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).
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 Gold – a 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.
(Did a) Grand (job)
(Looks pleased that he’s in) Demand
(Had it all in) Hand
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…