Archive for June, 2012

Questionable Time #33


questionable time 33 david dimbleby misfits

Good morning Lemmings and hold on to your hats because we’ve got a live one here. Yup, that’s right, after a slew of mediocre and bothersome QT’s that never really got off the ground Luton has decided to pull its finger out for the penultimate show of the series. And about bloody time if you ask me. Anyway, here’s what we learned:

I was genuinely excited at the prospect of Paddy Ashdown and Terry Smith being in the same room together.

There are many people in this world who claim to know some Awful Things and to be quite frank, most of them annoy me. Take for example Nick Ferrari: He claims to know all sorts of Awful Things about the way this country is heading and uses every opportunity he can to make us aware of just how Awful these Things will be. The problem here however is that a) I’m not entirely convinced that the horrors of which he speaks are anything more than figments of his imagination and b) the way he howls and bleats about our impending doom makes me want to do him a mischief. Happily though, the same cannot be said for either Paddy Ashdown or Terry Smith, men who have taken the art of knowing Awful Things to dizzying heights. Lets start with Ashdown:

That Paddy Ashdown knows some very Awful Things is beyond dispute. The man is an ex-Marine who’s spent a good part of his life practising Awful Things on behalf of the state before going on to govern a country that was beset with Things of the most Awful nature. In short, he’s got chops when it comes to the unthinkable. But it’s what he chooses to do with this information that’s important and this is where Ashdown’s real strength lies: He tells you about these Things and their Awfulness without fuss or drama, neither trying to sweeten the pill nor over-egg the pudding. Basically, he treats you like an adult. As for Smith, well it’s all very similar. His background is in finance and given his CV I think it’s entirely probably he knows a great many Awful Things about The City. But again, it’s what he chooses to do with this information that matters and like Ashdown he opts to play it super-straight: Thing’s are much more Awful than you could possibly imagine. Suck it up. Now, that’s not a nice piece of news to impart but he does it in such an unflinchingly steely manner that it almost doesn’t seem scary: The entire global economy could happily implode, taking with it several hundred years of human progress but it’s ok because no matter what, Terry Smith will survive the cataclysm and be able to say ‘I told you so’ when we all emerge from our fallout shelter.

So yes, I’m a very big fan of people who really know what they’re talking about – doubly so if they happen to be kickboxing econo-doom-mongers or ex-Special Forces nation builders – and what I was really hoping to witness was a flat-out confrontation between the two of them. Alas, that was never going to happen as they seem largely united in their outlook on economy and aside from Smith’s suggestion to simply get rid of the House of Lords (never one for partial solutions, Terry Smith) they largely spoke as one. But still, could you imagine a face-off between the two of them? It would be like the world’s most intense staring contest (if Paddy Ashdown’s eyeless squint qualifies as staring) that would probably result in someone’s head exploding. I’ve done my best to visually extrapolate such a scenario (see Fig. 1) but I must confess that I am a little bummed that it didn’t come to pass. Still, a solid effort from both parties involved and one that lent this episode some of the much-needed gravity that’s been missing from QT of late.

paddy-ashdown-terry-smith-staring-contest-gif

Fig. 1

My jury’s out when it comes to Justine Greening.

This was never going to be a nice week for a Tory on QT, let alone for a Transport Secretary who got brutally flip-reversed by her own team a few days back so the odds really weren’t on Greening’s side. To her credit, she did manage to look largely composed for the bulk of the show and the good news is that this wasn’t a Chloe Smith/Ben Swain moment. The less positive news for Greening is that if the Blame Labour For Everything line was looking a little threadbare six months ago it looks positively craven now (something that three separate audience members went to great lengths to point out) and her reliance on it soured her performance from the get-go. Similarly her repeated use of the phrase ‘cracking on’ became so familiar as to be contemptible and although it’s preferable to confessing that the government really doesn’t have a clue what’s going on at the moment there is something deeply suspicious about people who are constantly telling you that they’re ‘on to it’. Still, it could have been worse and I will say this: Justine Greening has excellent posture: Shoulders back, spine ramrod straight, head up… that’s some quality sitting down she pulled last night.

