Posts Tagged 'Justine Greening'

Questionable Time #140


qt 140

Good morrow lemmings and welcome to another supercalifragilisticexpialidocious edition of Questionable Time! It’s such a lovely sunny day outside, and yet you’re reading this. Good choice, sport!

IPSA me, Mario

We begin by duly noting the four women/one man ratio of this Thursday’s panel, which is definite cause for a warm-hearted cheer at how far society has come (or teary sniff, or excessive blowing of your nose). Unless you notice the actual issues discussed, that is – immigration, Europe, petty Labour bickering – which are, of course, as old as time itself.

Our first question is one of great, fist-shaking import: is an MPs’ pay rise justified considering George Osborne even now cackling and waving about a giant pair of comedy scissors in the general direction of the public sector? Up-and coming young turk Justine Greening says…nah. Forget if it’s ‘justified’ or not, the public hate this proposal so damn much that anyone even attempting to take the rise will get hung, drawn, and quartered by order of the Queen. Why don’t you vote it down then, says Dimbleby. Because we need to…’deal with’…IPSA, Justine replies menacingly. She came into politics not for the pay – but for the free wine and nibbles at events! Don’t you just love those little sausage thingies?

Mary CREAGHEYYEYAAEYAAAEYAEYAA steps up to the plate (sadly a plate with no sausages on it). She’s running for the Labour leadership, obviously, not that you’d know because she has about, ooh, four nominations? And they each need 35 to get on the ballot paper. Poor Mary. I met her once, and she offered me some of her chocolate brownie. So I can’t totally slate her. Last time she was on QT, she accused Russell Brand of sexism, so let’s see if she can pull it out of the bag now…she goes on to state that if the government can reject the independent pay review board for nurses then it can reject this! She gets some applause, but it’s almost like shooting fish in a barrel.

Meanwhile, Susie ‘Fleet Street Fox’ Boniface is rambling on about headmasters and nurses – you know, the ‘people that people like’, according to Spitting Image. Norman Lamb does similarly, fightin’ for the rights of the werkers – like his competitor Tim Farron, he’s also angling for the leadership of the Lib Dems. Yes, that’s right – that now-statuesque role. Honestly, what is QT going to do with the Lib Dems now – cycle through their remaining eight MPs for a season and then give up? Oh dear. I suppose there’s always Shirley Williams, eh?

At the same time, Jill Kirby, Theresa May’s twin, is protesting why the pay rise powers were farmed out to IPSA in the first place. Interesting that a Thatcherite policy wonk wants to centralise power and not take it elsewhere, huh? Norman is appalled and shouts softly (ever so softly…like a little white-haired, bespectacled mouse) about how no other workplace lets its workers decide their own pay increases. Except if you’re a banker awarding yourself a nice bonus, that is. Trebles all round!

Looking like a true survivor feeling like a little quid (as opposed to a NASTY EURO)

Next up: Europe, and what sort of renegotiation would you like to see Dave bravely wring out of Juncker ‘n’ co at the top table. Jill is at least blankly honest and admits that she wouldn’t be satisfied with any deal. If anything, those Europoors should be begging to do deals with us! They should be grovelling at our feet, she outright implies, and not trifling with failures like Greece. They’re not allowed at our cool pool party any more. “We should be standing alone,” she declares, and the siren song of Elton John bursts into my head.

B-but they’ve given us cheaper roaming charges! says Susie ‘Fleet Foxes’ Boniface, helpfully forgetting everything else Europe has ever done at the worst possible moment. Way to go, Suse!

Then some people in the audience get into a fight about Romanians, or whatever. A Romanian doctor protests scapegoating, causing another man to blurt out that he has…wait for it…a Romanian friend. People around him chuckle merrily like medieval bards. “Why are you laughing?” he splutters. Oh Question Time, what a tangled web you weave!

As the panellists bicker over immigration/the free movement of labour/inspecting the specks of dust on the table, another brave soul from the crowd pipes up to remind us all of the original question. It was about what changes you’d like to see before the referendum, remember? Well, oops, no time for that now! We spent all our time on pointless mumbling, and there’s already another question incoming…

North Korea hacked my Neopets account

Will further cuts to the defence budget leave David Dimbleby a hollow shell of a man, faced with the prospect of repeating these same few questions over and over for the remainder of all time in the universe? On the plus side: more usage of the word ‘helicarrier’, which you have to admit just sounds cool.

We have no way of knowing what kind of wars will happen in the future, so they are by definition cutting in the dark, says Susie, surprisingly sensibly. Norman knows, however. “Cyber terrorism!” he blurts out (slightly more loudly), obviously just remembering that his password is ‘12345’ and that North Korean hackers are going to take over his email account.

Mary and Justine begin to bicker about exactly how many dollarydoos have been/should be put into the defence budget. They’re both in favour of further spending on the front line, but it’s hard to know who wins this bout – only that I’ve just noticed that Justine Greening looks like a garden gnome. You could definitely imagine her sitting with a tiny fishing rod next to a pond. Am I the only one who sees this? Look at this comparison shot – coincidence? I think not:

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

Next, a more sombre question. What legacy will Charles Kennedy leave British politics?

Well, for one, he was a perennial Question (and Questionable) Time favourite, as David Dimbleby rightfully points out. The Question Time website has put up a small compilation of some of his 42 (!) appearances, which you can view here.

The other panellists agree – Mary says he had “poetry” in his language (something I imagine a lot of people want more of from the Labour leadership battle). Susie says we mustn’t let any more potential be wasted by the tragic illness that is alcoholism. Jill notes that most people think he was right about standing against the Iraq invasion, arguably his finest hour. Norman, who gave an emotional tribute in Parliament, was his PPS for a time – and concludes that he’ll be missed greatly as someone who could be honest and sincere in any sort of debate.

