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Morning Lemmings. It’s been a week and I’ve received no booze so I can only assume that this charade must continue. You bought it on yourselves. Right, let’s get this thing under way.
The Line Up
In the Red Corner: Lord Falconer, erstwhile Lord Chancellor and noted chum of Tony Blair.
I don’t like Lord Falconer. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that I have an instinctive dislike to lawyers and people who have been Tony Blair’s flatmate. The problem is that he’s a hard target to hit by dint of being a really good lawyer and this was on full display tonight. Kicking off with the expenses question, he deftly tacked straight down the middle, acknowledged people’s anger and softly imparted some eminently sensible stuff. Mild applause ensued, no one went mental and the world carried on. That’s not bad going considering the country think about the expenses issue in the same way they think about genocide and I must say I was mildly miffed at the way he got off the hook. However, I was heartened by the next question, the “was the cabinet mislead about the war?” one. Now surely, he’s going to get absolutely decimated on this one, right?. He’s one of Blair’s most prominent cheerleaders, is utterly unrepentant about the war and is sitting in between Claire Short and George Galloway. Surely, there’ll be blood, right? Well no (or at least not as much as I hoped) and here’s how he did it. He started by saying Robin Cook had loads of information to knock the government with, so we must have been open or honest as otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to have a pop at us. When he said that, I struggled to make sense of it, but he said it in such away that it sounded right. That’s a talent he’s got there and a bloody dangerous talent at that. Luckily, Dimbleby started getting mischievous and pointed out that Falconer and Blair are bessies and there were stories of him pinning Lord Goldsmith to a wall. Falconer, who must have seen this coming retreated into a “It wasn’t me guv, we was all in it together” defence and somehow managed to escape un-booed. However, the respite was brief as Claire Short charged on in, calling shenanigans on the whole shebang and was reward with robust applause. Undaunted by this turn of events, Falconer refuted all allegations of ‘Charlie and Tony, up the tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G’ and then went on the offensive by saying (in a mildly threatening manner) that all MP’s knew the score and that they should STFU. To cap it all off, he crowned his late rally with a very lawyerly statement: “It was a decision, not dishonesty”. I wouldn’t be surprised if Blair gets that scrawled on his headstone. The argument reignited a few minutes later when the crowd got their tuppence worth and accused him of arm twisting to which he did some courtroom acrobatics by saying that because some MP’s voted against the war, it’s all legit and kosher. The crowd didn’t buy this, but I must admit I was disappointed that he got away with it so lightly. There seems to be something fundamentally wrong about that. The rest of his performance was much blander but no less plastered in legalese, chuntering about privacy on John Terry and not criminalising people for assisted suicide (which, to be fair, did garner a moderate ripple of applause). A lucky escape in a show that could have been a complete trainwreck for him.
The votes are in: A shifty 5/10, awarded for proficiency in the dark arts alone.
In the Blue Corner: Theresa May, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Minister of State for Shoes.
I have a feeling that Theresa May is the Tories go-to MP for potentially ominous situations. It’s not that she’s a great debater or rhetorical wizard, in fact it’s for quite the opposite reason: She’s so on-the-fence about everything that you forget she’s talking. Whenever confronted with pretty much any issue, she goes down the “well it’s a bit of this, a bit of that” line followed by a brief affirmation that she does like Tory type things like “stable families are important, you know?”. In short, she’s good at hiding in the long grass. Given that it’s not been the best week for the Tories (minor poll wobbles, backtracking and the dreaded ‘spenses) and that they know they’re vulnerable on Iraq (the “we voted on what we knew” line can only hold so long) she was a pretty clever choice and wasted no time in diluting issues with half hearted platitudes. On expenses she bemoaned what a horrid business it all is and something really must be done about it, dodged the Iraq issue entirely by saying something like she ‘wasn’t in the cabinet so I couldn’t possibly comment, you know?’ and confessed to not give two hoots about John Terry. She did nearly get as far as an opinion with assisted suicide by saying she liked Terry Pratchett but what about all the poor vulnerable people playing mind tennis in MRI scanners, but nothing of any substance really passed her lips. In that respect it was mission accomplished, a no-score draw for Tory HQ but from the viewers point of view it was like browsing the internet on dial up: Only just-adequate and very much annoying.
