Posts Tagged 'David Willetts'

Questionable Time #101


questionable time 101 david dimbleby wolf gladiators

Good mornings Lemmings and oh boy, do we have a random one on our hands today. Novelty panel? Check. The odd spectacle of the entire show being stuck airside in trans-national limbo? Check. A textbook case of brain-in-foot/foot-in-mouth blooperism that’s going to ensure that ‘Joey Barton Ugly Girls’ is going to clog the search terms section of this site’s stats page for the next 6 months? Check check check! Break out the Sharks Off Cornwall Repellent Lemmings, Silly Season has landed early this year and is currently boarding in Terminal 2. To the departure lounge we go!

The relentless tide of fresh Kippers shows no signs of abating…

Another week, another spin of the absurd tombola marked ‘UKIP Talking Heads Who Aren’t Nigel Farage’ and what do we get for our trouble? We get the Purple Team’s latest bid to convince us they’re not in fact the paramilitary wing of the Rotary Club but a party that can also do ‘normal’ (‘normal’ being a highly subjective term that essentially means ‘someone who sounds a little Northern’ and doesn’t look like a potential suspect in a game of Cluedo). Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Louise Bours or – as she was formerly known before dropping her suspiciously continental sounding stage name – Louise van de Bours.

So how did she do? Well, I’m a little torn to be honest. In her defence, this was never going to be an easy pitch, what with a panel made up of big-ego civilians and two politicians desperately playing the Voice of Reason card (there wasn’t even the hope of distracting them with the gory results of this year’s annual Lib Dem Cull as the Yellow Team wisely decided to stay at home this week) but her approach wasn’t exactly an exercise in subtlety. No, instead she’s been boning up on the latest revision to the UKIP Field Manual which can basically be summed up thusly:

1. When assaulting enemy held positions, deploy the terms ‘The Establishment’, ‘Political Classes’ and ‘Media Spin’ while juxtaposing ‘Ordinary People’ and ‘the 5 million you’ve just insulted’ into the mix. Should this strategy fail, simply combine or rearrange the words (‘Political Establishment’, ‘Media Classes’, etc, etc), rinse and repeat.

2. In the event of inevitable counter attack on the grounds of policy, simply insist that the new manifesto will solve EVERYTHING.

From a short-term point of view (and let’s face it, pretty much everything in UKIP-land appears to be based on short-term reasoning) this is quite a canny play and one which Bours – what with her surfeit of aggression – is actually quite good at. Alright, so it wasn’t the most polished affair, what with the calling everyone ‘Sir’ and ‘Mr’, not to mention just how proactive she was at getting in people’s faces but this was her first time in the Major Leagues and I can’t deny that there was an appetite for what she said amongst a sizeable chunk of the crowd.

The problem is that her style of QT-ing has a shelf life and it only works at the moment because UKIP have ended up in this sort of Goldilocks zone where they can legitimately claim some sort of mandate but effectively dodge scrutiny because of the rapidity of their rise. That won’t last, not when the new manifesto inevitably turns out to be the same old bag of spanners that the last one was. When (not ‘if’, ‘when’) that happens, Bours’ brand of pushy DON’T TREAD ON ME-ing will be looking a lot less like an authentic insurgency and a great deal more like the melodramatic whinging you get when a bunch of cockeyed yoghurt tops hang out together and pretend they’re a political party.

Until then though, credit where credit’s due: This wasn’t a bad performance for a first timer on a hostile panel. Enjoy it while it lasts Louise, enjoy it while it lasts.

Gone for a Barton…

Given that I know absolutely nothing about football I only had a vague inkling as to who Joey Barton was prior to the show (the gist of it being a domestically produced Cantona knock-off with a bit of a Napoleon complex, a propensity to throw around Nietzsche quotes and a dazzling command of the French language – see Fig. 1) but that inkling sat well with me. It said ‘Watch this guy. He has the sort of form that makes for good QT-ing’ so I was – dare I say it – actually a little excited that he’d be on. Alas, despite a promising half a minute where he seemed to be building up to something rather good, he then went and blew it all by saying to Louise Bours:

If I was somewhere and there were 4 really ugly girls, I’m thinking ‘Well, she’s not the worst’ because that’s all you are”

KLANG!

So yes, that was a monumentally boneheaded/dumb-as-rocks thing to say that roundly deserved all the derision it got but I think the worst part of it all was catching that split second where his feedback loop finally kicked in, just about when he first mentions ‘ugly girls’. At this point the crowd take a sharp intake of breath and a flash of panic crosses Joey’s face.

