Next time: all change (?).
Next week Lemmings, next week…
Question Time dorkery writ large… "Mildly amusing if lengthy" – Mehdi Hasan
Morning Lemmings. So this is it. The final instalment of the Leaders’ Debates and Question Time before the nation descends into an orgy of anarchy, disorder and Final Demands. I, for one, am somewhat glad the end is in sight as these protracted Thursday nights have been absolute killer, beating me round the head with gnarly cudgel of current affairs until reason becomes but a distant memory, but I must concede that this election really has been one of the most mindbending spectacles I’ve witnessed to date. So summon your energy once more good people, for the end is neigh.
Ok, so let’s start off with a quick look at last night’s Leaders’ Debate. This ended up being a much meatier affair than its predecessors and it actually contained (shock horror!) some genuine debate. This is partly down to the candidates finally getting their heads round the bizarro-format, but also because the subject matter was the big issue in this election: The economy (stupid). Possibly the most pleasing thing for me was that Brown looked properly pissed off this time (although it’s a fine line between ‘pissed off’ and ‘unhinged’). During the previous two debates he’d half-heartedly gone along with the charade that he’s just as much the good natured Everyman that the spinners seem to think we want, but it hasn’t worked. Instead, he’s looked like a man who knows that his flies are undone, but can’t risk zipping them up in case it draws attention to the fact. ‘Uncomfortable’ is the word I’m looking for here. What we got tonight is a man who’s pretty much reached the end of his tether, has absolutely nothing more to lose and seems genuinely angry that Cameron may get the chance to bugger about with his beloved economy. Seriously, all through the first half he looked like he was about to lamp him and in many ways, it’s a shame he didn’t because if Bullygate taught us anything, it’s that the British public really don’t mind having a violent sociopath at the helm and if anything, they might actually quite like it. Unfortunately, he didn’t manage to sustain that rage into the second half and he kind of killed it for me when he finished off his final statement with that shiteating grin of his. Note to Gorgon: Never smile. Not to the public, not colleagues, not to your wife, not even to a new born child because frankly, it’s just scary.
Cameron also changed his tactics this time, did less of the ‘Man of the People’ bullshit (nary a mention of Big Society and the ‘change’ blather was reigned in to some extent) and instead opted for a more princely, ‘I’m above all this’ posture. On paper, that should work. In practice, it didn’t as the noble/highminded poise he was going for often ended up coming across as somewhat aloof and arrogant. The instant polls (of which I’m very cautious of) seem to have handed him victory but I just don’t see it. Looking ‘Prime Ministerial’ may well have been the aim, but the outcome was looking like a precocious child with an inflated sense of entitlement. Not nice.
And what of Clegg, the new Messiah sent to guide our fractured tribe through the dessert? Did he get his barnstorming OK Computer of a third album? Not quite. He faltered quite a lot during the opening questions and his attempts to mine the seam between the other two were somewhat overshadowed by the far more entertaining prospect of Brown totally losing his shit and biting Cameron. He rallied later on, seemed to give the only convincing answer on immigration and ended solidly, but a deal clincher this was not. So no more Radiohead for him and much more Alkaline Trio: Two very fresh and robust albums followed by a not-so-overwhelming but perfectly serviceable third record. That sounds a bit negative, but considering he came from absolutely nowhere, it’s no mean feat.
Other random points of note:
1. Cameron has a very shiny chin.
2. Clegg seems to think we have a vice-Chancellor. Does anyone want to break it to him that we’re not at uni any more?
3. The set was an assault of lavender but looked very scholarly.
4. Edina, the woman who asked the first question, has positively insane eyebrows. They looked like the logo you see on the back of No Fear T-shirts.
5. Dimbleby wiped the floor with the other presenters. Intimidated by the set up? No. A little bored by the constraints placed on him? Most probably. Absolutely gagging for a fag by the end (for I have it on good authority from numerous sources that he is not just a smoker, he’s a veritable smoking machine)? Without doubt.
6. The young teacher who asked a question near the end has one of the most impressive perma-scowls I’ve seen to date. At first I just thought he was pissed off with Cameron doing his ‘hardworking/people who just want to get along’ shtick on him, but then he turned it on Brown and even managed to combine it with nodding when listening to Clegg. Good scowling, sir.
Enough of that. We can safely close the lid on the Leaders’ Debates until which ever party gets in disintegrates like a cake in a bath (so we’ll probably see them again in a couple of months time). Farewell then, passing fad of lip service to democracy and hello to the stout, impervious citadel of Question Time.
Q1: Now we’ve had the debates, who’s won them?
Q2: Have the debates changed politics for the better?
Q3: Have the party leaders told us the truth about tax-and-spend?
Q4: Are you a bigot for asking the PM about immigration?
Q5: Do LibDem attacks on Cameron mean we’re heading for a LibLab pact?
In The Red Corner: Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, man who’s prospects aren’t looking so great these days.
There’s something deeply unsettling about watching a condemned man and in terms of the current government, no one is closer to having their goose cooked than Ed Balls. Right from the word go, he’s been Brown’s creature, his fortunes entirely shackled to his patron’s and right now, that’s about the last place in the world you want to be. He also has the added disadvantage of a haircut that makes him look like either a crew member of the Memphis Belle (see Fig. 1) or one of those weird ‘I’ll play whatever wanky instrument is left over’ types from the Arcade Fire (ginger guy who just seems to bang a drum occasionally and flounce about on stage, I’m looking at you). He is also a terrible, terrible liar. I could see him as some sort of middle ranking apparatchik from Collectivisation-era Russia who’s been tasked with guiding a visiting Commintern delegation around a Model Farm. Unfortunately, as the party rock up they find the crops are ablaze, the villagers ariot and the homesteads aruin. “Comrade Balls”, they enquire, “why is the wheat on fire?”. “Oh!” comes the reply “The diligent workers are roasting the fruit of the soil so that it may be easier to digest!”. “I see” they say, sounding less than convinced, “and why is it that the workers are stabbing each other with pitchforks?”. “Ah!” says Balls, “They are expressing their love for the Motherland in an ancient and much documented ritual”.
