Archive for March, 2012

Questionable Time #24


questionable time 24 david dimbleby nelson

Good morning Lemmings (or should I say ‘Ahoy there Sea Lemmings’) and welcome to a city that should hold a very dear place in your hearts, purely because it is the place of my birth. That’s right, you owe Portsmouth a big one because without it, what would you be doing right now? Well I’ll tell you one thing for sure, you wouldn’t be sitting here getting a hefty dose of post-Question Time nonsense and in all likelihood you’d actually be engaged in some sort panic buying, be it petrol, stamps or Steak Bakes. So three cheers for Pompey, that majestic beacon of brutalist architecture and warlike things that was kind enough to bring me into the world. Speaking of which, let’s also hear it for the very early onset of Silly Season this year as this has been the most ludicrously fun week in politics I can remember for some time and that’s even before we take into account Gorgeous George’s stunning little coup in the North. I heard him refer to it as the ‘the Bradford Spring’ this morning. Dammit George, you may be a self-aggrandising, cat-imitating, cranky-despot-in-the-making but boy are you value for money. Anyway, I digress… On to some Questionable Timing. Here’s what we learned last night:

1. Labour really need to get their act together, tout suite…

As I just mentioned, this week has been one of those magical moments in politics where absurdity reigns supreme and seeing how the Tories appear to be main purveyors of preposterousness, the chief beneficiaries of this febrile atmosphere should be none other than the Labour party, right? Well judging by last night’s show, maybe not. Why? Well, I’d hazard a guess at the following:

  • Douglas Alexander was not the man for the job last night.

I’ve got nothing against Wee Dougie. He seems a nice (if somewhat bland) little chap who appears vaguely competent and tends to play things on the duller side of inoffensive. That’s all perfectly acceptable in my book as I have an innate respect for the mediocre and I also appreciate that as a defensive player, he can be rather canny. However, what Alexander is not is a balls-out, pedal-to-the-metal political hooligan and what was the one thing Labour needed last night? A balls-out, pedal-to-the-metal political hooligan. Seriously, I actually found it a little upsetting last night as there was so much potential for mischief from the Red Team yet Alexander simply didn’t have the pace, the instinct or the gumption to make any real hay from it. Ed Balls? As fatally compromised as he may be, he would have at least been able to harness those baser urges of his and would mostly likely have produced more hay than a Massey-Ferguson convention but no, instead we got a politician who although adept at identifying threats is simply not cut out to exploit opportunities. To shame Labour, to shame…

  • By contrast, Anna Soubry was very much up for it.

Come on let’s face it, we were all secretly hoping that the Blue Team were going to send Francis Maude on last night. It would have been the crowning glory to a week of self-inflicted nonsense but alas, wiser heads prevailed at Conservative HQ and what we got instead was Anna Soubry, a politician whose stock has just gone up in my book. So why was she a good choice? Well for one, she is very much her own person who has no problem with taking positions that run contrary to the party line. Considering how the party line this week has been something along the lines of ‘whoopsie-titting-bollocks’, that can only be a good thing. The other key asset that Soubry has is that she doesn’t appear to be posh (a case in point being her stance on grammar schools) and considering how the whiff of privilege is fast becoming one of the most toxic odours emanating from the Tory party, this was also a thing of much goodness. So yes, in contrast to Wee Dougie, Soubry was the right person for the job and the Blue Team owe her big time for successfully navigating their rickety old sloop through such choppy waters.

  • Labour are still incapable of making the political weather.

With the exception of Pastygate which seems to largely be the progeny of one very enterprising Labour MP, all of the open goals that have been presented to the Red Team this week have been entirely a result of the Conservatives own ineptitude and even then, Labour still find themselves vulnerable to counter-attacks (largely over the unions). Considering just how unpopular many of the measures this current government are taking are and just how much of a tin ear they have when it comes to communicating with people we would expect Labour to be heavily in the ascendant right now but they’re not. Why? Because aside from minor tinkering they still can’t articulate a plausible narrative as to what they would do differently and until they do we will continue to see them struggling to gain the initiative. Sort it out, Red Team.

