Posts Tagged 'london'

Questionable Time #133


qt 133

Good morrow lemmings and welcome to an undisclosed location in London (and by undisclosed I mean yer bog standard BBC studio), and yet another episode of Questionable Time: Debates Edition! A roomful of poor unfortunate souls have been specially picked to watch an hour and a half of the ‘opposition’ party leaders debate each other, and straight afterwards get served another steaming heap of hot sweaty debatin’! Mmmm! Them’s good debatings!

At this point the word ‘debate’ has lost all meaning, so let’s get started already.

Please pray for Dimbleby

First up, who is the most dangerous party in Britain? UKIP, the SNP, or another gratuitous acronym? Douglas Carswell is on stage first, talking up the Kippers and predictably preening that they’re the best/around/nothing’s ever gonna keep them down. As it happens, his leader and fellow MP may be having trouble winning their respective seats – this guy’s one to watch. It appears he doesn’t want a coalition, rather a pact to enact proper change. EU-related, one assumes.

Angus Steakhouse Robertson, looking radiant as an entire glazed ham, disagrees and argues for more FREEDOM for Scotland. He wants to stand up for a different kind of politics, and would be willing to work together with other forward-thinking parties in order to do this. Like, for example, not Yvette Cooper.

Yvette, resplendent as queen of the goths in one of her formidable collection of dark purple suits, boldly speaks up to pretty much make chicken noises at David ‘no show’ Cameron. She and Angus get into an argument about numbers or whatever (I am no maths whizz and switched off halfway through), with Angus heartbreakingly trying his best to ‘do a Paxman’. I’m sorry, dude. You simply lack the requisite patronising sneer to do so.

It is at this point that Grant Shapps, or Michael Green, or whoever he is this week, slithers in. Wheedling that DCam ~*~wasn’t invited~*~, he bemoans the chaotic state of the debates and their participants as they are now – if only we had a certain leader to whip them all into shape! #where’sdave, counters Yvette. Grant responds to this by electing to have a go at the Scots. They’re scary, after all – you wouldn’t want to see them doing any deals, right, Middle England? (Unless they decide to do a deal with the Tories, in which case they’re lovely! But they said they won’t, so VOTE GRANT SHAPPS.)

Ah, and here comes Piers ‘Morgan’ Moron to enlighten us all on what we’re doing wrong. Apparently everyone is wrong except him, and you also can’t trust anybody except him. Watch Good Morning Britain on ITV now that my show’s been cancelled! He then goes ‘well in’, as I believe the yoof say these days, for Nick Clegg, calling him irrelevant and that no1curr about his ridiculous bleatings. Coming from Piers of all people, that’s gotta sting.

“I’m hurt,” says Jo Swinson, making a sadface :(

Piers brushes her aside with a remark about tuition fees, any single mention of which burns Lib Dems like water does the Wicked Witch of the West. Haven’t you heard our Nick Clegg apology remix :((((? asks Jo. Or words to that effect. (Don’t worry, she gets better later. A bit.) If only Nick Clegg had been on the guest list for the debate and hadn’t been visiting a hedgehog sanctuary or whatever it is he does now! You know what, screw whether they were invited or not, maybe Dave ‘n’ Nick just should have just turned up and sat on the stage and refused to move until they got let in if they felt so strongly about it.

Dimbleby is expressing a similarly devil-may-care attitude, his eyesight and will to live equally failing, having just spent an hour and a half shepherding around a group of squabbling schoolkids and now having to look after a whole ‘nother class of fools. He doesn’t even care who the questions are coming from or what they are, just that they get this over with as quickly as possible and he can go home and put his feet up. This will be the last general election he’ll be covering, so let’s all wish our great lord and saviour the best! (Apparently he’s now very popular on Buzzfeed, but I always have a soft spot for fashionable 70s Dimbleby.)

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

“Unlike the Westminster establishment parties,” says the man who originally became an MP through being part of a Westminster establishment party, “we’ve got a costed plan blah blah blah.” Now even ‘costed’ is becoming one of the phrases I never want to hear again after the election ends. Along with ‘Barnet formula’, which unfortunately has nothing to do with hairstyles.

Angus Young Robertson is back in black, standin’ up for the poor and bashin’ Trident. Piers is mortally offended by this lack of support for our brave nukes. He takes issue with Ed Miliband perhaps being a teeny weeny bit hesitant to smash his meaty fist on the button that could potentially end all life on Earth. This is a foul embarrassment for Piers. What a wimp, not wanting to gratuitously nuke people. Pfft.

I am fairly sure Piers Morgan is planning a bloody coup and I am terrified.

Piggy bank responsibility lock

Grant smirks punchably as he continues to attack Yvette. While her long-windedness does make it easier for him, every time he is asked a question, or Angus – accidentally or not – encourages him (nae man! Ye daen’t knergh wut ye doin!), a little rodenty smile spreads across his face, freaking me out immensely. Grant is also a strong contender for one of the best and most gleeful trolls of Question Time at the moment (along with Andy Burnham and anyone from the SNP). I don’t like the man, but this is intended to be somewhat of a compliment. Look at it this way: he may be a weasel with no name, but at least he’s an entertaining weasel with no name.

Then everyone jumps on the electoral reform bandwagon. Remember the AV referendum? I sure don’t! Douglas is in favour, and to be fair, Jo does a good bit about the merits of the STV system, which would make everyone very happy and contented forever. But we’re moving on quickly to other matters: namely, the NHS, which didn’t get covered in the second debate as it was heavily discussed in the first.

Piers is attacking Douglas now over HIV treatment and “scaremongering” re: health tourism. First Jo, then Yvette, now Douglas and all their respective leaders…the other panellists are looking nervous and in thrall to Piers’ unstoppable dismissal of absolutely everybody. Dimbleby asks Douglas why ol’ Nige chose to use such unfortunate AIDS-related phrasing that seemed to blame victims. “You need to talk to Nigel about that,” says Dugz. Groans abound. Don’t worry, he’ll be interviewed about it approximately every thirty seconds.

Anyway, we’ve got the most money for the NHS! says Douglas proudly. Jo finds her chance, saying the other parties are all promising pretty pink ponies and only the Lib Dems would properly regulate the nation’s piggy banks. Grant takes issue with this, saying that, ACKTCHUALLY, the Tories have the bestest plan of all. Jo brushes him off – attempting to appear as a future Liberal Democrat leadership candidate, I’d reckon…if she keeps her seat.

Then Angus Deayton Robertson rails against privatisation, but Jo, really riled up now, takes him to task for funding commitments during the #indyref campaign which may or may not have been a big mess/lovely and great with no complaints here. Dimbleby calms matters by saying we don’t want to “refight the referendum”. Tell that to Twitter.

Right to cry (deeply and at great length)

Lastly/briefly, right to buy – just because it’s popular, does it make it right?

“Yvette Cooper, let’s not be too long-winded on this,” says Dimbleby, speaking for us all. Yvette says it’s bad, Grant says it’s great, bears eat honey in the 100 Acre Woods. The crowd asks where the new stock of social housing is going to come from, to which the only available answer right now is presumably ‘idk lol’.

