Posts Tagged 'Alistair Campbell'

Questionable Time #17


questionable time 17 david dimbleby alan partridge

Good morning Lemmings and – assuming you haven’t all frozen to death – welcome back for what was quite the humdinger of a Question Time last night. Now, there are plenty of reasons as to why this was an especially zesty show but lets start with the obvious: The highly engaging spectacle of two very capable yet somewhat compromised panelists taking a big stick and applying it to the chops of the Daily Mail. I am of course talking about Dark Master of the News Cycle Alistair Campbell and the knowingly imperfect Steve Coogan. The beauty of this coupling lies not only in the fact that both men are masters of the invective who have every reason to despise the Mail but also because they themselves are in absolutely no way paragons of virtue who can claim that their integrity is beyond reproach.

Let’s start with Campbell: Now, here’s a man whose one goal while in power was to bend the media to his will and largely succeeded in doing so by dint of being the physical embodiment of terror itself. Seriously, every time I look at Campbell I think of that scene in Apocalypse Now when Willard gets on the boat for the first time and the Chief, alarmed by this turn of events, clocks him in an instant:

My orders say I’m not supposed to know where I’m taking this boat, so I don’t! But one look at you, and I know it’s gonna be hot.”

Yup, that’s Campbell all over: A man who’s been fighting a dirty, nasty and vicious war for so long that he’s actually become the war itself. A man who knows where the bodies are buried because he buried them there. In short, he’s no angel when it comes to media ethics.

Coogan by contrast is less straight forward and harder to peg down. Anyone who is a fan of his work (and I am) can’t help but feel a certain affection for him but he doesn’t always make it easy for us to like him – the whole Courtney Love thing being the example that sticks out in my mind. This always leaves me feeling slightly bemused when I see him as I really can’t fathom out as to whether he’s just a misunderstood soul who’s been given a raw deal in the press or whether he genuinely is a bit of a dickhead (a debate made no easier by the excellent yet frighteningly post-modern The Trip… My jury is still out).

Still, what cannot be doubted is that both of theses guys know how to handle themselves in a debate and were positively relishing the chance to stick the boot in to the Mail. Now, had the person fighting the corner for Britain’s Premier Hate Rag been the likes of Melanie Phillips, Jeremy Clarkson or Richard Littlejohn then this would have been a massacre: All these guys take is a cursory winding up and boom! Here comes the crazy! However, none of the above were present last night and instead we got QT veteran Ann Leslie. This turned out to be a very canny pick for the following reasons:

  1. She’s actually a proper journalists rather than a lurching tangle of jerking knees.
  2. She is tough as old boots.
  3. I never know whether she’s drunk or not.

All of the above conspire to make her a much harder target than some of her flightier colleagues and the result was a show full of crowd pleasing set pieces from Coogan and entertaining spats between Campbell and Leslie – both of whom clearly despised each other. In terms of who won, well lets just say that the Daily Mail doesn’t seem to be the periodical of choice for this particular crowd but Leslie does deserve some credit for looking like she couldn’t give a toss either way. I suspect that gin may have played a part in this.

The other big news on last night’s show was how well Philip Hammond did given that he was surrounded by some pretty big beasts. I say this because Hammond isn’t exactly the most charismatic of politicians and I reckoned it likely that Alistair Campbell was going to blow his head off using some satanic powers he acquired in trade for his soul (see Fig. 1). As it happens, Hammond managed to hold his own rather well and came out relatively unscathed in what should have been a fairly torrid week for the Blue Team. Ok, so he wasn’t exactly thrilling to watch and his attempts at humour were a little on the crap side but considering the amount of trouble he could have got into on the NHS question I think he did all right. However, the thing that really wins him points for me is his role in what has become a rather rare thing in QT: A Spontaneous Outburst of Collective Agreement. This occurred on the Syria question and Hammond won his spurs by doing something I’ve not seen from a Defence Secretary for years: He admitted that there really isn’t a whole lot we can do about Syria. Having spent the last decade listening to Defence Secretaries telling us that we can bomb this or shock ‘n’ awe that I was really pleased to hear the opposite sentiment for once. If that wasn’t enough to give me a warm fuzzy glow then imagine my surprise when the entire panel echoed that sentiment including Alistair Campbell, chief cheerleader of the Iraq calamity. I nearly fell off the sofa.