Unfortunately, we don’t end on this genuinely moving note. Back to mud-flinging, everyone! With our last question: what is the point of the Labour Party now?

Justine gets a chance to gleefully gloat, although her expression doesn’t evolve further than ‘scary scowl’. Mary, in an attempt to scramble together a few more nominations, bombastically expresses her belief that WE WORK TOGETHER, WE DIE TOGETHER. And redistribute some power and wealth in a mild social-democratic format. Hell yes, she’s tough enough!

Jill and Norman shake their heads – Jill making a none-to-subtle jibe about a certain extravagantly-belashed contender and Norman disagreeing with the union link. Well Norms, it’s a good job you joined the Liberal Democrats and not the Labour Party, then, eh?

Finally, an old man hijacks the show and praises his true messiah Clement Attlee. Mary gives a thumbs up (she named her son Clement, after all). Justine continues to scowl. Better wrap up before she gets any scowlier.

Time for the scores!

Greening: 7/10

(Looks like a garden) Gnome

Creagh: 7/10

(Far from) Home (and dry re: nominations)

Lamb: 6/10

(Has hair the colour of) Foam (and I realise now I may be stretching these rhymes a bit)

Boniface: 5/10

(The EU gives you lower) Roam(ing charges! Wa…hey?)

Kirby: 5/10

(Reading blankly from the Thatcherite) tome

The Crowd: 8/10

(When in) Rome

Next time: the one before they go to High Wycombe!

Next week Lemmings, next week…

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Questionable Time #94


Good morrow lemmings and welcome to the jungle, we got fun and games. And by jungle, I mean Brighton, and by fun and games, I mean staring intently at Roger Helmer’s moustache. What do you mean, that’s not fun? Of course it is, he looks like a retired nineteenth century colonel.

Anyway, Elizabeth here, and since Brighton is my home turf we’ve got an extra-special edition of Questionable Time lined up for you today. That’s right – I was your woman on the inside this week, sneaking around the studio, watching Justine Greening having her face powdered, and walking past Dimbledore himself in a corridor. I was too frightened by his magnificent presence to say anything or even look upon his face, but let me say this: his Dimblelevels are consistent with the professional examples of Dimbling you see on the tellybox.

I wasn’t in the audience, so you won’t be able to see my hideous ugliness for yourself, but with the help of Glorious Webmaster we managed to blag my way in to sit on the side. It was an interesting experience! There’s a warm-up for an hour beforehand, not with the panel, which in this case was a spirited discussion on declining manners in the UK and aren’t young people just awrrful? Then the panel answers a practice question which is not broadcast, which is just as well because Diane Abbott’s microphone failed miserably. However, despite the cheery tone of this preamble, I could already tell that certain members of the audience were spoiling for a fight, and in the end was not disappointed.

Anyhow, let’s get down to business to defeat the huns/UKIP (delete as appropriate).

Blue Greeny

Justine Greening, through a combination of rigid hair, rigid posture, and a rigid accent, has been making her slow ascent through the Tory ranks, forming a protective barrier around herself akin to an ancient Roman legion’s tortoise formation, only with an inpenetrable layer of face powder instead of shields and pointy sticks. True, her main line of defence is still “the mess Labour made” (a well-used phrase the audience reacted accordingly to last night i.e. a massive groan) but she’s generally a pro at deflecting questions and not being pinned down – she did well on the EU issue, mainly due to nobody overtly attacking her and going for the easy target instead (moustachio). Not looking or acting overtly gremlinish helps as well.

I’m intrigued to see where StealthGreening goes from here. The Tories, as we all know, will be eager to avoid looking like the He-Man Woman-Hating Club again, so I’m expecting her to rise through the ranks ever more quickly, although whether she’ll be quite so lucky when there’s not Roger Helmer sitting beside her is another matter.

Diane Abbott vs the world

It’s hard out there for an Abbott. Up against two Conservatives and a UKIPper, many Labourites would run screaming in the opposite direction, perhaps to safer pastures, such as This Week, The Daily Politics or a pack of angry and aroused hyenas. Not Diane Abbott though. She already knows that she’s destined to be a rebel, an extreme-radical-gnarly-hardcore skateboards-n-shades rebel, so is free to say (almost) whatever she likes to counter her opponents. Sure, she pledged alliance to EMil, but everyone in the studio laughed warmly at the gesture. We understand, Diane. We get it.

Diane proceeded in a predictable fashion, attacking the energy companies as a cartel, predicting the end of the world via the explosive power of a popping housing bubble, polite disapproval of some aspects of Europe without aligning herself to Helmetman von Rogermore…but since this was Brighton, the reaction was mainly positive, and the balance of power was tipped, for once, in her favour.

Well done Diane. You did it. Just.

Rogering the Helmer

I could tell it was about to kick off from the start.

Booking Roger Helmer, ex-Tory embarrassment extraordinaire, for a Brighton show? And then, to make matters worse, posing a question on equal marriage? Whoever’s idea that was, I applaud you, because watching this implosion of ire live was truly a festival of fun. If only popcorn was allowed into the studio! I lost track of the amount of times the word ‘love’ was used, which is great because we all need a little more love in our lives. Especially Roger Helmer. It must be so tiring to be against everything all the time, as the delightful old man in the yellow jumper explained.

Sure, so apparently 20% of British people wouldn’t go to a same-sex marriage. That just means more cake for me! Joke’s on you, Roger!

Fig. 1

(He said some other things too, but at this point is there anyone here who doesn’t know UKIP’s opinions on the EU? No? Okay, moving on.)