“Really? In years of study of these people I have never come across such a ritual. And what of the smouldering buildings? Has there been some terrible accident?”
“No, no! Of course not! It’s just that in this climate, smouldering buildings have been shown to provide the optimum level of comfort and shelter! With these fantastic facilities I can guarantee that next year’s grain yields and steel production figures will be 10 billion percent higher than this years!”
You know what I’m getting at, right?
Anyhoo, he got off to a not bad start on Q1 by having a go at Cameron for avoiding questions and that was well received and a call to focus on policy in Q2 also did OK. However, Q3 (totally the best question of the night) was where it started getting sticky and he tried to duck the question by going on an extended waffle about how crap the Tories are. Sensing that wasn’t exactly warmly received he started chanting the electoral Get Out Of Jail Free Card of ‘doctors, nurse, teachers, nurse, doctors, doctors, nurses, blah, blah’ like a mantra. That didn’t in any way do the trick and things went from bad to worse as Dimbers got a bit personal (he must have had a lot of pent up energy after the Debate) and insinuated that he’d never be Chancellor. Smelling the blood in the water, pretty much everyone then got in on the act and started tearing strips off him as he tried his very best to not answer whether Labour would put up VAT or not. That ended up just looking crap and hamfisted. After this battering Q4 started with tumbleweed for him, but there was a brief flicker of Politburo Approved Honesty when he didn’t try to defend Gordon Brown’s Bigotgate comments and he finally limped away on Q5 after some LibDem brown-nosing. Bad do’s.
I’m struggling with Balls (fnar fnar!) right now because although he is the clumsiest of fibbers, I’m not sure that many other politicians are intrinsically more honest. They’re probably just better at bullshitting. Having said that, he has been right at the heart of the Treasury for years and it was the policies that he and his colleagues devised that laid the groundwork for the Great Economic Clusterfuck. When seen from that angle, this very much boils down to case of ‘you shat your pants, now wear them’. For that, my funny haired friend, you get low points.
A convincingly unconvincing 3/10
In The Blue Corner, Liam Fox, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence and general harbinger of doom.
Well hello there Death. Oh, sorry, my bad… It’s actually the ever morbid Liam Fox. Yes, Dr. Fox is back in the game again and can I just say how glad I am that he’s not my GP. It’s not that I doubt his medical skills, it’s just that everything that comes out of his mouth sounds like such bad bloody news. If he delivered a baby, I’m pretty sure he’d welcome this miracle of nature by saying “well done Mr Loudribs, you have a baby boy but can I just take this opportunity to remind you that it will one day die and that this event may well occur during you’re lifetime”. Thanks, Dr Fox. Worse still, I can also imagine that if I did present at his surgery with a problem, it would always end up (no matter how inexplicably) being my fault. Broken leg? You shouldn’t have tried walking and talking at the same time. Flu? That’s what you get for eating bread. Ebola? I told you not to use the internet! So yes, generally speaking Liam Fox is the bearer of bad news. Even if it’s good news.
Last night’s performance started pretty bland, waffling something neither here-nor-there on Q1 but he did get some gentle claps for saying he hoped that voter turnout would increase in Q2. Less clement weather prevailed in Q3 as he (like Balls) tried to dodge the question and instead read a charge sheet on Labour (including invoking that perennial Tory shibboleth, the selling of the gold. The way they go on about it leads me to think that the country is awash with insomniac Big C Conservatives, kept awake night-on-night by the sheer horror of the memory). Dimbers started to look dangerous as he prowled about in the background so he threw in a quick ‘Labour waste your money’ feint (which sort of worked) and followed it up with an NI jab. If the question had ended at this point, he’d have probably got away with it, but he took it full in the chops when an audience member asked whether the Tories would raise VAT. With Dimbleby now looking very dangerous he flapped about helplessly, tried an ill fated semantic defence and got clobbered with a whole load of booing. It was a sorry spectacle, but also highly entertaining. A slight recovery followed in Q4, although this was tainted when he got some mild heckles on the immigration cap issue and got into some inconclusive little skirmishes with audience members. Finally, he ended it all with one of the loudest bouts of booing I’ve heard for some time as he overplayed his ‘hung parliaments are bad’ line by wheeling out his ‘the Pound will tank’ bogeyman. Not the most graceful of exits.
Generally speaking, it wasn’t a great performance. There were moments where he got quite feisty and combative, but on the whole it was like a picnic in a graveyard. He gets one more point than Balls, but that’s only on account of not looking quite as pathetic and considering he set the bar very low, that’s not exactly a glowing achievement. So Liam Fox, how does it fell to be given some bad news? Hmmm? Hmmm?
A Danse Macabre of a 4/10
In The Yellow Corner: Vince Cable, LibDem Treasury Spokesperson and patron saint of global financial meltdowns.
Prostrate thyselves for St Vince is here to bless us with his trademark brand of unassuming wisdom and refreshing ordinariness. Actually, I have to say that St Vince isn’t quite as good at Question Time as I thought he might be and that’s because it sometimes takes him out of his comfort zone. That’s the trouble with patron saints, they’re all just to damned specialised. Let’s say that one day St Adrian of Nicodemia, patron saint of arms dealers, butchers, guards and soldiers, calls in sick and the only saint available to cover his shift was St. Martin de Porres, patron saint of hairdressers (seriously, I’m not making this stuff up….here’s a big list). Obviously, carnage would ensue. Armies would find themselves armed with nothing more than GHD’s and tub’s of Dax, meat would start being cut into all sorts of fruity styles and shoplifters would run riot. So yes, saints need to stick with what they know. The same thing happens to St. Vince. Send him on Newsnight to harry Osborne and Darling and you can rest assured that he will emerge triumphant, smiting his foes with quiet, understated common sense. However, send him on Question Time and that cast iron guarantee simply evaporates in the face of non-economic policy.
