Archive for May, 2013

Questionable Time #63


questionable time 63 david dimbleby aliens colonial marine

Good morning Lemmings and welcome to a very hasty Questionable Time – hasty because I’ve got a plane to catch in a couple of hours and I’ll be damned if yammering on about dork stuff is going to derail my carefully laid plans to access the ‘Sun’. Apparently it’s this giant ball of burning hydrogen that appears in the sky and bathes those below with life-giving rays. I’m personally sceptical but you know… In for a penny, in for a pound. Anyway, I’m yammering and we haven’t even got on to the dork stuff yet so let’s get this road on the show.

Once a Labour Home Sec, always a Labour Home Sec…

Remember Patricia Hewitt? She was that very headmistressy Labour Health Secretary who had a rare talent for winding up health professionals and putting front line noses out of joint, something I can attest to because I worked for the NHS during the back-end of her tenure and found my nose to be as out of kilter as everyone else’s. Hewitt’s problem (other than having to aggressively push through some rather unpopular changes) was that she wasn’t good with people and often came across as cold, jagged and brittle – not really the sort of look you’re after when you’re the head of Britain’s caring professions – and when the news came down that she would be replaced by Alan Johnson you could hear a sigh of relief ripple across the nation’s health centres: Finally we were getting someone who actually seemed vaguely human.

And very human he was. Sure, the policies didn’t change much but we could put up with them because the person asking us to get our knickers in a twist about ‘patient choice’ (which was essentially code for ‘creeping privatisation’) had a warmth and normality to him that never made it seem like he was talking down to us. Fast forward a couple of years and Johnson’s getting promoted to Home Secretary. ‘Hmmmm’ I thought. ‘Maybe, just maybe this is the guy who can get the Home Office to chill out and stop acting like a bunch of heavy-handed paranoid yahoos’. Wrong. WRONG!

No, as we saw last night, Johnson was just as susceptible as any other to that strange disease that’s afflicted every Labour Home Secretary since 2001 and in even worse news, it appears that the affliction never entirely leaves its host – it just lies dormant until someone says the word ‘terrorism’. So it was that we opened last night’s show with Johnson displaying all the symptoms of Homesecretitis – a fever for surveillance, cold sweats of intercept evidence, a clammy sheen of national security clinging to his brow – and it wasn’t until mid-show that the spasms finally passed and he finally reverted back to his normal state of being a generally decent, reasonable bloke (decent and reasonable enough to fight Anna Soubry’s corner on the matter of Friday Deaths in hospitals). But still, it was rather jarring because I really do rather admire Johnson and to watch him suddenly become engulfed in this whole Tough Guy/If You Knew What I Knew act is a little heartbreaking. It also looks very odd when those sentiments come from the lips of a man who displays more than a passing resemblance to David Bowie (see Fig. 1)

alan johnson david bowie

Fig. 1

Soubry’s gradually growing me…

…Mainly because there’s something endearingly amateurish about her. Now, by that I’m not saying that she is an amateur as she appears to have a proper job and everything but it’s the way she’s got a very visible feedback loop. For example, when she sticks her foot in it (which is quite often) she can’t disguise that ‘Oh crikey, I’ve really buggered this up!’ look that flashes across her face and I quite like that as it makes her appear relatively normal. As it happens, she managed not to stick her foot in anything last night but the feedback loop was still very visible: It said ‘Golly gosh gal, you’re really doing rather well at this!’ and again, it made her look like an actual person as opposed to a locked down hack who’s playing it by the numbers. So, while I am a little disappointed that she didn’t let her jauntiness run away with itself and get her into all sorts of trouble, I’ll let her off on the grounds of human authenticity. Next time though I’d like to hear at least one ill-considered and inflammatory statement pass her lips… You know, just to keep her grounded.

I’m not sure if I can cope with a sensible Kipper…

Alright, what’s going on here then? A Kipper who spends 80% of the show not being totally harebrained and only gets marginally wound up about the EU in the remaining 20%? Something’s wrong. The plan has gone awry. Farage promised me clowns but has instead sent a vaguely competent individual who is largely in control of their faculties. I want my money back.

Medhi’s back on form…

I had a pop as Hasan last time for being grumpy (to which he kindly responded by declaring Questionable Time to be “mildly amusing if lengthy”… Fair play Medhi, fair play) but he gets a free pass this week because the terrorism question re-kindled all that passion that made him such a good read back when we were up to our necks in the stuff. It wasn’t just me either: The crowd were very taken with him and that made for a virtuous circle where they geed each other up and gave Johnson/Soubry a right good rollicking. So well done Medhi and if you wish to subsequently describe Questionable Time as “blisteringly funny and of entirely appropriate length”, that would be just fine with me.

