Posts Tagged 'Ken Clarke'

Questionable Time #115


qt 115

Good morrow lemmings and today we’re in Boiminghem! But nobody will care by Friday because of the inevitable new UKIP MP tomorrow and the fact that a member of the shadow cabinet has resigned over a freakin’ tweet. We live in interesting times, my friends!

“UKIP more like POOKIP” – Nigel Farage’s liberal comedy conspiracy

We begin with a question about UKIP, I guess, except that it flies all over the place and by the end people are crying. I was crying. In fact I’m crying right now.

Putting Ken Clarke on QT this week was a stroke of genius, I must admit. Well done whatever person from Toryville thought that up. If you had picked some snicker-worthy IDS figure, for example, or Michael Gove (don’t worry! He’s next week!) then the Tories might as well have put their hands up and conceded the match to Yasmin and Andy, or to Douglas Carswell exchanging knowing looks with moustachioed men in the audience. As it happens Ken Clarke has an inherently sensible aura, and most people tend to like him at least a little. He’s Ye Olde Mastre. He’s been around the block a few times. He’s seen young turks come and go, and isn’t the least bit impressed by any of them.

Meanwhile, as slouchy Ken’s polar opposite, Andy Burnham runs on nothing more than unfiltered earnestness. He’s either smiling benignly or pouting at someone (in this case, generally Douglas). Last time he was on the panel he got an extremely easy ride because he was on his home turf, but this time he had to wibble and grin and emote until he practically exploded to get through the programme unscathed. He just about managed it, due to his sheer sincere outrage at anything and everything. He even swore! Andy will not be stopped. It doesn’t even matter what question he’s asked, he’ll answer with WHATEVER HE DAMN WELL LIKES. Which is mainly the NHS. Or Everton football club, but sadly that didn’t come up.

Also, I’m not just saying this because I think he’s cute. Don’t look at me like that! I’m not biased. (I am incredibly biased.) (Seriously.) (My mum heard who was on QT and immediately exclaimed “oh it’s your boyfriend!”. I am just that biased.)

And yes, he still looks like an anime character. Cue the pictorial evidence.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

Anyway. Douglas Carswell waxes lyrical about the virtues of the Australian immigration system, but Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is baying for his blood. Maybe it’s due to her sitting next to him, but she would just not stop biting his leg like an enraged pitbull throughout the entire programme. When asked about Reckless’ repatriation rumble – no need to worry about it, Douglas, I suspect quite a few of your voters chirpily cheered his comments – he cited tiredness as an excuse, and then said something #sorandomlol about Europe. Ken, even now, slowly shakes his head, like a disappointed owl.

Our last panellist, Dia Chakrathingy, from the Taxpayers’ Alliance, is another UKIP representative apparently. She speaks at approximately 10,000 words per minute and constantly employs a mock-confused little girl voice. In fact, her tone of voice is probably the most annoying thing I’ve ever heard on television. It’s not even her opinions – but the way that she tuts and tilts her head and chatters on and on and fricklin’ fracklin’ ON and oh look my skull just cracked open. Look what you’ve done, Dia. Look at this mess. It’s all over the carpet.

“MASS DEFECTIONS,” interjects Douglas. Dimbleby sighs. It can’t get any worse than this.

Apparently it can

What do failed reality stars have to say about taxation? Well, Yasmin ain’t having any of that, whatever it is, and derides the Klass Kwestion for coming from a “pretty” millionaire. Dia is disgusted! Diasgusted, in fact! How dare you be so patronising, Yasmin, she says, patronisingly.

She’s not done yet. Then she rounds on Man-Candy Andy. I feel sorry for you, she patronises. You’d be a good leader. Better than Miliband. Pity you’re out here, she almost-flirts, answering questions on Ed’s blustery blunders, when you could be back at my place…hot stuff…with those pretty eyes of yours…

Andy looks embarrassed and afraid.

However, things aren’t even halfway done yet and Mangaman wants to talk about the NHS. During his answer about the mansion tax, he gets into a scuffle with the chair himself – something very rarely done! – and it goes a lil somethin’ like this:

I WANT TO TALK ABOUT THE NHS bellows Andy.
But…Andy, stop…that’s not the question…says Dimbles, head in his hands.
YES IT IS says Andy, ripping open his suit to reveal his I LUV NHS t-shirt which he wears at all times.

The audience are getting heated. They round on Dia McMean Girls. YOU KNOW THE PRICE OF EVERYTHING AND THE VALUE OF NUFFINK, they cry. Regina George/Dia is appalled, and tilts her head a little more to the right. It’s going to fall off if you don’t watch out, Dia.

What’s the deal with NHS food

When there’s an actual question about the NHS, Burnham explodes.

