Archive for October, 2012

Questionable Time #39


questionable time 38 david dimbleby the office david brent

Good morning Lemmings and welcome to Sluff, famous for Mars Bars, tragicomic depictions of the UK workplace and for a bloody great fictional crematorium that featured in Brave New World. In fact,I find it rather apt that Slough turned up in Huxley’s novel as it’s always given me the sense of a place where the utopian and dystopian rub uncomfortably against each other. On the utopian side of the coin it can proudly boast of having the most ethnically diverse population outside of London and although not a New Town per se, it certainly has echoes of that period in British history where we thought we had the future licked. As it happens, we didn’t and the future turned out to be a much more drab and roundabouty affair than we initially anticipated, an unhappy occurrence that leads us to the more dystopian flip side of Slough: Aberrantly high crime rates, ‘The Slough Stench’ and that unshakable feeling that everything is – well – slightly crap.

Still, it’s not my job to bum out the people of Slough, not that there seems to be a shortage of people willing to do just that. No, my job is to see how the people of Slough react to a damn good Question Timing and so without further ado let us bravely put our collective heads into the maw of the beast.

Am I still on the Vince Train? I honestly don’t know anymore…

Back in 2008 when the whole world looked to be collapsing around our ears, one man stood forth and boldly donned the mantle of The Voice of Reason. That man was Vince Cable and in 2008 the one place I and many others wanted to be was in the first class carriage of the Vince Train, a doughty locomotive of yellow livery powered by pure Keynsianism. At first the ride was great fun, speeding along while the Hayek Express was forced into the sidings and I felt vindicated in having purchased my first class ticket at the station rather than experiencing the potential ignominy of having to upgrade on board. This train, I thought, was going places… Next stop, Government Central!

That, however, was where the problems started and if you ask me, Government Central has a lot in common with Birmingham New Street in that it’s a cold, dark, subterranean place that’s awfully hard to find your way out of. The effect it had on the Vince Train was no less baleful and there soon developed an ominous sounding creak from the axles while the Tanoy spoke of inevitable delays, usually attributed to signal trouble in the vicinity of Wilmslow. Looking back, I probably think that I should have got off at the next stop when I had the chance but I didn’t. Why not? Because for all the disappointments and that entire year where Cable carried a pained expression on his face like someone had just jellied his stapler, he had this look that made me stay on board. And it was just a look. A glint in the eye, a tap on the side of his nose that said ‘Just you wait. The chips may be down, but let me assure you that I’ve still got a couple of tricks up my sleeve’. Well, it’s now four years down the line and I must confess that I’m leaning so far out of the window of the Vince Train that there’s a good chance the next tunnel will take my head clean off. Could his performance last night coax me back safely into the carriage? To put it bluntly, no.

Here’s the thing: I actually quite liked the content of what Cable was saying last night. He played it very cautiously on the GDP figures, made it very clear that he wasn’t going to lend a hand to some of the Blue Teams pottier ideas (like IDS’s new stance on breeding) and was generally pretty reasonable about the Savile scandal. Instead, the problem for me was that he looked absolutely knackered, spent to the point that he simply couldn’t bring himself to flash me that look. Well, dammit Vince, I need that took! So what if you never back it up by actually pulling a rabbit out of the hat, at least the look seriously implies that you might be thinking about it. Last night, that look was nowhere to be seen. Should this situation persist, consider me off at the next stop.

There’s a wonderful mismatched buddy movie just waiting to be made starring Emily Thornberry and Claire Perry…

I think it’s fair to say that Emily Thornberry and Claire Perry aren’t exactly bessies, what with all the blow trading and eye-daggers we witnessed last night. For Perry’s part, I suspect that Thornberry’s rather measured and deliberate responses jangle her How Dare You Patronise Me nerve whilst Perry’s very assertive presentation scratches some very long fingernails across Thornberry’s Why You Jumped Up Little blackboard. Anyway, Perry generally had the better of it and emerged the less bruised of the pair but there was a brief and telling moment that stopped me dead in my tracks. During the Jimmy Savile question Thornberry said, very sincerely in fact, that she agreed with Perry and Perry responded with a genuinely heartfelt sounding “Thank you”. Well that was it Lemmings, after that my mind was set adrift on what could be the UK legislature’s answer to Point Break: Claire Perry as Keanu’s fresh-out-the-academy hotshot, Emily Thornberry as Busey’s seen-it-all-before jaded veteran, a pair who will never see eye-to-eye but find themselves thrown together by fate and the quest for justice. The only unresolved matter is who would take the part of Swayze’s ‘you can’t cage me bro!’ adrenaline junkie. Jacob “I’ve never sworn in my adult life” Rees-Mogg could be quite fun but I’m open to suggestions.