I like the fact that Tony Robinson must leave right-wingers feeling horribly conflicted.

First things first, hats off to Tony Robinson for his opening broadside on the bankers question. That was real passion on display and it set the rest of the show up really nicely. I’m going to now put my hat back on and gently scold him for not quite doing enough homework, something which is a real pity because if he had a stronger grasps of the facts his answers would sound a little less like conspiracy theories. Gentle scolding dispensed, I am now going to take my hat off again and congratulate him purely for existing. Why? Because it causes True Blue types to blow a cognitive gasket. Here’s how it works: Upon laying eyes on Tony Robinson a True Blue is liable to register a surge in their blood pressure because they know him to be a jumped-up, oiky little lefty who’s spent most of his life bad-mouthing the Tory party. However, things start to become problematic when they realise that he’s also Baldrick from Blackadder and no matter how hard they try, they cannot bring themselves to hate the living embodiment of one they hold so dear. Time suddenly appears to stop, a hissing noise issues from their brains, smoke pours out of their ears, everything goes black. Job’s a good ‘un Tony.

And the other one?

I think I’ve finally realised why I’ve always had trouble with Tessa Jowell. Part of it is that I’ve never really known what the point of Tessa Jowell is (she always seemed to be Minister for Stuff or Deputy to the Office of the Trivial) but I think it’s more to do with the fact that she fails my 3rd Test of Friendship: Are they a fun person to get drunk with? I suspect that Tessa Jowell is probably a crushing bore when drinking and I also suspect that she would wear rattley jewellery that would really get on my nerves. And what evidence do I base this on? None whatsoever apart from a very queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when I try to picture the two of us sat at a bar. Sorry Tessa but the pit of my stomach has spoken and for better or worse it holds some sway over me.

Tl;dr

Greening: 5/10

(Got diddled by Osborne’s about) Turn

Ashdown: 7/10

(Has soldierly credibility to) Burn

Jowell: 4/10

(Is not someone I) Yearn (to get bladdered with)

Smith: 7/10

(is very) Stern

Robinson: 6/10

(Showed great) Concern

The Crowd: 7/10

(Were probably drinking tea from an) Urn (just before the show was filmed)

So there. Speaking of the crowd, sorry that they didn’t get much of a look-in in this week’s Questionable Time. I find myself a little pushed for space but I think it would be an injustice not register just how delightfully indignant they all were. Here’s to you, Delightfully Indignant Luton Crowd. Right, that’s me done… I’m going to give work a call to see if my box of Questionable Time stickers has arrived yet. Tap me up on the old Facebook or Twitter if you want in on some adhesive Dimbleby action.

Make your laptop handsome!

Make your laptop handsome!

Tame your feral beasts!

Next week Lemmings… Next week….

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Questionable Time #32


questionable time 32 david dimbleby michael jackson bad

Good morning Lemmings and many thanks for your patience… As predicted, last week never happened as I was far too busy watching NOFX on the Thursday night and then subsequently far too busy trying to stop the room from spinning wildly out of control on the Friday, hence no Questionable Time. Still, here we are now (minus a certain amount of dignity) so let’s see what we can make out of last night’s choppy little number. Go!

We need to talk about Andy Burnham…

Seriously, we do because while he always seems to do quite well I tend to come away from his appearances feeling like I’ve somehow been hoodwinked. This isn’t a new thing – I’ve always had some lingering suspicions about Burnham – but I think last night was the first time that I caught a glimpse of what it is about him that makes me have to check that my wallet hasn’t been pinched: It’s because he’s a Strong Finisher.

