Archive for January, 2012

Questionable Time #15

questionable time 15 david dimbleby pulp fiction

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…

jeremy browne dodgem panda

Next week Lemmings, next week…


Questionable Time #14

questionable time 14 david dimbleby

Good morning Lemmings and brace thyselves for I have a confession to make: I think I might be developing a strange affinity with Baroness Warsi. Now, before you all run away in horror (I can hear a thousand laptops clacking shut in my head right now) allow me to explain: This isn’t an affinity based on any sort of shared worldview or spiritual kinship. Instead, it’s entirely circumstantial and stems from the fact that the very first Question Time I ever covered also happened to be Warsi’s first outing on Grown Up QT (she had previously been on the panel for the 2007 schools edition) and as a result we have a shared history. It’s like starting a new job on the same day as someone else. You may well dislike them intensely but for better or worse, your fates are somehow bound up together and whatever latent animosity you may feel for the person in question is always tempered by the memories of that first day.

So yes, Warsi and I have a shared QT career and as a result I’ve had the dubious honour of watching her technique develop over the years. In the early days this worked heavily in my favour as the Baroness always came with a cast iron guarantee that she would say something stupid and provide me with plenty of material to poke fun at. Most of the time this would involve a scenario where she’d open with a point that the crowd seemed to agree with before utterly overplaying her hand and painting herself into a usually hilarious corner (‘doing a Warsi’ as it came to be known). However, judging by last night’s performance, this isn’t so much of a problem any more… Ok, so she did get tangled in the rigging of the Royal Yacht question and also managed to cancel out her own argument when she got cajoled into admitting that a weak opposition is bad for democracy, but we’re not talking about the Black Hawk Down-esque scenes that regularly accompanied her earlier appearances. In short, she’s finally learned to rein it in a bit.

So credit where credit’s due, this is an improvement but let’s not get too carried away for like Alan Greenspan I have found a flaw: She’s now started getting really personal. The main recipients of this new and frankly frightening tactic took the form of Stephen Twigg and Caroline Lucas, both of whom were treated to sustained assaults that usually started with Warsi invoking their name and following it up some form of ‘you of all people’ accusation. Now, when deployed sparingly this can be a fruitful avenue of attack but the important word in that sentence is ‘sparingly’ and it’s a word that appears to be largely lost on Warsi. Instead it became her go-to method and that just left her looking a little petty. True, ‘petty’ is preferable to ‘wildly out of control’, but it still took the sheen off an otherwise improved performance. So keep trying my little coincidental fellow traveller for the road is long. With many a winding turn. That leads us to where – oh enough already.

Moving swiftly on (as dwelling on my feelings towards Warsi is starting to feel a little weird) I think it’s fair to say that both Lucas and Twigg put in pretty solid performances last night but performances that were not without their blemishes. In Lucas’ case it appears that the Falklands was her downfall as she had a real problem with trying to shoehorn the circle of self-determination into the square of pacifism. However, I’m inclined towards leniency as she did put in the hours when it came to questions about the economy and she punches above her weight for a one-person-party. As for Twigg, well he proved to be pretty nimble but not nimble enough to outsmart the ‘what the hell are Labour for’ question. In fairness to him though I don’t think even Houdini could have escaped from that one as right now no-one knows what Labour is for, least of all their frontbench politicians. Apart from that though I can’t find much to quibble about as it was a generally proficient performance.

Next up are the civilians and I must say I was pleasantly surprised by Germaine Greer and Charles Moore, both of whom confounded my expectations. In the case of Greer I suspect that this is because she seemed to be in a very good mood last night and kept the finger wagging/scowling to a minimum. Ok, so she did try her usual trick of forcibly wrenching questions from their contextual habitat so that she could bang on about something only tenuously related but it wasn’t laden with the matronly hurumphing that she can be guilty of. And as for Moore? Well although he completely lost me towards the end with his love of all things regal I must say that he was a picture of fairness when it came to the Labour question and his outburst of mischief when he fingered Chris Huhne as the yacht leaker was pretty entertaining. It also reminded me that he wrote this article last year. If you have the time, give it a look because it knocked me sideways to hear an ex-editor of both The Telegraph and The Spectator talk so much sense.

Finally, we have the crowd and – much like the panel – I can’t find many sticks to beat them with as they displayed a level of buoyant vocality that served this episode very well. Oh wait, I’ve just remembered that I do have one crowd beating stick up my sleeve and that’s the tartan jacket worn by the Royalist lady. Man, that thing was so overpoweringly tartan that I hardly slept last night, wracked as I was by visions of intersecting black and red lines every time I shut my eyes. Post-Tartan Stress Disorder, it’s serious business.