Paul Nuttall actually makes UKIP a little scary…

I’ve got all the time in the world for UKIP in the same way I’ve got all the time in the world for Made In Chelsea: If taken in isolation, they’re both a toxic mess of things I’m no great fan of but this is balanced out by their inherent absurdity, a factor that renders them ultimately harmless yet mildly entertaining. Well, this was the case until Paul Nuttall somehow managed to become the only other UKIP member allowed off the compound unsupervised… Now I’m just plain scared. You see, I can happily dismiss UKIP as a slightly dotty group of people with too much time on their hands when they’re fronted by the likes of Farage, but Nuttall? No, he has an edge and a hard one at that, what with all the talk of punishing people in death and “lunatics” having the vote. What’s worse is that he comes across as a guy who might actually hang out with some vaguely ordinary people. It’s at this point that UKIP stop resembling a harebrained cult that recruits exclusively at village fêtes and starts to become something a lot more worrying. Still, you know what makes Paul Nuttall slightly less worrying though? A nice .gif of him with Gareth Keenans hair (See. Fig. 1).

gareth-keenan-paull-nuttall-resized-gif

I was going to tell Mehdi Hassan off for not smiling enough…

I spend a lot of time looking at QT panelists on Google Images, mainly because I need to photoshop them into ridiculous scenarios but also because it’s good to have a hobby. Anyway, the reason I’m telling you this is that I’ve had to do quite a lot of staring at photos of Medhi Hassan and one thing that’s struck me is that you rarely see him smiling and that this is a shame because it makes him come across as A Very Serious Man. Now, I like Hassan, I think he’s generally on the money but the Very Serious Man thing can get a bit much and I thought a gentle chiding was in order to get him to lighten up a little. As it happens, I need not have bothered as the first thing out of his was mouth a joke and not a bad one at that (he said the government’s Plan B was “Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis”). So what did this get him? A slight titter and nothing more. Gah! What more do you people want?! Unperturbed by this lack of audience reciprocation, he had another go during the question on IDS’s new wheeze and once more, it was a serviceable little number (“Tough on babies, tough on the causes of babies”) but yet again, nothing. So fair play to you Mehdi, you tried but maybe you were just born to be A Very Serious Man… Them’s the breaks kid…

Tl;dr

Cable: 5/10

Tired

Thornberry: 4/10

Acquired (a role in a fictional movie)

Perry: 5/10

Wired

Nuttall: 4/10

Conspired

Hassan: 6/10

Retired (any hopes of being a stand-up comedian)

The Crowd: 5/10

(Were suitably) Attired?

As those numbers imply, I can’t really chalk this up as triumph of of an episode, yet can I write it off as a total defeat. So quite a lot like Slough then…

Next week Lemmings, next week…

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Questionable Time #38


questionable time 38 david dimbleby braveheart glasgow

Good morning Lemmings and if I’m not mistaken we appear to be in Scotland. For some of you this will be a Good Thing (I suspect that this will be the case if you happen to be Scottish) but from my point of view, this is less of a Good Thing and in actual fact may even qualify as a Bad Thing. Now, before a be-kilted rabble come crashing through my door, hellbent on upholding the honour of their proud nation let me state categorically that I have no problem with Scotland or the Scottish. There is no beef of any import between us and I see no obstacle to our continued co-existence. I do, however, have a problem when Question Time is in Scotland. Why? Because I don’t have a clue who anyone is, what they’re on about or why I should really care one way or another. Ok, so I guess there would be some sort of tangible effect on my life should the Scots take the nuclear option and divorce themselves from the Union, but outside of that? Nah. They could be sending wee bairns down haggis mines or pouring Irn Bru into the water supply for all I care… I won’t be losing any sleep. Having said that though, last night’s show did have one potential saving grace for me: It was coming from Easterhouse, a particularly hard corner of a very hard city. Would this be enough to offset my ignorance induced disinterest? I wonder…

