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.
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?