Strong Finishing in Question Time works like this: Upon receipt of a question you do not hesitate and immediately start to answer in a robust manner with the first thing that pops into your head. Now, that thing in your head might very well be wrong so constantly monitor the audience for signs of approval/disapproval and if things start to look dicey quickly segue into the next thing that pops into your head and see if that does any better. The key here is speed and vigour: If you pause or falter for even a nanosecond people will then know you’re up to something so it’s vital that you just plough on through and shimmy so quickly that your flip-flopping doesn’t have time to register in the minds of the audience. Eventually, you will stumble on a line that works and at that point you simply open up the throttle and romp to victory safe in the knowledge that if the finish is strong enough, no-one will remember the bit at the start where you were talking twaddle.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Well maybe on paper but in practice it’s a good deal trickier and not everyone gets it right. Warsi’s a good example: There are times when she uses the above tactics to great effect but all too often she’s stymied by a tin ear for the audience. This can result in her picking entirely the wrong point to hammer and her Strong Finish becomes a Cataclysmic Finish, much to her detriment and the wider world’s amusement. Burnham though? Well he’s bloody good at it, good to the point where it makes me a little queasy. Take for example the question about the BMA strike. Labour are in a right pickle over this and can end up contorting themselves into all manner of uncomfortable stances, just as Burnham did in his initial response (it was one of those ‘I totally condemn you for striking but well done for striking’ type answers). However, what sets him apart is how he then seamlessly reframed the entire question into one about NHS cuts and did so without breaking his stride. That bit at the start when he sounded like he was arguing with an imagined doppelgänger? Forgotten. The overwhelming impression one’s left with? Here’s a man who knows what he’s talking about.

So yes, it’s all very much too-clever-by-half and I’d like to take this opportunity to declare that I’m officially ‘On To’ Andy Burnham but there’s also one last thing I’d like to bring up about the Shadow Health Secretary: His eyelashes. My mum noticed a while back that Burnham is rather well endowed in the eyelash department and upon closer inspection I can confirm that he has both majestic and lustrous ocular trimmings. In fact, they’re so impressive that I think he’s missing a trick by not trying to accentuate them further and I’ve even gone so far as to put together a mock-up of what a little tarting up could do for him (see Fig. 1). Seriously Andy, go for it.

andyburnham-eyelashes-gif

Fig. 1

I find the West Midlands strangely endearing…

If you watch enough QT you start becoming very familiar with the way different audiences react under the studio lights. For example, shows in Liverpool always leave me feeling like I’ve just watched the inhabitants of a belligerent city-state convene a protest march against its geopolitical patron while episodes in Yorkshire are largely dominated by people telling us how bloody wonderful everything about Yorkshire is. The point is that there’s usually a sense of otherness (except in the case of London which simply refuses to acknowledge that anything exists beyond the M25), a sense that this particular locale’s problems are unique or that their virtues are unusually conspicuous. You don’t see that in the West Midlands as the audiences tend to look comfortable in their own skin yet also seem to be completely without guile. Yup, we’re from the Black Country. Yup, it’s not the most glamorous corner of the earth and yup, we may look a little hard done by but that’s perfectly ok with us. You know what? I really quite like that.

Oh, and before we move away from the audience, kudos to the angry young man who told Gove that he “worked damn hard for his GCSE’s” and that Education Secretary can “sit them for [him]”. I spoke to The Man this morning and he said that he got it totally stuck to him last night. Well done there Angry Young Man.

And the rest of ’em?

Well Ken Clarke certainly looked little more awake and alert than last time and didn’t do a bad job of soaking up the ire while Len McClusky cemented himself as Most Palatable Union leader simply by not looking as smug as Mark Serwotka or as violent as Bob Crowe. Disappointing to see Ruth Lea being largely calm and level-headed last night as I do love it when she gets a bit scatty on the free market catnip. Alas, she kept things largely within the realms of the reasonable last night so there’s no fun to be had there I’m afraid. And finally there’s Julie White, a lady of unknown providence who tends to say “you know?” when she clearly doesn’t know. Having said that, she was the least annoying entrepreneur we’ve had on for years and should I ever need to bore through large quantities of concrete with a diamond headed drill, she’ll be the first to know.

Tl;dr

Burnham: Sneaky

6/10

Clarke: (Doesn’t seem bothered by who got) Leaky (with the GCSE thing)

6/10

McCluskey: (Is less) Creepy (than some of his colleagues)

5/10

Lea: (Disappointingly un-)Freaky

5/10

White: (Looked a little) Peeky (at the start)

5/10

The Crowd: (Like to wear) Dashiki(s)?

