Good morning Lemmings and welcome to a fairly inconsequential episode of Question Time but one that does contain a few points of interest worthy of further examination. They are as follows:
1. Tunbridge Wells cares not for the NHS.
Assuming you haven’t spent the last week living under a rock or reading The Daily Express (these activities are pretty much one-and-the-same so far as I’m concerned) then you will doubtlessly be aware that the nation has its collective knickers in a twist over the seething cauldron of electoral cyanide that is the NHS reforms. It’s been everywhere and even those who couldn’t usually give two hoots for matters political can’t have failed to notice this train wreck in the making looming ominously on the horizon. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that instead of the NHS being the question at the top of last night’s bill, it didn’t even get a mention during the course entire show. Nothing. Zip. Nada. And how did this strange anomaly come to pass? Well I suspect that it may have something to do with The Cast Iron Law of Town Naming Conventions which can be summed up in two handy bullet points:
- If a town has a double-barrelled name there’s a better than evens chance that it will be quite posh. Think Chipping Norton, Boston Spa and Alderley Edge.
- The same odds are also applicable to triple-barrelled town names but in the opposite direction. In this case I called to the stand Messrs Stockton-on-Tee’s, Burton-on-Trent and Southend-on-Sea.
Granted, there are plenty of exceptions to this rule (like the wilfully uncooperative Royal Wootton Bassett. They tired of lending weight to my theory and deliberate bolted on a ‘Royal’ in order to make me look stupid) but for the most part it’s a pretty solid thesis and if one takes a cursory look at the polling data for Tunbridge Wells (and leaves aside the inconvenient matter of the ‘Royal’ that its inhabitants occasionally flirt with), it’s safe to say that Tunbridge Wells is itself pretty posh. And what does that leave us with? Questions about bankers, Europe, Syria, the Work Programme and Murdoch but nary a whisper about the NHS – a point that leads us neatly on to this:
2. Ed Vaizey is a blagger of the highest order.
You may have noticed a strange new development in the Tory party over the last few years and that’s the emergence of contemporary hairstyles amongst some of its newer members. In the past, male Tory MP’s (assuming they had hair) were permitted to wear one of two hair styles: The straight-as-a-die side-parting that reached it’s apex under the stewardship of John Major or the more caddish swept back bouffant favoured by the likes of Alan Clark and Michael Heseltine. This state of affairs held true for a good half-century and it has not been until very recently that frontbenchers such as Ed Vaisey, Jeremy Hunt and Grant Shapps have challenged this natural order and bought forth a third option, The Trendy Barnet. Now, I’m bringing this up because it serves as a handy identifier for this new intake and sits well with their other shared characteristic: They are all absolute blaggers.
In the case of Vaizey’s performance this didn’t really become apparent until the second question as he seemed to handle the bonuses issue rather well. Sure, he nearly got caught out with some old quotes that Dimbers threw at him but for the most part he managed to dance his way out of trouble and presented himself as a likeable and very human guy. However, it was downhill from there and the rest of the show was mainly spent with him trying to affably bluster his way out of situations that he clearly hadn’t prepared for. Take the Work Programme question for example: Here he tried to extricate himself from a tight spot by admitting that he only really knew about one very tiny aspect of it and wouldn’t it be nice if we all talked about that rather than the far more foreboding issue of why the whole scheme is going to hell in a handcart. In the end he got away with it but let’s put this into context for a moment: This was a Tory MP playing to probably one of the safest Conservative crowds in the entire country and this should have been his day in the sun. It wasn’t and at times his performance started to look like an episode of The Thick of It, a state of affairs that was in no way helped by trying to shut down the argument with the line “I’ll tweet about it later”. And that’s the problem with these guys – they all work on the basis that the detail isn’t really that important and that if you look the part, you’ll probably get away with it. Given what we witnessed last night, I’d suggest that the detail probably does matter and that unless this new crop of Bright Young Things start boning up on the dull stuff, life will get very tricky for them in the next couple of years. In short, they call it ‘pragmatism’, I call it ‘shenanigans’.
3. I don’t know who Emily Thornberry is but she’s definitely one to watch.
In stark contrast to the fast-and-loose approach adopted by Vaizey, QT n00b Emily Thornberry turned what could have been a stinker of an episode for the Red Team into a quiet triumph and achieved this mainly because she seems to have a knack for tempo. While it may not seem like a big deal getting the right rhythm in debates is a really hard thing to master and she’s found herself right in the sweet-spot: Measured enough to sound like she’s really thought things through but not so slow as to allow others to butt in. Now, if we combine this with her ear for tone (everything was delivered with a comforting firmness that leads me to suspect she might be a Northerner trapped in a Southerners body) then you’ve got quite a potent mix. Did this mean that she trounced the opposition? No, but what it did do was allow her to retain the initiative and that is absolutely vital when you’re on hostile turf (remember that Labour only got 10% of the vote in Tunbridge Wells in the last election). So well done Emily, you have caused me to take note. Consider yourself on the list. The Good List that is, not the other one.
4. There is another member of UKIP.
And if that’s not enough to blow your socks off, hold on to your hats because it also turns out that Paul Nuttall hails from Liverpool, a city not known to be a bastion of cockeyed, twitching Europhobes! I know, I know, it’s all a little much to take in and I must say that I thought I might have had a little too much to drink when he came across as a paragon of social justice on the question about bonuses. Happily though it soon returned to UKIP business-as-usual when we got on to the matter of Syria (he even managed to shoehorn the Falklands in to that one) and by the end we were back on the familiar turf of how Europe will spell the end of everything for everyone. Phew! Anyway, enough of the cruelty as he actually did pretty well and while UKIP are easy to mock, there did seem to be genuine sympathy for his position in Tunbridge Wells. Oh and there was one other thing I noticed about him: His head is so wonderfully, pristinely shiny that it appears to be entirely unmarked by the trammels of existence and the only explanation I can come up with for this is that he secretly retracts it into a hidden cavity in his chest when not in public (see Fig. 1). It’s just a theory but I’ve yet to see any evidence to the contrary.
5. Christina Odone cannot out-gesticulate Simon Schama.
Silly Christina. I know what you were up to. You thought that you could out-gesticulate Schama simply by flapping your arms about a little and occasionally deploying the ‘inverted comma’ gesture. Well Ms. Odone, I hate to break it to you but you can’t out-gesticulate Schama. No one can. The man’s like a rag doll in a washing machine and I have it on good authority that even his spine is double jointed. So next time, don’t even bother. It’s not worth it. That man will gesticulate you into a fine powder and then disperse the resulting dust high into the atmosphere with the jerk of a flailing limb. Now be off with you for I have to use the remaining space to reproduce some of the rather lovely Schama-isms that occurred last night. Here they are:
“My historian’s nostrils…”
“Handsome, deep rose-coloured suit”
“A dagger in the throat of capitalism!”
“Egregious acts of monstrosity!”
“I don’t give a toss”
Oh Schama, you are a card…
Thornberry: (The opposite of) Raggy
The Crowd: Craggy?
So there you go, not much of import but enough to keep me occupied. Right, I’m off but before I disappear there’s just enough time for me to engage in the periodical reminder that you can follow Questionable Time on both twitter and facebook. Quite why you would remains to be seen but if it’s good enough for Ed Vaizey, it’s good enough for me.
Next week Lemmings, next week…