The first question was the most cruel of false reprieves…

Let’s face it, we all knew this episode was going to be about the independence referendum and as I explained above, this isn’t the sort of thing that butters my current affairs parsnips. With this in mind, imagine my delight when the first question was not concerned with some exclusively Caledonian affair but was actually about the rapidly unfolding ‘Combi-Shambles‘. Yes! I was saved! This was about Westminster! This was about stuff that has a vague relevance to my life! Unfortunately, this fleeting sense of triumph was dealt a mortal blow when it dawned on me that I have no idea what exactly is going on with this latest governmental face-plant other than assorted ministers seem to be running around with their hair on fire and there’s a faint whiff of panic wafting ominously from Downing Street. Luckily it appears that I am not alone in this predicament and pretty much everyone on the panel decided that it was probably safer to turn some rhetorical tricks instead of actually trying to make sense of the unfolding chaos. In practice this took the form of the three political panelist (Sturgeon, Davidson and Curran) assembling themselves into a circular firing squad, counting to three and shooting each other in the back of the head whilst Mark Serwotka called for a plague on all their houses. Has this left me any the wiser about just what in criminy is going on with our nation’s energy policy? No. Was it fun watch. Yes, it was rather…

Scottish politicians are a tough bunch…

Ok, so the accent helps but I think it’s also fair to say that both Margaret Curran and Ruth Davidson have pretty thick hides. For Davidson, this partly comes with the territory: Being a Tory in Scotland is not noted for being the most relaxing of vocations and I’m sure she’s pretty used to being bashed about on a daily basis simply because she exists. However, what Davidson doesn’t do is let it get to her and I must admit that whether I agree with her or not, she does remain very steady under fire. Curran is also one who cops a lot of flak (thanks to Labour largely having taking Scotland for granted) but her talent is that she endures. Sure, she talks too fast when her feathers are ruffled and the fact that she’s played this game so long has led to a certain level of attrition, but Curran’s still just about in the game and played a reasonably solid hand last night.

The interesting one is Nicola Sturgeon though. Now, she does a very good initial line in the forthright, storming into questions with lashings of ‘Dear Sir, imagine my concern…’ before cobbling together some scheme whereby Scotland has cakes for both storage and immediate consumption. All of this is fine and dandy, particular if the going’s good but she does have one glaring vulnerability: She rattles easily. It happened a few times last night. Sturgeon would open with a broadside about how Labour let everyone down, the Tories – well, they’re just Tories – and wouldn’t it all be much better if we simply had our own country to mess about with? However, the problems begin when people start pressing for detail. You can see a little shudder develop and her eyes starting darting from side-to-side, sizing up the potential exits. Unfortunately, these exits have a nasty habit of being obstructed by irksome things such as ‘facts’ and ‘realities’ and this tends to lead her to double down on the offensive, a risky tactic made riskier by the fact that Sturgeon’s never quite as good on the second pass. That’s not to say I don’t think that she’s capable because she clearly is. It’s just that she can’t quite keep her fear under wraps and once you spot it it’s hard to ignore. That, and something about her bearing just really reminds me of a generic 6th-former from a late-80’s run of Grange Hill.

What about the other guys?

Last time Mark Serwotka was on I was pretty mean to him, mainly because he came across as rather smug. Luckily for him, this wasn’t the case last night as he had little time to display any other emotion than pure scorn for both the Tories and Labour, a move which paid off handsomely with the crowd. Actually, it was quite interesting to watch as while he’s never been shy of criticising the Red Team, he was really out for them last night. I’m guessing that part of this was playing to the gallery (which seemed to work splendidly) but the really telling thing was how he Goldilocksed the SNP, making sure the signals he was sending were neither too hot nor too cold. If I was in the Red Team, I think I’d be keeping a very close eye on that.

And what of Alan Cochrane? We’ll I’ve never come across him before but I will say this: His beard and voice match perfectly. He didn’t really get that much of a look in and when he did it was the sort of thing you’d expect the Scottish Editor of The Telegraph but I’ve got to say, that beard-voice combo really did it for me.