“After you,” smirks Carswell, knowing that this means Anime Andy has less time to think.

“Oh boy! The NHS sure is great,” sighs Andy wistfully, or words to that effect, swatting away pesky doctors and people at meetings who allege that he said the exact opposite of what he says every minute of every day, even at home, even while asleep, where he constantly chants “compulsory tendering must die” while his wife no doubt cries herself to sleepybobos every night. He finally understands what that one woman was trying to say later in the programme, and everyone laughs at him, and the Seinfeld bassline plays in the background. Or inside my tortured mind, anyway.

Douglas has got him now! UKIP has the plan. They also have the Man with the Plan, Nigel Farage, who will lead us to a glorious new revolution.

What’s up with that video then, says Dimbles. You know the one I mean. Yasmin is now so baffled that her baffle-ometer has reached 100% and she launches into another pummelfight directed at Douglas’ face. She’s baffled about what he and UKIP have and haven’t changed their minds on! But Douglas remains serene. All he needs to do is lie back, think of England and wait for the MPs to flood in. They can change their minds a hundred times and it wouldn’t matter. He’s surrounded by a circle of members, all throbbing and alert to ejaculate their worthy opinions on to an eager-faced public.

Ken Clarke remembers to wake himself up to verbally slap every panellist round the chops (take that Dougie! Take that Andii-chan!) praising Blair as he does so. Honestly, Ken has more in common with a lot of Labour politicians than most of his own party these days. They should skip off together and form a hot sexy new party. Or join the Lib Dems – haha, only kidding, they do have some sense.

Then it’s the final countdown, or rather question, and everybody joins together in peace and harmony to rightly condemn a nasty, nasty man. Hooray! Even Dia is on-side! Well done everyone, we got there in the end.

“I’m a dad :3,” Andy reminds us with his emoji-like face.

Time for the scores!

Clarke: 7/10

(Speaks) Sense

Burnham: 7/10

(Was) Incensed (About Every Conceivable Subject)

Carswell: 6/10

(Wants to fix up the) Fence (the fence meaning ARE BORDERS)

Alibhai-Brown: 8/10

(Get thee) Hence(, Carswell!)

Chakravarty: 5/10

(Did not want to spend her) Pence

The Crowd: 6/10

Tense

GOVE NEXT WEEK and smooth buttery Chuka and weird Norman and…Jo Brand? I leak enthusiasm.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

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Questionable Time #86


questionable time 86 david dimbleby ken clarke dancing

Good morning Lemmings and are you feeling it? Are you feeling the warming glow of economic recovery and the promise of a better future? No? Why ever not? Oh, that’s right, because we’re still in a January that’s refusing to end, the sky appears to be falling in and all your carefully laid plans for smoking heavily in cars full of children have just been kyboshed by the busy bodies in their ivory duck houses. Gah! Truly it is the cruellest month! Right – lets stop all this moping about and get on with it. Onwards, to a very IT-orientated Questionable Time…

 

I feel like I’m writing this on Ken Clarke…

Remember back in 2008-ish when netbooks were the next big thing? Well I was one of the suckers who bought the hype and here I am 6 years later, tearing my hair out at an uncooperative oblong of cat hair clogged keys, unresponsive scripts and a rebooting process that takes around half-an-hour. In fact, it’s not even like I have to do this as I have a perfectly good desktop that doesn’t feel the need to constantly play silly buggers and even my phone is now quicker (by a factor of several million) than this hunk of wanton awkwardness – yet every week I go through the same ritual of starting the damn thing up, waiting for it to complain about something, closing it down again and then screaming as some piece of irremovable bloatware demands to be updated. Why? Why do I do this to myself? Because despite (or maybe because) of all its failings, this machine has personality and not just any old personality. No, this netbook is in every respect – except form factor – the silicon-based equivalent of Ken Clarke.

 

Let’s start with the booting up process: I press the on button, it makes noises that suggest it doesn’t take kindly to being woken up before arriving in that weird netherworld between the login and the desktop – just like Ken in the opening shot. Icons slowly start materialising on the right hand side of the task bar and fire off little pop ups to herald their arrival: ‘Windows has detected that you tried to change tax settings and isn’t very pleased’ says one and you immediately double-click the Firefox icon in the hope of resolving this issue only to find that the system was nowhere ready for such a strenuous activity. The egg timer appears, everything freezes and more pop-ups demand attention:

 

‘Unidentified pundits detected. Searching for drivers’

 

‘You are running low on patience, please save all unsaved work’

 

‘You appear to be trying to be trying to connect with the general public – Please check your connectivity settings’.