 

2. Something horrible seems to have happened to Sarah Teather.

If I cast my mind back to the simpler times before the election I seem to recall that I actually grew rather fond of Sarah Teather. Ok, so I took the piss a bit when I insinuated that she was in fact made of interlocking circles but she did have a good line on the hopey-changey stuff and put in some very solid QT performances. However, it appears that all good things must come to an end and the Sarah Teather we got last night was a very different one from that of two years hence, one that appears to have been mentally ravaged by the experience of government. Take that awful moment in the first question when she failed to pick up on the actually quite funny joke made by an audience member about setting your house ablaze during a fire brigade strike. Now I’m a little torn as to whether she genuinely didn’t get it or was just being wilfully aloof but the result was terrible and made her come across like a really uptight school mistress who does not, repeat NOT, find the rudimentary schoolboy drawings of willies on the toilet walls to be funny. Admittedly things did pick up for her a little later on but I was constantly getting the impression that being in government is really hard for Teather and that it requires a considerable amount of self-censorship on her part. That in itself isn’t entirely unusual (in fact, lip biting appears to be the pastime of choice for left learning Lib Dems these days) but the way it manifests with Teather is because she appears to be troubled by an imaginary wagging finger that scolds her every time a non-government endorsed notion pops into her head. That’s a real pity because her appeal used to lay in the fact that she could be quite passionate when she was emotionally invested in a particular issue but now she just seems to have actively repressed her own beliefs to the point that she’s lost a part of herself and that’s a sad thing to witness. Maybe a pasty would cheer her up.

 

3. The Civilian Panelist were so-so.

Is it just me or could Alexei Sayle simply not be arsed with being on Question Time last night? Maybe it was the rambling answers (‘I don’t care’ → ‘Something about the North’ → ‘Capitalists and that’), maybe it was the fact that he looked like he had a raging hangover (nothing says ‘Oh God, just make it stop’ like sitting with your head in your hands for an hour) but yes, he didn’t exactly look like he had a song in his heart or a spring in his step. By contrast, Simon Jenkins was much more game but he never really got the opportunity to do what he does best: Be difficult for the sake of it. Ok, so he looked like he might get a little cantankerous on the matter of the Falklands and he had the odd moment of wit on the petrol crisis but there was nothing for him to get his teeth really stuck into. However, I am pleased to announce that I have finally obtained conclusive evidence that his face is in fact made of sandstone. Behold Fig. 1 (and really behold it because it is far and away the most technically mind bending thing I’ve ever done in Photoshop).

 

simon jenkins rock face rockchops

Fig. 1

 

Tl;dr:

Alexander: 4/10

(Was as hushed as the Mary) Celeste

Soubry: 6/10

Impressed

Teather: 4/10

Repressed

Sayle: 4/10

Depressed

Jenkins: 5/10

Suppressed (the urge to go absolutely batshit crazy)

The Crowd: 6/10

(Didn’t get) Undressed

So that’s, that… A good episode that could have been great had Labour put up someone with a little more vim, not to mention the luckiest of escapes for the Tories. Anyhoo, that’s enough from me until after Easter but I shall see you three weeks hence when Question Time will be coming to my home of the last 10 years, Leeds. Operation Try And Blag My Way Into The Audience is go! Let’s just hope it’s a little more successfully than the last two times I gave this little maneuver a whirl.

 

 

After Easter Lemmings, after Easter…

 

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Questionable Time #23


questionable time 23 jack ruby david dimbleby

Good morning Lemmings and praise be, spring is here. How do we know this? Well, the lack of near perpetual darkness is one give away but I prefer to use Mother Nature’s most reliable of yardsticks to herald the end of winter: The sudden appearance of a genuinely zesty episode of Question Time. Here’s what we learned last night.