Warsi: 5/10


Twigg: 6/10

Earning (his dinner last night)

Lucas: 6/10

Turning (out to be pretty good)

Greer: 6/10

Churning (out her usual stuff, but in a very reasonable manner)

Moore: 7/10

Concerning(ly good)

The Crowd: 6/10

Gurning (from exposure to weapons grade tartan)

Oh and by the way, just before I go some of you may be wondering why you haven’t come across a tenuously funny/topical photoshops yet. Well, I’ll be straight with you, some weeks the photoshopping is a breeze and sometimes it’s a nightmare, mainly on account of the panel. For example, should Nigel Farage or Chris Bryant be on then you know it’s going to be a doddle as the internet is teeming with ridiculous photos of them. This lot however are not so forthcoming. Ok, so there are plenty of back-in-the-day shots of Greer looking counter-saucy but any resulting manipulation would just look bitter and all the good ideas I had involving the Royal Yacht were soon put off-limits by the Costa Concordia disaster. However, I am a martyr to my cause and I did manage to cobble something together. The problem is that it’s just so ridiculous that it didn’t really fit in anywhere so I’ve decided to bury it right at the bottom. Lemmings and Gentlemen, I give to you Stephen Twigg getting his sandwich stolen by a fishing rod wielding Caroline Lucas (see Fig. 1). I just work here, ok?


Fig. 1

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #13

questionable time 13 dimbleby the tank engine

Good morning Lemmings and welcome to 2012, a year in which – if this episode of QT is anything to go by – our primary vexation appears to be none other than trains getting from London to Birmingham slightly quicker at some point in the far distant future. Remember that extinction level economic crisis that dominated Question Time throughout 2011? Yeah, well you needn’t have worried because it turns out that all it needed was a damn good Christmasing and now it’s not worth bothering our pretty little heads over. On top of that it also seems that 2012 is the year in which politicians of all stripes put aside their various differences and simply agree with each other on just about bloody everything. That’s right, no more bitter hand-to-hand combat on the battlegrounds of economic policy but instead a cosy love-in as representatives from across the political spectrum bask in the warmth of consensus on boob jobs, HST and Leveson. Ok, so there was a bit of contention when it came to Scottish independence but I’m struggling to recall an episode of QT that was quite so dreadfully agreeable.

The upshot of all this is that it was actually a pretty dull affair last night that lacked any real juice and left me feeling a little short-changed. Take the train question for example: Literally every single political panelist held near identical views and this left the floor wide open for Kelvin MacKenzie to reap all the rewards in his role as Self Appointed Man of the People. Now, I’m no fan of MacKenzie but I have to admit that without him last night would have been little more than a well-heeled Woodstock without the acid and let’s face it, that doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs. So that didn’t exactly inspire me with confidence (you know things are bad when the highlight of a particular question is a gentleman of Scouse extraction getting a little over enthused about Watford Junction) but I held out a little hope that at least the question of Scottish independence could provoke some level of disagreement. And so it did, but in a ridiculously one-sided manner.

Our main protagonist in the only real point of contention in this encounter is none other than the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon and I must say that I did feel slightly sorry for her last night. For one, life can’t be easy when it looks like your hair has been borrowed from a Lego figure (see Fig. 1) and preaching Scottish Nationalism to a London crowd is a tall order but the main reason was that Dimbers seemed to have it in for her a bit last night. Sure, she didn’t do herself many favours as she deployed her usual tactics when in a tight spot (which is to just continue talking, regardless of whether the content makes any sense) but Dimbleby was really short with Sturgeon and seemed to relish any opportunity to clip her round the ear. Another weird by-product of this question was the part when Sturgeon and Danny Alexander got into a very surreal little tiff, ostensibly about something-or-other that an aide to Alex Salmond had said. Sensing danger, Sturgeon tried to wibble her way out of it but Alexander wouldn’t let it go and just sat there, quietly repeating the phrase “Was she wrong? Was she wrong?” like a shell shock victim lost in his own personal hell. This bizarre little charade went on for some time and it reminded me of that ‘You can’t handle the truth!’ scene in A Few Good Men… Except set in a particularly passive-aggressive PTA meeting rather than a court-martial and with Tom Cruise’s character being played by the little man in the bowler hat from the Homepride ads.

nicola sturgeon lego hair

Fig. 1

As for individual performances, well I think it’s fair to say that ‘fair to middling’ is just about the best that this lot could muster with Ashdown putting in the most impressive turn simply by alternating between his ‘Paddy Ashdown is tired of reasoning with you people’ face and his ‘You don’t know cuz you weren’t there!’ war-vet-who’s-seen-too-much routine. Poor old Justine Greening fared less well, chiefly because she seemed to have been relegated to a role in this episode similar to that filled by Dictionary Corner on Countdown and appears to have been there only for reference purposes only. And as for Wee Dougie? Well, I’ve got to say that he’s beginning to freak me out a little. It’s his delivery. Very slow, very soft and very deliberate yet also completely relentless. It’s like being force-fed warm milk at the most leisurely of tempos and that, dear Lemmings, is the sort of experience that I’d rather avoid.

So there we are: A less than brilliant start to the series and one in which the crowd could be at complete odds with the panel and yet still clap along with practised docility. Ok, I guess that’s a little harsh but last night did bum me out a little as I’ve just spent the last month doing the whole Peace on Earth/Goodwill to All Men thing and I was really looking forward to kicking the new year off with a right old gorefest. Alas, it was not to be and so I’ll just have to bide my time until this new-found unity amongst QT panelists shatters into a thousand tiny shards of spite laden hatred. My reckoning is that it won’t be the longest of waits.


Greening: Still in the waiting room


Ashdown: On the express train to Seriousville


Alexander: Lost his ticket


Sturgeon: Got tied to the tracks


MacKenzie: Has a season ticket to Smug City


The Crowd: Want to get off at Watford Junction


Next week Lemmings, next week…

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January 2012

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