 

Ahh! Enough already! Eventually though things start to settle and the browser window finally springs to life. You open a few tabs on foreign crims, fire off a few emails about dredging and start to feel that you are actually in control of things. But then you get cocky: You click a link about smoking in cars and it opens a new window with a massive Flash banner in it – it’s Emma Smurthwaite and she’s just done the old switcheroo on your point about lobbyists. It’s all too much to deal with, the keyboard becomes unresponsive and the screen turns blue. Good night and God bless.

 

So that’s my netbook and it’s also Ken Clarke – a tired yet functional collection of idiosyncracies that you can’t easily reformat but have grown to love in a very counter intuitive way.

 

MS Thornberry: The OS that could have been…

I was going to compare Emily Thornberry to one of those massive Acer lappies that came out around the time of Windows Vista’s release but then thought ‘No, that’s not entirely fair’ because Vista was just plain bad and Thornberry is at least half-way competent. However, there is one thing that she shares with Vista and that’s her innate capacity to rub people up the wrong way – like when she got hoist on her own petard by refusing to have a firm opinion on a case study of her own making. In fact, that was a pretty reasonable thing to do as the very point of the case study was to highlight how difficult it is to have a firm opinion on delicate judicial proceedings but that didn’t matter – something about the way she said it just riled the crowd and they gave her a right old booing. Actually, maybe she’s more Windows 8 – a technically ok bit of software that will never be loved because it took away our Taskbar. Ok, Windows 8 she is.

 

IBM Oakeshott…

There’s no way Matthew Oakeshott is anything other than a giant corporate mainframe, probably originally built in the 50’s and programmed using some arcane language (‘Social Democracy’ I think) that no-one knows how to code in any more. There he sits, relentlessly churning out data on why we should tax wealth and I hope he continues to do so until his magnetic tapes degrade to the point of unreadability for it is a worthy endeavour indeed.

 

HP Littlewood…

‘Drudgery’. That’s the word that always pops into my head when I see Mark Littlewood – drudgery like using a locked-down Dell or HP on a corporate network. Sure, it can sync calendars and book rooms anywhere in the building but what if I want to play a cheeky round of Solitaire at lunchtime, eh? No, it’s just all a little grown up and unsmiling for me thank you very much. Now then, where’s my proxy list?

 

iSmurthwaite…

So then, what’s this shiny new array of bells and whistles that have the crowd all a-clapping? Why it’s iSmurthwaite, the latest bleeding edge iteration of cloud based synergistic solutions for all your current affairs needs. Like all the other iDevices, iSmurthwaite has much to offer – like high performance and a snappy UI – but I can’t help thinking that we’re probably paying just a little over the odds in order to look cool when there are much more functional alternatives about. Maybe I’ll upgrade when Ken finally calls it a day.

 

Tl;dr

 

Clarke: 5/10

 

Crashed

 

Thornberry: 4/10

 

(Had hopes) Dashed

 

Oakeshott: 6/10

 

(Probably has a frighteningly small amount of Level 1) Cache (Memory)

 

Littlewood: 4/10

 

(Would look interesting with a) ‘Tache

 

Smurthwaite: 6/10

 

(Did) Clash (much with Ken)

 

The Crowd: 7/10

 

(Sounded like they’d been on the) Lash

 

 

…And so our story ends. Oh wait, no it doesn’t because I forgot to work in this week’s pshop. It’s Ken and he’s adopting his usual position in the Commons (see Fig. 1).

 

ken clarke sleeping

Fig. 1

Right that’s it from me expect to say go check and out this t-shirt I designed – it’s GTA Coalition and I’m more than a little stoked with it.

 

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #70


questionable time 70 david dimbleby will t sherman bbcqtwarquotes

Good morning Lemmings and before we get under way let us take this moment to give thanks that whatever the hell happened to Tuesday’s edition of Newsnight has not yet happened to Question Time. For those of you that missed it, it started out as a run of the mill ‘let’s have a QT-style debate on Scottish independence’ type thing (cementing Kirsty Walk as my #1 choice for QT-Tyrant-if-anything-nasty-should-happen-to-Dimbers in the process) and ended up with bagpipes, blazing torches, sweeping boom shots and a dodgy looking ‘voting procession’. It’s what I’ve always imagined The Antiques Roadshow would like if it was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Anyway, enough. Let’s get on with the job in hand.

I shuddered when I saw this week’s line up…

I’ve got nothing against Ken Clarke, Harriet Harman or Shirley Williams and on an individual basis I tend to welcome their little jaunts into QT-Land. However, the thought of this combined ensemble of highly seasoned veterans – none of whom are really that far apart in terms of outlook – just sort of sucked the wind out of me. This wasn’t going to be the white knuckle roller coaster ride of a show I’m hunkering for, this was going to be a suburban commute.