6/10

Hmmm… Adequate marks for an adequate show, no more, no less. To be honest, I’m rather hoping that the news straightens itself out in the coming weeks as it’s been a little disjointed of late and that hasn’t made for great QT-ing. Still, we’re off to sunny Luton next week and who can tell what delights await us other than a hard-to-get-to airport and simmering racial tensions? Come back next week to find out.

Next week Lemmings, next week….

Questionable Time #31


questionable time 31 davidi dimbleby kilt

Good morning Lemmings and seriously, do we really have to do this? Do we really have to voluntarily relive what was probably the dullest episode of Question Time I can recall? I guess we do. If you didn’t catch it last night then well done to you, you’re ahead of the game but if you did then I guess that reading this may at least have some cathartic value. We can treat it like a support group for those embittered by the fact that they lost an entire hour of their life last night. Anyway, here we go… *sigh*…

Inverness appears to be some sort of Reverso Logan’s Run…

I did most of my growing up in a very sleepy seaside town so large concentrations of the elderly hold no mystery for me. However even I have to admit that the sheer volume of oldsters on display last night was a frightening spectacle to behold, so thick was the floor with those in their autumn years. Quite how a town gets into a state where everyone under the age of 30 has either fled or been forcibly removed is a mystery – as are the logistics of how you’d run such a settlement (who delivers the papers? How do they cope with such high levels of unemployment in the educational sector? Do they even bother putting up ‘No Ball Games’ signs?) – but the very fact that this clear perversion of demographics can exist at all is enough to give me the jibblies. Not only that, but the studio looked very warm last night and I suspect that a day of heavy rain may have induced the wearing of extra layers amongst the crowd, something that did little to counter the clammy atmosphere of mothballs and torpor. In short, this was never really going to be a riot of a show.

It’s a sad day when Melanie Phillips is the only thing keeping you awake.

Panel wise, this could have been an ok episode as Charles Kennedy (when he’s not ‘missing his plane’) is usually pretty solid and Alan Cumming had the potential to bring something different to the table. However, as neither of these guys really got into their stride until right near the end of the show (Kennedy appeared to spend the first half trying vainly to wake up whilst Cumming got hobbled by questions of nationality and tax status) so the floor was left wide open for Melanie Phillips to extrapolate wildly on how seemingly innocuous developments will inevitably lead to a dystopian and apocalyptic future. Maybe think about not giving rich pensioners free money? Sure, BUT DON’T COME CRYING TO ME WHEN YOU SEE THAT THE ENTIRE WELFARE STATE HAS BEEN DESTROYED. Thrupence on petrol? Oh, no big deal UNTIL THE PINKO HIPPIES IN GOVERNMENT START PUTTING WIND FARMS IN YOUR BRAIN. Spice this up with some choice phrases like “incentive for mass fatherlessness”, liberal (or anti-liberal, I’m not quite sure which) use of words like “bogus” and you start to get the picture.

Now on any given Thursday I would probably pour scorn on absurd antics such as these but I’m giving Melanie a free pass this week as she was literally the only thing keeping me in the realms of consciousness last night. Yeah I know, semi-endorsing Melanie Phillips feels like a weird and dangerous thing to do so to balance things out here’s a pshop of her in a Bin Laden outfit (see Fig. 1). Questionable Time: It’s all about the balance.

melanie phillips osama bin laden

Fig. 1

Ok, so Lord Forsyth was semi-interesting…

Is it just me or was Lord Forsyth being positively seditious towards the government last night? The reason I have to ask is because although I’m sure that the content of his speech was pretty treasonable his tone was so hushed and gentle that it sounded more like a lullaby than a sustained attack on the likes of Cameron and Osborne. A similar thing happened when he and Phillips got stuck into a joint rant on the Euro: I got the impression from what he was saying that he was genuinely angry yet the most his demeanour could muster was the look of being vaguely ticked off. Odd, in a semi-interesting sort of way.

And just who exactly are these people?

