Archive for October, 2013

Questionable Time #75


questionable time 75 david dimbleby dimblescally

Good morning Energy Prices and welcome to Energy Priceable Time, a sideways look at Energy Price Time and the fascinating debates all the participants have about Energy Prices. The subjects we’ll be covering today include ‘Energy’ and ‘Prices’ but if we’re lucky we might have enough time to really explore what it means to Price Energy and I’m also hoping we can squeeze in a ‘fun’ final question where we all get to ask Vicky Pryce about her Energy. WHAT A FUN WAY TO SPEND OUR DAYS.

 

Alright, I’ve got that off my chest now… Let’s get down to business.

 

I had a little proud last night…

Screaming fishwives”. That’s what my mother texted me at precisely 11pm last night and aside from the numerous issues this statement raises (why did Caroline Flint and Liz Truss marry fish?) the sentiment appears to be valid: There was much fussing and fighting going on between our two lead protagonists that generated much heat but little light. However, my head was somewhere else at that point in the show because I was experiencing a strange sensation: I was starting to feel actually rather proud of Caroline Flint.

 

First of all a little context: I’ve been writing this blog for a few years now and during that time I’ve probably seen more of Caroline Flint than her fish husband has (I’ve just checked and she’s been on 10 times since Questionable Time started). For the bulk of that time we’ve been used to seeing the tooth-and-nail Flint who had a very straight forward approach to QT: Go in fast, go in aggressive and for God’s sake just keep moving. Sometimes this would work but more often than not it would result in pell-mell scuffles where she was going at such a rate of knots that she’d inevitably trip up on her own rhetorical shoelaces and go flying across the studio head first. To her credit though, she’d always dust herself down and be back a few weeks later to repeat the exercise with similar results.

 

Fast forward to last night and what have we got? Well, in many respects this was the same Caroline Flint – combative, quarrelsome and up for a scrap – but something in her demeanour’s changed in that she’s learned how to ride the tempo. For example, the Flint of Yore would have probably started well on the energy prices question but then got carried away by the thrill of the chase and talked herself into a corner. The Flint of Now knew better and gave Truss just enough room (and it really wasn’t much) to do all the corner talking herself.

 

So what’s brought on this change? Aside from the obvious (sheer practice plus the advantage of being a Shadow Energy Secretary who’s stolen a march on the government) I think this may all come down to one man: Grant Shapps. Now I know that sounds odd but cast your mind back about a year and you may remember a very weird period when both Flint and Shapps were always appearing on the likes of QT and The Daily Politics together. At first this seemed like quite a fair fight but after a while Flint clearly gained the upper hand and was regularly running rings around him. Why? Because she finally twigged that if you spend the whole time talking over Grant Shapps, Grant Shapps won’t have the opportunity to do what he does best – come across as a total blagger and self-hoisting petard. It seems that this lesson has now been thoroughly learned by Flint and in a weird way I’m kind of proud of her: We took a long time getting here but got here we did. Well done my Fishy Wife, have a gif of you riding various things to celebrate (see Fig. 1).

 

caroline-flint-riding-things-gif

Fig. 1

In Liz we Truss…

…Actually no we don’t given the torrid time she had last night but it was such a good headline that I felt obliged to go with it. Anyway, Liz… Not such a great performance and one that came across as very rigid as she doggedly tried to march her way through all the many obstacles in her path. In some ways this isn’t surprising as Truss is chiefly driven by ideology – never the most flexible of blueprints – but the rolled eyes and halting delivery didn’t do much to further her ends. I will say this though: She’s tough and I like her name. Truss… I bet she’s great at holding walls together.

 

hey pete, u ok hun? X

Just when I was growing grudgingly fond of Peter Hitchens he has to go and spoil it all by putting in possibly the most melancholic QT performance I can recall. Energy? It’s all a swindle to diddle me out of my dreams of coal-fired autarky. Education? That was abolished in the 60’s. Britain? Get out while you can. What a ray of bloody sunshine.

 

Stop fighting boys!