My mind, addled by the familiarity of it all began to drift as soon as I got on the train: Look over there. There’s Ken in an aisle seat, head bobbing lower and lower as sleep overcomes him before it finally settles on the shoulder of his nervous looking neighbour. Occasionally he jolts violently back to consciousness, realises where he is and then re-surrenders to sleep all the same. Oh Ken, when will you learn! Further down the carriage we see Shirley Williams sat ramrod straight whilst silently policing the carriage with the threat of stern looks. The teenager opposite moves to put his feet on the seats. ‘Not so fast, Sunbeam’ says Shirley’s eyebrows as they pinch together. The teenager backs down and order prevails. You get ’em told Shirley! And finally there’s Harriet. She struck up a conversation with the woman next to her when she got on but that conversation has now run its course and her co-commuter is beginning to fiddle nervously with her phone while Harriet continues to talk at her. Good old Harriet! You just can’t keep her down!

And that’s pretty much what the first half of the show was like – the panelists peacefully co-existing as the train pulled out of Niqab Central and headed for Free School Meals Interchange. However, something strange happened at the midway point: Both the seniors decided to have moments.

The first was Shirley who after giving free school meals her usual dose of forthright barnstorming suddenly took it upon herself (after some Dimblegoading I should add) to have a go at Simon Hughes for his past opposition to the scheme.

“I think Simon is not a parent. If he was he would

have never had made those statements.”

It was as if she had just stood up in the silent carriage, pointed at a fellow commuter and said “You sir, your suit. It’s silly and I don’t like it” before sitting back down as if nothing had happened (and that’s even before taking into account the fact that a Tory MP just got himself into a great deal of bother for making essentially the same point about Sarah Teather).

Not to be outdone, Ken then jolted back to life a few moments later and started accusing Harriet Harman of embellishing a very good spiel she did on the bedroom tax. “She added the epileptic attacks to make it appealing” he blurted out as every eye in the carriage tried to find somewhere else to look. In fact, so shocking was this outburst that you could even hear a quiet murmur from Anthony Worrall Thompson – “You’re a hard man Ken”. Ouch.

So what to make of all of this as a whole? Well it’s neither one nor the other – neither a roller coaster nor a suburban commute but more a weird fusing of the two, like driving to work in a dodgem. Actually, scratch that…. This wasn’t as fun as driving to work in a dodgem.

What to do with Penny?

Be Nice To Penny – that was the gist of a text I received from a good friend just prior to last night’s show. The gist of my mental response was ‘That’s odd, I can’t remember being nasty to her in the past’ but my friend was on to something – there is a part of me that makes me want to go to town on her and that troubles me (don’t panic though, it doesn’t stem from a dark pool of vile misogyny that I’ve somehow managed to conceal for years… Everyone step away from their Twitter accounts…).

Let’s start with what I do like about Laurie Penny. I like the fact that she operates on principles rather than tactical calculation and I like the fact that she’s dogged in her approach. I think she writes well and I’m pleased that she’s become a permanent fixture in the landscape of opinion but there’s still a snag that I just can’t unhitch: As I’ve got older, people who operate purely on principle have started to frighten me a little. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t lie awake in abject terror every night waiting for Laurie Penny to haul me off to a re-education camp or anything like that but I do get this jarring sensation when I see people divvying up the world into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parts. Take the niqab question for example. Here we have a situation where one of Penny’s ‘goods’ (women having a choice in what they wear) collides with what should be one of her ‘bads’ (women being forced by men to wear something in the name of religion) and totally annihilates it – Niqabs are good, end of. That there may be an ill-defined and porous no-man’s-land where both good and evil roam at will is never really considered and that’s a real shame because it’s within this mess of swirling ambiguities that most people’s lives actually take place – you can try to will it out of existence but that won’t make anyone’s lot any easier. This is the snag I can’t unhitch.

AWP came good in the end…

I’m massively overrunning so I’ll be brief: Anthony Worrall Thompson started the show looking like he hates life, hates the world and probably hates you. He ended the show sounding like he hates Nick Clegg, hates David Miliband and probably hates David Cameron. That sounds pretty dour but it was actually quite fun in a grumpy sort of way. Now here’s a very jolly gif of him on a spacehopper (see Fig. 1)

anthony-worrall-thompson-space-hopper-gif

Fig. 1

Tl;dr

Clarke: 4/10

(All a bit slap-) Dash

Harman: 6/10

Cash(ed in on Ken’s slapdash approach)

Williams: 6/10

(Can still) Bash (heads together)

Penny: 6/10

(Got a little too) Rash (over the certainty of it all)

Worrall Thompson: 5/10

(Reputedly cooks very good) Mash

The Crowd: 5/10

(Consider Megadeath to be a more authentic purveyor of) Thrash (metal than Metallica)?