Those two guys

Lord Wolfson, in contrast, was a conundrum. At first he seemed to fill the role of the thinking man’s alternative to Roger Helmer – attacking alternative energy sources as inefficient, and stating that the profits of energy companies have been purposely inflated. So far, so standard. Anyone who’s ever entered a Next could have told you that this would happen – they might as well play recordings of Maggie Thatcher speeches through their speakers as you dig through the clothes racks.

He did go a bit off-message in the latter half, though, viciously attacking Help to Buy to the surprise of basically everyone. You could physically see Justine Greening stiffening into an icepick of death. Before Diane Abbott could passionately agree with everything he said, though, we moved on to the gay marriage question, and this wonderful and confusing moment was left behind us, forever. Shame really.

Oh yeah, and Mick Hucknall was there. What is there to say about Mick Hucknall? He’s Mick Hucknall. Apparently he likes/liked New Labour, but mainly he performed the infuriating role of the ‘voice of reason’, diluted slightly due to the fact he’s Mick Hucknall. I hate the voice of reason. I want my Question Times to be as unreasonable as possible. I want Tories and UKIPpers, Labourites and Greens, and whatever poor sadsack Lib Dem they can scrounge up (clearly nobody this week, though Vince Cable will have a valiant go next time) to yell and flounce and argue as loudly and uselessly as possible. I do not want some ordinary person bringing down the tone by calling for ‘moderation’ or whatever. You say the public don’t like shouting and screeching? Well here’s my rebuttal: the public are wrong.

Anyway, I watched them pack up in a state of bemused dazedness. It was a fun experience, but a draining one, and as I caught the train back home I reflected on what I had just been witness to. Was this the democracy I had been promised? A modern town hall meeting, a palace of debate, where the great, good and otherwise are brought to account by the ordinary folk of the land? Is Question Time, in fact, the greatest institution ever created? Or was this all an excuse to poke fun at a man with a silly moustache?

Whatever your view, it’s time for the scores.

Greening: 6/10

Cope(d well)

Abbott: 6/10

Hope (springs eternal)

Helmer: 3/10

Nope

Wolfson: 4/10

(That answer on Help to Buy was pretty) Dope(, yo)

Hucknall: 2/10

(His answers were narrow in) Scope

The Crowd: 8/10

(Not fans of the) Pope

Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to have a little lie down.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #69


questionable time 69 david dimbleby getting married

Good morning Lemmings and welcome back from the 2nd Silly Season That Never Was. That’s right, much like last years kyboshing of the pleasingly trivial under a wave of riots we have yet again had to forgo our annual dose of sharks off Cornwall/pets with bus passes/octogenarians skateboarding as August’s news went from ‘Becalmed’ to ‘Totally Mental’ courtesy of one Mr. Assad. So anyway, what better way to pick through the fallout like abandoned newborns, fumbling our way through the thinning light of Autumn than with a spot of Questionable Time? Actually, there’s probably plenty of better ways but since I’ve been off for a couple of months and have forgotten how to write you’ll just have to figure that one out yourselves. Right, let’s get back into the swing of this.

 

Chuka really has to stop thinking…

Regular readers will know that there are two things about Umunna that I bang on about relentlessly: The first is how ridiculously good-looking he is while the second is just a general perplexion as to how this otherwise seemingly perfect package never manages to add up to the sum of its parts. We’ll get back to the first point later but right now I want to focus on what it is that keeps me from getting giddy over Chuka.

 

As things go last night was a particularly choice moment to be the Red Team’s meat puppet as the two big issues of the day – Syria and Royal Mail – both saw them on the right side of public opinion and by quite hefty margins. Add in to this that the whole Royal Mail deal is in his remit then this starts to look like a milk run: Just get as much canvas up the mast as possible and then sit back as the crowd sweep you on to glorious victory. What could be easier? Technically speaking this is exactly what Umunna did and barring a few bothersome squalls thrown up by Greening and Aaranovitch it was mostly plain sailing. However, it didn’t feel like a victory and I suspect there are two reasons for this: Latency and authenticity, both of which are related.

 

Let’s start with the latency: This refers to that near-imperceptible pause that Chuka always does before launching into a set piece. It’s so short as to be barely noticeable but once you’ve clocked it it’s impossible to ignore and it ended up really bothering me last night. Why? Because it was particularly prevalent when he was trying to play the Indignant Card. Take for example Greening’s rather low blow about his house and family. Now, if you really wanted to be properly indignant about that you’d probably just tell her to shut up but Chuka went for the high ground instead and why not? After all, that’s where the big claps are. The problem is with that nano-pause: It’s like a little click that tells you that his mental filter is going like the clappers, desperately trying to prune out anything that may sound off message and that pretty much sinks the whole indignation play because to be indignant is to be so angry that you simply aren’t capable of keeping a lid on it.

 

All of which leads us to the second problem: Authenticity. You can look the part, have the right back story and say the right words but unless those words truly feel like they’re coming from the gut people simply won’t believe it. Umunna has all the above but he’s still so utterly ruled by his head that what should be a three-piece suite is little more than a very good-looking sofa and a couple of armchairs.

 

And what of his good looks? Well, I ran a little pshop experiment earlier this week to see if I could make him ugly. Annoyingly, he remains vaguely beautiful throughout (see Fig. 1).

chuka-umunna-ugly-gif

Fig. 1

 

One of these days Greening is going to snap…

If it wasn’t hard enough being a fairly ordinary person who went to an ordinary school and had an ordinary job before joining a party that abhors ordinary people Justine Greening also has to contend with being somewhat accident prone (see Dimbers’ malevolent jibe about missing the vote) and this combined pressure is beginning to tell. You can see it in the way she sits – rigid and not too far away from the brace-for-impact position – as well as that hint of annoyance that she only just manages to keep in check. Give it time Lemmings. It may not be tomorrow, it may not be next week but at some point in the not too distant future I can see Greening just totally losing it and flipping out. Hopefully Chuka will be around to pick up some pointers on how to be authentically indignant.

