Posts Tagged 'Iain Duncan Smith'

Questionable Time #103


questionable time 103 david dimbleby back tattoo

Good morning Lemmings – actually no, it’s not ‘good morning Lemmings’ at all and more like ‘Bah. Must we do this Lemmings?’ because for some reason last night’s very ill-tempered episode has left me in a thoroughly unpleasant mood. With this in mind, we’re going to dispense with the usual even-handedness, line the panelists up against a wall and make a series of rash decisions as to who’s to blame for the cloud of animosity that’s currently hovering over me. Ready? Let’s do this.

Was it Iain Duncan Smith’s insistence on ruining a perfectly good pshop?

Prior to the show I came up with this (see Fig. 1)…

iain duncan smith dog cone

Fig. 1

…And pretty pleased I was with myself too because it was going to be so easy to fold into the write up: All it would require would be one question about how the Universal Credit programme has gone so spectacularly awry that it’s now been reclassified as a ‘new project’ and that would be it – IDS would put on that face that’s supposed to look ‘appropriately concerned’ but actually comes off as ‘pleading desperately’, Hislop would have a field day and I’d be able to segue into the pshop with a killer line about how the only way you could make him look any more hapless is by sticking one of those dog cones on his head. In fact, so confident was I that this would come to pass that I even had a tweet of the pshop all ready to go during the show, just waiting for his inevitable downfall so that I could press the button and then bask in the satisfaction of all-too-easy victory. But the button was never pressed.

And why was the button never pressed? It was never pressed because a) aside from a few reflex jabs from Bryant and Yaqoob, matters relating to the DWP never really came up and b) he emerged from the rolling to-do with Yaqoob (more on that later) looking rather good. True, there were moments where his trademark brand of Trying To Look Very Cross Indeed But Not Quite Getting It Right (“Do me a favour Salma…”) had the potential to go sideways but so busy was the intemperate traffic between the combatants that it never developed into anything truly cringeworthy.

So here I am with a useless pshop, an unslaked thirst for ministerial blood and an embarrassingly abundant clutch of marks for the man in question. Iain Duncan Smith, I find you partially guilty for buggering up my QT experience and hereby sentence you to read your own novel.

Right, who’s next in the dock?

Was it Salma’s fault or was she stitched up?

So Salma ended up in hot water with the rest of the panel last night but I can’t quite fathom whether she was unjustly martyred or the victim of a kerfuffle of her own design. And why can’t I tell? Because I’ve not got a clue what’s going on with this whole Trojan Horse business – not the merest inkling other than it made for an entertaining intra-cabinet spat and that it just won’t get off the bloody news (however it’s worth pointing out that the arrival of Big Brother has once again lead me to surrender custody of the telly to the Frau Ribs so I haven’t had Newsnight to spoon feed me any ready-made opinions).

Anyway, it went like this: Salma slightly overplayed her hand on the Iraq question – a forgivable offence since she’s the leader of a party that came into being because of the war – and then went on to defend the schools in the Trojan Horse affair. Now I don’t know if she was right or wrong on this matter as it’s a story that just makes my eyes glaze over but the reaction from the rest of the panel was pretty full on and it wasn’t long before I started to get the feeling that they were ganging up on her. That’s rarely a good look but then again, she was having to defend her point so doggedly that I got the feeling they might actually be on to something.

I dunno, it might six-of-one and half-a-dozen-of-the-other but the real problem was that it went on for what seemed like hours and the temperature got so heated that it killed the third question dead in its tracks. Anyone want to talk about British values? No? Shall we just keep shouting at Salma instead? Ok then! Basically, it felt like I was being forced to watch a very long running and involved soap opera that I’d never seen before and to have an opinion on it. For better or worse, right or wrong, I lay the blame for this at Salma’s door and hereby sentence her to a candle lit dinner with George Galloway. Ooph… Rough justice.

Was it Tessa Munt’s… very… very… slow… delivery?

Initially, yes – it was definitely her…very… very… slow (and rather matronly)… delivery that had me all out of a kilter but I ended up warming to her, mainly because she seems pretty genuine and in it for the right reasons. Granted, ‘genuine’ and ‘the right reasons’ tend not to make for the most electrifying QT performances (for that you want ‘mendacious’ and ‘entirely the wrong reasons’) but I feel that they mitigated some of the grief caused by her rather ponderous vocal stylings. Community Service for you, Munt. 60 hours of coming up with rhyming scores for me and we’ll call it quits.

Was it Ian Hislop’s particularly irksome mood?

I’m usually a big fan of Hislop on QT but last night he just seemed a little bored and difficult, like he couldn’t really be bothered to play the game. However there are a few things that can be said in his defence, the first being he did make life a little awkward for the rest of the panel and secondly, Private Eye are the only national publication who bother to send out very nice rejection letters – a courtesy that counts for a lot in my book. I think an informal caution is all that’s required here.