Here’s how he did: Q1 was fairly standard ‘3 horse race’ stuff, not bad but generally unremarkable while there was some love for him when he bashed First Past The Post in Q2. Q3 saw him on much me solid ground as he came across as someone who genuinely does care that the numbers add up and avoided falling into the VAT trap by simply saying he couldn’t rule out a rise. There was no applause on this, but I don’t think it was the sort of question where crowd love would ever be forthcoming. You’re telling them that you’re probably going to raise their taxes so to escape from the field of battle unscathed is bloody good going. It was Q4 where he started coming unstuck and when he was pressed on the LibDems immigration ‘amnesty’ he started to get mired, mangling the point a little and not looking like he was in control of his answer. The same thing happened on Q5 when he tried to explain how the Libs would clean up parliament. That easy, straightforwardness that we usually associate with St Vince simply wasn’t on display and he became tangled, seemingly unable to turn his point into something of value. While his performance was way better than either Fox’s or Balls’, it’s weird and unnerving to watch someone who has become such a trusted voice of reason so quickly look just a little, well, mortal. And that’s the problem with saints. You’ve got to use them sparingly and pick their battles, otherwise they lose their saintliness. Keep Vince saintly, that’s what I say.
A comparatively good but uncharacteristically poor 6/10
In The Independent/Brainy Corner: Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland and insurance mascot impersonator (see title picture).
Ahh Alex, being troublesome and awkward again are we? Thought so. I have a feeling that Salmond’s was only on QT that night because he kicked up such an unholy and wholly unjustified fuss about the Leaders’ Debates that BBC threw him a bone in a return for a quieter life. It was a pretty Berlusconi-ish thing to but to give him credit, he did look like he knew he’d been busted and therefore reeled his mouth somewhat tonight. In fact, he even went as far as acknowledging this in Q2 when an audience member asked him whether the whole Leaders’ Debate brouhaha was a “cheap political trick”. “It wasn’t that cheap” came the reply. So in general, we didn’t see much of Salmond on this show and after a brief outburst of sour grapes in Q1 (‘at least Clegg got to go on the debates!’) he then had the good sense to generally shut up. I don’t know, as I’ve said before with Salmond, I shouldn’t really like him. He always looks like he’s involved in some sort of swindle, he relies quite heavily on rhetoric and there is just something a little ‘tin-pot dictator-ish’ about him. Having said that, he does have a level of self awareness that I like, he’s nimble in a debate and there’s a knowing look in his eye that says “My time will come”. I like that, even if I have to put up with listening to endless stories of what dazzling utopia of a country Scotland is as a consequence. So yeah, he shouldn’t really have been there, but at least he had the good sense to realised that.
A ill conceived but not badly executed 5/10
In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Janet Street-Porter, angle grinder voiced media type and Viperfish lookalike (see title picture).
JSP? Really? In the last show before the election? Man, what a burn. Talking about men, did you happen to know they’re crap? No? Well Janet Street-Porter thinks so and never wastes an opportunity to drive home that point in the most screechingly, searingly awful way. So yeah, JSP was on this episode and when I found out on the Wednesday, I could feel the anger rising me in. I knew what happen. A totally innocuous question would be posed, her mouth would open out would pour a mixture of white noise and man-hate. Sure enough she got straight to it right from the word go (“macho politics” dontchaknow?) and I felt like throwing the cat at the telly. In fairness, that was her only real, extended rant about the evils of men, but it still pissed me off and I found it really hard to listen to her after that. The crowd seemed more sympathetic and she did make some OK points later on, but her earlier rant really got under my skin. Yes, we know that there’s still a lot to be done about gender equality and yes, politics is ridiculously biased towards males, but having a go at me on account of my bollocks isn’t going to change that. It’s simply going to turn people off the more serious issues. That aside, I just find it hard watching her in general as everything she does or says just seems to have this nightmarish, bad acid trip quality to it. That voice, those jerky movements and that mouth that looks like it could bite your head clean off, it all genuinely scares me. So crap marks for you JSP. You get one more point than you got last time, but that’s because you actually did make every point into one about men on your last outing. This was marginally more tolerable.
A horribly predictable 4/10
The Crowd: Birmingham
The audiences in these post-Debate QT’s having been getting progressively more lively and this bunch ended up positively boisterous, what with all the booing and whatnot. Actual, despite the largely non-epic marks that everyone has garnered, this was a great episode and that was largely down to the audience being very engaged with the show. Yes, there was some tribalism, a few scatty points were made and they were far too kind to Janet Street-Porter for my liking, but on the whole, there was a lively ebb-and-flow as people fell in and out of favour. Dimbleby was also on great form tonight, after having probably smoked an entire packet of Marlboro Reds and eaten a 2oz pack of Golden Virginia in the interval and this translated into very entertaining level of mischief. In terms of which party came out on top, it’s hard to say. Certainly Balls got a trouncing, but I think that was more about him and there was sympathy for the party in parts of the audience. Similarly with the Tories, it was Fox who took the flak for most of the bad stuff and yet again, they got a lot of support when it came to NI. The LibDems are now very much more relevant and as a result, they are getting a tougher ride than usual, but much like the country as a whole, this was too close to call. All good stuff (particularly the question about VAT. That totally ruined the night for Fox and Balls). Finally, audience members of note included a guy who looked like a pubescent Smiths fan but sounded like an old women and another guy who looked like Fig.1 in the Old School LibDem Recognition Manual. Long, straight, ginger hair, round glasses, slightly alternative looking clothes, making a point about Trident. It’s good that there still are some certainties in this world.