 

Two out of three remaining panelists couldn’t give less of a toss…

In further contrast to Umunna’s overly-stroked chin we now come to a couple of people who seem to have crossed some mid-life Rubicon and are now revelling in their off-the-hookness. The first is Caroline Lucas who since jacking in the role as Green Party leader has been having a gay old time getting arrested and breaking parliamentary dress code while the second is David Aaranovitch – a man seemingly hellbent on refuting everything his younger self stood for in a fug of grumpy crotchetiness. Anyway, this whole devil-may-care outlook works for the pair of them and what we ended up with was a lively and well argued debate on the Syrian question that reminded me that QT does occasionally do what it says it says on the tin. No such luck though for Colleen Graffy– an important sounding person who sounds like she’s got important sounding things to do – as I’m pretty sure that everyone mentally tuned her out as the words “former so-and-so for the Bush administration” were uttered. There are some things you just don’t want on your CV.

 

Tl;dr

 

Umunna: 5/10

Thinky

 

Greening: 5/10

Blinky

 

Lucas: 8/10

Pinky

 

Aaronovitch: 7/10

Brinky

 

LondGraffy: 4/10

Sinky

 

The Crowd: 5/10

Stinky?

 

Well, that’s that: A passable warm-up momentarily enhanced by a man with a gothic mansion of a hairdo bellowing “A RECOVERY FOR WHOM?!?!”. For whom indeed sir… Anyway, it’s nice to be back and should you fancy a go yourself Questionable Time is currently on the lookout for guest writers. However, if thankless toil is not your cup of tea then feel free to busy yourself by looking at pretty pictures of misheard lyrics or buying one of these magnificent creations. Hey, a boy’s got to eat ok?

 

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #33


questionable time 33 david dimbleby misfits

Good morning Lemmings and hold on to your hats because we’ve got a live one here. Yup, that’s right, after a slew of mediocre and bothersome QT’s that never really got off the ground Luton has decided to pull its finger out for the penultimate show of the series. And about bloody time if you ask me. Anyway, here’s what we learned:

I was genuinely excited at the prospect of Paddy Ashdown and Terry Smith being in the same room together.

There are many people in this world who claim to know some Awful Things and to be quite frank, most of them annoy me. Take for example Nick Ferrari: He claims to know all sorts of Awful Things about the way this country is heading and uses every opportunity he can to make us aware of just how Awful these Things will be. The problem here however is that a) I’m not entirely convinced that the horrors of which he speaks are anything more than figments of his imagination and b) the way he howls and bleats about our impending doom makes me want to do him a mischief. Happily though, the same cannot be said for either Paddy Ashdown or Terry Smith, men who have taken the art of knowing Awful Things to dizzying heights. Lets start with Ashdown:

That Paddy Ashdown knows some very Awful Things is beyond dispute. The man is an ex-Marine who’s spent a good part of his life practising Awful Things on behalf of the state before going on to govern a country that was beset with Things of the most Awful nature. In short, he’s got chops when it comes to the unthinkable. But it’s what he chooses to do with this information that’s important and this is where Ashdown’s real strength lies: He tells you about these Things and their Awfulness without fuss or drama, neither trying to sweeten the pill nor over-egg the pudding. Basically, he treats you like an adult. As for Smith, well it’s all very similar. His background is in finance and given his CV I think it’s entirely probably he knows a great many Awful Things about The City. But again, it’s what he chooses to do with this information that matters and like Ashdown he opts to play it super-straight: Thing’s are much more Awful than you could possibly imagine. Suck it up. Now, that’s not a nice piece of news to impart but he does it in such an unflinchingly steely manner that it almost doesn’t seem scary: The entire global economy could happily implode, taking with it several hundred years of human progress but it’s ok because no matter what, Terry Smith will survive the cataclysm and be able to say ‘I told you so’ when we all emerge from our fallout shelter.

So yes, I’m a very big fan of people who really know what they’re talking about – doubly so if they happen to be kickboxing econo-doom-mongers or ex-Special Forces nation builders – and what I was really hoping to witness was a flat-out confrontation between the two of them. Alas, that was never going to happen as they seem largely united in their outlook on economy and aside from Smith’s suggestion to simply get rid of the House of Lords (never one for partial solutions, Terry Smith) they largely spoke as one. But still, could you imagine a face-off between the two of them? It would be like the world’s most intense staring contest (if Paddy Ashdown’s eyeless squint qualifies as staring) that would probably result in someone’s head exploding. I’ve done my best to visually extrapolate such a scenario (see Fig. 1) but I must confess that I am a little bummed that it didn’t come to pass. Still, a solid effort from both parties involved and one that lent this episode some of the much-needed gravity that’s been missing from QT of late.

paddy-ashdown-terry-smith-staring-contest-gif

Fig. 1

My jury’s out when it comes to Justine Greening.