Was it Chris Bryant’s fault for simply being Chris Bryant?

Yes! Probably! I don’t know! He was just as rabid as everyone else but I’ve got a soft spot for him so his sentence will be suspended. Stay out of trouble Chris and I won’t have to repost that photo of you in your pants.

Tl;dr

IDS: 5/10

Bah!

Bryant: 5/10

Rah!

Munt: 6/10

Fah!

Yaqoob: 5/10

Wah!

Hislop: 5/10

Yah!

The Crowd: 5/10

Pah!

So that was that then: An ultra-scrappy episode where the panel got very hot under the collar about things I don’t understand and – in what was undoubtedly the highlight of the show – Dimbers got attacked by a fly. Pffft… Says it all really…

Right, thanks to the footy I’m done for two weeks but should you have money burning a hole in your pocket then please feel free to go and buy this Grand Theft: New Labourt-shirt I designed (and then – in the interests of fairness and all that – go and buy the Grand Theft: Coalition one as well).

gta-new-labour-final-tagged

In a fortnight Lemmings, in a fortnight…

Questionable Time #43


questionable time 43 david dimbleby andy warhol

Good morning Lemmings and welcome to a very heavyweight line-up for this week’s Questionable Time. That’s right, after shilly-shallying about with the likes of Munt and MacLennan in last week’s episode we’re now back in the major leagues again. You want the Shadow Home Secretary? Done! How about Britain’s foremost Angry Young Man? Bang! Here’s Owen Jones! Maybe a former party leader? Shutuppayourface, here’s two! A suitably grand sounding venue? I see your generic location name and raise you a goddamn palace! And of course there’s Deborah Meaden. Oh.

Anyway, sky-high expectations aside, bitter experience has shown that a solid panel does not necessarily a good show make. Could this robust sounding blueprint for QT heaven deliver on its promise? Well let’s just see about that…

I think I’m one step closer to cracking the riddle of IDS…

There are a great many things that vex me about IDS but one has been particularly bothering me of late: How did he ever survive as a junior officer in the Scots Guards? I ask this because the Scots Guards and IDS just seem like two things that should never really go together. Here you have – on the one hand – a man whose face is always contorted somewhere between self-doubt, uncertainty and a very terrible appreciation of his own awkwardness whilst on the other we have not just an infantry regiment, but one of the stuffiest and ritualistic outfits in an organisation that prides itself on engineering situations that freak out the socially awkward. It just struck me as very odd and I often wondered how 1st Lt. Duncan Smith – with that face of his so visibly playing out some horrible conflict within his soul – could convince a bunch of hard-bitten enlisted men of why they should listen to him, let alone follow his orders.

Well dear Lemmings, now we know. He’s a classic Long Fuse/Big Bomb and last night was the perfect illustration of this. To begin with, he actually had quite a good ride, doing his best to escape unscathed on female bishops and the EU whilst actually coming across as quite thoughtful at points. However, there was something niggling him and that something was Owen Jones, what with all his voting prisoners and disestablished churches. ‘Troublemaker!’ said IDS’s face, but he managed to bite his lip and generally keep a lid on his growing sense of unease. Then the question about the proposed benefits cap came up and everything went mental.

In the general scheme of thing’s, IDS first response, a semi-rousing ‘It Just Isn’t Fair’, wasn’t bad but he was comprehensively out-roused by Jones’ crushing ‘You’re Damn Right It Just Isn’t Fair’ counter punch. Throw into that some sustained heckling that made Dimbers very cross and you could see it all getting just a bit too much for him. “HOLD ON YOU!” he bellowed, his face now a picture indignant certainty… and then it ended. Time’s up.

So yes, we didn’t get to see the full explosion (oh for another five minutes) but the early indicators were pretty telling. And that is how I reckon IDS survived in the Scots Guards: He’d take the ‘Kick Me’ signs, the backchat and name calling up to a point, but when that point was reached, boy did everybody know about it.

I’d love to shower Owen Jones with praise but jealousy prevents it…

If only I hadn’t spent the best part of my twenties looking like “a homeless wizard”, trying to drive ice cream vans into pedestrians on Grand Theft Auto and being sick in nightclub toilets then maybe, just maybe, I could have been some sort of proto-Owen Jones. Except that I didn’t and given that being Owen Jones seems to involve a level of passion, relevance and good-lookingness that I’d have great difficulty in summoning I guess I’ll just have to settle for what I’ve got. I’d totally beat him at any computer game though. Name your platform Owen, you will not win.

