Posts Tagged 'Kenneth Clarke'

Questionable Time #18


questionable time 18 david dimbleby depression

Good morning Lemmings and let’s make this snappy as I have much to do today. Ok, I don’t really have that much to do but I would really like to finish watching the fantastic Russia, Putin and the West for the following reasons:

  1. It’s gripping
  2. Putin is clearly as mad as a box of frogs.
  3. The Russian Defence Minister – Sergei Ivanov – is now my #1 Guy on Earth purely by dint of a) looking uncannily like Christopher Walken, b) leading Condoleezza Rice astray at meetings of great diplomatic import, c) literally telling the Taliban to “F – off” and d) being an all round wag of the highest order.

It’s unfortunately disappeared off iPlayer but a cursory search of youtube should see you right… Get amongst. Right, enough of this off-topic waffle and on to the question in hand: What, dear Lemmings, did we learn last night? This.

1. Despite him being in Parliament longer than I’ve been on this earth, I still struggle to know exactly what John Prescott is for.

Ok, so there’s the obvious things like he’s good at punching people (both physically and verbally) and there was a time when he provided the Old Labour brigade a much-needed sugar-coating to the bitter pill of New Labour but aside from that, can you think of a single thing that John Prescott has done that isn’t about him? As it stands, I am left no wiser by last night’s Question Time as all he appeared to do was grin mischievously whilst lining up a series of well rehearsed jabs for Ken Clarke (rehearsed to the point that he even bought props with him). That this was an entertaining spectacle is of little doubt but I still can’t escape from the fact that once you strip away all the bluster and bombast, there really isn’t a great deal to Prezzer other than an eye for self-promotion (Police Commissioner Prescott anyone?) and a good rhetorical right-hook. Oh, and I’ve totally got his ‘what to do when you’re caught off guard’ strategy pegged: It’s basically ‘deliver a pile of vague and flakey platitudes in the thundering tones of Absolute Certainties’ – like when he said he’d fix the economy simply by chucking loads of money at it. So yes, whilst all the heat generated by his presence was certainly warming, the light was dim and flickering.

prescott clarke boxing

2. I totally get what Ken Clarke is for.

I shan’t go on about this too much as I’ve written plenty about it in the past but the main point of Ken Clarke is to be a Tory who doesn’t fill me with certain dread and for the most part he does this pretty well. However, I can’t help feeling that the poor old sod has grown rather weary of this damnable coalition business and he spent most of last night looking knackered and harried. To be honest, I’d look a little harried if I was being mercilessly assaulted by a lump of Humberside belligerence but I get the feeling that it goes a little deeper than that and all the old boy really wants to do is quietly resign himself to a twilight of gout and jazz 78’s. And well he may for despite being one of the most successful Tory chancellors of all time he is now treated by his own party like a weird and embarrassing uncle that should not, repeat NOT be allowed anywhere near 6th form girls college without strict supervision. You deserve better than that Ken and should you ever feel the need to disappear in a fog of cigar smoke, I for one will be entirely sympathetic…

3. Dimbers clearly doesn’t like Susan Kramer.

Ok, so I’m not exactly a card-carrying member of the Susan Kramer fan club and her QT appearances always end up being a bit ‘meh’ but for Christ’s sake Dimbers, cut the woman some slack! Sure, she didn’t exactly bring a great deal to the show and yes, her hair is quite terrifying but did she really deserve a full hour of shirtiness and being cut off mid-sentence? I think not. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of Dimbers, that insect tie: No.

4. Owen Jones is clearly the frontrunner in the race for Angry Young Man of the Year award.

So this was Jones’ first ever appearance on QT and boy did he do well. The trick with him is that not only is he self evidently very bright but he also does the whole Righteous Indignation thing with considerable aplomb and without appearing to be an unhinged wingnut (a la the likes of Douglas Murray and – if he’s having a bad day – Mehdi Hassan). That the crowd loved him is without the slightest doubt and barring a late surge from Liam Burns, the new President of the NUS (and very much one-to-watch in my opinion), that Angry Young Man award is in the bag. Now, naturally all of the above should inevitably lead us all to believe that I’m going to award him top marks at the end of this post but I’m afraid I can’t quite bring myself to do that for the following reasons:

  1. No-one is ever going to get top marks on Questionable Time as I feel it would set a dangerous precedent.
  2. He’s five years younger than me and that is manifestly a perversion of cosmic justice.

‘Jealous’ you say? Well maybe just a little.

5. Julie Meyer is actually the worst Question Time panelist I have ever seen.

So I just said I’d never give out a 10 on Questionable Time and until last night, I felt the same about giving out 1’s for very much for the same reason: It creates an artificial hard ceiling/basement that can only ever be equalled but never bettered. In the past I have stuck rigidly to this rule and even the most wanton displays of wrongheadedness have escaped without the shame of being 1’d. For example, remember when Carol Vorderman went from being a relatively-innocuous-if-creepy-dork-turned-vamp to a screaming-torrent-of-reactionary-twaddle? Yeah, she got away with a 3 that time and even Melanie Phillips at her most poisonous has never sunk below a 4. Why? Because although I consider both to be pretty repellent figures, I can actually figure out what they’re on about. Julie Meyers? Well, I got the impression that she likes “entrepreneurs” and all things “digital” but beyond that, your guess is as good as mine. That on its own would push her deep into ‘2’ territory but it’s what she represents that really irks me: That weird collision of Big L ‘Fuck You’ Libertarians with the nebulous/vacuous world of ‘e-commerce’. Now, I find hard-line Libertarians to be a weird enough bunch in the real-world but when you slather another coating of unreality on them in the form of the internet then they stop making any sense whatsoever. Julie Meyer is the living incarnation of this unholy nexus, a walking absurdity who lives in a rickety virtual construct of her own making and has no place opining on matters that pertain to the real world. So here you go Julie Meyer, here’s a gift from one “digital native” to another: A big fat ‘1’.

