Good morning Lemmings and welcome to Plymouth or as I like to call it, Portsmouth-with-Hills-and-a-Slightly-Less-Intimidating-Accent. Now, usually Questionable Time is all about the panelists but I’m going to start by looking a little closer at the location this week because Plymouth is politically a pretty interesting place and this has implications for how last night’s show panned out. Let’s start by looking at a few choice Plymouth factoids:
1. Plymouth is a port city and with ports come lots of dockside industries that are traditionally the preserve of Labour inclined voters. True, these industries are not what they used to be in terms of scale but it still means that there’s a rump of the population who come from a traditionally Labour voting background.
2. Not only is Plymouth a port, it is also a military port (much like it’s more uncouth sibling Portsmouth) and this has an impact on its politics as it means there’s a high proportion of service personnel in the area that lend the city a certain True Blue aspect. Granted, this might not be as divisive a factor as it has been in the past given that New Labour always tacked pretty close to the Tories on defence but it is also fair to say that there’s a sizeable chunk of the population who go in for a spot of good old-fashioned flag waving and that bodes well for the Tory vote.
3. Finally it’s worth bearing in mind where Plymouth is: Wedged slap bang between the Lib Dem stronghold of Cornwall and the Yellowy/Blue county of Devon. That means that there’s also a bit of scope for some third-party mischief and although the Lib Dems haven’t had much electoral success in Plymouth itself, they still have an audible presence.
Demographically speaking this is all good news and so it was that the crowd were both vocal and diverse in their opinions. Politically speaking, no single faction managed to gain ascendency and for every lament for the plight of the poor there was a call for scroungers to be sent to salt mines. However, the going wasn’t quite so good for the panelists, especially in the cases of Jeremy Browne and Elizabeth Truss. In Browne’s case the main problem seems to be that he EN-UN-CI-ATES everything in this booming, halting roar that makes it sound like his lungs are made of oak. That makes for a very rigid delivery and his overall demeanour is of a man who probably suspects he’s a fish-out-of-water but doesn’t really know what to do about it. In terms of exactly what he said, well that was a pretty odd kettle of fish as well and he often veered wildly between the poles of Coalition Loyalty and Liberal Credentials whilst never really achieving a convincing balance that made any sense. As it happens, his comments about Stephen Hester are all over the news this morning as the media senses a weak point in the coalition line but they didn’t seem that incendiary at the time. I think that’s because his style of delivery is so odd that I was just too bewildered to make any sense of the content.
As for Truss, well she really struggled make an impression and managed to go through the whole show without receiving a single clap, largely on account of the fact that she really didn’t have a great deal to say about anything other than the fairly standard Tory spiel about benefit traps and druggies being wrong ‘uns. On any given Thursday that should be a pretty safe applause winning strategy but what she hadn’t counted on was the presence of Melanie Phillips, a woman whose sole objective in life is to take the usual Tory spiel and multiply it by a factor of several million. We’ll get on to Melanie a little later but lets just say that her trademark brand of ranting made Truss’ underplayed tutting look a little bland.
With the coalition bods proving less than potent it seemed likely that David Lammy would have a clear field on which to dance a merry jig. Initial signs proved promising in this department as he played heavily on the social justice angle but he soon found himself facing opposition from what should have been a secure flank: Step forward Mark Steele, cock-er-ney sounding comedian who has yet to be informed that the ’80’s ended quite some time ago. In theory Steele should have been counted on to provide unconditional covering fire to Lammy but to his credit he didn’t. In actual fact he came out as quite critical of the Red Team and did a commendably good job of playing Jiminy Cricket to Lammy’s Pinocchio, a development that ultimately sunk Labour’s hope of a decisive victory.
So, that was all well and good but there’s still something missing from this picture and if I’m not mistaken it is none other than Self-Propelled Vessel of Hatred Melanie Phillips. Now I have to admit that I was pretty bummed out by her performance in the early question as she seemed to be keeping it together fairly well. Sure, she wasn’t exactly a picture of compassion to those on benefits but she didn’t lead any direct appeals to violence and the tone was more ‘grim’ than her usual ‘apocalyptic’. However, I needn’t have worried as buried at the back of the episode was a question on Iran and as we all know, Phillips likes nothing more than the chance to get totally off her mash when there’s even the faintest whiff of cordite drifting over from the Middle East. She did not disappoint me. Lemmings and Gentlemen, I give to you The Most Outrageous Unsubstantiated Claim I Have Ever Heard On Question Time. Over to you, Mel…
“Since 1979… there is no major terrorist atrocity in which Iran hasn’t had a hand”
Let that just sink in for a moment. Anders Behring Breivik? Clearly egged on by the Ayatollahs. The Aum Shinrikyo nerve gas attacks? All roads lead to Tehran. Timothy McVeigh? An unwitting pawn in the eternal struggle for Persian dominance. Now I’m used to Phillips coming out with some pretty absurd statements but this? I almost feel honoured to have witnessed it.
Browne: (Was) Loud
Truss: (Left me less than) Wowed
Lammy: Ploughed (a nice little furrow)
Steele: (Impressed both me and the ) Crowd
Phillips: (Mushroom) Cloud
The Crowd: (Should be) Proud (of their performance)
So there you go, a pretty balanced affair that was capped off with some remarkable feats of crazy. All that’s left to do is look at this photo of Jeremy Browne riding on a dodgem with a Panda that I made last night. Why? Because I can…
Next week Lemmings, next week…