Archive for November, 2011

Questionable Time 11


questionable time 11 david dimbleby bath

Good morning Lemmings and welcome to what is likely to be a very speedy edition of Questionable Time as I have awoken feeling somewhat grotty. Given that my plans for tomorrow are largely contingent on an absence of grottiness I think it’s for the best that I keep things compact so let us not shilly-shally about: Onwards, to Bath.

Ok, so let’s get things under way by asking ourselves “just what the hell has happened to Chris Huhne?”. I mean c’mon, two years ago he seemed like a pretty regular, off-the-shelf middle-aged politician who could occasionally get a little hot under the collar but was rarely in danger of being described as ‘exciting’. Now? Well now he’s suddenly turned into this affair-having, maybe speeding-points-transferring ruffian who may or may not turn up at the Commons wearing a leather jacket and smoking a cigarette in the near future. If any further confirmation were needed that his position is somewhat tenuous at present we need only to look at his performance last night as he testily skidded from one round of boos to the next. Is he fatally compromised? Well, not quite. There’s still some fight left in him and he does at least appear to be trying to stick to the coalition line but the omens aren’t good for Chris… When a LibDem can’t get much love from a crowd in Bath you know something’s up.

So that wasn’t great news for one half of the government but there was still the (albeit remote) possibility that Uber Euroskeptic Daniel Hannan could pull something out of the bag (and hopefully not the severed head of a high-ranking Eurocrat). As it turned out, he treated us to a rather unnerving display of single-mindedness, almost as if he was some sort of cyborg whose operating system had been replaced by a digitised version of Atlas Shrugged. Seriously, every point he made contained at least one reference to how ace free markets are and why governments will be the death of us all. Economy up the swanny? Well that’s what you get for having stupid things like ‘taxes’. What to do about a press ran amuck? Nothing that involves those parasites at Westminster, that’s what! Dropped your toast butter side down this morning? Blame the jackbooted hordes in Brussels! So yes, his was a frankly weird turn but one that was still quite entertaining in a horrific kind of way, not unlike watching footage of nuclear explosions… If you can consciously forget that they’re the ultimate expression of mankind’s brutality they are actually quite pretty.

Next up is a first time appearance for the Red Team’s Liz Kendall and I must say that it was a pretty good show that she put on. Ok, so I do get a little peeved when politicians take it upon themselves to tell me how mad keen they are on Twitter and she’s not quite the finished article yet but there is potential there: Give her another couple of outings and we could have a contender on our hands.

Sticking to the theme of ‘pleasant surprises’ we now come to Sainsbury’s boss Justin King, a man who should have by rights got it in the neck last night, what with him being a well paid CEO of a mammoth company and all that. As it turned out he actually got clean away with it and I can’t quite work out whether that’s because he represents a new and scary breed of capitalist (one who appears so reasonable that it’s impossible to feel narked about their colossal salaries) or just a genuinely nice bloke who does actually have motives beyond profit. I can’t really give you a definitive answer one way or another but I will admit that I nearly fell off my sofa when he stuck up for the union’s on their decision to ballot their members in September. That very much caught me off guard but in a very good way.

Lastly for the panel we have Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales who has taken time out of his busy schedule of berating me for money (see. Fig. 1) to appear on Question Time. Actually, I have to admit that I don’t resent Wales getting all up in my face and demanding cash because I’d be lost without Wikipedia and genuinely think it’s the best invention since tracky bottoms. Anyway, he was an odd choice seeing as he understandably knows little about UK politics but that’s not to say it was a bad performance by any measure. In fact, he struck the balance just right by pleading ignorance on the things he couldn’t possibly know about whilst making sure that his line on the things he did have some expertise on, like freedom of the press, was pretty robust. Not bad going in my book.

jimmy wales question time

Fig. 1

Ok, so that was the panel and despite being a pretty mixed bunch they did make for an entertaining episode. The crowd was also a fairly lively lot who helped grease the show’s wheels with an appreciable level of rancour but I am inclined to knock off a point for the following statement, made by a woman with regards to the government’s targets for nuclear power: “I’ve read it in the papers so you can’t say you’re not [increasing nuclear power]”. Apparently someone hasn’t been watching the Leveson Inquiry this week.

