Good morning Lemmings and just what, may I ask, is that fishy odour, wafting it’s way from the Blue Corner this evening? Why, it’s hyperactive Tory foghorn Baroness Warsi’s non-appearance! That’s right Lemmings, after making some rather lurid allegations of electoral fraud in the New Statesman, way after the deadline had passed when anything could be done about it, Warsi is nowhere to be seen on this episode. According to BBC Look North, my local news and official mouthpiece of Yorkshire Nationalism, Warsi was unable to attend tonight on account of being “sick”. Hmmmmm, not wanting to sound like cynic or anything, but that does sound rather convenient, given her proven track record of biting off more than she can chew on Question Time. But hey, what do I know?
Right, enough of this green inkery and off to Manchester with us before I start fashioning elaborate headwear out of tin foil.
Q1: Is Labour now in the pocket of the unions since they backed Ed Miliband?
Q2: Is Ed Miliband the Labour equivalent of IDS?
Q3: Does David Miliband’s decision not to return to front bench politics undermine his brother’s leadership?
Q4: Does the IMF’s approval of Osborne’s plan mean that Ed Miliband has lost the economic argument?
Q5: Should the UK and France share their nuclear deterrent?
In The Yellow Bit Of The Blue Yellow Corner: Simon Hughes, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats and potential troublemaker of note.
“Ah ha!” thought I. “This will be fun! Another left leaning Lib Dem who’s going to do a crap job at hiding his disdain for all things coalition and thus paint himself into multiple corners!”. Given that Vince Cable looked like a man with toothache trying to eat a gravel sandwich as he wearily tried to pretend he was deeply enamoured with The New Politics last week, I was pretty much sure that Hughes would make a complete botch of this, particularly as he’s been appointed de facto Head Boy of the Lib Dem Awkward Squad. In fact, I positively needed him to bugger this up because he’s quite hard to poke fun at. Ok, so he’s a bit wooly and ‘Right On, yeah?’ in a very Lib Dem sort of way, but this is somewhat offset by the fact that he’s very sincere and genuinely seems to care about stuff that matter. All of this is very good news for politics, but incredibly bad news if you write a blog about Question Time that has to include a certain compulsory level of ‘funny’. Even photoshopping in some ridicule is pretty hard with him and the best I could do was to merely caption this shot of him punching a pensioner in the chest whilst smiling in a caddish fashion (see Fig. 1).
Ok, so I did airbrush out the pensioner’s hand that he happened to be holding at the time, but even so, he’s a hard man to mock. With this backdrop, the crux of my plan was to hope that Hughes would do the same thing that Cable did: Try to pretend he was a convert to the new orthodoxy whilst sounding completely unconvincing and thus come across like a devil sick of sin and provide me with a whole bunch of stuff to take the piss out of. Unfortunately for me, Hughes didn’t and in fact sounded like a proper, pre-election LibDem who barely noticed that his party was in government with the Tories. There were a few exceptions here and there, such as when he got all IMF happy in Q4 and rattled off numbers whilst invoking ‘interest payments’ (and throwing an odd little reference to when he couldn’t get cash out of an ATM), but never did the word ‘Greece’ pass his lips. In fact, the vast bulk of his answer sounded like he properly meant them, such as actually admitting that he quite liked the unions in Q1 and his fairly level-headed assessment of Ed Miliband’s problems in Q2 (“He’s not new. He’s part of the old government”. Fair play). Some of his more familiar “Diversity FTW!” posturings where on display in Q3 where he relished the opportunity to list all the un-PC things he was against, but it was in Q5 where he decisively hammered his Lib Dem colours to the mast. Rather than engage in the de rigueur coalition talk of ‘compromise’ and such, he went straight in for the kill, damning Trident for being dependent on American support and urging the country to lobby against it. After swimming in a sea of fudged boundaries and fuzzy borders since the coalition came about, this was like music to my ears: Politics I understand.
In pure performance terms, Hughes was neither here nor there on this episode. It was generally good, decent stuff but nothing that earth shattering and if the context was different, I’d probably chuck him some fairly average marks. However, it was impossible for me to watch Hughes without inevitably comparing him to Cable the week before and in this respect, it was a triumph. So well done Baldy, you’ve proved there still is such a thing as the Liberal Democrat party.