Oh bollocks oh bollocks oh bollocks I’m too deep into this sentence that I haven’t really thought through to turn back so I’m going to have to run with it but why am I looking Louise Bours straight in the face while I’m saying this oh bollocks oh bollocks oh bollocks”

Yeah, pretty toe curling all told and unsurprisingly it scuppered the rest of the show for him. Oh well never mind Joey, doubtless they’ll have you back on again in which case I advise that you try doing the whole thing in a French accent.

joey barton napoleon

Fig. 1

And the rest of ’em?

Time is of the essence so let’s be quick:

Willetts straddled the thoughtful/boring line with some aplomb but never once threatened to add anything more than some gentle chin stroking and an aversion to confrontation while Margret Curran breathlessly said the same sentence over and over again in slightly different forms before occasionally pausing dramatically as if she was going to say something very important only to then go and breathlessly say the same sentence over and over again in slightly different form. Finally, Piers Morgan put in an annoyingly good performance that was only really marred by him barking orders for airports to be built in every town in the land like some sort of jumped up Luftfuehrer. Bah. I hate it when Piers does well.

Tl;dr

Bours: 6/10

(Isn’t) Shy

Barton: 4/10

*Sigh*

Willetts: 5/10

(Can be adequately summed up as ‘Some) Guy(‘)

Curran: 5/10

(Should) Try (talking a little slower)

Morgan: 7/10

Why?

The Crowd: 6/10

(Probably came to the airport to) Fly (somewhere but never made it to the plane).

Well, that was a load of half-term silliness, wasn’t it? Not that I’m complaining mind – sometimes a good all-heat-and-no-light episode is needed, even if it does occasionally mean I have to award Piers Morgan annoyingly high marks from time-to-time. Right, Wales next week, undoubtedly to be set in the newly constructed Llandudno International Airport as per Luftfuehrer Morgan’s orders…

Next week Lemmings, next week…

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Questionable Time #67


questionable-time-67-david-dimbleby-robocopGood morning Lemmings and…wait… hello? Is there anyone there? Oh, right… You guys were all clever enough to go to bed when the footy reached extra time meaning that I’m probably the only person in the entire country who bothered to watch last night’s episode. Well, I can’t blame you and if it’s any consolation I can only claim to have half-watched it (it was more ‘lolling about listlessly whilst going one can over my QT booze quota’ than actually ‘watching’). Anyway, you’re here now so I suppose I’d better slap something together… Welcome to a very a fuzzy and bleary eyed instalment of Questionable Time…

Something’s gone deeply, deeply wrong for the Red Team…

Here’s a little sum for you:

Tory-led Spending Review + Newcastle + Question Time = ?

That should be easy enough to figure out – after all Tyne and Wear is solid red when it comes to electoral results and even if we factor in that the QT audiences are picked to represent the political make-up of the nation as opposed to the locality, the maths should still be fairly straight forward to figure out, right? Wrong. Nope, I’m afraid this is a case of dunce’s hats all round as no matter which way you cut it, Labour came out of last night’s encounter looking thoroughly bruised. So what gives?

I guess the logical place to start is with their horse in last night’s race, Liz Kendall – one of the 2010 intake who is so far famous only for inappropriately tweeting pictures of Parliament (see Fig. 1). Now, in QT terms she’s still pretty wet behind the ears having only one outing under her belt and there was some clear evidence of n00bishness going on (the frantic scribbling of notes throughout the show, the wall of statistics she’d produce at regular intervals, the being hoisted on her own 50p tax petard) but it wasn’t n00bish enough to warrant the frosty response she got. Take her first answer for example: She got to open the show with a response to the Spending Review question and did so with a comprehensive charge sheet aimed squarely at Teams Blue and Yellow. Still vaguely awake at this point, I waited for the robust applause to arrive and put some credibility icing on this largely competent cake but was instead treated to a parade of tumbleweed and scowls. More of the same was the order of the day for the rest of her innings, but it wasn’t Kendall herself – over-eager and trying very, very hard as she was – that seemed to be the cause of all this audience ire. Something else was going on.

liz kendall selfie

Fig.1

‘What about her opponents?’ I hear you say. ‘Could this be a case of her being outmanoeuvered?’…

…And to that I’d reply ‘You’re half right’ as she was up against one of QT’s most frequently underestimated panelists, David Willetts. ‘Willetts? The egghead with the ridiculously soft looking skin?’ you cry as I start to worry that this fabricated conversation might soon overrun the entire paragraph… ‘But he’s soooooo boring!’ to which I’d respond with ‘Ah ha! But that’s one of his secret weapons!’ before quietly shutting down this fictional exchange for fear that I’m beginning to look a little mad. I start making ‘I must be getting on’ gestures, you start feeling a little uncomfortable and we go our separate ways, never to speak of this again. There, it’s over.