The Numbers in the Boxes: A weak handshake of a performance…3/10
In the Yellow Corner (wait a second, there is no Yellow!. Great, a week in and the format’s already shot to pieces. Cheers, Auntie): Claire Short, Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood, Overly Trusting Dissenter in Chief.
I always have trouble making my mind up on Claire Short. On the one hand, her ‘will-she-won’t-she’ act in 2003 wound me up, but when I see her on TV, I end up quite liking her. Her evidence at the Iraq Inquiry was belting and stopped the whole thing looking like a complete waste of time, but her past still vexes me. Clearly it also still vexes her. On the show, she muddled around the expenses issue, not quite making sense and generally seeming unenthused by the whole issue. However, that changed when Iraq come up and she was soon in back her stride, lambasting Blair, pointing the finger at Falconer and generally bemoaning the sorry mess that had transpired. Despite mounting a pretty robust offensive, she didn’t seem to have the same level of anger that she’s displayed in the past and if anything, her whole discourse was tinged with melancholy and regret. This was particularly apparent when an audience member asked her why she hadn’t resigned and she seemed to crumple a little. She explained how Blair had promised her this and that and how she believed him but she looked like someone who knew she’s been played. While she came came across as very genuine, she also looked a little haunted and I couldn’t help feeling a little sad about that. She was also clearly pissed off with Falconer and did mange to rough him up some, but she didn’t quite have it in her to press home the advantage and really take him apart. Later, she briefly flickered back to life by having a jab at the press for the John Terry question and delivered a quite firm “grow up” to all and sundry on the assisted suicide issue but I was left feeling like there was still some unfinished business and that justice hadn’t been done. However, there was some dignity in it.
What it all adds up to: A slightly unsettling 7/10
In the Independent/Brainy Corner: George Galloway, Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, Champion of the Oppressed, Scourge of Tyrants.
Yay! Gorgeous George is back in the house! Ok, Ok, I know he’s a one trick pony blowhard who’s never too far from from something a little fishy, but I like the guy. He called the war right, tried to do something about it, has bought the word ‘lickspittle’ back to popular parlance and is exceedingly good value for money. Oh, and his evidence at Senate Committee was showmanship of the highest order. Anyhoo, I had high hopes for George. Iraq was bound to come up and Falconer amply filled the role of baddy/whipping boy. However, first he had to trundle through the expenses question during which he went off on one about some phone bill of his that sounded dubious but swiftly concluded that he was still awesome and that we should halve the number of MP’s. So far, so so. But then came Iraq and he kicked off by bad mouthing Falconer for his Blairlust, calling the Chilcot Inquiry “a bunch of establishment flunkies” and giving props to Claire Short. Following a small Phillips shaped interlude, George was back, berating Falconer once more, blaming the war for enabling terrorism to start “spreading like topsy” and asking why we hadn’t bombed North Korea. “Great!” I thought, “He’s winding up a full on frontal assault involving the use of arcane and cool sounding words!”. But I was wrong. He managed to make one more brief point in which he confused the old ‘for/against war’ divide and then shut up. No rousing demagoguery, no naming of “popinjays” and no calls to arms. Colour me highly disappointed. He got a few points later with the football crowd by defending John Terry as a player but quickly lost them by siding with Melanie Phillips on assisted suicide, over-flogging the ‘thin end of the wedge’ angle and muttering dire warnings of the “panel of Dr. Death’s”. Come on George, one-trick pony’s are only fun when they’re doing their trick. Do you trick George! Do your trick!
In the cold light of day: A left-wanting 6/10
In the Funny/I’m Just Like You Corner: Melanie Phillips, Daily Mail Columnist, Poster girl For The Hyperventilating Middle England Crowd.