1. The budget was crazy… Crazy like a fox.

So this was the budget episode and traditionally, these tend to be slightly more rambunctious affairs than your more run-of-the-mill shows. However, this year we get an added twist as this was probably the craftiest budget I’ve seen for quite a while and one that’s caught me (and everyone else) slightly on the hoof. And why was it crafty? Well, for one it came with numerous health warnings well ahead of time and almost invited people to get their anger in good order by trailing the 50p cut so heavily prior to the day. With this in mind it was reasonable to expect the post-budget debate to be a fairly straightforward ‘the Tories helping out their well-heeled chums’ knockabout where the focus would be on the traditional battle ground of Monocle and Dickie Bow Wearers vs. Everyone Else. For the most part this seemed to be the case – that is until it emerged that buried in the fine print was an audacious little raid on pensioners. At face value this seems like madness as Rule Number One of politics is that you don’t piss off people’s grandparents as they have an alarming habit of actually voting and it allows you to be painted as the most villainous of villains. Similarly, our brains’ seem to do weird things when asked to process information pertaining to the finances of our elders: Every figure seems to get automatically multiplied by a factor of around 100. For example, if Osborne would have announced that working age taxpayers stand to lose £200 a year, people would rightly grumble and chunter that losing £200 a year isn’t really a desirable thing and then go back about their business. However, should he say that pensioners are in line for a £200 a year squeeze then you end up in a much more serious mess: “Pensioners stand to lose £20’000 a year?! Darling, hand me my pitchfork!”. It’s not our fault, it’s just how we’re wired.

With this in mind I was pretty sure that the harrying of those of more advanced years would be an absolute invitation to tragedy but after watching last night’s show I’m beginning to think that it might actually have been a minor stroke of genius. Why? Because it’s a Sedan Moment – the point where you realise that the Panzers aren’t actually going to come tearing through Belgium where you’ve stacked all your crack units and are in fact emerging from the Ardennes – and if Chuka Umunna’s performance is anything to go by, it worked a treat.

Here’s where things went wrong for Umunna: Certain of the fact that the 50p cut is where the decisive battle would take place he marshalled all of his firepower into that sector and did manage to score some minor tactical victories. However, this meant that he had precious little in reserve to exploit what was actually the issue that wound people up the most and simply couldn’t get any traction on the squeezing of pensioners (in fact, he didn’t even directly address it when it came up, preferring instead to carry on with his frontal assault against the top rate tax). Add into that some shilly-shallying over what Labour would do in 2015 and he comes out of what should have been a very easy fight looking quite badly mauled. And that, dear Lemmings, is why this was a crafty budget.

2. Watching Vince Cable next to David Davis was like watching a ‘here’s what you could have won’ moment on Bullseye.

Whisper it lest either man takes umbrage with me but I suspect that Vince Cable and David Davis probably have more in common with each other than they would care to admit. After all, they are both figureheads for a certain section of their respective parties (Cable with the left leaning, more economically interventionist end of the Lib Dems, Davis with the wing of the Tory party who care about civil liberties), both have a pretty good USP (Cable as the guy who saw the crash coming, Davis as the council-estate-lad-turned-stone-cold-killer) and the pair of them are long enough in the tooth to command a certain level of gravitas. However, the chief difference is that despite the fact that they are both evenly matched in both reach, mischievous intent and ability, one is a cabinet minister while the other is a backbencher. On the basis of last night’s outing it certainly seems that Davis got the sweeter deal. Why? Because Davis was having a whale of a time, being able as he was to duck out of most of Pensionergate whilst simultaneously making loopy unilateral pronouncements about halving the cost of petrol. Cable by contrast had to sit there and suck it all up whilst getting nothing in return for his pains. No crowd love, no mansion tax, no nothing. Ok, so he got to be a little rebellious later on when he poured not quite cold but at least tepid water on regional pay scales but for the most part he looked like a man who had just been forced to drink a pint of brine. So here you go Vince, here’s what you could have won: A similar level of influence without the need to rend your very soul to shreds every time you’re put in front of camera and having to look on impotently as every suggestion you make is quietly taken out the back and shot.

3. The supporting cast was solid.

I have no idea who Melissa Kite is (and neither will I as she doesn’t have a wikipedia article… Three cheers for laziness!), nor am I more than tentatively familiar with Marina Lewycka but truth be told, this matters not a jot as I have nothing in the way of bones to pick with them. Both of them seemed pretty reasonable, both made some good points and neither of them said anything stupid. However, I find myself slightly more inclined towards Lewycka, purely because she seems like the sort of person it would be fun to get drunk with. Similarly with the crowd, I have no complaints as they seemed an amiable enough bunch who could go any-which-way come the next election and there also appeared to be a refreshing absence of flat-out stupidity in this episode. Oh, and there was a guy with a beard so big that it could probably count towards next years GDP figures. Extra points for majestic beards.