So anyway, Willetts: Underestimated a) because he looks and sounds largely innocuous and b) because a he’s right ‘un for triangulating his answers. Did you catch how many times he ended sentences with allusions to ‘a sensible third way’ or some sort of ‘reasonable middle ground’? Well that’s what he does and he goes about it in a meticulous fashion, precisely measuring out the maximum amount of It’s All Their Fault/We’re Really Not That Bad he can get away with before igniting the mixture and escaping under the cover of the ensuing smokescreen. As an offensive tactic this has limited value but that’s not really what David Willett’s is for. No, Two Brains is the kind of guy you want when you’re in a potentially sticky situation (like being a Tory in Newcastle after announcing billions in cuts) and to that end he did really well – to the point that he actually got quite a bit of applause. But this still doesn’t explain why Labour had it so hard last night as Willetts’ effort were mostly directed towards holding the line.

What of Simon Hughes? Was it he that laid the Red Team low?

In a word, ‘no’ and this is because his performance took a turn for the meta and became all about him. Now this whole I Cry Myself To Sleep at Night/I’m Still A Fearless Instrument of Social Justice psychodrama has been a regular QT fixture for yonks but it actually took on a tangible form last night when he was asked directly about it by an audience member. Off he went, picking a fight with himself that he eventually won but that meant there wasn’t much room left for aggressive operations against his opponents and the mystery of the Labour collapse remains unsolved…

So it must be down to the civilian panelist then?

Again, no – but there is a revealing clue in it all that I’ll get to in a second. First off though I must admit that there was some very good baddying going on from Jill Kirby, a panelist who is so cut-and-dry in her veneration of all things free-market that the Snowden affair becomes less about the implications for free speech/national security and more of an HR issue. The government just downloaded the entire internet? Boo-hoo. Some guy breaches the terms of his contract? OH THE HUMANITY! So yeah, that was fun.

However, it’s Mark Steele – a man I’m generally on board with but who’s never more than a cross-media collaboration with Billy Bragg away from annoying me – who provides us with the final piece of the jigsaw. He had a good run last night, saying the things that – by rights – Labour should but also by tapping into the real reason why the crowd were so anti Red Team: It was the feeling that they’d been betrayed by an Opposition that should be fighting their corner.

And therein lies the problem for Labour – they’ve let the Tories choose the music for the next election and that will cost them, particularly in places like the North East where there’s a very sentimental attachment to the Labour movement. Of course, the cold hard logic is that they can afford to burn some political capital in the North (after all, who else are they going to vote for?) in order to chase those juicy Southern swing voters but there is something rather unedifying about it all. There’s also something a little unedifying about David Dimbleby slapping a table but in his defence, at least it woke me up.

Tl;dr

Willetts: 6/10

(Goes in for) Precision

Kendall: 5/10

(Didn’t really deserve all the) Derision

Hughes: 6/10

(Was involved in a) Collision (with himself)

Kirby: 5/10

(Will be having words with Edward Snowden at his next) Supervision

Steele: 6/10

(Is pretty good on) Television

The Crowd: 6/10

(Are most probably appalled by the outcome of this year’s) Eurovision

Well, there you have it… a red-eye special that stands in stark contrast to the giddy tomfoolery of the past two shows. Anyway, that’s nearly it for this run as we have one more episode left and then it’s the summer hols. And what will I be doing with this new-found Friday freedom when it arrives? Illustrating misheard lyrics, that’s what.

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #27


Morning Lemmings. Ok, so I’m sort of better, but ‘sort of’ in a way that means that it’s probably going to be quite a brief report tonight, which is just as well as it was quite a sedate and middling Question Time last night. However, I’m glad that in writing this I have some sort of distraction from the telly because if I hear another goddamn thing about the Chilean miners, I might just go over the edge. I was off work on Wednesday and Thursday this week and it was like they were being rescued from my basement. Seriously, I know it’s joyous news and all, but enough already. So anyway, buckle up and hunker down as we tear through this week’s episode, bought to you by the good people of Cheltenham.

