Archive for October, 2011

Questionable Time #7


 

Good morning Lemmings and welcome baquestionable time 7 david dimbleby berretck to Questionable Time which this week takes place in the wake of one natures most wonderous spectacles: The Great Tory European Death Pact. This happens to a be personal favourite of mine that tends to occur every five years or so and is usually precipitated by some sort of sustained chuntering from the backbenches. Upon hearing this call, the party then descends into a giant, ill-tempered mob before somehow managing to beach themselves en masse to the dismay of onlookers and the detriment of the species. Scientists are yet to establish why it is that an otherwise thriving collective takes it upon itself to engage in such an orgy of self-destruction but it happens with alarming regularity and the event itself is not without a certain macabre beauty. Say what you want about the Tories but they certainly know how to give themselves a damn good flensing.

So yes, this was the backdrop for last night’s episode and a very right-of-centre affair it was too, what with it taking place in Winchester and the attendance of Messrs. Farage and Fellows. However, the question on my mind was “Who on earth is the Blue Team going to put up and how in Criminy are they going to explain away this mess?”. As things turned out it was Iain Duncan Smith who drew the short straw and even if it wasn’t by design, he pulled off quite an effective rescue effort that merits further investigation.

Whenever I see IDS, I’m always struck by how innocent he appears (see Fig. 1) and this has proved to be both his greatest asset and most dangerous liability. It tends to work like this: IDS observes something that he sees as ‘Bad’ and swiftly concludes that he needs to do something ‘Good’ in order to cancel it out. There the analysis ends in the mind of IDS because in his view the world is a fundamentally simple place and with the application of Good, Bad can be all but eradicated. However, life isn’t like that and as his stint as party leader proved in spades, reality has a nasty habit of muddying otherwise pristine waters. Back then, IDS identified the fact that the party was in disarray (Bad), but also figured out that if he displayed a certain amount of iron-willed leadership (Good), they would quickly come to their senses, fall back into line and the day would be carried. However, it didn’t work like that and the reason it didn’t work was that things are never that simple. For one, the Tories are a seditious bunch and a strong hand on the tiller alone is not enough to keep them from following their baser instincts. No, they need to be manipulated, blackmailed, and cajoled in all manner of imaginative ways and these are things that don’t come naturally to IDS. Secondly, his well-meaning yet ultimately soggy definition of ‘strong leadership’ isn’t shared by a party who exist entirely on a diet of orphans soul’s and before long, his tenure descended into farce.

iain duncan smith teddy bear

Fig. 1

However, when looked at from a different angle, this innate naivety can also work in his favour and last night was one of those occasions. It started, predictably enough, when he got the first crack on the referendum question and his brow began to scrunch up as his mind wrestled with the problem in front him. Here’s what I reckon was going on in his head:

  1. I know Europe is Bad and I would very much like a referendum on it. That would be Good.
  2. However, I also think that the culture of Layaboutism is Bad (in fact probably Worse) and I need to do some Good on that.
  3. The government think a European referendum would be Bad and that it would be Good if didn’t have one.
  4. If the government think I’m Bad for wanting to do a Good thing, they won’t let me do Good to sort out the Worse
  5. So I have to do a Bad thing in order that they let me do some Good for the Worse?
  6. Arrrrrrgh! My Head! Someone turn down the volume in here!

Given the fact that IDS simply doesn’t have much of a capacity for disguising his intent it soon became apparent (mainly from the way his face seemed to writhe) that this matter had clearly tormented him and that his brain was doing somersaults trying to square the circle. The beauty of this display from the point of view of the Blue Team was that it took them out of the picture entirely and instead it became about IDS’s apparent grief. Sure, it didn’t really help them make much of a case for why they shouldn’t have a referendum (a task that was left mainly to Jullian Fellowes to sort out), but it was a slightly more beneficent outcome than could have otherwise been hoped for.

