Morning Lemmings and why don’t we start with the traditional parade of dog-eared excuses and semi-plausible sick notes? Why not indeed. Ok, first up, sorry for the paucity of the photoshop effort this week. Basically, they didn’t announce who was on until Thursday evening and due to other commitments, I only had 15 minutes to slap something together, hence the reliance on recycled images and shonky comic ploys. I ain’t happy with it, but whatchagonnado? Secondly, I’d better point out that the only thing keeping my eyes open right now is the cat’s incessant whining to be let out and the packs of feral youths, roaming streets with fireworks who are preventing me from letting the cat out. In short, I’ve had a pretty mental week (literally) and have spent all of today embroiled in incidents of the distinctly dicey variety. I’m currently chugging industrial quantities of cola in a bid to attain some sort of state of alertness, but if the writing seems a bit off this week, look no further than the above.
Right, that’s any form of personal responsibility dealt with. Let’s crack on.
Q1: Does the panel think that Sheffield Halham will decapitate Nick Clegg at the next election on account of tuition fees and Forgemasters?
Q2: Should prisoners be allowed the vote, especially if they have committed heinous crimes?
Q3: Does the recent Anglo-Franco treaty mean the end of independence and sovereignty?
Q4: Is fear around the air freight bombs being used to justify further restrictions of our liberty?
Q5: Will Obama end up like Blair: Trying to please everyone and satisfying no-one?
In the Yellow Bit of the Blue/Yellow Corner: Jeremy Browne MP, Minister of State at the Foreign Office and QT Virgin.
Boy, am I going to have fun with this guy, but in the interests of fairness, let me quickly make a case for his defence. First off, being a LibDem in Sheffield at the moment must be like being an underweight nerd at the International Bully and Victimiser Conference. Pretty much every promise that the LibDems have had to go back on of late has hit Sheffield particularly hard and I think it’s fair to say (just look at Q1) that whoever was on the stump for the Yellow Team was going to get a bit of kicking. Secondly, this is his first time on QT and he’s part of a panel that contains no less than three seasoned Question Time veterans which again is hardly the most comfortable place to be. Lip service to fairness paid, let us now engage in the far more pressing business of ripping poor Jeremy to shreds.
Ok where, to start? Well, I guess the first thing that struck me was his voice. It’s just so damn jaunty and un-LibDemmy. If I was listening to last night’s show on the radio and didn’t know who was speaking, I would swear to god that he must be some Tory backwoodsman of the Old School who was campaigning vociferously for a cull of something or other, but he’s not. He’s a LibDem minister. As well as being thoroughly merry, his voice is also characterised by having only one volume setting and this appears to be ‘loud’, something which again is far more Tory territory than LibDem. Sure, his vocal chords aren’t exactly his fault and can be forgiven, but what can’t is his general approach to answering questions. At best, this tends to involve some plumby variation on the “Yes but no but yes but…” routine, something that doesn’t really cut it when you’ve got a blood soaked brawler of the likes of Straw in close proximity and at worst, it’s a straight-forward case of him wedging his foot so firmly in his mouth that medical students will puzzle over how he managed to do this for years to come. A case in point: After being asked for his take on Q3, Browne gaily frolicked into a nice little tract about how the treaty wouldn’t mean we have to “speak French, wear onions round our necks and stripy T-shirts or ride bicycles.” Dammit man! What in the hell do you think you’re doing?! Sure, the crowd want a little red meat from time to time, but times and places fellah!
So yes, that didn’t go down too well and he was in fact heckled at this point, much to no-one’s surprise. As this was truly his lowest ebb, I guess it’s only fair to counter it with a high point, but the truth is that I can’t find one. Going back over my notes, most of his answer really didn’t say much about anything and the vast majority of them are summed up by the word “BLAH” in capital letters, a trend that doesn’t bode well for his political future. But here’s the thing though: I actually quite enjoyed his performance and not just in a sadistic ‘let’s watch the new boy give up his dinner money’ sort of way. No, the impression I was left with was of a Labrador driving a train: There’s Jeremy, miles out of his depth, yanking on random levers for the sake of yanking on levers, hurtling towards certain death but utterly oblivious to this eventuality and actually somewhat enjoying the experience. I like that mental image. It makes me smile and for some reason, so did Jeremy Browne’s performance. Ok, so the fact that he is actually a Minister of State is a little unsettling, but that weird inability he has to see that he’s neck-deep in shit and sinking fast is actually rather endearing and for that reason, he gets a slightly better mark than the technicalities of his performance merit. Oh, and he rather aptly looks quite a bit like Jeremy from Peep Show (see Fig. 1).
An enjoyably crap 5/10
In the Blue Bit of the Blue/Yellow Corner: David Davis MP, stone cold ex-SAS type and general man of principle.