Hmmm… Not a bad episode but not a great one either. I guess it’ll do. Now, before I go I should alert you to yet another side project I’ve got going with the good people at Red Molotov. It’s called Celebribellum and involves cutting famous brains in two. I’m told that it’s suitably stupid so give it a look. Right, that’s your lot, see you on the other side…

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #58


questionable time 58 david dimbleby margaret thatcher

Good morning Lemmings and welcome back from an Easter break that looked suspiciously like a rebranding of ‘Winter’. Given this grim state of affairs you’d be forgiven for assuming that Question Time would be half-heartedly dragging its way out of hibernation for another round of Yah-Boo-Sucksery but in fact, the opposite seems to have occurred and what we got last night was probably one of the best QT’s I’ve seen in a good long while. Say what you will about the late-PM, even in death she still has the capacity to wind up the citizens of this nation like no-one else. Alright, let’s get cracking.

Well… Someone’s firing on all four cylinders again…

Watching Ken Clarke over the last few years has been an unsettling experience and one that often felt like an exercise in concussion management. Let’s start with the initial blow to the head – the failure of the Tories to secure a majority and the formation of the coalition. For a man who was used to striding around a highly polarised political landscape with the weight of certainty behind him this must have come as a bit of a shock but credit where credit’s due, he weathered it well and showed few outward signs of lasting damage. However – as is often the case with head injuries – the symptoms of such a trauma were simply masked by the excitement of the initial incident and as time went on, I started to become increasingly concerned: Sidelined and stymied, the old boy seemed to be zoning out and if there was one thing that the doctors at A&E were emphatic about it was ‘Don’t let Ken nod off otherwise he may never wake up again!’.

Yet it seems that my worries were misplaced as the Ken we got last night was a million miles away from the vision of resigned defeat that we’ve seen of late. Suddenly taken out of the present and transported back to a time when he actually had shots to call the former Chancellor looked like a different man and one that I’ve still very much got a soft spot for. Lets start with his physical symptoms: Those heavy eyelids, those sloped shoulders and stifled yawns that had so long kept my fingers hovering over the number for NHS Direct had gone, replaced now by wide eyes, jutting jaw and animated limbs. As for his mental health, well that appeared to have been similarly transformed and where we once saw a man who knew he was on his way out, now stood a vision of boisterous vim.

Naturally, this return to form was of course accompanied by the re-emergence of old pathologies such as his endearingly crap attempts to bluster his way out of tight spots by talkingveryveryfast and ber-ber-ber-blurting things out (I’ve always loved the way his face visibly reddens with each ‘ber’) but in many ways this is a good thing: It’s proof of life, an affirmation that there’s still some fire in him and I for one have missed that. Whether he can keep this new-found vigour is a very different matter (I suspect that in a few weeks he’ll revert to his slow decline) but for the time being I’m just happy to see the return of someone who while far from perfect, did at least make politics a genuinely interesting place to be.

And it wasn’t just Ken…

Poor Polly. She really does have a thankless job, even if it’s one of her own making. In a nutshell, Toynbee’s place in the scheme of things is to try and alert us to the boring stuff that no-one really wants to know about but ultimately has a huge bearing on life – the mundane looking yet hugely consequential sub-clause, the penny on this, the percentage off that, these are the thing she has to make sense of and for the most part, she does it very well. The problem is that a life spent poring through the mundane in search of the malicious is a wearying business and quite often it can make her look a little – well – miserable. With this in mind, it came as a rather nice surprise to see her really fired up and making damn sure that the Tories rather starry-eyed version of the Maggie Narrative didn’t go unchallenged whilst also being the only member of the panel to try and root the discussion in the context of the future. So fair play Polly, for once it’s nice to see that frown turned upside down – or at least slightly modified with the Liquify Tool (see Fig. 1)

polly-toynbee-thatcher-gif

Fig. 1

In a similar vein, Ming Campbell – another long-tooth in danger of losing his purpose – also appeared reinvigorated and made himself a nice little niche as The Level Headed One who wasn’t afraid to ruffle a few Yellow Team feathers with his willingness to raise the vexing matter of ‘if she was so bad, why did we keep voting for her?’. The bollocking he gave Charles Moore at the back-end of the show was also rather good fun and wholly judicious to boot.

All three of the above – Ken, Polly and Ming – did well last night because they were finally back on ground they understood, a terrain composed of opposing ideas rather than the swamp of platitudes and managerialism that we’ve spent the last decade or so wallowing in. You saw it in the crowd as well: Not once did we hear the weekly refrain of They’re All As Bad As Each Other. Instead, there was a sense of people knowing which side they were on and making damn sure that their side clapped louder than the other. Seeing how it jazzed up the show so much, I propose that we start offing ex-PM’s at regular intervals, just to keep the mood alive.

