing Benefit claimant?”. For a split second you could see the voltage in his brain spike to dangerous levels as he tried to grapple with just how in the hell he was going to deal this Monster Question before some automated safety system kicked in and tripped the circuit breakers: “Brilliant question!” he said (with some humility), but you could tell that it totally floored him for a moment. But yeah, not bad.
Finally, we have Max Mosely, a man who has been quietly growing on me for a while. To be honest, I wasn’t that familiar with him prior to the whole Jackboots Unt Kallfraus Ja? affair but what’s really struck me since then is how he somehow has this air of unimpeachable dignity, despite having his whiplashed and leather-thonged bum plastered all over the papers. Say what you will about his private habits but that is quite a trick to pull. However, I can’t really say he was great last night, partly because I just don’t find the whole Super Injunction issue that interesting (I like the gossip bit… That’s pretty good. But the legal in’s and out’s? Sorry, that just doesn’t light my fag) but also because he didn’t really seem with it, particularly when he inadvertently referred to homosexuality as a “problem”. I think (and hope) that was a genuine mistake but it was a costly one and I think it knocked his confidence a bit. Never mind Max, just carry on doing that dignity thing. You’re good at the dignity thing.
So that’s the panelists and in honesty they weren’t exactly all fireworks and ice cream. However, there was one interesting thing about the show and that was the audience, all of whom were absolutely hellbent on braying seven bells out of the LibDems. Now, that’s not exactly unusual behaviour on Question Time these days but what set this lot apart was just how visceral they were about it. Seriously, for the first twenty minutes it was all one way traffic with the crowd only pausing briefly to occasionally harangue a passing Tory whilst spending every other available second sticking the boot into the Yellow Team. “So what?” you may say and on the face of it ‘so what indeed’: Sheffield’s a thoroughly Red city (barring Clegg’s Sheffield Halham which is partly rural and has a fairly insane concentration of wealthy people in it) where the Miners Strike is still the defining political event of many people’s lives and voting Labour is just ‘what you do’. Well it matters because this was the sort of place the LibDems could have been contenders in and had already made some serious inroads. Granted, it was a narrow brand of LibDemmery that was on offer in these parts (the Chat Show Charlie, left-of-Labour brand) and the party was always going to have trouble reconciling this with the Orange Book brand of liberalism they were peddling in the south, but it was doable and large numbers of people were voting for them. What made this show important was that it slammed the door on that alternate reality and confirmed that the LibDems are pretty much dead to Sheffield. Sure, that could change in time but I think it’ll probably take a generation for the party to be taken seriously in the Metropolitan North again and that if the near future is anywhere near as bad as it’s shaping up to be, they may never be forgiven. If I was Clegg, I’d start thinking about tapping up Cable for some of that co-codamol.
Mosely: (whipped) Bum
The Crowd: Scrum
So there we go… Another day, another ritualised slaughter of junior coalition partners. Enough already, I’m off to blow virtual stuff up and maybe wheel my computer around the living room. Can you wheel your computer around the living room? Didn’t think so.
Next week Lemmings, next week…