phillip-hammond-alistair-campbell-skulled

Fig. 1

So yes, Philip Hammond is still an unremittingly dull man who’s going to look terrible in body armour (I can’t wait for his first ‘In Theatre’ photo-op) but he seems pretty level-headed and that will do for me right now. And as for Shirley Williams? Well same-old, same-old really: The human personification of some of the 20th Century’s better ideas wrapped in the language of the Crimean War (it’s all “holding the line”, “powder kegs” and other such ironclad pronouncements). It also seems like she’s caused something of a sartorial stir with women of a certain age as I got a fair few search queries along the lines of ‘where did Shirley Williams get that jacket from?’ last night. Apologies to all those who were bitterly disappointed when they ended up here. I can photoshop the crap out public figures but fashion procurement is not this blog’s strong point.

Tl;dr

Hammond: Did well

7/10

Campbell: Gave ’em hell

7/10

Williams: Excel(led)

7/10

Coogan: “Ruddy hell, it’s Soft Cell!”

7/10

Leslie: Was a bit of a bombshell

7/10

The Crowd: Were perfectly acceptable clientele

7/10

Well would you look at that? Sevens all round. That’s it from me this week as I’m off to mentally steel myself for the prospect of the Ken Clarke/Prezzer face-off next week. You know when male Elephant Seals fight over a mate? Yeah, it’s going to be like that.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #17


*@£&^

Morning Lemmings. A slight caveat before we start: If you’re looking for detail, you’d better go the hell some place else because I couldn’t make heads nor tails of this episode, largely thanks to Campbell and Morgan turning it into a brawl rather than a debate. To illustrate the point, take a look at a page from my notes (See Fig. 1):

Everyone! Just STFU!

Fig. 1

Now usually, I just about get the bulk of an episode down on paper, even when the panellist take it upon themselves to yap a lot. However, this only works when one person is talking at a time and when they do start to get a bit testy with each other, I tend to draw a little cloud (which is the internationally recognised comic book shorthand for a scrap). On the average episode, this may happen once or twice and precious little semantic juice is lost. On this instalment however, my notes are bloody covered in them, mainly with the letters ‘AC’ (for ‘Alistair Campbell’) or ‘PM’ (for ‘Piers Morgan’) written inside them (although if you look at the picture you can see one involving ‘Everyone’ and one with just ‘PM’. He was probably arguing with himself at that point). So apologies for some inevitable vagueness and condolences to anyone who has had the misfortune to converse with either of these individuals. My heart goes out to you. Right, Question Time… erh… time.

The Menu

Q1: How will the spending cuts affect jobs and the economy?

Q2: Will extra academies make for a two tier education system?

Q3: Why are both the Miliband’s and Balls now criticising the Iraq war?

Q4: What steps can the government take to stop backbenchers derailing the coalition?

Q5: Is entrapment journalism in the public interest?

In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner – John Redwood, weird looking poster boy for the Tory right and Welsh national anthem forgetter.
So, the Tories refused to send a front bencher up against Alistair Campbell. Bad move Cammerclegg, as hell hath no fury like a Dimbers scorned (and muchly scorned was he) and just to drive the point home, they invited arch rightwing axe-grinder and bête noire of the Brave New World of Consensual Politics, John Redwood, instead. And what a funny creature Redwood is, representing, as he does, that totally batty ‘Get Your State Out Of My Every-Man-For-Himself Utopia’ right wing of the Tory party (you know, the guys and gals who seem mental enough to warrant close supervision from a Community Mental Health Team, but not so far gone as to join their UKIP brethren on the HMS Oddball). He also has the appearance of a man who is deeply unsettled by the rest by the rest of humanity and I have images of him as an adolescent, digging holes in empty fields and then sitting in them for hours on end whilst hissing at anyone foolish enough to stray too close. ‘Discontented Loner’ is the phrase I’m looking for. However, this can’t be the full story as during my usual Thursday trawl through Google Images for pshop fodder, I came across this little doozie (see Fig. 2):

Come on Sonya, let's be appalling!

