Archive for January, 2013

Questionable Time #49


questionable time 49 david dimbleby toastGood morning Lemmings and yes, it’s that time again. Those on the right, prepare to howl in anguish at perceived left-wing bias. Those on the left, prepare to gnash your teeth angrily at perceived right-wing bias. And those in the centre? I don’t know… Just carry doing what you’re doing and try not to make a mess. That’s right Lemmings, it’s Questionable Time.

Anna Soubry’s slow decline was rather good fun…

If I’m having a really bad day and feel a little down in the mouth, I often like to cheer myself up by imagining what it’s like to be a Spad for Anne Soubry. Think about it for a second: As tasks go, ensuring that Anna Soubry makes it through a working day without alienating a large section of the population must like defusing a bomb that’s strapped to a greased cat with a taste for methamphetamine. Want proof? Then look no further than the past week. Wednesday: Manages to wind up half the country by implying that the poor are disproportionately prone to tubbiness. Thursday: Succeeds in vexing the remaining half of the country by castigating them for eating lunch at their desk. Thursday night: Goes on Question Time and reaps a rich harvest of boos. Should you happen to be travelling a between Dorset and London today, keep an eye out. You may just see a broken, weeping figure by the roadside begging for a lift to anywhere that isn’t Westminster. That person will be Anna Soubry’s Spad.

Tragically for the aforementioned Spad, last night was especially cruel as she didn’t have a bad start and emerged from the Europe question reasonably unscathed. I could feel the Spad’s relief: “Thank god for that. Maybe for once, just for once, I won’t end up calling the Samaritans tonight”. Oh silly Spad. Stop lying to yourself. You know as well as I do that the rest of the show is merely a build up to the inevitable question about portly poverty and that you’ve got to weather a good 40 minutes of gradual attrition before we reach that final, fatal juncture.

So it was that things slowly unravelled. Reports of Nick Clegg’s latest economic policy naysaying were met with a wonderful display of playing for time whilst joyous tidings about employment figures were quickly pooh-poohed as part-time codswallop. “Oh god, just end it now” murmured the Spad, but no, there was to be no reprieve as she tangled with an audience member on public sector cuts and was rewarded handsomely with opprobrium. And then it dropped. “Are poor people fat?” (see Fig. 1).

anna-soubry-fat-gif

Fig. 1

To be fair to Soubry, there was a moment when it looked like she might just get away with this and if I’m completely honest, I do have a little sympathy with her position. She’s right to raise the questions about the food industry’s role in the Great Plumpening but it’s just a shame that she did so in the most hamfisted way possible. Anyway, despite an ok-ish attempt at a Took Me Out of Context defence Soubry managed to throw away any chance of a clean getaway by accusing Ben Bradshaw of not acting like a former Health Minister should when the crowd was clearly behind him. It was at that moment I heard that distinctive crunch: Another delicate Spad broken on the Soubry wheel. If you happen to pass them on the A35, have a heart. Spads are people too.

Corollary note of dubious importance:

I encountered numerous problems when creating the above Anna Sourbry .gif. It appears that this jacket of hers somehow confers immunity to the Liquify filter, Photoshop’s mailed fist in the fight to make thin people fat. So, should you live in fear that someone is going to photograph you and then doctor that photo to make you look fatter than you are then fear no longer. Simply buy one of these jackets and never take it off.

1997 seems like a very long time ago…

I have a bit of a personal problem with Ben Bradshaw and it’s to do with symbolism. Allow me to get misty eyed for a second: It was 1997. I was doing my A-levels and like much of the nation, I was pretty sick of 18 years of Tory rule. A couple of days before the election, Bradshaw happened to cycle past me in Exeter and I was transfixed: Here he was, this fresh-faced, handsome, openly gay Shape of Things to Come and you know what? I liked that shape because it felt like a breath of fresh air from the stifling greyness of the Major era. Labour duly won that election and for a time, Ben Bradshaw came good on his promise – Things Can Only Get Better and all that – but it didn’t last long. The wars kicked off, the filthy rich were relaxed with (intensely) and Ben changed too: He seemed crotchety and impatient. He moved up a couple of notches. Bikes eventually became ministerial cars and The Shape Of Things To Come looked increasingly like The Shape Of Things We’d Rather Forget. Fast forward to last night and what do we find? A man who looks like he’s just a little above it all, a man who’s in a hurry and a man who just can’t quite be bothered to reason with you any more. Sorry Ben, it just personal…

Has Ming just seen his own fate?