Huhne: 4/10

Beset (by demons)

Hannan: 6/10

(Doesn’t like the) National Debt

Kendall: 6/10

Safe Bet

King: 6/10

Well Met

Wales: 7/10

No Sweat

The Crowd: 7/10

(Is from) Somerset

Alright, I’m done and shall now be returning to the sofa where I shall stay for approximately the next ten days. This being the case, there will be no Questionable Time next week as I am officially on holiday (that and I’ve just purchased a copy of Arkham City) but normal service will resume the week after. Struggle on, dear Lemmings, struggle on.

In a fortnight Lemmings, in a fortnight…

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Questionable Time #10


questionable time 10 david dimbleby sheepGood morning Lemmings and just how the bloody hell are you all? Now, if you happened to be taken unawares by such an uncharacteristically upbeat intro into what is normally a weekly venting of bile then hold on to your hats because there’s more where that came from: Yes Lemmings, I can officially announce that I am in a Good Mood today. Ok, ok, I know you guys don’t usually come to this corner of the internet for the good vibes (for they tend to be few) but I have awoken this morning with a song in my heart and a spring in my step. Why? Well maybe it’s down to the fact that I’ve got my first week off in what seems like forever coming up soon, maybe it’s because that after a month of hardware woes I’ve finally cajoled my PC into playing nicely with Battlefield 3 but largely I think it’s a consequence of last night’s episode being pretty a solid offering. Alright, so it wasn’t exactly an epic that will be remembered for generations to come but it was a sturdy encounter that went a fair way to making up for last week’s Snoozefest-upon-Tyne.

I guess the first reason why I found this episode quietly pleasing was that both of the Westminster representatives present (the Blue Team’s ever-so-slightly spivvy Grant Shapps and the Red Team’s ever-so-slightly menacing Chris Bryant) were actually really well matched. Now, these two have a fair bit in common given that although relatively new to the scene, both have been putting in the QT hours of late and the pair of them are also proving to be have a certain aptitude for TV based knockabouts. In the case of Shapps this is largely down to the fact that he’s got quite a perky delivery that fits his youthful appearance without making him look like a complete n00b. He also seems to be quite normal for a Tory frontbencher and although he can get quite fired up on the entrepreneurial juices of Thatcherism (last night’s veneration of YTS schemes being a case in point), at least he’s largely untainted by the whiff of privilege that emanates from some of his fruitier colleagues. Bryant, by contrast, is a very different kettle of fish and while Shapp’s presentation speaks of a fairly straightforward life of steady progression, Bryant’s alludes to one of drama and struggle. Whatever these drama’s may have been (and given his backstory – a gay priest who left the clergy on account of his sexuality – there have probably been a few) they seem to have left him with an instinct-driven, predatory disposition that is fascinating to watch: You can see his eyes dart about, scanning the horizon for signs of weakness in foes or danger to his person whilst his posture always seems to be that of a cat waiting to pounce.

This is not to say that either are without their flaws though, what with Shapps still not able to quite shake off that lingering air of smugness that marred his last performance and Bryant’s repeated use of proforma anecdotes (they usually go something like this: Rhonda → Constituents → Issue at hand → Saw my Mum → Something bad happened) making for slightly jarring interludes, but on the whole it was largely satisfying to watch the upper hand to-and-from between them and in fairness to both they managed to keep the party political bits to an acceptable level of torridness. Good show chaps.

