Morning Lemmings and welcome back to the land malfunctioning SCART leads and green hued televisions. That’s right, my technical problems persist but being the selfless hero that I am, I carry on regardless, taking it on the chin just so that you can kill ten minutes at work, reading whatever nonsense I’ve provided you with this week. And nonsense it will be this week as I must confess to have had a very odd day. Now, considering my day job is as a mental health worker, that shouldn’t come as much of surprise and after eight years of being in this trade, I have to say that the bar for what I consider to be ‘strange’ is set very high (you have to do something really weird for me to take notice these days. Arguing with trees? Phhhhht… doesn’t even touch the sides. Accusing traffic cones of plotting conspiracies? Not even close. Insisting that John Snow lives in your chest of drawers? Boring! You get the picture). However, today was one of those where even I had to stop and question my sanity and if this report sounds a little more spaced out than usual, I apologise… It’s merely a consequence of having spent seven hours with the inexplicable.
Right, excuses made, fair warning given, let’s go.
Q1: Was Boris acting irresponsibly by saying the Housing Benefit reforms would lead to “Kosovo style cleansing”?
Q2: Should David Cameron wield a rhetorical handbag on the EU budget?
Q3: Does the news that the economy has grown 0.8% mean the Conservative led coalition are right on the economy?
Q4: Was the head of M16 right to say that we should avoid torture, even if it helps terrorists carry out attacks?
In The Yellow Bit of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Ed Davey, LibDem Chief of Staff and rescuer of damsels in distress.
Hmmmm… not quite sure what to make of this guy in that he’s got one of those faces that doesn’t really match his personality. Every time I look at him, I just hear the words “RUGGER BUGGER” repeating over and over again in my head and he also has this semi-vacant, middle distance stare that looks a little, well, thick. But none of this tallies with the way he presents which is actually pretty on the ball. I say ‘pretty on the ball’ because while he’s appears to be quite an accomplished offensive player, driving whatever point he’s making home in quite a forceful manner without crossing the line into belligerence, he’s not great at cornering and when plans start unravelling, that ‘Wayne Rooney with a multiplication problem to solve’ look involuntary spreads right across his face and he looks a little helpless. Still, it’s early days for Ed and the fundamentals seem to be there so let’s see how he did.
It was a fairly promising start as he looked convincingly cross whilst damning Johnson’s “appalling” behaviour, but then came unstuck as Sturgeon slapped him with a bunch of figures and Chris Bryant piled in with some pointed stuff about ‘progressiveness’ that sounded like an invitation to a duel. Q2 saw much waffling about not much at all followed by an admission that neither he nor Bryant had a clue about the real figures (which Bryant took in his stride whilst Davey looked a little out of sorts) and Q3 was basically a fighting retreat with a sudden out burst of wide-eyed Deficit Panic and a weaponised comparison of Scotland to Iceland. Last but not least was Q4’s no-brainer which he handled in the prescribed manner of ‘Torture = Bad’ and that was that. Home time.
Reading that back, it sounds quite unimpressive, but bear in mind that he was in Glasgow and on a week the coalition haven’t exactly been rolling in good news. Yes, it was a little dry and no, he’s not very quick on his feet, but given the circumstances, he did well to come away without any jeering and he even got a few good claps along the way. And that, in my opinion, is not bad going for someone who’s largely been a backroom boy with very little QT experience. Grant Shapps, take note.
A perfectly acceptable 5/10
In The Red Corner: Chris Bryant, Shadow Minister for Political and Constitution Reform and be-panted self photographer.
Now this guy is interesting. Really interesting. Not only does he have a suitably unorthodox background (former Anglican vicar and conservative student who came out as being gay and then went on to become a Labour MP), but his QT technique is also rather unique and out of the ordinary. For one thing, he’s incredibly nimble, spotting weak points in opponent’s arguments within the blink of an eye and then adjusting his tack very quickly to exploit these weaknesses to their full extent. He’s also one for close combat, not necessarily making things personal, but always ensuring that he’s all over whoever he’s up against and giving them very little space to manoeuvre. Now, this already sounds like a glowing report, but hold on: There are flies in the ointment, not the least being that he’s pretty much a flat-out gambler, taking some pretty hefty rhetorical risks that don’t always go his way (as this weeks “social cleansing” parliamentary jibber-jabber aptly illustrated). Still, credit where credit’s due, he doesn’t seem phased when these ventures go sour and you get the sense that he’s a hard man to rattle.