Tl;dr

Clarke: (A little) Flabby

6/10

Prescott: Jabby

6/10

Kramer: (Got treated a little) Crabby

5/10

Jones: Grabby

8/10

Meyer: Shabby

1/10

The Crowd: Blabby

7/10

Well, well, well… A Questionable Time first. Please take note of your surroundings so that you can spin a good yarn when your grandchildren ask “where were you heard that Julie Meyer got a ‘1’?”. You’ll thank me when this situation inevitably comes to pass. Right, I’m off to watch more despotic shenanigans with Mr. Putin…

Next week Lemmings,next week…

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Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #44


question time david dimbleby jail 44Morning Lemmings and welcome to Bizarro Time, a strange twilight netherworld of exterior opening shots, audience members wearing wristbands that made the whole affair look like a giant, penal Glasto, Dimbers referring to the venue as ‘The Scrubs’ (has he served time there?) and a complete lack of the Yellow Team. That’s right, this week’s Question Time comes to us from the bowls of the prison system and given the topical backdrop and panel, a right old to-do was to be expected. However, as I mentioned at the start this wasn’t so much Question Time as Bizarro Time and all is not quite what it seems. So Lemmings, let us firmly grasp the soap, strip down and head to the showers.

Ok, first up is Ken Clarke who has taken a break from his busy schedule of sticking his foot in his mouth to take his licks in public and try to remove said foot from said mouth. Actually, I must confess to feel quite sorry for Ken on this one. Yes, it probably wasn’t the most sensitive use of words but let’s face it, a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old having consensual sex is a different kettle of fish from someone actually forcing themselves on another. That’s not to say that rape isn’t the most serious of crimes, but there are different shades of severity just as there are different shades of Ken (see Fig. 1).

ken clarke rape

Anyhoo, a vocal and belligerent segment of the population took umbrage with Ken’s less than perfect choice of words and a media shitstorm unfolded on Wednesday with a speed and rapidity that defied belief. Worse still, the outrage wasn’t confined to the group who had the strongest claim to a legitimate beef and soon Ken was getting it in the neck from pretty much everyone: The right (for being Ken and soft on crims), No. 10 (for being Ken and switching his phone off), feminists (for being Ken and looking like the sort of bloke who says ‘wimmin’) and Labour (purely for laughs and the fact that they’ve been down on their luck for last few weeks). So yes, the stakes were high for the old boy and anything other than some heavy-duty contrition would inevitably lead to him having to slum it on the naughty step with the likes of Laws, Huhne and Fox (although I get the feeling that Fox actually feels quite at home on the naughty step).

To this end, Ken did pretty well by fully admitting he was a bit of a klutz for saying things in the way he did and that he compounded this by allowing the media to run rings round him, but he didn’t back down on his original point and the crowd were largely with him (although not cheering. I think everyone was a little nervous about how that response would go down). Eventually he settled down into a policy argument with Straw and the rest of his performance was fairly standard Ken fare, but he does seem to have got himself off the hook and that is something I’m largely glad about. For one, I think that this was a pretty wanky “media brouhaha” (to use Ken’s turn of phrase) and he was a victim of people looking for a fight but the second reason is slightly more important: Ken is a flawed character and politics needs flawed characters. One of the reasons we seem to have lost so much trust in politicians is that they spend so much time trying to impress us with how trustworthy they are and that is something that sets alarm bells ringing. By contrast, Ken’s never really pretended to be anything other than he is: A boozy semi-rogue who listens to jazz, nods off in the Commons and can’t really be arsed with the managerialism of modern politics. There are many aspects of him that I’m not too keen on (being knee-deep in Big Tobacco for one), but that’s the thing about human beings in general, they are not perfect and that’s not necessarily a bad thing (on a very tenuously related point, if you too happen to be a fan of flawed character’s, I highly recommend boning up on the American Civil War. I’m reading this utterly fantastic book on it at the moment and rough diamonds/tragically doomed characters are two-a-penny in that conflict, especially on the Union side. Seriously, check it out if you’re a fan of human frailty and the beauty of our failings).

Right, next up we have Jack Straw who has taken a break from his busy schedule of being a too-wiley-by-half, hard-bitten New Labour ex-Home Sec who might as well have been a proper Tory ex-Home Sec to, erh, carry on doing just that. As I mentioned last week, I have a real problem with previous Labour Home Office bods as this particular ministry seemed to do crazy things to their brains and I’ve never been a fan of Straw in particular. Having said that, I do have to admit that while the cloak of nefarious cunning he wraps himself in isn’t the most becoming of garments, it does suit him down to the ground and fits like a glove. Say what you want about his views and motives, at least he has the decency to look the part. The Demon Headmaster’s main contribution to last night’s show was to send my understanding of where everyone should be on the political spectrum into a flat spin as he embarked on a flanking march so far to the right that he nearly fell of the map and at times made common cause with Melanie Phillips, thus conjuring up the possibility of a love that dare not speak its name. That was one mental image I really didn’t need to see.