I’m beginning to dread Owen Jones being on because it’s become increasingly hard to find things to say other than ‘well done’. However, I do have a legitimate bone to pick this week because he started getting all leary with Tim Farron who, as regular readers will know, I have been hopelessly in love since our eyes first met across the QT studio. Come on now Owen, play nicely. Apart from that it was business as usual from these two who were more than happy to baste a sympathetic crowd with the goose fat of social democracy before roasting them in them in the oven of Things The Crowd Want To Hear. Job done, now lets all be friends and go for milkshakes and have a sleepover and make a den in the woods and build a rope swing and…

 

 

Tl;dr

 

Flint: 6/10

(Has) Learned (much)…

 

Truss: 4/10

Churned (her way through)…

 

Farron: 6/10

(Was) Burned (by Jones)…

 

Jones: 6/10

Spurned (Farron)…

 

Hitchens: 4/10

(Clearly) Yearned (to be elsewhere)…

 

The Crowd: 6/10

(Think – just like my Rhyming Dictionary – that) Zurn (is a legitimate word)…

 

Well, I guess it was better than the last couple of weeks but it’s all still a bit doldrummy in QT-Land right now. If only someone would give Godfrey Bloom a ring. Go on QT Production Team, you know it makes sense…

 

Next week Lemmings, next week…

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Questionable Time #74


questionable time 74 david dimbleby passed out

Good morning Lemmings and welcome to Energy Prices Time, a live debate show where members of the audience spend at least half an hour getting animated about oldsters swapping heating for eating while the Blue Team keep repeating the word ‘tariff’, the Red Team keep repeating the word ‘freeze’ and the Yellow Team don’t bother to show up (what happened to Charles Kennedy this week? Must have ‘missed his plane’ again). This brave new broadcasting venture started three weeks ago with a rather promising pilot but has subsequently gone to seed and left me yearning for the good all days of Euro Crisis Time – a similar show that ran for at least two years before finally being put out of its misery by Phone Hacking Time. Those were the days…

 

I’ve been Reverse Afriyied!

So last week I ended up in a bit of a bind by a) not doing my homework on QT virgin Adam Afriyie, b) jumping to conclusions based on a Wikipedia article/Google Image search and c) having all those conclusions rubbished by a rather good QT performance. Clearly there’s a lesson in all of this and had you been dealing with a diligent blogger you may have expected me to learn it. But you’re not dealing with a diligent blogger – you’re dealing with a slipshod Internet Goon who takes a perverse delight in never, ever learning anything the first (or second… or third) time around. As a consequence I’ve done exactly the same thing to QT virgin Mark Harper although this time the results were somewhat different. Observe the process.

 

Step 1- Homework: A brief glance at his Wikipedia article...

Ok, so what have we got here… Comprehensive kid turned Oxbridge grad, grown-up job upon leaving… Blah blah blah… On the Tory front bench since 2005 – wait, 8 years? Where’s he been hiding all this time? Whatevs – blah, blah, blah – hates Europe, loves Israel – blah blah blah – oh hang on, what’s this? Ended up in hot water for some borderline insinuations about disabled benefit claimants? Central protagonist on the wrong side of the ill-fated forest sell off? And the brains behind the So Tory That Parody Has Turned In On Itself ‘Go Home’ vans? This could be interesting…

 

Step 2 – A Google Image search for ‘Mark Harper MP’…

Alright, so in goes his name… *Click* – WOAH! CHECK OUT THAT SMILE! It’s… It’s… Well I’m not quite sure whether it’s ‘winning’ or ‘shit eating’ but it’s certainly ‘something’. This changes everything.

 

Step 3 – Make rash assumption based on adding Step 1 to Step 2…

This guy must be a live wire, a maverick – maybe even a bounder! I mean c’mon, the combination of way-too-close-to-the-bone-remarks/policy initiatives and that Something Smile (see Fig. 1)? He’s going to be a riot!

 

mark harper go home teeth

Fig. 1

The result: Being wrong. Again.