Oh Question Time, with this helping of moral panic on legs, you are really spoiling us. Say what you will about Melanie Phillips (such as the fact that her hair looks like those weird old floral swimming caps that my gran used to wear…see Fig. 1) she also presents that most sought after value for money that Galloway does, but from completely the opposite end of the spectrum. True to form she got off to a racing start by decrying the whole “flipping business” as “disgusting” and wailing about “trust” as if none of us had ever stolen a biro from work. It was an easy point, duly rewarded with satisfactory clapping. However, she soon found herself on the other side of the fence when it came to Iraq, wearily invoking the spectre of 9-11 for the n-th time and reminding us that Saddam really was a cad. As is usually the case when trying to defend the indefensible, she was met with stony silence from the crowd and a brief outburst from George Galloway. So no surprises there then. Even fewer surprises emerged moments later when she got the first crack at Terrygate and launched into a sweaty rant about “This John Terry character” being “a mass public debaucher” who has been photographed “urinating into beer glasses”. Persisting down the ‘someone think of the children!’ line she wound it up by calling the England captain a “creep” and the obligatory call to “throw him out!”. Well done. Have an applause biscuit. However, the plan became a little unstuck when Falconer and Short had a few digs at the Daily Mail for being as much a part of anti-privacy brigade as anyone else and was forced to stage a ‘but they’re all at!’ defence and trying to make out that this was somehow in “the public interest”. The crowd must have got bored at this point and no more applause biscuits were offered. Unbowed by the waning mood, she saved her biggest guns for last and cranked the Sodom and Gomorrah-o-tron to max by rechristening ‘right to die’ to ‘right to kill’, hypothesisinging that we’ll be killing the mentally ill next and speculating at the emergence of shadowy “Death Panels”. She even managed to get the last word of the show in and warned in that ‘if only you knew what I knew’ way she has that if we decriminalised assisted suicide, we would be hurtling towards a “brutalised society”. Job done then. All-in-all, it was a fairly sedate performance by her standards, particularly considering the company she was keeping that night and I was disappointed that there wasn’t a single cry for someone to hung or tarred and feathered.
When all is said and done: An ambivalent 5/10
The Crowd: Coventry
I’ve only ever been to Coventry once. I was getting a lift with a friend of mine from Manchester to London and she wanted to stop off there to call in on someone she knew. The experience was most noteworthy for the trip itself as my friend has a form of narcolepsy where she falls asleep when bored. As the M6 is not noted for being a thrill ride we were forced to listen to the soundtrack of West Side Story at full blast whilst singing along lest she fall asleep and send us careening under the wheels of a death lorry. It was an odd four hours. The other only point of interest during that trip was that we stopped at a ‘Balti Pub’ in Coventry for lunch and were both thrilled by the possibilities that such an establish could potentially offer. Think about, a curry house that’s a pub, what’s not to like? As it was, the Balti Pub turned out to be crap, being a weird chimera of uninspiring pub and tepid curry house that ticked neither box with sufficient gusto to have either been exciting or worth the two and a half hours of Broadway-show-meets-plot-line-for-weird-low-budget-thriller terror we had just been through. I bring this up because the Balti Pub was this show. When I looked on the Qtime website on Thursday morning I was thrilled. The line up and the events of the past week seemed to conspire to make for an epic dust up and I was certain that it would be a complete hecklefest. As it turned out, it was just borderline OK. No-one totally lost their shit, most of the questions were mundane, softball affairs and the audience just didn’t seem to be able to get itself going. Even the known volatility of the panellists seemed to be cancelled out by the sloppy fug that seemed to shroud the place and what should have been an A plus barney slowly decomposed into a D minus wet play time. Sorry Coventry, I know it’s not the greatest lot in life being a city that’s only famous for being bombed and ugly, but your Balti Pub Qtime just didn’t cut the mustard.
As the clouds gather: A fully skimmed 4/10
Ok, so that’s it. Claire Short gets the Queen of Coventry crown while the rest of ’em should seriously think about bucking their ideas up. The beer offer still stands although I’m now lowering the bar to offers of cigarettes as well as it turns out that this is bloody hard work. Check back next week for more post-QTime banter.