“It’s not the right to buy, it’s the right to bribe,” nods Piers, obviously pleased with himself for that devastating retort. Angus has the answer, though, and it’s to move to Scotland. Douglas disagrees: move to Clacton. Clacton likes the new Tory proposal, and so does he. Why, it’s almost as if he used to be a Tory MP or something!

So remember, kids, in conclusion: what’s good for Clacton is good for all.

With that bombshell (Piers’ ears prick up), it’s time for the scores.

Shapps: 6/10

Sneer

Cooper: 6/10

Austere

Swinson: 6/10

Deer (caught in the headlights)

Robertson: 6/10

Veer(ing left)

Carswell: 6/10

Veer(ing right)

Moron: 5/10

(New presenter of Top) Gear(?)

The Crowd: 6/10

Jeer(ed at ’em all)

Next time: Natalie Bennett disguised as Caroline Lucas.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #81


questionable-time-81-david-dimbleby-drag-gif

Good morning Lemmings and how are we feeling this morning? Tired? Bleary eyed? Morally conflicted by being annoyed that QT was delayed and then realising that this annoyance was a direct result of Nelson Mandela’s death and that you must be A Very Bad Person for thinking such thoughts? Yes, I am familiar with this jarring emotional repertoire. Anyway, it’s going to be a mini-Questionable Time today as I struggled to stay awake last night and cannot claim to have taken the whole thing in. With this in mind let us power through with the greatest of haste.

Danny Alexander – I’m beginning to find the Alexander Process rather endearing and to the uninitiated it looks like this:

  1. Danny sits there looking like he’d rather be anywhere else on earth than the QT studio and grimly awaits the torrent of ill will that’s about to come his way.
  2. Whilst waiting for the sky to fall in, Danny does something right – like crack a joke that doesn’t fall flat on its face – and suddenly looks like he might actually grow to enjoy the experience of this whole ‘politics’ thing.
  3. Flushed with confidence, he then tries to do something else right – like cracking another joke – only to find that the crowd have fallen out of love with him again and the torrent of ill will has merely been delayed.
  4. A look of resigned defeat takes hold of his face and the cycle begins again.

Poor Danny. Still, if it’s any consolation I had so much fun pshopping him as a hunky male model last time that I’ve decided this is now his ‘thing’ and he will be male modellified in all future encounters (see Fig. 1).

 danny alexander fit again

Fig. 1

Rachel Reeves: I’m still having trouble working out where the very serious and diligent looking politician ends and the actual person begins. Don’t get me wrong, she’s pretty good at not putting her foot in it and you do get the sense that she does – at least in some very abstract sort of way – care, but none of this can quite cover up the fact that her performances are just a little, well, dull. My prescription? Show us a bit of human frailty. Get something wrong. Make an outrageous statement every now and then. Yes I know this runs counter to every fibre of your being but it’s going to be damn tricky shaking off the ‘Boring-Snoring‘ charge if you continue to display all the warmth of an Excel spreadsheet.

David Davis: Last night saw one of those very rare moments where David Davis is largely in agreement with his own party and manages to confine the use of that I’ve Killed Before look to scaring the bejesus out of the opposition. It also scares the bejesus out of me but in a very good way.

Mary Beard: I like Mary. She’s a good egg with a massive brain who’s more than capable of fighting her own corner yet her past performances have always had this faint tinge of caution to them – like she’s thinking really hard about how to answer a question without unduly upsetting anyone. Thankfully this wasn’t the case last night and what we saw was a great piece of Question Timing that struck the balance between comprehension and conviction just right. Everything flowed naturally, you got the sense that she was talking from the heart and there was no hint of some internal governor trying to restrain her delivery. In short, she was bloody brilliant.

Nick Ferrari: My initial plan was to go town on Ferrari for being the sort of lowest-common denominator blowhard that really grinds my gears but I had a change of heart half way through. Why? Well for one, he made for a really good sparring partner with Mary Beard and it was this pairing that made the show, but more importantly he absolutely melted my heart with the way he gushed effusively about Tom Daley coming out. I really hadn’t expected that but it looked 100% genuine and made me feel all warm inside (although that might have been down to the extra tinny I consumed in an effort to stay awake). So no monstering for Mr Ferrari today, just a doffed cap and an uncharacteristically high mark.

Tl;dr

Alexander: 5/10

Not

Reeves: 4/10

Enough

Davis: 6/10

Sleep

Beard: 8/10

To

Ferrari: 6/10

Make

The Crowd: 6/10

Rhymes

And thus is the tragedy of this show: It was great – aside from the rather wooden efforts of Reeves and Alexander, people had proper debates where they not only got beyond the superficial but also, shock horror, appeared to be listening to each other – yet I’d wager that only a handful of people managed to stay up long enough to watch it. Oh great, see what I’ve just done there? I’ve made myself feel like A Very Bad Person again.

Right, that’s me done. Sorry for calling it in this week but I really am rather knackered and I suspect that there won’t exactly be a queue of expectant Lemmings waiting at the door today. Anyway, see you next time for the last pre-Crimbo episode and should you be in the market for left-field Xmas presents then may I point you in the direction of this rather lovely Catch-22 t-shirt I made…

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #69


questionable time 69 david dimbleby getting married

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

 

Chuka really has to stop thinking…

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

chuka-umunna-ugly-gif

Fig. 1

 

One of these days Greening is going to snap…

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

 

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

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

 

Tl;dr

 

Umunna: 5/10

Thinky

 

Greening: 5/10

Blinky

 

Lucas: 8/10

Pinky

 

Aaronovitch: 7/10

Brinky

 

LondGraffy: 4/10

Sinky

 

The Crowd: 5/10

Stinky?

 

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

 

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #40


questionable time 40 david dimbleby statue of liberty

Good morning Lemmings and just who the devil are these people, swanning around with their fancy accents and elevated levels of dental hygiene? Ah, I see, they appear to be American’s which would sort of make sense seeing as they’re having an election next week. Quite what this has to do with the good people of London I do not know and I must confess that I’m a little upset that the wild rumours of Donald Trump appearing on the show have come to nothing but having said that, both me and my computer are counting our blessings now that we don’t have to cut out Trump’s hair in Photoshop. I mean c’mon, have you seen that thing? That’s a task of such magnitude and absurdity that it may well have driven us both to destruction. Anyway, enough… On with the show.

I can still hear the longing cries of New Labour romantics ringing in my ears…

So here he is, the Miliband You Could Have Won, the Slightly Better Looking Brother who still clearly has the capacity to make Blairites weak at the knees, the King Across the Sea. And how has his self-imposed exile been treating him? Rather well by all accounts. You see, the deal-breaker for me when Miliband D. was on the front line was this look he used to pull when someone caught him out. His face would momentarily harden, brows bearing down into a frown and teeth clenched as if to say ‘Well done buddy, you just made the list’. Granted, he’d stop short of pulling out a note pad marked ‘For Future Smiting’ but you could tell that he was deadly serious about it and did not like being made a monkey of. Luckily for him, it seems that a couple of years of bimbling around the edges of politics have served to mellow him out somewhat and what we saw last night was a man who’s still very potent at getting a message across but doesn’t seem as horribly consumed by the game as he once was.