There was no live-wirery, negative mavericknessnous, inverse bounding and a complete absence of the Something Smile. Instead we got a Should Work On Paper performance where he tried to do all the right things (e.g. someone says ‘you’re not doing enough’ and you then list all the things you’re doing) while neglecting the fact that we don’t really care about what you’re going to do – that’s what the news is for. No, this is QT and QT cares not for matters of the head. It does however care very much for matters of the gut – you know, the knot in the stomach, the smell of fear, the twitching of the eyes – and that’s the bit that Harper completely bypassed by doggy paddling his way through the show, trying very hard not to get into trouble. Did he make it to shore alive? Mostly. Do I feel like I have a better sense of who Mark Harper really is? Not in the slightest.

 

He’s a Doctor don’t you know?

Every time I’ve seen Tristram Hunt on QT I’ve always been left with the sense of a man who’s deeply uncomfortable at after work drinks. Everyone else – all half cut by half six – are living it up but Tristram can’t settle: The music’s too loud, Wetherpsoon’s always sets him on edge and while he’s fond of his co-workers they simply don’t know enough about 19th century social history to make him feel at ease – that, and he’s fretting about whether or not he set The Culture Show to record. The result of this has always been a slightly jerky, overly self-aware QT style which always makes him seem a little off kilter. However it now appears that if you make this man Shadow Education Secretary and then ask him questions about education you get a very different outcome: Suddenly he becomes fluid, assured and – dare I say it – impassioned – all of which is a marked improvement over the usual spectacle of him queezily nursing a pint of Fosters and explaining to his colleagues that he doesn’t watch football. True, we may have to leave aside the fact that he sounded scarily like Michael Gove when it came to content but apart from that it was nice to see him look so comfortable. So go on Tristram, The Macarena’s on and the last bus has already gone… Don’t fight it, feel it…

 

Someone in UKIP is wasting their time…

I bring this up because there was a little giveaway at the beginning of her first two responses: She started both answers with a very stilted ‘Thank you [audience member name] for bringing this up’ as if she’d been told to do so. Now, why UKIP are bothering giving her press training I don’t know because she’s a) pretty capable of handling herself and b) is probably the only member of the party you can put in front of a camera and have a better than evens shot of it not being a complete train wreck. Anyway, she dropped the PR act about midway through and did a half-decent job of appearing to be a functioning human being. Not bad given the company she keeps.

 

Stated Intentions vs Actual Outcome:

 

Bonnie ‘Germaine’ Greer:

Stated Intention – “I don’t have a strong, long, comprehensive answer”

Actual Outcome – Didn’t have a strong, long comprehensive answer.

 

Peter ‘Grumpy Pants’ Oborne

 

Stated Intention – ‘All these guys will lie to you and talk codswallop for the next hour’

Actual Outcome – Aggressively nuzzled Tristram Hunt with tender

affection for the duration.

 

I guess one out of two ain’t bad…

 

Tl;dr

 

Harper: 4/10

Flighty

 

Hunt: 6/10

Brighty

 

James: 5/10

Blighty

 

Greer: 5/10

Fighty

 

Oborne: 6/10

Alrighty

 

The Crowd: 5/10

Good nighty

 

Well, that’s that then… Oh wait, I almost forgot about announcing the winner of this year’s Most Applause For A Meaningless Platitude competition. Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you the bloke who said “I feel for the kids” and was rewarded with a torrent of approval. Well done sir, you must be very proud. Right, that’s me done but if you’re suffering from a bad case of idle thumbs then please feel free to check out what happened when I cut Paul Dacre’s brain in half.

 

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #73


questionable-time-73-david-dimbleby-pop-poster

Good morning Lemmings and remember the rash claim I made last time about QT entering some sort of Golden Age? Yeah well I was wrong. Really wrong. Instead it seems that we’re now back to an Off-Beige Age of QT – an extended exercise in mediocrity not dissimilar in both colour and consistency to that of an undercooked Greggs sausage roll and definitely a million miles away from the soaring heights of the past two weeks. Still, you’re here and I’m here so let’s try to make a go of this. To ambivalence and beyond…

Hands up who didn’t do their homework last night?

