Posts Tagged 'Janet Street-Porter'

Questionable Time #130


qt 130

Good morrow lemmings and welcome to a sad, sad edition of Questionable Time, direct from bright and sunny Bolton. By which I mean the Questionable Time that time forgot. You may not have noticed, but there’s actually been things called ‘debates’ going on, although the first one wasn’t really a debate, and – but I digress.

I must confess I actually forgot about Question Time’s existence for a while, hence why I’m late today, so caught up was I in Ed Miliband half-threatening to punch Jeremy Paxman in the face and claiming that, yes, he’s tuff enuff. I didn’t know it was possible to cringe and cheer at the same time, you’d think those would be opposite sides of the emotional spectrum, but Ed has shown me the way and now I feel a far broader range of human emotion than I ever did before.

Anyhow, this ought to be a short, perfunctory round-up, as will the dead-duck QTs for the next few weeks: but soon, friends. Soon. Something is coming. Something…relevant.

I’m late, I’m late, for a very important debate

Sure enough, even our first question is about – what a surprise! – the debates. This time – indeed, for the hundredth time – debating whether the debates should be debated. I mean, are worth it. Well, considering that 2.5 million people tuned in to the first double interview…don’t worry, Dimbles. Your time will come. In about a month, I’d say.

Anyway, everyone in the studio has apparently been watching the showdown and most likely eating pizza and yelling, as I did. Seems like because expectations for Miliband were so low, people were just impressed that he didn’t vomit on stage. Every little victory counts.

In any case, a somehow even less popular Labour leader shows up to annoy us all: Jim Murphy. The first real grilling comes quickly – are you going to spend all the mansion tax in Scotland? People are chuckling at whatever the hell he says, which may annoy that one lady who wants people to take the whole debates affair seriously, but I think everyone’s been at the bar at least once by now.

Janet Street-Porter warns about ‘attractive’ Clegg and the Cleggmania effect happening again. Don’t get burned again, people! Not like last time! She also complains about political cliches, which is in itself a cliche. Clicheception! Then a young man in the audience interrupts to show us all his many feelings on Ed Miliband getting bullied. ;______; The dude thinks that Ed should just act ‘the way he is’, although the problem is that many people want him to do the exact opposite. Still, at least he’s got some support!

He’s right to be bullied, warns Nicky Morgan, the Gove replacement that was presumably built in a lab somewhere. Labour’s dirty money is going to come from “people’s pockets”, warns she. Um, Nicky, isn’t there where all tax comes from? Meanwhile Leanne Wood goes straight in about Cameron fumbling on foodbanks, but also states that despite his protestations Ed still isn’t tuff enuff.

Steven Woolfe, the UKIP finance spokesperson, has such a monotonous voice that he’s threatening to even eclipse the rest of the panel (save Janet and Leanne) in the robot stakes, but he soldiers on to claim that it is the humble UKIP that will defeat the dreaded zero-hours contracts. Of course. They put it so highly on their list of top priorities. When people think UKIP, they think zero-hours contracts. They’re almost a single-issue party!

Jim Murphy also soldiers on, trying to give a name to every single member of the audience. Jim, please, it was awkward when Ed did it and it’s even worse with you. At least he’s not up in Scotland, where the more frightening crowd would no doubt have given him some choice examples. He goes for the predictable, but always hilarious, line of attack that Cameron was simply too chicken to face Miliband. Chick-chick-chicken. Bawk bawk bawk.

Nicky is outraged, her voice squeaking. How dare you call delicious Dave a chicken! Roasted in a thick wine sauce! Mmmm…Tory sauce. (I apologise for any brains broken during this QT edition.)

Kiss kiss fall in love

Next question, and we’re actually getting serious now, on where ~*~the money~*~ is coming from. Both the Tories and Labour have ruled out VAT and National Insurance increases. Will it come from further cuts in welfare? There’s only one way to find out…

“No,” says Jim Murphy.

…Oh.

JSP is here to generally rile people up, as usual. She thinks politicians saying that they’re going to cut benefits would be popular, thanks to the mean old media drumming it into people’s heads all the time. As a Media Studies student, I nod sagely, safe in the knowledge that my analysis of cultural hegemony is useful and accessible.

Leanne Wood is here too, of course. According to Dimbleby, she’s representing the SNP as well as Plaid Cymru, and that “you and Alex Salmond are like that” (with appropriate hand gestures). Leanne smiles broadly. Honestly, I ship it. (Look it up if you’re not sad, but want to swiftly become sad.)

We want austerity to burn, says Leanne, and if Plaid Cymru were running the campaign then everything would be better somehow. Well, what about this happiness index!! says JSP, getting hectic. While that’s all going on the UKIP dude continues to be disappointingly uneventful. It almost makes you miss Nigel Farage. At least you’ve always got…something…to say about him.

On the subject of coalitions/pacts, which inevitably comes up for no reason, Jim tries to emulate his boss by coming out fighting. Alex Salmond likes the sound of his own voice and is a poopyhead, says Jim, who probably is sick of the sight of the Saltire by now. Is that the Alex Salmond you recognise?, says Dimbleby slyly to Leanne. David, please, you make it sound like they’re married! Although…

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

JSP goes after Leanne again. Does she just not like her or what? It bothers people, these deals, she begins, before Nicky Morgan leaps in with some much-appreciated input of her own. Mainly about how she respects David ‘breaking the’ Laws and how coalition was hunky dory. When asked if she’d like another coalition, though, she frantically backtracks to great comic effect. She’d like a majority, duh, you guys! Whew, just avoided ‘doing a Pym’ there, Nicky.

If you say ‘Peter Mandelson’ three times facing a mirror at night, you wake up the rest of the house

Last(ish) question. Why is Ol’ Nigey Boy castigated for saying English jobs for English workers, when Greg Dyke said something similar about football at some point? Good one, Greg! You increasingly irrelevant man.

Leanne stops momentum to gush about trade unions for a bit. UKIP Steve takes to the stand instead. UKIP has nothing against immigrants, says Steve. When Gordon Brown said something similar back in the Noughties everyone loved him. Uh, no they didn’t, Steve. I’m fairly sure Gordon was hated 100% of the time. But apparently Nigel is being discriminated against. Steve talks constantly for about five minutes and to his credit sounds reasonably reasonable but I got distracted thinking about what would happen if Ed Miliband and David Cameron got in a punch-up.

Nicky reminds us of the existence of Peter Mandelson and we all cry. Screw Peter Mandelson, I’m proud people are coming here, replies Jim, or words to that effect. Everybody get in here! Get in the paddling pool! There’s room for everyone! Woo, getting a little crowded in there…says Steven while pointing and yelling in a low drone. (Don’t mention the British ex-pats!)

Someone from the crowd lowers the tone yet again. There’s too much positive discrimination, appaz. Whatever happened to getting a job on merit…says the white man. Thank you for your contribution. I shall now proceed to get trolled by angry white men on the Internet.

Finally: Jezza Clarkson. Should he have gone? Could he have got away with it if he’d only slapped, not punched?

To summarise, since I seem to be doing that a lot with the final ‘jokey’ question: Leanne brings up trade unions again, JSP throws a hissy fit again (this time about snobby BBC execs), Jim throws in a Hislop-esque ‘allegedly’ in there not again, and lastly, some guy in the audience asks for everyone to stop talking about this godforsaken topic.

Time for the scores!

Morgan: 5/10

(Run off the) Rails

Murphy: 6/10

(Trying not to think about Scottish Labour being a bunch of) #Fails (, lolololol)

Wood: 7/10

(Did it for) Wales

Woolfe: 5/10

(Why isn’t Nigel here to) Bail[s] (him out)

Street-Porter: 5/10

(What) Ails (you, Janet?)

The Crowd: 8/10

(Wants the) Details

Next time: who even knows?

Next week Lemmings, next week…

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Questionable Time #107


qt 107

Good morrow Lemmings, and it’s time for a new round of Questionable Time! As you may have noticed, our Glorious Leader has departed for the Promised Land and left affairs to me, Elizabeth, the dancing monkey. I’ll be trying out a new, quasi-liveblogging format of post this edition, so let me know your thoughts in the comments and if you want me strung up or not.

Also, unfortunately, my plans for this post were sadly dashed! My scanner has broken down/computer is slow as molasses, so I was not able to prepare some cool illustrations this time. But starting from next week, that’s what we’ll be doing. I leave you with only one bad Photoshop this edition, done in a panic when I realised that technology had failed me. And that’s why this post is so late and why I’m incompetent.