My only real disappointment – apart from his getting away rather lightly with the matter of why exactly Labour traded principles for mischief on the Europe vote – was that I can’t help thinking Question Time missed a trick this week: They had David Miliband, they had Jerry Springer, all they need to do was wind up Dave about how his brother stitched him up before bringing on Ed at an opportune moment and leaving the two of them to duke it out. Should you have trouble envisaging this scenario then fear no for I have handily mocked it up using phototrickery. Behold Fig. 1.

Fig. 1

Speaking of Jerry Springer…

Fun fact: Back in 1999 I ended up in the audience of The Jerry Springer Show whilst visiting Chicago. It was all about transsexuals who were cheating on each other and although I have to admit that I wasn’t really convinced by the main event (not by the transsexuals you understand… They seemed pretty legit so far as I could tell. It was more the ‘cheating’ bit since they all seemed to get on rather well when they cut for breaks) I was totally sold on Springer himself. He just seemed to balance it all so well, letting you know that it was all bollocks whilst effortlessly signing you up at the same time. That was 13 years ago but I have to say he still comes across very much as he did and although he’s not quite as quick on his feet (not to mention his rather unsettling assertions that he will be dead in 20 years), he too has still very much got it. Alright, so the going was pretty easy for him, what with him being Obama Cheerleader-in-Chief in front of a crowd with a ravenous appetite for the hopey-changey stuff but even when he clearly he’s no idea what he was talking about he’s just got an infectious manner that carries you along with him.

My theory is this: Jerry Springer does well because he makes you feel like he’s letting you in on a secret. Other people do this too – Charles Kennedy is a good example – but Springer adds another layer of finesse to it by making it clear that in letting you to on this secret, he is somehow implicating himself at the same time. That’s a talent and one that works very well with British crowds. It’s almost enough to make you forgive him for being ultimately responsible for The Jeremy Kyle Show.

I got distracted by Kwasi’s voice…

Alright, I’ll level with you… Kwasi Kwarteng is not going to get a fair hearing because I noticed something that totally threw me early on in the show: Kwasi Kwarteng’s voice is exactly the same as Boris Johnson’s would be if you played it back slowly on an old tape deck or if you slipped him half a Valium. Seriously, the tone, the cadence, the accent, it’s all totally identical except that it’s two or three tones lower and a little slower. Well, I’m afraid that the voice thing did for me and whenever he opened his mouth I was unable to focus on anything else, other than the fact that he isn’t a fan of deficits. That said, Kwarteng didn’t appear to do too badly and he seems canny enough to play the I Am But A Lowly Backbencher card to stay out of any real trouble when needs be. That voice though… It’s totally uncanny.

I miss hating early/mid-2000’s Republicans…

It was all so simple back in the day: Bush was mad, everything was wrong and the cast of characters sent out by the US to serve notice on the rest of the world were so ludicrously unlikable that life was relatively easy to fathom. This doesn’t appear to be the case with Colleen Graffy as while I didn’t really agree with anything she said, at least she didn’t back it up with laser-guided munitions and teary-eyed renditions of The Star Spangled Banner. It’s progress I guess… In a way…

I can sleep easy tonight knowing that Shami Chakrabarti hasn’t come to a sticky end…

There was a time when I was having to write about Shami every other week (in fact, I was just waiting for the day when she’d fill the role of all five panelists simultaneously), but it seems those days are long gone. Maybe it’s because everyone’s got their knickers in a twist about the economy, maybe it’s because we’ve conveniently forgot that we’re a nation who are very much still at war where we probably shouldn’t be, whatever, Shami just seemed to recede into the background and I was getting a little worried: Did the Feds finally catch up with her? Was she wrongly detained by a Truancy Officer? I didn’t know and the suspense was killing me. Happily, I can now go to bed unmolested by concerns as it appears that she’s a) still very much alive and b) doing what she always did which is getting very passionate about stuff she cares about. And that’s just fine with me.

Tl;dr

Miliband: 7/10

(Appears more) Chilled

Kwarteng: 5/10

Filled (an hour adequately)

Springer: 7/10

Thrilled

Graffy: 5/10

Willed (Romney to win)

Chakrabarti: 6/10

(Hasn’t been) Killed

The Crowd: 6/10

(Would be able to breath underwater if they were) Gilled?

You know what? That was all rather fun, like a little holiday from the usual grind of domestic doom. We should do this again, say in four years time…

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #27


questionable time 27 david dimbleby che

Good morning Lemmings and pardon my yawns – I stayed up well beyond my bedtime last night, suckered in as I was by the local elections. Just in case you were wondering it wasn’t really the politics I was interested in (although watching Warsi stick her foot in it was pretty entertaining) as a trouncing for the coalition seemed like a foregone conclusion. No, instead it was graphs that did for me – or more precisely the combination of graphs and maps. It’s my kryptonite. Anyhoo, that’s about the long and short of that and you don’t come here to learn about my weird little psephological fetishes – at least I don’t think you do – so let’s get on with some Questionable Timing. Here’s what we learned.

Iain Duncan Smith’s face is incapable of lying.

I’ve noted in the past how IDS has this strange innocence about him but I don’t think I realised just how incapable he is of bluffing until last night. It’s his face: Those sad, sad eyes crowned as they are by those funny little demi-eyebrows. They’re like a direct line to whatever is going on inside that perplexing head of his. Now this in itself isn’t that remarkable as all politicians have certain tells (like that regal shade of crimson that David Cameron turns when he’s jolly angry about some jumped-up little chap on the opposite benches or that Cheshire Cat-like grin that Ed Balls does when he’s lying his face off) but the emotions that IDS’s face cannot but help to broadcast are remarkable because they give us a clue about how his mind operates. And how would that be? Well, from the evidence on display last night I can only conclude that he’s a man with an emotional repertoire that belongs to a different age or if we’re being more precise, the 1950’s.

Allow me to explain: When I was watching IDS last night his face did things that most faces do but the sentiments it conveyed were unique to the man in question. For example, he spent most of the first half of the show with his ‘eyebrows’ cocked down at the edges and up in the centre while his lips sucked in on themselves. If I saw this look on a generic face I would say that the person in question was ‘anxious’ or ‘apprehensive’. However, when IDS does it the word that pops into my head is ‘squiffy’. Similarly, when someone’s eyebrows reverse their polarity from their above state (so sides out, middle in) and their mouth sets into a scowl I tend to think that their owner is ‘angry’ or ‘pissed off’. Not with Duncan Smith, uh-uh… He looks ‘cross’.The list goes on: Regular person looks ‘happy’, IDS looks ‘gay’ (in the old-fashioned ‘My, isn’t this workhouse full of toiling urchins a gay sight to behold’). Regular person looks ‘odd’, IDS looks ‘skew-whiff’. Regular person looks ‘excited’, IDS looks ‘all aflutter’. You get the picture.

Anyway, the long and short of all this is that I can’t really give you an objective analysis of anything that he actually said because I was simply too entranced by watching the spirit of a Macmillan-era verger being channelled through the body of a 21st century cabinet minister. In fact, I’d like to go one further than that: I will never be able to give IDS an objective score because he’s just too bloody fascinating. As a consequence, he will no longer receive a numerical mark at the end of each report and will instead be assigned the punctuation mark that I think best describes the experience of watching him. Now here’s a .gif I made of him playing with an imaginary cube (see Fig. 1).

iain-duncan-smith-cube-gif

Fig. 1

I’ve finally realised that I don’t actually know what Harriet Harman does.

