Morning Lemmings and welcome to what really should have been the Question Time special on the Lib Dem conference but actually turned out to be just a plain old, common garden episode and not a great one at that. The fact that it wasn’t really focused on the conference is a shame as for once, it has actually been a semi-interesting autumn jaunt for the Yellow Team and one that could have made for an interesting show. Usually, the annual Lib Dem get-together is an exercise in wanton kookiness where a bunch of hemp clad peaceniks compare the bushiness of their beards, debate the merits of tax breaks for yurts and put forward motions to outlaw bad vibes. This year however they’ve gone all ‘spike’ and it was all the better for it, what with actual ministers making all sorts of thinly veiled threats to their partners in government while the rank-and-file puffed out their chests for a collective hollering of ‘Don’t Tread On Me’. It was almost as if the school chess club was in open rebellion. Anyhoo, that was the backdrop but going on this episode, you would have hardly known and what we actually got was a pretty random clutch of questions backed by what was the most easily led audience I’ve seen in years. But more on that later.
Ok, to kick off last night’s proceedings we have Vince Cable, Business Secretary and Fearless Dissident/Sullen Looking Lickspittle (who, incidentally, occasionally likes to dress like Gandalf… See Fig. 1). Now, I don’t know about you guys but I’m pretty much Vinced out at the moment, what with having spent the last 18 months living in the hope that all of his treasonous chunterings might actually turn into some form of action and yet having to cope with the reality that with every call-to-arms also comes a through-gritted-teeth-climbdown. Thus it was that he started the night on thin ice and if he were to have any hope of keeping a dim flicker of hope alive in me he’d damn well better come out fighting. So did he? In a word, ‘no’. The areas where Vince had an opportunity to win me round were on the IMF and Palestine questions, both of which would have allow him to demonstrate that he hasn’t been entirely consumed by the mirage of coalition. The pre-show portents for the IMF question in particular looked promising as much of his conference performance was dotted with lines to be read between and looks of the knowing variety. Last night’s show presented him with a chance to come good on that implied mischief by at least hinting that he wasn’t entirely in agreement with driving the economy off a cliff but in the end, he didn’t. Instead, Vince did what he’s done for his last few Question Time appearances and sat on the most splintered and jagged part of the fence possible whilst trying to pretend that he was actually incredibly comfortable. It didn’t work and his insistence that we can have our Deficit Reduction Cake whilst gorging on Slices of Growth just didn’t look credible and amounted to nothing more than a feast of crumbs.
Similarly, the Palestine question was one where he could at least have given a nod in the direction of his Lib Dem providence but instead chose to play dumb by insisting that he’d have to see the resolution before venturing an opinion on the matter. Now, I do have a smidgen of sympathy here as he is in the Cabinet and has to walk the line to a certain extent, but a nudge and wink to the effect that he’d like to see the government support the Palestinians really wouldn’t have killed him. So come on Vince, stop pratting about because I’m tired: Tired of having my hopes raised by off-the-record whispers of conspiracy only to have them dashed by on-the-record and repeated use of the phrase “It’s very complicated”. Buck up your ideas Mr Cable as there’s only so far a halo can slip before it becomes a Health and Safety hazard.
Alright, next up we have Harriet Harman, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and bête noire of the Daily Mail. Now, prior to the show, I was prepared to cut Harriet a little slack as while I’m not exactly a fan, I do think she’s had a raw deal at the hands of the mid-market papers and I tried very hard to give her a fair innings. On the face of it, this didn’t prove too difficult as her actual answers were all pretty decent and the crowd seemed to agree with her on most subjects, but there was still something niggling at me. At first, I thought it was down to her faux shock when an audience member took her to task about the deficit figures but I later discovered that it was actually something else: Her posture. Now, Harman’s a pretty tall woman and when this is combined with her commendably straight back, she tends to have several inches on the other panelists and consequently has to look down her nose at them. I caught this in a wide-angle shot when Justine Roberts was saying something and Harman was looking in her direction. While her facial expression was pretty neutral and innocuous, the very fact that her head was slightly tilted back gave her an air of condescension that wasn’t exactly flattering and made her look like a bit of a pious snob. Ok, so I know it sounds petty, but it’s things like this that inadvertently work their way into people’s brains and tarnish what was otherwise a perfectly reasonable appearance. So Harriet, if you want my advice, carry on saying what you’re saying but for god’s sake, slouch.