In any case, here we go!

Isis is also the name of the dog on Downton Abbey

Ahh, listen to that familiar theme tune! Doesn’t it send a chill down your spine, the kind you experience whenever you – merely for example – see a big ol’ spider hanging in the corner of your bedroom and you yell and the spider wobbles on its web and you lie crying in the corner waiting for the pain to end, my god won’t it end? Or is that just me?

The first question is on the potential airstrikes, despite the Scottish setting, but don’t worry – we’ll have more than enough of that brand of fun later. Emily Thornberry from the red team is first up and she’s assuring everyone that this isn’t like last time. She’s likeable enough, but her mumblings about an ‘international team’ bring up hazy memories of a certain film some of you may have heard of – Team America: World Police. Heck yeah! (Censored on behalf of our younger readers, of which I am sure there are many.)

IS or Isil or Isis or Helloisitmeyou’relookingfor are bloody horrible, repeats every member of the panel to much collective nodding. I groan as they continue to nod faster and faster, because questions like these rarely rouse hysterical screaming which is obviously the real reason we’re all watching Question Time, mainly in vain. Don’t worry, count on the Scots to heat things up later. In any case, MPs are most likely wondering right about now: ‘Why Iraq? Why couldn’t it be one of those other Middle Eastern countries no-one cares about?’ So, boots on the ground is a big no-no…at least for now.

Rory Stewart from the blue team is up next. He looks like a sixth-form student, specifically a guy I used to know in sixth-form, so much so that I did a double-take and almost looked up his Facebook to congratulate him on his new career path. He’s apparently a respected academic, foreign policy expert, charity worker, author and general scuttler across the Middle East. It’s unbelievable yet true, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes on to be promoted once or twice or thrice. Anyway, he says, squirting some anti-acne cream on to his sallow cheeks, airstrikes alone won’t solve things apparently, just like how dropping a beachball on to an anthill won’t get rid of an infestation. Everyone just sighs miserably at this point. It seems that politics, after a brief flash of life in the Scottish referendum, has devolved (heh) into a resigned grumble. All is as it should be.

Meanwhile, JSP is in the house and shaking her head about mission creep, which isn’t a hot new hiphop group but a very serious problem about not knowing what the hell it is you’re doing. She’s profoundly against airstrikes and makes a good point about the mawkish reporting of Isis atrocities. Janet hasn’t made any sort of embarassing outburst yet, but we’ll just have to wait and see!

Rory says we need diplomats on the ground. Bring in the diplomats! That’ll learn ’em.

On the Scottish side of things, it’s all about to heat up – so far John Swinney and Lesley Riddoch haven’t contributed much but that’s about to change. I’ve heard so many Scottish accents in recent weeks that I’ve basically turned Scottish.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE OIL, comes the obligatory cry from the audience, and on that note, let’s move on.

FREEEEDOM or whatever

Lesley begins by saying the past year was the best year of her life: the humanity, the optimism, the haggis. That’s a bit worrying Lesley, even if the level of democratic interest was heartening to see (although as an English person I was pooping myself over what would happen either way). But is it ovah? It ain’t ovah. Now the argument over the devolution solution begins. Janet agrees, it was great to watch with excess popcorn, but she’s tired of all the campaigning ‘n’ stuff and wants to have a nice nap. Or greater democratic control for ordinary people, either one. I’ve only now realised that Janet is like your wacky aunt that shows up at family reunions and spikes the punch with vodka.

But will there be another referendum? Devolution won’t stop that, says a woman in the audience. The SNP are growing and hunger for blood. IT WON’T STOP. NOTHING CAN STOP IT. RUN, MORTAL. The dream will never die!

There’s also a guy in the audience that looks like Rory Stewart’s SNP clone. My god, they’re breeding! Anyway, he says that he doesn’t believe that they’ll get devolution. Yes you will, assures Emily, to the satisfaction of no-one. Rory remains silent, perhaps freaked out by his clone.

Emily is still going. I’m British, she says a thousand times. Thank you for staying because I’m British, you’re British (whether you like it or not), everybody’s British! British for everyone! You all get a British! But the Tories still suck and I won’t even acknowledge them. Since she reminds me of Professor Sprout from the Harry Potter series she’s about to get away with this when John Swinney, who up until now appeared like the Yes vote version of Alistair Darling, makes a pretty sick burn. “You were all too happy to speak to each other during the referendum campaign!” Emily says no, we’re smacking David Cameron down. Don’t worry, we’ll force him into line. Rory remains silent, quietly sweating. Dimbleby rounds on him as he tends to do and the man, who looks like a weedy nerd but actually scampered across Afghanistan one time, is startled into life. “No ifs, no buts,” says Rory, “No public sector cuts”, he doesn’t continue.

Then Emily has one more go at dismissing DCam. “He’s been put back in his box!” Applause and laughter as the thought of David Cameron being left in a box is inexplicably popular.

The West Lothian question: Tam Dalyell has a lot to answer for

I scream in terror as this infamous questions rears its ugly head once more. Janet thinks some things should be devolved but on the other hand it could be a right kerfuffle, couldn’t it? John Swinney responds to the ‘should only Scottish MPs vote for Scottish devolution’ point by replying, smugly, well! You can’t exactly rely on Labour for that one, eh? Eh? Eh?! Emily will not rise to this. You hear me, John? You’re on your last warning.

NO! shouts Janet, NO MORE! WE’RE DROWNING IN REFERENDUMS. Rory sweats in response and doodles on his schoolwork paper. Lesley seems to have given up and basically finishes with a ‘Screw this, let’s abolish the Lords’ flourish. This gets approval from the audience, who are up for any sort of tearing down of ancient institutions at this point. Doesn’t matter what they are, grab your pitchforks because we’re about to go a-mobbin’.

Rory finally jumps in. English votes for English laws. It’s not like this would help the Tories or anything. Let’s rely on the Queen instead. Dimbleby, who has been overly sarky this whole episode, brings up the Queen ‘purring’ and her secret life as a member of furry fandom. Emily is cackling like a witch around a cauldron. But then Ed Miliband forgetting his speech pops up and ho ho ho oops it’s no longer a laughing matter. Of course, the fact that Ed Balls rambled boringly on about it for his whole conference speech doesn’t register, but John takes this moment to distinguish the lovely SNP from the evil Labours. Janet says she’s had enuff of these no-notes speeches and that they’re so macho, they’ve gotta be so macho, big and strong, enough to turn you on. And something about class war. I wonder if Janet is affected by the potential mansion tax? If only we lived in a Scottish dream state in which nobody disagreed with each other ever! BRB, moving up there in time for the next inevitable referendum.

Also, as brought up by Janet, apparently Ed Miliband’s had voice coaching, but so did Maggie Thatcher and pretty much every Prime Minister since then. The only problem with this is that unlike all those other PMs, Ed’s voice has not changed at all. He is uncompromisingly, eternally, despairingly Ed. Unlike Rory’s bizarre wish, he’s not Fidel Castro. This actually may end up being a problem.

The petty bickering continues until Dimbleby finally pulls the plug, thus proving Janet, Lesley and John to be absolutely correct: this is definitely the best time in their lives. Wouldn’t you all agree? I’m going to go eat a sandwich.

Anyway, I spot Clacton in the weeks ahead so be ready for Farageageddon on QT once more. Will his reign over the programme ever end? Signs point to a No vote there!

Time for the scores!

Stewart: 5/10

Jogging (across the world)

Thornberry: 5/10

Slogging (away)

Swinney: 7/10

Flogging (some cut-price referendums, get ’em while they’re hot)

Riddoch: 3/10

Clogging (up the stage)

Street-Porter: 6/10

Hogging (the screentime)

The Crowd: 8/10

Blogging (about their intense Scottish opinions, probably)

So how do you all feel about this style of post? Like it? Hate it? If you hate it, I’ll be sad but change it back. I also may change other things around here, but don’t worry – nothing major. Just converting it into a Anna ‘Chortles’ Soubry fanclub, that’s all. It’s what we all really want.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #36


questionable time 36 david dimbleby street fighter 2

Good morning Lemmings and welcome to Questionable Time’s which will from now on be having a bit of a timeshare with Indy Voices. That’s right, after years of lurking menacingly in the darkened recesses at the very bottom of the internet, Indy Voices has finally seen the light/taken leave of its senses and unleashed this Thing That Should Not Be on the wider world. I see big things coming of this, Lemmings…. I see a nation, one nation of average, regular Joes who attended comprehensive schools and had perfectly normal childhoods’ discussing Dialectical Materialism with their parents, all marching forward to a brighter future. One Nation, Lemmings, One Nation Under Questionable Time.