Have you ever had one of those weird moments when you’re thinking about someone you’ve known for years and realise that you don’t actually know what they do for a living? Well I had one of those with Harriet Harman last night. It’s not that she doesn’t do anything – she’s been a central figure in the Labour party for as long as I can remember and is regularly on our TV screens – but if push-came-to-shove and I was forced to cite an example of some specific action she was responsible for I’d be completely flummoxed. Given this startling realisation I took it upon myself to have a quick read up on her past appointments and with the exception of some rather solid pre-’97 shadow roles (as well as a brief period as Secretary of State for Social Security) all of her jobs in government have been a little, well, wanky. Take for example some of the following: Lord Privy Seal, Solicitor General and Labour Party Chair. All of these are roles which are undoubtedly important and have impressive sounding titles but they give us no clue as to what such a job actually entails. Similarly, when she’s found herself in positions with titles that let us know what they are actually about I still find that they are the ones that people really care don’t much for (lets face it, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport sounds about as profound as Minister for Interior Design, except when said minister may or may not have been up to his neck in shenanigans).

None of the above means to say that I have anything against Harman as I generally think she’s a pretty able performer and the fact that she inspires such loathing from the Daily Mail means that she must be doing something right, but I still can’t get past the fact that I’m unable to identify her purpose (an affliction also suffered by Frances Maude and John Prescott). Still, she’s not quite as bewildering as IDS so Harman can remain on the numerical scoring system… For now…

The Tories are rattled on the economy.

And well they may be given the events of the last two weeks. However, the really telling thing is not how they try to explain their approach to all matters fiscal but how they try to frame Labour’s. Over the past two years this has involved the relentless drum beat of ‘all you guys want to do is spend, spend, spend like lunatics’ but last night saw the emergence of a new line: Labour are ‘deficit controllers’. As to why they’re taking this line is a mystery to me as ‘deficit controller’ doesn’t actually sound that bad-a-thing (it’s hardly ‘J’accuse!’) but the fact that they’ve had to bin what was up until now a pretty successful stick to beat the Red Team with is interesting. I don’t know, maybe it was just that IDS was on some lone mission but I suspect it runs deeper than that. Watch this space Lemmings.

And the rest of ’em?

Ok, I’ll be honest, I couldn’t really get behind this episode. In its defence, the crowd were pretty sparky (I loved the grammar school boy of yore who had been sent 30 years into the future to defend the rights of ‘hard working people in the financial sector’) and the last 20 minutes on the economy had some decent stuff in but the following put the dampeners on it for me:

1: I grow weary of entrepreneurs equating every single problem in this world to the fact that the world is not friendly enough to entrepreneurs. Yeah, I get it… You guys think that making money is a pretty big deal but while I don’t know a lot of firemen, I’m pretty sure that they don’t equate every problem in this world to the existence of fire. Having said that, I’m inclined to let Theo Paphitis off the hook a little as he appears to be congenitally mischievous.

2 : Ming Campbell is still doing that thing where he looks really surprised to be on Question Time, almost as if he was supposed to be doing something else but got lost and just wandered into the studio.

3: Inclined as I am to agree with much of what Mark Serwotka has to say I just can’t help thinking that he sounds a little, well, smug.

All of which adds up to this:

Tl;dr

IDS: ~

(By) Jingo (he’s an odd puppy)

Harman: 5/10

(Would make quite a convincing) Flamingo (if spray painted pink and covered in feather).

Campbell: 5/10

(Is looking like the Lib Dems’) Ringo

Prophitis: 6/10

(Speaks the) Lingo (of money)

Serwotka: 5/10

(Probably likes to) Tingo

(Supplemental brackets: If you’ve never come across the word ‘Tingo’, please, please click the link… It’s possibly my favourite word ever, closely followed by this one)

The Crowd: 7/10

(May have had their babies stolen by) Dingo(s)?

So there you go, a so-so affair that was the start of a very long evening for poor old Dimbers. That’s it from me, I’m off to do the washing up and wonder why my better half has used an exclamation mark on the calendar where it says ‘Green Bin Day!’. I mean c’mon, I realise Green Bin Day doesn’t come around that often but is it really that exciting? I must get to the bottom of this.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #17


questionable time 17 david dimbleby alan partridge

Good morning Lemmings and – assuming you haven’t all frozen to death – welcome back for what was quite the humdinger of a Question Time last night. Now, there are plenty of reasons as to why this was an especially zesty show but lets start with the obvious: The highly engaging spectacle of two very capable yet somewhat compromised panelists taking a big stick and applying it to the chops of the Daily Mail. I am of course talking about Dark Master of the News Cycle Alistair Campbell and the knowingly imperfect Steve Coogan. The beauty of this coupling lies not only in the fact that both men are masters of the invective who have every reason to despise the Mail but also because they themselves are in absolutely no way paragons of virtue who can claim that their integrity is beyond reproach.

Let’s start with Campbell: Now, here’s a man whose one goal while in power was to bend the media to his will and largely succeeded in doing so by dint of being the physical embodiment of terror itself. Seriously, every time I look at Campbell I think of that scene in Apocalypse Now when Willard gets on the boat for the first time and the Chief, alarmed by this turn of events, clocks him in an instant:

My orders say I’m not supposed to know where I’m taking this boat, so I don’t! But one look at you, and I know it’s gonna be hot.”

Yup, that’s Campbell all over: A man who’s been fighting a dirty, nasty and vicious war for so long that he’s actually become the war itself. A man who knows where the bodies are buried because he buried them there. In short, he’s no angel when it comes to media ethics.

Coogan by contrast is less straight forward and harder to peg down. Anyone who is a fan of his work (and I am) can’t help but feel a certain affection for him but he doesn’t always make it easy for us to like him – the whole Courtney Love thing being the example that sticks out in my mind. This always leaves me feeling slightly bemused when I see him as I really can’t fathom out as to whether he’s just a misunderstood soul who’s been given a raw deal in the press or whether he genuinely is a bit of a dickhead (a debate made no easier by the excellent yet frighteningly post-modern The Trip… My jury is still out).

Still, what cannot be doubted is that both of theses guys know how to handle themselves in a debate and were positively relishing the chance to stick the boot in to the Mail. Now, had the person fighting the corner for Britain’s Premier Hate Rag been the likes of Melanie Phillips, Jeremy Clarkson or Richard Littlejohn then this would have been a massacre: All these guys take is a cursory winding up and boom! Here comes the crazy! However, none of the above were present last night and instead we got QT veteran Ann Leslie. This turned out to be a very canny pick for the following reasons:

  1. She’s actually a proper journalists rather than a lurching tangle of jerking knees.
  2. She is tough as old boots.
  3. I never know whether she’s drunk or not.

All of the above conspire to make her a much harder target than some of her flightier colleagues and the result was a show full of crowd pleasing set pieces from Coogan and entertaining spats between Campbell and Leslie – both of whom clearly despised each other. In terms of who won, well lets just say that the Daily Mail doesn’t seem to be the periodical of choice for this particular crowd but Leslie does deserve some credit for looking like she couldn’t give a toss either way. I suspect that gin may have played a part in this.