The Menu

Q1: Have the LibDems sold out younger voters on tuition fees?

Q2: Does it smack of incompetence that we don’t know how much will be saved by cutting the Quango’s?

Q3: What is the point of the BBC getting rid of a deputy if they send 26 people to Chile?

Q4: Ed Miliband said he chose Alan Johnson because he’s the right man for the job. Will he live to regret this?

Q4: In light of Liverpool’s current problems, is foreign ownership bad for the game?

In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: David Willets MP, Minister of State for Science and Universities, Tory Brainiac of note.
I have to say that it was quite brave of old Two Brains to do come on QT last night, given that he and his partners in crime have pissed off pretty much everyone on university funding this week. Even more surprising is how relatively unscathed he emerged and a great deal of that is down to the fact that he’s quite good at not coming across as a politician. He does this by talking at around 75% of the speed of a regular politician and he also avoids getting too carried away with the histrionics if he does find himself in a tight spot. Warsiesque spitting of feathers? Oh no, not on Two Brains’ watch. Instead, he manages to get points across in a considered yet quietly persistent sort of way and the overall effect is to quietly lull the audience into a mood of passive acceptance. Granted, this approach isn’t great when you’re on the offensive. But in a week when he was on the hook for a pretty unpopular policy, it did the job.

Take Q1, for example. Now this could have gone very sideways, very quickly, but he did a good job of smothering it in studious mumblings of “complex stuff” and later even went on the offensive about the graduate tax, a move that knocked Jowell totally off-balance. Similar plays occurred on Q2 too much the same effect while Q3 saw a sudden outburst of geek love for Brain Cox’s The Solar System and A History of the World in 100 Objects, before then having a quiet go at the Beeb. Fired up by this, he then went on the offensive in Q4 (whilst making sure everyone knew that he “really likes” Alan Johnson), picked up a few claps and then quickly lost them in a past-it’s-sell-by Greece/Spain/Ireland rant.

So yes, Willets did good, all things considered and will be a handy man to have about, should his party have to break any really bad news in the not too distant future. But that’s not going to happen, right?

A scholarly 6/10

In The Red Corner: Tessa Jowell MP, Shadow Minister for the Olympics and Brass Eye hater.
I’m not a big fan of Tessa Jowell, but I take comfort in the fact that as she grows older, she looks increasingly jowelly and that this trend is likely to accelerate in time. There’s some sort of cosmic justice to be had in this. Anyhoo, it was a mighty odd performance from Jowell tonight and one in which there seemed to be a danger of her outflanking herself (let alone her party) on the right. I guess some of this is down to circumstance: The new shadow cabinet is barely a week old, no one’s quite pegged down the policies yet and the bets are off until Wednesday’s Impending Doom clobbers us all, but she could have at least tried to look like she was a Labour MP, rather than a gritted teeth uber-Blairite who’s not received the news that the game is up.

She appeared to get off to a good start with Q1, giving the tuition fees plan a resounding thumbs down to inevitable applause, but soon lost her way when pulled up on the matter of the graduate tax. Unwilling to state any firm opinion, she flapped about and evaded, making herself look like a bit of a tool in the process. Q2 saw her accusing Max Hastings of a “slur!” before garnering some tidy little claps on Q3 by sticking up for Auntie and then picking up a few more with some fairly standard ‘you knew about the numbers before you got in’ tomfoolery in Q4. On paper, that all sounds like a pretty reasonable performance but when I was watching it, I couldn’t help thinking that she didn’t believe a word that came out of her own mouth and was just grudgingly going through the motions, as if it was a chore. Never did I get the feeling that she was truly signed up to coherent agenda.

I guess the weirdest thing about Jowell is that despite a career that is memorable more for her ex-husband’s shenanigans with Berlusconni than any deed of her own, she somehow survives, even if only in very borderline jobs such as Minister for the Olympics. Whatever it is that keeps her hanging on, I must say that I hope it stops and soon. 13 years of mediocre is more than enough for me, thanks.