This was never going to be a nice week for a Tory on QT, let alone for a Transport Secretary who got brutally flip-reversed by her own team a few days back so the odds really weren’t on Greening’s side. To her credit, she did manage to look largely composed for the bulk of the show and the good news is that this wasn’t a Chloe Smith/Ben Swain moment. The less positive news for Greening is that if the Blame Labour For Everything line was looking a little threadbare six months ago it looks positively craven now (something that three separate audience members went to great lengths to point out) and her reliance on it soured her performance from the get-go. Similarly her repeated use of the phrase ‘cracking on’ became so familiar as to be contemptible and although it’s preferable to confessing that the government really doesn’t have a clue what’s going on at the moment there is something deeply suspicious about people who are constantly telling you that they’re ‘on to it’. Still, it could have been worse and I will say this: Justine Greening has excellent posture: Shoulders back, spine ramrod straight, head up… that’s some quality sitting down she pulled last night.

I like the fact that Tony Robinson must leave right-wingers feeling horribly conflicted.

First things first, hats off to Tony Robinson for his opening broadside on the bankers question. That was real passion on display and it set the rest of the show up really nicely. I’m going to now put my hat back on and gently scold him for not quite doing enough homework, something which is a real pity because if he had a stronger grasps of the facts his answers would sound a little less like conspiracy theories. Gentle scolding dispensed, I am now going to take my hat off again and congratulate him purely for existing. Why? Because it causes True Blue types to blow a cognitive gasket. Here’s how it works: Upon laying eyes on Tony Robinson a True Blue is liable to register a surge in their blood pressure because they know him to be a jumped-up, oiky little lefty who’s spent most of his life bad-mouthing the Tory party. However, things start to become problematic when they realise that he’s also Baldrick from Blackadder and no matter how hard they try, they cannot bring themselves to hate the living embodiment of one they hold so dear. Time suddenly appears to stop, a hissing noise issues from their brains, smoke pours out of their ears, everything goes black. Job’s a good ‘un Tony.

And the other one?

I think I’ve finally realised why I’ve always had trouble with Tessa Jowell. Part of it is that I’ve never really known what the point of Tessa Jowell is (she always seemed to be Minister for Stuff or Deputy to the Office of the Trivial) but I think it’s more to do with the fact that she fails my 3rd Test of Friendship: Are they a fun person to get drunk with? I suspect that Tessa Jowell is probably a crushing bore when drinking and I also suspect that she would wear rattley jewellery that would really get on my nerves. And what evidence do I base this on? None whatsoever apart from a very queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when I try to picture the two of us sat at a bar. Sorry Tessa but the pit of my stomach has spoken and for better or worse it holds some sway over me.

Tl;dr

Greening: 5/10

(Got diddled by Osborne’s about) Turn

Ashdown: 7/10

(Has soldierly credibility to) Burn

Jowell: 4/10

(Is not someone I) Yearn (to get bladdered with)

Smith: 7/10

(is very) Stern

Robinson: 6/10

(Showed great) Concern

The Crowd: 7/10

(Were probably drinking tea from an) Urn (just before the show was filmed)

So there. Speaking of the crowd, sorry that they didn’t get much of a look-in in this week’s Questionable Time. I find myself a little pushed for space but I think it would be an injustice not register just how delightfully indignant they all were. Here’s to you, Delightfully Indignant Luton Crowd. Right, that’s me done… I’m going to give work a call to see if my box of Questionable Time stickers has arrived yet. Tap me up on the old Facebook or Twitter if you want in on some adhesive Dimbleby action.

Make your laptop handsome!

Make your laptop handsome!

Tame your feral beasts!

Next week Lemmings… Next week….

Questionable Time #13


questionable time 13 dimbleby the tank engine

Good morning Lemmings and welcome to 2012, a year in which – if this episode of QT is anything to go by – our primary vexation appears to be none other than trains getting from London to Birmingham slightly quicker at some point in the far distant future. Remember that extinction level economic crisis that dominated Question Time throughout 2011? Yeah, well you needn’t have worried because it turns out that all it needed was a damn good Christmasing and now it’s not worth bothering our pretty little heads over. On top of that it also seems that 2012 is the year in which politicians of all stripes put aside their various differences and simply agree with each other on just about bloody everything. That’s right, no more bitter hand-to-hand combat on the battlegrounds of economic policy but instead a cosy love-in as representatives from across the political spectrum bask in the warmth of consensus on boob jobs, HST and Leveson. Ok, so there was a bit of contention when it came to Scottish independence but I’m struggling to recall an episode of QT that was quite so dreadfully agreeable.

The upshot of all this is that it was actually a pretty dull affair last night that lacked any real juice and left me feeling a little short-changed. Take the train question for example: Literally every single political panelist held near identical views and this left the floor wide open for Kelvin MacKenzie to reap all the rewards in his role as Self Appointed Man of the People. Now, I’m no fan of MacKenzie but I have to admit that without him last night would have been little more than a well-heeled Woodstock without the acid and let’s face it, that doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs. So that didn’t exactly inspire me with confidence (you know things are bad when the highlight of a particular question is a gentleman of Scouse extraction getting a little over enthused about Watford Junction) but I held out a little hope that at least the question of Scottish independence could provoke some level of disagreement. And so it did, but in a ridiculously one-sided manner.