The other big news on last night’s show was how well Philip Hammond did given that he was surrounded by some pretty big beasts. I say this because Hammond isn’t exactly the most charismatic of politicians and I reckoned it likely that Alistair Campbell was going to blow his head off using some satanic powers he acquired in trade for his soul (see Fig. 1). As it happens, Hammond managed to hold his own rather well and came out relatively unscathed in what should have been a fairly torrid week for the Blue Team. Ok, so he wasn’t exactly thrilling to watch and his attempts at humour were a little on the crap side but considering the amount of trouble he could have got into on the NHS question I think he did all right. However, the thing that really wins him points for me is his role in what has become a rather rare thing in QT: A Spontaneous Outburst of Collective Agreement. This occurred on the Syria question and Hammond won his spurs by doing something I’ve not seen from a Defence Secretary for years: He admitted that there really isn’t a whole lot we can do about Syria. Having spent the last decade listening to Defence Secretaries telling us that we can bomb this or shock ‘n’ awe that I was really pleased to hear the opposite sentiment for once. If that wasn’t enough to give me a warm fuzzy glow then imagine my surprise when the entire panel echoed that sentiment including Alistair Campbell, chief cheerleader of the Iraq calamity. I nearly fell off the sofa.

phillip-hammond-alistair-campbell-skulled

Fig. 1

So yes, Philip Hammond is still an unremittingly dull man who’s going to look terrible in body armour (I can’t wait for his first ‘In Theatre’ photo-op) but he seems pretty level-headed and that will do for me right now. And as for Shirley Williams? Well same-old, same-old really: The human personification of some of the 20th Century’s better ideas wrapped in the language of the Crimean War (it’s all “holding the line”, “powder kegs” and other such ironclad pronouncements). It also seems like she’s caused something of a sartorial stir with women of a certain age as I got a fair few search queries along the lines of ‘where did Shirley Williams get that jacket from?’ last night. Apologies to all those who were bitterly disappointed when they ended up here. I can photoshop the crap out public figures but fashion procurement is not this blog’s strong point.

Tl;dr

Hammond: Did well

7/10

Campbell: Gave ’em hell

7/10

Williams: Excel(led)

7/10

Coogan: “Ruddy hell, it’s Soft Cell!”

7/10

Leslie: Was a bit of a bombshell

7/10

The Crowd: Were perfectly acceptable clientele

7/10

Well would you look at that? Sevens all round. That’s it from me this week as I’m off to mentally steel myself for the prospect of the Ken Clarke/Prezzer face-off next week. You know when male Elephant Seals fight over a mate? Yeah, it’s going to be like that.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #13


questionable time 13 dimbleby the tank engine

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

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

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

nicola sturgeon lego hair

Fig. 1

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

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

Tl;dr

Greening: Still in the waiting room

5/10

Ashdown: On the express train to Seriousville

6/10

Alexander: Lost his ticket

4/10

Sturgeon: Got tied to the tracks

5/10

MacKenzie: Has a season ticket to Smug City

5/10

The Crowd: Want to get off at Watford Junction

5/10

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #1


questionable time 1 dimbleby mission accomplishedGood morning Lemmings and welcome back. Welcome back from the non-summer where the world of politics decided to give up any pretence of rationality and instead took it upon itself to run around screaming gibberish with its hair on fire. Obviously, this turn for the surreal bodes well for the new series of Question Time as there’s currently an extensive backlog of barely comprehensible events to get our collective heads’ around, but before we can get stuck into that business we must first deal with a certain maudlin formality: The 9-11 10th anniversary special. Now, if I’m completely honest, I can’t say I’m thrilled with the prospect of writing up last night’s show as a) Question Time is at it’s best when dealing with fresh issues that could go any number of ways rather than the tragic events of yesteryear, b) this topic has already had the most thorough of QT airings over the last decade (seriously, they could have just put Claire Short on and got her to do a 180 on every single question if they wanted a slightly more succinct summary of events) and c) 9-11 isn’t the easiest of subjects to cover on a supposedly ‘funny’ blog. Trust me, it’s not exactly a comedy goldmine and every time you do come up with a good line you have to spend the next half hour going through the endless list of who it may offend. Still, here we are and I don’t make the rules. I just work here, ok?

Right, so first up we have Liam Fox, a man who’ve I’ve been keeping quite a close eye on of late as he seems to have undergone quite a transformation since become Defence Secretary. For example, back before the election you could always count on Fox to bring a certain grimness to proceedings, what with his moribund pallor, dead eyes and generally depressing take on the world (which can be summed up as “We’re all doomed unless we bring back the workhouse, the birch and Teddy Roosevelt”). It wasn’t a particular entertaining schtick, but at least it was consistent and I always felt safe in the knowledge that no matter how good the news was, I could always rely on Fox putting a downer on it. These days though, I’m not so sure. Take for example the results offered by a Google Image search in his name. If I’m not mistaken I think I can actually see a genuine smile pass the lips of Dr Death in any photo that involves uniforms, pieces of military hardware or desert landscapes. Scroll down some more and also take note of how the wearing of a flak jacket seems to enhance his mood by several thousand degrees of magnitude to the point where he actually appears to be ‘happy’ (see Fig. 1). Now, this in itself is hardly news as politicians generally get weak at the knees when given the opportunity to knock about with squaddies, but given his actions of late I think it may run a little deeper with Fox. First there was all that leaking of letter to Cameron where he refused to back substantial cuts in the military and then there was the subsequent leak where he outlined his disdain for International Development spending, probably on the grounds that it was the preserve of cotton picking hippies. On top of this, he’s somehow found the time to describe Afghanistan as a “broken 13th-century country”, wind up the top brass by hinting that there may be too many of them and drop a few thousand bombs on Libya.

liam-fox-defence-sec-gif

Fig. 1

Now, if I’m not mistaken, this is all starting to paint a picture of a man who’s gone completely native and not just in your more traditional “Cher-cher-cher-check out my poppy!” way that most politicians succumb to. No, Fox is going all the way up the river, guzzling industrial quantities of Kool Aid and he fears no man, least of all his own leader (who may pretty soon have to dispatch some Martin Sheen-esque assassin/errand boy in the hope of containing this one man insurrection). So that’s where he’s at and all of the above pretty much encapsulates his approach to last night’s Question Time which largely hinged around his belief that blowing up terrorists is a basically sound idea, Iraq was all a bit ‘meh’ and that if all else fails, big up the troops and ride the wave of obligatory applause. That’s not to say that he’s got a completely tin ear to the chatter of reality as there was the odd mention of un-Fox like words such as ‘negotiation’, but by and large it was fairly straightforward: Terrorists are bad, unless they’ve been blown up. Then they’re not so bad.

So did it work? Well, sort of in that while he may not have had the whole audience behind him, the ones that were were pretty enthusiastic in their approval and that while he clearly has gone a bit loco over the last year and a bit, he did manage to present himself as an actual politician rather than a rogue Special Forces operative who’s fallen out of radio contact. Still, I think I prefer the new Liam to the old one as while I admired the morbid certainty that used to enshroud the Fox of Yore, there’s nothing like the whiff of Dengue Fever and napalm to spice things up a bit.