Fig. 2

Look at him! He’s with a woman! And a half fit one at that! Never mind the fact that his get-up looks like it was borrowed from Paul Daniels back-up wardrobe, let us just revel in the fact that someone as weird as Redwood can at least seem to find something that halfway resemble happiness. There is hope for us all yet.

Anyhoo, this is getting a little bitchy so let’s get back to the point: John Redwood is pretty much a living Geiger counter when it comes to gauging how close to the edge the coalition is as he is the de facto headboy of the Tory Awkward Squad. If Cammerclegg can keep this motley collection of hardbitten ideologues onside, then the chances that things are going to be OK and the Blue/Yellow Team can continue not being driving around in ministerial cars for the foreseeable future. However, the act of keeping them onside is going to be a truly Olympian feat as this crowd have swallowed just about as much touchy/feely/’hug a hoodie and keep moisturised’ crap as they can possibly tolerate and there seems to be a steady chunter of treasonable mutterings emanating from the backbenches right now (as illustrated by Cameron’s failed 1922 gambit). With this in mind, what is to be made of John Redwood’s performance?

Well, things started out on a pretty standard footing on Q1 as he pulled the classic ‘translate national debt into a figure for every man, woman and child’ trick that is so beloved of pathological spending cutters before getting very starry eyed about the private sector (in an almost cute ‘women will leave you, men will betray you, but the private sector will always be there, comforting you with its tender embrace’ kind of way). Much the same followed with Q2 as he again slipped into ‘set adrift on memory bliss’ mode and eulogised academies as “ladders of opportunity” (before referring to his brand new best friends in the House of Commons as the “Liberal Democrat people”), much to no-ones surprise.

But wait! What’s this in Q3? Is that a Geiger counter I hear chirping into life? I think it is. Q3 should have been a straight forward exercise in ‘have a pop at Labour’ tactics that don’t go too far, so as to prevent any backwash from the Tories own voting record. Sure enough, he did have a token swipe at the Red Team, but then went to great lengths to stress (and I must say that it did look heartfelt) how much he regretted voting for it out of “loyalty” to David Cameron. I’ve got a feeling that isn’t quite the wholehearted endorsement that the Tory leadership were looking for. Not content with merely crackling out a few Rontgens on that matter, he then went into full Chernobyl mode on Q4 by roundly rubbishing the rise in Capital Gains Tax and saying that he hoped the government would change the policy before there was “a need for rebellion”. You don’t have to be an expert at reading between the lines to see what he was getting at. He calmed down a bit after that, wibbling some weird point about Royal access being free on Q5, but he certainly managed to drive the message home to his own party: ‘You’re on notice. Stop arsing about with hemp wearing hippies or else.’. They have been warned.

So that’s him. I’m not a big fan of Redwood, what with his fairly crazy outlook and generally humourless approach to everything, but I do enjoy watching a troublemaker at work and in this respect he did pretty well. However, I do worry about his liver function, given the really odd orange/yellow skin tone he has. I can’t see it being down to booze (there’s too much of a puritanical streak in him for that), but something ain’t right. Go and see Dr Liam Fox, John. I’m sure he’ll handle the matter with the utmost sensitivity and compassion.

A meddlesome 5/10

In The Yellow Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Susan Kramer, ex-LibDem MP and Cosmo Kramer hair-a-like (see Fig. 3)

Giddy up...

Fig. 3

Ok, so I get the Tory logic about not putting up a front bencher against Campbell, despite it being Queen’s Speech week. It was a pretty wanky move that’s caused a minor brouhaha, but yes, I see their reasoning. However, I’m at a loss as to why the Libs didn’t even bother to send an MP and to be honest, I think that’s pretty yellow bellied (ha!). Still, I can only work with what I’ve got and what I got on this episode of Question Time was Susan Kramer, one time Richmond Park MP who was recently ousted by Arch Cameron Chum, Zac Goldsmith. I’m not overly familiar with Kramer and I can’t really find much of note in this outing other than a) a nice deployment of a slightly ropey metaphor (the coalition is “something of camel, but camels get things through the desert” So they do) and b) she has the stance of a silverback gorilla: Head down, shoulders forward and elbows way the fuck out there. At times, she did come across as quite spirited, but for most part she just seemed to be largely irrelevant, given that she has absolutely no say in the running of anything. Actually, thinking about it, that’s a pretty cunning move from the Libs, considering that tonight was always going to be an exercise in getting hammered. Hmmmmm, Ok Yellow Team, maybe there was method behind the madness. Touché.