Yvette doesn’t ride for free today…

I usually go easy on Yvette, mainly because she has a lot to put up with. As Labour’s Appropriate Adult, she’s the one who gets dragged out to straighten out whatever unholy mess they’ve found themselves in and you can tell by that faint whiff of exacerbation she always carries that it’s got to her over time. However, she got so rattle by the matter of why Labour voted for the EU budget cut that she started talking really fast and getting a little over-eager with the maxim ‘the best form of defence is offence’, none of which peels my spuds. That, and I’m getting really fed up with Labour panelist trying to shoehorn ‘The Squeezed Middle’ and ‘One Nation’ into every damn sentence. Having said that ‘The One Middle’ or ‘Squeezed Nation’ would make perfectly serviceable boy bad names.

Chat Show Charlie may just be losing his magic…

I have a dream. It’s a bit of a weird dream but bear with me. I’d love to lie on my sofa, with my head in Charles Kennedy’s lap as he tenderly stroked my hair and told me that everything was going to be alright. Thanks to the terrifying power of Photoshop, that disturbing dream is now an even more disturbing reality, but enough of these things (see Fig. 1). Anyway, it’s that wonderful Soda-Stream of a voice he’s got, that voice that gurgles away all the bad in the world. Unfortunately, I am beginning to notice that while his voice is undeniably soothing, it is increasingly saying less and less whilst doing so in quite a round-the-houses manner. So c’mon Charlie, I know it’s hard adjusting to a world where the Yellow Team can’t look themselves in the mirror but that’s the way it is and dulcet tones alone won’t sustain me any more.

charles kennedy loudribs head in lap sofa

Fig. 1

I shouldn’t have been rude about Deborah Meaden in the first paragraph…

Ok, I confess. I thought that Meadan was going to be your standard I’m An Entrepeneur And There’s Nothing That Can’t Be Solved With A Tax Cut but she was actually really good and, shock horror, balanced. Granted, our views differ but at least she has views that aren’t exclusively dictated by a fear of red tape and NI contributions. Deborah, you have my apologies.

Tl;dr

IDS: 5/10

Ticking (like a bomb)

Cooper: 5/10

Picking (one too many fights for my liking)

Kennedy: 5/10

(Is welcome to stroke my hair but I draw the line at) Licking

Jones: 8/10

(Gave everyone a right good) Kicking

Meaden: 7/10

(Has been) Tricking (me into thinking she’d be rubbish when she was actually great)

The Crowd: 7/10

(Weren’t) Dicking (around)?

Well, there you have it: A slow start that gradually built into a head of total chaos. And that’s just fine with me…

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #27


questionable time 27 david dimbleby che

Good morning Lemmings and pardon my yawns – I stayed up well beyond my bedtime last night, suckered in as I was by the local elections. Just in case you were wondering it wasn’t really the politics I was interested in (although watching Warsi stick her foot in it was pretty entertaining) as a trouncing for the coalition seemed like a foregone conclusion. No, instead it was graphs that did for me – or more precisely the combination of graphs and maps. It’s my kryptonite. Anyhoo, that’s about the long and short of that and you don’t come here to learn about my weird little psephological fetishes – at least I don’t think you do – so let’s get on with some Questionable Timing. Here’s what we learned.

Iain Duncan Smith’s face is incapable of lying.

I’ve noted in the past how IDS has this strange innocence about him but I don’t think I realised just how incapable he is of bluffing until last night. It’s his face: Those sad, sad eyes crowned as they are by those funny little demi-eyebrows. They’re like a direct line to whatever is going on inside that perplexing head of his. Now this in itself isn’t that remarkable as all politicians have certain tells (like that regal shade of crimson that David Cameron turns when he’s jolly angry about some jumped-up little chap on the opposite benches or that Cheshire Cat-like grin that Ed Balls does when he’s lying his face off) but the emotions that IDS’s face cannot but help to broadcast are remarkable because they give us a clue about how his mind operates. And how would that be? Well, from the evidence on display last night I can only conclude that he’s a man with an emotional repertoire that belongs to a different age or if we’re being more precise, the 1950’s.

Allow me to explain: When I was watching IDS last night his face did things that most faces do but the sentiments it conveyed were unique to the man in question. For example, he spent most of the first half of the show with his ‘eyebrows’ cocked down at the edges and up in the centre while his lips sucked in on themselves. If I saw this look on a generic face I would say that the person in question was ‘anxious’ or ‘apprehensive’. However, when IDS does it the word that pops into my head is ‘squiffy’. Similarly, when someone’s eyebrows reverse their polarity from their above state (so sides out, middle in) and their mouth sets into a scowl I tend to think that their owner is ‘angry’ or ‘pissed off’. Not with Duncan Smith, uh-uh… He looks ‘cross’.The list goes on: Regular person looks ‘happy’, IDS looks ‘gay’ (in the old-fashioned ‘My, isn’t this workhouse full of toiling urchins a gay sight to behold’). Regular person looks ‘odd’, IDS looks ‘skew-whiff’. Regular person looks ‘excited’, IDS looks ‘all aflutter’. You get the picture.