There was a telling moment last night: Ming mentioned that despite the fact he was but a lowly backbencher, he still gets invited on the show because he has influence with the Chancellor. The silence that followed was horrible, but not quite as horrible as the look of realisation that finally dawned on his face. The look said ‘Oh bugger. The jig is up’. Personally, I hope it isn’t because Ming’s been quite good fun this week – what him him pouring cold water all over Cameron’s referendum speech – but maybe that’s just me. Weymouth, it appears, remains unconvinced.

Angela Epsein says a lot…

Not much of which makes any sense. It’s forgiveable I guess, I’m sure I’d wibble all sorts of nonsense if I was on the panel but I’m fairly confident I’d draw the line at claiming that ‘steal the iPad’ was the number one game in UK playgrounds.

Ian Hislop is hereby excluded from the scoring system…

…Because it’s just not fair. He appears on a panel show every week, he knows where all the bodies are buried, and he’s just too bloody good at what he does. It’s just not cricket and I for one will have nothing to do with it.

Tl;dr

Soubry: 4/10

Combust(ible)

Bradshaw: 4/10

(Not entirely) Trust(able)

Campbell: 5/10

(Is looking increasingly) Disgust(ed with everything)

Epstein: 4/10

(Left me a little non)Plus(sed)

Hislop: N/A

(Is no longer entitled to rhymes)

The Crowd: 8/10

(Were all high as kites on angel) Dust?

So low and N/A scores for the panel, but big points for the Weymouth crowd who made last night quite the hoot. Right, it’s 4.30am. I’m off to dream about spelling mistakes as I weirdly yet invariably do on Thursday nights.

Next week Lemmings, next week..


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Questionable Time #48


questionable time 48 davidi dimbleby camoflage

Good morning Lemmings and come, let us huddle for warmth in this most spiteful of winters. I know, I know, everything sucks right now – we’re knee-deep in the January Blues, everyone’s skint and it’s snowing hippos – but at least we can take solace in the fact no matter how apocalyptic the weather is, the Thursday night spectacle of ire, bile and absurdity remains resolutely unaffected. So come Lemmings, let us gather the survivors, let us construct a makeshift shelter from the charred remains of this week’s episode and let us hope for the best.

I’m a little gutted that Nigel Farage is finally growing up…

Oh Nigel, how far we have come, you and I… When I first laid eyes on you I have to admit that I wasn’t impressed. I don’t remember the exact circumstances but the chances are that you had been conjuring up wild stories of how the EU had made spherical bricks mandatory or maybe laying out some vision of a perfect society based entirely on gammon and Rotarians. Whatever. All I knew was that most of the things you said were vaguely populist and definitely bonkers, neither of which particularly buttered my parsnips. However, all that was before I started writing Questionable Time and once I was actually forced to watch you week in, week out, I began to see things differently. That’s when I discovered The Magic of Nigel Farage.

It hinges on this: For three solid years, you could predict with unerring accuracy how Nigel Farage would fare on QT. Initially, he would look nervous and shifty – like he knew he was gate crashing the party and it was only a matter of time before the host cottoned on – but this state of affairs would only last so long. By midway you’d see this look coming over his face, a look that said ‘You know what? Bollocks to this. I’m going for it’ and then suddenly, the game would change. Caution? To the wind! Reason? To hell with it! I’m going to make some faintly ludicrous statements and there’s nothing you can do about it! That wasn’t the magic though. The magic was that wonderful moment where the crowd would start clapping and you could hear his brain scream ‘OMG! I’M ACTUALLY GETTING AWAY WITH THIS!’.

However, that’s still not quite the full story as there was a third component to any given Farage outing and that was The Tragic Coda. It’s pretty simple really: After getting all hopped up on the dizzying scent of approval, he’d always overplay his hand and that rush of applause that had sustained him would trickle off to one solitary and quite, quite mad member of the audience clapping very, very loudly. This is the moment when you could see it kick in, the fatal realisation that ‘Oh god, I’ve totally buggered this up!’. To me, that was the icing on the cake as every episode had this wonderfully self-contained story arc that played out with the regularity of clockwork: Nigel the Underdog followed by Nigel the Victorious followed by Nigel the Defeated.