A so-so 5/10

In The Red Corner: Alistair Campbell, unflinching enforcer of Tony’s media will and father of Malcolm Tucker.

I’d love to see Alistair Campbell’s daily routine. I imagine it would look something like this:

0200: Awake to a CD of human screams, played at all times in my bedroom.

0230: Punch myself in the face repeatedly to banish any sleep addled delusions of mercy.

0300: Eat a bowl of rust and battery acid.

0330: Sprint for 20 miles whilst wearing shoes full of broken glass and listening to white noise at high volume.

0600: Ring up every newspaper editor on their home phone, call them “wankers” and then hang up.

0630: Throw ice cold water on the wife and children to wake them up.

0700: Shit brimstone.

0800: Threaten paperboy and accuse him of authoring smear stories in The Daily Mail.

0900: Arrive at work and partake in a varied mixture of circumventing democracy, intimidating opponents, intimidating colleagues and intimidating employers.

2200: Arrive home and read the children extracts from Machiavelli’s The Prince (or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road if they’ve been good).

2230: Feast on human souls.

2300: Shout at the sky for being there and shake fists at passing satellites.

0000: Shower in the blood of innocents.

0100: Update my Shit List.

0159: Sleep

Seriously, this guy’s like a political Terminator. He is out there. He can’t be bargained with. He can’t be reasoned with. He doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And he absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead. Nice guy.

So yes, Alistair was on the show and after watching him, I can see why the other parties ducked out: Fear. Pure, visceral, makes you want to throw up and cry fear. And to be honest, I can’t blame them as it’s a perfectly rational response to being confronted by a man made of anger. Trying to decipher what he said is pretty hard (given the reasons at the start of the article) but it can be generally summed up as ‘an all out offensive, all the time’. No-one was safe. The Tories were bastard cutaholics, the Libs were shifty turncoats, Piers was, well, Piers and Max Hastings lives in “an ivory tower”. The only people who were spared his ire were the saintly Labour party with their 13 Years Of Indisputable Achievements, David Miliband and the usual touchstones of “nurses, teachers, blah, blah”. Things started to look a little uncomfortable when Piers took him to task on the war and an exceptionally brave member of the audience enquired as to how he would feel if kids had died in Iraq, but it was a passing affair and one that was snuffed out when he scolded all of those who had the temerity to clap the question. Having said that, he did get strong applause at points but I can’t rule out the possibility that he rocked up at each audience members’ door the night before, brandishing a long length of rope and photos of their children.

And that’s the problem with Campbell. At first glance, he always appears triumphant, taking the fight to the enemy and smiting as if smiting were going out of fashion. But after you regain your senses in the wake of the Blitzkrieg, you suddenly realise that what you’ve just heard is nothing more than weaponised versions of the blindingly obvious that completely fail to account for any nuance or shades of grey. What’s even worse is that because he’s constantly on the attack, he never gets a chance to stop and consider the fact that maybe he should just shut the hell up from time to time. A killing machine without a feedback mechanism. Now that’s a dangerous thing.

A ‘does someone want to tell him that they lost?’ of a 4/10

In The Independent/Brainy Corner: Max Hastings, former Telegraph editor and massively spectacled war buff.

I love military history, which is very odd since I’m about as passive as they come and have absolutely zero compulsion to put myself at risk from any form of pain/mild discomfort. But still, I can’t argue with the facts and the fact is that since I was 9, I’ve devoured military history books like I was hooked on nerd crack (I know I’m ill and these days I trying to read something that’s a little less social maladaptive in between war tomes…like economics and politics books. No one said recovery would be easy). A by-product of this rather shameful fascination is that from time-to-time, Max Hastings crosses my path and I end up reading his work. Now don’t get me wrong, they’re not bad books. It’s just that every time I read them, I can’t help but see that droopy, washed out of face of his, pleading with me through the pages. “Please like me!” it says. “I’ve just written this book that’s full of tales of daring do but that goes out of its way not to trample on any holy cows like the unimpeachable reputation of the British military! Please like me!”.