A highly unrestrained 8/10
So that’s it for this parliament. Come this time next week, we will either be quivering in terror at the majesty of our new overloads or running amuck as society falls apart under the chaos of coalition government. Personally, I’m for the latter (and will spend the next week in blissful denial at the possible of any other outcome) as it sounds much more fun and lets face it, the results of thirty years of ‘strong’ governments haven’t exactly the best advert for our system. Anyhow, as this is technically the end of this parliament (at least I think it is… someone please correct me if I’m wrong) I’m going to update the scoreboard at some point next week and hopefully dish out a few completely valueless awards, accolades and Marks of Cain. Question Time’s back on the 13th of May, so I too will return, just in case you happen to like all this nonsense. See you on the other side people.
Morning Lemmings. OK, I have to admit that I totally underestimated just how much craziness these Leaders’ Debates would cause. Even when I was watching the first one, I thought it was so dull that it would probably drive the electorate to unheard of heights of apathy, but at is turns out they’ve pretty much turned post-war politics completely upsidedown. So I was wrong, but in a good way. Anyhoo, last night’s debate was Nick Clegg’s Tricky Second Album and he was the one with everything to lose. So did he do a Bloc Party and follow up the brilliant Silent Alarm with the lacklustre Weekend In The City? A categorical no. In fact, I would go as far as saying that he’s actually put himself on a Radiohead trajectory and followed up a nice little breakthrough Pablo Honey with a more assured and fleshed out The Bends. Whether he can stick to this course and bust out a genre defining OK Computer remains to be seen, but it’s safe to say that although last night was very close, his Round One performance was not a flash in the pan. As for Cameron, well I’m slightly annoyed as I had a great Scouting For Girls metaphor all lined up (awful, turgid, monstrosity of a record followed by an even more awful, turgid, monstrosity of a record) but he actual did quite well, coming off as less nauseating and hucksterish than the first time round and even gracing us with a rare appearance of Angry Dave. Don’t mess with Angry Dave or he’ll get jolly well upset. As for Brown, I’ve already fleshed out my New Labour/Weezer theory at length, but that doesn’t quite fit either as he also did quite well in that he stopped pretending to be a human. We love you just the way you are Gordon: A lumpen, constant and inevitable body of mass that Christ himself cannot bend to his will. So with all that in mind, I’m assigning Brown to the Metallica plan (most of this year has been St. Anger while last night was much more Death Magnetic), Cameron to the Van Halen template (all good times until Diver Down, but a return to form with 1984… don’t worry though, Sammy Hagar’s début is just round the corner) and that’s the end of that. Other points of note include:
Enough already. Time for some real debate. Take me to London or lose me forever.
Q1: Cameron presents himself as an agent of change but is his impression of Nick Clegg good enough?
Q2: Does Nick Clegg’s funny-money allegations mean that the LibDems are any different from the other two parties?
Q3. Will a hung parliament be bad for the UK?
Q4. With inflation and unemployment up, why should we trust Labour?
In The Red Corner: Yvette Cooper, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, MP for Pontecarlo and Cas Vegas, husband of Balls.
It must be hard being Yvette Cooper as every time she appears on TV she looks absolutely knackered. Actually, I guess this isn’t that surprising given that not only has she been working deep within the bowels of Brown’s Treasury (a place not noted for its touchy-feely, ‘take all the time you need’ work ethic) since time immemorial, she’s also married to it in the form of Ed Balls (who just happens to be one of the most unpopular politicians in the country). On top of this, she seems to be one of the few members of Brown’s inner circle who seems to have some sort of contact with reality and as a result, she always looks like she knows that whatever idea she’s been wheeled out to defend will probably go pear shaped, but she carries on regardless, possibly out of a misplaced sense of duty. I like that. It’s not the flashiest of traits, but her mixture of grim resignation and ability to sound reasonable is actually quite endearing. This episode was a slightly easier ride than she’s had on past Question Times given that Gordon didn’t do too badly but also because of the weird mood that’s swept through Labour in the last week. Prior to the debates, most of the Red Team were locked in a death grip with the Tories, knew things were looking terminal and you could sense their despair at the futility of it all. However, that was before Clegg completely trashed the entire scheme of things with his performance and now Labour look like they’ve found a diamond in a turd. Sure, the most likely outcome isn’t amazingly brilliant (a hung parliament and possible coalition), but it’s a damn sight better than it was (probable defeat or a short lived embarrassment of a minority government), they don’t have to do any of the heavy lifting and hell, the sheer stupidity of our electoral system may see them come out smelling of roses. This has put a bit of a spring in their step and their attitude seems a lot more carefree than it was.
Was this reflected in Cooper’s performance? Pretty much. Q1 was a straightforward affair, with some standard Tory bashing at the start, a few doffs of the cap to Clegg and then a surprise swipe at him on Trident (which went down surprisingly well). Much the same followed in Q2 where, after a bout of waffle, she chided the Tory press for ganging up on The New Boy and then landed a himdinger on journalists in general (a brave thing to do in front of Ann Leslie) for treating the public “like idiots”. That was all very well received, much to absolutely no-ones surprise (accusing someone else of treating the audience like idiots never fails… Unless you’re Nick Griffin). Q3 wasn’t so easy as Labour can’t really come out and say ‘we love hung parliaments now’ without looking poisonously cynical, so she reverted to orthodoxy and wheeled out the standard ‘First Past The Post Is Well Cool’ arguments but did manage to fold in a nice little dig at Ken Clarke. Muted applause followed. Finally, she gave Q4 a fairly dull blathering of Treasury-speak before making sure that she gave the Tories one more slap for their economic policy. Sorted.