And Fellowes?

Not a lot to say except that he harvested all the low hanging fruit and his sentences always sound like they’re teetering drunkenly at the top of a staircase, just waiting to topple over. It’s because he taaaaalks like thiiiiiiiiis.

Tl;dr (And no rhymes because I’m the bloody departure lounge)

Johnson: 5/10

Soubry: 6/10

James: 5/10

Hasan: 8/10

Fellowes: 6/10

The Crowd: 7/10

Hmmmmm, not a bad episode all told. Right, I’ve got to skiddadle for the boarding gate so sorry if it’s been a little slap-dash but normal service will resume in a week’s time.

Additional Note of Minor Import:

It recently occurred to me that I’ve been generating an awful lot of non-QT graphics type stuff and that it hasn’t had a proper home. Rather than watching it traipse forlornly around Twitter and Facebook I’ve finally got round to setting up another site in order to provide it with a modicum of dignity. If you’d like to check it out, you can find it here. On top of that, should you wish to buy the rather fetching Nick Cotton themed greetings card I knocked up, you can do so here.

Questionable Time #62


questionable time 62 david dimbleby by sardine tin

Good morning Lemmings and hold on to your hats because something really rather strange occurred on QT last night: There was actually a reasoned and thoughtful debate. Thankfully, this outbreak of high-minded civility was only a brief and temporary blip but I have to admit that it scared me for a second – I mean c’mon, what happens if this becomes a habit? What if future panelists decide that actually listening to each other and soberly weighing up the merits of an issue is the way forward? It would be the end of me and the end of Questionable Time Lemmings, that’s what would happen. Anyway, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here… Back we go to the scene of last night’s crime.

Phillip Hammond is cannier than he looks…

‘Really?’ is what your probably thinking right now. ‘Hammond? That monochrome guy who’s about as exciting as an international summit on the standardisation of photocopier toner? Canny? Have you lost your mind?’ to which I say ‘Yes!’ and then ‘No!’ when I realise that I’ve inadvertently admitted to losing my mind. Anyway, to get to the heart of this rash claim we need a little context and in this case it’s pretty clear – whoever the Blue Team put up last night was going to have a tough time explaining away their latest bout of Europe inspired collective self-harming, especially when their chosen representative has been playing a little fast and loose with the party line of late. Now, the standard Tory approach to situations like this usually involve a certain measure of defiant chest-beating and some good honest mouth foaming but Hammond just isn’t cut out for that sort of thing and played a different game instead: He paper-shuffled his way out.

It’s a pretty simple tactic really – when faced with awkward questions that have no easy answers simply respond like you were delivering the results of an office stationary audit and people will soon forget what you’re talking about. Given that I really don’t have a clue what he said about the Tory’s Euro woes last night, it’s fair to say that this approach worked marvellously and while it was by no means a victory (particularly when accused of being ‘powerless’ by an audience member), it certainly stopped matters becoming any worse for the Blue Team.

And what of the rest of his performance? Well, the gay marriage question didn’t work out too well for him (particularly when ambushed by Bryant) but again, just the unseasoned blandness of his delivery stopped him coming across as an out-and-out bigot and more like a man in a huff with a world that keeps changing without his permission. It’s also worth pointing out that his take on the Syria question (that it’s a very messy and complicated thing that we really need to think about) was music to my ears after a decade of overly bellicose Defence Secretaries and really deserved a clap. But that’s the downside of paper-shuffling: It may well shield you from harm, but it does little good in earning you credit.

Right, that’s him done. Enjoy this visual explanation of why Phillip Hammond is the least Defence Sec looking Defence Sec of all time (see Fig. 1).

defence-secretaries-looking-hard-gif

Fig.1

Bryant played a blinder…

It’s rare that I give out no-strings praise but this is one of those moments as Bryant finally found his balance last night. That opening broadside on reasons to stay in Europe? Great. Really well put and impassioned but without that missionary zeal that can sometimes make him look a little unhinged. Similarly on Syria: Here he blended justified outrage with hard-headed realism and got it just right.

However, his real triumph was on the gay marriage question and it’s here we encountered that Rare Moment of Genuine Debate that I mentioned earlier. It came in the wake of his pre-emptive strike on Hammond and involved a member of the audience who had genuine reservations about the proposed legislation. Now, this is one of those situations where Bryant can overplay his hand and really go to town on people but this time he didn’t – instead he actually listened to the man and treated his concerns with respect and dignity. The audience member – to his eternal credit – reciprocated in kind and what we were left with was a genuine We Can Work This Out moment that left me feeling embarrassingly optimistic. Factor into that the way he looked genuinely comfortable in his own skin (plus the nice little anecdotes about his time in the clergy) and we have a clear winner on our hands.