4. That whole NHS thing? You probably dreamt it…

I seem to recall that at some point earlier in the week one of the most controversial and potentially risky pieces of legislation in recent history somehow managed to blag its way in to law. At least I think I did as it seems that the QT production team are either unaware of this development or are genuinely more concerned with royalty, ransom and roads. Seriously, wtf?

Tl;dr

Cable: 5/10

Drained

Umunna: 5/10

Sprained (something in his head).

Davis: 7/10

Rained (on Umunna’s parade)

Kite: 6/10

(Seems quite) Sane

Lewycka: 7/10

Gained (my respect)

The Crowd: 7/10

(Contained a man with a glorious) Mane

So there we go, an enjoyable little spring jaunt that kept me entertained for an hour. Nowt wrong with that. Before I go there’s just enough time to squeeze in a quick pshop. This came about when I discovered that there is in fact another David Davis at large, famous only for being arrested with half a haircut. I have tried to simulate the consequences of a chance encounter between the two David Davis’ (see Fig. 1).

david-davis-david-davis-gif

Fig. 1

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #22


questionable time 22 david dimbleby audry hepburn

Good morning Lemmings and welcome to Questionable Time which this week is brought to you from my death-bed. Ok, so ‘death bed’ might be a slight exaggeration as it’s more like my ‘moderately hungover and groggy bed’ but there is a commonality between the two phrases in that they both contain beds and that these beds contain me. So, why am I hungover? Well, I’ll level with you, I just couldn’t quite bear the thought of approaching a Scottish episode involving Janet Street-Porter, a bunch of no-name Caledonian politicos and a clutch of issues pertaining to our northern cousins without something to take the edge off it. In fact, the only thing that kept me from unilaterally declaring this week a holiday was the prospect of Charles Kennedy being there (he’s like my secret QT hip flask… Even with the most God-awful panels he somehow manages to make my insides feel all warm and fuzzy) so upon receiving the news that he had ‘missed his flight’ I thought ‘Cobblers to it, I’m getting sauced’. As a result, this likely to be a short and less-than-accurate account.

Right, where to start? How about with the SNP’s Humza Yousaf, a jaunty fellow who’s got a good line in prattling enthused claptrap about all things Scottish and independent? Initially I was quite taken with him because he seems to have quite the talent for rabble rousing but as time went on the penny started dropping that there wasn’t a great deal of substance in it all and that he may just be the latest honours student from the Alex Salmond School of Jiggery-Pokery. Then he said something that suddenly joined all the dots together in one fell swoop: “I was 16 when we went into Afghanistan”. ‘Come again? 16? And you’re a… politician? No wonder you’re a little rash and over-exuberant! 22 year-olds are rash and over-exuberant by their very nature!’. Then another penny dropped: ‘Wait a second, if you were 16 in 2001, that means you’re now 26 which in turn means we’ve been in Afghanistan for over 10 years!’. Now, don’t get me wrong, I already knew this to be true in the semantic sense but it’s only at times like this that a fact creeps up on you takes you off guard that it really begins to sink in. 10 years. We’re going head-to-head with Vietnam for the accolade of Most Long-Winded Tragedy of Modern Times here and that’s not the sort of accolade you proudly display on your mantelpiece. Anyhoo, where does all this leave young(ish) Humza? Well neither here-nor-there really. On the one hand, he should be old enough to realise that operating on pure bluster will only get you so far but on the other hand I do find his lean and hungry disposition to be rather fun to watch and he does possess more than a smidgen of charisma. In light of this, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt…. For now.

Talking of charisma, lets say hello to our other Scottish panelists – the Conservative’s Ruth Davidson and the Lib Dems last-minute stand-in Willie Rennie – as this seems to be a department in which they are both lacking. In the case of Davidson I think this stems from the fact that she looks like the third Krankie who somehow managed to escape and is now doing her level best to lead a relatively ordinary life, even if this involves constantly repressing the brutal memories of being forced to dress as a little boy in the name of ‘comedy’. As a result she just seems a little nervous, a little wary and despite not messing anything up too spectacularly, I must confess that I was left feeling a little nonplussed. Similarly, Rennie also failed to set the night ablaze and that’s because he seems like a nice, reasonable man who enjoys outdoorsy things and would just like everyone to get along. Is that a bad thing? Not particularly. Does it make for good QT-ing? Again, not particularly.