All-in-all, it was a fairly good performance and for once, she didn’t look like she’d only had half an hour’s sleep in the last month. I’m pretty sure that this is down to the sudden change in circumstances and the fact that most Labour MP’s seem to be in end-of-term mode. Seriously, most of them look like they just don’t give a shit anymore and not necessarily in a bad way. It didn’t all go her way and she took a lot of stick in counter-claps from the audience when it came to the NI rise, but by and large it was perfectly serviceable outing.
An easier than usual 6/10
In The Blue Corner: William Hague, Shadow Foreign Secretary, former election loser and Mekon impersonator.
I don’t know why, but there’s something about Hague that I actually quite like. Actually, let me rephrase that: There’s something about Hague that I actually quite like providing I know he’s nowhere near the levers of power. I think it’s because deep down, he knows he shouldn’t be where he is as he’s a manbaby (see Fig. 1) with a wobbly head, blighted by the oddest of Yorkshire accents and with enough embarrassing stock footage of him to last a lifetime (the 16 year old fawning over Maggie, the ‘Hague’ hat, the 15 pints or whatever it was, etc, etc). On top of that, he always looks out of sorts with the rest of the party and terrified of being found out as a fraud (you know when he’s feeling like this because his voice starts to wobble mid-sentence in a very Alan Partridge sort of way). That all sounds pretty sad, but there’s another, more cheery side to him when he sometimes looks like he’s only just realised he’s a frontbench MP and can’t believe his luck. When this happens, he can actually bust out some pretty funny stuff, have a good knockabout with whoever he’s up against and actually appear semi-human (you know when he’s feeling like this because he delivers every line like a punchline, his voicing rising slightly at the end of every sentence). Luckily for Hague, tonight’s Question Time was an easier prospect than last week as Cameron had managed to get his act together in the debate, but still, the onus is on the Tories to convince the public right now, not the other way round.
So which Hague did we get tonight? Sad Hague or Happy Hague? A bit of both really. Kicking off with Q1, he did his best his best to chalk up Clegg’s recent run of form as “novelty factor” stuff, but came off looking a little shifty and worse still, Cooper nicked his Trident point seconds after he said it and came away with all the applause. Gah! Sad Hague is sad. Q2 was more fun though and Sad Hague was displaced by the much more forthright Happy Hague who wasted no time in whipping out the “holier than thou” stick on Clegg and getting perhaps a little too much applause for demanding that all parliamentary spending goes online. Happy Hague is happy. Q3 saw some nice banditry from Dimbers as he casually tinkered around with some insinuations about Ken Clarke and Hague looked like he’d been busted and reverted to Sad Hague. This went on for some time and ended with a very shaky sounding “right behind” Osborne and a weary defence of First Past The Post that not even a makeshift offensive against the NI raise could save. Sad Hague is sad. Finally, Q4 saw the late re-emergence of Happy Hague when he got very giddy about the private sector and the audience went with him, giving him a nice round of applause to finish the night with. Happy Hague is happy. Yay!
So yes, neither Happy nor Sad Hague dominated and we are left with a curious Yin-Yang Hague, composed equally of both factions and locked in a sublime celestial ballet. I think I just got a bit carried away there.
A curious reflection on the duality of man 5/10
In The Yellow Corner: Menzies Campbell, MP for North East Fife and former didn’t-get-close-enough-to-an-election-to-lose-it Leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Dammit Ming! You were only on two weeks ago! Just how the buggery hell am I supposed to come up with new material in that time?! Truly, this is merciless, Ming. Actually, I have a theory as to why he’s on again in such a short space of time and that’s because he got lost on his way out of the studio last time. For the last fortnight, he’s been wandering the corridors of the BBC, politely asking uncaring members of staff where he might find the tramstop and a copy of Punch magazine until he finally gravitated back towards the studio and dozed off in a chair, only to be woken by Dimbleby stubbing a cigarette out on his forehead. Alright, that’s enough of that. I’m being wantonly cruel to poor old Ming and he doesn’t really deserve it because despite his sometimes frail demeanour, his intentions are always resolute and he can put on a great display of gravitas. In many ways, he’s like a less-than-well looked after vintage sports car (a Triumph Stag, let’s say) that appears to go bloody well on the motorway, but gets into all sorts of trouble in the city because it’s clutch has gone. That’s Ming’s problem, his clutch. When he’s dealing with something he knows about, has plenty of time to build up speed and no difficult corners to make him change the tempo, he’s great. But if you start throwing a few sharp turns or other obstructions, he has to change gear. This causes all manner of grindy/crashy noises, the car jolts and stutters and sometimes even stalls, making him look pretty goofy. Usually, this isn’t a major problem as the LibDems simply haven’t been in the spotlight and that’s given Ming an empty motorway to show off on. That, unfortunately, is no longer the case. Now that Clegg’s completely put the zap on everyone’s heads, both parties are wilfully constructing roadblocks and pouring oil about the place, making what is usually a jolly jaunt up the M5 into a hellish Central London gridlock. Looking back on my notes, there was only one time when Ming got any decernable applause and that was off the back of ‘let’s change the subject’ sideswipe at Ashcroft in Q2. The rest of the time he just failed to get in his stride and kept juddering away, never really getting enough traction to carry the audience along with him. None of what he said was inherently wrong and this wasn’t a disaster, but you’d think the Libs would be in a commanding position tonight. I guess that’s what happens when you hit the big time, kiddo.