Anyway, the long and short of all this is that I can’t really give you an objective analysis of anything that he actually said because I was simply too entranced by watching the spirit of a Macmillan-era verger being channelled through the body of a 21st century cabinet minister. In fact, I’d like to go one further than that: I will never be able to give IDS an objective score because he’s just too bloody fascinating. As a consequence, he will no longer receive a numerical mark at the end of each report and will instead be assigned the punctuation mark that I think best describes the experience of watching him. Now here’s a .gif I made of him playing with an imaginary cube (see Fig. 1).

iain-duncan-smith-cube-gif

Fig. 1

I’ve finally realised that I don’t actually know what Harriet Harman does.

Have you ever had one of those weird moments when you’re thinking about someone you’ve known for years and realise that you don’t actually know what they do for a living? Well I had one of those with Harriet Harman last night. It’s not that she doesn’t do anything – she’s been a central figure in the Labour party for as long as I can remember and is regularly on our TV screens – but if push-came-to-shove and I was forced to cite an example of some specific action she was responsible for I’d be completely flummoxed. Given this startling realisation I took it upon myself to have a quick read up on her past appointments and with the exception of some rather solid pre-’97 shadow roles (as well as a brief period as Secretary of State for Social Security) all of her jobs in government have been a little, well, wanky. Take for example some of the following: Lord Privy Seal, Solicitor General and Labour Party Chair. All of these are roles which are undoubtedly important and have impressive sounding titles but they give us no clue as to what such a job actually entails. Similarly, when she’s found herself in positions with titles that let us know what they are actually about I still find that they are the ones that people really care don’t much for (lets face it, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport sounds about as profound as Minister for Interior Design, except when said minister may or may not have been up to his neck in shenanigans).

None of the above means to say that I have anything against Harman as I generally think she’s a pretty able performer and the fact that she inspires such loathing from the Daily Mail means that she must be doing something right, but I still can’t get past the fact that I’m unable to identify her purpose (an affliction also suffered by Frances Maude and John Prescott). Still, she’s not quite as bewildering as IDS so Harman can remain on the numerical scoring system… For now…

The Tories are rattled on the economy.

And well they may be given the events of the last two weeks. However, the really telling thing is not how they try to explain their approach to all matters fiscal but how they try to frame Labour’s. Over the past two years this has involved the relentless drum beat of ‘all you guys want to do is spend, spend, spend like lunatics’ but last night saw the emergence of a new line: Labour are ‘deficit controllers’. As to why they’re taking this line is a mystery to me as ‘deficit controller’ doesn’t actually sound that bad-a-thing (it’s hardly ‘J’accuse!’) but the fact that they’ve had to bin what was up until now a pretty successful stick to beat the Red Team with is interesting. I don’t know, maybe it was just that IDS was on some lone mission but I suspect it runs deeper than that. Watch this space Lemmings.

And the rest of ’em?

Ok, I’ll be honest, I couldn’t really get behind this episode. In its defence, the crowd were pretty sparky (I loved the grammar school boy of yore who had been sent 30 years into the future to defend the rights of ‘hard working people in the financial sector’) and the last 20 minutes on the economy had some decent stuff in but the following put the dampeners on it for me:

1: I grow weary of entrepreneurs equating every single problem in this world to the fact that the world is not friendly enough to entrepreneurs. Yeah, I get it… You guys think that making money is a pretty big deal but while I don’t know a lot of firemen, I’m pretty sure that they don’t equate every problem in this world to the existence of fire. Having said that, I’m inclined to let Theo Paphitis off the hook a little as he appears to be congenitally mischievous.

2 : Ming Campbell is still doing that thing where he looks really surprised to be on Question Time, almost as if he was supposed to be doing something else but got lost and just wandered into the studio.

3: Inclined as I am to agree with much of what Mark Serwotka has to say I just can’t help thinking that he sounds a little, well, smug.

All of which adds up to this:

Tl;dr

IDS: ~

(By) Jingo (he’s an odd puppy)

Harman: 5/10

(Would make quite a convincing) Flamingo (if spray painted pink and covered in feather).

Campbell: 5/10

(Is looking like the Lib Dems’) Ringo

Prophitis: 6/10

(Speaks the) Lingo (of money)

Serwotka: 5/10

(Probably likes to) Tingo

(Supplemental brackets: If you’ve never come across the word ‘Tingo’, please, please click the link… It’s possibly my favourite word ever, closely followed by this one)

The Crowd: 7/10

(May have had their babies stolen by) Dingo(s)?