Anyway, delusions of grandeur aside, I suppose I’d better explain what this is all about. Basically, every week The Independent will be running a somewhat edited version of Questionable Time on their website. Most of the content will be the same but there will probably be a bit more of it here and maybe some bonus content from time-to-time. So, if you like your Questionable Time to be shorter and sweeter, head to Indy Voices, but if you want the warts and all version, stick around here. Or do both. In fact, definitely do both.

. To Manchester we go…

A Personal Appeal to Ken Clarke…

Hello Ken… Can I call you Ken? It’s just that you’ve been in my life so long that I feel we can dispense with the formalities. Not only that, but I also feel a strange kinship towards you that has, over the years, developed to the point of a political crush. You see I was born in 1979 and my life to the age of 17 was dominated by a backdrop of wall-to-wall Conservatives, most of whom I had a very bad feeling about. You though, you were different. For example, while most of your peers were happy to carry on speeding into the night after running down some innocent bystander in that rolling political hit-and-run that were the Thatcher/Major years, you were the one who would stop, check that the hapless victim was still breathing and maybe call an ambulance from your newfangled car phone. Sure, you too would most likely flee the scene before the authorities turned up (“Sorry old boy, no hard feelings but I must be getting on”) but it was the thought that mattered. And so it was that I breathed a sigh of relief upon your appointment as Justice Secretary. At least someone on the Blue Team might be able to rein in the wilder excess of their peers.

But look Ken, look what’s happened! They’ve replaced you with a guy who looks like an angry baked bean and cast you into that weird netherworld populated by a shadowy people know as The Ministers Without Portfolios (or as I like to call them, Ministers For Staring Into The Middle Distance). Sure, they’ve made the obligatory noises about how you’ll be a roving “wise head” but let’s not kid ourselves, they’ve done a number on you and you know it.

And how do I know that you know it? Well, first off there’s the fact that you spent a lot of time sticking up for the process of tendering but couldn’t quite bring yourself to mount a steadfast defence of your colleagues. Then there was that little jibe about Tory “modernisers” that you managed to stop before it went too far, but it was there nevertheless. Finally, that little ambush that Dimbers set up at the end about your ‘responsibilities’?  You happily walked into that of your own free will. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it: They chucked you under a bus and no amount of talking very loudly will cover for the fact that it eats you up.

So what now, Ken? What is to be done? Well, common sense would suggest that you have two options available: A) Spend the next three years simply going through the motions as Minister For Staring Into The Middle Distance before resigning your seat in 2015 to accept the inevitable ticket to the Lords or B), tell ’em to get knotted and spend the next three years hurrumphing from backbenches before ascending to the upper house. Option B certainly sounds like it could be quite fun but I think I might have just stumbled on an Option C: Defect to the Lib Dems.

Think about it, Ken. You’re not a million miles away from them and given that you’d be the only person in the world actually seeking to join the Yellow Team, they’d give you anything you wanted. Sick of that yellow dove logo? Bang! It’s a purple basking shark. Unimpressed by The Land being the party’s de-facto anthem? Boom! It’s Mingus Ah Um! Not only that, but can you imagine the leaving do the Tory party would throw for you? I can and I’ve done my best to mock it up (see Fig. 1). Go on Ken, you know it makes sense.

ken clarke leaving do snake george osborne

Douglas Alexander should have employed The Reverse Pixies theory of politics…

Ah, Wee Dougie, nice to see you still wedged awkwardly between Steadily Dependable and Bordering on Dull. Unfortunately for you, tonight you ended up with the bulk of your body mass edging towards the Bordering on Dull side and that’s because you didn’t employ The Reverse Pixies method. Allow me to explain: The Pixies were always noted for structuring their songs in a certain way that is often referred to as Loud – Quiet – Loud. It’s dead simple really – you start your song off all guns blazing, crank down the ferocity to a whisper in the mid section and then finish it off with a hell-for-leather, balls-out assault. This formula works brilliantly for seminal early nineties alt-rock bands and also for some politicians (Farage sometimes pulls it off, although it’s usually Loud -Loud -Loud. Even when it is Loud – Quiet – Loud it’s because he hasn’t got a clue what he’s talking about in the middle bit). However, you are not that sort of politician but fear not because the Reverse Pixie (Quiet – Loud – Quiet) can be equally as potent.

I’ve seen you do it before on QT, lulling the crowd into a false sense of security with that measured, almost soothing tone of yours before shocking them back to reality with a sudden outburst in the middle of a spiel. Then, once the message has been delivered by means of verbal sledgehammer, you tuck them back in with some of that Scottish low-talking of yours. Unfortunately, you didn’t manage to pull off the Reverse Pixie tonight and what we actually got was Quiet – Quiet – Quiet, a method that only really appeals to fans of hellishly twee acoustic singer-songwriters and trust me Dougie, you don’t want their votes.

Just what exactly does Susan Kramer get up to when she’s not on Question Time?

Now this has been bothering me for a while: What exactly does Susan ‘Hair Like Cosmo Kramer From Seinfeld’ Kramer do? Well, a cursory glance at the internet suggests that she’s now a Baroness after losing her seat in 2010 (did you know that? I sure didn’t) but there it pretty much ends. No, the only thing that Susan Kramer actually does is appear on Question Time around once per year and this leads me to suspect the following: Baroness Kramer is the QT production team’s version of Blue Peter’s George the Tortoise (although with a slightly lopsided hibernation cycle). Once a year, they carefully remove a straw filled box that’s kept in the airing cupboard and gently coax her back to life with leaves of lettuce. Then, once the show is complete they gently lower her back into the container, check that the air holes are unobstructed and stow her away safely until another year dawns. It’s the only logical explanation.

Be that as it may, I must confess, this was a pretty good year for George Kramer, the Question Time Tortoise. Ok, so it wasn’t the toughest competition, what with Ken halfway checked-out and Dougie unable to crank the volume but fair to play to her, she did get the most claps. I also like the fact she really had it in for Willie Walsh, something that leads me to suspect that she spends most of her hibernation dreaming about being delayed at airports.

Talking of Willie Walsh…

Now here’s a guy I’m having trouble pinning down. On the upside, he’s more interesting than most of the business types they have in the dummy seat. Usually it’s all ‘blah blah CUT TAXES blah blah RED TAPE!’ but Willie Walsh seems to have a little more depth than that. However, that depth is offset by that weird, locked-down presentation where everything is delivered in such a controlled manner that you can’t help but wonder what’s really going on underneath. It’s not a deal breaker and his performance wasn’t bad but it does lend the whole thing an air of oddness that it probably could do without.

Now, while we’re on about business types being on the panel, I have a small suggestion to make. Can we please get Michael O’Leary of Ryanair fame on one day? Yes, I know he’s a bit of pillock and yes, he’ll try to turn the whole show into an hour-long Ryan Air commercial but seriously, it would be fun. That man is nothing if not value for money.

This whole Questionable Time on Indy Voices thing could come to a very abrupt end…

Huh… Well this is awkward… As long time readers of Questionable Time may know, I am not a fan of Janet Street-Porter’s QT outings, which is slightly tricky as she appears to be an Editor-at-Large for The Independent. Still, what’s the point in having barely constructed bridges if you can’t douse them in petrol and set them ablaze? Absolutely none, that’s what.

Alas, I have to confess that I actually wasn’t that wound up by JSP last night. Ok, so I’ve still got some sort of congenital vulnerability to her voice (it totally rustles my jimmies and makes me feel like I’m eating sand) but in her defence she didn’t blame absolutely everything on men and that sudden disclosure of the hairdresser incident really took me (and everyone else) aback. So yes, for once I’m going to go easy on JSP and you’ll just have to trust me when I say that The Independent is the best publication on earth… Sorry, I meant to say “that my neutrality has been in no way compromised by recent developments”.

Manchester still vexes me…

Once upon a time I was a student in Manchester and I can sum up my time there as thus: 50% ridiculous, world-class partying and 50% pure, abject terror. Now don’t get me wrong, the partying bit was great, but the terror? The terror I could have done without. So it is that I’m always slightly twitchy whenever I watch Manchester shows. It’s the vowel intonation (“stick yore head in a freezor, sound like yore from Manchestor”). It just sets me on edge.