I like Davis and always have, mainly on account of you know exactly what he stands for. Yes, he’s sort of a one trick pony in that his platform is built almost entirely out of civil liberties timber, but that’s not a bad thing in itself and parliament needs people like him to make a hullabaloo when the likes of New Labour get totally carried away with the whole power deal. The other thing I like about Davis is that he looks hard as nails and you know that it’s not an act. Like Paddy Ashdown (also former special forces), his eyes seem to be recessed several inches into his skull and he has the look of a man who could quite nonchalantly kill you but wouldn’t even bother mentioning this to his wife because it seemed like such a mundane occurrence. So yes, I’m on board with Davis in a kind of ‘fear and respect’ sort of way. I don’t agree with him on a great many things, but I will always give him the time of day.
In terms of performance, it was stock Davis in that he was beholden to no man, not afraid to criticise his own side if he thought they were playing fast and loose with civil liberties and wonderfully bullshit free. Whilst he said nothing that’s particularly worth repeating at length, his responses were all very consistent and managed to pull off the very difficult trick of splicing self-evident common sense with a very strong helping of principle (especially around Q4 where his arguments for intercept evidence but against Control Orders won him a great deal of sincere applause), all of which led me to wonder why he isn’t running the country. Then I remembered that the Tory party turned him down and instead went for a PR man who looks a little like a boiled ham, which in turn made a something inside of me die a little.
An uncompromisingly rugged 8/10
In the Red Corner: Jack Straw MP, former warmonger-at-large and perennial survivor.
I don’t like Straw, never have, but by god is he interesting. In many ways, he’s like Davis’ evil twin and they even have similar upbringings in that they both grew up on council estates and suffered family tragedies in their early years. However, this is where their paths diverge and while Davis spent 17 years with Tate and Lyle going from the shop floor to the upper echelons, Straw took the default New Labour route of briefly practising law before going down the career politician route. In outlook, they are both polar opposites, what with Straw being the man who laid most of the foundations for some of New Labours over zealous authoritarianism, but it is in the way that they operate that the differences are most glaring. I mentioned before that Davis looks genuinely tough and tends to do things in a very straight forward, no compromise sort of way. Straw, by contrast, looks anything other than tough (in fact, he looks the Demon Headmaster from the eponymous Children’s BBC show of yore… See Fig.2), so much so that I reckon I could have him and instead has to rely on cunning, an area that he utterly excels in. The other key of difference is that Straw has legacy to defend whilst Davis has nothing of the sort since he has never been in government, all of which conspires to make watching the two of them together rather interesting.
Ok, so getting down to his performance, it was largely what we’ve come to expect: Combative, emphatic, but also slightly twitchy. Take Q1 for example: Early in that question, he got to make a lot of hay by opening both barrels on the coalition, threw around words like “deceit” and “laughable” and generally played to a receptive gallery. Then things got tricky as people bought up his own past as leader of the NUS and his support for tuition fees whilst in government. Some politicians get derailed by moves like this, but Straw is way too grizzled and started to dig his heels in, refusing to give ground to the opposition and making sure that he had the last word. Now, this isn’t a pretty tactic (in fact, it borders on being disingenuous) but it is effective if you know what you’re doing with it and Straw does. Yes, it doesn’t look entirely convincing, but it’s better than the alternative of looking like a numpty who’s been caught out. A slightly different ploy was on display in Q4 when he did his ‘solemn’ look and then cast a smokescreen of technicalities, but the intent was still the same: Never go down without a fight, never give an inch, not one step back unless it’s to lead the enemy into a trap. Again, not entirely edifying but always purposeful. However, what did surprise me was his reaction to Q3 when he flat-out condoned the government’s policy on the Anglo-French treaty and gave it two resounding thumbs up. Now, I’m pretty sure that this is a sign of a slight mellowing now that he’s out of government as I really can’t remember a time when Straw has done anything other than just relentlessly attack anyone who happened to be sat opposite him in the Commons. I could be wrong on that one, but I suspect that I’m not.
So that’s the bulk of Straw’s performance and as I’ve already mentioned, I’m generally not a fan (particularly given his involvement in the Iraq War and his role in slowly grinding my post 1997 optimism into a fine powder). However, he is a survivor and with good reason: He knows where the bodies are buried and isn’t the least bit frightened of disinterring them with a mind to reanimation. Is this a noble calling? Probably not. Is it interesting to watch though? Most certainly.
Finally, how can I leave Straw without mentioning his little comic turn in Q5 where he asked Dimbers if he remembered FDR’s 1938 election victory and then called him “sweetheart”? Straw, I may question your motives, but I sure as hell admire your chutzpah.
A hard-bitten 6/10
In the Independent/Brainy Corner: Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty and furthest thing away from a Question Time Virgin possible.