It all started inauspiciously enough as he spent the first part of Q1 defending his “cleansing” remarks, but he did get to lash out quite effectively at Davey later on and was given some crowd love for his efforts. Q2 turned into a right old scrap between him and Ed as he invoked the banker argument and they both accused each other of turning the debate into a “pantomime”, but he later found an exposed flank regarding Cameron’s lack of friends in Europe and he worked that in a quiet, effective manner. However, this more understated approach was fleeting as he decided to take on both Davey and Hendry simultaneously in Q3 (much shaking of the Bonus Stick ensued) and largely got away with it whilst Q4 saw some weird metaphor involving Anne Frank and some self referential ‘I used to live in Argentina’ stuff.
Now none of this sounds especially exciting and to be honest, he should have done better considering the territory and the political backdrop. However, it’s not really what Bryant says that fascinates me, it’s the way he moves. I’ve got a feeling that we’re going to be seeing much more of this guy as there’s something about his history and presentation that tells me he’s just different from a great many politicians. Is he destined for great things? I doubt it as although he’s a great tactical player, I’m not sure if the strategic reasoning’s all there and his penchant for risky moves could well derail him in the future. However, he does seem to have a remarkable ability to reinvent himself, his instincts seem pretty sharp and he’s tougher than he looks. With this in mind, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to mark him. Part of me wants to give him big numbers for just generally intriguing me, but then it would be somewhat unfair to class his performance as any sort of victory. So with fairness in mind, I’m going to split the difference but keep an eye on this guy. I’ve a feeling he could be quite fun in the near future.
A potential laden 6/10
In The Other Yellow Corner: Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister of Scotland and Salmond sidekick.
So we’re in Glasgow tonight and that means that we’re going to see the SNP which in turn means that it’s either going to be Salmond or Sturgeon. Now, I must confess that I don’t really keep abreast of Scottish politics, mainly because it has absolutely no bearing on my day-to-day life in any way, shape or form, but c’mon! There’s got to more than two people in the whole bloody party! Anyhoo, minor chunter aside, it was Sturgeon’s turn tonight and I must say she did better than last time when she ended up embroiled in all sorts of Megrahi related bother. I’m not going to get to carried away in writing this up as it was a pretty much textbook regional party play: Have a go at whoever’s in power, stay well to the left of the mainstream and make damn sure you get some nationalist call-to-arms type stuff in the (something that she got told off by Dimber’s for in Q4 but went ahead with anyway). However, she did play these tactics quite well and she came close to knocking Davey right off-balance with a pretty well-reasoned argument about the Housing Benefit reforms in Q1. So yes, pretty solid Nicola. However, you do still look like a tomboy and I have a nasty feeling that you may be the person who keeps buying Sharleen Spiteri Albums. Please stop with that. It only encourages her.
A fairly standard but fairly good 7/10
In The Independent/Brainy One Corner: Simon Schama, history buff and flowerpot man incarnate.
Oh Jesus, I feel sick and not just because of the green shroud that has enveloped my telly. No, what’s got me all a chunder is trying to keep my eyes on Simon Schama as he gesticulates so wildly that he threatens to shake the earth loose from it’s orbit and cast us adrift into the depths of space. And it’s not just the possibility that his head might actually rotate a full 360 degrees that’s bringing me to the edge of motion sickness (see Fig. 1), it’s also the way he sends you on a verbal rollercoaster every time he answers a bloody question.
Seriously, I pretty much gave up taking notes about Schama as it was like putting your head into a semantic tumble dryer and in the end I invented a new shorthand symbol for whenever he was waffling long tracts of wordy sounding bollocks (see Fig.2)
However, I did manage to snatch a few choice nuggets, some of which include:
“Spitting fire in Johnson’s eye!”
“He needs a handbag full of knuckledusters!”
“The Duke of Wellington would be spinning in his grave!”
Something about vultures and Tolstoy
“Suicide bombers aren’t cowards!”
“WAKE UP PEOPLE!” [whilst violently slapping the table].
Alright, so I’m taking the piss now, but in the main he’s fun to watch (the crowd seem to think so as well), even if I haven’t the got faintest idea what he’s talking about. This in turn leads me to conclude that Simon Schama isn’t a genius. No, I think he’s just a very good blagger who hasn’t got any O-Levels and reads a dictionary on the toilet in order to chance his way through life by connecting long words together in random configuration and if that is the case, good luck to him. Come what may Simon, stay animated, stay wobbly and we’ll swallow any old tosh you throw in our direction.
An enjoyably inexplicable 7/10
In the I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Hugh Hendry, hedge fund manager and seemingly unrepentant bastard.
