Good morning Lemmings and thank your lucky stars I’m writing this at all, tempted as I was to slack it off and park myself in front of the Leveson Inquiry all day. Yeah, I know it’s pretty sad that my idea of a good time is to watch in-depth legal proceedings but it’s the closest thing I have to ‘sport’ in my life. Still, let’s make the best we can of it, put on our Friday best and crank up the Questionable Time. Here’s what we learned:
Oldham always sets my teeth on edge.
There are some towns that know what they are about and once-upon-a-time this was the case for Oldham: It was about cotton. Sadly, it turned out that cotton is not the most faithful of suitors and since it upped-sticks for more distant shores Oldham has been left scratching its head about where it fits into the scheme of things – a predicament only made worse by the fact that the town in question is built on a series of demographic fault lines. Some of this is down to physical geography: Oldham finds itself caught between the heave of cosmopolitan Manchester to the west and ho of the provincial Pennines to the east but the main problem comes from the fact it contains two very distinct communities who’ve never quite managed to, well, make a proper go of it with each other. That these two entities have been rubbing uncomfortably up against each other is nothing new but it wasn’t so much of a problem when the cracks could be papered over with a plentiful supply of jobs. However the brutal truth is that there aren’t very many jobs in Oldham nor have there been for a very long time. Given the above, what could be more emotionally charged than a question about race and child abuse? I reached for my tin hat…
Thankfully it seems that – despite a few tense moments – cooler heads prevailed and rather than a spittle-flecked punch-up we actually saw quite a searching debate from the crowd last night. Sure, I nearly jumped behind the sofa when I heard the dread phrase ‘I’m not a racist but…’ and the incident with the vicar (note to vicars everywhere: Never use the words ‘lust’ and ‘children’ within 500 miles of each other) looked like it could have gone very sideways, very quickly but by and large things remained mostly civil. That’s a pretty good sign given that only three or four years ago you could guarantee to see at least one person making clear their intention to vote for the BNP. So well done Oldham, it’s still not an entirely comfortable thing to watch you guys trying to hash things out but it’s getting there. Keep it up.
I’m not entirely sure what Chris Bryant was up to.
I like Chris Bryant. He’s rhetorically athletic, does a good line in sincerity and frequently looks like he’s up to no good, all of which makes him a solid QT performer and out of all the political panelist he put in the best turn last night. However, there were a couple of flies in the ointment, one being that his balance got jiggered in the home straight when an otherwise innocuous looking member of the audience accused him of looking smug, the other being the weird tension between himself and Lord Oakeshott. Now I’m no political strategist but if I had been Bryant my game plan would have been pretty simple: Oakeshott is clearly not on board with this coalition business and it looks increasingly likely that he’s going to go outright rogue in the foreseeable future. Consequently all I have to do is make it easy for him to plant a knife squarely between the shoulders of government, sit back and enjoy the fireworks. As it happens, Oakeshott didn’t need any external encouragement to start getting busy with the sedition and while he merrily poured scorn on his notional partners in government all that Bryant really needed to do was lay down a bit of suppressing fire to aid him in this endeavour. But he didn’t. In fact, rather than lending him assistance towards their shared end Bryant took it upon himself to have a pop at Oakeshott who then retaliated in kind by bringing up the matter of Labour’s economic record. I don’t know, it may be that they just genuinely don’t like each other or that Labour really are hellbent on the humbling of the Lib Dems but I can’t help thinking that this was a bit of a tactical blunder and one which took the sheen off an otherwise polished performance. Still, at least Bryant can take solace in the fact that he’s escaped being photoshopped this week. He just makes it too easy. There’s no challenge when the source material is this good.
And the rest of them?
First off, Mary Beard totally gets how to do the 5th panelist thing and it’s not rocket science as to how she does it. It’s based around two key ingredients: Honesty and sticking to what you know. Granted, the honesty component is contingent on having a reasonable outlook on life (try as might I can’t exactly envisage a clamour for more honesty from David Starkey) but providing it looks like you believe what you’re saying, you’re half way there. However, honesty counts for nothing if the audience ever get wind of the fact that you may be trying to blag something you don’t really know about so it’s imperative that you pick your battles. Mary Beard does all of the above (‘I know nothing about economics but neither do you’) and it works brilliantly, especially when political panelists stray into her pet territory of Roman history (what were you doing Oakeshott?! Had you lost your mind?!). That, and looking like a female wizard doesn’t harm the cause either.
The same can’t really be said for Caroline Spelman who is unfortunately hobbled by her innate jauntiness (her picture on the pre-election Tory website is a masterclass in jaunt. See Fig. 1). Now I don’t have a problem with jaunt per se (in fact I’d go so far as to declare myself a fan of jaunt) but Spelman’s jaunt is a weird form of jaunt. It’s more muted than regular jaunt and seems to be a cover for the fact that she’s actually not sure of what to do in any given situation – like the chairperson of a village fête trying to explain away the rain. Still, at least she actually appeared to be awake unlike Peter Oborne who spent the first half of the show doing that scrunched-up eyes thing and taking us round the houses as he slowly spluttered into life. The word ‘Europe’ seemed to jolt him violently back into consciousness later on but his whole performance had this sort of juddering quality to it that I found to be quite unsettling. Oh, and the bit where Dimbers accused Spelman of being racist after she made fun of his tie? Yeah, that was nice.
(Likes the word) ‘Thrift’
(Looked a) Gift (horse in the mouth)
(Seemed rather) Miffed
Swift(ly carried the day)
The Crowd: 7/10
(Did much to up)Lift (me).
Aaaaaaaaand that’s that. As is intermittently customary here’s a quick reminder that you can follow Questionable Time on both Twitter and Facebook should ever feel inclined to do so. Now if you’ll excuse me I really must get down to some Levesoning. I know, I know… How can one man lead a life so packed with action and adventure? Well somehow he does.
Next week Lemmings, next week…
PS: Bonus photoshop! I made a card for Clintons (see Fig. 2)!