So yeah, me and Max go back a long way and over the years, I’ve built up this picture of him as a genuinely clever guy, but one who never felt comfortable with his place in the world. I can almost see him walking into his local country pub, a place where he’s been going for 20 years (yet still no-one refers to him by name) and asking for a pint of Directors. The barmaid politely pulls the pint, serves it too him in a regular glass and the tension in him begins to ebb. “Here I am,” thinks Max, “just a nice normal guy, doing normal things in a normal setting. Maybe I am normal!”. But then he looks across at the other regulars, all happily supping away, talking about things he’s not privy to and the anxiety begins to tug. It’s not the being left out of the conversation bothers him as being left out of conversations is pretty much a fact of life for him and one he has learnt to accept. No, what stings is that they’re all drinking out of those pint glasses with handles that look like oversized grenades. Everyone knows that the only people who get those glasses are people who’ve drunk in that pub for over a decade and are proper ‘regulars’, but he’s dunk there for two! “Why won’t they let me drink from the big glasses? What have I done that’s so terrible that they won’t let me drink from the big glasses?!”. The doubt begins to spiral, his car windscreen-like glasses begin to steam up and he leaves after drinking only half a pint. Poor Max.

Wow, that was a fun little diversion, wasn’t it? Ok, ok, enough with the Tormenting of Max Hastings and back to the question in hand: How did he do? In a word ‘alright’. There were moments when he got the crowd behind him, describing himself as “a useful idiot” for initially supporting the Iraq war showed a commendable level of self awareness and he wasn’t afraid of getting into the odd punch up here and there. However, despite not saying anything really stupid (apart from that we’re all in “deep do-do”) the points he made that did have merit just didn’t seem to be backed up by the self confidence to make them stick. Part of this may be the fact that he was up against Campbell and Morgan, but I think it goes deeper than that. I think it’s down to the fact that he really does doubt himself and feels his life’s just seems like an endless charade that’s just waiting to collapse around his ears. It’s either that, or maybe it’s just me who’s a bit weird.

A sorrow tinged 5/10

In The I’m the Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Piers Morgan, ex-Mirror Editor and media whore at large.

Oh Christ. Did I just sneeze on the screen without realising I did? I ask, because it appears to be coated in a slimy, green mucus that is slowly oozing its way to the bottom. Oh, wait a minute, it’s Piers Morgan! Yup, Piers is back and true to form, he’s as annoying as ever, yammering away at points that seem to be rooted not in conviction and simply serve as (yet another) vehicle for self aggrandisement. Actually, that’s not entirely fair as some of the stuff he came out with on education and the war were pretty reasonable, the crowd were behind it and he was the only person on the panel that came close to holding Campbell to account. So yes, in terms of content, it was better than his average but I still have a problem with how he says it: All lowest common denominator mixed with unhealthy levels of showboating. Oh, and the joke about sucking Fergy’s toes wasn’t funny. So let us not dwell on Piers, because that’s exactly what he wants us do and that would break Rule #1 of the Interwebz: Don’t feed the troll. May his mark be middling to low.

A grudging 4/10

The Crowd: Gravesend

As I said at the start, this was quite a hard show to keep up with, what with the running fights between Morgan, Campbell and anyone stupid enough to get caught in the cross fire. As a result, the audience appeared to be slightly marginalised and much more in ‘spectator’ mode than they have been of late. That’s not to say they were quiet, it’s just that whatever noise they did make was soon drowned out in a hail of Campbell/Morgan twatery. The other thing that struck me was that the political landscape seem to be firming up. On the last two shows, people have struggled to know which side they were on and the crowds came across as unsure and divided. On this episode, they appeared to be much more clear blue water between those who were ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ coalition but the bad news for the LibDems is that quite a lot of those who voted for them now seem to be on the ‘anti’ side. Ouch.

Audience member of the night totally goes to the guy who asked Campbell about his kids. You’re a very brave man and if I had medals to give out, one would be in the post as we speak. Oh, and one last thing… WHAT THE FUCK WAS GOING ON WITH CAMPBELL’S PICTURE OF DAVID LAWS?! IT WAS HUGE! IN A FRAME! WHERE THE FUCK DID HE HIDE IT?!

Actually, don’t answer that.

A beginning to smell the coffee 5/10

See yers next week, fellow QT dorks.


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