A suspicious 3/10
In The Yellow Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Lord Willis of Knaresborough, LibDem peer and very wooly looking man.
Ok, I confess. I had no idea who Phil Willis was until tonight. I still don’t have that much of an idea, but he seems reasonable enough, even if he looks like a rather tired St. Bernard. Like Willets (more so in fact), he was pretty vulnerable on the night, especially on the tuition fees question. His first move on this front was to bang on about the progressive elements in the plan, a move that sort of worked, but he later played a blinder by admitting that the government really didn’t have a clue about scholarships (“we haven’t cracked it yet”). Stunned by this sudden outburst of honesty, the crowd ended up clapping (possibly involuntarily, such was the surprise) and he walked away smelling of roses. Not bad, all things considered. The rest of his performance was pretty measured, sticking vaguely to the coalition line whilst making sure both feet were in LibDem territory while his rather impassioned tirade about big money “debasing” football went down a storm, capping things off nicely for him.

Much like Willets, this was all quite well thought out stuff that carefully avoided falling into traps or ambushes and while it will hardly set the world ablaze, is was good enough to see him through what could have been a very choppy passage. So yes, nice going, Ol’ Woolchops, you live to fight another day.

A sturdy 6/10.

In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Max Hastings, war bod and True Blue journo.
Poor old Max. Last year, everything seemed to be going so well. The Tories were set to romp home in a landslide, the wrongs of the last 13 years were due to be corrected and he’d even managed to blag the Guardian into printing opinion pieces that he’d written. What could possible go wrong? We’ll, what went wrong was that the landslide never materialised and instead of being in a position where he could triumphantly crow over his vanquished foes, Max had to instead face the reality that his side were now bumping uglies with dastardly LibDems and all of that good, honest, red meat Tory stuff he yearned for was now going to be diluted by a bunch of treehugging upstarts. For most right-wing commentators, this wasn’t too much of a problem as they could simply continue to be angry and turn their ire on the Cameroons for failing to clinch the deal without even breaking a sweat but for Hastings however, this was a problem. Why? Because Max Hastings is crap at getting angry. Actually, let me rephrase that: Max Hastings is crap at looking convincingly angry. Instead, he just looks out of sorts and a bit limp, like a frustrated lettuce.

In practice, this boiled down to the first good tumbleweed moment of this series when he sounded grumpy about universities (culminating in talk of ‘2.1’s in clubbing’ later on), extended whittering in Q2 (plus Slurgate), a brief reversal of fortunes in Q3 when he leapt to Radio 4’s defence before a terminal decline that spanned both Q’s 4 and 5 that plumed new depths is the field of irrelevancy.

Ultimately, it was a pretty shonky affair and one where he looked a man who really wanted to look mad as hell, but just didn’t know how to pull off. Oh, and on top of that, he looks a little like Droopy (see Fig. 1).

 

Fig. 1

 

A flaccid 3/10

In The Independent/Brainy Corner: Dr Maria Misra, lecturer in Modern History at Oxford and generally cerebral sort.
Gah! Another one I know nothing about! Well, that’s probably a good thing as it turns out that I’m really not as well as I thought I was and should probably be in bed by now. In short, Dr Maria won and quite convincingly at that. Basically, she capitalised her ‘at the coal face’ status on all things academic, did a much better job at being angry than Max did and utilised all the ground to the left that Jowell couldn’t be bothered to work. Oh, and she came right out and said that she knew nothing about football, a move that will always win marks from me. So well done Dr Maria, you did a good job at spicing up an otherwise bland episode and for that, I doff my cap to thee.

A redoubtable 7/10

The Crowd: Cheltenham

I think it’s fair to say that I couldn’t really get behind this episode, what with both the coalition members doing such a good job at defusing what could have potentially explosive issues and the general lack of fireworks. The crowd themselves weren’t bad and seemed to have some fight in them during the first half, but much of this capital was consequently squandered when some pillock bought up the expenses issue again. Cheers for that matey, I totally needed reminding about the most tedious story ever to have cluttered up an entire years worth of QT. Sadly, there’s no Audience Member of the Week given that no-one had a suitably outlandish appearance/vocal tic for me to mock. However, Dimbers does deserve a little praise for wibbling some epic claptrap about The Government Hospitality Advisory Committee for the Purchase of Wine. Thanks for that Dimbers. First class bollocks.

An inconsequential 4/10

Right, that’s it. I’m off to steam this damn cold out of me in the bath. After all, I want to be fighting fit to see Middlesbrough’s reaction to the Comprehensive Spending Review next week. I bet they’ll love it and that the coalition will be welcomed as liberators, much like the way the good people of Iraq greeted us in 2003. Next week Lemmings, next week.

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #18


ACK ACK ACK!