Is ‘Crazy Levels of Crowd Participation’ a compulsory part of the Scottish Curriculum or is Easterhouse just a bit special?

As expected, I had very little idea what was going on last night. Ok, so the drugs question was kind of interesting but it didn’t really bring anything new to the table and was simply a repeat of the merry little dance that Question Time periodically engages in (crowd + entire world conclude War on Drugs has failed. Politicians conclude that they can’t say its failed because they’ll get the blame for its failure). However, despite my complete inability to fathom anything, I must admit I actually really enjoyed this episode and the lion’s share of the credit for this should go to the crowd. Why? Because they were feisty as hell. They booed, they cheered, they booed and cheered at the same time. Quite what they were booing and cheering about I honestly couldn’t tell you, but the fact that they did was enough to keep my head in the game. So points for sore palms and horse throats and extra points for the following gentlemen: Mr ‘A Lot Of My Friends Smoke Cannabis” (or as I like to call him, Mr ‘My Employers Might Be Watching This’) and Mr ‘Because Of The Type Of People Who Frequent This Area’. Sir, you’re bravery is beyond question… Your wisdom? Not so much.

Tl;dr

Sturgeon: 5/10

Flighty

Curran: 5/10

Fighty

Davidson: 5/10

Bitey

Serwotka: 6/10

Incitey

Cochrane: 5/10

Alrighty

The Crowd: 8/10

(Can’t decide if they want to remain a part of) Blighty

So there you go… The televisual equivalent of trying to drink a 6-pack of Super-T whilst sitting in a washing machine that’s halfway through its spin cycle. Speaking of somewhat discombobulating experiences, I’d best share with you the fruits of an experiment I conducted earlier in the week. Using cutting edge photo manipulation software and a part of my brain that I really shouldn’t listen to, I tried to determine whether Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon would make for convincing Krankies. The result speak for themselves (see Fig. 1)…

alex salmod nicola sturgeon krankies

Fig. 1

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #37


questionable time 37 david dimbleby grant shapps caroline flint zephaniah hair plus flag

Good morning Lemmings and welcome back to this, Our Hour of Reckoning. Should you have been lucky enough to remain unmolested by the collective gnashing of Blue Team teeth that was the Conservative Party Conference, let me bring you up to speed: It’s sink-or-swim, dog-eat-dog, kill-or-be-killed out there and if we’re not careful Johnny Bloody Foreigner is going to end up eating our lunch, breakfast and dinner. Happily though, you needn’t fear because Messrs. Cameron and Osborne have let it be known (via a rather charming Bad Cop With A Heart/Bad Cop routine) that they’ve got this all under control. It’s about striving and it’s about jolly well ensuring that the feckless poor stop getting paid for this silly breeding business. Most of all though, it’s about doing exactly the same thing that hasn’t worked for the last two years but doing it with a bit more gusto. As plans go, that sounds pretty watertight to me.

Anyway, how did the good people of Birmingham respond to this invitation to tragedy?

How indeed…

Grant Shapps is either very, very brave or just flat-out mad…

Oh happy day! Happy, happy day! In the three years I’ve been covering Question Time, one panelist has repeatedly stymied my attempts to draw a bead on him. You see, on paper Grant Shapps’ appearances have always been pretty solid. He does that whole bright-eyed and bushy-tailed thing that Nick Clegg used to before life had its way with him and not once can I recall him committing any screaming errors. However, there was always something niggling at me about Shapps, a nagging doubt telling me that he had something nasty in the woodshed that he’d rather not show us. Well now we know what’s been stowed away at the bottom of his garden and it’s not pretty: Grant Shapps has been making several names for himself through some – how shall I put it? – very iffy sounding business ventures. You can find a good run down of what’s come to light so far here but the short version is that Shapps has been engaged in some legal-yet-dicey sounding practices that don’t exactly have the invigorating whiff of propriety about them.

Now, should a veil of suspicion ever envelope my life, I’m guessing I’d probably hole up for a while, issue a few statements about how the allegations were pure claptrap and wait for things to blow over, but oh no… Not old Shappsy. No, he’s got a better idea: Why not put myself in front of a braying mob comprised of worked-up Brummies and political enemies? Yup, that sounds like a winner.