So that’s the natives dealt with, now we come on to the one person who did fully hold my attention for the entire show, Frank Field. Now, Field’s a funny character, sort of like a weird mash-up between Eeyore and Dr. Strangelove (an observation rendered doubly valid by his outpouring of love for nuclear power at the end of the show) who exists only to cause sullen trouble for his nominal party from time-to-time and that makes him fascinating to watch. True to form, Field spent the best part of last night lining up sacred lefty cows before unceremoniously massacring them one by one. Youth unemployment? The kids need a clip around the ear. Wind turbines? The greatest swindle in history. The audience? “Scrubbing about on the floor”. Now, at face value that sounds like the sort of pugnacious hucksterism that we’d expect from the likes of Melanie Phillips but somehow Field manages to deliver these sentiments in a way that doesn’t make my skin crawl. It’s not the fact that he clearly believes these things to be true as I’m pretty sure that Phillips also fully believes in whatever she’s ranting about it, it’s the fact that these things make him so self-evidently sad and sadness is a very human quality. So yes, well done Frank. I can’t say I agree with much of what you say but I do admire the fact that you voluntarily live in thicket of ideological brambles. Good stuff.

And Janet Street-Porter? Yeah, still like sticking scrunched up balls of sandpaper into your ears and vigorously rotating them back and forth…

Tl;dr

Yousaf: 6/10

Wiley

Davidson: 5/10

Shyly

Rennie: 5/10

Highly (unremarkable)

Field: 7/10

(Un)Smiley

Street-Porter: 4/10

(Jesus Christ) O’Reilly

The Crowd: 6/10

Stylee?

Aaaaaaaand we’re done. Nearly. The one thing I forgot to mention was the lack of topical photoshops in this week’s Questionable Time. Well, I had a great Charles Kennedy one all set up and ready to go but ‘he missed his plane’ so that will just have to bide its time in the holding pattern. However, as luck would have it my brother Tom has sent me this little gem: Behold, a God-awful painting of David Dimbleby as an Eastern European peasant woman.

david dimbleby peasant woman

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #21


questionable time 21 david dimbleby john lennon yoko ono

Good morning Lemmings and before we get under way I would just like to take a minute to relate a rather bizarre story that unfolded exactly a week ago today. Having just literally pressed the ‘Post’ button on last week’s Questionable Time I got a knock on the door and found myself confronted by two smartly turned out representatives of the local Labour party. Sensing an opportunity for some gentle mischief I then spent the next five minutes explaining how my ‘Never Vote For An Incumbent’ rule leaves them with an outside chance that I might put a tick in their box at the next election but they had better not count on it because I have a long memory and still can’t quite forgive New Labour for this, that and the other. Rightly sensing that much tastier and lower hanging fruit may lie further down the street (it turns out bearded men in dirty tracky bottoms aren’t the core demographic they are after), they politely took their leave and moved on to pastures afresh. So far, so ‘meh’. Anyhoo, off I went to the kitchen to crack on with the washing up and as I was gazing listlessly out of the window when I caught sight of a small figure moving purposefully down the street. Then something started stuttering in my brain. “Hmmmmm….” I thought as I ran the hot water “why is this seemingly innocuous scene giving me the jibblies? Is the Matrix glitching again?”. Squinting a little as I tried to seek out the cause of this weird sensation I was suddenly deafened by the sound of a thousand pennies dropping. “That’s not…. It can’t be…Wait… No… IS THAT RACHEL BLOODY REEVES?!?!”

Within seconds my mind had gone into complete meltdown: “But… But you were only on my telly a few hours ago and I’ve just spent the whole day writing about you! I must have gone too far. I must have blogged too hard and am now hallucinating about members of the Shadow Cabinet stalking me. Oh my God, this is how it starts! This is how people end up inside Secure Units!” At this point I stopped making conscious decisions and felt the hand of compulsion grab me firmly by the scruff of the neck. Out I went, out into the street and before any of my usual social circuit breakers could kick in there I was, barefoot and hollering “RACHEL REEVES I JUST GAVE YOU FIVE OUT OF TEN!”. The figure stopped in her tracks and turned to face the source of all the commotion. “Bloody hell, that is Rachel Reeves! And bloody hell, she’s coming over here!”