Ok, moving on and wait a minute, I think I recognise this bloke. Isn’t that the guy who had whole world laid his feet before getting gazumped by his congested sounding brother? That’s right, it’s David Miliband, former Foreign Secretary and Great White Hope of Old New Labour! So yes, Miliband D has finally emerged from wherever he’s spent the last year hiding (and most probably weeping) but to what end we might ask? On the face of it, this appearance could be construed as largely innocuous as he is an entirely appropriate pick for a panel that’s going to debate 9-11+10 (=8?) but the cynical side of me (and that’s totally the side of me that has the most fun) isn’t entirely satisfied with this assessment, particularly given the way he played his hand. Let’s have a look at what he said.

  1. We should never have called the post 9-11 response ‘The War On Terror’.
  2. Hindsight hindsight hindsight.
  3. Torture is bad.
  4. We haven’t exactly played a blinder in Iraq or Afghanistan.
  5. Need to sort the whole Israel/Palestine shebang.
  6. I totally ballsed up when I voted for the Iraq War.

Now most of this is pretty unremarkable, common sense stuff but number 6 stands out as it marks the point where he’s finally ripped the thorn of Iraq out of his side. When questioned in the past about why he voted for the war and his views on the conflict, you could tell that Miliband was acutely aware he must at least look like his trying to defend his decision (and his party’s… let us not forget the Scolding of the Clapping Harman) but he never looked comfortable in doing so. That stance melted into thin air last night and by the end of the show he was in full mea culpa mode, admitting that it had been a mistake to vote for the war and driving the crowd into a frenzy of applause. This is important as while there are many reason as to why Miliband lost out in the Labour leadership contest, the fact that he was a very visible part of the New Labour foreign policy machine and that this put him off-limits to certain sections of the party was a big one. What he did last night can be construed as a concerted (and effective) attempt to detoxify that part of his legacy.

The other thing that Miliband did last night was to remind us that he’s actually quite good at this politics lark and that in terms of delivery, he’s a tough act to beat. In some ways this is quite surprising as if you really listen to him, he uses a lot of words to say not a great deal (not usually a good sign) and there is something a bit head boyish about him, but the overall effect is mainly positive and makes him sound grown up without being overly stuffy. All of which is in sharp contrast to his brother who hasn’t had the best time of making himself heard and if I was in his shoes right now, I’d be starting to worry. Time’s ticking Ed… You’ve not done a bad job to date but unless those polls start moving upwards soon I wouldn’t put too much stock in the virtues of brotherly love.

Right, given the absence of the Yellow Team (which is a shame as they’re the only mainstream party who can point to a pretty good record on post-9-11 foreign policy calls), we’re going to have to make do with grumpy looking geo-political pundits Richard Perle and Tariq Ali. Now, had this show been filmed five years ago I reckon we could have had a right old to-do on our hands as panelists don’t come much more polar opposite than this pair and back then they were both mouth foamingly crazy. However, it seems the passage of time has somewhat soothed their otherwise febrile mental states and what actually took place last night was less bare knuckle brawl and more Queensbury Rules, much to my disappointment.

Now, in case we’ve forgotten Perle was the ultra-realist neo-con who acted as a cheerleader for the Iraq War and generally took it upon himself to berate the rest of the world for being wusses and not American enough (he also, with the addition of comedy eyebrows, hair and cape, looks like a passable version of Grandpa Munster… See Fig. 2). As expected, he used last night’s show as a venue to claim that the world’s a much better place when it’s being carpeted with US ordinance, but not as emphatically as he would have a few years back. Instead there were hints here and there that he may not have been entirely happy with how Iraq turned out and that some things could have been done better, but generally speaking it was business as usual. In terms of performance, it wasn’t brilliant, what with him reminding us that more people died on 9/11 than 7/7 (as if it was a competition) and a couple of jokes fell flat, but yeah, it could have been worse.

richard perl grandpa munster

In contrast, Ali had a great innings last night and quite probably in spite of himself. I say this because while I generally tend to agree with his point of view, he’s had a habit in the past of annoying me by dint of getting overly agitated and jabby-fingered. However, last night was different and while he did manage to build a reasonable head of steam every now and then, you got the impression that he’s probably quite tired of going through the same arguments for the ten millionth time when it never seems to change anything. That gave his outing a more leavened quality than it’s had in the past and it was all the better for it. Sure, at the start he did get a little hot under the collar with Perle about the WMD issue but it didn’t turn into a full-blown rage fest. Instead, he just carried on hammering away with some pretty well-reasoned arguments and a semi-resigned look on his face, all of which garnered a very respectable haul of applause from the audience. So yes, I thought that was a solid effort and worthy of a good few points. Well done to you, Mr Ali.

All of which leaves us with Bonnie Greer, a person who I am still struggling to find the purpose of and have yet to forgive for her bungling of the BNP episode. That sounds harsh but I think it’s justified on account of the fact that she has a highly recognisable (and highly annoying) Question Time Tic that I like to call ‘Greering for Time’. Allow me to explain: Stage 1 of Greering for Time is that art of covering your lack of a valid answers by embarking on a series of wild goose chases that more than likely contains references to how ‘real’ your life is in order to cover the fact that you don’t know what you’re talking about. A good example of this would be all of last night’s response that started with lines such as “When I was making a film”, “I know people”, “I Iived near Ground Zero” and “I’m from a services family”. Stage 2 of Greering for Time then involves folding some nebulous and ill-defined concept into the spoils of Stage 1 in the hope that if you repeat that concept enough, it might sound like a valid argument. Examples of this would be when she repeated the word “homicide” about a thousand times or her extended rambling about how “You can’t be a muslim”. Finally comes Stage 3 and all you have to do here is wrap up the previous stages with something involving ‘peace’ or ‘the people’ or even better, a mixture of the two (‘peacy people peace’ is ideal) to convey just how compassionate you are. If you follow thoee guidelines it seems that you can totally get away with loads of applause for having said nowt of any import.

Ok, so I’m sounding bitter now but that’s because I really don’t get it. Everything she said last night was at best tenuous and at worst flat-out bollocks, but everyone still lapped it up and she was rewarded handsomely for her dubious efforts. That’s not to say that I think her intentions are bad or that she’s up to no good, it’s just that she’s, well, a bit crap.

Alright, that’s the panel done so let’s have a quick look at the crowd before I take off. Now, the first thing is that I’m going to have to knock a point off their score on account of their falling for the old Greering for Time trick. Sorry, but that’s how it works around here. Other than that they seemed a pretty decent lot who although not electrifying did manage to bring a little oomph to the show and posed some genuinely interesting questions. A special mention goes out to the special lady with special teeth who made the following special statement: “There’s a problem of increasing the problems”. That there line is very special. Also, a mention is warranted for the gentleman who seemed to be sleep talking when he asked his question and took about an hour to remember that it was Iraq and Afghanistan that we had wars with. Nice work there Sir, feel free to return to your slumber.

