Archive for February, 2013

Questionable Time #53


questionable time 53 david dimbleby horse meat lasagne

Good morning Lemmings and if you like your Question Time with an ecclesiastical twist then you’re in luck as this week finds us huddled amongst the pews of St. Paul’s Cathedral with our heads bowed solemnly, kneeling before the Altar of Dimbers. Not only that, but we’ve also got a bone-fide man of the cloth (Fraser), Methuselah himself (Heseltine) plus a fellow whose world view makes the Old Testament look fresh and edgy (Hitchens). Holy holiness Batman, it’s Questionable Time!

I think I’ve finally forgiven Michael Heseltine…

It’s funny the things that stay with you: My parents spilt up when I was 7 and did so at a time when the then Tory government made it their business to pour scorn upon single-parent families. Being 7 years old, I really didn’t care too much for politics but the memory – that these guys were having a go at my mum when we weren’t exactly having the best of times – has never left me and from that day on all Tories were all the same in my book: Mean, nasty and certainly not the type you’d want to swap stickers or Spokey-Dokeys with.

So how does Heseltine figure in all this? Well, simply by virtue of being one of the more recognisable figures from that period he just sort of became a de facto hate figure in my mind, the living embodiment of a government neither cared nor understood those it governed. Gradually though, I’ve begun to mellow and I’m now beginning to think maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t all that bad.

Part of this reappraisal is down to the fact that I can now look back on that period with a bit of distance and much to my surprise, Heseltine actually comes out of it looking relatively OK-ish. True, he – like everyone else in the Thatcher/Major administrations – has plenty of Greed (and Privatising Everything) is Good blood on their hands but what marks him apart was that he had his ear to the ground when it came to the plight of the ordinary. He’s the one who can take the most credit for doing away with the Poll Tax and on matter such as immigration (as demonstrated last night), he was well ahead of the Tory curve. But that’s half the story: The rest is more to do with what the passage of time has done to Heseltine himself.

If you cast your mind back to his political heyday, Heseltine was quite a dangerous looking character, both in his physicality (that ‘Now just you wait a moment!’ posturing, those semi-crazed eyes) and his behaviour (thrashing the Mace about springs about to mind). Now though? Now that nervous energy seems to have been replaced with an acceptance that he’s off the front line for good and with that comes the realisation that he doesn’t have to chance it any more. That’s important because despite the displays of supreme self-confidence, there’s a very strong thread that runs through Heseltine’s back story: He’s always had to sing for his dinner and with that comes the inevitable air of mania that permeated his public persona.

In terms of last night though, this new-found calm meant that instead of coming across as a bull-in-a-china-shop with something to prove, he now seems comfortable with his place in the world and is no longer driven by the desperation of ambition. That’s nice, because the last time he was on he just looked a little lost and out of it – like the world had moved on without telling him – but in this episode he was back on his game and even managed to generate a convincing head of steam when he and Hitchens had a to-do over whether soldiers are stupid (see Fig. 1). On top that, the moment when his mobile went off was genuinely endearing: There’s just something about a bashful looking old man with an inappropriately activated iPhone that makes my heart melt.

heseltine-angry-gif

Fig. 1

Oh Hitchens, you’re so hard to score…

The case for the prosecution: Peter Hitchens is either a misguided blowhard who boils the world down into a hard-to-shift crust of absolutes on the saucepan of life or a Level 99 Meta-Troll who thrives on self-generated controversy and has taken on all the characteristics of a philosophical retrovirus.

The case for the defence: That delivery! It’s so deadpan! ‘We’re all going to hell in a hand cart. It’s your fault. Now if you’ll excuse me I have less trivial things to pursue’. To pull that off you either need to have an insane tolerance to criticism or be a Level 100 Meta-Troll who has taken the Gentle Art of Making Enemies beyond the sublime.

My jury: Is wondering whether we can just give him mid-range marks based on a reason that was not presented in court and has no facts or evidence to support it either from the prosecution or the defence.

Hello stranger…

I’m glad Diane Abbott and I had a break. I’ve got nothing against her but there was a time when she was on so regularly that I worried she was going to have to list the QT studio as a second home. Anyway, she’s returned and is peddling the same wares that she was before, mainly by blending the familiar with the righteous. By and large it works and despite the fact she overplay her hand a little toward the end, I’ll still happily lap it up…. Even if that means listening to her name drop her constituency like 10 zillion times.