For the most part, Straw’s line of attack was pretty much based on the ‘I’LL SHOW YOU HOW TOUGH I AM!’ blueprint so beloved by New Labour but that didn’t seem to have as much traction with the crowd as it may have had in the past. However Straw is no dummy and in-between bouts of pounding his chest he found the time to chip away at the rich little seam of Justice on the Cheap. That proved far more effective, especially with the prison officers and went a little way to negating the excesses of his more truculent episodes. Also, he did mellow a little when it came to the matter of foreign aid and I must confess to being mightily relieved as there was an outside chance that he and Phillips may just start rutting like deranged elk had their opinions not diverged at that point. So yes, it was a pretty standard affair from Straw and while I still don’t particular like the guy, I do have to give grudging respect for his talent for survival and other related dark arts. My one piece of advice? Maybe it’s time to update your glasses Jack… I mean c’mon, Lennon’s been dead for 30 years now. Just sayin…

Ok, Panelist #3 coming up and this week it’s Shami Chakrabarti who has taken a break from her busy schedule of appearing on Question Time at least 200 times a year to appear on Question Time. Naturally, this was an opportunity for Shami to do what she does best (i.e. clip politicians round the ear in a firm but reasonable manner) in a very appropriate environment. Now, Shami’s been done to death in these Post Question Time Match Report’s (mainly by dint of appearing on Question Time 200 times a year) so I won’t go into too much detail other than to say that this was a solid performance that balanced the practical (giving life sentences to rapists means that they are more likely to kill people) with the ethical (telling Phillips to STFU on overseas aid because it’s the right thing to do), all delivered by a charming little boy with lovely manners. Very good Shami, see you next week.

Finally we have Melanie Phillips who has taken time out of her busy schedule of calling the Moon an Islamic conspiracy and accusing the Nanny State of making children drink monkey milk to give a bunch of lags what-for and generally spread the hate. I came up with that line earlier in the week and I must admit that I was a little worried I wouldn’t be able to use it as she was fairly (by her standards) restrained when it came to the first question on rape. Like all the other panelists, she gingerly picked her way round the subject as if the monolith from 2001 had just risen from the studio floor and no-one was quite sure whether to fear or worship it. “Bugger” thought I, “this is going to make the write-up a little tricky”. Happily though, this new-found sensitivity was short-lived and she proceeded to crank up the Bile-o-Tronand let slip the dogs of crazy on both the ‘does prison work’ and foreign aid questions (“Close down the Department of International Aid!” Nice one Mel). Overall, it was your standard outpouring of wide-eyed monkeyshine but this time with added weird thanks to the temporary blossoming of romance between her and Straw. However, I will bung her an extra mark for exercising a smidgen of restraint in the first 20 minutes.

By the way, I discovered this week that Phillips tweets. Since my day job as a mental health worker doesn’t quite provide the levels of insanity I need to sustain me, I’ve signed up as a follower and now have the luxury of being assaulted by 140 tiny little fists of madness every couple of days. Seriously, I’m impressed by the density of the derangement she is capable of generating. It’s like mental plutonium.

So that was panel and bully for them. However, the main reason why this was going to be a Bizarro Episode was that it was in prison and prisoners were part of the audience (well done to Dimbers for saying “thanks for coming”. It’s not like a three-hour journey or anything). On the whole, they were fairly tame (although the guy who asked for more money for cons and guards was quite entertaining) but one did stand out. This was the guy at the end with the plumby accent and suit. To be honest, I can’t quite remember what he said (although everyone seemed to like it) mainly because my mind was doing somersaults trying to figure out a)what he was in for (ram-raiding Laura Ashley?) and b) whether he walked about the prison wearing that suit. That provided a brief respite (or “respit” as Straw pronounces it) from some fairly dense stuff so I doff my cap to thee, O Lord of D-Wing. As for the rest of the crowd, well they partially restored my faith in my fellow-man. For one, I was glad that most people seemed on board with the idea that justice needs to be about rehabilitation as much as it is about punishment but also because they showed that they completely saw through the media’s (and Labour’s… to shame, Ed. You’re better than that) attempts to make something out of not very much at all. I also liked the fact that the guy who was most vocal in support for Clarke was wearing a shirt so pink that if it were shade of paint, it would be called ‘FUCKING PINK’ (Caps-lock mandatory).

Clarke: 7/10

Redeemed

Straw: 5/10

Schemed

Chakrabarti: 7/10

Beamed

Phillips: 3/10

Screamed

The Crowd: 7/10

Esteemed

So there you go. A good, if slightly weird show that probably vexed everyone who hoped Clarke would break down like a turd in the rain. Next week Question Time will be in Exeter and I (oddly enough) will be writing it on a Megabus to Exeter. I suffer for my art.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #32


Morning Lemmings and welcome back to LCCPQTMR, now skippered by a year older (although probably not a year wiser) Loudribs. Ok, so this week we’re in Maidstone and I had high hopes for this episode as it contained not one, but two panelists for whom I have a perverted political crush: Step forward Ken Clarke and Nigel Farage. Anyhoo, did this episode deliver the goods or leave me wanting? Did Farage finally just flip out and start goosestepping through the audience or did serenity reign? More importantly, am I going to get this finished before the new series of Peep Show begins? Let us stop with this time-wasting and find out.

 

The Menu

 

Q1: In the light of the Greek and Irish bailouts, is the Euro doomed?

 

Q2: Do today’s comments by Howard Flight really show us what the Tories think of the citizens of this country?

 

Q3:Does this week’s immigration cap match the Prime Minister’s rhetoric?

 

Q4: In view of the current climate of austerity, is it ludicrous to spend £2 million on a happiness survey?

 

Q5: Is it OK for the PM to take part in a joke that calls the Speaker a dwarf?

 

 

In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Kenneth Clarke, Secretary of State for Justice, Lord Chancellor and all round good times guy.