All of which was fortuitous as across the table from IDS sat my all-time favourite cult leader and bastion of irrationality, Nigel Farage, a man who must surely be thinking that at long last, his boat has come in. I like to imagine him buried deep within his Farage Lair, cackling maniacally at the news feeds and rubbing his hands with glee as Europe slips further into the abyss and tonight really was his chance to capitalise on the misery of his foes. “Great!” I thought, “Farage is going to be super crazy tonight! We may even get to see some foam in the corner of his mouth!”, but I was soon to be disappointed. In actual fact, what we saw was despite a few isolated cases of lunacy near the end (largely to do with locking everyone up), repeated use of the phrase “the political class” and a fairly good gag about Theresa May stealing his lines, he played it all rather straight and that was something I found to be quite frightening. You see, I love UKIP when they’re just a nebulous cluster of fruitcakes who fret about the fluoridation of water and Farage is at his best when he’s barely relevant. However, witnessing him make hay whilst appearing vaguely sane and knowing that UKIP are probably in line for a membership surge just puts the jibblies on me, especially when the audience seem to go along with it. So come on Nigel, let’s ditch all this fairly reasonable behaviour and get back to doing what you’re good at which is ranting absurdities in an amusingly harmless manner. After all, you wouldn’t want to end up being a part of the ‘political class’ would you?

So they were the main event of the episode and everyone else seemed to be only incidentally involved. Jo Swinson continued to prove that she’s a quite a tough cookie who negotiated a fair few ambushes in a very ‘head down, press on’ sort of way while Labour’s Gloria De Piero heroically demonstrated how little resonance the politics of the M62 have with the good folk of Winchester (who seem to be mainly composed of True Blue Yeomanry with a smattering of Financially Comfortable Hippies). All of which leads us to Julian Fellowes, a man who seemed to be quite a hit with the audience but was less of a hit with me, mainly on account of the fact that his head appears to be made of wet clay. That bothers me.

Tl;dr

IDS: 6/10

Tormented

Farage: 5/10

Fermented

Swinson: 6/10

Vented

De Piero: 4/10

Fragmented

Fellowes: 5/10

Gented?

So there we have it: A not especially exciting but quite interesting episode where the panelists sounded like they were freestyling over a dub record thanks to Winchester Cathedral’s reverberatory qualities. Now, just before I go let me assure you that the brevity of this week’s report has absolutely nothing to do with today’s UK release of Battlefield 3. Ok, it has absolutely everything to do with the UK release of Battlefield 3 and I’d love to stop and chat about it but I’ve got a kill/death ratio to establish. Oscar Mike.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

A Brief Interlude…


Morning Lemmings and as I mentioned last week I unfortunately have to be elsewhere today. However, I did catch a bit of last night’s episode and have just enough time to impart these choice pearls of wisdom to you.

  • The SNP appear to have recruited a third member to add to the endless rotation of Salmond and Sturgeon. His name is Mike Russell and he too suffers from the strange neurological condition that makes him hear the word ‘Scottish’ just prior to the word ‘Referendum’, regardless of context.
  • Alistair Carmichael hates his kids.
  • Whenever I see Margaret Curran the word ‘Emphysema’ flashes through my mind… No idea why.
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg really, really, scarily looks like the Medic from Team Fortress 2 (see Fig. 1)

rees-mogg medic tf2.

 

 

Ok, I really have to dash. Normal service will resume next week.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #6


questionable time 6 davivd dimbleby nurseMorning Lemmings and a slight caveat before we start: I had to wake up really, horribly, stupidly early on Thursday morning so I was half asleep when I watched the show and can’t claim to have entirely taken it all in. Nevertheless here we all are so welcome to what should have been the first ‘normal’ Question Time in absolutely ages (after all, we’ve had the mid-summer riot special, followed by the 9-11 anniversary knockabout and then a string of party conference episodes that largely managed to completely overlook anything that transpired in said conferences). However this turned out to be anything but a normal episode and I’m chalking that up to two reasons: A)The composition of the panel was all askew and B) this was less of a straight forward debate and more of a snuff movie based around how comprehensively a group of people could crush one man’s soul.