Despite the above, I must confess that this was one of the more benign Manchester outings. Ok, so the show itself was mostly scrappy. The West Coast to-do was a bit of train wreck, the Miliband question failed to generate enough steam while the Savile thing only had one logical response (‘This thing is not a good thing’). However, the strong showing of support for not arming the police and the repudiation of the gallows were both rather heart warming and by-and-large, the crowd didn’t frighten  me.  Whilst we’re on the crowd, special mentions are mandatory for the guy whose glasses were so far down his nose that they flat-out confounded physics and also to the Classic Metalhead who made the rather good joke about Ed Miliband’s “Adrian Mole voice”. Should I ever be in Jilly’s Rock World, I will buy you a snakebite and black.

So not bad from a city that not only gave me a degree but also more Crime Reference Numbers than you can shake a stick at, superficial facial scarring and a compo cheque for £2200.

Tl;dr

Clarke: 5/10

Thwarted

Alexander: 5/10

(Should have) Resorted (to the Reverse Pixie Method)

Kramer: 6/10

Reported (that she didn’t like planes being late)

Walsh: 5/10

(Has) Transported (a great many people to far away locations on his aeroplanes)

Street-Porter: 5/10

Purported (to know a great many unsavoury things in the world of light entertainment)

The Crowd: 5/10

Assorted?

Alright, it’s insanely early in the morning, I’m starting to see things and with the benefit of hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have written this whilst listening to the new Godspeed You! Black Emperor album on repeat. That’s not to say it’s a not a great record – for it is – it’s just that at times it’s the sonic equivalent of staring at a strobe light after having dropped a metric ton of acid.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #22


questionable time 22 david dimbleby audry hepburn

Good morning Lemmings and welcome to Questionable Time which this week is brought to you from my death-bed. Ok, so ‘death bed’ might be a slight exaggeration as it’s more like my ‘moderately hungover and groggy bed’ but there is a commonality between the two phrases in that they both contain beds and that these beds contain me. So, why am I hungover? Well, I’ll level with you, I just couldn’t quite bear the thought of approaching a Scottish episode involving Janet Street-Porter, a bunch of no-name Caledonian politicos and a clutch of issues pertaining to our northern cousins without something to take the edge off it. In fact, the only thing that kept me from unilaterally declaring this week a holiday was the prospect of Charles Kennedy being there (he’s like my secret QT hip flask… Even with the most God-awful panels he somehow manages to make my insides feel all warm and fuzzy) so upon receiving the news that he had ‘missed his flight’ I thought ‘Cobblers to it, I’m getting sauced’. As a result, this likely to be a short and less-than-accurate account.

Right, where to start? How about with the SNP’s Humza Yousaf, a jaunty fellow who’s got a good line in prattling enthused claptrap about all things Scottish and independent? Initially I was quite taken with him because he seems to have quite the talent for rabble rousing but as time went on the penny started dropping that there wasn’t a great deal of substance in it all and that he may just be the latest honours student from the Alex Salmond School of Jiggery-Pokery. Then he said something that suddenly joined all the dots together in one fell swoop: “I was 16 when we went into Afghanistan”. ‘Come again? 16? And you’re a… politician? No wonder you’re a little rash and over-exuberant! 22 year-olds are rash and over-exuberant by their very nature!’. Then another penny dropped: ‘Wait a second, if you were 16 in 2001, that means you’re now 26 which in turn means we’ve been in Afghanistan for over 10 years!’. Now, don’t get me wrong, I already knew this to be true in the semantic sense but it’s only at times like this that a fact creeps up on you takes you off guard that it really begins to sink in. 10 years. We’re going head-to-head with Vietnam for the accolade of Most Long-Winded Tragedy of Modern Times here and that’s not the sort of accolade you proudly display on your mantelpiece. Anyhoo, where does all this leave young(ish) Humza? Well neither here-nor-there really. On the one hand, he should be old enough to realise that operating on pure bluster will only get you so far but on the other hand I do find his lean and hungry disposition to be rather fun to watch and he does possess more than a smidgen of charisma. In light of this, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt…. For now.

Talking of charisma, lets say hello to our other Scottish panelists – the Conservative’s Ruth Davidson and the Lib Dems last-minute stand-in Willie Rennie – as this seems to be a department in which they are both lacking. In the case of Davidson I think this stems from the fact that she looks like the third Krankie who somehow managed to escape and is now doing her level best to lead a relatively ordinary life, even if this involves constantly repressing the brutal memories of being forced to dress as a little boy in the name of ‘comedy’. As a result she just seems a little nervous, a little wary and despite not messing anything up too spectacularly, I must confess that I was left feeling a little nonplussed. Similarly, Rennie also failed to set the night ablaze and that’s because he seems like a nice, reasonable man who enjoys outdoorsy things and would just like everyone to get along. Is that a bad thing? Not particularly. Does it make for good QT-ing? Again, not particularly.

So that’s the natives dealt with, now we come on to the one person who did fully hold my attention for the entire show, Frank Field. Now, Field’s a funny character, sort of like a weird mash-up between Eeyore and Dr. Strangelove (an observation rendered doubly valid by his outpouring of love for nuclear power at the end of the show) who exists only to cause sullen trouble for his nominal party from time-to-time and that makes him fascinating to watch. True to form, Field spent the best part of last night lining up sacred lefty cows before unceremoniously massacring them one by one. Youth unemployment? The kids need a clip around the ear. Wind turbines? The greatest swindle in history. The audience? “Scrubbing about on the floor”. Now, at face value that sounds like the sort of pugnacious hucksterism that we’d expect from the likes of Melanie Phillips but somehow Field manages to deliver these sentiments in a way that doesn’t make my skin crawl. It’s not the fact that he clearly believes these things to be true as I’m pretty sure that Phillips also fully believes in whatever she’s ranting about it, it’s the fact that these things make him so self-evidently sad and sadness is a very human quality. So yes, well done Frank. I can’t say I agree with much of what you say but I do admire the fact that you voluntarily live in thicket of ideological brambles. Good stuff.

And Janet Street-Porter? Yeah, still like sticking scrunched up balls of sandpaper into your ears and vigorously rotating them back and forth…

Tl;dr

Yousaf: 6/10

Wiley

Davidson: 5/10

Shyly

Rennie: 5/10

Highly (unremarkable)

Field: 7/10

(Un)Smiley

Street-Porter: 4/10

(Jesus Christ) O’Reilly

The Crowd: 6/10

Stylee?

Aaaaaaaand we’re done. Nearly. The one thing I forgot to mention was the lack of topical photoshops in this week’s Questionable Time. Well, I had a great Charles Kennedy one all set up and ready to go but ‘he missed his plane’ so that will just have to bide its time in the holding pattern. However, as luck would have it my brother Tom has sent me this little gem: Behold, a God-awful painting of David Dimbleby as an Eastern European peasant woman.

david dimbleby peasant woman

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #4


questionable time 4 david dimblebyGood morning Lemmings and welcome to another instalment of Questionable Time, this week brought to us by the seemingly sunstroked denizens of Liverpool. Now, I realise that our national character leads us to become a little giddy when faced with the prospect of unseasonably clement weather but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how unhinged we can be in the face of elevated temperatures until I watched last night’s show, seething pit of madness that it was. I also can’t help but feel a little sorry for the Labour party who (much like the Lib Dems last week) found their conference thunder stolen by a villain no less mundane than the possibility of driving 10mph faster on the motorway. Seriously Britain, have we not bigger fish to fry? Anyway, I’m sure we’ll come to that a little later on so in the meantime, let’s get this show on the road (at the current speed limit of 70mph).