What of the other two?

Yeah, not so great. In Blunkett’s case it all goes back to his metamorphosis from Rough Hewn Man of the People to New Labour Uber-Bastard who managed to assimilate all the wrong lessons from both the Old Labour and Thatcher years. It just makes him look compromised beyond credibility as illustrated by his inability to face up to quite how Thatcherite New Labour became, not to mention a rather scary moment when he looked like he was about to end up in deep trouble with feminists. He pulled it back, but is was touch and go.

As for Moore, well he’s an entirely different kettle of fish and quite a mad one at that. Some of this is forgivable – after all, he’s a very sympathetic biographer of Thatcher who’s had to spend every last second of the past week eulogising his idol. Sooner or later, that’s going to skew your sense of reality and towards the end of the show the wheels really started to come off. It started with an alarmist rant about a BBC conspiracy to send Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead to the top of the charts and ended with a truly weird spiel about how she couldn’t be the Wicked Witch of the East as she single-handedly defeated communism. I bet this sort of thing doesn’t happen to John Major’s biographer.

Anything else?

Yes! Special mention to the man who referred to himself as ‘one’ at least three times in the same sentence and then claimed he wasn’t a Tory, the gentleman with the thick German accent who kept his arm raised at a historically provocative angle throughout his answer and the lad who looked like the long-lost twin of That Guy From The Inbetweeners (see Fig. 2). Well done all of you.

inbetweeners question time

Fig. 2

Tl;dr

Clarke: 7.5/10

(Had a) Spring (in his step)

Blunkett: 5/10

(Is the) King (of nothing)

Campbell: 7/10

(Is often referred to as) ‘Ming’

Toynbee: 7/10

(Did her bit for the left) Wing

Moore: 5/10

Cling(s to Thatcher’s memory in an unhealthy sort of way)

The Crowd: 8/10

(Are all avid fans of) Sting?

Well, that was exciting wasn’t it? In all seriousness I found this episode fascinating because while I was never a fan of Thatcher, I do miss the sense that at least people knew what they believed in when she was at large.

Now, before I disappear, a little bit of housekeeping. The Indy and I have gone our separate ways so from now on this will be the only place to get Questionable Time. It is also likely to lead to the following:

Tardier deadlines!

Longerness!

Increasingly absurd photoshops!

More oblique references to mid-90’s Southern Californian punk acts!

A body clock that doesn’t hate me!

Oh you lucky things!

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #55


questionable time 55 david dimbleby apocalypse now

Good morning Lemmings and what wares can I flog you today? Let’s see what I’ve got in this old cart of mine. Hmmm… How about a pair of fairly steady parliamentarians with a liberal bent? No? Too staid, too boring? Ok, what about a couple of ideological headbangers with a proven track record of winding each other up? Ah, I see… You’re still recovering from the Hitchens/Loach to-do a fortnight back and need something a little more nuanced. Well, I’m afraid that the only other thing I’ve got in at the moment is an unknown quantity so fresh to the scene that there’s not enough info on her to even throw together a Wikipedia article. No good? Tell you what then, I’ll do you the whole lot for five minutes of your time and throw in the denizens of Dover for free because I’m feeling generous today. No refunds though. Caveat emptor Lemmings, caveat emptor…

Last night was like Jaw’s: The Directors Cut

It’s one of the best closing shots in cinema – Rob Schneider and Richard Dreyfus, paddling their way to shore on the wreckage of their thoroughly over-sharked boat, elated by their triumph over the eponymous monster and no doubt looking forward to a hero’s welcome. The first few times I saw it, I was happy to let the implied narrative (that it will all be hunky-dory) prevail but on subsequent viewings I found myself strangely troubled. After all, the shore is an awfully long way away, their makeshift raft doesn’t really look up to much and one-dead-shark-does-not-a-safe-sea-make.

I bring this up because last night could well be a template for what actually happens at the end of Jaw’s and it goes like this: Chief Brody (as played by Ken Clarke) and Hooper (Stephen Twigg) are happily splashing their way to dry land when they notice that things are getting a little choppy. Members of the crowd start asking some difficult questions about immigration, a swell develops and the raft begins to list precariously. It’s cool though. They are – after all – both fairly centrist and socially liberal politicians who have spent many years charting these waters and by working together, they somehow keep it from falling apart. But wait… What’s this? The three fins of Crow, Phillips and James have breached the surface and are bearing down on the raft with great vigour, eager to rend flesh from bone with the incisors of anti-EU sentiment. A scuffle ensues. Blood is in the water, the wind is picking up as the crowd move the subject on to the economy and the sharks are circling once more. Tensions become frayed between the two of them. Twigg looks like he wants to shove Ken off the raft but Ken’s inability to endorse Total Austerity with a straight face spikes his gun and they paddle on, praying that something will save them.