For those of you who aren’t in my living room right now I am now holding my hand up while for those of you who are in my living room, please leave. Anyway, I had a bad case of partial information last night that led to a certain confounding of expectations. Basically, I’ve been aware of the Afriyie story, seen his picture in the paper but somehow never heard him speak. Essentially, my mental arithmetic on him looked like this:

Stridently Anti-EU Tory Backbencher

+

MP for one of the most Tory of Tory seats

+

Looks ever so slightly fey in

a sort of Tim Nice But Dim sort

of way.

+

Involvement in madcap parliamentary longshot

=

A fresh butterfly to be broken on the QT wheel

Well, it turns out that I was off the mark because far from being the wet-behind-the-ears Mogglian Shire puppet I was expecting he actually proved to be the real deal: A genuine up-by-the-bootstraps success story who really isn’t that bad at Question Timing. Sure, some of the ‘Who me?’-ing over his leadership ambitions were a little lame and many of the details were a bit slippery but his overall performance was pretty solid. Beware No. 10, the ‘Afriyie’s mental’ narrative will only hold for so long.

What’s the big hurry?

They were a jostley bunch last night, a bunch that like to jostle and if there’s one thing in life that I can do without its jostlers. Take the crowd for example: They all had the look of school children so desperate to be picked by teacher that they support their raised hands with their remaining arm and contort their faces into a painful looking ‘Pleeeeeeeeeease Sir!’. I dread to think what the queue for the studio was like but I imagine it would have been rich in sharp elbows and poor in mellow vibes. However, it tends to be the panel that the audience take their cues off and within that we find two prime contenders for the title of Biggest Jostler Of Them All: Jo Swinson and Sarah Churchwell.

Of the two, Swinson has the more complex Jostle and is what I would describe as a Vexed Jostler in that she knows the Jostle resides within her, has profited from it in the past (I suspect that her rise involved a great deal of Jostling) but is also aware that the Jostle can become overpowering and eventually hinder your ends. As a result she tends to go into questions with a certain level of restraint: The Jostle’s there but she’s keeping it in check by using pre-cooked openers and a very linear, point-by-point approach. When this works it’s pretty potent – you know, the sort of thing that makes you think ‘this person means business’ – but there’s always a danger of the subject becoming intoxicated by the Jostle. Swinson’s particular vulnerability to over-Jostling comes when she’s challenged and this is where we see all that prior restraint go out of the window. Suddenly everything’s going at a million miles an hour, the linear approach has been ditched in favour of the scattergun and her face does that thing (see. Fig .1).

Jo Swinson .gif

Fig. 1

By contrast, Churchwell is what I would call an Innate Jostler and appears to be much more at ease with her Inner Jostle (a cultural element may be at play here as Americans seem to respect – nay, worship – the Jostle while to be British is to be slightly ashamed of the Jostle that resides within us all). In practice this means that she spends a lot of time delivering ambiguities in the tone of certainties, like in the first question about the price freeze. Now, if you had just come into the room midway through that piece you’d think ‘Bloody hell, that Sarah Churchwell sounds like she knows what she’s on about’ because it was an emphatic delivery aided by unrestrained Jostle. However, if you actually listened to the words you’d find that it was a very long ‘no but maybe but probably but maybe’ – yet it sounded good and that’s because she embraced her Inner Jostle.

So what do you get when you put two Jostlers in the room at the same time? You get words. Loads of bloody words. Some of the words were good – like Churwell’s bit on the education system – but most of them were just random placeholders blurted out at a terrifying rate as the combined volume of Jostle led to a runaway chain reaction. In fact, if you missed last night’s episode then just stare at the above .gif for an hour or so because you’ll end up with the same sensation: Motion sickness and the urgent need to be in a less Jostly environment.

Welcome back to nowhere!