With regards to the panel it all started mundanely enough with the introduction of the Blue Team’s Andrew Lansley but quickly left the blueprint when it turned out that Labour would be represented by Ken Livingston (who, let’s face it, is only nominally a Labour politician) and the complete absence of the Lib Dems whatsoever. Actually, the fact that the Yellow Team had somehow managed to skive off this one took a while to dawn on me as I initially concluded that the ginger man with glasses must be the Lib Dem panelist (for they are the most ginger of parties) but it turned out that he wasn’t: He was actually Dr. Phil Hammond. So that threw the regular dynamic somewhat off kilter but there was a much more pressing issue to hand and that was ‘just what in the hell has happened to Andrew Lansley?’.

Cast your minds back a year or two and try to imagine Lansley as he was then. Now, in my head he’s always been the nearest thing the Tory Party has to Swiss Toni (if only he’d grow a moustache… See Fig.1) and, appropriately enough, he was charged with the task of flogging to the public a product that they wanted absolutely nothing to do with: The dismantling reform of the NHS. Credit where credit’s due though, he did give it his best rendition of ‘privatising a cherished national institution is a lot like making love to a beautiful woman’ but the task was beyond even his suave charms and the bill swiftly took on all the attributes of political plutonium. Naturally, this hasn’t been a ‘fun’ process for Lansley and it’s understandable that one might get a little worn down by a daily routine of relentless hectoring. However, judging by last night’s performance it hasn’t just worn him down, it’s really got to him.

andrew lansley swiss toni

Fig. 1

The first clue that all is far from well came the instant he opened his mouth. Usually, the Health Secretary has a pretty reliable ‘can do’ tone to his delivery and is able to put up a reasonable fight if required, but that was nowhere to be seen last night. Instead, he mumbled his answer in the muted tones of someone who has just seen something horrible and his eyes appeared glazed and fixed on a non-specific point in the middle distance. The first question happened to be about Liam Fox and Lansley did attempt to go through the motions of at least pretending that he cared about it but all the while you could tell he was preoccupied with some rather dark thoughts, almost as if he’d had a premonition of his own political death. As it happens, he wasn’t a million miles away from the truth and as soon as the inevitable NHS question dropped you could see what little fortitude he had remaining drain away and a grim acceptance of the fate that was about to engulf him pass across his otherwise ashen face.

That this fate was going to be a nasty one was pretty much a given and neither was there any great mystery as to how that fate was going be delivered given the presence of Dr. Phil. Now, arguing against doctors is a tough gig at the best of times, but arguing against a funny one who happens to write for Private Eye whilst you happen to be in the process of destroying everything he holds dear must be an utterly brutalising experience. Having said that, there was an early glimmer of hope for Lansley when Dr. Phil used his go at the Fox question to shoehorn three gags together in such rapid succession that I thought he might finish his turn by wedgying Dimbleby. That made him look like a clown but whatever meagre solace it might have given Lansley was short-lived and before long Dr Phil was back in serious mode, assailing him from every possible vector and channelling the audience’s ire into a torrent of fury. And there Lansley sat, the world crashing down upon his head and tossing his limp body too-and-fro like a rag doll. Sure, Mark Littlewood did his best to provide covering fire but given that a) the audience clearly weren’t in the market for counter-arguments and b) no-one had a clue who he was his efforts came to nowt and the beasting continued unabated. Thus it was that I actually began to get a little bit worried about Lansley.

