Good morning Lemmings and welcome back from an Easter break that looked suspiciously like a rebranding of ‘Winter’. Given this grim state of affairs you’d be forgiven for assuming that Question Time would be half-heartedly dragging its way out of hibernation for another round of Yah-Boo-Sucksery but in fact, the opposite seems to have occurred and what we got last night was probably one of the best QT’s I’ve seen in a good long while. Say what you will about the late-PM, even in death she still has the capacity to wind up the citizens of this nation like no-one else. Alright, let’s get cracking.
Well… Someone’s firing on all four cylinders again…
Watching Ken Clarke over the last few years has been an unsettling experience and one that often felt like an exercise in concussion management. Let’s start with the initial blow to the head – the failure of the Tories to secure a majority and the formation of the coalition. For a man who was used to striding around a highly polarised political landscape with the weight of certainty behind him this must have come as a bit of a shock but credit where credit’s due, he weathered it well and showed few outward signs of lasting damage. However – as is often the case with head injuries – the symptoms of such a trauma were simply masked by the excitement of the initial incident and as time went on, I started to become increasingly concerned: Sidelined and stymied, the old boy seemed to be zoning out and if there was one thing that the doctors at A&E were emphatic about it was ‘Don’t let Ken nod off otherwise he may never wake up again!’.
Yet it seems that my worries were misplaced as the Ken we got last night was a million miles away from the vision of resigned defeat that we’ve seen of late. Suddenly taken out of the present and transported back to a time when he actually had shots to call the former Chancellor looked like a different man and one that I’ve still very much got a soft spot for. Lets start with his physical symptoms: Those heavy eyelids, those sloped shoulders and stifled yawns that had so long kept my fingers hovering over the number for NHS Direct had gone, replaced now by wide eyes, jutting jaw and animated limbs. As for his mental health, well that appeared to have been similarly transformed and where we once saw a man who knew he was on his way out, now stood a vision of boisterous vim.
Naturally, this return to form was of course accompanied by the re-emergence of old pathologies such as his endearingly crap attempts to bluster his way out of tight spots by talkingveryveryfast and ber-ber-ber-blurting things out (I’ve always loved the way his face visibly reddens with each ‘ber’) but in many ways this is a good thing: It’s proof of life, an affirmation that there’s still some fire in him and I for one have missed that. Whether he can keep this new-found vigour is a very different matter (I suspect that in a few weeks he’ll revert to his slow decline) but for the time being I’m just happy to see the return of someone who while far from perfect, did at least make politics a genuinely interesting place to be.
And it wasn’t just Ken…
Poor Polly. She really does have a thankless job, even if it’s one of her own making. In a nutshell, Toynbee’s place in the scheme of things is to try and alert us to the boring stuff that no-one really wants to know about but ultimately has a huge bearing on life – the mundane looking yet hugely consequential sub-clause, the penny on this, the percentage off that, these are the thing she has to make sense of and for the most part, she does it very well. The problem is that a life spent poring through the mundane in search of the malicious is a wearying business and quite often it can make her look a little – well – miserable. With this in mind, it came as a rather nice surprise to see her really fired up and making damn sure that the Tories rather starry-eyed version of the Maggie Narrative didn’t go unchallenged whilst also being the only member of the panel to try and root the discussion in the context of the future. So fair play Polly, for once it’s nice to see that frown turned upside down – or at least slightly modified with the Liquify Tool (see Fig. 1)
In a similar vein, Ming Campbell – another long-tooth in danger of losing his purpose – also appeared reinvigorated and made himself a nice little niche as The Level Headed One who wasn’t afraid to ruffle a few Yellow Team feathers with his willingness to raise the vexing matter of ‘if she was so bad, why did we keep voting for her?’. The bollocking he gave Charles Moore at the back-end of the show was also rather good fun and wholly judicious to boot.
All three of the above – Ken, Polly and Ming – did well last night because they were finally back on ground they understood, a terrain composed of opposing ideas rather than the swamp of platitudes and managerialism that we’ve spent the last decade or so wallowing in. You saw it in the crowd as well: Not once did we hear the weekly refrain of They’re All As Bad As Each Other. Instead, there was a sense of people knowing which side they were on and making damn sure that their side clapped louder than the other. Seeing how it jazzed up the show so much, I propose that we start offing ex-PM’s at regular intervals, just to keep the mood alive.
What of the other two?
Yeah, not so great. In Blunkett’s case it all goes back to his metamorphosis from Rough Hewn Man of the People to New Labour Uber-Bastard who managed to assimilate all the wrong lessons from both the Old Labour and Thatcher years. It just makes him look compromised beyond credibility as illustrated by his inability to face up to quite how Thatcherite New Labour became, not to mention a rather scary moment when he looked like he was about to end up in deep trouble with feminists. He pulled it back, but is was touch and go.
As for Moore, well he’s an entirely different kettle of fish and quite a mad one at that. Some of this is forgivable – after all, he’s a very sympathetic biographer of Thatcher who’s had to spend every last second of the past week eulogising his idol. Sooner or later, that’s going to skew your sense of reality and towards the end of the show the wheels really started to come off. It started with an alarmist rant about a BBC conspiracy to send Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead to the top of the charts and ended with a truly weird spiel about how she couldn’t be the Wicked Witch of the East as she single-handedly defeated communism. I bet this sort of thing doesn’t happen to John Major’s biographer.
Yes! Special mention to the man who referred to himself as ‘one’ at least three times in the same sentence and then claimed he wasn’t a Tory, the gentleman with the thick German accent who kept his arm raised at a historically provocative angle throughout his answer and the lad who looked like the long-lost twin of That Guy From The Inbetweeners (see Fig. 2). Well done all of you.
(Had a) Spring (in his step)
(Is the) King (of nothing)
(Is often referred to as) ‘Ming’
(Did her bit for the left) Wing
Cling(s to Thatcher’s memory in an unhealthy sort of way)
The Crowd: 8/10
(Are all avid fans of) Sting?
Well, that was exciting wasn’t it? In all seriousness I found this episode fascinating because while I was never a fan of Thatcher, I do miss the sense that at least people knew what they believed in when she was at large.
Now, before I disappear, a little bit of housekeeping. The Indy and I have gone our separate ways so from now on this will be the only place to get Questionable Time. It is also likely to lead to the following:
Increasingly absurd photoshops!
More oblique references to mid-90’s Southern Californian punk acts!
A body clock that doesn’t hate me!
Oh you lucky things!
Next week Lemmings, next week…