Nice try Vince…

I usually give Cable a hard time for his Knowing Look – that little glint in his eye that says ‘Just you wait until I’m in charge, then we’ll show them!’. It’s a viable QT play in the short-term but Vince has rinsed this little tactical flannel so hard I now need to see some substance. Initially, I thought he’d found some in his point-blank dismissal of IDS’s Child Benefit proposals but when he went on to insist that missing the target for the 4G auction was actually a textbook rendition of Keynesian economics, I pretty much gave up. Back to the drawing board Vince…

I think I’ve found my kryptonite…

God I love a wonky clergyman! Despite being a contented agnostic, there’s something about an outspoken and left leaning vicar that just slays me. Rowan Williams? Boss. John Sentamu? Yo-diggity. The latest addition to the canon? Giles Fraser.

Tl;dr

Heseltine: 7/10

(Not as) Mad (as he used to be)

Abbott: 6/10

(Not) Bad

Cable: 5/10

Had (at least stopped with the Knowing Looks)

Hitchens: 6/10

(Is an odd) Lad

Fraser: 7/10

(Is fair) Rad

The Crowd: 8/10

Gad(zooks)?

Well.. That was an envigorating little samalamadingdong wasn’t it? Good crowd, opulent surroundings and a heavyweight panel, all of which conspired to make the most satisfying show of the run so far. A special mention goes out to the Case Worker who made a lovely, rolling crescendo of a point that was backed up with some pretty thorough homework. If you’re reading Mr. Case Worker, tap me up… There’s some Questionable Time stickers with your name on them just waiting for an address.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #52


questionable time 52 david dimbleby pope

Good morning Lemmings and come, let us grab a body from the pile, shuffle grimly forth and then hurl it on to this, the Funeral Pyre of Dignity. That’s right, once again the nation has dutifully assembled for this exercise in collective catharsis and so it is that we find ourselves in Leicester, home of Englebert Humperdinck, Showaddywaddy and other, more sensibly named musical acts. Lemmings, it is time… Time to get Questionable Timed…

My dreams will be forever haunted by George Galloway’s stare…

Jesus QT, any chance of a warning the next time you choose to open with a shot of George Galloway dressed in full Bond villain regalia and with a stair so intense that it actually killed several hundred pixels on my TV screen stone dead? I mean seriously, that thing was so overpowering that I feared the Earth’s magnetic field was in danger of flipping polarity or that the fabric of the universe itself might be torn apart in the wake of his fearful glare.

Ok, so that might be a slightly over-dramatic way of putting it (a natural consequence of having just watched an hour of Gorgeous George over-dramatising pretty much everything) but I’m bringing this up for a reason: This is not the first time I’ve seen the Gallowstare. At around this time last year, I was in the audience for the Leeds show and one of the panellists that week was none other than George Galloway. Just before the recording got underway, I noticed that he and the other protagonists were loitering just off-set, killing time and making ready before things kicked off. Understandably, they all looked a little nervous but with Galloway there was more to it: He looked utterly terrified and as he gingerly made his way to his seat, I saw the Gallowstare in all its harrowing, appalling glory for the first time. Now, being the forgiving soul that I am, I chalked this up as a legitimate case of the jitters as he’d been off the scene for a while but having witnessed it for a second time I’m thinking that it runs a little deeper than that. Now I’m thinking that it’s a result of the kind of existential terror that only a true blagger can know – the terror that screams “This is it! This is the night when they finally discover that I’m nothing but a chancer who’s not really thought the plan through beyond the stage labelled ‘Shameless Self Promotion’!”. Yet all it took that night was the slightest whiff of blood and that was it: He was back in the game, confident beyond all reason and completely free of self-doubt.

So did he manage to shake the monkey off his back this time around? Of course he did because crippling though his fear of being rumbled may be, you give him a chance to fling around some derisive epithets (“Gordon ‘Goldfinger’ Brown” anyone?) or recycle his “third cheek” gag again and he’s off. That’s something that I sort of have to admire because as knowingly disingenuous as his tactics may be, it takes a specially kind of guts to pull them off: Acting like a self-obsessed megalomaniac is one thing. Acting like a self-obsessed megalomaniac who knows he’s a self-obsessed megalomaniac is quite another. So well done George,  here’s a little something I knocked up to honour such an unstinting commitment to the cause of oneself (see Fig. 1)

george galloway flag socialist realism

Someone’s doing well out of horsemeat…

…And that person is Mary Creagh, Labour’s Johnny on the Spot for all things foody and safetyish. Now, until very recently you could be forgiven for having not known of Creagh’s existence but in the last week or two she’s been making plenty of hay at the dispatch box and a cursory scan of her credentials says that – potentially – this is someone whose time has come. For example, her background (scholarship girl from a plausibly ordinary background) fits really well into the whole One Nation/Striver narrative while her very insistent style of delivery marks her out as someone who is more than capable of looking after herself on the field of battle. Couple that with her backing of the winning team in the post-Brown Labour leadership election and things start to look very promising for Creagh.