Our main protagonist in the only real point of contention in this encounter is none other than the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon and I must say that I did feel slightly sorry for her last night. For one, life can’t be easy when it looks like your hair has been borrowed from a Lego figure (see Fig. 1) and preaching Scottish Nationalism to a London crowd is a tall order but the main reason was that Dimbers seemed to have it in for her a bit last night. Sure, she didn’t do herself many favours as she deployed her usual tactics when in a tight spot (which is to just continue talking, regardless of whether the content makes any sense) but Dimbleby was really short with Sturgeon and seemed to relish any opportunity to clip her round the ear. Another weird by-product of this question was the part when Sturgeon and Danny Alexander got into a very surreal little tiff, ostensibly about something-or-other that an aide to Alex Salmond had said. Sensing danger, Sturgeon tried to wibble her way out of it but Alexander wouldn’t let it go and just sat there, quietly repeating the phrase “Was she wrong? Was she wrong?” like a shell shock victim lost in his own personal hell. This bizarre little charade went on for some time and it reminded me of that ‘You can’t handle the truth!’ scene in A Few Good Men… Except set in a particularly passive-aggressive PTA meeting rather than a court-martial and with Tom Cruise’s character being played by the little man in the bowler hat from the Homepride ads.

nicola sturgeon lego hair

Fig. 1

As for individual performances, well I think it’s fair to say that ‘fair to middling’ is just about the best that this lot could muster with Ashdown putting in the most impressive turn simply by alternating between his ‘Paddy Ashdown is tired of reasoning with you people’ face and his ‘You don’t know cuz you weren’t there!’ war-vet-who’s-seen-too-much routine. Poor old Justine Greening fared less well, chiefly because she seemed to have been relegated to a role in this episode similar to that filled by Dictionary Corner on Countdown and appears to have been there only for reference purposes only. And as for Wee Dougie? Well, I’ve got to say that he’s beginning to freak me out a little. It’s his delivery. Very slow, very soft and very deliberate yet also completely relentless. It’s like being force-fed warm milk at the most leisurely of tempos and that, dear Lemmings, is the sort of experience that I’d rather avoid.

So there we are: A less than brilliant start to the series and one in which the crowd could be at complete odds with the panel and yet still clap along with practised docility. Ok, I guess that’s a little harsh but last night did bum me out a little as I’ve just spent the last month doing the whole Peace on Earth/Goodwill to All Men thing and I was really looking forward to kicking the new year off with a right old gorefest. Alas, it was not to be and so I’ll just have to bide my time until this new-found unity amongst QT panelists shatters into a thousand tiny shards of spite laden hatred. My reckoning is that it won’t be the longest of waits.

Tl;dr

Greening: Still in the waiting room

5/10

Ashdown: On the express train to Seriousville

6/10

Alexander: Lost his ticket

4/10

Sturgeon: Got tied to the tracks

5/10

MacKenzie: Has a season ticket to Smug City

5/10

The Crowd: Want to get off at Watford Junction

5/10

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #7


Hubba hubba!

It's a good look, Dimbers. you should go with it...

Morning Lemmings and welcome once more to the weekly QT round up, bought to you this week by the Wimmin of Dewsbury. That’s right pilgrims, Wimmin. I, for one , welcome our new beskirted overloads, but how did they fare in this week’s instalment of topical earbending? Only one to find out…. Onwards, to Dewsbury!

In The Red Corner: Caroline Flint, Labour MP for Don Valley, founder member of Blair’s Babes and political bullet magnet.

Caroline Flint seems to forever be on borrowed time. Every time she crops up, a memory stirs of some not-too-long-ago brouhaha involving Old Snaggletooth (as I affectionately refer to her), but I still decide to give her the benefit of the doubt until a new brouhaha ensues and the cycle rolls over again, repeating into infinity and beyond our limited lifespans. The most prominent example was her seemingly principled resignation over being used as “female window dressing” by Broon. “Fair play to you, O Snaggletooth” thought I, “Sisters doin’ it for themselves, yeah?”. I thought she came out looking pretty good from that but then she promptly managed to piss all the good press up the wall with her borderline saucy photoshoot for The Observer where she looked exactly like ‘female window dressing’. And so it goes on. Tonight was pretty much a case in point on this front. She got off to a good start on the first question (which was about whether Jon Venables’ as yet undisclosed offences should be made public) by deftly stradling the line between ‘Think of the Mother!’ and ‘Think of Justice!’, managed to sound pretty sensible and looked satisfied as the audience lapped it up. Further crowd love followed when she dismissed the whole Brokun Britun kerfuffle as nonsense and worrisome thoughts about her previous transgressions began to fade. But things were about to get pretty ugly pretty quickly. Dimbleby, who must have felt like a pimp on the night (what with hundreds of Wimmin arrayed obediently before him) used the second question (on bastard ‘spenses. Please, people of Britain, please let this issue die. It bores me to tears) as the launch pad for a cheeky ambush, bringing up some of her own sins on the matter. Flint squirmed about for a while, babbling on about a “washing machine” for some reason, before pulling out of the dive by saying that expenses were necessary to stop parliament being full of “millionaires and geeks”. That seemed to stop the bleeding but worse was to come with the question on whether Broon had used his trip to The Stan as a distraction from his appearance at Chilcot. This was clearly going to be trouble as an audience member who had a son in the forces managed to get her two-peneth worth in, bemoaning the fact that she had just had to shell out for her sons webbing. Snaggers flapped about for a while on this one, blaming “the terrain”, telling her to see her MP and saying that armies have a “tradition of swapping kit”, but the audience was not convinced and a quiet, rolling chunter began to build as she spoke. Sensing an opportunity to stir things up, Kelvin MacKenzie weighed in with a fairly lurid denunciation of Broon as a “compulsive liar” with “no truth in his soul”. The audience liked this and poured further petrol on the fire when a woman claimed that British troops were “not killed by the Taliban” but “killed by their equipment” (I have to say that this is patently bullshit as the kit may be bad, but it really doesn’t go around blowing up or shooting at our troops and the Taliban are pretty serious about this whole ‘killing our guys’ business. Or maybe I’m just being pedantic). Despite the complete fiction of this statement, the assembled gaggle of Wimmin went completely nuts for it, working themselves into quite the frothy state. Further assaults followed, this time from the direction of Monty Don and Snaggers was left completely over a barrel, pleading with the audience to “think of the dead” (they were. That was the point), but her entreaties were met with silence. Big, female, silence. Harsh. At this point, I would have called it a day, hid under the table or tried to fashion a makeshift foxhole on the studio floor but there was more bad news to follow as Dimbers nonchalantly twisted the knife with a crafty little one-two. First off he asked whether Flint thought Broon was liar. Predictable denials followed, only to be blown out of the water as Dimbers read out an extensive list of Snagger’s quotes to the contrary. She attempted a half hearted defence, but is was too late and a ripple of heckles swept the crowd. Ouch. By rights, it should have been all over at this point with Flint slumping limply in her chair, emitting barely audible grunts as her brain processed the thrashing she had just taken, but it wasn’t and after a not bad stab at the ASB question, she actually picked up some ok applause on the women’s shortlist one. And I think this is why I keep giving her a second chance. On the face of it, she’s not a brilliant politician. Wherever she goes, she leaves an inevitable wake of gaffes and as a minister, she was pretty mediocre. But what she has got going for her is an incredible toughness. The sort of sustained and overwhelming drubbing she took on the show is enough to make your average panellist buckle and send them running to the cover of one word answers, but not Old Snaggletooth. In the middle of the show, she took an epic trouncing yet she carried on going, toughed it out and even managed to salvage a bit of credibility at the end. And that’s quite cool in my book.