Luckily for Schappso the whole Michael Green line of attack was a bit of a busted flush as it didn’t get its own question and ended up being shoehorned in by Dimbers towards the back-end of the show. Naturally, it wasn’t an edifying spectacle, watching him try to laugh it all off whilst everyone else formed an orderly queue to have a pop, but it could have been worse. Much, much worse. This, however, is not to say that last night was in any sense a victory because it wasn’t. Far from it in fact. No, what happened was that the threat of the Michael Green question emerging was enough to put the zap on Shapps and what we got was an hour of the muted twitchiness that haunts a man who knows his fate all too well.

So what is to be done about it? Well, I’m no expert but if I was the Shappsarino, maybe I’d start thinking about knocking this whole ‘politician’ thing on the head. Ok, so for a while you looked like something new and shiny but that’s the problem with shiny new things: They tarnish easily. Don’t worry though… If it all goes completely pear-shaped we can tap up this guy I’ve heard about. He can turn $200 into $20,000. Michael Green, I think his name was…

I was genuinely looking forward to Caroline Flint being on…

Here she is, Ol’ Flinty McFlinterson, a panelist who has grown on me quite considerably over the years. Now I’ve been pretty hard on Flinters in the past, mainly based on the fact that she had a habit of getting into avoidable scraps that had a tendency to go very sideways very quickly, but what has always endeared her to me is that no matter how badly Ol’ Flinty got mauled, she’d always dust herself off, spit out a few broken teeth and then carry on as if she had nary a scratch on her. The other reason I was looking forward to her appearance was how self-evidently stoked she’s been to have first dibs on beasting Shapps – stoked to the point that she’d taken to winding him up on Twitter earlier in the week. ‘My,’ I thought, ‘how well this bodes’.

Alas, as mentioned earlier, the whole Shapps Shenanigans went off half cocked (partly because Flint had been so obviously dying to stick the boot in that she fluffed her lines) but the rest of her performance was solid. Ok, so she overplayed her hand a couple of times near the start and the Sword of Damocles hanging over Shapps’ made it a slightly uneven playing field but the message – that the Tories don’t care – was direct, effective and well received. On top of that, her bit on abortion was great and was also the moment when she finally found her pace. That’s the big tell with Flint, the pace. When she’s anxious or blagging the tempo goes up, but at that moment last night she was 100% on the level. And ‘on the level’ gets points…

I’m never sure which Simon Hughes we’ll be getting…

So come on then, which Simon Hughes is it this week? The self-loathing, long dark night of the soul Simon Hughes who can’t square the circle of trading principles for power, or the bloodied-but-unbowed, from my cold dead hands Simon Hughes who doggedly defends the foxhole of Social Democracy to the last round? Happily, it was mostly the latter, what with him getting all hot under the collar about Housing Benefit and having the odd to-do with Shapps , but there was still this sense that the last two years have really taken their toll. Don’t get me wrong, the resolve is clearly still there and he looked much better than some of his recent outings (there have been times when I’ve thought of ringing the Samaritans on his behalf) but I can’t help thinking that deep down, he’s flagging. Of all the Lib Dems, he’s had one of the most ideologically wrenching experiences with the coalition and bit-by-bit, it’s chipping away at him.

Still, he’s in better shape than I expected and that’s good because I’m really rather fond of Simon Hughes. Yeah, I know, he’s got the air of a man who’s out to atone for some unspecified thing that probably wasn’t his fault but I think he probably is a genuinely decent guy who’s in politics for the right reasons. And it’s not very often that I get to say that…

Lovely Benjamin is lovely…

I usually have a go at Benjamin Zephaniah because he’s always just so close to getting it right but never quite makes it. On the face of it, it’s all there: He’s a very gentle yet eloquent guy who knows about people and can convince them to listen to him. However, the problem in the past has always been that he’s rubbish at homework. So many times I’ve sat here going “Come on son! Get in there!” as he hits the nail on the head at the start of a question only to see him stall halfway through when he realises he hasn’t got much to follow-up with. We got a little bit of that tonight and there were instances where he was clearly playing for time, but by and large it was pretty good. I will say this though: His hair is a total nightmare to cut out in Photoshop.