As to what happened next, well that will probably never be known as I was no longer even slightly in command of my faculties but I do remember her saying “Five out of ten?” to which I responded with “Something something Questionable Time! Something something you were just on my telly and now you’re on the internet! Something something something!”. To her credit, she took it in her stride and allowed me to babble on (although I do remember a big neon light saying “SHE’S BLAGGING” pinging on in my fevered brain as she neither confirmed nor denied that she had any idea as to what ‘Questionable Time’ may be) before slowly withdrawing and making good her escape. And there I stood, bemused, dishevelled and not even remotely interested in doing the washing up any more. I gathered myself just enough to put together a garbled tweet and minutes later my phone pings to tell me that Rachel Reeves is now following me on Twitter. Was that the whiff of burning plastic I could smell emanating from cranium? I think it might have been.

Anyway, I’m bringing this up for three reasons:

  1. It’s was really, really weird and I feel compelled to share the weirdness.
  2. I would very much like to take this opportunity to tell all future panelists of Question Time that they best not be getting any ideas and trying this out for themselves. It is not ok to go swanning passed my house on the day that I’m straining every inch of my brain to poke fun at them. It’s not right and there are probably laws against it. Rachel Reeves I can forgive: She’s my local MP and as a consequence she has a hall pass but the rest of you guys? No. It’s not on.
  3. Recounting this tale has eaten up a good 700 words and that’s just dandy in my book because I was having real trouble making anything out of this episode.

And why would that be? Well, I guess part of it is because I had entirely the wrong attitude when it came to last night’s show. I was looking for a damn good hating and both Eric Pickles and Will Self have very good track records in stoking my hate levels (Pickles for frequently being on the wrong side of the folksy/condescending line and spectacularly buggering up my life since he’s been in government, Self for saying a great many things that I completely agree with but saying them in a way that makes me feel nauseous and wretched). Add into that a generic Mail columnist in the form of Janice Atkinson (or is it Janice Atkinson-Small? The internet stands in defiance to Dimber’s assertion of the former) and we’re on for a right old session of heartburn and high blood pressure, right? Wrong!

In the case of Pickles I thought I was onto a winner as he spent the first question looking pissed off and constipated whilst saying approximately nothing at very great length. However, that trend was not to last and by the second question he found himself largely on the right side of the folksy/condescending line, even if it was at times through gritted teeth. Add into this some rather disarming outbursts of humour tinged with barely submerged contempt for his peers (I did really like it when he started scrawling out Atkinson’s notes) plus a remarkably reasonable stance on gay marriage then it becomes clear that this wasn’t going to be the day that I could absolutely let rip on him. It is still however the day that I can post a photoshop I made of Eric Pickles as a pickle (see Fig. 1). No one rides for free around here.

eric pickles dill gherkin

Fig. 1

As for Self, well he really wasn’t as obnoxious as he usually is and I have to say that the points he made on both Afghanistan and the railways were very, very good. Ok, his pulling of the ‘Ooooooooooh!’ face in response to something Atkinson said did grind my gears a little but in the general scheme of things he did well. So that just leaves Atkinson on my Hate Bench and given her day job, I was pretty sure that she would whip me up into a frothy lather of spittle and bile. As it turns out, she couldn’t and I put this down to the fact that I never really had a clue what she was talking about. It wasn’t so much the content as the jarring and completely arbitrary pauses that seemingly came out of nowhere, not to mention her halting ramblings about a “leaky pipeline” and female MPs. In short, she just left me bewildered.

Hmmmm… So not a lot of hate to be had here and given that our next two panelists are none other than Caroline Flint and Will Young, it swiftly became clear that my Thursday night was going to end up becalmed and adrift in serenity. Now, I know that some of you are going to wonder why I’m making Caroline Flint out to be some sort of beacon of tranquillity as she can be both combative and irksome so allow me to explain: Ever since Questionable Time has been going, Flint has been on more than any other panelist and thus I have had several years in which to watch her go from an overly aggressive diamond-in-the-rough into actually quite an accomplished performer who could well see her status upgraded to Steady Pair of Hands. Ok, so much like Reeves last week she suffered from Labours belated recognition that they now need to be really hammering slogans home (Ol’ Snagletooth never actually said ‘the squeezed middle’ but she might as well have done given how many platitudes along the same line she came out with) but on the whole, her performance was solid. And for me that’s nice because such prolonged exposure to Flint has left me feeling quite fraternal towards her and it’s pleasant to see her continue on the trajectory of incremental improvement. I realise that this hardly makes for an objective account of her performance but that, I’m afraid, is just the way it is.