However, I say ‘potentially’ for a reason: First off, she’s really got to watch that ‘insistent’ doesn’t turn into ‘preachy’. Secondly, threatening to slap George Galloway’s bum cheeks after the show can be easily misinterpreted and thirdly, it doesn’t pay to boast about how much time you spend “at the school gates” of your Wakefield constituency and then go on to endorse Leicester as the rightful resting place of Richard III. They have long memories in Yorkshire. 528-year-long memories to be precise.

Let’s not beat about a bush, Maria Miller is a bit crap at this QT lark…

There are two problems here:

  1. She’s just not the sharpest tool in the drawer. Generating vast quantities of verbal styrofoam in order to gloss over awkward issues is an acceptable and legitimate QT play but it must be done with some panache. All we seem to get from Miller is a day-late/quid-short answer that doesn’t even attempt to disguise its intent.
  2. The Oh For God’s Sake look isn’t a good one. We get it: It’s annoying when people don’t agree with you but that’s your job. You’re in government. People are supposed to hate you. Suck it up. It’s what we pay you for.

Something weird happened to me at around twenty minutes in…

I swear I heard Fraser Nelson advocating accruing more national debt in order to improve the lot of the poor. I blame the Gallowstare. It must have jiggered my pokery.

And finally, some good news…

…Susan Kramer has predicted an early spring! That’s right, last night QT’s answer to Puxsutawney Phil emerged from her slumber, poked her head out of her winter quarters and saw no shadow. Sunnier times are on the way! Obviously, this is good news for all concerned, none more than Kramer herself who made clear her delight by opining in a particularly loud and jaunty manner. All I can say is that I’m delighted that warmer weather is on the way and I look forward to seeing her in the autumn for the Annual Kramer Hibernation Ceremony. It’s nice that there are some constants in this world.

Tl’dr

Miller: 4/10

Bah!

Creagh: 7/10

Ha!

Kramer: 6/10

Fnar!

Galloway: 6.5/10

Gah!

Nelson: 5/10

Pah!

The Crowd: 6/10

Dah?

So there we go, a scrappy little tussle marred only by its lack of Pope-related questions and the subsequent irrelevance of my Popified photoshop that took an inordinate amount of time to construct. You’ll pay for this, Leicester… I don’t know how but you’ll pay…

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #51


questionable time 51 david dimbleby pop art Lichtenstein

Good morning Lemmings and welcome to yet another instalment of the UK’s most popular blood-sport-disguised-as-middle-brow-gum-flapping-contest, a beast that is otherwise known as Question Time. Now, despite having gorged itself senseless on topics featuring the word ‘referendum’ in the past few weeks, the monster’s appetite remains apparently undiminished and this week finds us heading north in search of fresh plebiscitary morsels. What’s that you say? You’re all referendumed out? Well too bad because we’re off to Scotland and they’ve got a whole load of crazy new referendum flavours to get your chops around. Tonight Lemmings, we dine in Stirling.

We’ll be seeing more of Hamza Yousaf…

So this is only the second QT appearance for the SNP’s Minister for External Affairs (an appointment that sounds suspiciously like ‘Minister for Guttering and Drainage’ in my book) but I’ve got to admit that this guy’s already showing some impressive form. Let’s start with the basics: First off, this guy’s got a really good QT face that hangs well off his head and naturally defaults to a look that’s just on the right side of the Relaxed/Cavalier line. That’s a big advantage from the get-go, but a face alone will only get you as far as the kettle – it won’t get the milk out of the fridge. Luckily for Yusaf, he’s had plenty of time to watch the master of the Relaxed/Cavalier line – Alex Salmond – at work and he seems to have taken plenty of notes.

Take the first question for example: This was the one on the Mid-Staffordshire Trust and he did that classic Salmond thing of pressing the right populist buttons (that whole ‘SNP as the True Defenders of the NHS Faith’ thing always seems to work quite well) but doing so without pleading or shouting. As an opener it worked a treat and he continued to rack up the points with the ‘should Huhne do time?’ question by slipping in a cheeky little dig at bankers without getting too carried away with it. So far, so good. However, the real test was the referendum question and here we saw that he’s still got a thing or two to learn from his sensei.

