Good morning Lemmings and let us start by asking ourselves a simple question: Just who in the hell are these people? Ok, so we know Medhi Hassan as he’s a Question Time
requent Flyer and Tristram Hunt has also been on once before but the rest of them? Your guess is as good as mine.
In the case of Simon Wolfson this point is particularly pertinent as according to what little I can glean from the internet he is a man who goes out of his way to lurk in the shadows. What we do know is thus:
- He’s the CEO of Next.
- He has a lot of love for the Conservative party and is rather partial to chucking money in their direction.
- He’s mad keen on austerity.
Other than that the guy appears to be a complete mystery and despite being exposed to him for a full hour last night I have very little to add to the list. Ok, so we can throw in the fact that he really isn’t a fan of Europe (which isn’t exactly a revelation given his background) and that despite his love of cuts he isn’t adverse to the government spending piles of cash on the Olympic opening ceremony (again, not quite the surprise of the century as he happens to be sponsoring said ceremony), but apart from that we are left none-the-wiser. And this, dear Lemmings, is why I can’t help but find him a little sinister: His bearing, his squared-away posture and the innate confidence in his voice all speak of a man who is very much used to getting his own way yet doesn’t have to abide by the constraints that seem to apply to most other mortals. In many respects he reminds of the Koch brothers in America – a pair of walking question marks who you just know call more shots than they should – and that isn’t really much of compliment. People like that give me the jibblies and that’s exactly what Simon Wolfson left me with last night. Jibblies everywhere. Still, should he ever need any new marketing ideas for Next, I have a few of my own (see. Fig. 1).
So Wolfson appeared to be the main event on the Blue side of the line but he was not without backup as Tory backbencher Claire Perry also turned up for the ride. Now, I’m having a fair amount of trouble pinning this QT n00b down as she has a slightly confusing approach when it comes to televised debate. This usually starts with a cheery example of how normal she is (“I’ve been on a train!”, “I have daughters!”, “”I eat food!”) but then descends into an argument with herself as she tries to balance the pro’s and con’s of various arguments in real-time. Technically, I should be commending this tendency as an outward manifestation of a rational mind but in actual fact I found it all to be a little confusing and I had trouble trying to divine exactly what it is she believes in. Do you like Europe? No, but then again I’m not going to urge Cameron to do anything specific about it. What about benefits? Well, it’s all Something for Nothing innit, but JSA is too low. And the Olympics? Too much money but it’s good for the economy. If we factor in her eagerness to jump into arguments foot first (as she was constantly doing with Hunt and Hassan) we’re left with quite an odd melange that left me all a little ‘¿Qué?’… And that’s before we even get to the bizarreness of her calling for the government to blag the Olympics on the cheap in an Apprentice stylee.
Still, none of this proved to be a major tactical disadvantage as the Red Team’s Tristram Hunt also suffered from a rather vexing handicap although one of a very different nature. Part of this is down to the fact that he just appears slightly incongruous: You can tell he really wants to be a Man of the People (as is usually required from an MP for Stoke) but can never quite get away from the fact that he’s the son of a Lord who went to a fancy school. On top of that, his background as a historian doesn’t stand him in the best stead for fast-moving debates as he seems to need a lot of time and space to develop his arguments. Sure, it would be lovely if he could nurture those little historical anecdotes into a fully fledged broadside against his foes but things move quite rapidly on Question Time and never did he really get in a position where he held the initiative. Instead it was a juddery performance where he never looked entirely comfortable and often seemed in danger of losing his balance.
Luckily for him though Medhi Hassan was more than up to the task of doing the heavy left-wing lifting and had no such trouble in throwing his rhetorical weight about, even if it was at times done in a rather breathless manner. I’m not going to go on too much about him as he’s had plenty written about him in previous Questionable Times but let’s just say I’m glad he was on as the show would have otherwise been nothing more than a right-wing circlejerk.
Speaking of right-wing, here comes Constance Briscoe and boy was I not expecting her. The thing that rattled my cage with Briscoe was the huge gulf between tone and content that was apparent from start to finish. You see the thing is that she has a lovely way of speaking. It’s a gentle, measured timbre that’s actually quite soothing to the ear but when you start to pick apart what she’s saying you find nothing but absolutes (and some fairly right-wing absolutes at that). For example, she was scathing when it came to the benefits culture in the UK and clearly has little time for those on the dole yet she delivered this tirade and in the gentle tones of a kindly aunt. Ok, fair play to her, she was pretty funny when she took a sideways sweep at Dimbers for being a man but on the whole I found her to be just plain scary.
And that was the thing with this episode: It was an utterly polarised affair, what with the LibDems being entirely absent (probably quite fortuitously given the prominence of Europe on the agenda) and the two Westminster candidates painting themselves into semantic corners. That left the field wide open for a straight forward Right vs. Left clashing of horns from the remaining panelists, all of whom seemed more than cut out for the task. However, there is still something missing from this mix and that’s the audience.
Now, these guys were probably the most interesting thing about the show and that’s because they appeared to be in the market for only one thing: Jobs. Sure, they made it abundantly clear that they are no fans of Europe, nor for that matter do they hold a candle for either Cameron or Miliband but one thing they were certain about was that Stoke is getting shafted. Again. I have sympathy with them on this because Stoke, (much like Middlesbrough) is a town that de-industrialisation has wrecked absolute havoc on and in the wider scheme of things it serves as a depressing warning for what may be in store for the rest of the country if the economy continues on its current trajectory. That the crowd seemed disinterested (at times contemptuous) of the Westminster panelists is not surprising and the overall impression I got was of a town that feels forgotten, neglected and slighted. Did that make for a fun show? Not really. It was too scrappy and visceral to contain any real moments of joy but it certainly was instructive: We could all be living a Stoke-esque existence in the not too distant future and from the evidence on display, it’s not exactly a barrel of laughs.
Stood on high
Did well not to cry
Is not shy
My oh my
The Crowd: 5/10
So there you go, the West Midlands have spoken and they are not happy bunnies. Mind you, I can’t really blame them… I think I’d get a bit down in the mouth if my town’s only claims to fame were plates, Bruno Brookes and Slash.
Next week Lemmings, next week…