Good morning Lemmings and welcome the hell back from what has been one of the strangest ‘summers’ I can remember. Strange how? Strange because we actually ended up winning things, a turn of events that struck me as deeply, deeply unpatriotic. Do not fear though for normal service has resumed. Wall-to-wall rain? Check. An economy that wants quietly taking out the back and shooting? Check. A political landscape where policies are actually announced through the medium of satire? Check, check, check. God, I love the smell of collective failure in the morning. So then Lemmings, what better way is there to celebrate this return to comfortable malaise than with a spot of Questionable Timing? None that I can think of. Go!
Danny Alexander may well be the Most Tragic Figure in the Most Tragic Party of a Tragic Coalition…
I got home early from work the other day, flicked on News 24 to kill time before Pointless and found myself watching Danny Alexander’s Q&A at the Lib Dem conference. I wasn’t really paying attention to what he was saying but what I did pick up was just how relaxed he looked. Usually, Alexander has this weird meerkat-on-sentry-duty gait about him and you can see him twitch at the slightest sound, just waiting for that inevitable moment when someone will have a go at him. Not last week though. Instead, he actually seemed comfortable in his own skin, reclining in his seat as the party faithful softballed some tepid criticism his way. It was nice – in a weird sort of way – as while I don’t have much love for the things he’s done, it just seems a little too easy to pick on the YTS kid who’s inexplicably been left in charge of the petty cash tin. Unfortunately for Danny the respite was short-lived. Fighting Season is here once more, the vultures are circling and if that haunted look in his eyes is anything to go by, he is more than aware that his number will come up repeatedly.
So it was that he spent the first half of the show wedged firmly between a rock and a hard place, desperately trying to fend off blows from the left whilst also ominously aware that Jacob Rees-Mogg had zero intention of keeping the right flank secure. “Oh Christ,” I could hear him think, “here we go again. Another year of getting my dinner money stolen. Another year of ‘kick-me’ signs stuck to my back”. So far, so tragic, right? Well yes and no because what happened next I actually found to be rather heartening. It was on the ‘plebs’ question: He started with the standard line that wasn’t it all such a rotten business but well done Mr Mitchell for apologising. Then, out of nowhere, he turned on Harriet Harman, bringing up the matter of her ‘ginger rodent’ comments, yet doing it with quite a bit of dignity. And that, dear Lemmings, is why Danny Alexander may be the Most Tragic Figure in the Most Tragic Party of a Tragic Coalition, but probably isn’t. On paper, it’s all there… We might well have asked Central Casting to supply us with a Treasury Minister from their Vulnerable and Easily Ridiculed Nerd portfolio. Yet somehow, he endures and can occasionally – like last night – surprise us with his capacity to carry the fight in the other direction. That, and Nick Clegg really is putting in a stellar performance in his quest to win the title of Most Tragic Figure in the Most Tragic Party of a Tragic Coalition. Now, that’s a contest I can really get behind.
I had a faint dread Harriet Harman being on…
I’ve got nothing particularly against Harriet Harman. Yes, she was an integral part of the toxic stew that New Labour eventually became but she was one of the more minor poisons and the fact that she winds up the Daily Mail so effectively means she must be doing something right. No, the reason for my faint dread was that she’s been on so many times before and I’ve never really managed to get a proper handle on her. I’ve already done the whole Minister of Nothing In Particular thing and the fact that I once had to spend several hundred words trying to make serviceable riff about her posture should be evidence enough that the well was becoming increasingly dry. So yes, I wasn’t looking forward to her being on. However, I am delighted to announce that about half way through the show something came to me that should just bail me out of this situation. Harriet Harman: She’s Labour’s supply teacher.
When I was at school, supply teachers could be broken into three distinct categories. First, there were the Damaged Goods. These were the ones who maybe couldn’t cut it in a permanent position or who had possibly been so thoroughly beasted by successive generations of savage little creatures that they now exhibited all the primary symptoms of Educational PTSD. I liked those ones, or to be more precise, I liked the hour of anarchy that their lessons inevitably descended into. Harriet Harman is not one of those supply teachers.
The second category is the Not A Toss Givers. These guys (and they usually were guys) tended to be towards the end of their careers and were simply wearily biding their time until their pensions kicked in. I remember one bloke who you used to cover for geography who would throw out some text books before putting headphones on and listening to the cricket for the entire lesson. I was as ambivalent towards the Not A Toss Givers, just as they were to us. We didn’t want to be there, they didn’t want to be there but we had all reached a mutual and silent accord that a truce would prevail throughout. Again, Harriet Harman is not one of these supply teachers.
No Harriet Harman belongs to the last group, the Steady Awayers. These were the teachers who still possessed a vague measure of competence, willingness and gumption yet were far enough removed from the long-term consequences of their actions that they would let the little things ride. Again, it was an unwritten contract: We won’t give you a hard time and will jump through most of the hoops providing you do the same. Essentially, they are the Good Step-Parents of the educational sector.