Tl;dr

Fox: 5/10

Colonel Kurtz

Miliband: 7/10

Major Revival

Perle: 4/10

Corporal Punishment

Ali: 7/10

General Competence

Greer: 3/10

Private Grief

The Crowd: 6/10

Innocent Civilians

Ok, we’re done here. I’d like to say that next week’s Question Time will see us on a more familiar footing but I can’t as it’s taking place in Northern Ireland and I never have the faintest idea of who/why/what is going off on those episodes. Given the above, don’t be surprised if I engage in a certain level of Greering for Time in next week’s report. You have been warned.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Loudribs Curmudgeory Corner Emergency Question Time #1


question time dimbleby riots 50Good morning Lemmings and just what, may I ask, has happened to Silly Season? I ask because a) like all the shell-shocked looking MP’s who’ve been violently ejected from their mid-summer torpor, I shouldn’t be here right now and b) I love Silly Season and feel somewhat slighted that I haven’t been able to spend the summer reading about cats with bus passes or spurious moral panics. To be fair though, it’s not like I didn’t have fair warning: As soon as the phone hacking scandal broke, I knew that it was going to take a shark at least fifty Dimbleby’s long (my new favourite unit of measurement) to be sighted off Cornwall before normal service resumed but I must say that I wasn’t banking on society collapsing in quite the spectacular fashion that it has. Still, here we are now so we might as well try and make the best of it. Welcome Lemmings, to a very rare event: Emergency Question Time.

Ok, so the backdrop to this episode is pretty clear, what with the youth of today trying to affect political change through the mass sacking of JD Sports (a novel tactic, but one not without its merits) and as a result, Dimbleby has been defrosted from his traditional Recess-CryoSleep in order to provide the middle classes with a socially acceptable alternative to the Jeremy Kyle Show in their time of need. So, with who’s company do we share this impromptu return to the abyss with? Well, first up we have former Deputy Prime Minister and God’s Gift to Photoshop (see Fig. 1), John Prescott. When I first heard he was going to be on the show I was actually quite pleased as he had a very good turn of form when it came to the phone hacking scandal and a busy summer for him may also mean that he won’t have the time to appear in any more car insurance ads (for which the nation would be grateful), However, what I totally forgot was that while he can be very effective when whoever happens to be holding his leash singles out a target and hollers “Sick ‘em, boy!” and is frankly brilliant at soaking up punishment that would break less hardy souls, he is terrible at situation that have even the slightest hint of nuance. Not only that, but he also has an uncanny knack for reminding everyone exactly why they fell out of love with New Labour, not something that’s especially useful when the Labour party is frantically trying to rebrand itself.

prescot-pie-gif

Fig. 1

In practice, these traits boiled down to a pretty straight forward affair, mainly characterised  by sentences starting with “You and your mates” whenever Fraser Nelson was in the frame and much hot-under-the-collary at all other times. To be fair, his opening shots about police numbers did find their mark but any territory gained was quickly squandered by him flying off the handle at the slightest provocation and his insistence on making the argument personal. That approach is fine when there’s a clear villain to assail (like in the case of phone hacking), but in a situation as fluid and dynamic as the one we have before us now, it just looks ropey. Worse still, his insistence on casting the whole shebang as some epic left-vs-right affair gave both Nelson and Davis ample opportunity to dredge through Labour’s record and paint them as the baddies. Now, I’m not saying that Labour don’t have a certain level of culpability when it comes to the events of the past week as the kids who we’ve seen cutting a merry swathe of carnage through our cities grew up on their watch. However, Prescott’s approach had the effect of making it easy for the other side, easy to the extent that they didn’t really have to do any legwork and could sit back while Prezzer dug his own hole for them. Oh, and demanding that the police be armed with “plastic guns” rather than ‘plastic bullets’ doesn’t really help things much either, but there we go.

So, it wasn’t exactly the best night for the Red Team but how did the Blue Team do? On the face of it, they should have come in for the most flak considering that they’ve just presided over the most profound civil disorder for thirty years and were nowhere to be seen when the paddle fell into the creek, but strangely they got away with it rather lightly. Much of the credit for this feat can be taken by whoever had the bright idea of not letting any cabinet ministers go on and  put up David Davis to bat instead. The beauty of this move is that Davis is one of those MP’s who inhabits a certain political Goldilocks Zone: Far enough away from the tent to deny responsibility when things go wrong but close enough to scoop up any credit should they go right. Not only that, but Davis also has some rather crafty tricks up his sleeve, the main one being that he grew up on a council estate. Now, I’m personally very partial to this particular trick as it often results in epic little spats where audience members get caught out for not doing their homework but this week’s incident had a further twist to it. It began as it usually does: An audience member sees a Tory on the panel and decides that they may go for some of the ‘all Tories are toffs’ fruit that dangles temptingly from the lower branches of the QT tree. Thus it was that a young lady saw an opening, concluded that it was too good an opportunity to miss and briskly embarked on a spot of “has David Davis ever lived on a council estate?”

“Yes, I grew up on one” came the reply and I awaited eagerly for the pained expression of a plan gone wrong to pass across her face. But wait! What’s this? She’s not even broken her stride and is instead ploughing on anyway, oblivious to the sound of her credibility vaporising! Truth be told, I didn’t know who to admire more: Davies for timely deployment of his trump card or the audience member for her sublime ability to turn a blind eye to an inconvenient reality.

Anyhoo, minutiae aside, Davis played what could have been tricky hand rather well last night, stopping short of going balls-out ‘string ‘em all up’ whilst still sounding like a man you’d rather not mess with. I imagine there must have been a few sighs of relief in Tory HQ as it was a real gamble for them not send on a frontbencher and one that Dimbers did his best to make some hay from. However, deploying Davis proved to be a winning stratagem and his ability to temper his firm stance with a certain level of pragmatism carried the day for them. Not by much, but enough that they ended the show largely out of harms way.

All of which brings us to the Yellow Team and their chosen man of the hour, Brian Paddick. On paper, Paddick should be a winning politician as he seems to know what he’s talking about, has an interesting background and is not inarticulate. However, despite these natural advantages he’s never really cut the mustard for me and after watching last night’s show I think I’ve figured out why: He’s too needy. Now, I’m not saying needy in the sense that he came on with a teddy and some warm milk but there’s something about his delivery which is grasping and belies an urgent need for him to believe that he’s being taken seriously.  Take for example where he was trying to make the point that the you can’t compare these riots to the G20 demo. It’s a good point and one that he hammered away on for ages, but for some reason the way he said it drowned out the meaning. About five minutes later, David Davis strolls past, makes exactly the same point and gets a whole bunch of claps for efforts. Immediately alert to this, Paddick then desperately tries to climb back on to his own bandwagon for fear that Davis might twock it outright and resorts to desperately reminding everyone it was originally his point. In short, it wasn’t entirely edifying.

So yes, there’s something about Paddick that just doesn’t add up and I can’t help feeling he has a rather large capacity to sabotage himself. That’s not to say that anything he said was particularly bad, it’s just that I couldn’t get past the way he said it.

Right, that’s the politicos done, on to the civilians who are this week represented by Fraser Nelson, Camila Batmanghelidjh (who will now be referred to as ‘Batman’ as I don’t have the time to keep typing out her name… Seriously, it’s more like a Windows Activation Code than a name) and John Sentamu. Starting with Nelson, I think it’s fair to say that he’s the sanest of the Oddly Similar Right-Wing Scots (as represented by himself, Douglas Murray and Niall Ferguson) who are forever haunting Question Time and he had himself a pretty good show. Granted, Prescott did most of the heavy lifting for him and Davis provided covering fire but in general he came across fairly well. As for Batman, well I have a feeling she pulled her punches last night and in all honesty, I think that was probably for the best. As was expected, she did try to fight the rioters corner to certain degree and made sure that the deeper causes got a good airing, but she had the sense to see that nerves were just a little too frayed for a full on round of devils advocate and went about her business quietly. That was a good call as while I think she’s largely right, saying the right things at the wrong time can get you in a whole heap of trouble.

