Archive for March, 2014

Questionable Time #94


Good morrow lemmings and welcome to the jungle, we got fun and games. And by jungle, I mean Brighton, and by fun and games, I mean staring intently at Roger Helmer’s moustache. What do you mean, that’s not fun? Of course it is, he looks like a retired nineteenth century colonel.

Anyway, Elizabeth here, and since Brighton is my home turf we’ve got an extra-special edition of Questionable Time lined up for you today. That’s right – I was your woman on the inside this week, sneaking around the studio, watching Justine Greening having her face powdered, and walking past Dimbledore himself in a corridor. I was too frightened by his magnificent presence to say anything or even look upon his face, but let me say this: his Dimblelevels are consistent with the professional examples of Dimbling you see on the tellybox.

I wasn’t in the audience, so you won’t be able to see my hideous ugliness for yourself, but with the help of Glorious Webmaster we managed to blag my way in to sit on the side. It was an interesting experience! There’s a warm-up for an hour beforehand, not with the panel, which in this case was a spirited discussion on declining manners in the UK and aren’t young people just awrrful? Then the panel answers a practice question which is not broadcast, which is just as well because Diane Abbott’s microphone failed miserably. However, despite the cheery tone of this preamble, I could already tell that certain members of the audience were spoiling for a fight, and in the end was not disappointed.

Anyhow, let’s get down to business to defeat the huns/UKIP (delete as appropriate).

Blue Greeny

Justine Greening, through a combination of rigid hair, rigid posture, and a rigid accent, has been making her slow ascent through the Tory ranks, forming a protective barrier around herself akin to an ancient Roman legion’s tortoise formation, only with an inpenetrable layer of face powder instead of shields and pointy sticks. True, her main line of defence is still “the mess Labour made” (a well-used phrase the audience reacted accordingly to last night i.e. a massive groan) but she’s generally a pro at deflecting questions and not being pinned down – she did well on the EU issue, mainly due to nobody overtly attacking her and going for the easy target instead (moustachio). Not looking or acting overtly gremlinish helps as well.

I’m intrigued to see where StealthGreening goes from here. The Tories, as we all know, will be eager to avoid looking like the He-Man Woman-Hating Club again, so I’m expecting her to rise through the ranks ever more quickly, although whether she’ll be quite so lucky when there’s not Roger Helmer sitting beside her is another matter.

Diane Abbott vs the world

It’s hard out there for an Abbott. Up against two Conservatives and a UKIPper, many Labourites would run screaming in the opposite direction, perhaps to safer pastures, such as This Week, The Daily Politics or a pack of angry and aroused hyenas. Not Diane Abbott though. She already knows that she’s destined to be a rebel, an extreme-radical-gnarly-hardcore skateboards-n-shades rebel, so is free to say (almost) whatever she likes to counter her opponents. Sure, she pledged alliance to EMil, but everyone in the studio laughed warmly at the gesture. We understand, Diane. We get it.

Diane proceeded in a predictable fashion, attacking the energy companies as a cartel, predicting the end of the world via the explosive power of a popping housing bubble, polite disapproval of some aspects of Europe without aligning herself to Helmetman von Rogermore…but since this was Brighton, the reaction was mainly positive, and the balance of power was tipped, for once, in her favour.

Well done Diane. You did it. Just.

Rogering the Helmer

I could tell it was about to kick off from the start.

Booking Roger Helmer, ex-Tory embarrassment extraordinaire, for a Brighton show? And then, to make matters worse, posing a question on equal marriage? Whoever’s idea that was, I applaud you, because watching this implosion of ire live was truly a festival of fun. If only popcorn was allowed into the studio! I lost track of the amount of times the word ‘love’ was used, which is great because we all need a little more love in our lives. Especially Roger Helmer. It must be so tiring to be against everything all the time, as the delightful old man in the yellow jumper explained.

Sure, so apparently 20% of British people wouldn’t go to a same-sex marriage. That just means more cake for me! Joke’s on you, Roger!

