Good morning Lemmings and oh god oh god oh god, how in the name of all that’s holy am I supposed to write-up last night’s episode of Question Time? You see, I’ve been doing this for a good long while and without wanting to sound like self-satisfied know-all, I’ve usually got a pretty good idea of how any given episode will pan out ahead of time simply by running the following equation through my head for each panelist:
If A = The propensity of a party political panelist to stick their foot in it
at any given moment (on a scale of 1 to 10).
B= The audience’s capacity for forgiveness of anything stupid uttered
by said panelist (on a scale of 1 to 10)
and C = The likelihood of any allied third-party to say something nonsensical/outrageously unpopular in support of said panelists position (on a scale of 1 to 10)
then (A/B) x C = The chance that the panelist will emerge victorious
(the lower this value is, the more likely the outcome).
So let say Tony Benn (a super safe pair of hands when on friendly territory) is set to appear in Liverpool Walton (one of Labour’s safest seats) and his principal ally on the panel is Labour supporting crowd pleaser Eddie Izzard, then the equation would look like this:
1/10 x 1 = 0.1
There you go, a nice low value that bodes well for Benn’s chances. However, let’s say that on the same show we also have well-known Tory wrecking ball Ed Pickles and his principal ally is the ever-unhinged Douglas Murray then we get this:
10/1 X 10 = 100
Woah! That’s a big fat whopper of a number and should this scenario ever actually play out, I doubt that Pickles would be able to leave the studio without being tarred and feathered. So that’s the equation and by-and-large it works. Sure, some random issue may come up that upsets the balance or a panelist may display uncharacteristic brilliance/stupidity but it’s a good rule of thumb that allows me to come up with a narrative well ahead of time. However, all of the above is contingent on a steady supply of good data and I have to admit that last night, my data was off. Waaaaaaaay off. Here’s why:
Bad Dataset #1: ‘Merseyside’ does not automatically equate to ‘Twinned with Moscow’.
Ok, I’ll admit it, I didn’t do my homework last night. Prior to a show I usually take a look at where the venue is and if I don’t feel very clued up about the location I have a trawl through the electoral results for the past twenty years to get a better idea of where it sits. Not this week though… Oh no, Old Clever Clogs here thought he was better than that and made the mistake of simply assuming that because Southport’s a stone’s throw away from Liverpool it must be entirely populated by die-hard Trots. Wrong, wrong, wrong! In fact, Southport is about as Yellow as they come with a strong Tory vote making up the rest of the picture. In fact, it’s so anti-Labour that they failed to even make the 10% mark in 2010. So not only did that mean that my value for ‘B’ was wildly out of kilter, it also throws the ‘A’s out of the window because ‘A’ cannot not be defined in isolation to its context.
Bad Dataset #2: My opinion of the TaxPayers’ Alliance may not be universal.
I like fringe groups. I like them because they provide the much-needed milk to the otherwise dry Alpen of politics and so far as I’m concerned the more bonkers they are, the tastier the breakfast. So it was that I rejoiced when I saw that Emma Boon, Campaigns Director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance would be taking a seat at the table because in my mind the TA are about as fruity as they come – think UKIP with some intensive media training, less flag waving and a copy of Atlas Shrugged stuffed in its back pocket. Nor is this assumption without evidence: Take for example the fact a former director of the group hadn’t actually paid any tax in Britain for years or that they take advice off the Tea Party movement and you get an idea of quite how potty they are.
So that was me all set up: One of our ‘C’s is going to act like she’s just escape from a RAND Corporation experiment that’s gone horribly wrong while the sheer craziness of her position coupled with the group’s cosiness with the Tories will spell trouble for Alan Duncan. As it happens, I was very wrong on the first count and partially wrong on the second. In the first instance it turns out that rather than appearing to be a hairy-palmed moonhowler, she’s actually quite a steely performer who held it all together rather well. Sure she used the word ‘taxpayer’ so many times that I lost count and the TA’s position as a whole is about as plausible as the financial affairs of Harry Redknapp’s dog but the crowd liked her and she didn’t make any major blunders. On the second count, I was right that she did cause Alan Duncan a fair amount of grief but it wasn’t for the reasons I originally envisaged. I thought this would all be about guilt by association: Boon would support most of what Duncan said and then drop a clanger near the end – like proposing the sale of Northern Ireland to the highest bidder or something – and this would lead to audience doubts over the political company that Duncan keeps. But no. In actual fact she was a pain in the neck for Duncan because she kept having a go at him about aid (and if there’s one thing the TA hate, it’s foreign aid).
Damn. There goes a ‘C’.
Bad Dataset #3 – Digby Jones is way more of a wildcard than I thought.
I don’t mean in any political sense as we all knew he would spend the entire show banging on about how great the private sector is but there’s something about his presence that brings with it an element of chaos. Maybe it’s because he spent the entire episode shouting over everyone, maybe because his head always looks like it’s about to explode but the one thing I can tell you is that I spent most of the show worrying that he may actually eat Sadiq Khan. Like physically start noshing on his arm whilst complaining loudly that he doesn’t taste very good. That just threw all my remaining numbers straight out of the window.
So given the fact that I was going off some very dodgy numbers lets look at how my before-and-after equations look for party political bods Sadiq Khan and Alan Duncan.
Sadiq Khan (projected performance)
A = 3 (He’s hardly electrifying but he’s usually pretty measured on
B= 9 (based entirely on faulty intelligence about Southport)
C = 3 (Assumed because Phillip Redmond is usually
somewhat sympathetic to the Red Team and
despite his overpowering eyebrows – see Fig. 1- he
usually puts on a good turn)
(3/9) x 3 = 1
Sadiq Khan (actual performance)
A = 7 (not so much ‘putting his foot in it’ as
‘looking constantly terrified of Digby Jones’)
B = 2 (based on reliable intelligence)
C = 3 (as Phillip Redmond turned out a very
respectable and level-headed performance)
(7/2) x 3 = 10.5
Alan Duncan (projected performance)
A = 7 (because every time I see him on TV I always assume
that the next words out of his mouth will be “…and I can assure
you that it’s all entirely legal…”. He has that look about him)
B = 3 (again, faulty intel)
C = 10 (based on the assumption that Boon would go nuclear)
(7/3) x 10 = 23.3
Alan Duncan (actual performance)
A = 4 (he was largely steady)
B = 7 (good intel)
C = 5 (thanks to Boon’s unanticipated levity/hostility to aid)
(4/7) x 5 = 2.85
Well look at that. I couldn’t have been wronger. None more wrong. Thanks for nothing, Southport! And as for the rest of the scores? I’m afraid you’ll just have to come to your own conclusions as four hours of inventing spurious equations has led to something breaking in the numbers department of my brain. Expect a return to a simpler – but no less questionable – time next week.
Next week Lemmings, next week…