Right, first victim tonight is Grant Shapps, Housing Secretary and a man whose constant, low-key gesticulation makes him look like he’s forever playing with an invisible Rubik’s Cube (see Fig. 1). Although relatively new to Question Time, Shapps seems to be getting the hang of it rather quickly and actually looks quite comfortable nestled between his mortal enemies/esteemed coalition partners on the panel and this, it would be logical to conclude, can only be a good thing, right? Well, yes and no. On the one hand it means that he doesn’t feel the need like some of the newer intake to stick his oar in to absolutely any two-bit point going (as is the case for many a Question Time rooky) but there’s something else I noticed about him this week that takes the sheen off this otherwise virtuous trait: He’s already getting a taste for applause.

grant-shapps-rubiks-cube

Fig. 1

Now, the very fact that a fresh-faced Tory minister can garner a few claps in Liverpool is an achievement in itself and one that was usually the result of skirmishing with Caroline Flint (who is quite a tough cooky when it comes to Question Timing), but it’s what he does with those claps that bothers me as his primary response to applause seems to be to look a little, well, pleased with himself in a ‘Look Mum, didn’t I do well’ sort of way. I realise that sounds churlish as after all, he earned those claps but he is sailing very close to the Line of Smugness right now and unless he starts to crowbar some humility in there (however faux it may be), he will run the risk of becoming annoying. So how should he respond? Well, there’s a few schools of thought here, ranging from the Warsi-esque Continue To Shout Relentlessly Over The Applause approach to the Look Wild Eyed And Visibly Pissed Off manouevre favoured by the likes of Mehdi Hassan. Personally speaking though, I’m a fan of the Shirley Williams technique: Look Unmoved Yet Regal and Imposing. Granted, this is a tricky one when you look so young that you’d get asked for ID when buying paracetamol but the blueprint is fundamentally sound. It’s worth a punt Grant as while you may well have the right to look tickled pink, too much self-satisfaction can only lead to people wanting you to look punched black and blue. Not a bad performance though.

Right, Red Team next and here comes Caroline Flint, Shadow Communities Minister and someone I feel slightly sorry for on account of the number of search queries I get for the term ‘Caroline Flint naked’. Let me assure you, she’s pretty unique in this respect and I’m not exactly drowning in a sea of ‘Ken Clarke naked’ searches. Ickiness aside, Flint was quite interesting last night as for the first half of the show she looked genuinely at ease and I’m chalking this up to the fact that following Miliband’s conference speech she no longer feels the need to unconditionally defend every aspect of New Labour’s time in office. For example, had this been a year ago she would have been all a-bristle and jumping down the throats of anyone who dared question the merit of the Blair/Brown government’s yet last night she seemed much more mellow and even hinted at that New Labour might have got some stuff wrong (shock horror). This isn’t to say that she wasn’t without edge and she did use pretty much every opportunity to have a go at the Tories, but it wasn’t quite as visceral as it has been in the past.

So, it was all well and good, right? Flint no longer feels haunted by the ghosts of Labour’s past and can stride confidently into the sunlit uplands of Militopia without even breaking a sweat? Erh, no. Going on last night’s performance she’s having real trouble getting her head around exactly what New Old Purple Blue Labour is and it was actually left to Peter Oborne of all people to do the heavy lifting on Miliband’s behalf. And that’s the problem with Flint: She’s very good tactically, tough as nails and capable of sustaining damage that would destroy other panelists. However, when it comes to the strategic picture she’s all at sea and often seems incapable of fully articulating what it actually is that she stands for. Still, she could always go on naked. From what I hear, there’s a market out there for that sort of thing.

Moving on to the Yellow Team we have Tim Farron, President of the Liberal Democrats and a man who last night popped his QT cherry. Now there’s something I instinctively like about Farron in that he’s clearly a born trouble maker who’s making absolutely no effort to disguise the fact he really can’t abide being in coalition. That makes a nice change from the usual earnest hand wringing we’ve seen of late and the fact that he has no problem in nailing some fairly crimson colours to the mast is also refreshing. However, like Shapps, he also suffers from an undercurrent of latent smugness and despite the fact that it should be fairly easy for someone bigging up the virtues of social housing to turn a quick applause buck in Liverpool, the going for him was tougher than it should have been last night. Most of this was down to his unrepentantly pro-European stance but he also threatened to drag the show into the realm of farce at one point when he tried to make a convoluted and not entirely brilliant point about “sheep tagging”. I’ll leave it to your imaginations to figure out how that was interpreted by the audience but needless to say, it didn’t go quite the way he intended. So bad luck there Tim. Next time try bringing up a reference to ‘snow jobs’ or the importance of ‘rowlock safety’. That’s bound to work.

Ok, that’s the politicos done but it is with heavy heart that I introduce the first of tonight’s civilians: Janet Street-Porter, a woman whose sole aim in life is to scream the reason out of any debate. Last night we had the dubious pleasure of her railing variously against Europe, Labour and (of course) men, but it was the crowd’s reaction that vexed me as they heaped applause on her despite the fact that nothing she said made a lick of sense. You see, I’ve been exposed to such repeated and heavy doses of JSP in the past that I can deal with the fact that her vocal chords are only capable of making white noise and that her proposed solution to most problems is to line the male population against a wall and shoot them but what I can’t get my head round is why anyone else would go along with it. It just puts me into a flat spin of anguish and shakes my faith in humanity to its very core. I really hope I’m not alone in thinking this because if I am, then the game is truly up and the end is nigh. Surely I am not the only one who looks upon her works and despairs?

Ughh… Enough on JSP as I can take no more. Happily though, our final panelist is a doozy and one that I was secretly hoping would be on the roster after his wanton display of unreasonableness on Wednesday’s Newsnight. Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you Peter Oborne, columnist-of-note and all round mentalist. Never one to shy away from controversy, Oborne lost no time in taking the seemingly innocuous speed limit question and turning it into a call to arms for the repeal of pretty much every law and the dissolution of Europe. But he wasn’t done with Europe yet, not by a long shot and he was soon able to piggyback on the anti-EU comments of an audience member, denouncing the project as “brutal”. The crowd went totally bananas with that comment, applauding him to the rafters and showering him with praise. However, none of them were prepared for what happened next and I’m pretty sure that it was the most comprehensive reversal of fortunes I’ve witnessed in nearly two years of covering Question Time. The first indication that his star was on the wane came when he effortlessly segued from damning Europe to calling Thatcher “a great woman”. As he happened to utter these fateful words in Liverpool it came as no surprise that the mood turned from one of jubilation to that of lynch mob but what was surprising was how little he cared about this turn of events. No, instead of backing off he then went on to describe Thatcher as “compassion itself”, a phrase that can get you sectioned if you’re north of the Severn-Wash line. Predictably, this lead to a torrent of heckles and the most comprehensive booing I’ve seen for some years but did he care? Did he cobblers.

So that was pretty exciting, but it was also very much in character as we all know that Oborne is a man who goes in for Euro Damning/Thatcher Venerating. What I wasn’t expecting however was his answer to the Miliband speech question. So far as I was concerned, this was going to be a pretty standard exercise in scorn pouring but in actual fact it turned out to be quite the opposite: He loved Miliband’s speech! Well, that pretty much finished me off and by the time the credits were rolling my whole world had been turned upside down. So well done Peter Oborne, you may be pathologically contrary old hack who couldn’t give two hoots about who you offend but by golly are you entertaining. Big marks for you and your complete disregard for social approval.

Alright, so that was the panel and all that’s left is the audience, odd bunch that they were. My first reaction to this lot was one of unmitigated gloom when it turned out that the first question was neither the existential financial crisis nor the seismic shifts currently taking place in the Labour party and was in fact all about the speed limit. Unsurprisingly, that made for the most tepid of debates and I was on verge of writing them off on the basis of that folly. However, they did pull things around and when it came to the meatier issues they did prove to be a vocal – if mercurial – lot. Like Birmingham’s audience last week, they went in for an awful lot of random clapping (so much so that I couldn’t really figure out which of the politicians actually won the day) but at least they had the saving grace of seeming to actually believe in something, even if that something was that they still very much hated Thatcher. They were also rowdy enough to provide the ideal foil for Oborne’s panto villain and to that end, I’m grateful. However, I would like to address the question raised by one lady as to whether you “can be a Eurosceptic and Pro-European?”. The answer to that is ‘no’. Because it would be stupid.

Schapps: 6/10

Good enough

Flint: 6/10

Tough

Farron: 6/10

Up to snuff

JSP: 3/10

Duff

Oborne: 7/10

Gruff

The Crowd: 6/10

Acceptable stuff

And that’s you’re lot. I’m off to continue torturing myself with the Battlefield 3 Beta: There’s a great game in there somewhere but I just wish the damn thing would stop lagging so I could at least have a chance of finding it. Ah, the joys of beta rage…

Next Week Lemmings, next week…

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #38


question time david dimbleby 38

Morning Lemmings and don’t say I didn’t warn you. That’s right, a couple of weeks back I mentioned that the photoshops were going to become progressively weirder and this week I am coming good on that promise. Actually, there is some method behind the madness as they didn’t announce the lineup until very late, by which time I’d had to crack on and with no subject material at hand, I plumped for sticking a massive Mr. Whippy on Dimbleby’s head. Don’t ask me why, I just work here. Silliness aside, we find ourselves in Newport this week and also sporting a very busy six seat lineup, largely on account of its Welshness and the obligatory need to shoehorn in the Plaid brigade. So without further ado let us saddle up and march towards the sound gunfire.