So that was all well and good but the real main event for me was Simon Jenkins, a man I have an inexplicable brain crush on. Here’s why:

  1. Simon Jenkins cares not two-hoots what either you, I or Christ himself thinks about anything. You’ve got an opinion? Bully for you. Simon Jenkins also has one and it’s forceful. His opinion is going to beat up your opinion and there’s nothing you can do about it.
  2. His face is terrifying in HD, what with all those gullies and crevices that look like they’ve been hewn by tiny glaciers. He also has the most threatening smile I’ve ever seen and one that’s permanently affixed to his fortress of a face. It’s the sort of smile that Killer Whales have just before they mess up some penguins.
  3. He has an entertaining tendency to suddenly blurt out so-crazy-that-they-just-might-work ideas like abolishing the armed forces in their entirety. The fact that they are so-crazy-they-definitely-won’t-work is neither here nor there, but just knowing that he can just pull these little gems from nowhere is entirely great (see Fig. 1)

 

simon-jenkins-david-dimbleby-kill-everyone-animated-gif

Fig. 1

Sadly, Jenkins didn’t call for Wales to be nuked off the face of the planet last night but he did put on a formidable display of wilful contrariness. Ban smoking in cars? Pah! How about I smoke you and then run you over in my car! Intervene in Syria? Get the hell outta here, yer bum! Build more wind farms? From my cold, dead hands I CAN KILL MY KIDS IF I WANT TO!

And that’s just fine in my book as although I usually disagree with Jenkins, I just really like the fact that he can’t even be bothered to pretend he cares what anyone else thinks. It’s pigheadedness, but in the best possible way.

The same, however, cannot be said for Will Hutton, a man who always has some very important news to deliver and cares desperately that we should care desperately about whatever that news is. As is usually the case, these dire warnings pertained to the economy and as is also usual, I think he’s right: I think we are completely stuffed if we carry on doing what we’re doing. But here’s the thing that separates Hutton from Jenkins: While I’m usually onboard with what he’s saying, I just can never seem to fully get behind him. It might be because he is so consumed (to the point where he jumps up and down in his seat) by these visions of despair that he does appear a little mad, it might be because he always looks like he’s wearing lip liner but there’s always just something in the way of me hitching my wagon to the Hutton train. Jenkins? He can come up with any old crap and I’ll happily lap it up but Hutton? I don’t know. Maybe next time he’s on he should just say “You know what guys? Everything’s going to be just fine.” and see where that gets him, but yes, I do find the cognitive dissonance that he leaves me experiencing to be quite perplexing.

Right, I was going to do the audience now but I’ve realised I’ve forgotten that Plaid’s Elin Jones was also on the panel last night. Truth be told, this is probably because it was quite a forgettable performance and what fragments I can remember largely revolve around her talking about Wales type things that have no bearing on my life. So yes, her appearance was of no great import and I now feel bad for constantly bitching about Elfyn Llwyd always being on the Welsh episodes. At least he has a memorable moustache.

So finally to the crowd and what a rum old bunch they were this week, cheering and booing in equal measure whilst still making the time to allow a few have-a-go heroes to get very hot under the collar (as exemplified by the gentlemen with hair made of straw who went on an entirely epic rant about Evil Monetarists). However, the most important thing that they taught me last night was this: Should I ever be invited to a fancy dress party in Aberystwyth I should not, repeat not, go dressed as a wind turbine (as I have always intended to, should the opportunity arise). Those people, they get a little crazy about the things. Almost as if they were… tilting… at windmills.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH, I’LL BE HERE ALL WEEK. ENJOY THE VEAL!

Tl;dr

Shapps: 7/10

Is a male…

Bryant: 7/10

Hit many a nail (on the head)…

Jenkins: 8/10

Blew a gale…

Hutton: 6/10

Set sail (on the Ship of Woe)…

Jones: 4/10

Pretty much failed…

The Crowd: 7/10

Are from Wales…

So there you go: A perfectly serviceable outing that whilst not blisteringly relevant was still entertaining and has put me in a buoyant mood. I’m a simple creature at heart…. All it takes to keep me happy is the spectacle of an angry rabble berating our elected representatives once a week. Granted, it’s not the most exotic vice but it’s a damn sight cheaper than crack.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

chris bryant david dimbleby

Apologies to Chris Bryant... I just couldn't help myself...