A last-ditch but valiant 5/10

In The Blue Corner: Justine Greening, Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government, owner of an exceptionally wide mouth (see above).

I had absolutely no idea who Justine Greening was before tonight and feared we’d be presented with another of this weird, faceless breed of Tory young pups who have so far failed to make an impression on me. However, I have to say that she did pretty well, getting a lot of love from the audience and coming across as the most confident of the three party panellists. I think that this is partly a consequence of her pulling off being Northern far better than most Tories do. If you think about it, the Conservatives only really have three Northern faces that get any attention these days: William Hague, Ed Pickles and Baroness Warsi. Hague has never looked too comfortable in his Northern skin as it made him look like a bit of an oddity amongst his peers. I suspect that he probably received quite a bit of ribbing from The Old Boys for his Rotherham roots and as a result, he always seemed very conscious of it and perhaps a little ashamed. Pickles looks far more at ease with his heritage, but his problem is that while he tries to play the Salt Of The Earth Northerner card, it doesn’t quite work. Instead, he comes across as a provincial shopkeeper who resents selling stuff to the tourists who keep his business afloat and to anyone who isn’t ‘his kind of person’. It’s all a little bit self important and twatty. The final contender, Baroness Warsi, simply doesn’t register on the scale because her Northern-ness is completely eclipsed by her Asian-Toriness, something which is so novel that it completely overpowers the fact that she’s from West Yorkshire (and her Pulled Up By The Bootstraps schtick does grate a little). Justine Greening, by contrast, has managed to hit the nail on the head by coming across as slightly novel (for a Tory), yet unpretentious and down to earth. On the show she did pretty well considering Dewsbury isn’t natural Tory territory. The Venables case brought out some fairly standard “risk to the public” stuff, but there was an appetite for it and it went down well. MP’s pay also went pretty smoothly, but she hit the big time on Afghanistan by having a go at Broon for the lack of equipment and generally going with the will of the crowd. With the wind behind her, she continued to rack up some easy points on Askew/ASB (if in doubt, blame ‘paperwork’) and topped it all off with the big, pink love-in that was the shortlists question. OK, so it was pretty easy to look confident and in control after Snaggers had been kicked all over the place, but she didn’t bollocks anything up and clocked a few wins in any area that isn’t really her turf. So well done Justine Greening, you have escaped the curse of the Faceless Tory Noobs.

A well handled and confident 7/10

In the Yellow Corner: Jo Swinson, Lib Dem Foreign Affairs Spokesperson and sickeningly young MP.

There’s a lot to like about Jo Swinson. She does a good line in well reasoned argument as well as being a consistent and vocal critic of the war(s). Tonight, she was on pretty good form, sounding very grounded yet principled,when it came Venables/Askew cases (particularly her “difference between…public interest and of interest to the public” piece) as well as getting in on the collective hug that was the shortlist question. The audience responded well and it’s fair to say that she looked like someone who you’d want in Parliament. My only beef is how she handled the Afghanistan question. From the Lib Dems point of view, this is an open flank on both parties that should be worked relentlessly and without mercy as not only has the issue been festering for an epic 8 years, but it is also one of those fault lines where public opinion is markedly and stubbonly in opposition to both Labour’s and the Tory’s. This should be her natural territory as she has both credibility and form on the issue and no-one else has a satisfying answer when it comes to the big question of just why the hell are we in Afghanistan. When it came to her turn to answer the question she started well by asking why soldiers aren’t paid more (big applause) and then promptly ran out of steam. All she needed to do was to point to the massive elephant in the room, call bullshit on her parliamentary colleagues and then retire to a safe distance as they both took one in the chops. But she didn’t and as a result, Greening was given a free ride and held the initiative for the rest of the show. As I said before, the rest of it was all good stuff that worked, but she lacked the killer instinct to deliver the decisive blow and walk out the victor. So let this be a warning Swinson, I like you, you’ve got lots to offer, but QT requires some ruthlessness that I’m yet to see. Be a bastard and I’ll give you more points.

A could-have-been-a-contender 6/10

In the Independent/Brainy One Corner: Kelvin MacKenzie, ex-Sun editor and full time bigmouth.

