Good morning Lemmings and welcome back 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.
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:
- I know Europe is Bad and I would very much like a referendum on it. That would be Good.
- However, I also think that the culture of Layaboutism is Bad (in fact probably Worse) and I need to do some Good on that.
- The government think a European referendum would be Bad and that it would be Good if didn’t have one.
- 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
- So I have to do a Bad thing in order that they let me do some Good for the Worse?
- 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.
De Piero: 4/10
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…