Archive for June, 2013

Questionable Time #67


questionable-time-67-david-dimbleby-robocopGood morning Lemmings and…wait… hello? Is there anyone there? Oh, right… You guys were all clever enough to go to bed when the footy reached extra time meaning that I’m probably the only person in the entire country who bothered to watch last night’s episode. Well, I can’t blame you and if it’s any consolation I can only claim to have half-watched it (it was more ‘lolling about listlessly whilst going one can over my QT booze quota’ than actually ‘watching’). Anyway, you’re here now so I suppose I’d better slap something together… Welcome to a very a fuzzy and bleary eyed instalment of Questionable Time…

Something’s gone deeply, deeply wrong for the Red Team…

Here’s a little sum for you:

Tory-led Spending Review + Newcastle + Question Time = ?

That should be easy enough to figure out – after all Tyne and Wear is solid red when it comes to electoral results and even if we factor in that the QT audiences are picked to represent the political make-up of the nation as opposed to the locality, the maths should still be fairly straight forward to figure out, right? Wrong. Nope, I’m afraid this is a case of dunce’s hats all round as no matter which way you cut it, Labour came out of last night’s encounter looking thoroughly bruised. So what gives?

I guess the logical place to start is with their horse in last night’s race, Liz Kendall – one of the 2010 intake who is so far famous only for inappropriately tweeting pictures of Parliament (see Fig. 1). Now, in QT terms she’s still pretty wet behind the ears having only one outing under her belt and there was some clear evidence of n00bishness going on (the frantic scribbling of notes throughout the show, the wall of statistics she’d produce at regular intervals, the being hoisted on her own 50p tax petard) but it wasn’t n00bish enough to warrant the frosty response she got. Take her first answer for example: She got to open the show with a response to the Spending Review question and did so with a comprehensive charge sheet aimed squarely at Teams Blue and Yellow. Still vaguely awake at this point, I waited for the robust applause to arrive and put some credibility icing on this largely competent cake but was instead treated to a parade of tumbleweed and scowls. More of the same was the order of the day for the rest of her innings, but it wasn’t Kendall herself – over-eager and trying very, very hard as she was – that seemed to be the cause of all this audience ire. Something else was going on.

liz kendall selfie

Fig.1

‘What about her opponents?’ I hear you say. ‘Could this be a case of her being outmanoeuvered?’…

…And to that I’d reply ‘You’re half right’ as she was up against one of QT’s most frequently underestimated panelists, David Willetts. ‘Willetts? The egghead with the ridiculously soft looking skin?’ you cry as I start to worry that this fabricated conversation might soon overrun the entire paragraph… ‘But he’s soooooo boring!’ to which I’d respond with ‘Ah ha! But that’s one of his secret weapons!’ before quietly shutting down this fictional exchange for fear that I’m beginning to look a little mad. I start making ‘I must be getting on’ gestures, you start feeling a little uncomfortable and we go our separate ways, never to speak of this again. There, it’s over.

So anyway, Willetts: Underestimated a) because he looks and sounds largely innocuous and b) because a he’s right ‘un for triangulating his answers. Did you catch how many times he ended sentences with allusions to ‘a sensible third way’ or some sort of ‘reasonable middle ground’? Well that’s what he does and he goes about it in a meticulous fashion, precisely measuring out the maximum amount of It’s All Their Fault/We’re Really Not That Bad he can get away with before igniting the mixture and escaping under the cover of the ensuing smokescreen. As an offensive tactic this has limited value but that’s not really what David Willett’s is for. No, Two Brains is the kind of guy you want when you’re in a potentially sticky situation (like being a Tory in Newcastle after announcing billions in cuts) and to that end he did really well – to the point that he actually got quite a bit of applause. But this still doesn’t explain why Labour had it so hard last night as Willetts’ effort were mostly directed towards holding the line.

What of Simon Hughes? Was it he that laid the Red Team low?