Cripes, it’s been months since we’ve seen Shami, that endearing little boy who always ends up with more applause than Christ himself could garner and I briefly feared that she may have been sent away to boarding school and thus couldn’t partake in her usual schedule of at least ten appearances per series. As that last sentence suggests, Shami is no stranger to LCCPQTMR and as result, I’m going to keep it brief. Needless to say, it was the usual potent mix of impassioned calls to reason, breathless exhortations and non party political latitude that also had the usual result of driving the crowd wild and inevitably leading to victory, so no surprises there (although it has to be said that she shares this week’s victory with David Davis so sorry Shami, but this can’t be claimed as an outright win). All of that sounds like a rather begrudging endorsement and in a way it is because if I’m totally honest, I just get slightly bored with the fact that Shami winning is usually a forgone conclusion. However, I will try to not be completely po-faced about this as I am glad that there are people like her about and I agree with the majority of what she says.
One thing that did mark this performance out from some of her other appearances was the weird interplay between her and John Gaunt, a man Shami made an unlikely ally of when she threw Liberty’s weight behind him in the whole Nazigate business. You could tell this left both of them somewhat bewildered as to how to react to each other as they clearly still retain the ability to grind each others gears but aren’t quite sure whether formal hostilities have resumed (her was-it-sarky-was-it-witty “my old friend John Gaunt” quip being a case in point) and this added a little extra flavour to an otherwise standard Chakrabarti outing. Oh, and her performance is also responsible for Least Deserving Outburst Of Wild Applause In The Series So Far Award when the crowd went absolutely batshit after she spoke a little French in Q3. She could have said “Let’s lock up all the children in the land and make them eat coal” and they would have still slapped their hands together in unquestioning adoration, so blinded by the wildly improbable feat of someone actually knowing a few words in a foreign language. Has it come to this, Britain? HAS IT?
An inevitable 8/10
In the I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: John Gaunt, former TalkSport Radio presenter, Sun columnist and Nazi accuser.
I’m having trouble here. By rights, he should be my perfect Bad Guy by dint of holding a wide and varied array of right-wing views that are delivered in the most belligerent of tones. But wait! What’s this? We’re only into Q1 and we’re hearing an employee of News International knocking the government for being full of millionaires? Something ain’t right here. But there’s more! Here comes Q4 and if I’m not mistaken, I’m hearing the self-same Sun hack having a pop at Control Orders! Ok, so he tempered that by making it clear that he would still like to see Muslim extremists locked up and he did have the compulsory rant/wild speculation of doomsday scenarios whenever Europe was mentioned, but I must say that this turn of events has left my head spinning because dammit, I want to able to categorically hate the Bad Guy and I can’t do that if he’s talking about things I agree with. I can semi hate him, if only for talking a little bit LIKE THIS, turning every sentence into a crescendo that Godspeed would be proud of and his general knack for demagoguery also steams my bean (“this is Great Britain not GREAT BURMA!”), but I just can’t give him thoroughly horrible marks. Neither, it seems, could the crowd who were right behind him, especially in Q1 and thus we witness the strange spectacle of a Sun man cleaning up in a Mirror city. What with Glasgow refusing to tar and feather the nearest available coalition candidate last week, I now no longer know anything. Down is up, up is down, rivers flowing backwards, etc, etc.
An annoyingly not entirely awful 4/10
The Crowd: Sheffield
This was always going to be an odd show, mainly because three of the panelists were ‘we like liberty’ types whilst the other two were either too cunning or just too completely off the planet to really buck the consensus. Throw into this mix a list of question that hinge heavily around a civil liberties agenda and what you get is an episode that’s much more about the Y axis than the X of the wonderful Slomp Projection. I guess that’s quite nice for a change but I hope it doesn’t become a habit because I’m a sucker for the X axis. In terms of working out whether Sheffield is approving of the coalition it was also a little odd as they weren’t really represented. Yes, there were members of both parties there, but the LibDem panelist was so far removed from reality that he didn’t really count and the Tory member sounded so distant from government that he couldn’t really act as gauge either. Still, I must say that it was a fairly lively affair and if anything can be drawn from the crowd’s input it is that Nick Clegg should be seriously worried about his prospect for re-election and that no one really felt like defending Europe. Furthermore, I’m sad to say that the glorious run of two bow tie wearers in a row has come to an end. Bad move, Sheffield, you could have got some easy points there.
A slightly different but regrettably un-bow tied 6/10.
And that’s that. Right, I’m knackered and sober so I’m out of here but I will leave you with a small something by way of apology for this week’s poor pshop effort. Behold, Beefy (the bassist in our band) looking massive and chasing all sorts of crap.
Run. Just run.
Next week, Lemmings…