I’m still very ‘meh’ about Cristina Odone…

Here’s the thing: I don’t actively dislike Cristina Odone. We have different views but at least she thinks them through. No, my problem With Cristina Odone is that I wouldn’t like to be stuck in a lift with her. Why? Because she just has this look she sometimes pulls that says very clearly ”This was your fault”. I can see it all so vividly now… Me and Cristina in the lift. A sudden jolt. It stops. Then… That look…

This was your fault”.

Nah. Sorry Cristina, but it just puts the jibblies up me. No shame in your QT performance though.

The Crowd.

Well, I gotta say that this wasn’t what I was expecting. I dunno, maybe I was all strung out on Shappsenfreude and got too greedy but I was hoping for a right bloodbath. That’s not to say it was bad because it wasn’t. The panel was mostly strong, the crowd were vocal and if I were the Tories, I would be more than a little concerned. However, the entirely-appropriate-yet-grimly-consensual nature of the first question sort of nixed the fight in everyone and that critical mass of anger/mischief that was needed to turn this into a great show was never really achieved. Still, kudos to the girl who was wearing half a dead peacock on each ear lobe. At least she tried…

Tl;dr

Shapps: 4/10

Cowed

Flint: 8/10

(Has reason to be) Proud

Hughes: 6/10

Ploughed (relentlessly on)

Zephaniah: 7/10

(Is) Allowed (around my house whenever he wants)

Odone: 5/10

(Can, at times, be) Loud

The Crowd: 6/10

(Live – on average – 61.4 miles away from) Stroud

So there you go… A nice, even spread of points for a fairly evenly spread show. Now I know what your thinking – ‘Where’s the other goddamn pshop?’. Well, I had a lovely (if slightly creepy) .gif of Tim Farron all set up and ready to go but as you may have noticed, he didn’t end up being on. However, what I do have is this rather saucy pin-up of Dimbers that should just fill the gap (see Fig. 1) and was rather fun to make. I don’t know why but there’s always a certain thrill to applying make-up to an old man’s face.

dimbleby pinup

Fig. 1

Right, it’s 3am, one of my eyes has decided that it no longer wants to remain open and the cats are demanding the sofa back. Time for me to go…

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #36


questionable time 36 david dimbleby street fighter 2

Good morning Lemmings and welcome to Questionable Time’s which will from now on be having a bit of a timeshare with Indy Voices. That’s right, after years of lurking menacingly in the darkened recesses at the very bottom of the internet, Indy Voices has finally seen the light/taken leave of its senses and unleashed this Thing That Should Not Be on the wider world. I see big things coming of this, Lemmings…. I see a nation, one nation of average, regular Joes who attended comprehensive schools and had perfectly normal childhoods’ discussing Dialectical Materialism with their parents, all marching forward to a brighter future. One Nation, Lemmings, One Nation Under Questionable Time.

Anyway, delusions of grandeur aside, I suppose I’d better explain what this is all about. Basically, every week The Independent will be running a somewhat edited version of Questionable Time on their website. Most of the content will be the same but there will probably be a bit more of it here and maybe some bonus content from time-to-time. So, if you like your Questionable Time to be shorter and sweeter, head to Indy Voices, but if you want the warts and all version, stick around here. Or do both. In fact, definitely do both.

. To Manchester we go…

A Personal Appeal to Ken Clarke…

Hello Ken… Can I call you Ken? It’s just that you’ve been in my life so long that I feel we can dispense with the formalities. Not only that, but I also feel a strange kinship towards you that has, over the years, developed to the point of a political crush. You see I was born in 1979 and my life to the age of 17 was dominated by a backdrop of wall-to-wall Conservatives, most of whom I had a very bad feeling about. You though, you were different. For example, while most of your peers were happy to carry on speeding into the night after running down some innocent bystander in that rolling political hit-and-run that were the Thatcher/Major years, you were the one who would stop, check that the hapless victim was still breathing and maybe call an ambulance from your newfangled car phone. Sure, you too would most likely flee the scene before the authorities turned up (“Sorry old boy, no hard feelings but I must be getting on”) but it was the thought that mattered. And so it was that I breathed a sigh of relief upon your appointment as Justice Secretary. At least someone on the Blue Team might be able to rein in the wilder excess of their peers.