In a word, ‘no’ and this is because his performance took a turn for the meta and became all about him. Now this whole I Cry Myself To Sleep at Night/I’m Still A Fearless Instrument of Social Justice psychodrama has been a regular QT fixture for yonks but it actually took on a tangible form last night when he was asked directly about it by an audience member. Off he went, picking a fight with himself that he eventually won but that meant there wasn’t much room left for aggressive operations against his opponents and the mystery of the Labour collapse remains unsolved…

So it must be down to the civilian panelist then?

Again, no – but there is a revealing clue in it all that I’ll get to in a second. First off though I must admit that there was some very good baddying going on from Jill Kirby, a panelist who is so cut-and-dry in her veneration of all things free-market that the Snowden affair becomes less about the implications for free speech/national security and more of an HR issue. The government just downloaded the entire internet? Boo-hoo. Some guy breaches the terms of his contract? OH THE HUMANITY! So yeah, that was fun.

However, it’s Mark Steele – a man I’m generally on board with but who’s never more than a cross-media collaboration with Billy Bragg away from annoying me – who provides us with the final piece of the jigsaw. He had a good run last night, saying the things that – by rights – Labour should but also by tapping into the real reason why the crowd were so anti Red Team: It was the feeling that they’d been betrayed by an Opposition that should be fighting their corner.

And therein lies the problem for Labour – they’ve let the Tories choose the music for the next election and that will cost them, particularly in places like the North East where there’s a very sentimental attachment to the Labour movement. Of course, the cold hard logic is that they can afford to burn some political capital in the North (after all, who else are they going to vote for?) in order to chase those juicy Southern swing voters but there is something rather unedifying about it all. There’s also something a little unedifying about David Dimbleby slapping a table but in his defence, at least it woke me up.

Tl;dr

Willetts: 6/10

(Goes in for) Precision

Kendall: 5/10

(Didn’t really deserve all the) Derision

Hughes: 6/10

(Was involved in a) Collision (with himself)

Kirby: 5/10

(Will be having words with Edward Snowden at his next) Supervision

Steele: 6/10

(Is pretty good on) Television

The Crowd: 6/10

(Are most probably appalled by the outcome of this year’s) Eurovision

Well, there you have it… a red-eye special that stands in stark contrast to the giddy tomfoolery of the past two shows. Anyway, that’s nearly it for this run as we have one more episode left and then it’s the summer hols. And what will I be doing with this new-found Friday freedom when it arrives? Illustrating misheard lyrics, that’s what.

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Questionable Time #66


 questionable time 66 david dimbleby goth

Good morning Lemmings and I hope you’ve brought provisions with you (sandwiches would be a start although booze will ultimately be of greater utility) because we’ve got an awful lot to get through today. Right, no messing about, let’s get cracking.

So Mel finally went off the deep end…

I was going to start with Brand but seeing how this site’s being absolutely hammered by people arriving from the search term ‘Melanie Phillips Question Time’ – not to mention the fact that my twitter feed has become a solid wall of people going on a Mel bender – I thought it prudent to bow to the wishes of the great unwashed. Anyway, prior to last night’s show I was feeling somewhat ambivalent about Phillip’s being on as she’s been relatively well-behaved of late. Granted, she’s managed to maintain an underlying level of bonkersness and there’s always some sort of societal windmill she’s been able to tilt at but compared to the uber-rabid Londonistan-era Mel, I rather feared that she was losing her teeth.

Nor did her answers early in the show do anything to dispel this feeling and in actual fact, most of what she came out with was pretty tame: On bankers she was so-so (although did manage to slip in an obligatory dig at nurses… well done there) while the drugs question saw her going through some hard-line motions but it was all the fairly predictable, doom-laden stuff that she routinely churns out. ‘That’s it.’ I thought. ‘The old girl’s finally cashed in her chips. Godspeed Mel, may you while away your days in crotchety grumpiness’. However that was before the question about Syria landed.

It all started innocuously enough – a dig at Cameron here, a failed state or two there – but then went sideways as she arrived at her two ‘I’s: Israel and Iran. The first sign that things were becoming unstuck was when she demanded that Iran be “neutralised” but that was just a warm-up. No, what really sent her over the edge was the bally gall of the audience to offer a collective tut at this idea. That was it. Out came the finger, jabbing away like a little spear of crazy as she laid into the “defeatism of the British people”. Naturally, slagging off 60 million people in one effortless little sentence did little to sooth the crowd and the tutting soon became the ominous rumble of boos, but Mel wasn’t finished. Not by a long shot.