Working in mental health means that I’ve come across a fair few people who’ve been through some horrific stuff and have had to adopted some fairly full-on coping strategies, one of which is dissociation. This is where the world gets so crazy and unbearable that in order to survive, the mind simple removes you from the situation and the events that are going on appear to be happening to an empty vessel. Now, I have a feeling that this isn’t too far away from what we witnessed with Lansley last night and I must confess that despite having very little love for the man (or his policies) I actually felt sorry for him by the end of the show. It’s not to say I don’t think he got what he deserved or that anyone was especially nasty to him personally, but I just find it very sad to watch someone who’s been so traumatised by events that they appear to have become inured to suffering.

So that was the main event of the show and if the government need any further confirmation that they may be barking up the wrong tree when it comes to health reform, may I suggest they fire up the old iPlayer tout suite. It wouldn’t be comfortable viewing but to witness a crowd that made it abundantly clear that any transgressions against the NHS will not go unpunished would certainly be instructive. As for the rest of them, well Dr. Phil gave a very good – if jarring – performance as he veered erratically between Instrument of Ultimate Justice and Office Prankster while at least Littlewood attempted to put up a fight, even if it was a slightly wrongheaded one. As for Ken Livingstone and Sarah Sands, the same cannot be said and they struggled to remain relevant, what with Ken strenuously reminding us that he’s his own man (as he has done for the last 30 years) while Sands showed her support for unemployed youths by telling us how some of her mates were doctors overseas and Cisco are going to sort everything out. Que?

Tl:dr

Lansly: Grim

4/10

Livingston: Dim

5/10

Hammond: Vim

7/10

Littlewood: Slim?

5/10

Sands: Prim

4/10

The Crowd: Brim(ming over with scorn).

8/10

And that’s that. Sorry that it’s been a rather brief affair, especially as it was a fairly energetic episode but the lack of sleep had me feeling all a bit Lansley last night. On top of that I’m afraid to say that there’ll be no Questionable Time next week as I unfortunately have to be elsewhere but fear not, it’s a Scottish episode. No offence Scotland, but you might as just well rename the show Alex Salmond Time.

In a fortnight Lemmings, in a fortnight…

Questionable Time #5


questionable time 5 david dimbleby top hatGood morning Lemmings and welcome to what is likely to be a highly problematic instalment of Questionable Time, problematic because the show itself didn’t really turn out the way I envisaged. You see, I usually get a day or so’s warning as to who is going to be on the panel and that is usually just enough time to throw a few thoughts together before watching the show but not enough to have any real idea of how the cards the will fall. This week however, I had the luxury/curse of knowing exactly who was going to be on for an entire week and as the panel was full of repeat offenders I had more than enough time to elaborately wargame the entire scenario in my head at length. In theory, this should be quite helpful as it gives me time to rustle up a few set pieces prior to the show being broadcast, but this week I went too far: I’d pretty much written the entire report before the show had even gone on air. Thanks to this rather rash move on my part I am now faced with a glaring mismatch between the expectation and the reality, something that has led me to go about this write-up in a slightly different manner from the norm. Regardez vous…

Baroness Warsi

The Expectation

Say what you will about Warsi (for there is much to say) but at least you’ve got a pretty good idea of what she’s going to do and this usually involves cutting the most aggressive of stances before completely overplaying her hand and somehow trapping herself in a self-inflicted headlock (I’m not entirely sure how you perform a headlock on yourself but if anyone were able to perform such a physics defying feat it would be Warsi). In a standard outing, this tends to involve a trademarked rendition of her ‘pulled up by the bootstraps’ autobiography and a frantic assault on anyone who happens to be in the immediate vicinity followed by a complete mangling of the facts and a hasty retreat in the face of an audience who’ve suddenly turned hostile. Now, in the context of this week’s news, this seemed like an invitation to tragedy as the message emanating from the Tory party conference (aside from entirely avoidable blunders) has been largely one of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, but Warsi doesn’t really do ‘calm’ and in the pre-arranged version of events that I had in my head I could see her outdoing Theresa May on the gaffe front, possibly by claiming that the courts allow immigrants to stay if they have a Tesco Club Card. Heckles would follow, Warsi would carry on digging and by the end of it, I’d be sitting pretty and rather pleased with my new-found powers of precognition.