Questionable Time #9


 

questionable time 9 david dimbleby italyGood morning Lemmings and welcome back? If that greeting doesn’t sound particularly resounding it is because last night’s episode was so dull that I’ll be genuinely surprised if anyone who watched the whole thing can summon the will to actually get out of bed today, let alone operate a computer. Seriously, I had to check my wrist to see if I still had a pulse about twenty minutes in and even this morning I still feel as if I’m on the edge of lapsing into a coma. Still, here we are so lets at least make the pretence of a go at it.

Ok, so the first indication I got that this wasn’t going to be a particularly riveting affair was when I saw the line-up and noted that none of the panelists had even the remotest connection with Newcastle. Granted, this isn’t necessarily a kiss of death but when combined with the fact that the civilian panel members were a neuroscientist and the editor of a Jewish newspaper in a week which has been neither very neurosciencey nor Jewishy, things start to look a little ominous. Still, there was a glimmer of hope that there may be some fireworks and that dull flicker came in the form of the ever-excitable Nadine Dorries. Surely a woman who is basically a moral panic generator (that is when she’s not too busy fibbing on her blog or crashing mini-tractors… See Fig. 1) can spice things up a bit? Wrong! To my shock and consternation, Dorries turned out to be pretty much a picture of restraint last night and despite wearing the largest poppy known to man she still managed to fall far short of her usually howling mad presentation.

nadine-dorries-tractor-gif

That was a bitter pill to swallow but I still had one iron left in the fire, a position filled by sad-eyed and harsh-voiced Labour Treasury bod Rachel Reeves. Tipped as one to watch and a woman whose star is presently on the rise, I was very much hoping that she could drive an armoured division of economic arguments straight through the coalition’s rather wobbly front line and on to the Wide Open Plains of Question Time Glory. However, what I wasn’t prepared for was quite how annoyingly good Michael Moore (a man whose head appears to be clamped into a permafrown by an invisible vice) is in defence. Now, when I say ‘good’, please don’t take that to mean anything in the realm of ‘exciting’ or ‘interesting’ because he wasn’t: In fact, Moore’s strategy seems to largely consist of checking the opposition by dragging the fight into the Tangled Thicket of Policy Detail and thus pin them into a very a narrow and frankly boring debate about how many Border Agency devils you can fit upon a Pilot Scheme Gone Wrong matchhead. To the extent that it denied Reeves the room to manoeuvre this little play was a resounding success but in terms of entertainment it was the equivalent eating Weetabix with no milk (or sugar).

So with Reeves unable to gain any real traction and Dorries on her best behaviour the only remaining hope that any good could come of this episode was left to Professor Colin Blakemore and Steven Pollard, both of who I considered to be long shots given that their day jobs weren’t exactly laden with topical potential. Ok, so it was occasionally entertaining to see Pollard get a little frothy about imagined terrorists in our midst/the virtues of Rupert Murdoch and Blakemore seems a reasonable enough bloke, but neither seemed that relevant to the debate and both were unable to provide anything more than a brief respite from the otherwise grindingly dull main event.

But it wasn’t just the panel that were the problem: It was also the nature of the questions that were at fault. Now, as you can probably deduce from the picture at the top of this post, I was pretty sure that Italy was going to be the pressing issues in this episode. And well I may have as the present woes of our Latin cousins marks the point at which this Euro crisis starts getting very real, very quickly and while I accept that the run up has been formidably long and drawn out, we’re now at the stage when the roller coaster stops its click-clack ascent and plunges us several hundred feet downwards at an eye-watering rate of knots. Remember when the world lost its head in 2008 and everything seemed to be seconds away from falling apart? Well that’s like the teacup ride compared to what this bad boy could have in store for us. Yet when this issue did finally raise its head it was wrapped up in the context of regional development and what should have been a serious discussion about impending economic doom turned into rallying point for the champions of that most totemic of causes, The Dualling of the A1. Ok, so there was a semi-interesting moment when some woman started calling Michael Moore a liar but seriously guys, do we have not slightly more substantial fish to fry? As for the rest of the questions, well the Borders Agency row could have gone somewhere if anyone had the slightest clue what’s going on with that at the moment while the whole poppy affair largely turned into a ‘don’t we love the troops?’ circlejerk. All-in-all a pretty ropey affair.