 

Ok, so in theory the headline act of this week should be the Welsh Secretaries of Past and Present Face Off Extraordinaire, what with Cheryl Gillan (famous mainly for claiming dog food on parliamentary expenses) representing the Conservatives and convincing Umpa Lumpa impersonator (see Fig.1) Peter Hain propping up the Labour end of things. On paper, this should have been a good match up as both should have plenty of material with which to smite the other, but in actual fact it turned out to be terminally dull as neither participant really knows where they are at the moment. In the case of Gillan this is largely due to the fact that nobody’s really got a clue who she is despite years of lingering on the peripheries of power and that her very matronly, ‘look of disapproval’ manner endears her to precisely no-one. On top of this, she’s super clumsy (like when she admitted that she doesn’t live in Wales. You might not, but for god sake don’t volunteer that information for free) and appears to only be able to hold one line of attack in her brain at one time. That’s usually excusable but when that line of attack happens to be the hackneyed ‘blame the previous Labour government/deficit for everything including the Great Fire of London, Spanish Influenza, the disappearance of the Lindbergh baby and the Fall of Singapore’ it’s just lame. Naturally, given this method’s wanton overuse (or abuse as some may say) over the past nine months, there was little love for her in Newport and rightly so as frankly she was bollocks (especially when she just flat-out refused to answer a question about the number of jobs going in the NHS).

peter hain umpa lumpa

Fig. 1

Having said that, it’s worth pointing out that Peter Hain didn’t exactly cover himself in glory either but I do have a little more sympathy for his plight as I don’t think it was due to any pathological personality flaw, but more a by-product of not knowing who he is at the moment. Ok, so he is in the shadow cabinet but the feeling you get from him is that he’s not quite sure what side he’s batting for: Does he defend Blair despite their frequent fall outs or does he hitch his wagon to the new boys in town despite the fact that they really don’t seem to give two hoots about him? A conundrum indeed. On the show, he tried to straddle both these positions but the upshot of all this was a very jerky and skittish performance where he kept tripping himself up and being lured into entirely avoidable ambushes (like the ludicrous ‘we wouldn’t sell them weapons again’ line. Sorry Peter, but you deserved your licks on that one) that made him look like a right kipper. Granted, he wasn’t as awful as Gillan and I do have a slight soft spot for him but his finest hour this was not. So Peter, I’m sorry to say that you are destined to continue wandering in the political wilderness like a lost antelope just waiting to be mauled by a pack of lions. How tragic nature is….

 

Completing our Westminster trio we have the ever elemental Shirley Williams who at her best is like one of those majestic autumn gales that sweeps in from the south west in a dramatic and not-to-be-messed with fashion. However, now that she’s got to pay lip service (or at least-biting-her-lip service) to the coalition she seems much less like a thunder laden force 9 and more like a damp squall which can’t work out which way she’s supposed to be blowing. You could see that there were times when she really wanted to let rip and batter some sea walls with a good old-fashioned 6 foot swell (like when she looked like she might have a proper go at the NHS reforms), but the circumstances of her situation seemed to make her pull her punches and we were left with a drizzly mélange of worthy intentions nixed by an unhappy reality, all of which is a shame because I do like it when she cranks that Beaufort to scale up to the double figures.

 

Our final political candidate this week is the ever avuncular and reassuringly ordinary Elfyn Llwyd whose name is still causing me to use google autocomplete as a spellchecker despite repeated appearances on Question Time. Out of all the party bods on the show, Elfyn clearly carried the day, largely by being the only voice of dissent that didn’t sound like a rat being rubbed against a cheese grater (JSP, I’m looking at you) and generally holding positions that are a million miles away from Westminster. Ok, so I kind of zoned out when it all got very Welsh but by and large he was like an old but well maintained diesel locomotive: Reliable, endearing and with the ability to conjure up memories of a simpler and happier time. Also like a locomotive, he’s utterly relentless but without being arsey with it and that’s quite a trick to pull. So well done Elfyn, this might not have been your best performance to date but it certainly blew the competition out of the water.

 

All of which leaves us with the two non-politicals, Fraser Nelson and Janet Street-Porter. The first thing that struck me about Nelson was how much he looks like the product of a diabolic and probably drunken one night stand between Douglas Murray and Niall Ferguson. Luckily for him, he seems to have escaped inheriting Ferguson’s arrogance or Murray’s flat-out madness and generally speaking, he seemed OK-ish, even if his politics aren’t my cup of tea. Also, kudos to him for being honest about not giving a toss when it comes to a Welsh referendum and further plaudits for his line about teenagers, car keys and bottles of whiskey. That was pretty good for an otherwise generally humourless episode. Speaking of humourless, next up is JSP who sets my nerves a-jangling the moment I lay eyes on her. While I’m inclined to put some of this down to the fact that her answers were all over the place (one minute she’s spitting feathers at possible NHS cuts, the next she’s tilting at the windmills of local government pay scales) the truth is that just listening to her is akin to being assaulted by an army of drunken cats wielding bagpipes and angle grinders. I’d like to write a bit more about what she actually said I can’t because every time she opened her mouth I found myself too busy fighting the urge to tear my own ears off to take any notes. So let us not dwell on this unhappy interlude and move swiftly on to the crowd who at least managed to make the Libya question slightly more exciting than the one on Egypt a few weeks back. They also got fairly boisterous at the end when Gillan tried (and failed spectacularly) at dodging the jobs cut question and I’m more than happy to award an extra mark for the name of the poser of the child poverty question, Sarah Chicken. Admittedly, they could have garnered a full extra 10 points if she had looked and acted a little more like a chicken but still, a point’s a point right?

 

Tl;dr

 

Gillan: _

2/10

 

Hain: :-(

4/10

 

Williams: :-/

5/10

 

Llwyd: :-)

7/10

 

Nelson: :-}

5/10

 

Street-Porter: :-s

3/10

 

Right, that’s all you’re getting. Sorry it seems a little rushed this week but there was a lot of them on the show and I’m supposed to be at a works do so time has been of the essence. However, I can just about find the time to engage in my bi-annual and largely futile plea to follow my Post Question Time Reports on either Twitter or Facebook (or both if you’re a true masochist). I can pretty much promise you now that you won’t get much of a return on your investment as I still harbour a visceral hatred for Twitter (what with all it’s #’s and @’s and general sense of smugness) but what the hell, it’ll pad out the numbers a bit. Oh, and before I forget, there will be no Match Report next week as I’m going on holiday (properly this time…. unlike last weeks flaky ‘lets call it a holiday and hope no-one notices’ stunt). That’s right, I got fed up with sub-zero temperatures, brutalistic concrete architecture and a pervading sense of grimness so I booked a flight to… Poland! Say what you want about me but I sure know how to holiday.

 

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #14


SMOKE

A man of my own heart...

Morning Lemmings. So this is it. The final instalment of the Leaders’ Debates and Question Time before the nation descends into an orgy of anarchy, disorder and Final Demands. I, for one, am somewhat glad the end is in sight as these protracted Thursday nights have been absolute killer, beating me round the head with gnarly cudgel of current affairs until reason becomes but a distant memory, but I must concede that this election really has been one of the most mindbending spectacles I’ve witnessed to date. So summon your energy once more good people, for the end is neigh.

Ok, so let’s start off with a quick look at last night’s Leaders’ Debate. This ended up being a much meatier affair than its predecessors and it actually contained (shock horror!) some genuine debate. This is partly down to the candidates finally getting their heads round the bizarro-format, but also because the subject matter was the big issue in this election: The economy (stupid). Possibly the most pleasing thing for me was that Brown looked properly pissed off this time (although it’s a fine line between ‘pissed off’ and ‘unhinged’). During the previous two debates he’d half-heartedly gone along with the charade that he’s just as much the good natured Everyman that the spinners seem to think we want, but it hasn’t worked. Instead, he’s looked like a man who knows that his flies are undone, but can’t risk zipping them up in case it draws attention to the fact. ‘Uncomfortable’ is the word I’m looking for here. What we got tonight is a man who’s pretty much reached the end of his tether, has absolutely nothing more to lose and seems genuinely angry that Cameron may get the chance to bugger about with his beloved economy. Seriously, all through the first half he looked like he was about to lamp him and in many ways, it’s a shame he didn’t because if Bullygate taught us anything, it’s that the British public really don’t mind having a violent sociopath at the helm and if anything, they might actually quite like it. Unfortunately, he didn’t manage to sustain that rage into the second half and he kind of killed it for me when he finished off his final statement with that shiteating grin of his. Note to Gorgon: Never smile. Not to the public, not colleagues, not to your wife, not even to a new born child because frankly, it’s just scary.