The Reality

Ok, so I wasn’t a million miles from the truth on this one but still, it was more muted than my pre-show machinations would have led me to believe. For example, she did start pretty aggressively on the Catgate question and went through her usual Immi-Crims motions before retreating under a hail of boos following an ill-timed Blame Labour play, but she wasn’t quite as frothy as she has been in the past. Granted, she did managed to get herself entangled in a trap of her own design when she strenuously tried to blag her way out of the Fat Tax question (which went something like this: Tax isn’t the solution > Got to change behaviour > Don’t know if we can do that > I had a burger once! > Big up Dewsbury Market! > Two full bags of shopping! > Costs less than a burger! > ??????) but I’ve seen her flail about in far more entertaining ways and I felt a little cheated when she wasn’t chased out of the studio by pitchfork wielding audience members. In short, the version in my head was way more fun.

Andy Burnham

The Expectation

I must confess that I didn’t have the clearest idea of what Burnham was going to get up to tonight as I find him to be a very difficult man to pin down. On the one hand he’s a slick operator who’s good on telly, can summon up some semi-convincing righteous indignation and generally has a knack for not putting his foot in it. However, there is also something about him that I find a little unsettling in that I have real problems in figuring out his intentions. Some of this is down to the fact that he’s quite deft at seguing between bosses without breaking much of a sweat but I think the real problem is that Burnham’s got his foot in quite a few ideological camps (in that he can sound very Old Labour on some issues while also being incredibly New Labour on others) and that makes it very hard to ascertain exactly what it is he believes in. Consequently, I reckoned that we were on for a polished display, but one that left you not quite fully satisfied that you had actually seen the real Andy Burnham.

The Reality

And lo, so it came to pass… Yes, this was pretty straight forward, off-the-shelf Burnham with some fairly impressive offensive play on the economy question, some nice Dear Sir, Imagine My Surprise indignation on Catgate and a dollop of fairly successful hedge betting when it came to Europe. But still, it niggled me. It niggled me because I wasn’t sure if I was being spun a line or if he really meant all of this stuff and that just leaves me feeling a little out-of-sorts, even if I can’t quite pin down what sorts-I’m-out-of. Still, top marks to clever old me for seeing into the future with such skill and deftness. Loudribs: 10/10

Charles Kennedy

The Expectation

How hard can it be to figure out what Charles Kennedy is going to do? After all, he’s been about for ages and during that time he’s taken on (in my head at least) all the virtues of a kindly uncle who your mother doesn’t entirely trust but you adore, largely on account of all the sly tenners he slips you with a knowing wink. Given the above, I was pretty sure that this would be a by-the-numbers exercise in Kennedyism: An overt display of believable humanity (nothing makes you appear more human than the knowledge of a life coloured by vice) that would probably feel akin to being tucked into bed with a glass of warm milk (that may or may not contain a thimble’s worth of whisky). Job’s a good ‘un right?

The Reality

Well, the job’s partially a good ‘un in that everything was delivered in that gentle way that makes his voice seem like auditory Calpol but what I wasn’t prepared for was just how mutinous Kennedy has become. Sure, he’s been muttering about how he’s really not taken with the coalition for some time now but watching him last night was like rewinding the clock by a good two years. The Tory stance on the Human Rights Act? “Nonsense”. Who’s right on the economy? “Ed Balls”. Who would he have preferred to go in coalition with? “Labour”. Sedition I say! So yes, that caught me slightly unawares but I also found it to be quite comforting as it took me back to a time when there were certain constants in politics and just keeping up with the news wasn’t the nausea inducing white-knuckle ride that it’s become of late. So Mr Kennedy, continue to be a “dispassionate voice from the backbenches” because I rather like it. And keep slipping me those tenners. I like that as well.