Suddenly, Twigg thinks he sees a way out. The third question is about whether UKIP are a threat to the Tories and this could potentially be a life saver: Make common cause with the sharks, serve Ken up to them and then get away while they’re dragging him to the seabed. Unfortunately for him, it didn’t quite work out like that and a jostle about who was to blame for the credit crunch ended in Clarke’s favour. That was of no consequence to the sharks though and once again they launched coordinated attacks from opposite ends of the spectrum. Ken and Twigg’s prospects darkened further as the weather takes a turn for the unhinged: A women in the crowd starts making rash and rather convoluted claims about immigrants that stokes a further surge of ill-will and all appears to be lost. Brody and Hooper: They ‘ain’t never going to make it back.

But then something miraculous happens. As if from nowhere, the subject of the Catholic church arrives and in an instant, our scene of frenzy finds itself becalmed. Melanie Phillips suddenly gets a little rational, Crow makes all sweetness and light while James plays it safe and the formally rabblesome crowd become a picture of tolerance. Relieved, exhausted and a little perplexed, Clarke and Twigg regain their hold on their battered raft and lash it back together with some pleasingly mellow platitudes about other people’s morals. They make landfall, the credits roll and everyone can look forward to being disappointed by Jaws 2.

Yeah, I preferred the original to be honest.

Diane James is still largely unknowable…

During my mainly fruitless hunt for info on James, I did notice that one word kept coming up: ‘Unflappable’. On the whole, I’m inclined to agree as for a first performance, this wasn’t bad at all. Granted, Dover did seem especially receptive to the UKIP line and her explaining away of the 4 million Bulgarians was a little dubious but still, she did manage to sound more together than your average Kipper. Mind you let’s not get carried away as my basis for comparison here is Farage. Most things look pretty ‘together’ when stacked up next to him.

I feel a little cheated by the Phillips/Crow love-in…

Ok, so it wasn’t exactly a ‘love-in’ but I was a little bummed that these mutually antagonistic parties set aside their differences in order to box the ears of Clarke and Twigg. I’m also strangely and perversely bummed that Phillips is ever-so-slowly losing her teeth. Sure, she got fair vexed by the whole EU shebang, but it wasn’t a patch on her mid-War on Terror heyday. Back then, no one could out-crazy Phillips, not by a long shot and in odd way, I miss that: Nothing’s more comforting than absolutely, 100%, knowing your enemy. Now it’s 99% and petty though it sounds, I miss that 1%. Now here’s a.gif of what her computer desktop may or may not look like to prove that I haven’t forgotten about her glory days (see. Fig. 1).

melanie-phillips-wallpaper-gif

Fig. 1

Tl;dr

Clarke: 6/10

(Got rather) Red (around the face)

Twigg: 6/10

(Narrowly avoided being) Fed (to the sharks)

James: 5.5/10

(Could soon become quite) Widespread

Phillips: 5/10

(Still fills me with) Dread

Crow: 5/10

(Has an intimidating) Head

The Crowd: 5/10

(All live in a) Shed?

Alright, so that was a rather raw and bruising episode that raises some awkward question about why a town so completely dependent on open borders despises them so much. I’ll let you figure that out because right now it’s 4:02 AM, nothing’s making much sense and I know for a fact that the Frau Ribs just loves to be woken up by the sound of trodden-on-cats.

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 #32


questionable time 32 david dimbleby michael jackson bad

Good morning Lemmings and many thanks for your patience… As predicted, last week never happened as I was far too busy watching NOFX on the Thursday night and then subsequently far too busy trying to stop the room from spinning wildly out of control on the Friday, hence no Questionable Time. Still, here we are now (minus a certain amount of dignity) so let’s see what we can make out of last night’s choppy little number. Go!

We need to talk about Andy Burnham…

Seriously, we do because while he always seems to do quite well I tend to come away from his appearances feeling like I’ve somehow been hoodwinked. This isn’t a new thing – I’ve always had some lingering suspicions about Burnham – but I think last night was the first time that I caught a glimpse of what it is about him that makes me have to check that my wallet hasn’t been pinched: It’s because he’s a Strong Finisher.