It struck me today that Ken is like one of those kids at secondary school who should, by rights, be bullied absolutely mercilessly but for some reason isn’t. Let’s take a second to ponder the evidence. First off, it’s always been abundantly clear that Ken doesn’t go with crowd. Whilst all the other kids are listening to N-Dubz or whatever ‘Urban’ sounds constitute ‘cool’ for the teenage demographic these days (or in the case of the Conservative party, pathological Euro scepticism), Ken isn’t. So surely he’s part of a catch-all subculture that provides a veneer of social acceptance for his fellow misfits and instead listens to My Chemical Romance and paints his nails black (or in the case of the Tory party, hangs out with Phillip Blond and the rest of his bleeding heart Red Tories)? Well no, he doesn’t do that either. In fact, no one knows what Ken Clarke is into because the one time someone was brave enough to sneak a peek at his iPod, they were confronted a list of bands that no-one had ever heard of. Imagine a contemporary teenage Slint fan, that’s where Ken’s at. On top of this, he gets good grades but is never accused of being a swat, he smokes behind the bikeshed but no-one ever nicks his fags (mainly because they’re Gitanes or Sobraini Black Russians) and he always manages to avoid PE without ever being tarred as wimp. How the hell does he do this?

 

Part of this is inevitably down to his record: All the kids remember how he managed to sneak a ‘teenth into his bag for the Year 9 Residential (or in parliamentary terms, how he was one of the most successful Chancellors of modern times) and there’s also universal (if grudging) respect for the way he always gets served at the offy whilst even the kids with beards are turned away (or in his case the way in which he commands a certain level of respect from all parties in Parliament). But that’s not the whole story and to piece together the rest of the puzzle it’s worth taking a look at how he operates.

 

I’ve already highlighted a fair few Kenisms in past Post Match Reports, such as his trademark Damning With Faint Praise routine, but I noticed something else this time his round: His ability to milk a good lie. For more orthodox politicians, getting out of a politically sticky situation is usually an exercise in the deployment of either Mobility (the art of convincingly brushing a subject under the carpet before anyone notices) or Sincerity (no matter how faux that sincerity may be). Blair was very good at the Sincerity thing and manage to squeeze just about every ounce of utility out of his “Look…guys…” shtick for a good few years before everyone got wise to it. Brown, on the other hand, always knew he couldn’t do Sincerity (although he was quite adept at Gravity) and would try to go for Mobility instead. Unfortunately, he also sucked at the Mobility thing and we all know how that ended up whilst Cameron seems very good at both of these aspects and if I’m honest, that rather worries me. What makes Ken special he is that he spurns both of these methods and instead concentrates on turning his own lies to his advantage. Take Q1. Here, he was ambushed by Dimbers on his long and extensive history of Euro Lust and asked whether he still wants in on the whole Eurozone deal to which Ken replied “I have no idea”. Clearly, this is a lie. A big, fat, stinking whopper of a lie, yet it was delivered in that ‘nudge-nudge, wink-wink, read between the lines’ sort of way that left you in absolutely no doubt what his true opinion was but never being explicit enough to land him in trouble with his own team. Now, that’s harder to do in practice than it seems (just look at Ed Balls and his distinguished track record of Rubbish Lying) and goes a long way to explaining how Ken has managed to keep this unimpeachable air of independence about him despite being a high-ranking front bencher. Plausible deniability: It’s the name of Ken’s game.

 

Aside from that, other notable turns by Ken this week include his zinger of a line on Q2 (“people breed for other reasons”), a chosty little scrap with Gloria de Piero and even a brief outburst where he ‘shhhed’ Dimbers. He even got to cram a nice bit of vintage Damning With Faint Praise on Q5 (John Bercow is “very good… Can be a little School Masterly”) so in general, it was your usual Ken. However, the thing that got me was just how far removed from government he seemed. Seriously, I needed reminding that he is actually Secretary of State for Justice and the by-product of this ability to distance himself from his role is that he managed to avoid taking any serious flak from the crowd. Ok, so it wasn’t an incendiary performance by any measure, but in terms of showing off a political larder that’s stocked with the most exotic of goods it was all good stuff. MOAR PLZ KEN.

 

A crafty 7/10

 

In The Yellow Bit of the Blue/Yellow Corner: The Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, ex-Lib Dem Leader and one time de facto ruler of large swathes of the Balkans.

Paddy Ashdown has no eyes. I have suspected this since being a small child but there has been no means of verifying this assertion as the place where his eyes should be lie so deeply recessed within his skull that you would need one of those probes they send to Venus to actually find out for sure. At least that is what I thought until I came across a piece of shocking photographic evidence that I have displayed below (see Fig. 1).

 

Fig. 1

 

You see? No eyes! Just a pair of obsidian sink holes that appear to exert their own gravity and are probably composed of anti-matter. Shocking, I know but you can’t argue with the facts.

 

Anyhoo, Paddy’s in town and he, much like Ken, also has this air of separation from the mainstream world but in a different way. Whilst Ken seems very comfortable in his oddness and carries it well, you get the sense that with Paddy, separateness is something that was inflicted on him rather than something he chose to wear. I say this because he always seems very detached from the rest of his peers, but in a way that’s hard to pin down. Part of it may be that he’s lived quite an extraordinary (and probably at times horrific) life, what with being ex-SBS and effectively ruling Kosovo for a period but there’s something else there that just makes me think that he walks in a different world to you or I. For example, his performance tonight was a pretty by-the-book affair where most of the stuff he said was reasonable enough (although he did get pulled up by the crowd for claiming that it was the Lib Dems who were stopping the Tories from being Uber Tories in Q3), but never was he able to really carry the audience with him and I was left with the impression of a little boy who was trying desperately to impress his parents whilst simultaneously striving to appear like he wasn’t trying to impress anyone. I know that sounds all very Freudian and hyperbolic, especially as there were moments (like when he seemed to have a genuinely good laugh at Cameron’s dwarf joke) where he seemed authentically human but I still think there’s something about him that makes him look a little, well, haunted. Mind you, he did have to go up against Thatcher at the Dispatch Box for a couple of years and if that doesn’t send you a little plumb loco, god knows what would.