And the crowd themselves? Well, I suppose they did have the odd outburst every once in a while and watching a guy who was clearly doing his Movember best ask a question about computer games was fun in the sense that it reinforced just about every stereotype one could hold about checked shirt wearing do-gooders but in the main it was a pretty flat and tepid affair. Not that it was entirely their fault… I mean what exactly do you ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when you happen to be sitting in Newcastle? Please don’t annex Berwick-upon-Tweed?

Tl;dr

Dorries: 5/10

File under ‘S’ for ‘Sedate’

Reeves: 5/10

File under ‘T’ for ‘Thwarted’

Moore: 4/10

File under ‘U’ for ‘Uninspiring’

Blakemore: 5/10

File under ‘P’ for ‘Personable’

Pollard: 4/10

File under ‘I’ for ‘In Constant Fear of Terrorists’

The Crowd: 4/10

File under ‘D’ for ‘Downbeat’

Hey, that spells ‘STUPID’! That’s an acrostic. Stephen Pollard knows about acrostics.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #8


questionable time 8 david dimbleby big benMorning Lemmings and apologies in advance for my mind is somewhat fractured today. Why? Well mainly because I spent all last night turning my 32-bit Windows into the slightly more splendid 64-bit version whilst sharing my living room with a cat who simply loves jumping on my computer’s on/off button (a process that’s not dissimilar to defusing a bomb in the presence of a curious toddler). As a result my sleep has been tormented by visions of my precious data howling in pain whilst if I close my eyes all I see is a giant progress bar that seems to be going backwards. In short, I’m feeling a little febrile right now. With this in mind, let us make haste and sally forth to what was a pretty good episode of Question Time, coming as it was from the hallowed innards of the Palace of Westminster.

Right, first up we have Home Secretary Theresa May who has been on something of a QT journey in the past couple of years and one which has mainly displayed an upward trajectory. Prior to being in government, May was pretty much a QT disaster on legs and it almost seemed as if her mouth were less a functional organ and more a portal into a world composed entirely of nonsense (see Fig. 1). However, upon assuming the mantle of Home Secretary she regained some of her composure and a new-found calmness started to peek through, something that I must say caught me off guard a little. Sure, she didn’t stop dressing like an astronaut and her capacity to get very Tory, very quickly was still much in evidence, but overall everything just seemed to be a little more measured. So that was then, but what of now? Well, to tell you the truth I think something’s really rattled May and what we saw last night was actually quite a faltering performance, almost as if she were walking on stilts whilst trying very hard to make it look like she wasn’t. Ok, so she didn’t do badly on the pensions question and largely held her own in the areas where she’d been properly briefed but there was still this lingering tinge of panic that coloured her responses, almost as if her mind was constantly telling her ‘Shit! They’re onto me!’. Her encounters with Balls were fairly instructive on this front and while she did get some claps for a pretty tawdry recital of ‘The Nation’s Credit Card’ you could still see her brain going like the clappers, trying to identify the myriad of threats she perceived to be bearing down on her. So yes, something has put the frighteners on her and if I were to take a wild shot stab in the dark, I may venture that this summer’s complete breakdown of everything law and order related may have something to do with it. I know, it’s a crazy theory but there you go.

theresa-may-gif-woah

Fig. 1

Talking of Ed Balls, after watching him last night I found myself coming to the conclusion that he is the person I would least like to be my doctor. It’s not the fact that he has no medical training, nor that my partner has an inexplicable crush on him that puts me off, it’s just that his face is so innately implausible. Seriously, with that permanent Cheshire Cat grin he displays I really can’t fathom whether he’s flat-out lying to me or just a little pleased with himself and this doesn’t commend him to the role of my GP.  “The test results are back Mr. Loudribs!” I can hear him say, “Everything is fine!”.Oh my God, I must have cancer!” would be my response.