These days though? I dunno, something’s changed. For one, UKIP are actually making hay so there is the faint worry in the back of my head that he might come good on his gammon based society but more importantly, he seems aware of when he’s over-egging the pudding now. Ok, so that bit when he and an audience member got over excited about the French not taking part on the Falklands War could have qualified as a ‘Bollocks to it’ moment, but it occurred right at the end of the show and left no space left for the full Tragic Coda. Well dammit Nigel, I need that Tragic Coda. That was the bond that kept us together but it appears that you have turned your back on our arrangement and become infatuated with the grubby trappings of electoral viability. My heart? It is broken.

On any given night Flint vs. Shapps should be a good draw…

…Except that it wasn’t and to be honest, this was a pretty shonky episode that even Dimbers’ rather fetching frog tie couldn’t save. Alright, so the news is in the New Year’s doldrums and the only real going concern – Cameron’s Europe speech – got spiked by hostages in Algeria but I was expecting a little more from Shapps and Flint, a pair who positively ooze that Step-Siblings Who Don’t Get On vibe. Alas, on this occasion it was wet playtimes all round as Flint defaulted to her ‘MUST. DEFEND. EVERYTHING. NEW. LABOUR. EVER. DID.’ position whilst Shapps gave us the usual runaround of having an answer for everything whilst somehow addressing nothing (‘Hey guys… This is all really important and stuff, but stuff I’ve stuffed should stuff it right back into stuff). Shapps by a nose, but without honours.

At least Mary Beard gave it a fair crack…

So she’s all a bit ‘Who’s got the keys to the Volvo!?’/’I don’t suppose you could you tape me the latest Ladysmith Black Mambazo LP?’/’No, I’m sure the farmer’s market is this way!’ but in the final reckoning, Mary Beard was last night’s saving grace. Someone needed to keep the new and worryingly stable Farage in check, someone needed to respond to questions with a modicum of thought and someone needed to tell us whether horse meat is actually up to snuff. That person was Mary Beard. Well done. Have some points.

I have no idea who Roland Rudd is…

The funny thing about PR people is how little you can find out about them. So far as I can gather, Roland Rudd’s one of those figures who repeatedly crops up in the background (he’s reputedly one of the ‘Four Wise Men’ who Tony Blair consulted on his way out), apparently pulls loads of strings and then disappears to do whatever shadowy PR people do. Am I any the wiser after watching last night’s episode? Am I hell. All I can really tell you is that he has very good posture and that his attempt to crack a joke about the purity of burgers got him nowhere. Oh well… You can lead a horse to water…

TL;DR

Shapps: (Likes to talk about) Stuff

5/10

Flint: (Was a little) Duff

5/10

Farage: (Managed to rein in the excess) Guff

6/10

Beard: (Took the evening by the) Scruff (of the neck)

7/10

Rudd: (Doesn’t do off the) Cuff (jokes very well)

5/10

The Crowd: (Were in the) Buff?

4/10

So bah! A stinker of an episode! Truly, January is the cruelest of months. Anyway, to take the edge off it, here’s a something I prepared for the old Nigel, the Nigel I knew and loved (see Fig. 1).

nigel farage needs you kitchener poster

Fig. 1

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #47


Questionable time 47 david dimbleby weather map

Good morning Lemmings and well done: You have (I assume) survived the Mayan apocalypse, navigated your way through the choppy waters of Christmas and somehow safely emerged into the cold light of 2013. You must be very proud. Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends as the Christmas truce is over and now it’s back to the relentless, maddening grind that is Question Time. Yeah, I know, those three Thursday nights where you weren’t screaming at the telly were cherished moments, free from rancour and strife but they could never last, not in a month of Sundays. No, all we can do now is huddle in our foxholes and hope for the best as the opening volleys of the new year do their ghastly work. Welcome back Lemmings, it’s time to get questionable.

I see two figures grappling in the wilderness…

The wilderness isn’t a great place to be. It’s barren. It’s featureless. It doesn’t even have a Greggs, but – for his sins – this is where John Prescott has been exiled to. The reasons for his banishment are simple enough: With the collapse of the Blair-Brown project there’s no longer a need for a figure who spanned the gap between New and Old Labour and as a consequence, John Prescott has ceased to be useful. In fact, he probably ceased being useful quite a while back (the PCC elections were pretty much his last roll of the dice) but last night provided him with yet another chance to prove his worth.