Strong Finishing in Question Time works like this: Upon receipt of a question you do not hesitate and immediately start to answer in a robust manner with the first thing that pops into your head. Now, that thing in your head might very well be wrong so constantly monitor the audience for signs of approval/disapproval and if things start to look dicey quickly segue into the next thing that pops into your head and see if that does any better. The key here is speed and vigour: If you pause or falter for even a nanosecond people will then know you’re up to something so it’s vital that you just plough on through and shimmy so quickly that your flip-flopping doesn’t have time to register in the minds of the audience. Eventually, you will stumble on a line that works and at that point you simply open up the throttle and romp to victory safe in the knowledge that if the finish is strong enough, no-one will remember the bit at the start where you were talking twaddle.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Well maybe on paper but in practice it’s a good deal trickier and not everyone gets it right. Warsi’s a good example: There are times when she uses the above tactics to great effect but all too often she’s stymied by a tin ear for the audience. This can result in her picking entirely the wrong point to hammer and her Strong Finish becomes a Cataclysmic Finish, much to her detriment and the wider world’s amusement. Burnham though? Well he’s bloody good at it, good to the point where it makes me a little queasy. Take for example the question about the BMA strike. Labour are in a right pickle over this and can end up contorting themselves into all manner of uncomfortable stances, just as Burnham did in his initial response (it was one of those ‘I totally condemn you for striking but well done for striking’ type answers). However, what sets him apart is how he then seamlessly reframed the entire question into one about NHS cuts and did so without breaking his stride. That bit at the start when he sounded like he was arguing with an imagined doppelgänger? Forgotten. The overwhelming impression one’s left with? Here’s a man who knows what he’s talking about.

So yes, it’s all very much too-clever-by-half and I’d like to take this opportunity to declare that I’m officially ‘On To’ Andy Burnham but there’s also one last thing I’d like to bring up about the Shadow Health Secretary: His eyelashes. My mum noticed a while back that Burnham is rather well endowed in the eyelash department and upon closer inspection I can confirm that he has both majestic and lustrous ocular trimmings. In fact, they’re so impressive that I think he’s missing a trick by not trying to accentuate them further and I’ve even gone so far as to put together a mock-up of what a little tarting up could do for him (see Fig. 1). Seriously Andy, go for it.

andyburnham-eyelashes-gif

Fig. 1

I find the West Midlands strangely endearing…

If you watch enough QT you start becoming very familiar with the way different audiences react under the studio lights. For example, shows in Liverpool always leave me feeling like I’ve just watched the inhabitants of a belligerent city-state convene a protest march against its geopolitical patron while episodes in Yorkshire are largely dominated by people telling us how bloody wonderful everything about Yorkshire is. The point is that there’s usually a sense of otherness (except in the case of London which simply refuses to acknowledge that anything exists beyond the M25), a sense that this particular locale’s problems are unique or that their virtues are unusually conspicuous. You don’t see that in the West Midlands as the audiences tend to look comfortable in their own skin yet also seem to be completely without guile. Yup, we’re from the Black Country. Yup, it’s not the most glamorous corner of the earth and yup, we may look a little hard done by but that’s perfectly ok with us. You know what? I really quite like that.

Oh, and before we move away from the audience, kudos to the angry young man who told Gove that he “worked damn hard for his GCSE’s” and that Education Secretary can “sit them for [him]”. I spoke to The Man this morning and he said that he got it totally stuck to him last night. Well done there Angry Young Man.

And the rest of ’em?

Well Ken Clarke certainly looked little more awake and alert than last time and didn’t do a bad job of soaking up the ire while Len McClusky cemented himself as Most Palatable Union leader simply by not looking as smug as Mark Serwotka or as violent as Bob Crowe. Disappointing to see Ruth Lea being largely calm and level-headed last night as I do love it when she gets a bit scatty on the free market catnip. Alas, she kept things largely within the realms of the reasonable last night so there’s no fun to be had there I’m afraid. And finally there’s Julie White, a lady of unknown providence who tends to say “you know?” when she clearly doesn’t know. Having said that, she was the least annoying entrepreneur we’ve had on for years and should I ever need to bore through large quantities of concrete with a diamond headed drill, she’ll be the first to know.

Tl;dr

Burnham: Sneaky

6/10

Clarke: (Doesn’t seem bothered by who got) Leaky (with the GCSE thing)

6/10

McCluskey: (Is less) Creepy (than some of his colleagues)

5/10

Lea: (Disappointingly un-)Freaky

5/10

White: (Looked a little) Peeky (at the start)

5/10

The Crowd: (Like to wear) Dashiki(s)?

6/10

Hmmm… Adequate marks for an adequate show, no more, no less. To be honest, I’m rather hoping that the news straightens itself out in the coming weeks as it’s been a little disjointed of late and that hasn’t made for great QT-ing. Still, we’re off to sunny Luton next week and who can tell what delights await us other than a hard-to-get-to airport and simmering racial tensions? Come back next week to find out.

Next week Lemmings, next week….


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