Cameron also changed his tactics this time, did less of the ‘Man of the People’ bullshit (nary a mention of Big Society and the ‘change’ blather was reigned in to some extent) and instead opted for a more princely, ‘I’m above all this’ posture. On paper, that should work. In practice, it didn’t as the noble/highminded poise he was going for often ended up coming across as somewhat aloof and arrogant. The instant polls (of which I’m very cautious of) seem to have handed him victory but I just don’t see it. Looking ‘Prime Ministerial’ may well have been the aim, but the outcome was looking like a precocious child with an inflated sense of entitlement. Not nice.

And what of Clegg, the new Messiah sent to guide our fractured tribe through the dessert? Did he get his barnstorming OK Computer of a third album? Not quite. He faltered quite a lot during the opening questions and his attempts to mine the seam between the other two were somewhat overshadowed by the far more entertaining prospect of Brown totally losing his shit and biting Cameron. He rallied later on, seemed to give the only convincing answer on immigration and ended solidly, but a deal clincher this was not. So no more Radiohead for him and much more Alkaline Trio: Two very fresh and robust albums followed by a not-so-overwhelming but perfectly serviceable third record. That sounds a bit negative, but considering he came from absolutely nowhere, it’s no mean feat.

Other random points of note:

1. Cameron has a very shiny chin.
2. Clegg seems to think we have a vice-Chancellor. Does anyone want to break it to him that we’re not at uni any more?
3. The set was an assault of lavender but looked very scholarly.
4. Edina, the woman who asked the first question, has positively insane eyebrows. They looked like the logo you see on the back of No Fear T-shirts.
5. Dimbleby wiped the floor with the other presenters. Intimidated by the set up? No. A little bored by the constraints placed on him? Most probably. Absolutely gagging for a fag by the end (for I have it on good authority from numerous sources that he is not just a smoker, he’s a veritable smoking machine)? Without doubt.
6. The young teacher who asked a question near the end has one of the most impressive perma-scowls I’ve seen to date. At first I just thought he was pissed off with Cameron doing his ‘hardworking/people who just want to get along’ shtick on him, but then he turned it on Brown and even managed to combine it with nodding when listening to Clegg. Good scowling, sir.

Enough of that. We can safely close the lid on the Leaders’ Debates until which ever party gets in disintegrates like a cake in a bath (so we’ll probably see them again in a couple of months time). Farewell then, passing fad of lip service to democracy and hello to the stout, impervious citadel of Question Time.

The Menu:

Q1: Now we’ve had the debates, who’s won them?

Q2: Have the debates changed politics for the better?

Q3: Have the party leaders told us the truth about tax-and-spend?

Q4: Are you a bigot for asking the PM about immigration?

Q5: Do LibDem attacks on Cameron mean we’re heading for a LibLab pact?

In The Red Corner: Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, man who’s prospects aren’t looking so great these days.
There’s something deeply unsettling about watching a condemned man and in terms of the current government, no one is closer to having their goose cooked than Ed Balls. Right from the word go, he’s been Brown’s creature, his fortunes entirely shackled to his patron’s and right now, that’s about the last place in the world you want to be. He also has the added disadvantage of a haircut that makes him look like either a crew member of the Memphis Belle (see Fig. 1) or one of those weird ‘I’ll play whatever wanky instrument is left over’ types from the Arcade Fire (ginger guy who just seems to bang a drum occasionally and flounce about on stage, I’m looking at you). He is also a terrible, terrible liar. I could see him as some sort of middle ranking apparatchik from Collectivisation-era Russia who’s been tasked with guiding a visiting Commintern delegation around a Model Farm. Unfortunately, as the party rock up they find the crops are ablaze, the villagers ariot and the homesteads aruin. “Comrade Balls”, they enquire, “why is the wheat on fire?”. “Oh!” comes the reply “The diligent workers are roasting the fruit of the soil so that it may be easier to digest!”. “I see” they say, sounding less than convinced, “and why is it that the workers are stabbing each other with pitchforks?”. “Ah!” says Balls, “They are expressing their love for the Motherland in an ancient and much documented ritual”.
“Really? In years of study of these people I have never come across such a ritual. And what of the smouldering buildings? Has there been some terrible accident?”
“No, no! Of course not! It’s just that in this climate, smouldering buildings have been shown to provide the optimum level of comfort and shelter! With these fantastic facilities I can guarantee that next year’s grain yields and steel production figures will be 10 billion percent higher than this years!”

You know what I’m getting at, right?

Memphis Balls

Fig 1

Arcade Balls

Fig. 2

Anyhoo, he got off to a not bad start on Q1 by having a go at Cameron for avoiding questions and that was well received and a call to focus on policy in Q2 also did OK. However, Q3 (totally the best question of the night) was where it started getting sticky and he tried to duck the question by going on an extended waffle about how crap the Tories are. Sensing that wasn’t exactly warmly received he started chanting the electoral Get Out Of Jail Free Card of ‘doctors, nurse, teachers, nurse, doctors, doctors, nurses, blah, blah’ like a mantra. That didn’t in any way do the trick and things went from bad to worse as Dimbers got a bit personal (he must have had a lot of pent up energy after the Debate) and insinuated that he’d never be Chancellor. Smelling the blood in the water, pretty much everyone then got in on the act and started tearing strips off him as he tried his very best to not answer whether Labour would put up VAT or not. That ended up just looking crap and hamfisted. After this battering Q4 started with tumbleweed for him, but there was a brief flicker of Politburo Approved Honesty when he didn’t try to defend Gordon Brown’s Bigotgate comments and he finally limped away on Q5 after some LibDem brown-nosing. Bad do’s.

I’m struggling with Balls (fnar fnar!) right now because although he is the clumsiest of fibbers, I’m not sure that many other politicians are intrinsically more honest. They’re probably just better at bullshitting. Having said that, he has been right at the heart of the Treasury for years and it was the policies that he and his colleagues devised that laid the groundwork for the Great Economic Clusterfuck. When seen from that angle, this very much boils down to case of ‘you shat your pants, now wear them’. For that, my funny haired friend, you get low points.

A convincingly unconvincing 3/10

In The Blue Corner, Liam Fox, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence and general harbinger of doom.
Well hello there Death. Oh, sorry, my bad… It’s actually the ever morbid Liam Fox. Yes, Dr. Fox is back in the game again and can I just say how glad I am that he’s not my GP. It’s not that I doubt his medical skills, it’s just that everything that comes out of his mouth sounds like such bad bloody news. If he delivered a baby, I’m pretty sure he’d welcome this miracle of nature by saying “well done Mr Loudribs, you have a baby boy but can I just take this opportunity to remind you that it will one day die and that this event may well occur during you’re lifetime”. Thanks, Dr Fox. Worse still, I can also imagine that if I did present at his surgery with a problem, it would always end up (no matter how inexplicably) being my fault. Broken leg? You shouldn’t have tried walking and talking at the same time. Flu? That’s what you get for eating bread. Ebola? I told you not to use the internet! So yes, generally speaking Liam Fox is the bearer of bad news. Even if it’s good news.

Last night’s performance started pretty bland, waffling something neither here-nor-there on Q1 but he did get some gentle claps for saying he hoped that voter turnout would increase in Q2. Less clement weather prevailed in Q3 as he (like Balls) tried to dodge the question and instead read a charge sheet on Labour (including invoking that perennial Tory shibboleth, the selling of the gold. The way they go on about it leads me to think that the country is awash with insomniac Big C Conservatives, kept awake night-on-night by the sheer horror of the memory). Dimbers started to look dangerous as he prowled about in the background so he threw in a quick ‘Labour waste your money’ feint (which sort of worked) and followed it up with an NI jab. If the question had ended at this point, he’d have probably got away with it, but he took it full in the chops when an audience member asked whether the Tories would raise VAT. With Dimbleby now looking very dangerous he flapped about helplessly, tried an ill fated semantic defence and got clobbered with a whole load of booing. It was a sorry spectacle, but also highly entertaining. A slight recovery followed in Q4, although this was tainted when he got some mild heckles on the immigration cap issue and got into some inconclusive little skirmishes with audience members. Finally, he ended it all with one of the loudest bouts of booing I’ve heard for some time as he overplayed his ‘hung parliaments are bad’ line by wheeling out his ‘the Pound will tank’ bogeyman. Not the most graceful of exits.

