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…

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