So there you go, a so-so affair that was the start of a very long evening for poor old Dimbers. That’s it from me, I’m off to do the washing up and wonder why my better half has used an exclamation mark on the calendar where it says ‘Green Bin Day!’. I mean c’mon, I realise Green Bin Day doesn’t come around that often but is it really that exciting? I must get to the bottom of this.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #7


 

Good morning Lemmings and welcome baquestionable time 7 david dimbleby berretck to Questionable Time which this week takes place in the wake of one natures most wonderous spectacles: The Great Tory European Death Pact. This happens to a be personal favourite of mine that tends to occur every five years or so and is usually precipitated by some sort of sustained chuntering from the backbenches. Upon hearing this call, the party then descends into a giant, ill-tempered mob before somehow managing to beach themselves en masse to the dismay of onlookers and the detriment of the species. Scientists are yet to establish why it is that an otherwise thriving collective takes it upon itself to engage in such an orgy of self-destruction but it happens with alarming regularity and the event itself is not without a certain macabre beauty. Say what you want about the Tories but they certainly know how to give themselves a damn good flensing.

So yes, this was the backdrop for last night’s episode and a very right-of-centre affair it was too, what with it taking place in Winchester and the attendance of Messrs. Farage and Fellows. However, the question on my mind was “Who on earth is the Blue Team going to put up and how in Criminy are they going to explain away this mess?”. As things turned out it was Iain Duncan Smith who drew the short straw and even if it wasn’t by design, he pulled off quite an effective rescue effort that merits further investigation.

Whenever I see IDS, I’m always struck by how innocent he appears (see Fig. 1) and this has proved to be both his greatest asset and most dangerous liability. It tends to work like this: IDS observes something that he sees as ‘Bad’ and swiftly concludes that he needs to do something ‘Good’ in order to cancel it out. There the analysis ends in the mind of IDS because in his view the world is a fundamentally simple place and with the application of Good, Bad can be all but eradicated. However, life isn’t like that and as his stint as party leader proved in spades, reality has a nasty habit of muddying otherwise pristine waters. Back then, IDS identified the fact that the party was in disarray (Bad), but also figured out that if he displayed a certain amount of iron-willed leadership (Good), they would quickly come to their senses, fall back into line and the day would be carried. However, it didn’t work like that and the reason it didn’t work was that things are never that simple. For one, the Tories are a seditious bunch and a strong hand on the tiller alone is not enough to keep them from following their baser instincts. No, they need to be manipulated, blackmailed, and cajoled in all manner of imaginative ways and these are things that don’t come naturally to IDS. Secondly, his well-meaning yet ultimately soggy definition of ‘strong leadership’ isn’t shared by a party who exist entirely on a diet of orphans soul’s and before long, his tenure descended into farce.

iain duncan smith teddy bear

Fig. 1

However, when looked at from a different angle, this innate naivety can also work in his favour and last night was one of those occasions. It started, predictably enough, when he got the first crack on the referendum question and his brow began to scrunch up as his mind wrestled with the problem in front him. Here’s what I reckon was going on in his head:

  1. I know Europe is Bad and I would very much like a referendum on it. That would be Good.
  2. However, I also think that the culture of Layaboutism is Bad (in fact probably Worse) and I need to do some Good on that.
  3. The government think a European referendum would be Bad and that it would be Good if didn’t have one.
  4. If the government think I’m Bad for wanting to do a Good thing, they won’t let me do Good to sort out the Worse
  5. So I have to do a Bad thing in order that they let me do some Good for the Worse?
  6. Arrrrrrgh! My Head! Someone turn down the volume in here!

Given the fact that IDS simply doesn’t have much of a capacity for disguising his intent it soon became apparent (mainly from the way his face seemed to writhe) that this matter had clearly tormented him and that his brain was doing somersaults trying to square the circle. The beauty of this display from the point of view of the Blue Team was that it took them out of the picture entirely and instead it became about IDS’s apparent grief. Sure, it didn’t really help them make much of a case for why they shouldn’t have a referendum (a task that was left mainly to Jullian Fellowes to sort out), but it was a slightly more beneficent outcome than could have otherwise been hoped for.

All of which was fortuitous as across the table from IDS sat my all-time favourite cult leader and bastion of irrationality, Nigel Farage, a man who must surely be thinking that at long last, his boat has come in. I like to imagine him buried deep within his Farage Lair, cackling maniacally at the news feeds and rubbing his hands with glee as Europe slips further into the abyss and tonight really was his chance to capitalise on the misery of his foes. “Great!” I thought, “Farage is going to be super crazy tonight! We may even get to see some foam in the corner of his mouth!”, but I was soon to be disappointed. In actual fact, what we saw was despite a few isolated cases of lunacy near the end (largely to do with locking everyone up), repeated use of the phrase “the political class” and a fairly good gag about Theresa May stealing his lines, he played it all rather straight and that was something I found to be quite frightening. You see, I love UKIP when they’re just a nebulous cluster of fruitcakes who fret about the fluoridation of water and Farage is at his best when he’s barely relevant. However, witnessing him make hay whilst appearing vaguely sane and knowing that UKIP are probably in line for a membership surge just puts the jibblies on me, especially when the audience seem to go along with it. So come on Nigel, let’s ditch all this fairly reasonable behaviour and get back to doing what you’re good at which is ranting absurdities in an amusingly harmless manner. After all, you wouldn’t want to end up being a part of the ‘political class’ would you?