Now get out of here Chris, before I start welling up and looking like a cotton-picking hippy.

Let the right Charlie in…

I like Good Charlie. He’s the ex-Lib Dem leader who’s essentially given up on top-level politics and is happy to mooch about as an avuncular/jovial talking head. I like Good Charlie because I get the sense that Charlie likes Good Charlie and that makes hanging out with Good Charlie feel like a glass of warm milk and a good thumb suck. I don’t – on the other hand – like Bad Charlie. He’s the ex-Lib Dem leader who’s pissed off that he’s no longer playing top-level politics and is resigned to skulk about as a disinterested/embittered talking head. I don’t like Bad Charlie because I get the sense that Charlie doesn’t like Bad Charlie and that makes hanging out with Bad Charlie feel like a can of lukewarm Skol and a good eye poke.

Luckily we got Good Charlie last night.

Gillian Tett didn’t let me down…

There are two books that are worth reading about the Global Financial Crisis. One is John Lanchester’s Whoops! Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay a wonderfully entertaining, ‘Explain Like I’m 5’ take on economics while the other is Gillian Tett’s Fool’s Golda masterful piece of forensic inquiry that really gets to the heart of how things got so badly buggered up. Anyway, I bring this up because if you liked Tett’s approach on QT last night – a picture of clarity and concision on the things she knows about whilst appropriately glib on those that concern her less – then you’ll get on well with the book. Furthermore, she’s also an anthropologist which are hands down my favourite sort of ologists. Take that, dendrochronologists!

Do you like bread? And circuses?

Because if you do, you’ll just love Peter Bazelgette, former head of Endemol and Emperor of the Lowest Common Denominator. Now, part of me really wants to give him a hard time as he was totally and utterly shameless in going for the low hanging fruit last night (‘Do you guys love breathing? Then I love breathing!’) but I’m going to let him off because a) this episode has got me weirdly loved-up and b) he’s very good at what he does and I love breathing too.

Tl;dr

Hammond: 5/10

(Cunningly) Bland

Bryant: 8/10

(Did a) Grand (job)

Kennedy: 6/10

(Looks pleased that he’s in) Demand

Tett: 7/10

(Had it all in) Hand

Bazelgette: 6/10

Rammed (us full of hopey-changey stuff)

The Crowd: 8/10

(Favour the use of the South African) Rand (should the Pound ever fail)

Whoa whoa whoa! Two ‘8’s and nothing below a ‘5’? Damn you Ipswich and your mellow vibes! Hmm… I’d better rectify this situation by playing Tropico 4 and engineering the most brutal and repressive of dictatorships possible… That’ll help me get my ire back. Anyway, that’s all for this week and it’ll be a fortnight until the next Questionable Time. My excuse this time round is that I don’t do the Northern Ireland episodes because I have no idea what’s going on and would most likely make a pig’s ear of them. Considering how much fun it was getting shouted at by angry Scottish Nationalists when I said that I didn’t really care/know a great deal about Scottish politics, it’s an excuse I’m sticking to. In the meantime, feel free to enjoy this little gem of vintage QT parody, brought to my attention by the esteemed @connordiver.

In a fortnight Lemmings, in a fortnight…

Questionable Time #61


questionable time 61 david dimbleby space marine warhammer 40k

Good morning Lemmings and to all those Games Workshop nerds looking at the above pshop and having kittens because “Dimbleby is wearing Ultramarine livery yet those are CLEARLY Blood Angels behind him” I say a) shut up and b) I have a girlfriend. Socially awkward critics silenced? Good. Let us proceed with all due haste to the matter in hand. To Coventry we go…

Did David Davis have a nervous breakdown about half way through last night’s show?

Despite his politics being waaaaay to the right of mine I have all the time in the world for David Davis and not only because he’s an unrelenting pain in the arse for the Tory High Command. No, what I like about Davis is that he’s a true Lone Wolf who is certain of his ends, uncompromising in his means and still looks like he could kill you with those dark black marbles he calls eyes. Take the question on Europe and the Queen’s Speech for example: This was the one that left Hunt and Swinson all butterfingered and knock-kneed as they tried to transport the fragile china of not-really-wanting-a-referendum through the frenzied bullring of freshly UKIPed public opinion. Davis though? He wants out and doesn’t care how many Blue Willow plates get shattered along the way. As it happens, public opinion seems to be marginally with him on this one at the moment, but it wouldn’t have mattered either way because David Davis doesn’t really care what you or anyone else thinks. David Davis just cares about his Lines In the Sand and who’s crossing them.