HOW TRIVIAL OF YOU! HOW IGNORANT OF YOU!” was her next line and with it went any hope that the show might remain tenuously anchored in reality. The ominous rumble escalated, insults were traded and the good ship Question Time proceeded to turn turtle before finally disappearing beneath the unrelenting waves of farce that swamped its decks.

Twelve hours have passed since that incident and as I now peer at the fuzzy sonar scan of the show’s watery grave I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, this is the sort of thing that Questionable Time should thrive on – you know, bangs and crashes, bells and whistles, that sort of thing – and a part of me is quite pleased to see that Mel’s back and as unhinged as ever. Yet there was also something about the pure bitterness behind it all (from both Phillips and the crowd) that makes me feel a little queasy. Is this what we really wanted? The spectacle of a woman who’s essentially given up on humanity reaching snapping point in front of an audience of millions? The base, impulsive side of me says it is but deep down I can’t escape the feeling that we’ve traded in a stable, long-term relationship for a dirty little grope in a stationary cupboard.

You know something’s gone deeply awry when Boris starts looking like a voice of reason…

Believe me, I’m just as shocked as you by the above statement but I’ve got to admit that it’s essentially true: Boris was – in the main – actually pretty level-headed last night. True, he couldn’t sustain this new and rather disconcerting look for the entire show and by the end of the it he had assumed his more familiar form – that of a Rube Goldberg contraption brought to life (please click that link as it contains some pure brilliant). But still, I can’t deny that for the majority of it he actually resembled what can only be described as a ‘politician’ and when it came to the Syria, I was pretty much in total agreement with him. I know, I know… This is all a little difficult to take in but trust me, it happened and again, I’m not sure how I feel about it. It’s like the QT I know and love just got its ears pierced, bought a motorbike and told the kids that Daddy needs some time to go and ‘find himself’. In short, confusion is reigning in my head right now along with a troubling sense of abandonment.

Will the real Russell Brand please stand up?

My one great hope for last night’s episode was that I might finally be able to form a definitive opinion about Russell Brand, something that has so far eluded me despite repeated attempts to peg him down. Here’s the thing – behind all the sex and drugs and Dickensian wibbling you do occasionally catch a glimpse of a thoughtful, sensitive and actually quite vulnerable man. Remember when he gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee about drugs policy? That was one of those rare, fleeting glimpses and that’s the Brand I’d like to like.

But they are so rare and while you’re waiting for them you have to endure the contrived dumbing down, the ‘awight mate Mr Dimbleby sir me lord’ and the nagging feeling that his ego may be reaching the point where it can’t support its own weight any more. And that, frankly, upsets me off because he doesn’t have to do it. Yes, I get that this may all be part of a grand plan to make politics ‘accessible’ and ‘relevant’ but I can’t help feeling like I’m being stealthily patronised whilst simultaneously being force-fed a year’s supply of low-hanging fruit.

Fundamentally though, there’s a more profound problem I have with Brand and it’s about trying to work out where the persona ends and the real man begins. I hoped that last night might bring me a little closer to sussing that out but alas, it was not to be.

Reasons why I’m quietly falling in love with Ed Davey…

  1. I think he’s in politics for the right reasons. True, he doesn’t offer much in the way of thrills and that streak of inevitable careerism is hard to ignore but I genuinely get the feeling that he’s a sensible man who wants to make a sensible world using sensible means. We sort of need a few of them kicking about.
  2. He and Jowell were about that only things that reassured me that I wasn’t in fact watching a Year 9 drama group attempting to perform a parody of Question Time.
  3. When I take notes for the show, I refer to the panelists by their initials – Davey’s being ED. Pleasingly, whenever I read the notes back in my head his name always comes out as ‘Aer-Der!’. It’s the little things that count in life.