Clearly, this was a question from which there was no easy way out: Your party, whose reason d’être is to win independence for Scotland has finally secured a referendum yet only a quarter of Scots are behind you on leaving the Union. What gives? Now, had it been Salmond up there, we would have been treated to one of politics’ most splendid creatures – the Knowing Blag. This is where Salmond would blather some things that held no real consequence whilst giving you this look that says ‘Yeah, you know as well as I do that I’m just playing for time, but the fact that we both know makes it kind of fun doesn’t it?’ to which I’d agree and subsequently let him off the hook. Hamza’s not got that down yet and when he’s playing for time he just looks like, well – he’s playing for time. Not the best of looks, all told. Having said that though, these are minor quibbles and last night was a largely valiant effort that should cement his position as the 3rd Carpenter to Alex’s Richard and Nicola’s Karen.

On the subject of QT faces…

…Michael Moore (God’s gift to lazy photoshoppers who don’t want to think too hard about an actual premise… See Fig. 1) has a pretty unfortunate one. That’s not to say he’s bad-looking or anything, it’s just the way he scrunches up his eyes when he’s thinking really spins me out. Is he confused? Is he cross? Is he cross and confused? Is he cross at being confused? This is so confusing that it’s making me cross! Anyway, I feel sorry for him on this front as he’s actually pretty good when he finally hits his stride but that look combined with his rather halting delivery is just a little too jarring for me. It makes me scrunch up my face in a confused and cross looking manner.

michael moore name differentiation

Fig. 1

I get nervous watching Brian Souter…

Ok, Question Time, I see what you did there…. It’s the week in which gay marriage is all over the news so why not get the guy who spearheaded the campaign to keep Clause 4 in Scotland on? On any given week, I’d happily get behind this logic and chuckle heartily at the inevitable carnage that would ensue unfolded but this time around? I don’t know, there’s just something a little frightening about Brian Souter. Most of it’s in the eyes: They look like they’ve seen things they shouldn’t have and can never again return to their normal state. Then there’s the twitchiness, the impromptu confession that he’d tried to get his wife to take his speeding points and the entire glass of water he chugged in a microsecond – not to mention the fact that the crowd had his number and pre-emptively shouted down any funny business before he had a chance to get busy with it. All of this says to me that Brian Souter and Trouble have history and that history has a funny habit of repeating itself. If it’s all the same to you Brian, I think I might just quietly let myself out the back before Trouble turns up…

My long thaw with Charlie Falconer continues…

We’ve never been on the same page, Lord Falconer and I. His style of delivery has always been heavy on insistence and as he was generally insisting on things I wasn’t too keen on I can’t say that it was a match made in heaven. However, over time I’ve found myself mellowing on him and while he’s still very insistent, at least he’s actually quite good at explaining things (particularly lawyerly things) while his distance from power has taken some of the sting out of his tail. One day Charlie, one day we’ll be wed…

Mary Macleod wisely followed the Four Steps to Tory Survival in Scotland…

Step 1: Make no sudden movements.

Step 2: If forced to defend anything, make sure it’s the Union.

Step 3: Conserve energy: There are no votes to be chased here.

Step 4: Don’t eat the yellow snow.

Pro tip: Buckfast isn’t actually wine.

Well done Mary, you live to fight another day.

Tl;dr

Yousaf: 7/10

Sprite(ly)

Moore: 5/10

(Squeezed his eyes together too) Tight(ly)

Macleod: 5/10

(Did well to stay out of) Sight

Falconer: 6/10

(Didn’t) Indict (Souter for crimes he failed to commit)

Souter: 4/10

(Looked like he was going to throw a) White(y)

The Crowd: 7/10

(Were high as) Kite(s)?

Well, whaddayaknow? A merry little Highland Fling that made a modicum of sense despite my non-modicum of understanding for all matters Scottish. Let’s all have a referendum to celebrate!

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #50


questionable time 50 david dimbleby what the fuck

Good morning Lemmings and I imagine you have some questions about the above Photoshop. Why – for example – is David Dimbleby shirtless? Well let me tell you, I have it on good authority that this is his usual off-screen attire and a common sight around Dimble Towers. What about the burning church? And the kitten in his hand – what’s the deal with that? Ah, that’s because the kitten set the church ablaze and Dimbers is merely conveying the perpetrator to the appropriate authorities. And the shark? Err, the shark’s… Lost?

Alright… I confess. I have absolutely no idea what’s going on in this picture but sometimes a man just needs to fire up his computer and place tenuously related visual elements against an apocalyptic background. If that is a crime then hang me. Anyway, enough of this, here’s your precious Questionable Time.