Mornings Lemmings. Ok, I have to confess that this was a weird episode of Question Time (for reasons that I will come on to later) and I must confess that I’m having a bit of trouble making much out of it. For that reason, this is probably going to be quite a brief affair, although I am aware that I’ve made similar threats in the past, only to waffle on for pages on end. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Let us plough relentlessly on.

The Menu

Q1: Was David Laws right to resign?

Q2: Following the murders in Cumbria, should the gun laws be changed?

Q3: Is piracy on the high seas justifiable when Israel does it?

Q4: Should top civil servants be paid more than the Prime Minister?

Q5: Is Harriet Harman right to suggest that at least half of the Shadow Cabinet should be women?

In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: David Willetts, Minister of State For Universities and Science, noted Tory brainiac.

Ahhhhhhhh! The sun! It’s disappeared! End days are upon us! Oh, wait, my mistake. It’s simply been obscured by David Willetts’ enormous cranium that is rumoured to contain ‘Two Brains’. Considering that he’s the minister for both science and universities, I take quite a lot of comfort in this fact and it also marks him out as someone rather special on the Tory frontbench: A proper, no holds barred poindexter. Sure, Letwin and Gove get some wonk cred by virtue of coming up with the meatier aspects of policy, but by-and-large, towering intellect doesn’t appear to be compulsory.

So, it’s well established that Willetts’ is scholarly in the extreme, but what hasn’t been resolved is where he fits in the pantheon of brainy subspecies and to aid us in this endeavour, may I point you towards this informative Venn Diagram of  Geeks, Dorks, Nerds and Dweebs. I’m guessing that quite a few of you are thinking ‘does it really matter which brand of buff he is?’ and I say to you “Yes! In the utmost!”. Having been labelled with all the above at various points in my life, I and my dorky brethren are acutely aware of the distinctions. Bookworms have feelings too and this stuff matters, Ok?

Back to the question in hand:  Considering he’s already written ten books on very clever sounding matters, intelligence is an area that he clearly isn’t lacking in (although trying to get Neil Hamilton off the hook wasn’t exactly a moment of incandescent genius) so we can clearly cross ‘Dork’ off the list of possible charges, leaving us with the matters of Obsession and Social Ineptitude to investigate further. On the subject of Obsession, at least three of his books are about welfare reform and considering that welfare reform isn’t exactly an area that just casually fall into, I think we can safely say that we’ve narrowed down the search to a straight out fight between ‘Nerd’ and ‘Geek’, a tussle that can only be resolved on the battlefield on Social Ineptitude. And what better arena to stress test the Not Gud Wiv Peepol Hypothesis than the fight to the death that is Question Time? To the show, dear friends, to the show.

Right then: Q1. Had this question been asked three or four days ago, I would have envisaged a right ruck kicking off, but in the light of events over the last few days, it’s potency seems to have been somewhat diminished. In many ways, that was quite a luck escape for Willetts and he seemed perfectly content to whip out the old ‘Individual Decision’ ploy whilst invoking a ‘All Above Board/Standards Commission’ play. Not exactly a frontal assault on the Coalition’s critics, but serviceable enough. Q2 was pretty much a no-brainer: Acknowledge the tragedy and then follow up with a soothing ‘Let’s Not do Anything Too Rash Now’ call to inaction. Simples. The Israel question (Q3) was the one that looked like it could start a bit of a barny, but Willetts did pretty well at a well balanced response that implied that Israel had acted like dickheads without going as far as actually condemning it and that earned some moderate applause. More claps were to come when he pulled MacKenzie up by reminding him that Hamas had been democratically elected, but he wasn’t able to sustain it as fudged together a bunch of platitudes in response to Q4. Silence reigned. Finally, he stumbled around a bit on Q5, told us that he’d had an argument with a French woman and then got suspiciously chummy with Diane Abbott, extolling her to “Go for it!”… Which was weird.

So how does the above translate into our Geek or Nerd diagnosis? Well, it’s pretty hard to call. On the one hand, he’s not unlikable, does seem to genuinely think before speaking and is free from any majorly socially dysfunctional traits. However, he’s not exactly Mr Excitement either (you not going to find him swinging from chandeliers, shouting “Kegger! Kegger! Kegger!” and puking into pot plants… Unless it’s a party at Diane Abbott’s house) and although considered, balanced answers probably make for good government, they’re not going to put a song in the hearts of the world at large. As it’s a nice sunny evening, I’m feeling generous and am thusly conferring on him the status of Tenuous Geek. Be warned though David: Nerdiness is mere millimetres away and you may still have your dinner money stolen.