And just in case you were worried that Tessa Jowell might neglect to mention the Olympics…

…She manages to squeeze one in during the dying seconds of the show. Phew! For a second there I thought we were in trouble. Anyway, it was a good innings from Jowell last night, particularly as Dimbers did seem to have it in for her at the start of the show. It was also the first time that I’ve heard a convincing apology for Labour’s failure to regulate the banks coming from someone who was very much at the heart of that ill-fated project. And that dear Lemmings may even warrant an extra point.

Tl;dr

Johnson: 6/10

Odd(ly restrained)…

Phillips: 3/10

(Rode rough)Shod (over any sense of proportionality)…

Brand: 5/10

(Is a tricky) Sod (to pin down)…

Davey: 6/10

Plod(s sensibly on)…

Jowell: 7/10

(Gave a knowing) Nod (to Labour’s culpability)…

The Crowd: 6/10

(Did a good job at being the Awkward) Squad…

Right, this has to end because I’m way over my thousand words and need to sit in a darkened room for at least a week. Before I go there’s the small matter of this week’s pshop which I’ve stuck below (see Fig. 1).

boris-johnson-russel-rand-hair-swap-gif

Fig. 1

Yeah, it’s not my finest work but that’s probably because I wazzed all my pixels up the wall making this rather beautiful Farage design which may just be available in t-shirt form in the none-too-distant-future. Watch this space. So anyway that’s your lot and let’s hope that Daddy returns next week – minus that ghastly leather jacket of course…

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #65


questionable time 65 david dimbleby hipster

Good morning Lemmings and gah! Who are all these young whelps with their dubsteps, Nintendoboxstations and soaring rates of unemployment? Oh Jesus, they’re the crowd and not only do they have all of the above, they also appear to be in possession of ‘opinions’ and much more scarily, the vote. Quite how this all happened I am not sure but here we are anyway… Let’s see if we can’t Questionable Time some sense into the little buggers.

It turns out that first impressions don’t count for very much at all…

Having recently been to a few gigs where I was acutely aware of being That Guy (you know, the conspicuously old-looking bloke who’s trying to mask his confusion behind an air of vague condescension, a pint of snakebite and a Dillinger four T-shirt) I thought I knew what I was getting into – yet within seconds of that opening shot where the camera pulls back to reveal the audience I realised that I was barking up the wrong tree. Where were all the neck tattoos and Zelda hair? How come no-ones sporting dayglo trainers and plunging necklines? Why aren’t my senses being assaulted by Lynx Africa and overly contrived synth-led breakdowns in the middle of otherwise serviceable metal songs? WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?

Well, as it happens, they were the sort of young people who don’t knock about at the same venues as embittered thirty-somethings who are desperately clinging on to the illusion of youth. No, instead they all looked like rather well-adjusted types who decline invitations to get pissed in bus shelters on the grounds that their course work is due in six months time and to be honest, that didn’t sit well with me. “Great.” I thought as I desperately scanned the crowd in the hope of at least locating a solitary goth or maybe a Citizen Smith type. “The Chess Club have finally triumphed. Roll on the Snooze Fest”.

As it happens, my fears were misplaced and as the show unfolded I actually started to find myself getting a bit starry-eyed. It started with the guy who used the first question on internet surveillance as a vehicle to demand Blair be tried for war crimes. “Yes!” I thought to myself. “That’s exactly the sort of tenuous leap into the realms of absolutes that I would have made at your age! Go on son!” Then came the moment when the independence question dropped and neatly divided the audience into two equally belligerent opposing camps. From here on in everything went into panto overload with claps and boos drowning each other out – and it wasn’t just your standard ‘Hummener-hummener-hummener’ type chunterings that you tend to get with adult audiences either. These were proper boos, proper cheers, the sort of noises that people make when they actually believe in things and can envisage what a better world would look like. Lemmings, I hate to admit it but I think I may have experienced an emotion not a million miles away from ‘hope’ by the end of the show.

So that was all rather lovely but before moving on a pair of special mentions are in order.

1. The lad who had a pop at “Glorious England” and our routine persecution of Scots: It was a dumb move that saw him receive a righteous beat down but I will say this: There was an odd dignity in the way he took his licks. It was all in that look of resigned defeat that I like to call Opinors Remorse.

