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?
Sprained (something in his head).
Rained (on Umunna’s parade)
(Seems quite) Sane
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).
Next week Lemmings, next week…