A non-Synchromesh 4/10
Elfyn’s back! Hooray! The last time Elfyn Llwyd was on, he had an absolute belter of an episode, so much so that he still reigns supreme on the infrequently updated Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report Scoreboard. However, that was to a home crowd and as regular readers will know, Loudribs 2nd Law of Question Time Dynamics dictates that “all regional parties get a +3 saving throw on their own turf “. Is Elfyn Llwyd about to bring my meticulously researched scientific theories crashing down about me? Of course not. I wrote the theory and bloody well give out the scores so there’s absolutely no chance of that happening. Having said that, he again put on a really good show, basically reminding everyone that there is a different way of running a country and that’s what we used to call ‘social democracy’. We’re often told that there is no appetite for the left (and by that I mean the traditional left) in this country, but if the response to Elfyn is anything to go by, this is patently wrong. The bulk of his answers drew solid applause and there was genuine support behind him for his ‘living pensions’ line on Q1. Ok, so he didn’t really appear to be as relevant as he was on his last appearance and there were a couple of moments where his ‘impassioned criticism’ face looked a little too much like his ‘grumpy’ face, but generally speaking, I can’t knock it. Not good enough to break my own rule though, OK?
A theoretically contiguous 7/10
In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Dame Ann Leslie, Mail Hack-of-Note and Phlegmatic Institution.
I really should take umbrage with Ann Leslie, what with her being so intrinsically associated with the Daily Fail but I have to admit that this isn’t the case and if anything, I really quite like her. It’s not out of agreement with her views that I say this and in terms of outlook, we couldn’t be further apart but there’s a certain breed of rightwinger that I’ve always had a great deal of respect for: the gin soaked, Sobranie smoking, blood and stomach pills, ‘to hell with the lot of them’ type of rightwinger (think Alan Clarke). Not only does Ann Leslie tick all the above boxes, but she also has the added advantages of looking like Skeletor (see main picture), a razor sharp tongue and a complete lack of interest in anyone else’s opinion of her. That makes for a fun combination. As is usually the case with the 5th panellist, I won’t go into detail, but here are some pearls of wisdom/turns of caustic wit she left scattered about the place:
What I like about people like Ann Leslie is that you know where you are with them. If they were going to bring in some crazy eugenic policy or sell all the council estates to Tesco, they wouldn’t bother dressing it up with euphemisms and would probably even take the time to come and personally laugh in your face. They are comfortable with sin, make no apologies for their own and have none of that puritanical streak that less colourful strains of the right have. In short, they’re honest bastards. As for her performance, I liked it, the audience liked it and that gets points.
A Bloody Mary for breakfast of a 7/10
The Crowd: London
So this is second post-Debate crowd and they certainly seemed a little more awake than the last lot, not needing a full quarter of an hour to emerge to merge from their slumber. They were also genuinely without a favourite, treating all the parties in similar fashion and giving no-one an easy ride. If ever you needed confirmation that this is now a three horse race, this was it. Two things that did strike me were just how anti the NI rise they were and just how much love there was for private sector growth as opposed to public sector growth. Both of these issues drew the biggest applause and they are still a potential weaknesses for Labour (not that they seemed that bothered right now). The other thing that struck me were how cool the names were of the people asking the first two questions: Jack Warrior and Otto Balsagar. I wish I was called Jack Warrior. Or Otto Balsagar for that matter. But yes, they were a pretty lively bunch that adequately reflected the mood in the country: The cosy two party relationship is dead and the game has changed. That’s exciting stuff.
An sturdy weather vane of a 7/10
Alright, that’s your lot. Check back next week for the last Question Time report before the election…Yikes! Oh, and by the way, if you like what you’re reading, there’s a Facebook fanpage you can join. It’s like being in a gang. A rubbish gang with no obligations or responsibilities, but a gang nevertheless. Anyway, it’s here and if you’d care to stroke my ego, my ego won’t complain. Next week, Lemmings, next week…
Morning Lemmings and welcome once again to the agonizing grind that is my Curmudgeonry Corner. Now that we’ve managed to make it through the hell that is conference season, I thought it might be opportune to look back and heave a collective “WTF?!” at the frankly confusing events that occurred during those three weeks. But first, a brief wander down memory lane.
Many years ago, I was a fresh faced A-level student who uncool enough to take Politics and Government as one of my subjects. Part of our studies revolved around political theory and ideology, something that I thought would probably be quite interesting at the time. As it turned out, our lecturer managed to extract any semblance of relevance or meaning from it and managed to convert what should have been an inspirational eye-opener into the dried out husk of a reverse engineered exam. However, I did learn stuff…and things for that matter. One of the greatest bits of stuff (or perhaps a thing) was Hans Slomp’s Projection Of The European Political Spectrum, handily displayed below.
It’s basically a graphic crib sheet that you figure out where certain people were on the political spectrum. For example, Old Labour were usually pretty progressive in both social and economic matters so we could plonk them squarely in the top left segment, just about where social democracy sits. The Tories, on the other hand, were pretty much conservative on both fronts so they got to sit in the bottom right pane while the Lib Dems, being all things to all men had the joy of hovering around the middle. Looking at it, there was a nice sort of symmetry to it…the little X’s for all the major parties were pretty evenly spaced , formed a nice straight line if you connected them and stayed away from the dangerous corners of communism and fascism. To me, that looked like a pretty good recipe for a healthy democracy, a fair spread with something for everyone but nothing for real lunatics. And like all things great, I bloody well took it for granted. Fast forward 10 years and a very different picture emerges, a picture that this conference season threw into sharp relief, but more on that later. So without further ado, let’s delve into the maw of the beast and pray to god that we somehow manage to clamber back out.
In the Used To Be Red Corner…..New Labour:
I feel a bit sorry for Gordon Brown these days. No matter what he does, it is always spun in terms of ‘the fight of his political life’ or ‘the speech of a lifetime’. I’m sure that if he makes a cup of tea in the morning some hot headed apparatchik will burst into the kitchen to yell “Gordon, for God’s sake man! This is your cup of tea of a lifetime! DON’T FUCK IT UP!”. And so the scene was set for yet another ‘[insert activity here] of a lifetime’. Where I start to lose sympathy for Gordon Brown is the way he always just manages to scrape through but never has the guts to try something that veers too far from the script. The performance is usually muddled, lacklustre and a hodge-potch of ‘whatever looks good this season’, thrown together in the hope that this scattergun approach might spray enough political buckshot over a wide enough arc to at least clip someone and leave them with a nasty scratch. What he doesn’t do is radical departures or bold thrusts into the unknown and that’s pretty much what we got from the conference.