All the above leaves us with Young and let’s face it, there’s no way he’s walking out of here without some really good marks. As to why he deserves such plaudits, well part of it is to do with the way he gets points across (he’s thoughtful and reasoned while assertive when he needs to be) and partly because the role of 5th panelist fits him like a glove. Usually when a figure from the realm of celebrity is shoehorned on to the show they come with a health warning: ‘This person will probably have an opinion on one specific and personally dear issue but will be useless for the rest of the show’. Not so with Will Young because he actually had well thought out opinions on everything (including the habitually toxic question of Afghanistan) and delivered these opinions in such a soothing-yet-confident manner that I just couldn’t help but get right behind him. Oh, and the stuff he came out with on gay marriage? Top flight Question Timing.

So, where does all this leave me, hankering as I was for a right old evening of venom? Well part of me is a little a disappointed as it was just one of those nights where I really fancied getting hot under the collar but I must confess that it was a generally high quality episode made even higher by the presence of an audience member in a bow tie and dinner jacketish sort of affair. I’m still a sucker for innately posh gentlemen in a dapper get-up and as always, Surrey didn’t fail me. It must be down to all those £2 million homes that are full of grannies.

Tl;dr

Pickles: 5/10

Weigh(s a lot)

Flint: 6/10

(Has a certain) Cachet

Self: 6/10

(Is looking quite) Grey

Young: 8/10

(Is quite clearly) Gay

Atkinson: 3/10

(Is) Away (please leave a message and she’ll get………………. Right back to you)

The Crowd: 6/10

Way-hey!

Oaky-doaky, there we go(ky). I’m off to do the washing up and try to quell this feeling of apprehension that I’m about to see Eric Pickles barreling down my street. Have you people got nothing better to do than harass bloggers of minor significance? Have you not got homes to go to? Do I have to involve the authorities? Question Time panelists: There’s just no trusting them.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #20


questionable time 20 david dimbleby mona lisa

Good morning Lemmings oh God, this is going to be a little trickier than I anticipated. You see, the problem I’ve got is that is that I spent my whole week lulling myself into a false sense of security for the following reasons:

      1. Dewsbury is just down the road from me, I’ve covered it before and was pretty confident that things would pan out in a certain way.
      2. Whilst I didn’t (despite strenuous efforts) manage to get on the show myself, I did manage to insert a spy into the audience in the form of the redoubtable @smokethiscity. After a week of intensive QT coaching and espionage training I deployed my little Manchurian Candidate to Dewsbury with a clutch of pre-prepared questions and a communication device (see Fig. 1). Advantage Loudribs.
      3. Thanks to my new-found knack for subterfuge I also gained valuable prior knowledge with regards to the composition of the panel. Given that they were all repeat offenders whose foibles are well documented I was now supremely confident that I had the drop on this week’s episode.

Fig. 1

So yes, I had it all figured out. Starkey would be insufferable, Clarke would flounder but everyone would be very kind to him whilst the politicians would provide me with the regular meat and potatoes I need to make a decent Questionable Time. For once I was holding all the cards and I’ve spent most of this week looking forward to a nice, easy Friday write-up that would call for very little effort on my part. So why am I sitting here right now feeling like my brain’s about to explode? Here’s why:

1. Bloody Starkey

I think I can be forgiven for simply assuming that David Starkey was going to be a breeze to write-up this week given that the man’s a vortex of absurdity who seems to grab every opportunity to get a little repellent and theatrical with both hands. In fact, I could pretty much get away with giving him a good kicking in today’s Questionable Time as he did spend a disproportionate amount of time accusing audience members of “insolence”, having a go at the French for being smelly ingrates and being told (very firmly no less) to shut up by Dimbers, all of which is exactly the sort of dickish behaviour we’ve come to expect from him. The problem is that even though I would very much like to stick the boot in (not only would it be easy, it would also be incredibly fun), I just can’t bring myself to because in actual fact, he came out with some good stuff last night. HEY, WHERE ARE YOU ALL GOING?! COME BACK! I KNOW IT SOUNDS CRAZY BUT HEAR ME OUT!