A welcome return of old certainties: 7/10
In The Red Corner: Dianne Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and eternal backbencher.
OK, I admit it, I’m all Abbotted out. Appearing twice in the space of seven shows was bad enough, but three times in the space of nine is just too much, especially after five solid months of exposure after the leadership contest. I realise that it would have been pretty hard for Labour to decide who to send on, given that they haven’t got a clue who’s in any given job right now, but come on, it would have at least been more entertaining if they’d sent David Miliband on, even if only to weep uncontrollably and tell people off for clapping throughout the show. So here we are today and the well is dry. My stockpile of funny is depleted and google images yields little of use. You’ve beaten me Dianne, beaten me to a bloody pulp by dint of your repeat QT offending. You win, I lose, let’s make this quick.
On the whole, it was textbook Abbott with plenty of New Labour condemning and Tory scolding frontal assaults, all wrapped in the maternity dress of casual informality. Her support for Ed Miliband sounded genuine throughout, her bouts of slapping Starkey went down well and it’s fair to say that the crowd were generally on board with her for most of her responses. All of which is pretty much exactly what happened when she was on two weeks ago (apart from the Ed Miliband bit. That would have been really stupid) and to be honest, I can’t quite muster the energy to go over the same old ground again.
So that’s it, Abbott. No offence to you, but I think we need to stop seeing each other for a while, hang out with other people, that sort of thing. In the meantime, I suggest that you get some photos of yourself pulling silly faces circulated around the web as there’s only so many times I can face-switch you with Marx.
A very familiar 6/10
In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Grant Shapps, Minister of State for Housing and Local Government, QT Lamb to the Slaughter and JustWhoInTheHellExactly?
OK, so Warsi couldn’t attend, but seriously, who is this guy? Visually speaking, he seems like some genetic experiment that went horribly wrong as mad scientists tried to splice the DNA of Clegg, Cameron and Blair whilst tweaking his facially genes so that the only expression his face is capable of rendering is an intensely annoying smirk. OK, so maybe that’s a little a harsh and a trawl through his Wikipedia page does show that he might not be such as bad guy as he spent Christmas Eve 2008 sleeping rough in order to highlight the plight of homeless (something I have yet to see from any of his genetic donors) and he is the cousin of the sainted Mick Jones. But this is Question Time so past good deeds count for nothing while performance on the night counts for everything. So what of his performance? Well, the words ‘depth’, ‘his’ and ‘out of’ are the first ones that spring to mind and it has been quite some time since I’ve observed such a cruel hazing on the show. Observe, if you will.
Q1 started inauspiciously enough as he tried some preliminary skirmishing on the union front, but he quickly ended up in a sticky situation as he said that Ed Miliband would totally swing to the left. “What?” said Dimbers and Cox in commanding unison, knocking him right off-balance and he retreated in a babble of wibbled guff. Q2 contained little worth repeating while Q3 saw him squirming again as he proudly affirmed his Jewishness before getting into a right old tangle when Dimbers enquired whether he practices on not. Unsure as to what the best sounding answer would be, he flapped about before changing the subject and then excitedly claiming that he had “backed Ed Miliband’s campaign”. Whatever works for you, Grant. Coming into the finishing stretch, he made up for Simon Hughes’ unforgivable failure to mention Greece when the deficit issue arose and he lost little time in doing exactly that in Q4 before finally blathering something about the coalition agreement in Q5. In a word, ‘n00bish’.
Alright, so it was the guy’s first time on and he had been called in at short notice, so I do have some sympathy for his plight, but the enduring image I am left with of his performance is of Cox and Abbott shoving his head down a toilet and demanding him to surrender his dinner money. Grant, you need to wise up. Question Time is a rough school and unless you want to spend the rest of your days walking around with ‘Kick Me’ signs stuck to your back, I’d start seriously thinking about learning how to kick people in the knackers.
A decidedly Year 7 3/10
In The Independent/Brainy One Corner: Brian Cox, perenial movie bad guy and avowed Labour supporter.
