Archive for September, 2013

Questionable Time #71


questionable time 71 david dimbleby agatha christie

Good morning Lemmings and boy am I in a good mood today. Why? Because an old friend who I feared had disappeared from the face of the earth came crashing back into my life on Tuesday, a friend that I last recall seeing sometime around May 2010. That’s right Lemmings, Politics is back! Now, that may sound odd as many of the things we associate with Politics – you know, grown men and women jeering at each other, all the ‘he said/she said/you’re not playing with my toys’ sort of thing – have remained but that wasn’t actually Politics: That was just the political classes going through the motions while Politics quietly switched off its mobile and left a voicemail greeting along the lines of ‘Sorry I’m not available to provide you with distinct and tangible alternatives to the current state of affairs at the moment but you never know, give it a few years and I might be able to sort something out on the front.’. All of that changed on Tuesday when the Red Team finally snapped out of its torpor and actually started talking about those long forgotten things known as ‘policies’. Lemmings, I could have wept with joy.

Anyway, what does this sudden return of my missing companion mean for Question Time? It means a right belter of an episode. Observe.

Finally, the Red Team has a tune to make the Blue Team dance to…

…And oh how Gove danced, pressing Wee Dougie to his chest in a passionate embrace as they whirled and pirouetted across the floor. This came as somewhat of a surprise as I initially thought Gove was going for a ‘damning with faint praise’ line of attack (the chief means a politician has of appearing unrattled when they are in fact very much rattled) but the praise wasn’t that faint at all and extended way beyond energy policy. Miliband? Nice bloke, heart’s in the right place, just a shame that his party is still a well of Brownian Bile. McBride? Terrible business but Wee Dougie’s clean as a whistle. Kenya? We’re on the same page. Granted, he did land some forceful punches here and there (the holding of the blank sheet of paper and claiming it was Labour’s education policy was a nice touch) but the tone was very much one of ‘call off the dogs’.

So what’s going on here? It’s tempting to explain this away with the obvious answer that the Tories, concerned by how much Labour’s new-found backbone in the face of corporate interests is resonating with the public, are preparing the ground to steal (or at least knock off a passable replica) of the Red Team’s energy policy while they still can but this is Gove we’re dealing with: Like him or loath him, there’s no getting away from the fact that he’s a very canny and ambitious operator. No, I suspect this runs deeper than a single policy and relates to the Blue Team’s longer term strategy of boxing Labour into the centre ground with the threat of painting Miliband as ‘Red Ed’. So far this has worked a treat as it’s kept the debate squarely on terms that the Tories dictate and hampered Labour’s freedom of movement but Miliband’s speech on Tuesday represented a huge bluff call on Labour’s part and one that appears to have paid off: ‘Red Ed’ – it seems – is surprisingly popular with the public. Now Gove’s cluey enough to spot a busted flush when he sees one and I’d venture that his performance last night was an attempt to cushion the blow until they can come up with an effective counter and on that front he did rather well. After all, it’s very difficult to look like a genuine alternative to the status quo when Michael Gove is agreeing with the bulk of what you’re saying.

(A Minor Aside: Ever notice how much a young Michael Gove looks like Velma from Scooby Doo? No? Then see Fig .1)

yound michael gove velma scooby doo

Fig. 1

And what did Wee Dougie make of all this unexpected romancing? Well it’s very hard to tell as he only has three facial expressions – Slightly Ticked Off when he’s really fuming, Mildly Tickled when he’s exploding with joy and Vaguely Dahhhhhhh for every other occasion – so we’ll just have to chalk this up as another mystery in the vast unknowable that is the Inside of Douglas Alexander’s Head.

Something sarky this way comes…

Transfixed as I was by Gove whisking Dougie off his feet I couldn’t help but notice another presence in the dance hall – a sneering, menacing presence that should really have been wearing a black leather jacket and playing with a flick-knife. Yup, that’s right, Will Self was on again and as is usually the case he managed to make some of the best points of the show in absolutely the worst way possible. That to my mind is a great shame because it’s rare you get someone who’s so clearly intelligent and outspoken on QT, yet every damn time he’s on he just throws it away by crossing the invisible boundary between Satisfyingly Sarcastic and Oozing Moral Superiority before he’s even finished his first sentence. It breaks my heart Lemmings, it really does. Having said that though, the little panto tiff between him and Gove was pretty entertaining and lead me to spend most of the night thinking about who’d win if they did actually “take it outside”. My money’s on Self… By a whisker.

And what of the rest?