 

An emotionally orphaned 5/10

 

In The Red Corner: Gloria de Piero, Shadow Minister for Culture and Media and former GMTV hackette.

Move over Ol’ Snaggletooth, there’s a new contender for Shadow Minister for Sauciness in town! Yes, that’s right, de Peiro has upped the Fruity Pictures Stakes to the point where you could probable get into quite a bit of trouble for running a Google Images search on her at work and I fear that Flint may have quite the fight on her hands. However, before I get too stuck into a raging torrent of misogyny there’s another issue at stake when it comes to de Piero and that’s what would have happened if she had entered parliament in 1997? I asked this because she seems to the manifestation of what pure New Labourism would have ultimately developed into if it had not been so rudely interrupted by a crushing electoral defeat. I don’t mean this in the sense of her beliefs (in fact I can’t really tell you about her beliefs as this is the first time she’s crossed my radar), but in terms of pedigree and posture, she appears to be pure NuLab. For a start, she’s from a media background and not just any media background but from the weird half touchy-feely, half uncompromisingly authoritarian netherworld that is GMTV but she also seems to travel very light when it comes to such trivial matters as beliefs. Seriously, in terms of her answers to last night’s questions, it’s very hard to get a sense of what bricks her political house is made of and all of her responses relied very heavily on the potency of her delivery (and it was potent at times) rather than their content. Take Q2 for example: Here, she started off with a slightly hot under the collar telling off about what a nasty man Flight is that eventually resulted in applause after a brief and slightly bewildered silence, but then spent the rest of the question biting off any head that dared to question this and generally looking for any reason to have a go. Similarly, Q4 was just a lunge at the obvious (politicians should “talk to people”) and never was there any danger that the wider issue (which was ‘should we care about happiness?’) should creep into the frame.

 

This is why I can only see her through New Labour lenses: Pretty much her whole performance was based around the use of single, sweeping and simplistic statements and then a fall back position of combative reactiveness in much the same way that the governments of both Brown and Blair were based on a larger version of this principle. That’s not to say that her delivery wasn’t good (it was) and I have a feeling that I may be being a little unfair here as a) it’s her very first time on and I don’t really know that much about her, b) I missed her response to Q5 as I was too busy scribbling down the name of a dwarf activist group that Dimbers mentioned (Walking with Giants. Catchy name!) and c) she was up against some very seasoned veterans, but the original question still stands: What would have happened if she was in Parliament in 1997? She’d be Leader of the Labour Party by now, Jeremy Kyle would be Home Secretary and Question Time would be hosted by Fern Britton, that’s what.

 

A well delivered but paper thin 4/10

 

In The Red, White And Blue Corner: Nigel Farage, MEP, Leader of UKIP (again) and all-round comedy demagogue.

Here he is, Inexplicable Political Crush #2, Nigel Farage! Yes, that’s right, my favourite Amateur Cad/Cheater of Firey Plane Death is on again and boy did I have high hopes for him tonight given that not only is Europe in a whole heap of trouble but also because one of his colleagues had just this week thought it prudent to shower a German MEP with a mouthful of Nazi slogans. Thus thought I, the scene would be set for a perfect example of the Farage Trajectory and I could have a good laugh as he lurched from The Giddy Highs of Victory to the Crushing Lows of Defeat. However, I was to be disappointed and while we did get to see him being fairly mental about Europe (although only mental by normal standards, not by Farage standards), no-one mentioned the whole ‘ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuehrer’ incident and as a result, there was no real opportunity for the whole Crushing Lows of Defeat scenario. All of which is a double shame as I spent ages on Wednesday night messing about with stuff I don’t know how to operate in order to make an animated picture that perfectly encapsulates the Farage Trajectory in all it’s glory (see Fig. 2).

 

Das Trajectory

Fig. 2

 

 

So yeah, I’m a bit miffed, particularly as I have to credit Farage with quite a lot of applause and not very many boos last night. Still, at least I can take comfort in the fact that he will inevitably be back on in less clement circumstances sooner or later (providing that UKIP hasn’t imploded under the weight of its own absurdity) and when he is, that animated picture will have at least three frames in it. Three frames, Nigel, THREE FRAMES. You have been warned.

 

A not nearly mental enough 5/10

 

 

In the Independent/Brainy One Corner: Kate Mosse, author and QT n00b.

Ok, so here we have a very interesting approach to being a Question Time panelist. I’m guessing that by and large, when people know that they’re going on QT they probably try and bone up a bit on stuff that’s going on and how they feel about that stuff because if you don’t, you’ll probably end up looking like a bit of a tit. Kate Mosse however has chosen a slightly different approach and I must say, not a fully functional one at that. Take Q1. As soon as it came to her turn, rather than make any attempt to answer it herself, she violated The Protocols of Dimbers by simply asking the guy who asked the question what he thought the answer was and then lifted that as her own. Genius! No wait, actually it wasn’t genius and no one bought it. At this point, I’d probably try and rethink my tactics and to her credit, she did. However, her new tactics weren’t so great either and Mosse’s response to Q2 was “I agree with everyone here”. Ok, I’m being cruel now as she did eventually cobble that into a semblance of a platitude, but still, it was fairly shonky. Q3 was also quite confusing when she recited a big list of things that could be good or bad about immigrants and then gestured to the audience to carry on going (which they didn’t) and at this point I thought the game was pretty much up for her. However, what I hadn’t counted on was her response to Q4 and that totally blindsided me for it seemed that she had been boning up, just on one, very specific subject. As soon as that happiness question landed, she was all over it and even went to lengths of throwing in references to the relevant literature as she went before finally petering out and calling for libraries not to be shut. Stunned, the audience clapped in an effort to comfort themselves in the face of information overload.