What’s really interesting though is when those Lines In The Sand run perpendicular to each other and on this point the rape question was instructive. Here we have a situation where there is no easy solution and someone – whether they be a victim of sexual assault or a wrongly accused party – is going to come out terribly damaged. More importantly from Davis’ point of view, the fate of both of these parties is dependent on one of his most cherished Lines In The Sand – The Fair and Proportionate Rule of Law – and who gets the benefit of the doubt when crossing it. As soon as the question landed Davis screwed his face up into a ball and clutched the bridge of his nose as if stricken by some sort of existential neuralgia. ‘Gah!’ said his face, ‘Get behind me, Satan!.’

Granted, this may have been a reaction to Greer making some very strange noises about how rape victims should be all up in everyone’s grill rather than displaying entirely appropriate human responses to the most awful of traumas (just as the weird, grunt-cum-tortured-howl he let out later was a direct response to Jerry Hayes’ even stranger and slightly disconcerting to-do over rape statistics) but I suspect it was about something more profound: It was about what happens when two absolutes collide in a mind that only has room for one. To his credit, he actually talked a great deal of sense on the subject and did the best out of the bunch in arriving at a reasonable compromise but still, it does show that despite his outward projection of unshakable clarity, even a seasoned purveyor of Incontrovertible Truths such as he can become unstuck by humanity’s tendency towards the ambiguous.

There are two time travellers in Parliament…

One is Jacob Rees-Mogg, the living embodiment of Interbellum Toryism while the other is Tristram Hunt, the present day’s answer to the Genuinely Sincere Yet Too Clever For Its Own Good Fabianism of the 1930’s. It’s all there really – the pained frowning at the injustice of it all, the wordy appeals to do Good Things and the sort of rugged good looks that would look entirely fitting in a Republican trench on an Andalusian hillside – and on the whole, it sort of works. Ok, so he’s a little overeager in some of his exhortations and his scholarly good lookingness makes it difficult to ignore the accusation that he’s been parachuted in but at least there is a genuine sense that he believes in something and at least he’s trying despite the lingering guilt that life may have sent a disproportionately large amount of Good Things his way.

That, and I’d love to watch him and the Mogglet play Risk. Oh, to be a fly on the wall…

Swinson’s turning into a bit of an operator…

The knowing grin that came along with “It wasn’t in the manifesto”? That said it all. No Teather-esque lip chewing, no Hughes-like hand wringing, just an unapologetic acceptance that politics is a messy business in which you play the hand you’re dealt, all delivered with a touch of coyness to soften the edges. Watch this one. She’s going places.

Greer provides further proof of the Primacy-Recency Effect…

It’s a very straight-forward theory: When presented with a list of things to remember you’re most likely to recall the items at the beginning and the end rather than the stuff in the middle, all of which must be very comforting for Germaine Greer as the old ratbag’s a right bugger for losing her way mid-show.

It all started promisingly with a nice little spiel about UKIP but it quickly got lost as she did a round-the-houses crawl of all things Commonwealth before a circuitous trip down Etymology Lane and the aforementioned weirdness of rape victims being totally cool with staring down the perpetrators. Luckily though, she reeled it back in with some rather good stuff about the burden of proof and once again our inbuilt tendency to forget the middle had her coming out of it all looking rather good. Germaine, you owe the vagaries of cognition a big one.

Now here’s a photo of a back-in-the-day Greer draping herself sensuously around what may or not be David Davis (see Fig. 1)

germaine greer david davis norks

Fig. 1

Jerry Hayes: For and against.

For:

Nice turn of phrase (“Spittoon for angst” anybody?)

Nervous energy

Flailing arms

Beard

Totally batshit rant about the Lord Chancellor that I didn’t understand but looked fun

Against:

Shameless self-promotion

Nervous energy

Flailing arms

Highly dubious interpretations of rape figures and willingness to pick a fight about them

Verdict:

I have no idea.

Tl;dr

Davis: 7/10

Hard

Hunt: 6/10

(Might have) Starred (in Land and Freedom)

Swinson: 6/10

(Plays a tight game of political) Card(s)

Greer: 5/10

(Is not quite as) Avant-Garde (as she used to be)

Hayes: 4/10

(You’re) Barred!

The Crowd: 6/10

(Clearly thought Jean-Luc) Picard (was clearly the best Captain in the Star Trek canon)

In the words of Atlanta rap duo Tag-Team, “Whoomp! There it is”: A straightforward affair where a man with a beard got overly animated and Tristram Hunt described Nigel Farage as “attractive”. Now, I know some of you were a little bummed that I missed Starkey last week so by way of recompense, here’s a link to a piece I did for Culture Kicks about QT. It’s good so give it a read. Culture, innit blud…

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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