Fig. 1

(He said some other things too, but at this point is there anyone here who doesn’t know UKIP’s opinions on the EU? No? Okay, moving on.)

Those two guys

Lord Wolfson, in contrast, was a conundrum. At first he seemed to fill the role of the thinking man’s alternative to Roger Helmer – attacking alternative energy sources as inefficient, and stating that the profits of energy companies have been purposely inflated. So far, so standard. Anyone who’s ever entered a Next could have told you that this would happen – they might as well play recordings of Maggie Thatcher speeches through their speakers as you dig through the clothes racks.

He did go a bit off-message in the latter half, though, viciously attacking Help to Buy to the surprise of basically everyone. You could physically see Justine Greening stiffening into an icepick of death. Before Diane Abbott could passionately agree with everything he said, though, we moved on to the gay marriage question, and this wonderful and confusing moment was left behind us, forever. Shame really.

Oh yeah, and Mick Hucknall was there. What is there to say about Mick Hucknall? He’s Mick Hucknall. Apparently he likes/liked New Labour, but mainly he performed the infuriating role of the ‘voice of reason’, diluted slightly due to the fact he’s Mick Hucknall. I hate the voice of reason. I want my Question Times to be as unreasonable as possible. I want Tories and UKIPpers, Labourites and Greens, and whatever poor sadsack Lib Dem they can scrounge up (clearly nobody this week, though Vince Cable will have a valiant go next time) to yell and flounce and argue as loudly and uselessly as possible. I do not want some ordinary person bringing down the tone by calling for ‘moderation’ or whatever. You say the public don’t like shouting and screeching? Well here’s my rebuttal: the public are wrong.

Anyway, I watched them pack up in a state of bemused dazedness. It was a fun experience, but a draining one, and as I caught the train back home I reflected on what I had just been witness to. Was this the democracy I had been promised? A modern town hall meeting, a palace of debate, where the great, good and otherwise are brought to account by the ordinary folk of the land? Is Question Time, in fact, the greatest institution ever created? Or was this all an excuse to poke fun at a man with a silly moustache?

Whatever your view, it’s time for the scores.

Greening: 6/10

Cope(d well)

Abbott: 6/10

Hope (springs eternal)

Helmer: 3/10

Nope

Wolfson: 4/10

(That answer on Help to Buy was pretty) Dope(, yo)

Hucknall: 2/10

(His answers were narrow in) Scope

The Crowd: 8/10

(Not fans of the) Pope

Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to have a little lie down.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

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Questionable Time #93


questionable time 93 no cow

Good morning Lemmings and apologies for the lateness – I had both stuff and things to attend to that have now rendered the line ‘Good morning Lemmings’ somewhat redundant but hey-ho: You’re here, I’m here, let’s do some words.

Ladies and gentlemen, The Andy Burnham Show!

Here he is, caked to the eyeballs in make-up (seriously, his face looked like a you could quarry foundation from it) and fluttering those enormous fronds that double as eyelashes – it’s Andy Burnham! That’s right, local-lad-come-good and all round grandstander Andy B was in the house last night and boy did he know which buttons Warrington wanted pushing. And what buttons might they be? Well, how about the one labelled ‘The Raw Deal The North Gets’? You like that one Warrington? Good, because he’s mashing it like he was about to set some sort of record on Track and Field. How about the one marked ‘It’s Probably All Thatcher’s Fault’? Does that baste your chicken? Well I hope so because he’s spamming away on that one like a man possessed before effortlessly seguing into a sustained hammering of the switch labelled ‘Look Outraged Whenever Danny Alexander Opens His Mouth’. Woooooo! Everyone go nuts!