So they were the main event of the episode and everyone else seemed to be only incidentally involved. Jo Swinson continued to prove that she’s a quite a tough cookie who negotiated a fair few ambushes in a very ‘head down, press on’ sort of way while Labour’s Gloria De Piero heroically demonstrated how little resonance the politics of the M62 have with the good folk of Winchester (who seem to be mainly composed of True Blue Yeomanry with a smattering of Financially Comfortable Hippies). All of which leads us to Julian Fellowes, a man who seemed to be quite a hit with the audience but was less of a hit with me, mainly on account of the fact that his head appears to be made of wet clay. That bothers me.

Tl;dr

IDS: 6/10

Tormented

Farage: 5/10

Fermented

Swinson: 6/10

Vented

De Piero: 4/10

Fragmented

Fellowes: 5/10

Gented?

So there we have it: A not especially exciting but quite interesting episode where the panelists sounded like they were freestyling over a dub record thanks to Winchester Cathedral’s reverberatory qualities. Now, just before I go let me assure you that the brevity of this week’s report has absolutely nothing to do with today’s UK release of Battlefield 3. Ok, it has absolutely everything to do with the UK release of Battlefield 3 and I’d love to stop and chat about it but I’ve got a kill/death ratio to establish. Oscar Mike.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #21


Morning Lemmings. As is usually the case, I’m going to start with my customary threat to keep this week’s post-Question Time report very brief. Yes, yes, yes, I know I’m beginning to sound like an awful lot of mouth with precious little trousers, but I mean it this time and here’s why: Last night I had band practice for the first time in around 8 months and as a result, I can barely feel my fingers, what with all the high tempo melodic hardcore thrashing that form of the basis of what we do. Add in to this the fact that I also picked up Street Fighter IV in the Steam sale and I’m left with not hands, but gnarled claws that seem to creak and groan their way around the keyboard. So yes, I am truly suffering for my ‘art’ today. Enough of my lamentations and on to what turned out to be a truly Bizarro World rendition of Question Time. Say hello to Ipswich, Lemmings.

The Menu:

Q1: With the Treasury saying that there are going to be huge cuts to the public sector, are we on the road to ruin or the road to recovery?

Q2: Who’s right about prison? Ken Clarke or Michael Howard?

Q3: Is the emergency cap on immigration just a Band Aid for a bleeding wound?

Q4: Is the government going back to the old Tory mantra of ‘on your bike’ with regards to benefits?

In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Ian Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, ex-Tory leader and volume turner-upper.

Once upon a time, Iain Duncan Smith was pretty much the personification of the Tory party at its lowest ebb. Cast into the wilderness after the 1997 election, I really enjoyed watching the Conservatives effectively eat themselves for a few years and in this orgy of self destruction, IDS was a key figure. Picking up the reigns from Hague (who was just way too odd to hold the job down), Duncan Smith managed to turn what was already a dire situation into a complete and utter clusterfuck by a) wielding absolutely zero charisma, b) trying to make up for zero charisma by acting all tough (which is pretty hard when you look like a 50 year old toddler) and c) giving Private Eye writers the easiest 2 years of their life by gifting them with a near endless supply of shonky lines/policies/CV embellishments. Needless to say, the Tory party reached breaking point and did what it tends to do best: Wanton regicide.

Following his unceremonious exit, IDS seemed to be destined to live out his fate in much the same way as most failed Tory leaders do (Hague being a notable and incongruous exception to the rule): Wandering the Desert of Ignominy until someone bothers to give you a peerage and/or a column in The Telegraph. However, in Duncan Smith’s case something very odd happened. After a brief stroll through the barren wastelands of obscurity, he suddenly decided to get rather interested in poverty. Coming from a guy who’s time at the Tory helm was marked by some very bombastic Old Right drum beating, this seemed to be a very odd turn of events and people paid him very little attention, convinced that the trauma of rejection had driven him quite, quite mad. But nevertheless, he persisted and by the time Cameron had risen to power, he seemed to actually know a thing or two about the subject. Fast forward a couple of years, and what’s this I see before me? Why, it’s IDS, sitting comfortably on the front benches and not only that but sitting on the front benches, talking what appears to be a some sense.