Oh wow. Never in the history of LCCPMQTR has there been someone so ill suited the title of ‘I’m The Funny One/Just Like You’ as much as Hugh Hendry and that’s even following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Vorderman, McKenzie and Phillips. Quite clearly, Hendry isn’t one for ‘funny’ unless it happens to be at the expense of one of the many people he seems to regard as a useless mouth (which I think covers around 99% of the population) and the ‘Just Like You’ bit could only ever apply if you happened to be a misanthropic supervillain who was in the business of creating complex derivatives out of human pain and suffering. In some ways I kind of knew what I was in for as I’d seem on Newsnight a few months back and was pretty shocked by his apparent lack of compassion for his fellow man then, but that didn’t even come close to preparing for what we witnessed last night.
In short, Hendry has three default positions which are as follows:
1. Whatever you’re talking about is bleeding heart nonsense that will drive humanity to extinction as it clearly doesn’t turn a profit. As a result, you are stupid and I mock you from my palace made of solid gold.
2. I couldn’t give a shit about what you’re talking about as it has no bearing on the making or not making of profits.
3. Whatever you’re talking about is more important than the air we breath as it has the potential to make me vast sums of money and as a result I will continue to tolerate your existence, at least until you stop 100% agreeing with me.
It really is as simple as that. Take Q1 for instance: The very notion of thinking about people on Housing Benefit seemed to be fathoms below his pay grade, as if it were a chore, but then he remembered that he might have to pay taxes for that sort of thing and branded the whole thing “insane!” (as well as “crazy!”, “out of control!” and once again “insane!”). I’ve put exclamation marks behind those quotes as I think they were intended to be exclaimed, but in practice, they were delivered in a tone that said “You bloody idiots. I can barely muster the energy to explain these things to you peasants because you’re all stupid bloody proles who aren’t making me money at this given moment in time”. Similarly with Q2, he had plenty of scorn to pour on the EU (include some weird little aside about bureaucrats not being “people”), all delivered in a manner of such resignation that you were left with no doubt that he does in fact dwell in a completely different reality from the rest of us. Q3 stirred some slightly more convincing interest as it appeared to be a subject that might have something to with whatever parallel universe he inhabits, but it pretty much ended up with him telling off the entire nation for not being very nice to bankers (although he did land a well-aimed slap on Bryant about Labour’s relationship with the City) and a strange little outburst where he said that “Nicola Sturgeon won’t employ your kids!” (of course she won’t. She’s in a party that only has two members). However, the real fireworks were in Q4 where he just came straight out and said that he liked the idea of torture being used to scare terrorists (all said whilst looking bored). Rightly concerned, an audience member picked him up on this a little later and asked whether he really was in favour of torture. Without batting an eyelid, he confirmed this, said he didn’t want the intelligence services hindered by such trifling things as morality and even managed to squeeze in a weird reference to himself in the 3rd person (“Hugh Hendry lives in London with three young children”).
Truly, I was blown away by this guy. I knew he had a reputation as a bit of fundamentalist but I didn’t realise just how black and white his view of the world are and when it comes to marking, I’m at a total loss. In the past, I’ve always marked those who I disagree with but add something to show quite well (your Douglas Murray’s and Nigel Farage’s, for instance), but there was something just so otherworldly and actually quite frightening about this guy that it left me wondering whether Ayn Rand had risen from the dead, got a sex change and moved to Scotland. Ok, I’ve decided: Low marks, if only for making Ruth Lea look like a member of the Woodcraft Folk.
A fear inducing 3/10
The Crowd: Glasgow
Yet again, not as I expected. Given that Glasgow is usually pretty anti-Tory I was expecting pretty much one way traffic when it came to bashing the coalition but it wasn’t like that. Yes, generally opinion seemed mostly against the cuts, Sturgeon got the majority of claps and most people sounded very dubious about the plan for growth, but it was not a done deal and there was plenty of support in the opposite direction, especially when it came to Housing Benefit in London. Ok, so one guy managed to blame Thatcher, but this is Glasgow where Thatcher Blame is only marginally cheaper than heroin so yeah, colour me surprised with the general tone of the evening. Politically, I didn’t take much from this episode as it seemed to be a rather indecisive ding-dong but in terms of the characters involved, I thought it was interesting, especially watching Bryant and trying to figure out what he was up to. The crowd themselves were a pretty stock affair, but I can happily report that Question Time audience members have taken last week’s advise to heart and that there was a man there sporting a bow tie. For that, Glasgow, you get one mark above average.
Average score + 1 Bow Tie Modifier = 6/10
Right, we’re done. Actually, that ended up not being completely weird, a feat that is made all the more remarkable on account of the fact that I’ve been listening to the entire Man Or Astroman? discography on random whilst writing this. I remain sane. This is good news.
Next week Lemmings, next week.