2. And who can forget the young man who posited that Scottish independence would bring us “one step closer to finding aliens” only to be rewarded with a volley of incredulity from none other than Dimbers? There’s a lesson in all this fellah, a lesson that I learnt the hard way: Those little scenes that play out in your imagination, you know, the ones where you get all Carpe Diem and dazzle everyone with your audacious whackiness? Yeah, they rarely work out like that…

Guess we’d better do some panel then…

I’ll keep it brief for the main three: Angus Robertson did The Big Man thing and did so with varying degrees of success, Ruth Davidson gave us another rendition of the Plucky Underdog and more-or-less got away with it while Anas Sarwar basically mulched his way through but did display a few rare moments of something-or-other.

As for the other’s, well the sight of seeing the UK’s two leading providers of demagoguery (one – Galloway – who sincerely and profoundly believes his own hype while the other – Farage – can’t believe his luck that others sincerely and profoundly believe his own hype) temporarily setting aside their mutual hostility and making common cause against the Tartan Peril was both entertaining and perplexing. It sort of reminded me of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact although I should point out that it (the Pact, that is) really didn’t turn out to be all that entertaining in the long run. Oh, and while we’re on the matter of Galloway, see Fig. 1.

george-galloway-rula-lenska-cat

Fig. 1

And Lesley Riddoch? Bloody good. So bloody good in fact that it rekindled this latent jealousy that I have for Scotland: Things like social justice and equality are treated as something to proud of there, not like in England where they’ve come to be regarded as some sort of pie-in-the-sky fairy tale. Damn you Scots, damn you and your faith in the collective good.

Tl;dr

Davidson: 5/10

(Is) Small

Robertson: 6/10

(Wants sovereignty north of Hadrian’s) Wall

Sarwar: 5/10

(Made it feel like a long) Haul

Galloway: 7/10

(Still has the ability to) Appall

Farage: 6/10

(Is ever the goof) Ball

Riddoch: 8/10

(Was up for a right good) Brawl

The Crowd: 9/10

(Should treat themselves to a pub) Crawl (but only when they are legally old enough to do so).

See that? 9/10? I must be going soft in my old age. Anyway, good episode and next week looks like a total belter as well…. Come on Brand, make sweet love to Melanie Phillips in front of a live studio audience. Right, that’s your lot – apart from a minor nag to go and visit my other site at some point. It’s weird, but… you know…

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #64


questionable time 64 david dimbleby toreador bullfighter

Good morning Lemmings and you all owe me a big one. Remember how I said I was going on holiday in search of this mysterious ‘Sun’ business? Well I found it, hacked off a small chunk and successfully smuggled it back through Leeds-Bradford Airport at great personal risk because that’s the sort of selfless guy I am. It’s in the sky right now and I have to say I’m rather taken by it. Anyway, if you can take your squinting eyes off it for a second, here’s what happened on last night’s Question Time...

 

I had high hopes for Margot James…

Given the rolling hullabaloo that is the Tory party’s attitude towards gay marriage it’s probably not the easiest job being the Blue Team’s first openly lesbian MP, let alone one that’s also against an EU referendum and has the ability to come across as a vaguely normal person. As it happens, Margot James is all these things and very bloody good at them she is too, what with her bopping a series of less-than-touchy-feely True Blue noses on the Commons’ floor in the past few months. So, she’s got QT-Pro-In-The-Making written all over her, right? Well, not quite.

 

James’ first problem is a common one for QT n00bs and mainly relates to how far you throw your punches. For some it’s a case of over-extending yourself too early, lunging at your opponent with an elaborate spiel only to find that you’re now totally overexposed and taking kidney punches from four separate directions – think Warsi a few years back or Dories when she’s been at the catnip and you’re on the money. However, this isn’t the case for James and if anything, she suffers from the polar opposite of this syndrome: She’s not throwing them far enough. Take for example the first question on Labour’s new welfare duds. Here’s an open goal with oodles of potential for mischief yet Margot let it slip by with only a cursory jab at her opponent that may well have stung but certainly didn’t result in any real damage. It was the same with the bulk of her other responses too: Short range, compact little affairs that while conforming to the spirit of our weekly political Fight Club failed to show off any real taste for blood.