Ok, still with me? Good. Let’s start with the NHS question. Now, as Starkey rightly pointed out, we as a nation get a little bit crazy with the Cheeze Whizz whenever the topic of health is bought up and in no area is this tendency more pronounced than that of GP’s, Unimpeachable Bastions of Moral Integrity that they are. Here’s the thing though, I used to work in primary care and while I can confirm that the vast majority of GP’s are Hard Working Pillars of the Community there is also a minority that are, for want of a better word, Money-Grubbing Bastards. It’s not a nice thing to say but it’s true and there are many practices out there that use every possible trick in the book to squeeze as much as they can out of the NHS for their own personal enrichment. Given that suggesting such a thing in public is only slightly less socially-acceptable than telling children that Santa’s dead, it takes a certain amount of guts to shine a light on this issue and Starkey deserves some credit for that.

Similarly, he also had some worthy stuff to say on the segregation question, particularly when it comes to the thorny issue of what do we do when the rights of two minorities collide (which in this case was the right of the gay community to be gay and the ‘right’ of a small section of the Islamic community to hate people being gay). Now, this is an area that most people shy away from because not only is it loaded with emotion, it is also savagely complicated and littered with squares that can’t be circled without some very hard and very painful soul-searching. Yet again though, Starkey had the chops to bring it up.

So here I am in a quandary: On the one hand I simply can’t get past the fact that watching Starkey is like watching an enormous trifle made of bile and that all the histrionics (“he thinks he’s Moses!”) do nothing to lessen that perception. However, I have to admit that unappealing as it is, that trifle does – in places – actually taste quite good and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s even a hint of nutritional value in it. Ah, bugger it. I can’t keep this of level cognitive maturity up… Here’s a puerile photoshop of a very fruity looking David Starkey circa-some-time-in-the-mid-’80’s (see Fig. 2). There, that feels better.

david-starkey-1980s-sailors-gif

Fig. 2

2. Clarke Carlisle absolutely blew me away.

Ok, I confess. I spent the first part of this episode being an absolute snob towards Clarke Carlisle. “Awwwwwww…” I thought out loud, “Look at the little footballer fluffing his careful rehearsed lines and looking totally out of his depth. Bless.”. So yes, again I was lulled into the notion that he’d be a doddle to write-up as he was performing exactly how one would expect a footballer on QT to perform. Then the segregation question landed and I was forced to instantly STFU for from this unassuming figure gushed a torrent of utter brilliance. Seriously, his response to that question hit so many nails on the head and did so with such obvious passion that I was completely taken aback. I can’t even remember exactly it was that he said but the way he said it put an instant song in my heart and for the first time in God knows how long I actually felt myself actively rooting for a panelist. So I’m sorry Clarke Carlisle. I’m sorry for being snobby and doubting you and I’m also sorry for that time when I inadvertently made your name a high-ranking result for the search term ‘pissflaps’. BFF’s?

3. The other panelists mattered not a jot.

So with all this Clarkey-Starkey business going on, I guess it’s fair to ask how our three political panelists did and if I’m being honest, there’s not a great deal to tell. Part of this was that because it was a very evenly split crowd so no-one really got the upper hand at any point, but it’s also because it was a very middle-weight panel in which the combatants were quite evenly matched. Sure, John Redwood was (as always) a little weird, Rachel Reeves a little over-briefed and Jo Swinson a little unbalanced by some torn loyalties but no-one really buggered anything up and nor could they really make their voices heard over Starkey’s shrill rhetorical antics. As a result I’m awarding all the politicos an arbitrary ‘5’. There’s no shame in it guys… Mediocrity is under-rated.

TL;DR

Redwood: 5/10

Largely fine.

Reeves: 5/10

I can’t whine.

Swinson: 5/10

Pretty benign

Starkey: 6/10

Bit of a swine

Carlisle: 8/10

Did shine

The Crowd: 7/10

Contained a spy (who dropped me a line).

So there you go, despite all my efforts to play puppet master and have myself an easy Friday my efforts have been in vain. Clearly myself and @smokethiscity aren’t CIA material. On a rather more sombre note, I’d just like to take this opportunity to say a fond farewell to Bob Franklin, a regular commenter on Questionable Time who sadly passed away last month. I always greatly valued his support, opinion and kind words and my thoughts are with Di, Toby and Rupert.

Next time Bob, next time…


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