So yes, Balls is a slippery customer and as is par for his course he spent most of the show splitting hairs and sounding like a snake oil merchant. However, there was a brief moment in the middle of the show when he did something I’ve never witnessed before: He sounded like he was genuinely telling the truth. This occurred on the Europe question and following a dithering response from May he launched into a passionate and actually quite searing critique of the government’s position. This caused May to start lurching all over the place and, unable to help himself in the presence of a wounded foe, Balls lapsed back into his more familiar mode of point-scoring one-upmanship. But for a brief moment there, it did actual happen: I actually believed something that Ed Balls was saying. Either that, or the stress induced by reformatting my computer had finally sent me over the edge and the whole thing was an illusion conjured up by a brain that had lost its footing. I hope it’s the former, but I really can’t rule out the latter.

Our final party-political bod this week comes in the form of Shirley Williams and I must say how struck I was by the mellowness she displayed. Usually Shirley can be counted on to rhetorically bop various panelists on the nose whilst thundering away about something that sounds very worthy, but last night she seemed much more at peace with the world and tended to stay out of the bigger rucks. Having said that, she did at one point unilaterally call for the removal of Berlusconi, an act that doesn’t sit well under the heading ‘Mellow’ so I’m not overly concerned that she’s going to hang up her spurs any time soon.

All of which leaves us with our two civilians, Peter Hitchens and Benjamin Zephaniah. Now, I have a confession to make when it comes to Hitchens: I have a horrible feeling I might actually quite like the guy. Sure, our opinions couldn’t be further apart and he does have the capacity to freak me out (like when he said the biggest measure of wellbeing was “faith in God” whilst staring so intensely at the camera that I worried my TV would explode) but I need a Peter Hitchens in my life. I need him because I require a counterpoint to my opinions and he provides that whilst being slightly more tolerable than the likes Phillips and Heffer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to charge off and join the Peter Hitchens Fan Club but I can co-exist with him quite happily, something which can’t be said for the bulk of his more rabid counterparts. Oh, and he does deserve an extra mark for his part in the magical little scene that unfolded when he declared that “the BBC don’t believe in God”.

Have a care, Hitchens” came Dimbers response.

Wonderful.

And what of Zaphaniah? Well, my fear was that his line would be a very ‘them and us’ sort of affair and there were times when his approach was a little too simplistic. However, he did have some good points in there and he made them well thanks to his generally pleasant manner. Ok, so he might not be up to speed on all the details and there’s only so many times you can invoke the name of “the people” before I get annoyed but he was never in any real danger of making a fool of himself and he generally came across as a pretty decent bloke who isn’t afraid to speak his mind.

Considering the above, it’s tempting to chalk this up as a bit of a damp squib of an episode as there were never any major fireworks and the questions failed to spark any incidents that held true drama, but there was plenty going on in the background that you could see from the corner of your eye. Granted, the audience weren’t the most exciting bunch (although I was into the young man who harangued Balls for making questionable gestures in the Commons) and the grand setting didn’t really live up to it’s billing but yes, I quietly enjoyed it.

Tl;dr

May: 4/10

Wobbled

Balls: 5/10

Cobbled (together any old rubbish to advance his agenda)

Williams: 6/10

Gobbled (too much Valium)

Hitchens: 6/10

Squabbled

Zephaniah: 6/10

Nobbled (May on a few occasions)

The Crowd: 5/10

Bobbled?

Right, that’s that done… I’m off to install the ten millionth update to my computer and get angry with drivers. My life: It’s a rollercoaster ride of action and adventure.

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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