But look Ken, look what’s happened! They’ve replaced you with a guy who looks like an angry baked bean and cast you into that weird netherworld populated by a shadowy people know as The Ministers Without Portfolios (or as I like to call them, Ministers For Staring Into The Middle Distance). Sure, they’ve made the obligatory noises about how you’ll be a roving “wise head” but let’s not kid ourselves, they’ve done a number on you and you know it.

And how do I know that you know it? Well, first off there’s the fact that you spent a lot of time sticking up for the process of tendering but couldn’t quite bring yourself to mount a steadfast defence of your colleagues. Then there was that little jibe about Tory “modernisers” that you managed to stop before it went too far, but it was there nevertheless. Finally, that little ambush that Dimbers set up at the end about your ‘responsibilities’?  You happily walked into that of your own free will. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it: They chucked you under a bus and no amount of talking very loudly will cover for the fact that it eats you up.

So what now, Ken? What is to be done? Well, common sense would suggest that you have two options available: A) Spend the next three years simply going through the motions as Minister For Staring Into The Middle Distance before resigning your seat in 2015 to accept the inevitable ticket to the Lords or B), tell ’em to get knotted and spend the next three years hurrumphing from backbenches before ascending to the upper house. Option B certainly sounds like it could be quite fun but I think I might have just stumbled on an Option C: Defect to the Lib Dems.

Think about it, Ken. You’re not a million miles away from them and given that you’d be the only person in the world actually seeking to join the Yellow Team, they’d give you anything you wanted. Sick of that yellow dove logo? Bang! It’s a purple basking shark. Unimpressed by The Land being the party’s de-facto anthem? Boom! It’s Mingus Ah Um! Not only that, but can you imagine the leaving do the Tory party would throw for you? I can and I’ve done my best to mock it up (see Fig. 1). Go on Ken, you know it makes sense.

ken clarke leaving do snake george osborne

Douglas Alexander should have employed The Reverse Pixies theory of politics…

Ah, Wee Dougie, nice to see you still wedged awkwardly between Steadily Dependable and Bordering on Dull. Unfortunately for you, tonight you ended up with the bulk of your body mass edging towards the Bordering on Dull side and that’s because you didn’t employ The Reverse Pixies method. Allow me to explain: The Pixies were always noted for structuring their songs in a certain way that is often referred to as Loud – Quiet – Loud. It’s dead simple really – you start your song off all guns blazing, crank down the ferocity to a whisper in the mid section and then finish it off with a hell-for-leather, balls-out assault. This formula works brilliantly for seminal early nineties alt-rock bands and also for some politicians (Farage sometimes pulls it off, although it’s usually Loud -Loud -Loud. Even when it is Loud – Quiet – Loud it’s because he hasn’t got a clue what he’s talking about in the middle bit). However, you are not that sort of politician but fear not because the Reverse Pixie (Quiet – Loud – Quiet) can be equally as potent.

I’ve seen you do it before on QT, lulling the crowd into a false sense of security with that measured, almost soothing tone of yours before shocking them back to reality with a sudden outburst in the middle of a spiel. Then, once the message has been delivered by means of verbal sledgehammer, you tuck them back in with some of that Scottish low-talking of yours. Unfortunately, you didn’t manage to pull off the Reverse Pixie tonight and what we actually got was Quiet – Quiet – Quiet, a method that only really appeals to fans of hellishly twee acoustic singer-songwriters and trust me Dougie, you don’t want their votes.

Just what exactly does Susan Kramer get up to when she’s not on Question Time?

Now this has been bothering me for a while: What exactly does Susan ‘Hair Like Cosmo Kramer From Seinfeld’ Kramer do? Well, a cursory glance at the internet suggests that she’s now a Baroness after losing her seat in 2010 (did you know that? I sure didn’t) but there it pretty much ends. No, the only thing that Susan Kramer actually does is appear on Question Time around once per year and this leads me to suspect the following: Baroness Kramer is the QT production team’s version of Blue Peter’s George the Tortoise (although with a slightly lopsided hibernation cycle). Once a year, they carefully remove a straw filled box that’s kept in the airing cupboard and gently coax her back to life with leaves of lettuce. Then, once the show is complete they gently lower her back into the container, check that the air holes are unobstructed and stow her away safely until another year dawns. It’s the only logical explanation.