 

So yes, a very odd appearance that encompassed some very peculiar tactics with wildly varied results. It wasn’t terrible but if there’s one tiny bit of advice that I might impart it would be ‘spread your boning up butter on your Question Time toast a little more evenly next time’. That is all.

 

A slightly head scratching 4/10

 

The Crowd: Maidstone

My my, they’re a well turned out lot in Maidstone and with the exception of one old man who looked like he lived in a house made of coal, everyone looked rather dapper. Politically, it was an odd show as their didn’t really seem to be a representative of the government there (despite there being two coalition members on the panel, one of whom is on the front bench) and most of the argy-bargy tended to be Europe related (I think the Euro Sceptics made the most noise all-in-all). What particularly struck me about the Maidstone crowd was the names of the question askers, two of which had very confident monikers: Mark Power and Mark Everest. I so wish my last name was ‘Power’ or ‘Everest’. Loudribs Power. Dr Loudribs Power. Who the hell wouldn’t be impressed by that? No one, that’s who.

 

An odd but enjoyable 6/10

 

So there we go. A bunch of oddballs yacking in front of a very dapper crowd. Here’s a picture of Beefy.

 

...and lo, there was Beef.

 

Next week, Lemmings.

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #10


COO! COO!

Pigeon action, yeah?

Morning Lemmings. After last week’s anticlimax I was hankering for a more substantial undertaking and the panel for this episode looked good on paper. However, good paper panels have often let me down so it was with baited breath that I plunged into the behemoth that is Question Time this week. So, to hell with this idle banter and onwards we must go, onwards into the depths that are Stevenage.

In The Red Corner: Alan Johnson, Home Secretary, ex-postie and oft mooted Brown antidote.

I don’t know if it’s just us, but my better half and I have always been aware of something very pigeon-like when it comes to Alan Johnson. Maybe it’s the beady eyes, the raft of grey suits or the way his head wobbles about when he speaks but there’s something there that leads us to believe that he actually lives in a nest atop Nelson’s Column and and survives on a mostly crumb based diet (see Fig. 1). That aside, I’ve got a big soft spot for Johnson, largely down to the fact that he seems very human (well, human/pigeon, like if The Fly starred a dumpy David Bowie impersonator and it was a dove that had got into the teleporter) and he doesn’t entirely fit in with the rest of New Labour. He’s also one of Question Time’s most proficient defensive players and has a gift for sounding sincere when breaking bad news, a rare trait in an age when hard-truths usually end up spun into an sprawling mass of bullshit. Take tonight’s first question, which was about whether the rash of business leaders who came out for Cameron’s NI cut had “sealed the deal” for Cameron. This would present a problem for most New Labour meat puppets who are usually afraid of offending anyone (hence their love of triangulation) and especially the Holy Cows of Enterprise. Not Johnson though, who was pretty blunt about the fact that of course business wouldn’t like this, but tough shit. The money’s got to come from somewhere and at least we have a plan as to where that is (unlike the Tory’s). That’s actually surprisingly refreshing, watching a Labour front bencher basically telling the high and mighty of commerce to go and get bent. Of course, it didn’t entirely go his way and he was harried by both Clarke and the audience for effectively taxing the recovery, but he didn’t yield on this one and managed to land some fairly heavy blows on the Tories for their lack of coherence on the economy.. Nice work. Question 2 was pretty straight forward (did St Vincent of Cable win the Chancellors debate?) as Darling had acquitted himself well that night, but I was a little disappointed to see him resist the urge to stick the knife into George Osborne. I know that a lot of Johnson’s strength lies in his coming across as genuinely nice guy, but it has to be tempered with at least a little killer instinct and to miss an opportunity to really hammer the weakest link in the Tory chain is frankly a little limp. However, he did win back a few points when an audience member got all hard left about things and he countered with a list of Labours achievements (a recurring tactic throughout the night). That got him his first smattering of applause on an evening where Labour should have been entirely on the backfoot so kudos on that one Pigeonface. The next question (is the re-emergence of Blair a help or hindrance to Labour?) had the potential to go horribly sideways, but he managed to defuse the situation with a canny little flurry of nudge-nudge-wink-wink (an unspoken ‘you guys know what I’m thinking but you also know I’ll be in a whole heap of trouble if it slips out’), before flipping the whole issue 180 degrees and laying into Cameron’s ‘heir to Blair’ routine. The brief outburst from Littlejohn that followed was swiftly suppressed by again going through the list of Labour achievements (which again got applause) and he emerged unscathed from what could have been a sticky wicket. The outcome of Question 4 (is Brown a big fat liar?) was less certain and Johnson wisely decided to keep a low profile, venturing out only to defend the immigration statistics as ‘an honest mistake’ before reminding everyone that Chris Grayling has dabbled in similar roguery on the knife crime stats. To the extent that he himself came out relatively unscathed, it was a good move and by the end of it, it was Littlejohn who looked to be the biggest twat. The last question (does Lumley deserve an apology from Kevin Jones?) was a no-win situation for him (as is pretty much any situation involving a scorned Lumley), but he did his best to switch the heat over to the Tories for not having done anything about the Gurkha s on their watch. It wasn’t entirely successful, but yet again, any anger that emerged appeared to be directed at Labour rather than at Johnson himself. And that was pretty much it from him.