So yes, as the above suggests the Shadow Health Secretary relentlessly levered his home advantage last night and for the most part (barring an impromptu Paxo-ing from a particularly single-minded audience member) he got away with it – largely because he is quite the accomplished showman who can switch between pit-pony and show-pony with ease but also because you’d have to be the biggest klutz in the land not to romp home in the week when the Tories read the last rites to satire with that bingo poster of theirs. However, it’s not Burnham’s ability that worries me, it’s his ambition: You can just see it written all over him (not to mention the fact he’s already made a run for the Labour leadership) and I suspect that the reason he wears so much make-up is to stop it oozing out of his face and all down his shirt. He’s got to be careful with that because ambition is one of those funny traits that instantly sets off alarm bells in our minds and it also – as our amateur Paxo nearly exposed – leaves one very vulnerable to overplaying your hand in the quest for approval. That, and no-one wants make-up all over their shirt. It’s not a good look.

Dominic Raab may have accidentally solved economic libertarians’ presentation problem…

Economic libertarians have many problems – such as how exactly do you sell an ideology based on enriching the few to the many or just the daily struggle of trying to stay in tenuous contact with reality when you’re all hopped up to the eyeballs on Randian twaddle – but the one you come across most on QT is a presentational problem: They all sound too bloody certain. Take Jill Kirby for example – she’s pretty sure that the North is poor because of those goddamn pinko peaceniks and their tree hugging taxes (not to mention those damn CRB checks singlehandedly destroying the teaching profession) so lets just get rid and everything will be hunky-dory ok? Granted, it doesn’t help that these little nuggets of batshit are served with a side of words like “unremunerative” or a mispronunciation of “rhetoric” (“Reht-oar-ric”) but the main problem here is one of overconfidence combined with oversimplification. This is where Dominic Raab comes in because while he was coming out with a lot stuff that’s lifted straight from the Libertarian Playbook, the delivery wasn’t the usual bish-bash-bosh, here-let-me-amputate-that-for-you tour de certainty you expect from his ilk. No, Raab’s delivery was more cautious and considered – almost halting at times – while there was the occasional acknowledgement that the world isn’t an entirely straight forward place. Now, I’m not familiar enough with Raab to know if he’s always like this or whether the QT nerves cooled his jets a little but the effect was tremendous: I actually bothered to listen. True, I didn’t agree with any of the stuff I listened to but at least he got a foot in the door. So well done Dominic, long may that feeling of nauseous terror continue to serve you well.

The Danny List

Aside from the shocking absence of glasses – and the corresponding abundance of bulging eyes – this was pretty standard Danny Alexander fare… Standard enough to be standardised in the form of a standardised list as it happens. Observe:

  1. Repeated use of the phrase “the mess we were left” – Check
  2. Constant look of nebulous dread – Check
  3. Lacklustre audience response to lacklustre joke (“No deal!”) – Check
  4. Moment of abject horror when it all goes wrong (food banks in Germany) – Check
  5. Endless parade of monotone policy ‘achievements’ to act as filler – Check
  6. Photoshop of him as some raunchy male model (see Fig.1) – Check check check!

All’s well here then…

danny aleaxander fit sailor

Fig. 1

…And Val?

Can’t complain, truth be told. Alright, so there was one sticky moment right at the start when I thought she was going to go down the ‘all politicians are untrustworthy’ road (a road I’m so familiar with that I’m long past contempt) but it actually transpired that she didn’t like politicians blaming each other and that’s alright in my book. Also, a bonus point for saying she quite liked the budget with regards to her own finances whilst simultaneously slating its effect on others. The lack of a faux hair shirt was refreshing to say the least.

Tl;dr

Alexander: 4/10

Same (as always)

Burnham: 6/10

(Had more slap on than a panto) Dame

Raab: 6/10

Overcame (my deafness to libertarians)

Kirby: 4/10

(All a bit) Lame

McDermid: 6/10

(Writes books about people who like to) Maim

The Crowd: 5/10

(Find) Haim (to be somewhat over-hyped by the music press)