Be that as it may, I must confess, this was a pretty good year for George Kramer, the Question Time Tortoise. Ok, so it wasn’t the toughest competition, what with Ken halfway checked-out and Dougie unable to crank the volume but fair to play to her, she did get the most claps. I also like the fact she really had it in for Willie Walsh, something that leads me to suspect that she spends most of her hibernation dreaming about being delayed at airports.

Talking of Willie Walsh…

Now here’s a guy I’m having trouble pinning down. On the upside, he’s more interesting than most of the business types they have in the dummy seat. Usually it’s all ‘blah blah CUT TAXES blah blah RED TAPE!’ but Willie Walsh seems to have a little more depth than that. However, that depth is offset by that weird, locked-down presentation where everything is delivered in such a controlled manner that you can’t help but wonder what’s really going on underneath. It’s not a deal breaker and his performance wasn’t bad but it does lend the whole thing an air of oddness that it probably could do without.

Now, while we’re on about business types being on the panel, I have a small suggestion to make. Can we please get Michael O’Leary of Ryanair fame on one day? Yes, I know he’s a bit of pillock and yes, he’ll try to turn the whole show into an hour-long Ryan Air commercial but seriously, it would be fun. That man is nothing if not value for money.

This whole Questionable Time on Indy Voices thing could come to a very abrupt end…

Huh… Well this is awkward… As long time readers of Questionable Time may know, I am not a fan of Janet Street-Porter’s QT outings, which is slightly tricky as she appears to be an Editor-at-Large for The Independent. Still, what’s the point in having barely constructed bridges if you can’t douse them in petrol and set them ablaze? Absolutely none, that’s what.

Alas, I have to confess that I actually wasn’t that wound up by JSP last night. Ok, so I’ve still got some sort of congenital vulnerability to her voice (it totally rustles my jimmies and makes me feel like I’m eating sand) but in her defence she didn’t blame absolutely everything on men and that sudden disclosure of the hairdresser incident really took me (and everyone else) aback. So yes, for once I’m going to go easy on JSP and you’ll just have to trust me when I say that The Independent is the best publication on earth… Sorry, I meant to say “that my neutrality has been in no way compromised by recent developments”.

Manchester still vexes me…

Once upon a time I was a student in Manchester and I can sum up my time there as thus: 50% ridiculous, world-class partying and 50% pure, abject terror. Now don’t get me wrong, the partying bit was great, but the terror? The terror I could have done without. So it is that I’m always slightly twitchy whenever I watch Manchester shows. It’s the vowel intonation (“stick yore head in a freezor, sound like yore from Manchestor”). It just sets me on edge.

Despite the above, I must confess that this was one of the more benign Manchester outings. Ok, so the show itself was mostly scrappy. The West Coast to-do was a bit of train wreck, the Miliband question failed to generate enough steam while the Savile thing only had one logical response (‘This thing is not a good thing’). However, the strong showing of support for not arming the police and the repudiation of the gallows were both rather heart warming and by-and-large, the crowd didn’t frighten  me.  Whilst we’re on the crowd, special mentions are mandatory for the guy whose glasses were so far down his nose that they flat-out confounded physics and also to the Classic Metalhead who made the rather good joke about Ed Miliband’s “Adrian Mole voice”. Should I ever be in Jilly’s Rock World, I will buy you a snakebite and black.

So not bad from a city that not only gave me a degree but also more Crime Reference Numbers than you can shake a stick at, superficial facial scarring and a compo cheque for £2200.

Tl;dr

Clarke: 5/10

Thwarted

Alexander: 5/10

(Should have) Resorted (to the Reverse Pixie Method)

Kramer: 6/10

Reported (that she didn’t like planes being late)

Walsh: 5/10

(Has) Transported (a great many people to far away locations on his aeroplanes)

Street-Porter: 5/10

Purported (to know a great many unsavoury things in the world of light entertainment)

The Crowd: 5/10

Assorted?

Alright, it’s insanely early in the morning, I’m starting to see things and with the benefit of hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have written this whilst listening to the new Godspeed You! Black Emperor album on repeat. That’s not to say it’s a not a great record – for it is – it’s just that at times it’s the sonic equivalent of staring at a strobe light after having dropped a metric ton of acid.

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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