Generally speaking, it wasn’t a great performance. There were moments where he got quite feisty and combative, but on the whole it was like a picnic in a graveyard. He gets one more point than Balls, but that’s only on account of not looking quite as pathetic and considering he set the bar very low, that’s not exactly a glowing achievement. So Liam Fox, how does it fell to be given some bad news? Hmmm? Hmmm?

A Danse Macabre of a 4/10

In The Yellow Corner: Vince Cable, LibDem Treasury Spokesperson and patron saint of global financial meltdowns.
Prostrate thyselves for St Vince is here to bless us with his trademark brand of unassuming wisdom and refreshing ordinariness. Actually, I have to say that St Vince isn’t quite as good at Question Time as I  thought he might be and that’s because it sometimes takes him out of his comfort zone. That’s the trouble with patron saints, they’re all just to damned specialised. Let’s say that one day St Adrian of Nicodemia, patron saint of arms dealers, butchers, guards and soldiers, calls in sick and the only saint available to cover his shift was St. Martin de Porres, patron saint of hairdressers (seriously, I’m not making this stuff up….here’s a big list). Obviously, carnage would ensue. Armies would find themselves armed with nothing more than GHD’s and tub’s of Dax, meat would start being cut into all sorts of fruity styles and shoplifters would run riot. So yes, saints need to stick with what they know. The same thing happens to St. Vince. Send him on Newsnight to harry Osborne and Darling and you can rest assured that he will emerge triumphant, smiting his foes with quiet, understated common sense. However, send him on Question Time and that cast iron guarantee simply evaporates in the face of non-economic policy.

Here’s how he did: Q1 was fairly standard ‘3 horse race’ stuff, not bad but generally unremarkable while there was some love for him when he bashed First Past The Post in Q2. Q3 saw him on much me solid ground as he came across as someone who genuinely does care that the numbers add up and avoided falling into the VAT trap by simply saying he couldn’t rule out a rise. There was no applause on this, but I don’t think it was the sort of question where crowd love would ever be forthcoming. You’re telling them that you’re probably going to raise their taxes so to escape from the field of battle unscathed is bloody good going. It was Q4 where he started coming unstuck and when he was pressed on the LibDems immigration ‘amnesty’ he started to get mired, mangling the point a little and not looking like he was in control of his answer. The same thing happened on Q5 when he tried to explain how the Libs would clean up parliament. That easy, straightforwardness that we usually associate with St Vince simply wasn’t on display and he became tangled, seemingly unable to turn his point into something of value. While his performance was way better than either Fox’s or Balls’, it’s weird and unnerving to watch someone who has become such a trusted voice of reason so quickly look just a little, well, mortal. And that’s the problem with saints. You’ve got to use them sparingly and pick their battles, otherwise they lose their saintliness. Keep Vince saintly, that’s what I say.

A comparatively good but uncharacteristically poor 6/10

In The Independent/Brainy Corner: Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland and insurance mascot impersonator (see title picture).

Ahh Alex, being troublesome and awkward again are we? Thought so. I have a feeling that Salmond’s was only on QT that night because he kicked up such an unholy and wholly unjustified fuss about the Leaders’ Debates that BBC threw him a bone in a return for a quieter life. It was a pretty Berlusconi-ish thing to but to give him credit, he did look like he knew he’d been busted and therefore reeled his mouth somewhat tonight. In fact, he even went as far as acknowledging this in Q2 when an audience member asked him whether the whole Leaders’ Debate brouhaha was a “cheap political trick”. “It wasn’t that cheap” came the reply. So in general, we didn’t see much of Salmond on this show and after a brief outburst of sour grapes in Q1 (‘at least Clegg got to go on the debates!’) he then had the good sense to generally shut up. I don’t know, as I’ve said before with Salmond, I shouldn’t really like him. He always looks like he’s involved in some sort of swindle, he relies quite heavily on rhetoric and there is just something a little ‘tin-pot dictator-ish’ about him. Having said that, he does have a level of self awareness that I like, he’s nimble in a debate and there’s a knowing look in his eye that says “My time will come”. I like that, even if I have to put up with listening to endless stories of what dazzling utopia of a country Scotland is as a consequence. So yeah, he shouldn’t really have been there, but at least he had the good sense to realised that.

A ill conceived but not badly executed 5/10

In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Janet Street-Porter, angle grinder voiced media type and Viperfish lookalike (see title picture).

JSP? Really? In the last show before the election? Man, what a burn. Talking about men, did you happen to know they’re crap? No? Well Janet Street-Porter thinks so and never wastes an opportunity to drive home that point in the most screechingly, searingly awful way. So yeah, JSP was on this episode and when I found out on the Wednesday, I could feel the anger rising me in. I knew what happen. A totally innocuous question would be posed, her mouth would open out would pour a mixture of white noise and man-hate. Sure enough she got straight to it right from the word go (“macho politics” dontchaknow?) and I felt like throwing the cat at the telly. In fairness, that was her only real, extended rant about the evils of men, but it still pissed me off and I found it really hard to listen to her after that. The crowd seemed more sympathetic and she did make some OK points later on, but her earlier rant really got under my skin. Yes, we know that there’s still a lot to be done about gender equality and yes, politics is ridiculously biased towards males, but having a go at me on account of my bollocks isn’t going to change that. It’s simply going to turn people off the more serious issues. That aside, I just find it hard watching her in general as everything she does or says just seems to have this nightmarish, bad acid trip quality to it. That voice, those jerky movements and that mouth that looks like it could bite your head clean off, it all genuinely scares me. So crap marks for you JSP. You get one more point than you got last time, but that’s because you actually did make every point into one about men on your last outing. This was marginally more tolerable.

A horribly predictable 4/10

The Crowd: Birmingham

The audiences in these post-Debate QT’s having been getting progressively more lively and this bunch ended up positively boisterous, what with all the booing and whatnot. Actual, despite the largely non-epic marks that everyone has garnered, this was a great episode and that was largely down to the audience being very engaged with the show. Yes, there was some tribalism, a few scatty points were made and they were far too kind to Janet Street-Porter for my liking, but on the whole, there was a lively ebb-and-flow as people fell in and out of favour. Dimbleby was also on great form tonight, after having probably smoked an entire packet of Marlboro Reds and eaten a 2oz pack of Golden Virginia in the interval and this translated into very entertaining level of mischief. In terms of which party came out on top, it’s hard to say. Certainly Balls got a trouncing, but I think that was more about him and there was sympathy for the party in parts of the audience. Similarly with the Tories, it was Fox who took the flak for most of the bad stuff and yet again, they got a lot of support when it came to NI. The LibDems are now very much more relevant and as a result, they are getting a tougher ride than usual, but much like the country as a whole, this was too close to call. All good stuff (particularly the question about VAT. That totally ruined the night for Fox and Balls). Finally, audience members of note included a guy who looked like a pubescent Smiths fan but sounded like an old women and another guy who looked like Fig.1 in the Old School LibDem Recognition Manual. Long, straight, ginger hair, round glasses, slightly alternative looking clothes, making a point about Trident. It’s good that there still are some certainties in this world.

A highly unrestrained 8/10

So that’s it for this parliament. Come this time next week, we will either be quivering in terror at the majesty of our new overloads or running amuck as society falls apart under the chaos of coalition government. Personally, I’m for the latter (and will spend the next week in blissful denial at the possible of any other outcome) as it sounds much more fun and lets face it, the results of thirty years of ‘strong’ governments haven’t exactly the best advert for our system. Anyhow, as this is technically the end of this parliament (at least I think it is… someone please correct me if I’m wrong) I’m going to update the scoreboard at some point next week and hopefully dish out a few completely valueless awards, accolades and Marks of Cain. Question Time’s back on the 13th of May, so I too will return, just in case you happen to like all this nonsense. See you on the other side people.


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