A just about socially acceptable 6/10

In The Red Corner: Diane Abbott, Labour Leadership Contender and Portillo’s on-screen other half.

She’s somewhat of a conundrum, Diane Abbott. On the one hand, she’s a genuine trailblazer, what with being the first black, female MP, she’s never had a problem with going against the party line if she thinks the party line is stupid and she is capable of some genuinely inspired and heartfelt oratory. However, the picture’s not entirely consistent and there are a few things that stick in my craw, such as sending her son to private school whilst simultaneously criticising others for doing the same thing and the ‘Finnish Nurse’ debarcle left a nasty taste in my mouth. Having said that, she does seem to know when she’s crossed the line and is prepared to admit when she’s wrong (quite a rare thing in Westminster) and let’s face it, The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name (although it does sometimes dare to) between her and Portillo on This Week is genuinely endearing (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1

Speaking of This Week, I have a bone to pick with that show, namely WHAT’S GOING ON WITH THE SODDING VOLUME? I walk a tight rope on Thursday nights, trying to keep the volume loud enough so I can hear what’s going on Question Time, but not so loud that it wakes my better half and I get a telling off (she’s a saintly person, unless unduly woken up, in which case she’s quite the semi-conscious authoritarian). After years of experience, I totally know where the sweet spot on the volume knob is and Question Time always passes without incident. However, the plan, without fail, always falls apart when that pseudo-rave This Week theme kicks in at 120dB and is then followed up by Andrew Neil’s twat-of-a-face, a scramble to find the remote and an inevitable bollocking. So take warning This Week. You’re on thin ice. That is all.

Back to the point: She got off to a good start on Q1 by making the David Laws issue more about spending cuts rather than sexuality or money and that went down pretty well. Q2 was straight by the book and pretty much echoed everything Willetts said while Q3 saw her on more proactive footing, going out of her way to condemn Israel (as well as MacKenzie’s weird-as-you-like ‘Snickers’ gambit) and reaping much applause for her efforts. Q4 once again saw bankers and cuts in the frame (and was again roundly applauded) while Q5 saw her resist a Sisters Doin’ It For Themselves chorus. Not bad.

Looking at the above, you’d be forgiven for thinking we’ve got a genuine contender for the Labour leadership on our hands. However, there is one slight problem: We’re so used to her being matey and very honest on the This Week sofa that I think people would have real trouble getting their heads round her actual being leader, a position that requires high levels of non-mateyness and dishonesty. It’s like when a close colleague who you genuinely like gets a promotion and suddenly ends up in charge of you. You all try and maintain the charade that nothings really changed, but deep down, you both know things will never be the same again. I hope it doesn’t pan out like that because that’s a rubbish reason to lose, but I have a feeling it will. So sorry Diane, you’re great on the couch, but unfortunately you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

A generally well rounded 7/10

In The Orange-ish Corner: Leanne Wood, Plaid bod and generally unknown QT quantity.

Ok, this is the panellist I’m having real trouble with as nothing she did or said made any form of impact on me. All her responses were pretty standard Plaid lines, all tacking well to the left of the mainstream parties and which were generally well received, but that was more about the content than the delivery. Even after going through my notes, I can’t really find anything worth repeating so I’m going to wrap this up pretty quickly. Lustre: She lacked it.

An underwhelming 4/10

In The Independent/Brainy One Corner: Matthew Parris, former Tory MP, Times Columnist  and drowning dog rescuer.

I never quite know where I stand with Matthew Parris. I like the fact that he’s a former Conservative MP in the ‘Action Tory’ mould (what with the all the offers to be a spy, marathon running, living everywhere and dog rescuing) and that he’s capable of some pretty impressive bile laden writing, but there’s something that’s just too mercurial about him. Having said that, he did start off by tacking his colours firmly to the mast on Q1 by bashing the anti-gay media “lynch mob” whilst getting involved in many a (highly predictable) to-do with MacKenzie. I think most people didn’t entirely agree with him (the public seem way more concerned with the 40k than the sexuality aspect), but anyone who picks a fight with MacKenzie is on to a winner. Easy money. Q2 saw him largely sidestep the issues at hand, but he did go on a bit of one when he suddenly started ranting about “machets” (as opposed to ‘machete’s’), “petrol soaked rags” and “cyanide” which was both batty and entertaining. Not satisfied with Q2’s sidestep, he then pulled off the most epic dodge I’ve seen yet on Q3: When asked about his view on Israel’s actions, he simply told all and sundry that he had given up giving a shit and couldn’t give two hoots about the Middle East. That shut everyone up. It was downhill after that as Q4 offered little way in the excitement department, apart from the fact that it’s a “scandal” how little we pay the PM while Q5 had some wibbling about how we’re all “holding women back”.