For a default Tory sceptic like myself, witnessing the conversion of IDS from Hardcore True Blue to Bleeding Heart Red Tory has been an awkward experience that tends to leaving me feeling out of sorts, but I must confess that on the evidence of this episode, the change seems to be the real thing and not just another strain of Hug-A-Hoody posturings. Starting with Q1, he got away quite lightly with some ‘Greece/countries broke/hell in a handcart’ type stuff that for once, played well with the audience but it was Q2 where he really got in his stride. After a preamble full of social worky type terms (like “polysubstance abuser”) he suddenly started looking very serious and cranked that volume right up. “I sound a bit passionate because I really am” said he and for once on Question Time, it worked (people are usually lying their face off when they pull the ‘passionate’ line). Bolted on to the back of this was some ‘system in a crisis!’/’we’ll all suffer!’ cries and the job was a good ‘un. Q3 was a little ropey (especially his rather half hearted footy joke), but he turned it around on Q4. Now this question could have been really tricky, considering that on the face of it, the policy does have some pretty dubious connotations. However, he again slipped into that super-serious ‘I’ve spent the last 5 years knocking about on council estates’ mode and he actually managed to make it sound like it might be something other than a Tory ploy to deport all welfare claimants to the Isle of Man. Ok, so his “We cut NI!” response to an audience member who asked what they’d done about jobs was slightly rubbish, but the way in which he came across for the bulk of the question was as a man who had seriously thought about this stuff and was coming up with policies because he had genuinely thought about them. Kudos, IDS.

So that was him and I must say, I was caught off guard by it. Yes, he was playing to a largely friendly crowd who were receptive to the Tory line, but there’s more to it than that in that he projected a believable image of someone who does actually care about peoples’ welfare. Whether this translates into policies that do actually work has yet to be seen and I wouldn’t go so far as saying that his filled me with hope for the future, but I will venture than I’m less scared than I would usually be of a Conservative Work and Pensions Secretary. And that’s quite the achievement.

A convincing 7/10

In The Red Corner: Alan Johnson, Shadow Home Secretary, ex-postie and Bowie look-nearly-a-like.

Not content with shaking my world view with IDS’s sudden outburst of rationality, this week’s Question Time continues on its Bizarro trajectory with a quite uncharacteristic performance from all round man of the people, Alan Johnson. I’ve said before that since the election, Labour panellists seem to have slotted into the opposition slot quite well. Finally free from having to defend the indefensible week in, week out, most of them have appeared much more relaxed and actually seem to be enjoying the novelty of harrying the coalition without all the hassle of having to do anything about anything. Considering that Johnson is far and away the most human member of the Shadow Cabinet, my gut told me that he would be in his element now and could turn his talent for sounding reasonable into quite the potent weapon. Yet it was not to be and in actual fact, he came across as a bit of dick.

Given a different crowd, Q1 might well have gone a lot better than it did, but as it was, his ‘Road to Ruin’ and ‘just where in hell are all this jobs going to come from’ pitch failed to ring a bell with anyone. However, it was Q2 where things started getting a bit ugly and when presented with the ‘does jail work?’ question, he lashed out at the Tories for being ‘soft on crime’ and suddenly became a dogged defender of New Labour’s penchant for locking everyone up. Now, I expect this sort of thing from the likes of David Blunkett or John Reid, but from Johnson it just sounds wrong and at odds with his otherwise sane temperament. Q3 did contain some valid stuff about the immigration cap being “snake oil”, but again, the audience weren’t biting and stony silence was the order of the day, much to his chagrin. Finally, there was Q4 and here he committed a bit of an error by saying how much he’d love to hear Duncan Smith worm his way out this one. As it happened, IDS not only wormed his way out, but actually sounded genuinely sapient and all Johnson could do was then try and extract himself with a no ‘money argument’. Now I’m not saying that that point isn’t valid, but he had to deliver it whilst off balance and that made it look somewhat desperate.

So yes, this was not the Alan Johnson that used to be able to mop our brows and cure our ills every time that New Labour dropped a clanger. In power, he was a formidable defensive player, able to smooth the harsher edges of  Blairism’s more authoritarian traits and adept at appealing to the common good. What we saw on this episode however, was a man who is still obsessed by Labour’s legacy and hasn’t been able to adjust to his new position as a centre forward. True, he wasn’t exactly on friendly territory last night, but that doesn’t mask the fact that his performance was overly aggressive, overly partisan and slightly twatty. And that, I’m afraid, is a damn shame because underneath it all is a decent guy, but one who is still stuck in a world that no longer exists.

An unexpectedly fumbled 4/10

In The Independent/Brainy One Corner: Prof. Mary Beard, brainy bookworm and Classicist of note.