Let’s look at the economic side of things first, because this is where Brown has the greatest leeway for calling bullshit on the Tory’s. It’s no great secret that pretty much every economist worth their salts (so minus the crazy free market fundamentalists) are frankly appalled at the Conservatives latest take on money matters. Their plan basically amounts to paying back everything we owe in record time and a middle finger to public services. It’s a seductive argument, if you’re into the business of relating the macro-economic behemoth to a simple household budget, but also an argument that is made of bricks of pure stupid. If Brown had any sense/gumption he would have trashed the Tory’s plan in the crudest terms and then proudly declared that he would continue spending with wild abandon until it became clear that the world as we know it was in no danger of imploding. Instead, he did what New Labour usually does and fudged it by basically saying “Yeah, we won’t cut back that much and we will pay back a little”. The very act of doing that is bloody stupid because it credits the Troy plan with a modicum of sense, rather than shitload of crazy that it actually is. As a result, the Tory’s now have the initiative and are dictating the terms of the economic argument. Nice one Gordy, way to miss an open goal. As for the bankers, Gordy tried to sound well ‘ard, but ended up sounding just a bit bland. Again, this is another fumbled ball as he could well have got away with a policy aimed at tarring and feathering errant bankers. The public would have happily obliged, feasted riotously on the pound of flesh that they have (justifiably) hankered after so long and then gone to the polls with a song in their heart and blood round their chops. Alas, it was not to be.
So how about social policy, surely he’ll fare better here? Well, yes and no. As is obligatory at New Labour Conferences, he did The Big List. “We got X-million benefit claimants into crappy temporary agency jobs, X-million families in poverty into the arms of Cash Converter, blah blah blah”. OK, I sound a little churlish now, but that’s the nature of the beast. Labour has done some good things, to which I doff my cap, but I’m a fickle voter and I don’t want to hear about what you’ve done. I want to hear about what you’ll do. On that front, he got into even more of a pickle with an epic exercise in hedge betting. For the left, there were the back down on compulsory ID cards, the commitment to foreign aid, abolition of means testing for elderly care and the protection of school spending. All well and good, except that some of these things will really wind up the right of the party and the overly powerful Middle England crowd. To remedy this problem, some of the other announcements pandered to that end of the spectrum (tighter booze controls, gulags hostels for single mums and benefit cuts for parents of ASBO kids who don’t fall into line) but also had the effect of then pissing off the left. In the end, you get the political equivalent of Modest Mouse’s “Good News For People Who Like Bad News”, an album that is half solid gold, half turgid shit. The same applied to electoral reform. The bold move would be to realise that the chances of winning the next election are pretty much slim to nil and to go out with a scorched earth policy by allowing a referendum for PR (thus restoring a modicum of sanity to a lunatic political system and denying the Tory’s any future landslides). Again, he went for the triangulation approach and opted for a referendum on AV if they win the election. Given that AV is widely regarded as worse than first-past-the-post and that their current chances of winning look like a turd in the rain, this was nothing more than a fop to shut up the awkward squad. Which pretty much sums up the Labour Conference.
Maybe I’m doing to harsh here. For a party that’s been in power for as long as New Labour have, it’s pretty hard to learn new tricks. While their future prospects look grim and changes are needed, a wholesale deviation from the blueprint is a tricky thing to pull off (remember, for every Sgt. Pepper there’s a St. Anger). However, I can’t help but think that what we got here was the worst of both worlds, a wrong headed attempt to fuse together the incompatible (much like my partners brain wave to try All Bran with orange juice instead of milk. Trust me, it didn’t end well).
Final Verdict: File under ‘L’ for ‘Lacklustre’
In The Probably Still Blue Corner: The Conservatives
This was the scary one. If, like me, the sum of all your fears boils down to the Tories back in power then this was the conference to watch. After all, the pressure was on and it was apparent that they couldn’t carry on by just making vague statements and praying people will vote them in on account of not being Labour. This was the time when they had to look a bunch of people who could govern rather than just criticise. From my point of view, it got off to a belting start with Ireland giving a resounding ‘Yes’ to the Lisbon Treaty. “Thank God!” I thought, “Europe is here to plunge the Tory’s back to the Dark Ages and spare us all 4 years of Bullingdonocracy!”. David Cameron tried his best to defend the indefensible by resolutely refusing to answer any question about what happens if the Czechs also ratify the treaty but was soon outflanked by Boris who took it upon himself to make numerous harebrained and impossible proposals in the opposite direction, all good times in my book. As it stands, we’re yet to hear a definitive answer on the question of “will you really tell the entirety of Europe to get bent and thus undo decades delicate diplomacy” question. It could yet prove to be their undoing.