It’s nice to see that The Daily Express has finally stopped pretending that there’s even an iota of impartiality left to fight its way through the wall-to-wall coverage of Diana/Maddy/Seemingly Innocuous Things That Will Kill You by having a Chief Political Correspondent who’s going to run as a UKIP candidate… We’re through the looking-glass here Lemmings. Anyway, how did he do? Well, on the plus side he managed – unlike his recently de-whipped colleague – to not to call any female audience members slags, beat Michael Crick around the head or to write off an entire continent as ‘Bongo-Bongo Land’ . That just left him with the usual Kipper message of a plague on all your houses (a win-win for an Express writer as he could then knock out at least a hundred front pages about the threat to house prices from plagues) but he hasn’t quite got that cartoony aspect to him that make UKIP so fun on QT. Maybe that’ll come through when he packs in the day job. As for Louise Cooper, well she seems game for a laugh, engaging enough and her bit on the price freeze was good. It’s just a shame that she slipped into caps-lock mode with that MY FAMILY ARE VERY IMPORTANT TO ME blather at the end. Oh well, hey-ho…

Tl;dr

Gove: 6/10

(Is clearly up to some)Thing

Alexander: 6/10

(Had a lovely little) Fling (with Gove)

O’Flynn: 5/10

(Employed the standard array of UKIP) Sling(s and arrows)

Self: 5/10

(Is long and thin… Much like) String

Cooper: 5/10

(Did seem to) Wing (it a bit at the end)

The Crowd: 5/10

(Are all fans of seminal early-90’s novelty act The Sultan’s of) Ping (FC)

Now, don’t be fooled by those lacklustre scores because this was a great a show: Meaty, dense and pacey (not to mention the fact that my two favourite stereotypes – a man in an elaborate bow tie and an angry vicar – were also represented). So yes, it appears that not only is my old friend Politics is back, but so too is Question Time. God I’ve missed you guys…

Next week Lemmings, next week…

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Questionable Time #70


questionable time 70 david dimbleby will t sherman bbcqtwarquotes

Good morning Lemmings and before we get under way let us take this moment to give thanks that whatever the hell happened to Tuesday’s edition of Newsnight has not yet happened to Question Time. For those of you that missed it, it started out as a run of the mill ‘let’s have a QT-style debate on Scottish independence’ type thing (cementing Kirsty Walk as my #1 choice for QT-Tyrant-if-anything-nasty-should-happen-to-Dimbers in the process) and ended up with bagpipes, blazing torches, sweeping boom shots and a dodgy looking ‘voting procession’. It’s what I’ve always imagined The Antiques Roadshow would like if it was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Anyway, enough. Let’s get on with the job in hand.

I shuddered when I saw this week’s line up…

I’ve got nothing against Ken Clarke, Harriet Harman or Shirley Williams and on an individual basis I tend to welcome their little jaunts into QT-Land. However, the thought of this combined ensemble of highly seasoned veterans – none of whom are really that far apart in terms of outlook – just sort of sucked the wind out of me. This wasn’t going to be the white knuckle roller coaster ride of a show I’m hunkering for, this was going to be a suburban commute.

My mind, addled by the familiarity of it all began to drift as soon as I got on the train: Look over there. There’s Ken in an aisle seat, head bobbing lower and lower as sleep overcomes him before it finally settles on the shoulder of his nervous looking neighbour. Occasionally he jolts violently back to consciousness, realises where he is and then re-surrenders to sleep all the same. Oh Ken, when will you learn! Further down the carriage we see Shirley Williams sat ramrod straight whilst silently policing the carriage with the threat of stern looks. The teenager opposite moves to put his feet on the seats. ‘Not so fast, Sunbeam’ says Shirley’s eyebrows as they pinch together. The teenager backs down and order prevails. You get ’em told Shirley! And finally there’s Harriet. She struck up a conversation with the woman next to her when she got on but that conversation has now run its course and her co-commuter is beginning to fiddle nervously with her phone while Harriet continues to talk at her. Good old Harriet! You just can’t keep her down!

And that’s pretty much what the first half of the show was like – the panelists peacefully co-existing as the train pulled out of Niqab Central and headed for Free School Meals Interchange. However, something strange happened at the midway point: Both the seniors decided to have moments.

The first was Shirley who after giving free school meals her usual dose of forthright barnstorming suddenly took it upon herself (after some Dimblegoading I should add) to have a go at Simon Hughes for his past opposition to the scheme.

“I think Simon is not a parent. If he was he would

have never had made those statements.”