Billy Bragg

The Expectation

I hate Billy Bragg. I hate him in many ways but mainly because people assume that I should love him. I’m a bit of a lefty, right? I play guitar, right? So I should love Billy Bragg, right? Wrong, wrong, wrong! No, I have problems with Bragg, some of which are philosophical, others of which are more visceral. On the political/philosophical front I just find him to be like some sort of ideological Maginot Line that Thatcherism’s panzers’ outflanked 30 years ago. Since then they’ve been living it up in Paris while Bragg continues to grimly face east, pouring fire into an empty field that the enemy has long since vacated, seemingly unaware the Third Republic is now but a footnote in history. In a way I should admire such stubbornness but the futility of it all renders that impossible. The miners’ strike is over Billy and no amount of Woody Guthrie covers will ever bring it back. So there’s that but I suspect the biggest problem is that there’s something about the man himself I can’t abide and that’s his mirthlessness. Now I know he’s highly devoted to his cause and feels a certain weight of responsibility upon his shoulders but for Christ sake man, lighten up now and then, ok?

So yes, that’s how I was approaching Mr Bragg’s appearance and in my head I had it all figured out (to the point where I’d put together a photoshop of him duetting with Donald Rumsfeld in the hope it may annoy him. See Fig. 1). However….

bill bragg donald rumsfeld duet

Fig.1

The Reality

He really wasn’t bad. His arguments were pretty well-reasoned, there was even the odd attempt at humour and the crowd genuinely seemed to like him (as well as the bizarre spectacle of Warsi claiming that she had a “huge amount of time for [his] campaigns’”. Pull the other one, m’lady). So there we go, Eggs Benedict all over my face. However, instead of taking back all my spiteful words I am instead going to chalk this up as an aberration as to do otherwise would be to imply that I am somehow wrong. And that’s just plain old not going to happen.

Jane Moore

The Expectation

Here’s another one that I totally thought I had pegged and well I may as the last time she was on she was absolutely abhorrent. With this in mind I was utterly convinced that last night’s show would turn into a flat-out hecklefest as she plumbed the depths of knee jerk tabloidism and dragged the already tarnished name of The Sun into an even deeper circle of hell. But…

The Reality

She wasn’t that bad either! Ok, so her grasp on economics isn’t exactly the firmest (Quantitative Easing is something to do with a “computer button” dontchaknow?) and of course there was the familiar mashing of the terms of ‘immigrant’ and ‘criminal’ into a stick to beat people with but it was quite restrained by her standards and I don’t think I was ever driven to physically shout at the telly as I usually do when she’s on. This is not to say that I’m the newest member of the Jane Moore Fan Club but as potential train wrecks go, it could have been much, much worse.

The Crowd:

The Expectation

That they would be… crowdy?

The Reality

Yes, they were crowdy so hooray for me. Apart from that, they weren’t the most electrifying bunch but I’m inclined to forgive them this as it’s been such a weird conference season that it’s hard to know what to think about politics at the moment. Still, a mention is deserved for the lady who described herself to be a “scarlet woman” whilst looking about as scarlety womany as Anne Widdecombe and also for the girl who suggested that the government should get the hell out of lives and not impose fat taxes whilst simultaneously demanding that the nation be subjected to a “compulsory exercise regime”. That’s an… interesting…. position you’ve got right there.

Tl:dr

Everybody gets 5. Except Kennedy who gets 6 on account of my fondness for him and Moore who gets a 4 on account of my lack of fondness for her.

So there we have it: An odd and less than thrilling show that never managed to live up the expectations I had created for it. Still, at least I won’t have that problem next week as it’s pretty hard to engineer a mental scenario that only contains Andrew Lansley (who at this point is the only confirmed panelist). I suppose I could have him in solitary confinement. Actually, that’s not a bad idea… At least the NHS would thank me.

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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