So yes, quite an odd performance and one marked by a willful contrariness that is by turns quite fun and somewhat refreshing. However, there’s still something that’s gnawing at me about him and I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s that the contrariness is just a little too willful (although it’s presented as very casual) or maybe it’s just that he looks inexplicably young for a 60 year old but either way, there’s something stopping me from fully getting on board the train to Parris. Come back again and we’ll see if that changes, Matthew.

A solid but yet-to-convince me 6/10

In the I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Kelvin MacKenzie, abrasive ex-Sun editor and no friend to Scotland, Sheffield, Neil Kinnock, journalistic integrity, Freddie Starr, etc, etc, etc…

Why God, why? Why torment us on an otherwise pleasant day with this diabolical creature that sweats belligerence? Is the price we have pay for Lembit Opik losing his seat (an event which I found thoroughly humourous), because if it is, it’s not worth it. Yeah, Kelvin’s back and true to form, he’s a prat who’s pathologically contrary and not in a ‘I’m knocking on a bit so I don’t really care’ Matthew Paris kind of way but in a ‘whatever society deems to be acceptable/progressive I deem to be tantamount paedophilia’ kind of way. Straight out of the blocks he started to froth about David Laws and “our money”, used the term “reverse scamboli” and tried to imply that The Sun is bastion of gay friendly good intentions these days (a point that was aptly blown out of the water by Parris reminding him of recent Sun poll that asked whether gays should be MP’s). This was followed by some fuming about gun laws on Q2, a strange little rant about “strange places like Finland” and a rather hamfisted attempt at sensitivity when he branded the Cumbria murders as “a shocker”. Times and places, Kelvin. Times and places.

But wait! He’s barely in his stride and here comes Q3, the ideal vehicle to crash headlong into any notion of reasonableness. It started off pretty standard, with the usual invocations of Plucky Little Israel, dastardly Muslim martyrs and a barely relevant doff of the cap to Churchill, but he saved the best to last: Apparently, there’s an oversupply of Snickers in Gaza. So that’s ok then! No sanitation or reliable power source? Stop whining and get this peanut infested chocolate down your trap! House blown to pieces by IDF ordinance? Pull yourself together and count your confectionery blessings! Health and livelihood in grave peril thanks to collective punishment? STFU and start building a utopia made of Snickers! Seriously, I’m pretty much sure that this is stupidest point I have ever heard on Question Time outside of the Nick Griffin episode.

So yeah, I pretty much stopped listening to him after that and if he did say anything of merit in Q’s 4 and 5, it fell on deaf ears. I do make a point of playing Devil’s Advocate on LCCPQTMR from time to time, but this guy is so far gone that I can’t find it in myself to do such a thing and I hope he gets pelted to death with an excess of Snickers bars.

A new low of a 2/10

The Crowd: Brecon

I said at the start that this was a really weird episode and it’s pretty easy to see why: For the last three months, Question Time panellists and audiences have been slugging it out in the sweltering, oppressive heat of the Election Jungle. Every point, no matter how small or inconsequential has been bitterly fought over and every square inch of ground has mattered. Then suddenly, two things have happened: Israel has reminded us that there is an outside world that’s got an alarming tendency to go wrong and the Cumbria murders have genuinely shocked us back into remembering that stuff, sometimes very bad stuff can happen outside Westminster. Suddenly, the jungle warfare becomes entirely irrelevant and we’re all left looking rather dazed and only able to utter one appropriate answer: ‘Oh dear’. Don’t get me wrong, that response is entirely right and proper, but it makes for a very odd debate and leaves everyone feeling somewhat lost and stranded. That’s not to say that the audience didn’t find things to get heated about (although that might have something to do with MacKenzie) but I came away with the feeling at times, they we’re simply going through the motions and that gave the show a very odd quality. It’s not the crowds fault that it ended up like this, it’s just a consequence of being human and in that respect, it was nice to see a general consensus around the big events. However, gripping, it was not.

An understandably shaky 5/10

Right, that’s done. Oh look, nearly 3000 words. Told you I never come through with that ‘keeping it short threat’. See you next week.


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