There was a rather touching scene early in the show where Dimbers joshed Dianne Abbott for getting fired but sort of welcomed her back to the wilderness with more than a dash of affection. It was nice. Dianne looked rather touched, Dimbers smiled, the crowd awwed and I felt all warm inside. Later on Dimbers reminded everyone that Abbott sent her kids to private school and did so with more than a dab of glee. It was nice. Dianne looked grumpy, Dimbers crowed, the crowd applauded and I felt my heart returning to its cold and deadened state. Welcome back Dianne!

Matthew Parris was just calling it in last night…

To be fair there wasn’t a great deal for him to get his teeth into but I really was quite overawed by just how blasé he was last night. Schools? What’s the point, I can’t read. Price freezes? Yeah, whatever. Are you in the QT studio or at a cocktail party? The what-now? When’s the food coming? Oh look, olives!

Tl:dr

Swinson: 5/10

(Was doing everything on the) Quick

Afriyie: 6/10

(Isn’t half as) Thick (as I thought he would be)

Abbott: 5/10

(Looked ready to throw a) Brick (at Dimbers)

Churchwell: 5/10

(Would be my) Pick (for fastesttalkingpersoninthewholeworld)

Parris: 5/10

(Could have called in) Sick (but didn’t)

The Crowd: 5/10

(Can’t wait to beat Michael) Crick (about the head with a UKIP brochure)?

Actually, while we’re talking about the crowd there were two audience members of note. The first was the civil servant in the fetching red suit/black shirt/red tie combo who made a very good point that was completely lost on me because I was trying to imagine what it would be like working in the Ministry of Wedding DJ’s. The second was the Adrian Mole-esque youngster who insinuated that his teacher’s were only in it for money. I like to picture him playing it out in his head before the show: The applause, the rapture, Dimbers carrying him aloft on his shoulders as the world rejoices at the birth of a star. Unfortunately, these imagined events did not come to pass and he’ll just have to make do with an uncomfortable silence punctuated by some sarky sounding ‘ooh’s for now. Tough break kid. Welcome to QT.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #72


questionable time 72 david dimbleby kiss make up

Good morning Lemmings and let’s not tarry too long on this first paragraph because we have much to get through. Much, much, muchness. Right, let’s go…

Let’s twist again. And again. And again. And again…

Imagine you’re playing pontoon: You peek at your first two cards (in this case a pretty borderline article on the assumed sentiments of a politician’s dead father) and find that you’re in a bit of a bind as their combined scores tally up to 15. Dammit! “Oh well,” you say to yourself, “might as well go for it. Twist!”. The dealer peels another card off the deck in the form of a supremely ill-judged headline and throws it on the table for all to see. It’s a Jack and you’re bust – time to pony up and hope that your next hand’s not quite as dire… At least that’s what you’d do if you had even the slightest concept of sportsmanship/rules/general standards of human behaviour.

But you don’t play by the rules. You’re a maverick, a loose cannon who’s standing up for what you believe in and right now you believe that a five-card trick will magically negate the fact that you’ve cocked this hand right up to the point where you’re out of the game. The banker reaches forward to collect his winnings but you’re having none of it: “Twist!” you scream as the other players exchange bemused looks and an uncomfortable silence envelopes the table. A friend of yours, an ex-editor of The Daily Telegraph, leans in towards you in an effort to set you straight:

Now come along Daily Mail I think you’ve had enough to -”

I SAID TWIST!”

Not knowing what to do the banker produces another card – a Queen this time. Your current score is 36 and bemusement is turning to concern. But you’re not done, not by a long shot.

AGAIN!”

The banker lays out a King. 46 and counting.

AGAIN!”

Another King and by this point even your brother, the Mail on Sunday is looking worried.

AGAIN! TWIST!”

You get the picture.