 

However, I will give her this – she dealt with the ambush on lobbying rather well for a first timer. Some of this is purely circumstantial as Yaqoob inadvertently threw her a lifeline by blathering over the top of the really dangerous moment but I was heartened to see a well-timed deployment of the Knowing Smile. This came after the failure of her Dear Sir, Imagine My Concern escape plan and sort of amounted to an unspoken Fair Play Guv, Banged To Right’s. Granted, it’s not the best way to lead your life but it did the trick of disarming the crowd and moving matters along before they got really fraught.

 

So a mixed bag then. On the one hand James has already proven that she’s able enough to avoid going fully-n00b but there’s definitely room for improvement – like checking the Register of Members Interests for your own culpability before appearing on a Lobbygate-heavy edition of Question Time.

 

I’ve finally figured out what Douglas Alexander’s superpower is…

…It’s Acoustic Camouflage, a deft little trick where the timbre of your voice is just so dry that the listener is baffled to the point where the content is indecipherable. It happened throughout last night’s show and is so effective that I don’t actually have a clue as to what he said about anything (which is just as well since the same also applies to Labour’s new stance on benefits) nor did I find myself caring much either way.

 

On top of this, Wee Dougie also has a supplementary power which I call Emotional Muting – a sort of internal dampening mechanism that makes it really hard to discern what he’s actually getting at. For example, he had numerous to-do’s with Margot James where the way his lips were flapping and the few words that registered said ‘this guy is angry’ yet the overall impression was of a slightly fidgety man who was trying to work out whether he set Holby City to record or not. Sure, neither of these powers are up with flight or ESP, but they’re certainly useful if you’re in the market for making people slightly perplexed and nonplussed.

 

Yaqoob showed us how this QT lark is done…

Remember when the Respect Party resembled something slightly more nuanced than a ramshackle vehicle for conveying George Galloway’s supersized ego into everyone’s faces? No? Well I do and that was largely down to Salma Yaqoob, the party’s Adult-in-Chief before she got so hacked off with Galloway that she threw herself out of the passenger seat and set up a makeshift camp on the hard shoulder. Anyway, it’s Respect’s loss as last night she proved just how good she can be: Measured, passionate and in it for the right reasons whilst never straying into the territory of shrill. So top marks then? ‘Fraid not as the waffling over James’ Oh Bugger moment applied a portion of fly to an otherwise immaculate ointment but seeing as no-one’s ever got top marks on Questionable Time I wouldn’t complain.

 

Lord Oakeshott: He does exactly the opposite of what it says on the tin…

What the tin says: A Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords who represents the interests of a party in government.

 

What he actually is: Some guy who hates the House of Lords, hates the government and probably hates his party as well.

 

Love it, love it, love it.

 

And A. N. Wilson?

I’ll level with you, I thought this guy was going to be a train wreck but in actual fact he was pretty good fun. Ok, so all the banging on about ‘Debt this, debt that’ was a little predictable but he was clearly having a blast and the way his sentences were constantly in danger of ending with a phrase like ‘Whoopsie-daisy!’ was all rather jovial. I just wish he’d worn his Hogwarts/Accelerated Decrepitude get-up to really seal the deal (see Fig. 1).

 

an wilson question time

Fig. 1

Tl;dr

 

James: 5/10

(Has a way to) Go

 

Alexander: 5/10

(Exactly what he said I do not) Know

 

Yaqoob: 8/10

(Is my new) Beau

 

Oakeshott: 7/10

(Will) Kowtow (to no man)

 

Wilson: 6/10

(Probably lives in something that looks like a) Chateau

 

The Crowd: 7/10

(Like eating Play) Doh

 

Speaking of the crowd, they were a colourful bunch weren’t they? Now, before you all get on your high horses and accuse me of casting aspersions about cross dressers who aren’t very good at cross dressing I’d just like to say a) he really wasn’t very good at cross dressing and b) I was more shocked by the lad with the Skrillex haircut/facial piercings who went to all the effort of putting on a suit. The overall look was a little… disjointed.

 

Right, that’s me. Enjoy the Sun that I’ve so generously provided.

 

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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