My first reaction to seeing Brian Cox on tonight’s show was one of “Fuck! FUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!”. It’s not that I’ve got anything against the guy, it’s just that when I did the photoshops for this episode it was Wednesday evening and I was expecting Brian Cox, particle physics heart-throb and ex-keyboard player of D:Ream to be on instead. As a result, this week’s title picture looks somewhat bizarre as I didn’t have time to take that Brian Cox out and had to slap the other one in at very short notice. I can only work with what I’ve got, OK? Anyhoo, if I had known it was the actor Brian Cox, I wouldn’t have had any strong opinions either way as all I know about him is that he’s a bit of a thesp who tends to play Nasty Brits in Hollywood films. That though, was before I saw the magical chemistry between him and Starkey and by ‘magical chemistry’, I’m not talking about the ‘love at first sight’ kind. I’m talking about the ‘Uranium 235’ kind.
Take Q2, for example. After a fairly rabid outpouring from Starkey about Ed Miliband, Cox was right up in his grill, calling him “corrupt” and telling him that his “sense of theatre is ridiculous”. The crowd loved that and despite numerous counters from Starkey, he emerged the victor. He also gave him a clip round the ear hole in Q4, reminding him that it wasn’t “the 50’s any more” before having a final nuke related to-do on Q5. So that was all good fun, knockabout stuff, although it has to be said that both of them looked genuinely pissed off with each other. The rest of Cox’s input was pretty good as well, leaning heavily to the left, but done with enough gravitas to not sound overly zealous. I did get a little annoyed when he sounded a little too high and mighty on one poverty related line, but yeah, by and large, it was good stuff.
So well done Brian, good job there. Now to arrange a five way between him, Starkey, Farage, Douglas Murray and Vorderman. A man can dream.
A pleasingly anti-Starkey 7/10
In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: David Starkey, flambouent Tudorphile and avowed Tory supporter.
Hooray! Starkey’s back! Part shrieking Grande Dame, part petulant teenager, Starkey is simultaneously one of the most irritating people on earth and one of the most entertaining, the balance of which depends heavily on the company he’s keeping at the time. Noted for disagreeing with anything that doesn’t smack of full-blown autocracy/return to the Days of Empire, Starkey really needs someone else on the show to be able to stand up to him, otherwise he just looks like a nutter shouting at the sky for being too fat or accusing the moon of stealing his newspaper. Luckily for all involved, Brian Cox filled this role amply well and made a whole stack of hay by calling bullshit on Queen Starkey’s (see Fig. 2) many and varied accusations, a few of which I have listed below.
The Miliband/Kinnock Axis of Evil will be the “kiss of death” for Labour. “I adore it” proclaims Queen Starkey.
Ed Miliband is guilty of “fratricide”, New Labour are like “Richard III murdering his nephews” and Brian Cox is “naive”.
The unions will inflict “profound strife” on us all and Miliband has already shown “astonishing personal brutality”.
Cuts should be “fast and ruthless” and he really doesn’t like Ed Balls (he even told off the audience for clapping him as he still had more bile to pour on him).
The French are self-centred, selfish bastards who shouldn’t be trusted.
So there we go. Another restrained show of reason and subtlety from the ever moderate Professor Starkey. And I wouldn’t have it any other way as although he may be completely off his tits, it is a deeply engrossing display of high camp, spat dummies and frothy outbursts. Neither was he without support and he did manage to coin in quite a bit of applause on Q4, much though this quietly worries me. I guess the bottom line is that you know where you are with Starkey. He comes in a tin that says “Caution: Product contains dangerous levels of absurdity” and providing you’re in the right company, that can be kind of fun.
A blathering, incoherent 7/10
The Crowd: Manchester
I was totally into this episode. Politically speaking it was no great shakes, but in terms of pantomime action, especially at the Cox/Starkey end of the spectrum, it was delightfully unhinged. The crowd also did well, mucking in and adding to a fairly raucous atmosphere where it was hard to pick out who was cheering for what. Furthermore, there were quite a few audience members who stood out, including a very young man in a waist coat and bow tie (which captivated me so much that I didn’t hear what he said), a fully decked out member of the clergy and a girl with the loudest voice in the world. However, Audience Member of Note goes to the poser of the first question, purely on account of his name: Roman Fox Hunter. Here it is again in bold. Roman Fox Hunter. That’s made my week.
A giddy 8/10
Right. All done. Good show. Just enough time to squeeze in a few turns of Civ 5? There’s always enough time to squeeze in a few turns of Civ 5. Laters, Lemmings.