So that was a very long way of explaining the circumstances that bought Quentin Letts into the QT studio but how did he do on a personal level? Not good. Not good at all. In fairness to him he didn’t quite end up being the screaming lunatic of the above passage – the difference being that rather than shouting everyone down he just woozily dragged them around the houses whilst calling for yet more cards – but the fact that he still insisted on playing the game just gave his performance this very surreal air. And the result? Mockery – and not just an odd titter from certain sections of the crowd but full-blown, out-and-out derision like the part where he foolishly asked the crowd if the Mail was “completely out of order?”. “Yes!” came the near-unanimous response. Still, at least he can take comfort in the fact that he had at least one ally in the audience – a Kipper with a fairly tenuous grasp of exactly how the political spectrum works.

TWIST!

Mehdi Hasan: My new favourite person in the whole world.

You will not be hearing my traditional pleas for Mehdi Hasan to lighten up today. Instead I’m going to let the man speak for himself by quoting what I consider to be probably the best QT set piece I have ever seen – a beautiful chunk of rhetoric that served as wish fulfillment for a sizable chunk of the population. Behold:

…when you talk about who hates Britain or who has an evil legacy, who do you think has an evil legacy? The man who sucked up to the Nazi’s, who made friends with Joseph Goebbels and praised Hitler in the run up to World War Two – the owner and founder of the Daily Mail Lord Rothermere – or the man who served in the Royal Navy, risked his life for his adopted homeland – Ralph Miliband? Who do you think hated Britain more? And this isn’t just about Ralph Miliband actually because it’s opened up a whole debate about the Daily Mail. You want to talk about who hates Britain… [minor chuntering from Letts]… This is a paper that in recent years said there was nothing natural about the death of the gay pop star Stephen Gately, who said that the French people should vote for Marine Le Pen and the National Front, who attacked Danny Boyle for having a mixed raced couple in the Olympic Ceremony, who called Mo Farah a ‘plastic Brit’. So let’s have the debate about who hates Britain more because it isn’t a dead Jewish refugee from Belgium who served in the Royal Navy, it’s the immigrant-bashing, woman-hating, muslim-smearing, NHS-undermining, gay-baiting Daily Mail.”

Be still my beating heart.

And the – oh who cares…

So there were some party political types on last night but let’s not pretend that they weren’t completely overshadowed by the slow motion train wreck that was Mailgate. Anyway, a few choice points:

  1. I’ve finally figured out who Grant Shapps (see Fig. 1) reminds me of: He’s that kid at school – and every school has one – who thrives on goading others into wayward acts before legging it when the consequences of those acts become apparent (that’s if he hasn’t dobbed them in already). He also has a tin ear for nuance. Remember when that woman in the audience made a very eloquent point about how she’s fed up with all the ‘Hard Working People’ schtick? Well what better way to follow that up than by starting your next sentence with the phrase ‘Hard Working People’.
  2. I’ve now concluded that Yvette Cooper is the Bic Biro of politics: Dependable, functional, readily available (I don’t mean it like that…) and something you never really think about until you need one. True, she’s no Staedlter ball point (in my opinion the Rambo of Biro’s) but she’s dependable in a humdrum sort of way and there’s much to be said for that. However I can’t let her get away with quite how searingly dull she was last night. Yeah, yeah, yeah we know about the “lost three years” but can’t we just get back to the far more entertaining pursuit of Mail-baiting?
  3. Poor old Kirsty Williams looks like she could be a dab hand at this QT game if she could just get more than 20 seconds of camera time and not be quite so obsessed with the pupil premium. Better luck next time Kirsty.
eau de grant shapps

Fig. 1

Tl;dr

Shapps: 5/10

(As slippery and slap-) Dash (as ever)

Cooper: 4/10

(Gave it a mediocre) Bash

Williams: 6/10

(Made a decent) Hash (of it)

Letts: 2/10

(Sounded like he’d been on the) Lash

Hasan: 9/10

Smash(ed that ball right out of the park)

The Crowd: 8/10

(Displayed a high percentage of mous)Tache (owners)?

Well, what can I say? Two great episodes in as many weeks… Are we heading into some sort of QT Golden Age? I sincerely hope so. Anyway, that’s enough from me and should you still happen to be at a loose end you can check what happened when I cut Boris Johnson’s brain in two earlier this week.

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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