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.
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.
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.
(Not as) Mad (as he used to be)
Had (at least stopped with the Knowing Looks)
(Is an odd) Lad
(Is fair) Rad
The Crowd: 8/10
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…