It was as if she had just stood up in the silent carriage, pointed at a fellow commuter and said “You sir, your suit. It’s silly and I don’t like it” before sitting back down as if nothing had happened (and that’s even before taking into account the fact that a Tory MP just got himself into a great deal of bother for making essentially the same point about Sarah Teather).

Not to be outdone, Ken then jolted back to life a few moments later and started accusing Harriet Harman of embellishing a very good spiel she did on the bedroom tax. “She added the epileptic attacks to make it appealing” he blurted out as every eye in the carriage tried to find somewhere else to look. In fact, so shocking was this outburst that you could even hear a quiet murmur from Anthony Worrall Thompson – “You’re a hard man Ken”. Ouch.

So what to make of all of this as a whole? Well it’s neither one nor the other – neither a roller coaster nor a suburban commute but more a weird fusing of the two, like driving to work in a dodgem. Actually, scratch that…. This wasn’t as fun as driving to work in a dodgem.

What to do with Penny?

Be Nice To Penny – that was the gist of a text I received from a good friend just prior to last night’s show. The gist of my mental response was ‘That’s odd, I can’t remember being nasty to her in the past’ but my friend was on to something – there is a part of me that makes me want to go to town on her and that troubles me (don’t panic though, it doesn’t stem from a dark pool of vile misogyny that I’ve somehow managed to conceal for years… Everyone step away from their Twitter accounts…).

Let’s start with what I do like about Laurie Penny. I like the fact that she operates on principles rather than tactical calculation and I like the fact that she’s dogged in her approach. I think she writes well and I’m pleased that she’s become a permanent fixture in the landscape of opinion but there’s still a snag that I just can’t unhitch: As I’ve got older, people who operate purely on principle have started to frighten me a little. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t lie awake in abject terror every night waiting for Laurie Penny to haul me off to a re-education camp or anything like that but I do get this jarring sensation when I see people divvying up the world into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parts. Take the niqab question for example. Here we have a situation where one of Penny’s ‘goods’ (women having a choice in what they wear) collides with what should be one of her ‘bads’ (women being forced by men to wear something in the name of religion) and totally annihilates it – Niqabs are good, end of. That there may be an ill-defined and porous no-man’s-land where both good and evil roam at will is never really considered and that’s a real shame because it’s within this mess of swirling ambiguities that most people’s lives actually take place – you can try to will it out of existence but that won’t make anyone’s lot any easier. This is the snag I can’t unhitch.

AWP came good in the end…

I’m massively overrunning so I’ll be brief: Anthony Worrall Thompson started the show looking like he hates life, hates the world and probably hates you. He ended the show sounding like he hates Nick Clegg, hates David Miliband and probably hates David Cameron. That sounds pretty dour but it was actually quite fun in a grumpy sort of way. Now here’s a very jolly gif of him on a spacehopper (see Fig. 1)

anthony-worrall-thompson-space-hopper-gif

Fig. 1

Tl;dr

Clarke: 4/10

(All a bit slap-) Dash

Harman: 6/10

Cash(ed in on Ken’s slapdash approach)

Williams: 6/10

(Can still) Bash (heads together)

Penny: 6/10

(Got a little too) Rash (over the certainty of it all)

Worrall Thompson: 5/10

(Reputedly cooks very good) Mash

The Crowd: 5/10

(Consider Megadeath to be a more authentic purveyor of) Thrash (metal than Metallica)?

Hmmm… Not a bad episode but not a great one either. I guess it’ll do. Now, before I go I should alert you to yet another side project I’ve got going with the good people at Red Molotov. It’s called Celebribellum and involves cutting famous brains in two. I’m told that it’s suitably stupid so give it a look. Right, that’s your lot, see you on the other side…

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #69


questionable time 69 david dimbleby getting married

Good morning Lemmings and welcome back from the 2nd Silly Season That Never Was. That’s right, much like last years kyboshing of the pleasingly trivial under a wave of riots we have yet again had to forgo our annual dose of sharks off Cornwall/pets with bus passes/octogenarians skateboarding as August’s news went from ‘Becalmed’ to ‘Totally Mental’ courtesy of one Mr. Assad. So anyway, what better way to pick through the fallout like abandoned newborns, fumbling our way through the thinning light of Autumn than with a spot of Questionable Time? Actually, there’s probably plenty of better ways but since I’ve been off for a couple of months and have forgotten how to write you’ll just have to figure that one out yourselves. Right, let’s get back into the swing of this.