Delingpole let me down…

Another week, another lingering sense of opportunities lost as a Great On Paper panelist turns out to be Not So Great On My Telly. Now, I’d better qualify ‘Great On Paper’ as I don’t want to give the impression that the things he writes on paper are that great (they’re all just a bit ‘Hey guys, it’s not just my politics that are crazy. I’m ZANY as well’), but in terms of QT potential, this guy is solid gold. Does he have a clutch of suitably outlandish views that could animate some of the audience’s more febrile elements? Why yes he does. An ability and willingness to wind up people just for the sake of it? Roger that. How about an unshakeable belief in the veracity of his own claims and a tendency towards self promotion? That’s a big 10-4, good buddy. This, combined with the fact the fact that he managed to enrage most of Twitter with some very ill-advised comments just hours before the show bade well in my book. There would be blood and I intended to submerge myself in it.

Yet here I am, a scant hour after the event, clean, unsullied and conspicuously undrenched in blood. How the hell did this happen? Well, in all honesty it’s not entirely Delingpole’s fault as his naturally adversary, Zoe Williams, didn’t really clock in until the final question, but the fact of the matter is that he was really nervous. And how do I know this? Because as loath that I am to admit it, Delingpole and I share some similarities: We’re both tall, we’re both skinny and our anxiety is kinetic. This means that if we’re bricking it not only do our eyes start darting but our limbs start fidgeting and because of our gangly frames, this tells get amplified in a cartoonish sort of way. That’s not how I knew he was nervous though. No, the real give away was that he tries to hide anxiety in exactly the same way that I do – by conscientiously attempting to locks his frame and spit out responses as fast as humanly possible in the hope that no-one will notice.

So it was that despite the promise of unrestrained provocation I left last night’s episode feeling a little cheated. Sure, he touched base on some of his more out-there ideas (“Fracking, yah…”) but every time you thought he was going to get properly busy with the crazy, his body seized up while his mouth just wibbled. I don’t know, maybe his earlier Twitter balls-up put the jibblies on him but I must say that I’m a little disappointed. On paper, Delingpole has all the form to be a properly off-his-mash 5th panelist – almost like some sort of Reverso-Galloway – but what we got last night was just an overly twitchy blow-hard who was too distracted by his own jitters to foster any real conflict. And what does that deserve? It deserve a gif of a semi-naked James Delingpole as a wind turbine (see Fig. 1)

james-delingpole-wind-turbine-gif

Fig. 1

I never thought I’d say it but I feel a little sorry for Warsi….

You could say many things about the pre-reshuffle Warsi – overly headstrong, a little rash, prone to overplaying her hand – but at least she paid dividends in the entertainment sector and lent the show an air of unpredictability. The post-reshuffle Warsi though? Meh, I’m not so sure. She just seems a little muted, a little timid, a little too afraid of her own mouth to embark on those wild little hidings-to-nothing that made her so fun to watch in the past. Mind you, I have to admit that despite her rather transparent habit of hiding behind a garbled narrative (‘Rather than actually answer a question on Mali, why don’t I just blurt out a rough chronology of events AT A MILLION MILES AN HOUR?’), she didn’t stick her foot in it once last night and I guess that has to be worth something. I believe five points is the going rate.

A quiet reminder from Alan Johnson…

…I’m still here. I’ve held one of the big offices of state, I’m strangely untainted by New Labour’s less glorious episodes and I’ve still got that potent mix of humble origins and endearing self-deprecation. Just sayin’ Mr Milband, just sayin’…

And of the others?

As I said earlier, Zoe Williams didn’t really hit her stride until the end of the show but I think she can be forgiven in this respect as it was an odd clutch of questions in areas that she doesn’t particularly hold a candle for. However, when it did get on to her turf (Nick Clegg sending his kids to private school in this case) she came up with the goods and lo, the crowd did clap. Talking of clapping, the biggest winner on that front last night was Dom Joly who niftily maneuvered himself into the yawning gap left by a nonplussed Williams and a freaking out Delingpole. While I was disappointed that none of the claps were the direct result of either swan dives or oversized mobile phones, I can’t really argue with the people of Lancaster. Well, I could but bitter experience has shown that picking fights with entire municipalities rarely ends my way.

Tl;dr

Warsi: 5/10

(Appears) Hush (ed)

Johnson: 6/10

(Is the subject of a minor political) Crush (for me)

Delingpole: 4/10

(Was in an awful) Rush

Joly: 6/10

(Got dealt a straight) Flush

Williams: 6/10

Brush(ed off the cobwebs at the end of the show)

The Crowd: 5/10

(Fear) Thrush?


Well, would you look at that… Questionable Time #50… Surely some cause for celebration, no? Alas, owing to a troubled history of naming conventions this is technically Questionable Time #98 so the Cava will just have to stay in its tamper-proof enclosure for now. In two weeks time though we’re talking Cava AND crisps! Don’t stop me now Lemmings…

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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