A funny thing happens to me when I watch Johann Lamont: Her lips move, a sound comes out that is in a language I am fluent in yet I hear nothing. Well that’s not quite right, I do hear something – a little like the noise of a fridge humming into life – but nothing that I can convey any meaning from. This isn’t an accent thing either, it’s just that the part of my brain that deals with processing language just seems to shut down whenever I lay eyes on her. As a result I have absolutely no idea what she said last night but judging from the lack of enthusiasm from the crowd I don’t think I missed much. And as for Alex Neil, the first thing to say is that he isn’t Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon. I don’t know what happened last night – maybe they double-booked their annual leave or something – but I suppose it’s nice to occasionally have a Scottish episode that doesn’t involve Caledonia’s answer to The Carpenters. Apart form that all I can really tell you is that a) Alex Neil is very satisfied with being Scottish and b) is even more satisfied that a Scottish man like himself should get to go on the telly. Oh God, I can’t do this anymore…

Tl;dr

Forsyth: Zzz…

5/10

Kennedy: Zzzzz…

5/10

Lamont: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

3/10

Neil: Zzzzzzzzz…

4/10

Cumming: Zzzz…

5/10

Phillips: !!!!!!!!!!

6/10

The Crowd: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

3/10

There. I’ve done all I can. Well done if you made it this far, now let us agree to never speak of this episode again. Still, I guess it was an appropriate end to a week of ‘celebrations’ that looked more like a humanitarian disaster. Say what you will about the British but we sure now how to stand about in the rain looking uncomfortable and vaguely nonplussed. Oh and in a final twist of the knife I’m afraid I won’t be around next week as I’m off to see NOFX and intend to get so messed up that even watching QT on iPlayer is going to be out of the question. Professionalism: I has it.

In a fortnight Lemmings, in a fortnight…

Questionable Time #30


questionable time 30 david dimbleby marie antoinette

Good morning Lemmings and rejoice for I have returned from Berlin, a city rife with vexing contradictions. And what may these contradictions be I hear you ask? Well try this one on for size:

      1. Berliners smoke all the time and everywhere.
      2. Berliners drink all the time and everywhere (including when pregnant).
      3. Berliners eat processed meat all the time and everywhere.
      4. Berliners appear to be ridiculously athletic/healthy all the time and everywhere.

Yeah, I know, makes you sick doesn’t it? Anyhoo I could go on about what a great/strange place it is for hours but that’s not why you turn up to this corner of the internet. No, you come here for Questionable Time and Questionable Time is what you’re damn well getting. Here’s what we learned:

We have a n00b on our hands.

If I was a Labour MP who was due to make their debut on QT then I would be praying that it would occur on a week such as this one. I mean c’mon, the news has just been an unrelenting conveyor belt of horrific things for the government (so much so that I could hear the clangs of policies being fumbled and dropped all the way over in Germany) and I’d have to be a right idiot to walk out of the studio with anything other than a crushing victory under my belt, right? Wrong. You see, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing and unfortunately for Red Team QT Virgin Stella Creasy this abundance of seemingly bountiful news combined with a number of other factors actually conspired against her. Here’s why:

      1. When you’re in such a target rich environment it’s easy to lose your focus and simple start grappling madly at anything that happens to cross your line-of-sight. The main way in which this manifested for Creasy was that it (no doubt combined with first time nerves) made her talkreallyreallyfastallthetimeabouteverything. Now I’m knocking her for this as it’s an entirely human and understandable thing to do but it does put the mockers on the whole Crushing Victory thing a little. Why? Because when I was watching her I felt like I was vicariously sitting an exam: You could just see her brain going like the absolute clappers as it desperately tried to recall what her line on this debacle or that fiasco should be, all of which left me with that sweaty feeling that accompanies the sight of desks in a school gym.
      2. Creasy had a payload to deliver. I’m not sure whether she had fashioned it herself or whether the party had a hand in its creation but she had a definite mission last night: A dawn strike on Tory HQ with a cluster bomb of fresh text messages know to be highly pathogenic to Jeremy Hunt. On paper that sounds pretty straight forward: Locate the target (that’s a doddle as they’re sitting right next to you), come in low and steady, release your munitions and then fly off into the breaking dawn whilst cackling maniacally (the cackling’s technically option but that’s the way I’d play it). The problem in this case was the whole ‘dawn raid’ aspect: In an ideal world Creasy would land her big hitter during the first question thus leaving her unencumbered to mop up any survivors not caught in the initial strike. Since it seemed highly probably that the first question would be one on the Leveson Inquiry the plan seemed solid but alas, QT is rarely so straight forward and she had to make numerous runs at the target (all the while dodging flak put up by the steady handed Alan Duncan) only to find it covered in cloud. As anyone who’s read Catch 22 will know the bombing run is the most terrifying aspect of any mission and the fact that she had to conduct the maneuver three times before the conditions were adequate only served to heighten her jitters. You could see it horribly clearly every time a new question was about to be asked: Creasy, clutching at the joystick for dear life whilst noting that her airspeed is dangerously high…Don’tbuggerthisupdon’tbuggerthisupBUGGERI’VEBUGGEREDITUP! Eventually she did get to deploy her ace-in-the-hole but it wasn’t until the fourth question and it scored only a glancing blow that left Duncan intact enough to carry on the fight.
      3. The whole ‘Papa/Nicole’ thing? Had she been a little calmer she might have been able to play it for laughs. Instead she played it for weirds.

So yes, it was all a bit of a pickle but one that I do feel is largely forgivable given the circumstances. My advice, Stella? Maybe spend a little more time in the simulator before your next combat sortie.

The British lose all rationality when doctors are mentioned.

Ask any fellow citizen what their opinions on doctors are and you will doubtlessly hear that they are either a) saintly angelic souls whose hearts pump not blood but liquid compassion or b) venal robber-barons who hypocritically break their Hippocratic Oath. Seriously, can we not countenance a world where there may be doctors from both strains in existence? According to Rugby, clearly not. Still, I was heartened to see that nurses still have the capacity to trounce doctors in the Unconditional Assumption of Goodliness stakes. That’s something that you can always take to the bank: Nurse always beats Doctor in any match of Altruism Top Trumps… Except when Panorama film them shouting at old people. Then it’s a draw.

I have very conflicted feelings about the other panelists.

I’ll keep this brief…

Duncan

For: Has had a genuinely interesting life, first openly gay Tory, isn’t half as mad as most of his peers, seems vaguely competent, did a good turn in damage limitation last night.

Against: Has an untrustworthy and spivvy haircut that is becoming of some rather untrustworthy and spivvy antics.

Oaten

For: Has had a genuinely interesting life, looked great in a hoody on Tower Block of Commons and would look even better in a hoody in the actual House of Commons (see Fig. 1).

Against: Seems to be a walking self-destruct button, head’s a funny shape.

mark oaten scally outfit commons

Fig. 1

Nelson

For: Clearly saner than comparable young right-wing Scots (Douglas Murray, I’m looking at you) and I appear to have grown strangely fond of him.

Against: Editor of The Spectator.

Coren

For: Everyone I know seems to think the sun shines out of her bum, can produce something genuinely funny from time-to-time.

Against: Everyone I know seems to think the sun shines out of her bum, voice cuts through me like a jaunty knife.

Let’s just leave it at that…

Tl;dr

Creasy: (Was in a bit of a) Rush

5/10

Duncan: (Looks) Plush

6/10

Oaten: (Has had many a reason to) Blush (in the past)

5/10

Nelson: (Is becoming the subject of a faintly disturbing man) Crush

6/10

Coren: (Did) Gush (much about doctors)

6/10

The Crowd: (Have) Thrush?

7/10

So there you go, a show where the Tories got away comparatively lightly thanks to some sterling defensive work from Alan Duncan and understandable over-eagerness on the part of Stella Creasy. Now if you’ll excuse me I must get back to enduring the symptoms of wurst withdrawal. Seriously, I’m having trouble adjusting back to a society where you have to walk more than 10 yards before encountering a vendor of sausage based snacks. This country, I tell you…

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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