 

Chuka really has to stop thinking…

Regular readers will know that there are two things about Umunna that I bang on about relentlessly: The first is how ridiculously good-looking he is while the second is just a general perplexion as to how this otherwise seemingly perfect package never manages to add up to the sum of its parts. We’ll get back to the first point later but right now I want to focus on what it is that keeps me from getting giddy over Chuka.

 

As things go last night was a particularly choice moment to be the Red Team’s meat puppet as the two big issues of the day – Syria and Royal Mail – both saw them on the right side of public opinion and by quite hefty margins. Add in to this that the whole Royal Mail deal is in his remit then this starts to look like a milk run: Just get as much canvas up the mast as possible and then sit back as the crowd sweep you on to glorious victory. What could be easier? Technically speaking this is exactly what Umunna did and barring a few bothersome squalls thrown up by Greening and Aaranovitch it was mostly plain sailing. However, it didn’t feel like a victory and I suspect there are two reasons for this: Latency and authenticity, both of which are related.

 

Let’s start with the latency: This refers to that near-imperceptible pause that Chuka always does before launching into a set piece. It’s so short as to be barely noticeable but once you’ve clocked it it’s impossible to ignore and it ended up really bothering me last night. Why? Because it was particularly prevalent when he was trying to play the Indignant Card. Take for example Greening’s rather low blow about his house and family. Now, if you really wanted to be properly indignant about that you’d probably just tell her to shut up but Chuka went for the high ground instead and why not? After all, that’s where the big claps are. The problem is with that nano-pause: It’s like a little click that tells you that his mental filter is going like the clappers, desperately trying to prune out anything that may sound off message and that pretty much sinks the whole indignation play because to be indignant is to be so angry that you simply aren’t capable of keeping a lid on it.

 

All of which leads us to the second problem: Authenticity. You can look the part, have the right back story and say the right words but unless those words truly feel like they’re coming from the gut people simply won’t believe it. Umunna has all the above but he’s still so utterly ruled by his head that what should be a three-piece suite is little more than a very good-looking sofa and a couple of armchairs.

 

And what of his good looks? Well, I ran a little pshop experiment earlier this week to see if I could make him ugly. Annoyingly, he remains vaguely beautiful throughout (see Fig. 1).

chuka-umunna-ugly-gif

Fig. 1

 

One of these days Greening is going to snap…

If it wasn’t hard enough being a fairly ordinary person who went to an ordinary school and had an ordinary job before joining a party that abhors ordinary people Justine Greening also has to contend with being somewhat accident prone (see Dimbers’ malevolent jibe about missing the vote) and this combined pressure is beginning to tell. You can see it in the way she sits – rigid and not too far away from the brace-for-impact position – as well as that hint of annoyance that she only just manages to keep in check. Give it time Lemmings. It may not be tomorrow, it may not be next week but at some point in the not too distant future I can see Greening just totally losing it and flipping out. Hopefully Chuka will be around to pick up some pointers on how to be authentically indignant.

 

Two out of three remaining panelists couldn’t give less of a toss…

In further contrast to Umunna’s overly-stroked chin we now come to a couple of people who seem to have crossed some mid-life Rubicon and are now revelling in their off-the-hookness. The first is Caroline Lucas who since jacking in the role as Green Party leader has been having a gay old time getting arrested and breaking parliamentary dress code while the second is David Aaranovitch – a man seemingly hellbent on refuting everything his younger self stood for in a fug of grumpy crotchetiness. Anyway, this whole devil-may-care outlook works for the pair of them and what we ended up with was a lively and well argued debate on the Syrian question that reminded me that QT does occasionally do what it says it says on the tin. No such luck though for Colleen Graffy– an important sounding person who sounds like she’s got important sounding things to do – as I’m pretty sure that everyone mentally tuned her out as the words “former so-and-so for the Bush administration” were uttered. There are some things you just don’t want on your CV.

 

Tl;dr

 

Umunna: 5/10

Thinky

 

Greening: 5/10

Blinky

 

Lucas: 8/10

Pinky

 

Aaronovitch: 7/10

Brinky

 

LondGraffy: 4/10

Sinky

 

The Crowd: 5/10

Stinky?

 

Well, that’s that: A passable warm-up momentarily enhanced by a man with a gothic mansion of a hairdo bellowing “A RECOVERY FOR WHOM?!?!”. For whom indeed sir… Anyway, it’s nice to be back and should you fancy a go yourself Questionable Time is currently on the lookout for guest writers. However, if thankless toil is not your cup of tea then feel free to busy yourself by looking at pretty pictures of misheard lyrics or buying one of these magnificent creations. Hey, a boy’s got to eat ok?

 

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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