Slouch woman, slouch! Sorry for shouting. I get that way sometimes. Anyway, moving on and we come to Priti Patel, MP for Witham and Question Time virgin. My first impressions of Patel were that she isn’t exactly the most cuddly politician, what with her forthrightly bandying about debt-per-second figures as if they were going out of fashion, but this feeling was soon superseded by a suspicion that something fishy was going on, a state of affairs prompted by the asking of the death penalty question. Now, I know that Question Time have a policy where only the audience get to submit the topics for debate, but I was struggling to believe that the burning issue this week has been the Troy Davis case as it’s only been marginally covered in the news and the water coolers of the nation haven’t appeared to be rife with clamour over the matter. No, I have a feeling that this question was cherry picked and the reason behind it is that the only thing anyone knows about Priti Patel is that she bloody loves the death penalty. Questionable Question Time ethics aside, I am sort of glad it happened as it’s rare that you get someone going quite so off the hook about their desire to see people killed in the face of overwhelming opposition and to be fair to Patel, she is a tough cooky who gave it a decent shot. However, I can’t get away from the fact that people under 40 who support the death penalty with such dogged vigour frankly scare me and it’s also fair to say that her relative lack of political experience did rear it’s head from time to time. Oh, and the way she draws out random syllables also irks me a little: “What about the raaaapists and paaaaaaedophiles”. Hmmmm.
Right, time for the civilians, this week represented by Ian Hislop and Justine Roberts. In the case of Hislop, I’m inclined to arbitrarily knock a few marks off as I always think it’s just a little unfair to let a man whose job is basically to gather enormous piles of mud to sling at politicians on to the show. That’s not to say I don’t like him or disapprove the fact that politicians need mud slinging at them, it’s just that the dice seem a little loaded. So yes, Hislop did well at holding power to ridicule and it was a good performance, but only in the way that lions tended to put on a good show when they had Christians thrown at them. It’s just what they’re built to do,the outcome is never in any doubt and the overall effect is one of amusement accompanied by a twinge of guilt.
Moving on to Justine Roberts and I find myself pleasantly surprised by an appearance that I had every reason to fear. I say this because Roberts’ day job is to be Commander-in-Chief of what I consider to be possible the most frightening entity the internet has spawned to date: Mumsnet. While some may welcome our new cyber-matriarchs with open arms, I for one find the idea of a digital phalanx of organised sharp elbows to be the stuff of dystopian nightmares and have lived in near constant terror since its inception. Happily though, Roberts went quite a way to quell these fears by putting on a well-rounded performance and while I won’t be setting up a fake Mumsnet account so that I can get in on the action, I will sleep easier in the knowledge that the internet probably won’t be overrun by a tutting horde of Dido fans.
Ok, that’s the panel, now time for the element that I hold to be largely responsible for a sub-par show: The audience. My first and biggest beef with these guys is that no matter what a panelist said, they would clap as if their lives depended on it. Seriously, the only way you could tell if a point was contentious was to try to pick out the boos in the sea of applause and this lent the show all the validity of a Stalin era Party Congress. Second beef: The guy with the wig who whittered something about how “we need to grow more food”. The food thing is by-the-by but what most certainly isn’t is the wearing of a jet black toupee over near-white hair. That, sir, simply isn’t good enough. And finally, just what the Dickens happened to the black guy wearing a full suit and bowler hat? I caught him in the opening shot, slap bang in the middle of the crowd and decked out as if he was on his way to sell a large quantity of bullion. “Hello”, I thought “here comes trouble” but alas no! Trouble never came and we heard not a peep from him. In my opinion Birmingham, this was an inexcusable mistake and one you pay dearly for in the final reckoning… The final reckoning which is just about to happen NOW!
The Crowd: 3/10
So there you go. A roundly rubbish episode of which we shall never speak of again. My only hope is that next week’s crowd come all dressed in bowler hats and suits. I would consider that to be adequate compensation.
Next week Lemmings, next week…