Right, all done, that’s your lot, nowt to see here. Elizabeth’s running things next week for Brighton is her turf and she is much better placed to judge the implications of tax breaks for moustache pomade, subsidies for dreamcatchers and the best type of blue nylon rope to make a dog lead out of. Oh Brighton, you are such silly.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #92


questionable time 92 david dimbleby ramones

Good morning Lemmings and RUN FOR YOUR LIVES, THERE’S A BLOODY PIGEON ON THE LOOSE! Scary stuff indeed but you’ll be pleased to know that not even this impromptu intervention from Mother Nature could stop the behemoth that is QT. No, rather than run the risk of incurring Nick Hewer’s best You Have Disappointed Me So Now I Shall Suck A Lemon face, the pigeon wisely went to ground (most likely in Susan Kramer’s hair) and disaster was narrowly averted. Phew! Mopped brows all round then! Anyway, the following also happened. Observe if you will…

I should like Douglas Alexander but…

At face value there’s much to like about Douglas Alexander: There’s that lovely soft accent, the weeness of his form, those innocent little eyes and the fact that he always looks so very, very clean (which – incidentally – is a trait shared by Jeremy Hunt, possibly the cleanest looking MP in the land). All these things combined with a political career largely free from scandal make him the sort of fellow that it’s very hard to militate any ill-will against, yet if I’m being completely honest I do harbour a certain something against Wee Dougie and it’s taken me an awfully long time to figure out why that is. It’s all about control.

Let’s start with an example: There was a moment in the first question where Susan Kramer said something about the economy being on the mend and you could almost hear the switch tripping in his brain – the switch labelled This Is Something I should Appear To Be Angry About. Anyway, ‘clunk’ goes the switch and out comes this little spiel about how she should be ashamed of herself and that this is no time to be performing “a lap of honour”. ‘Fair play’ you may say as the point itself was not without validity but the way in which he suddenly turned on the indignation made me do a double take because it didn’t sit right. Why? Well because it wasn’t really indignation as indignation is something that issues from the heart, not the head and it can’t be turned on and off at will. This though – this was different: It was a measured, controlled and unfeeling response that had clearly been prefabricated earlier on and was ready for deployment from the get-go. The same goes for when he tried to ambush Zahawi with the small matter of his dealings with private health companies: It was delivered as an unexpected ‘Gotcha!’, an incidental opportunity that he’d just stumbled upon but you could tell that it was anything but that and more likely a part of a very rigid game plan he’d had from the start.

So what’s the big deal here? Am I saying that politicians shouldn’t think before they speak? That having a game plan is somehow duplicitous? Well no – of course they’re going to have a game plan. Everyone has a game plan on QT – that’s just the way it is and thinking is generally a positive thing when it comes to running the country. However, what does rustle my jammies is the way that Dougie can’t quite bring himself to let go and just run with real, unconfined indignation rather than constantly trying to keep it within the strict parameters of what he thinks a politician should look like. It speaks of a man who has somehow got fallibility confused with failing, whose approach to risk is one of aversion and that’s a shame because we actually rather like fallibility – primarily because it’s a confirmation of humanity. Just ask Boris… or Ken… or Nige… or Gorgeous George (etc, etc, etc)…

I shouldn’t like Zahawi, but…

And why shouldn’t I like Zahawi? Let us count the ways.

      1. He was a former aide to Jeffrey Archer.
      2. He’s been less than squeaky clean when it comes to expenses.
      3. He’s at the economically nuttier end of the Tory party.
      4. His approach to most debates is similar to a bull’s approach to china shopping.
      5. He looks like an angry/disappointed potato (see Fig. 1) and his head is a geometric paradox (consistently ovoid from the front and yet a perfect square from the side).
      6. Nadhim Zahawi angry potato

        Fig. 1

nadhim zahawi impossible head

Fig. 2

It’s also fair to say that this performance was so-so, what with his crap joke about Bob Crow falling flat on its face (probably because he planned on eulogising him but got cold feet when Hewer sucked on an almighty lemon about people who didn’t like Bob Crow eulogising Bob Crow) and his flappery about tax avoidance when he himself has been known to use various schemes that ‘help the wealthy minimise and avoid taxes’. However, I can’t help but like him for precisely the reasons that I struggle with Dougie: For better or worse, Zahawi is unabashedly human and comfortably out of control. He screws stuff up, let’s his mouth run away with itself and goes an endearing shade of red when he knows he’s in hot water but at least you are left in no doubt that he genuinely means what he says. True, quite a lot of what he says is totally bonkers but I’d take genuine madness over contrived sanity any day of the week.