So did he? In a word, ‘no’. The problem with Prescott is that he physically embodies all the properties of the phrase ‘gravy train’ and serves as a walking reminder to voters of why exactly they fell out with New Labour in the first place. Sure, in terms of pure rhetorical pugilism he’s still able to go the distance (too far a distance if Dimber’s constant telling off’s are anything to go by) but this can’t mask the fact that he’s deeply tainted – to the point of toxicity – by all the murkier parts of New Labour’s legacy. All the wars, the cosiness with the city, the cahoots that were gotten into, they all required a little bit of John Prescott and for that reason he’s just too culpable to be useful any more. So hard lines John, it looks like you’re set to roam the wilderness for the time being. Unless of course you punch someone. That’s tended to work in the past.

As it happens Prescott wasn’t alone last night as there was another panelist trying to find her way out of the political tundra and that panelist was Nadine Dorries. Now, Dorries has been excommunicated not on account of her utility but for her dangerousness. Her problem is a) she’s mad as a box of frogs, b) the press know she’s mad as a box of frogs and indulge her more than your Common Garden Backbencher and c) she gave her party a cast-iron excuse to remove the whip by going on IACGMOOH. However, it must be said that in terms of escape plans, last night was pretty good. For a start, she reined in some of her battier tendencies and refused to be drawn into matters like her stance on abortion and she also made a relatively (‘relative’ being the operative word) good fist of the ‘do politicians court celebrity?’ question. Alright, so it wasn’t a stellar performance but given that she’s the most divisive of figures who was at the mercy of a crowd all hopped up on local hospital closures, it could have been worse. My prediction? She’ll be back in the tent before too long. Why? Because last night proved that she can hold it in when she needs to… Or at least long enough to get to the to flap and aim outwards.

I’m becoming oddly attached to Ed Davey…

Here he is, the Adult In The Room. You may not have noticed it – what with all the panto shenanigans of Prescott and Dorries – but there was an actual politician on the show last night, the sort of politician who takes his job very seriously and the sort who if he finishes all his allotted tasks on time may just celebrate by having an extra Digestive before going to bed. Ok, that was cruel (particularly in light of how well boned up on Lewisham’s ongoing hospital woes he was) and I feel bad for mocking Ed Davey because he’s exactly the sort of politician we say we all want – diligent, committed and in it because ‘someone has to’ – yet automatically pick on because they seem a little…. well… square. Consequently, I find myself becoming rather attached to Ed Davey in the same way I’m attached to my toaster: My world wouldn’t fall apart if they/it went missing but things would seem marginally trickier in their absence.

John Bird would get me as far as Burton-on-Trent…

So, what to say about John Bird, founder of The Big Issue and self-styled “working class Marxist Tory”? Well, on the one hand he was great: Outspoken, assured and with the back story to back it up but on the other, he failed the Exeter St. David’s to Leeds test. For the uninitiated (which is all of you) this is a hypothetical hoop I throw people through when I’m not 100% sure of our long-term compatibility: At what point on that train journey would I be secretly wishing that I could just listen to my iPod? In the case of Bird I reckon we’d have a fine – nay, cracking time – until about Cheltenham Spa. We’d talk, I’d find his bafflingly contradictory political self-definition intriguing and we’d even go so far as to crack open a spur-of-the-moment tinny. This state of affairs would persist until about Birmingham New Street. By then his innate confidence would start to irk me, the beer would have left me with a cotton mouth and the conversation would start taking on a very one-sided aspect. By Burton-on-Trent, I’d have broken and sloped off to another carriage under the pretext of a toilet break. I’m not proud of the above but it’s better that we’re honest about these things.

Camilla Cavendish should ask for her money back…

It must be gutting: You get on QT, start saying a bunch of fairly reasonable things, find your stride and then BAM! You get cut off. That was pretty much how it panned out for Cavendish and while my gut tells me that she seems pretty legit, I never really got the chance to find out. I did, however, discover that not only did an audience member look vaguely like me, he was also wearing the exact same outfit. Thanks for freaking me out, you massive imposter (see Fig. 1)!

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

 

Tl;dr

Davey: 6/10

Dependable

Prescott: 4/10

Expendable

Dorries: 5/10

Extendable

Bird: 7/10

Amendable

Cavendish: 6/10

Commendable

The Crowd: 7/10

Bendable?

So there it is: A nicely gee’d-up little romp aided and abetted by a crowd all stoked on local issues. Now here’s a goofy pshop of Nadine Dorries being chased by a shark while John Prescott looks casually looks on. I made it when I was sure that Prezzer was going to trounce Dorries. Oh, hindsight… What chaos have you wrought? (See Fig. 2)

nadine dories shark john prescott

Fig. 2

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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