I know very little about Mary Beard (except that I like her name. I wish my last name was ‘Beard’. It would go well with my beard), but I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. For a start, she does the whole ‘red wine, Moroccan solids, hemp clothing, child of the 60’s’ thing in way that somehow manages to avoid being utterly nauseating (a tough act to pull off) and also seems to harbour some pretty good opinions. Out of all the panellists tonight, she far and away had the most leeway to take whatever line she wanted and by and large, she pulled it off. Q1’s acknowledgement that “All I know is that I know I don’t know” but “I don’t like how it’s shaping up” set the tone well and applause poured forth, much in the same way that her ‘3 months for riding first class’ anecdote did on Q2 (not to mention her scuffle with a smug looking audience member who went down the ‘prison’s a right larf’ line. She got a “have you ever been to a prison?” slapdown for her efforts and ended up looking like a right tit). Q3 was light on substance but contained a well received quip about students needing to get Holy Orders to study that went down well while Q4 turned into some little chunter about some Ruth Kelly report that no one cares about. That was received with some puzzled looks and nothing else, but overall, it was a pretty solid effort in which she came across as pretty clued up, but also quite grounded. And for me to say that about someone who looks so much like a Womad attending dreamcatcher weaver is quite something, so well done Beardy, you’ve acquitted yourself well.

An encouragingly unhippyish 7/10

In The Independent/Brainy One Corner x2 (?????): Camila Batmanghelidjh, Yoof champion and sartorial nutbar.

She’s all about the kids! She dresses like a fruit salad laced with bad acid! I can barely spell, let alone pronounce her name (except for the ‘Batman’ bit)! It must be Camila Batmanghelidjh! Yes, that’s right, the authentic voice of youthly worthiness is upon us and once you get past the sheer madness of her get-up (especially the fingerless/thumbless gloves), she’s actually pretty sound. Virtually all her responses hinged around some sort of ‘think of the kids’ angle, occasionally spiced up with some other ‘right on!’ attitudes, but it wasn’t done in a way that winds me up, so nice work there. However, the really interesting thing to watch was her sizing up IDS. Like Batmanghelidjh, I too work in the voluntary sector and our default position is to be terrified of whatever the Tories are proposing. We’re all feeling the cuts already, there’s more to come and we’re dreading the rolling back of the state as it means that many of the services we rely on to do our jobs simply won’t be there any more. However, I got the sense that she, like myself, couldn’t bring herself to write off Duncan Smith and although she didn’t go so far as to give him an outright endorsement, you could see that he had her interest. Interesting times indeed.

A perfectly acceptable 6/10

In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Simon Heffer, True Blue Telegraph Columnist and puffy looking type.

Name: Simon Heffer

Appearance: Much like a boiled sweet, possibly orange flavoured (see Fig.1).

Likes: Low taxes, using the words ‘wretched’ and ‘poor’ in close proximity of each other, ‘family’ and other ‘bedrock’ type things.

Dislikes: A big state, lefties, druggies, scroungers, Europeans, paedos, rapists, crims, liberals, humanity in general, etc, etc, etc.

Most likely to: Look a little sweaty whilst bemoaning the collapse of civilisation.

Fig.1

‘Nuff said.

Ok, ok, despite my better judgement, I suppose I’d better give him a little more page space… Here we go!

Q1 was your standard Deficit Bollocks, Q2 was a bunch of ‘it’s complicated stuff’ question avoidance, Q3 was all about ‘sorting out’ illegal immigrants and Q4 was a sustained session of wanking over low taxes. Let’s just say I’m not Heffer’s biggest fan. Yes, he’s not as rabid and torrid as Phillips or Littlejohn, but he’s still a pretty one dimensional attack dog who gets on my nerves and I’m going to wrap it here before I say something I regret.

A regrettably predictable 4/10

The Crowd: Ipswich

As I mentioned at the start, this was a really weird show. Not only were some precious assumptions of mine thrown into doubt, but the format was slightly wonky (what with there only being two party political panellists) and the crowd also freaked me out a little by applauding absolutely bloody everything anyone except Johnson said for the first 40 minutes before becoming very subdued in the final leg. By and large, it was the pro-coalition section who won the day and I think it’s pretty safe to say that Labour’s goose is cooked when it comes to Ipswich. There’s only one Audience Member of Note this week and that goes to the Scottish guy with the pony tail who spoke in that slow but forceful ‘I might be drunk and dangerous but you’ll never really know’ manner. He called for all MP’s to be locked up and then managed to short circuit the Tyranny of Dimbers by totally cutting in on a question without even being pointed to! So impressed was I with this one man insurgency that I haven’t got a clue what he said. Well done sir. Carry on being quietly threatening in a Scottish manner.

A bucket of oddness of a 5/10

2500 words! That is relatively short! I can come through on a threat! See you next week, Lemmings.


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