Back to Harriet: Harman is a Steady Awayer because while she always seems to be filling in (Caretaker Leader, Deputy Leader, Go-To Talking Head in Generic Crisis Situations), she’s still very much permanent, a bit like a price tag you forget to remove. The thing about long-term consequences, that’s also there as well. As I mentioned before, Harman was part of the New Labour pantheon when they were up to no good and was in Cabinet for some of their more cockeyed calls, yet the mud doesn’t stick to her in the way it does to others as she never seemed to be in the posts that actually mattered.
So that’s why Harriet Harman is like a supply teacher but the more important question is ‘how did she do?’. Not bad, all said. Her relentless pressing of the inequality line was effective whilst the pantomime cringes she deployed during Gingergate were enough to contain any serious damage. And for someone who remains so bloody hard to pin down, that’s not bad going.
I was totally ready to go to town on Jacob Rees-Mogg, but…
I was so stoked when they announced Moggingtons was going to be on. I mean c’mon, just look at the guy. How low can fruit hang? The weird thing is though that I just can’t seem to build a decent head of steam up about him. Why? Because I’m not sure that he’s actually real. No, what I think is going on is that a rift has opened up in the space-time continuum between the present day and the early thirties through which Jacob Rees-Mogg has fallen. How else can you explain the appearance of a relatively young man who looks like he turned up to the studio in a Junkers Ju52 after having just ticked off the League of Nations for being a bunch of cry-baby do-gooders?
Not only that, but I find it hard to get personal about him because he’s more of a symbol than a sentient entity: He’s the human incarnation of the Tory party’s immense capacity to propagate eternal stasis. So with these two factors so readily present I just can’t bring myself to do a proper hatchet job on him as it would be like accusing the rain of being overly wet. He is right on one thing though: The universal assumption that he may be the sort of guy to use the word ‘pleb’ does have something to do with his “vooooooooice”.
Kirsters and Coogers walk a fine line.
Here’s a first: An official Questionable Time retraction. Earlier in the week I got a little giddy that Kirstie Allsopp was on because I’ve had a pretty darn good photoshop of her kicking about for ages and I took to Twitter to make my delight known. Within said tweet (see Fig. 1) was a fallacious assumption that Kirstie’s non-appearance when she was slated to be on was because she cancelled. As you can see, this was clearly not the case so egg and bacon all over my face. Please call Phil Spencer and tell him not to break my legs.
Anyhoo, red-faced grovellings aside I’m still very much split on Allsopp as she skirts dangerously on the border between the sororal and the matronly. You see, I like it when she does the outspoken thing and starts shouting “bollocks” on live television and she clearly believes in what she’s saying. However, I think she’s just a little too removed from the lives of most people to really have a trustworthy compass and this means she often sounds like she’s casually telling off vast swathes of the population when she probably only means to gently chide them. Still, not a bad run and her call to ‘kick the banks’ (“Kick ’em hard!”) had a wonderfully jaunty-yet-threatening ring to it. Now here’s that photoshop (see Fig. 2).
On to Steve Coogan and again, I’m terribly conflicted because it’s all or nothing with him. Remember when he was on the phone hacking episode earlier this year? He was so evidently pissed off that he forgot himself and was absolutely great as a consequence. This time though, not as great. Shorn of an issue to really get his teeth into you could really see him wrestling with that self-awareness and self-doubt that constantly stalks him. What’s even more of a pity is that the stuff he was on about was good. I really liked the fact that he made an issue of how he should pay more tax and he was right to probe some of the more uncomfortable aspects of the Rochdale case but he could never quite seem to generate the confidence to really run with those ideas. Overall, I find that pretty heartbreaking as I’ve got huge amounts of respect for Coogan as a comedian and there is great potential for him to excel on QT. All it needs is for him to have a little more faith in what he’s saying. Or to come in character as Alan Partridge. Steve, please come in character as Alan Partridge.
Brighton confuses me…
The Frau Ribs and I had a brief break in Brighton over the summer and – much like the time before – I came away suffering from cognitive dissonance. You see, I love the idea of Brighton. I love the idea of a city by the sea full of great record and book shops and I love the idea of a place being so wilfully contrary. The problem is that I don’t understand the logistics of Brighton. How can an economy be sustained by neo-twee cup cake boutiques and bespoke yurt manufactories alone? Why does the population need so many spurious sounding therapists? How? Why? These riddles remain unresolved. Anyhoo, how did they do? Pretty good, in a scatty sort of way. For example, there was great level headedness from one young lady on how cutting resources makes social workers’ jobs much more difficult followed by pure bat-shit insanity from the gentleman who shrieked “LIFE NOT 4 YEARS!”. That pretty much nails my definition of ‘scatty’.
The Crowd: 6/10
So there we have it, first blood in what is likely to be a violent and brutish parliamentary season. Man, it’s good to be back.
Next week Lemmings, next week…