‘Tis that time of year!

…For Susan Kramer to be taken out of hibernation and paraded in front of the nation on QT again! Hooray/hoorah indeed! And how did Question Time’s resident tortoise emerge into the crisp light of spring this year? Well, the same as she always does – by talking at the same volume as a tour guide in a service station (not quite shouting but near as dammit) and constantly looking at some unspecified point on the ceiling of the studio. Well done Susan, we’ll see you again in the autumn for the now traditional Bedding Her Down for Winter episode.

All hail Hewer, Long Faced Champion of the Universe…

I’m shorter on space than I hoped so I’ll keep this brief: Steepled fingers, elongated vowels combined with laconic understatement (“Yeeeeeeeeees… Bob Crow. My word”), that weird confluence of ultra-capitalism and social conscience that marked the heyday of New Labour, ungladly suffered fools and a damn good eye for the Russians. God I love Hewer.

Oakeshott and the perils of Telling It Like It Is…

There’s a certain art to Telling It Like It Is and the cardinal rule is not to look so bloody pleased with yourself when doing so. Alas, this point seems lost on Oakeshott who may well have been on to something when she posited that the NHS was essentially bankrupt but the point was lost behind the self-satisfaction of being the first to deliver the bad news (it was sort of like turning up to your burning homestead and being greeted by a grinning fireman). In short, good diagnostic abilities but poor bedside manner.

Tl;dr

Kramer: 6/10

(Talks rather) Loud

Alexander: 5/10

(Should be) Allowed (to get stuff wrong)

Zahawi: 6/10

Ploughed (his way through)

Hewer: 8/10

(Had me on) Cloud (9)

Oakeshott: 4/10

(Is a little too) Proud (to be the bearer of bad news)

The Crowd: 6/10

(Rhyme with all the above).

…So that’s what you get when you cram a bunch of people into a hall with an errant pigeon. It’ll do for me. Right, I’m done and will be back next week, albeit a little later in the day than usual as I have stuff and things to attend to – like desperately wishing The Apprentice was back on the telly.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #91


questionable time 91 david dimbleby north by north west

Good morning Lemmings and boy-oh-boy do we have a lot to cover today, so much so that I’m not even sure where to start. How about starting at the start? That would be a good start indeed so that’s what I’m going to do: Starting… at the start. Watch me start Lemmings, watch me start!

 

The Cold War is back in town…

…And boy have I missed it because, truth be told, I wasn’t getting on very well with the post-Soviet world. Sure, it was nice that we were ‘winning’ and could invade whoever the hell we wanted under the shakiest of pretexts but it was a complicated, random world that was very difficult to make sense of and didn’t have the cosy certainty that the Cold War possessed (the sort of end-of-the-world certainty that led my dad to fill the cellar with cans of tuna in case the balloon ever went up. He never had a tin opener down there though so the slow death of my family would have been a case-study in absurdity). Anyway, it seems that Putin’s decided that the game is back on and in a weird way I find this all rather comforting as it’s a world I understand and that fits together in my head (bearing in mind that this is the sort of head that reads atlases on the toilet and occasionally draws little arrows on them to signify hypothetical invasion routes). It also seems to fit together rather well in the heads of Michael Heseltine, David Aaronovitch and Alexander Nekrassov, the three panelists who really went to town on this subject.

 

For Aaronovitch, this couldn’t be more black and white: Putin’s up to no good, the Crimea vote will be rigged (at least he’s 95% sure it will be) and to do nothing is not an option. ‘Fair point’ I say, but wait, what’s this? Nekrassov’s got a juicy little counter in about how NATO has been more than a little underhand in its eastward expansion and anyway, this was a coup, not a revolution. Hmmm, also a fair point. What say you, recently-defrosted-cold-warrior Michael Heseltine?