However, the glory of a foes folly was short lived and the conference began to take a very scary turn with George Osborne’s speech. As you may well have guessed by now, I have little love for the boys in blue, but I reserve a special ring of hell for Osborne. To me, he is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with British politics. His perma-sneer, that look of a raging cokehead (speculation, of course), the old school tie elitism and his complete disconnection from reality as we know it all combine to make me shudder whenever I see him. The only thing in his favour is that he is very bad at disguising these character flaws and usually comes across as Head Smarmy Bastard, something that tends not to endear him to voters. So imagine my horror when he gets on the stage and somehow manages to conceal these usually all too obvious traits under a veil of bullshit. Somehow, I guess with the aid of superglue between gums and lips, he managed not to sneer and present himself as vaguely credible. I say vaguely, because the content was all over the show but in the world we live, presentation pwns content to the power of ten. So what of this content? Well, how about the (oft repeated) “We’re all in this together” line? Excuse me? From a party that has both a base and a front bench full of multi-millionaires? A little fatuous don’t you think? Then came the “We have become the party of the NHS” swizz. Now don’t get me wrong, I have no love for New Labour’s meddling with NHS and having spent three years as a front line clinician during the height of their reforms, I can tell you that they were wrong headed, ill-conceived and destined to failure. That fact, however, does make the Tory’s (who have said or done nothing to indicate otherwise) any better on that front. And the bankers? Osborne apparently “reserves the right” to get hot under the collar about it so I wouldn’t hold your breath for that pound of flesh you so desperately crave. Finally, there was the “age of austerity” business, designed (I suspect) to conjure up wholesome images of 50’s nuclear families settling down to a hearty meal of rationed spam before darning their socks and counting their blessings. Personally, I see all this as a softening up manoeuvre for another bout of ‘for your own good’ Thatcherism, clad in the clothing of ‘compassionate conservatism’. The thing that bothers me is that he may have got away with it.
Worse was to come as Call Me Dave performed a similar trick. Credit where credit’s due, he has worked some sort of miracle in decontaminating the Tory brand, from the point of view of perception at least. In his speech, this boiled down to a masterclass in political cross dressing. On the one hand, he paid lip service to the old touchstones of conservatism: Labour are too statist, love taxes too much and want to monitor how many times you go to the toilet each. It was your basic ‘down with Big Government’ call to arms’. So far, so Tory. However, the surprising bit was his sudden new found social responsibility: It will be the Conservatives who save the poor (who stand to do sooooo well out of their inheritance tax reforms) and heal the sick, who will stitch our fragmented society back together and go back to the good old Blighty of cricket and young boys in short shorts and knee high socks. All those people we used to call slackers and scroungers are now the downtrodden we will lift out of poverty with our benign and paternal endeavours. While I can’t disagree with such a mobile intention, I have grave reservations about whether they really mean it. For a start, the funding for all these plans is fanciful. The general plan is that services will be cut, waste will be dealt with ruthlessly, taxes won’t go up and then spontaneously a recovery will appear and we’ll all be made up, free to pursue our now poverty free lives without the state getting all up in our faces. The trouble is that the economics just don’t stack up. The service cuts will hit the poor the hardest, the ‘savings’ probably won’t materialise and the cuts themselves only cover a tiny fraction of the money we owe. Again, I see this as pretty much the same old Thatcherism, just this time garnished with New Labour platitudes. In short, it’s a fantasy, but one he sold very well. Colour me worried.
In other news, the party as a whole were under strict orders not to look like a bunch of multi-millionaires, yahooing their way to power and Bono made a video appearance. Just when I thought I couldn’t hate Bono any more.
Verdict: File under ‘F’ for ‘Frightening’.
In the WTF?! Corner, The Lib Dems.
*sigh* Ok, I’m going to be brief here because I found this to be a heart breaking experience. On the face of it, the Lib Dems should have making a shitload of hay for the last 5 years, but are still scoring around the 20% mark. Part of that is not their fault and is to do with our demented political system. However, a lot of it is to do with the fact that they are simply not coherent. They’ve got some great political real estate in the shape of Vince Cable (who would look great in a shop keepers jacket a la Ronnie Barker in Open All Hours) and Shirley Williams (Sarah Tether and Norman Baker put in some good work as well), but it is squandered because a) the party as a whole have no idea what they’re doing and b) they’re leader is as memorable as whoever came 7th in The X-Factor last year. Take for example Cable’s proposal to tax homes worth over a million. I’m on board with this and there’s an appetite for it out there. Not only that, but it would put clear water between the Lib Dems and the other parties. However, once it received a savaging in the right wing press the party simply fell apart on the issue and ended up looking a bunch of startled cattle. And that’s the problem: they don’t seem to have the ideological gumption to find a cohesive position on anything. Sense would dictate that now is the time for them to move left as there is no competition and plenty of demand, but they simply don’t have the stones. And that’s tragic.
Moving onto the next problem, WHY THE FUCK DID YOU ELECT CLEGG? His speech was the political equivalent or weak lemon drink in a plastic beaker. Seriously, whenever he’s on TV I seem to suffer some sort of absence, only to come round five minutes later wondering what just happened. The speech itself was crap. Every time he claimed he could be PM (which was many, but I simply don’t have the will to look it up), something inside of me died. He wants to out Cameron Cameron and out Blair Blair but just ends up coming across as a creature with all the substance of a set of net curtains. Seriously, have a coup. You guys are quite good at that now so why not do us all a favour and send him quietly into the night.
Final Verdict: File under ‘F’ for ‘Futile’
So that was the conference season, but there’s another point here. Go back to the marvellously named Slomp Projection and have a crack at plotting where the parties stand now. In fact, don’t bother, I’ve done it for you.
As you can see, it is by turns mind boggling and depressing. The left has completely caved and what we are left is an amphorous mass, slowly cannibalising each other and offering voters a choice of basically nothing. Over the last 12 years, politics in this country has gradually turned from a real battle between competing versions of reality to a pissing match in which the distinction between parties is measured only in tone and the issue of substance is but an afterthought. The more frightening aspect is that leaves the door open for real nutters like the BNP. With such massive gaping holes in the graph, the people left in the desolate sections have no choice but to gravitate to the extremes, much to the detriment of all. Politics should be about offering people a hopeful narrative and the promise of something better. I fear that in this country we have lost that fire and now simply treat politics as an exercise in management, a mundane necessity that whirs away in the background while life trundles on. And that cannot be a good thing.