O HAI!

Even pigeons can be terrorists... Best keep an eye on them.

All-in-all, it was pretty impressive performance given the circumstances and it highlighted the fact that he excels at fighting proactive and fluid rearguard actions whilst simultaneously appearing to be bracingly normal. It’s like when you turn up to the airport and find that you’re plane’s been cancelled, the hotel’s burnt down and your luggage is on it’s way to Kinshasa. In this situation, the last person you want to talk to is the overly aggressive holiday rep who bungs you some half-hearted platitudes, blames everyone on earth but steadfastly refuses to accept any responsibility themselves (a Ryan Air version of Jack Straw for instance). Instead, you want the guy who calmly takes you off to one side, admits that this is a all horrendous fuck up, seems genuinely sympathetic to your plight and subtly implies that the bigwigs upstairs are way out off their depth. It flies totally in the face of New Labour orthodoxy, but it’s a potent and powerful tactic in the right hands and Johnson gets it very much right. So well done Pigeonface. Although I wouldn’t mind seeing something a little more predatory from you, you can fly back to your Nelson’s Column homestead safe in the knowledge that you did a good job. Go and treat yourself to some discarded chips and to hell with the crumbs.

A proficient and authentic 8/10

In The Blue Corner: Kenneth Clarke, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, jazz hound and good-times Tory.

I sometimes have this dream where I’ve been caught poaching on George Osborne’s estate. I’m bundled off to some barn by his squires (which in the dream include Hague, Lansley and bizarrely enough, Widdecombe dressed as a man, moustache and all), tied to a chair and then subjected to a very landed-gentry form of roughing up as Osborne looks on with that perma-sneer of his. Just as all appears lost, Ken Clarke walks through the doors, calmly beseeches my antagonist to “Go easy on him, chaps” and then tells them that he just saw local government killjoy sizing up Osborne’s planning permission infringing gazebo down in the meadow. Gripped by this alarming new development, the assembled mob run off with pitchforks and 4-10’s , determined to stop the tentacles of authoritarianism encroaching on their green and pleasant land. Ken then cuts be free, offers me a pull from his hip flask and apologises for their over-exuberance. “They just get a little carried away” he says before giving me a comforting pat on the shoulder , slipping me a tenner for a taxi and showing me the quickest way to town. Thanks Ken! You’ve saved my bacon yet again! Yes, it’s true. I have a slight political crush on Ken Clarke and during the dreary days of the Major government I must confess to developing a textbook case of Stockholm Syndrome around him. At the time, there was little to love about government. Howard was criminalising everything, Widdecombe (this time dressed as a woman…sort of) was all up in my face and Portillo had yet to chill out. Yet despite all this I could take comfort that somewhere, deep inside the Treasury, there was Ken Clarke, listening to Charlie Mingus, puffing on a stogie and getting slightly tipsy. Somehow, that thought got me through. So what of Ken last night? Pretty darn good, as is usually the case. The first question about the NI cut gave him ample room for manoeuvre and he wasted little time into laying into Labour for taxing small business. The crowd were largely (although not wholly) on his side and although he got clobbered by Dimbers on ‘efficiency savings’, he somehow managed to bluster his way out of it. Question 2 (Chancellor’s Debate) was a bit of a landmine (thanks to barely contained tension between himself and Osborne), but he did a good turn in pretending he wasn’t really bothered by it all and gave a slightly less-than-convincing endorsement of Boy George which ticked the party line box but also implied that he wasn’t completely blind to the glaring weakness in the Tory team. It looked like it was played for laughs but there were plenty of between-the-lines messages in there. He also managed to bust out some of his trademark ‘damning with faint praise’ routine where waxed lyrical about how Cable was a good guy, but he never has deal with anything serious because he’s a LibDem. Vintage Clarke. The Tony Blair question time saw him sounding very forthright about how Gordon Brown was the real baddy and also taking the piss out of Blair’s tan , much to the amusement of all, while the immigration stats point had him being pretty fair about the whole deal (‘it’s all a bit naughty, stats are sacred’ type stuff) until he was ambushed by Dimbers on Chris Grayling’s knife crime number mischief. This caught him off balance and he flapped around a little (you can tell when Clarke’s in a flap because he stutters a little) before falling back on a rather desperate ‘it’s all very complicated’ defence.. The final question (Gurkhas) was a hurried affair, but he did manage to make the point that it was the Commons that had defeated the government when it came to their right to stay. So there we have it. A typically robust and impressive performance from a man whose primary virtue is being just so bloody reasonable. I know there are a million issue on which I disagree with Ken Clarke, but I will always give him the time of day because there seems to be a genuinely interesting person underneath it all. That, and he’s a troublemaker. I like troublemakers.

An as-we’ve-come-to-expect 7/10

In The Yellow Corner: Sarah Teather, LibDem Spokesperson for Housing, former Baby of the House.