 

‘Bollocks to the details, we’re not doing anything because we can’t’

 

And he’s right: There isn’t a great deal we can do because this isn’t some far-flung sandy place on the fringes of the world, this is a top-ranking nuclear power that happens to keep Europe’s lights on and as galling as it may be, that’s just the way life is. No well-meaning yet essentially empty ‘heads around the table’ platitudes a la Reeves and Hughes, no morally certain chest pounding a la Aaronovitch and Nekrassov, no just sitting there looking like a cat a la Platell, just a very straightforward ‘Life sucks kiddo, suck it up’. It was one of the very rare times on QT I actually felt like I was being treated like an adult and more power to Tarzan for that.

 

A pleasing interlude…

So that was a satisfying, meaty chunk of muscular debate and what followed with the Stephen Lawrence question was also quite heartening with thoughtful response all round (especially from Hughes and the audience) – except from Amanda Platell. Instead, she chose to address the questioner as ”a beautiful black man” before embarking on less-than-subtle eulogy to the Daily Mail (“my paper”) and Paul Dacre (“my editor”). Alas and to absolutely no one’s surprise these shenanigans came to an abrupt end when Dimbers told her to shut up and my attention swiftly moved on to the Scottish lass who claimed that she had chased her attacker to a police station only to find no-one was there. Her general demeanour left me in no doubt that this claim was 100% true and that her attacker was probably running to the police station for fear of their own safety.

 

And then suddenly…

…Everything went mental. Out of nowhere came a question on immigration and the tone was set to ‘febrile’ the minute the original questioner stated that Barking was now “the most terrible place on Earth to live”. Well, that was it – the pro-immigration section of the audience start working up a sustained chunter but it was the anti camp who kept catching the camera. Most notable of these was the bloke who started off on how he didn’t receive rejection letters when he applied for jobs any more and implied that it was probably the fault of immigrants. Understandably, this didn’t go down too well with the majority of the audience but was he going to take any notice of them? Was he hell. No, instead he just carried on going, this time blaming immigrants for not letting him have a house until it finally dawned on him that he might just have made a massive tit of himself. The solution? To grab his coat and leave the studio on the pretext of finding “somewhere to live”. It was surreal, a little bit frightening (although not frightening enough to dissuade the next audience member from describing immigration as an “invasion” and comparing it to the situation in the Crimea) and probably a QT first.

 

And how did the panel deal with this? Not badly actually. There were attempts made to reason with the man but I suspect that ‘reason’ was the last thing this guy was in the market for and anyway, it’s not like he stuck around to see what they would come up with. That just left Reeves (who somehow managed to go through the entire show without being referred to as ‘Liz Kendall’ – see Fig. 1) and Heseltine to have a minor to-do over Labour’s past immigration policy whilst Aaronovitch did most of the legwork for the pro camp and Hughes tried to split the difference but couldn’t quite carry it through. One thing we can be sure of though is that Barking certainly lives up to its name: It was all totally Barking mad.

rachel-reeves-liz-kendall-gif

Fig. 1

 

Tl;dr

 

Heseltine: 7/10

(Still has great) Hair

 

Reeves: 6/10

(Is every)Where (at the moment)

 

Hughes: 6/10

(Is neither) Here (nor) There

 

Aaronovitch: 7/10

Doctrinaire

 

Nekrassov: 5/10

(Knows much about Red) Square

 

Platell: 5/10

(Feels the need to) Share (her love of the Daily Mail)

 

The Audience: 7/10

(Did well not to) Swear.

 

Well, there you go – a dramatic little number with enough geopolitics to keep me drawing little arrows on my atlas and an audience member crazy enough to fill 300 words. Trust me, that doesn’t happen very often. Right, that’s me done. If you’ll need me I’ll be upstairs… With my atlas…

 

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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