You know that there’re just some things that you’re never going to like? Well for me, Kelvin MacKenzie is one of them. Just like being sold insurance by Iggy Pop or watching Josh and his Supergroup Based Around The Concept Of Free Texts Being The Key Ingredient To Instant Stardom (come on Josh, I’ve been in a band for 6 years that fuck all people have heard of and I get shit loads of free texts) he just sets my nerves on edge and there’s nothing I can do about it. Fortunately (or maybe disappointingly) he wasn’t quite cranked to the odious nines on this episode, although his opening gambit on the Venables case was a truly squalid affair. Kicking off with a good long rant about how he’s “hostile to” a whole heap of things to do with criminals, he lunged down the ‘lock ’em up for all eternity’ line and was met with both stony silence and audience accusations of the Sun being very much a part of the problem. That prompted an ill advised pop at the Beeb which was laughed out of town and kicked off a spat of nasty little scraps with most of the panel. I think at this point he realised that you can’t get away with the ‘I know I’m right and to hell with you pinko commie bastards’ act with an all female audience (it only just works on a mixed one). Consequently, he reigned things in a bit and even picked up the odd clap here and there. I know I’ve said in the past that I try and keep these reports as neutral as possible, but I’m afraid that no matter what he does (other than renounce everything he has ever stood for), he’s always going to get shit marks from me. It’s just they won’t be AS shit this week.

A grudgingly restrained 4/10

In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Monty Don, Gardener Bloke and Possessor of Inscrutable Features.

I’m on board with Monty. He seems well intentioned enough, has this far-away look about him that adds a certain layer of mystery and has something that gardeners are not usually noted for: Opinions. I hear he’s also quite a hit with Wimmin in general, so tonight was a pretty easy gig, what with the massive abundance of Wimminz and all. On the show, his approach can be mainly characterised as ‘ponderous’ with the occasional spark of fire. Starting off with the Venables case he got some good claps in with a very solemn “people are not born evil” and some anti-lynch mob posturings as well getting in a few jabs at MacKenzie. He went on to stumble a bit on the dreaded ‘spenses by saying MP’s should be paid 100k a year (I think the audience were in the market for seven quid an hour, tops), but soon recovered and made the point that Swinson failed to make on Afghanistan (and also got a bit disingenuous with his maths. The Afghan war has been going on twice as long as World War 2? No, Monty, it hasn’t). An endorsement of “clip round the ear” discipline was warmly received by the assorted Wimmiz on the Askew question while a pop at Harriet Harman and a call for an all women parliament (which earned him a ripple of flirty giggles from many Wimminz Of A Certain Age) sealed the deal for him at the end. I don’t want to get carried away here because it doesn’t take a genius to do well as the 5th panellist (all you have to do is mirror the audience, throw in the odd gag, don’t piss off anyone too much and the day is yours) but there’s not much to dislike about him and the ponderousness works well for him. It makes him like a tortoise. A sexy tortoise.

An in-no-hurry 7/10

The Crowd: The Wimminz of Dewsbury

Ok, I have to admit that I was expecting a different kettle of fish tonight, mainly out of some rather unfair prejudices I harbour about Dewsbury. I live in Leeds and (as the handy diagram below shows) if there’s something tabloidy and nefarious going on in West Yorkshire, it’s quite often in Dewsbury.

Diagram Alert!

A geeky friend of mine has already pointed out that my boxes are in the wrong configuration. Spreadhead does respond to poindexters.

I know, I know, that’s a massive generalisation but the Matthews case, the stirrings of the BNP and other such untowardness haven’t exactly done the place many favours so I was basically expecting a hard faced, very white and angry lynch mob to rock up from some of the nastier estates and basically shoot down any MP’s who had the temerity to turn up. As it it turned out, the audience was primarily composed of of middle aged women who work in the public sector (The Backbone of West Yorkshire! You remember that ‘trickle down’ thing that you promised us from London? You know, all those vast sums earned by the City which would somehow end up in our pockets? Well, they never arrived so I guess you’ll just have to keep giving us public sector jobs to keep t’North afloat) and I must say that they made for a pretty interesting crowd. Unlike most of the mixed audience shows, this mob came across as a lot less tribal. With the exception of Flint and MacKenzie (who were eventually forgiven), they seemed willing to listen to the panellists without sinking into default positions and everyone was given a fair shot. It also seemed to be less about specifics and much more about tone. For instance, Ashcroft didn’t come up once, despite it being plastered everywhere and I think that’s probably because they didn’t care about the buts-and-bolts ‘whodunnit’ aspect of things and were much more concerned with the broader implication of the effect of money on politics (hence the MP’s pay question). They were also very vocal in their support/disdain for various viewpoints. When I watch the show, I take notes and I draw arrows of differing sizes and thickness so I can see how much applause each point got. With these guys, they started loud (so big thick lines then) and then just kept getting louder and louder (completely fucking up my system… I ended up gouging holes in my pad trying to keep up with the volume). I actually think it would have been better if there were male panellists from the parties involved as if Kelvin MacKenzie is anything to go by, it must be pretty bloody frightening being held to account by that many women and I could see that some hilarity would ensue. Nevertheless, it was a pretty bracing affair and even if the whole ‘equipment, not the Taliban killing our boys’ thing wound me up a little, the rest of it was a refreshing break from the usual state of affairs. Stand-out members of the night include a woman with very loud off camera jewellery and a surprise appearance from Claire Young from The Apprentice. Considering she was always noted for wanting to have the last word on The Apprentice, there was a strange yet nice symmetry to her having the actual last word on QT. But yes, I digress. Wimmin of Dewsbury, you did good in my book.

A refreshing, if at times scatty 7/10

So that’s that then. A first in the form of a three way draw between Monty, Greening and the Wimminz. All male audience next time plz. See you next week, yeah?


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