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)
(All a bit slap-) Dash
Cash(ed in on Ken’s slapdash approach)
(Can still) Bash (heads together)
(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…