Who’s this collection of interlocking spheres? Why, it’s Sarah Teather! That may sound cruel, but I don’t mean it from a bitchy angle. I’m simply fascinated that someone can be entirely formed out of such geometrically perfect circles (seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if she could recite pi to a million intervals, so spherical is she). Anyhoo, I’ve got a lot of time for Teather. She’s by far the most impressive of the younger LibDems, her opposition to the war was eloquent and categorical and she’s proven herself to be a solid Question Time performer. Given the opposition that she was up against tonight, I rather feared that she would be drowned out but happily, this was not the case. The opening question had her socking it largely to the Tories for their parroting of the mythical ‘efficiencies savings’ line and she got a fair bit of support from the crowd for her efforts. Question 2 was an absolute doozy (did Cable win the debates?), especially as Littlejohn was going out of his way to desecrate the shrine of St. Vince and thus incurred a heavy bout of Mail-damning from Teather, much to the delight of the audience. The Tony Blair number had her rightly pointing the ‘war’ finger at him and the crowd response once again highlighted the fact that this is very much an live issue, no matter how much Labour (and the Tories) pretend it isn’t, while a late attack at Cameron for aping him also did some damage. The question on the immigration stats saw her in a less aggressive posture, chiding Littlejohn for being “unfair” to Brown whilst simultaneously castigating Brown for not taking enough care, all of which sounded pretty fair. Finally, she got the last word on the Gurkhas, calling Labour “bad losers” and wisely staying on the right side of Lummers.

Given the company she was keeping that night, this was a pretty impressive performance. Where Sarah succeeds is in coming across as sincere and principled, but not blind to nuance. It’s not entirely perfect and she does display some signs of ‘Goldsworthy Syndrome’ when she tries to barge in on questions, but unlike last week’s LibDem panellist, she does it in a way that doesn’t appear overwrought or needy. So well done Sarah, you took on some very old, skilled hands and lived to fight another day. Kudos.

A resolutely spherical 7/10

In The Independent/Brainy Corner: Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail Columnist, right wing foghorn.

Sigh… Must I write this guy up? In the interests of fairness, I suppose I must, but there’s little of merit to say about someone who doesn’t appear to have any redeeming features. Littlejohn’s Question Time gameplan is always as thus: Identify the lowest common denominator on any given subject and then relentless plumb the depths until the opposition are too exhausted to contest you. That’s it. Tonight’s particular line of attack more or less amounted to ‘Tax is bad, politicians are shitbags and Brown is the biggest shitbag of them all.’. Most of his answers resided within this rather tired, limited framework and the only point of note was when an audience member baited him about the BNP admiring his column. This bought forth a biblical sounding “WITH DRAW THAT, YOUNG MAN!” to which he obligingly did (“fair enough”), but it was clear who the audience were clapping for. It’s not the fact that I fundamentally disagree with 99% of everything Littlejohn says that winds me up, it’s that his methods are so crude and brutal. Having someone who’s a little ‘out there’ is vital to a good Question Time, but they’ve got to bring at least a little something to the table in terms of style. Littlejohn does not. All he brings to the table is a casserole of contempt with a side order of intolerance. That’s a dish I will always pass on.

A depressingly predictable 3/10

In The ‘I’m the funny One’/’Just Like You Corner’: Victoria Coren, poker champion, columnist, comedian and of-late-omnipresent TV bod.

I really don’t know where I stand on Victoria Coren. On the one hand, she’s a poker champion (which is always cool, doubly so if you’re a woman), can have genuine turns of wit and sometimes writes some OK stuff. On the other hand, the comedy is a little patchy, she seems to try too hard to come across as clever and her ‘jolly hockeysticks’ accent cuts through me like a knife. By the end of this episode of Question Time, I was pretty much of a similar opinion but I reckon that the main element is that I simply can’t get a handle on what she believes in. Most of her responses on the night started out vague as she played for time, thinking of something brainy and witty to say before rambling on a while and then she’d suddenly tack some on-the-hoof joke to the back of them. Sometimes the jokes were OK (the ‘Tony Blair as violent ex’ turn was pretty good) and the audience seemed to like them, but the substance underneath was shaky. Take the first question (NI) for instance. Her response was a round-the-houses ‘they’ve lost our trust’ lament (but dressed up to sound shrewd and canny) that somehow morphed into a call for better accounting in government. I get what she was driving at (as did the crowd, who did clap), but the message was in a grave danger of being lost under this need to make everything sound terribly bloody brainy. Fair enough, she was very reasonable on the ‘is Gordy a liar’ question as well as the Chancellors Debate one, but I always felt she was thinking too hard about what she was saying, as if terrified that she’d be caught out as a fraud. Don’t get me wrong, it was an unpleasant affair, but it did leave me strangely non-plused. A little more heart and a lot less head Victoria, that is what you need.

An oddly perplexing 5/10

The Crowd: Stevenage

After last weeks disappointing Glasgow affair, I was praying that tonight’s rabble would be better but was unconvinced that Stevenage (which resides in the Meh-Belt that orbits London … hardly creativity central) could come up with the goods. How wrong I was. Once again, it seems that my shaky grip on socio-geography has let me down and eaten-hats are the order of the day as the Stevenage crowd turned out to be great. What was interesting about tonight’s show was that that it appeared to be largely good natured affair, but never veered off into cosiness. I suspect that part of this is because Johnson, Clarke and Teather actually seem to like each other but the audience had a role in this as well, mainly in the way that didn’t have any firm favourite and applause seemed to be doled out on merit rather than through any tribal instinct. On top of this, they were by no means a pushover and also managed to resist the temptation to embark on one-dimensional tirades. Notable show-goers that night include the aforementioned Littlejohn baiter (Point Of The Night goes to he) and a church treasurer who displayed the most emphatic clapping I’ve seen to date. Seriously, this guy looked like he was going to clap his hands clean off. So well done Stevenage. Hertfordshire has just gone up a notch in my book.

An even-handed and enlivening 8/10

Right, that’s your lot. Johnson and Stevenage reign supreme, closely followed by able performances from Teather and Clarke. Good show, QT, good show.

Have a Good Friday, y’all .


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