And finally there’s Sentamu, a man who I have all the time in the world for. The reason for my fondness for Sentamu is that not only does he look and sound mischievous, he actually is wantonly naughty (what with all the chopping up dog collars and camping out in York Minster) and revels in a bit of grand theatre. However, I must say I was a little disappointed by his outing as he seemed really slow on the uptake and a little lost at times. Most of his responses ambled around for a bit, got sidetracked into analogies about pigs or leaking water before finally ending in a bellowing statement that may or may not have been relevant to the subject in hand. So, John Sentamu, more mischief and less rambling next time around please… Streaking across the studio perhaps…

All of which leaves us with the crowd and to be honest, they were the most interesting part of a show that never really found its feet. Predictably, the audience contained the obligatory blowhards from both extremes of the political spectrum (like the man who demanded all rioters have their personal property confiscated and the woman who dismissed the whole thing as a government orchestrated stitch up) but for the most part they were just confused, angry and unsure who to blame. As a result, the show itself seemed to lurch around, seemingly unable to hold its focus whilst people struggled to articulate things that can’t yet be articulated. In that sense, it was a pretty good depiction of the feeling that pervades the nation at present and sets the stage for what is going to be a frantic period in British politics. Everywhere you look, something menacing seems to be developing and I have a feeling that the events of the last week are just a taste of what is yet to come. In short Lemmings, I want my Silly Season back.

Tl;dr
Prescott: Huffy/puffy
4/10

Davis: Well deployed
7/10

Paddick: Doth protest too much
5/10

Nelson: Marginally sane
6/10

Batman: Stealthy
6/10

Sentamu: Fuzzy/shouty
5/10

The Crowd: Freaked out
7/10

Right, I’m outta here… It’s been at least an hour since I’ve seen the news and I’ve already started to get the first pangs of withdrawal. I’ll see you all in September for the new series, civilisation pending of course…

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #42


question-time-david-dimbleby-paddy-ashdown-yasmin-alibhai-brown-andy-burnham-beardsGood morning Lemmings and welcome the hell back. Before we get stuck in, let me take this opportunity to offer my sincere apologies for the recent lack of Post Question Time activity. After unilaterally declaring Easter and buggering off on tour it never quite crossed my mind that Question Time itself might take a couple of weeks off so sorry for the absence but rest assured that regular service has now resumed.

Anyhoo, it’s a good job that I’m all refreshed as it was a feverish episode last night that at times seemed more akin to a middle class version of the Jeremy Kyle Show and was all the better for it. Basically, it can be summed up as a game of two halves, both of which featured large doses of Paddy Ashdown and also contained within it one of the most dramatic reversals of fortune I have seen on Question Time to date. It started like this: After a small bout of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown sounding very concerned (she always sounds very concerned. It’s her thing) about the legality of Bin Laden’s killing, Douglas Murray nonchalantly stepped forth and instantly polarised the crowd by declaring in a very gleeful way that he was “elated” by the death of Bin Laden and that Yasmin should really just STFU. That on its own is a pretty bold statement, but when coupled with the fact that he looked like he’d only just sobered up from a week-long ‘Bin Laden’s Dead’ pub crawl (what do you wear to a ‘Bin Laden’s Dead’ pub crawl? A Bin Laden costume? Special Forces garb? Black tie? I have no idea what would be appropriate), it becomes positively incendiary and stunned Alibhai-Brown into some very concerned sounding “goodness me”-ing. This however, was just the beginning as waiting in the wings was Paddy Ashdown and not just any old Paddy Ashdown but Hard Bitten Ex-Instrument of Foreign Policy With Blood On His Hands Paddy Ashdown.

How old are you Douglas?” he asked, “because YOU SEEM TO YOUNG TO DECIDE ON AN EXECUTION!”.

ZING! The crowd loved that, but he didn’t stop to soak up the applause. Oh no, he had yet even more of the beat down to deploy and deploy it he did by striking a 1000 yard gaze (which is very impressive for a man who doesn’t actually have any eyes) and following it up with this little gem:

I have seen people killed. Some of them my friends, some of them my enemies… I cannot rejoice in the killing of anyone.”

BOOM! He might as well have just screamed “YOU DON’T KNOW CUZ YOU WEREN’T THERE, MAN!” at Murray and the crowd went totally bonkers (to be fair to Paddy, he really doesn’t pull the whole ‘I’ve killed men with my bare hands’ thing out of the bag often enough. Hell, if it was me I think I’d finish just about every sentence with “and by the way, did I ever tell you that killed a man with my bare hands?”. More tea Mr Loudribs? “Yes please and by the way, did I ever tell you that killed a man with my bare hands?” You see what I’m getting at.)

So yes, from that point on, the tone was set. This was going to be a fight to the death affair and one in which only the strong would survive. Sensing that things were getting pretty hairy, Philip Hammond and Andy Burnham quickly went to ground and ventured out only to big up the Arab Spring while Armando Iannucci correctly guessed that comic intervention probably wasn’t called for at this point and found a foxhole of his own to cower in. By now the whole show had swung to focus exclusively on the running battle between Ashdown and Murray and what a battle it was. For his part, Ashdown would start every sentence with some reference to his days as a shadowy bringer of death (“I’ve been interrogated/fighting terrorism most of my life”) and finish it with a reference to “the rule of law”. This certainly proved to be a very potent weapon and one which the crowd loved, but lets not forget who he was up against: Douglas Murray, The Mentalist Bastard In Town.

It’s easy (and often entirely appropriate) to bash Murray given that he has fashioned an entire career from simply blabbing the most intensely crazy brand of ultra right-wing interventionism, but the man does deserve some credit for being utterly, utterly fearless. Sure, Paddy may well have had the monopoly on harrowing war stories but as powerful as they are, they are still given a run for their money by Murray’s insane capacity to soak up punishment and carry on as if nothing had happened. So it went that for every haymaker that Ashdown landed, Murray simply got straight back up, dusted himself off and then went on to say something even more potty than the last thing that left his mouth (“Killing terrorists is a good way to keep us safe” springs to mind). Neither would it be fair to say that he was without support from the crowd because he also had some fairly vocal cheerleaders, a few of whom also decide to get stuck into the ruck themselves (a special mention is warranted for the guy who objected very strongly to Paddy Ashdown referring to Bin Laden as a ‘man’. He was a special type of crazy, that guy). Anyway, whilst these two slugged it out and the other male panelists did their best not to soil themselves in the heat of combat we were also treated to the spectacle of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wandering in an out of the Danger Zone like a hippy who had inadvertently stumbled into a riot police convention. In a way, I feel slightly sorry for her because she did make some valid points but in the face of such sustained firepower, it was pretty much impossible for her to stand her ground without being beaten to a bloody pulp. Sorry Yasmin, but this ain’t the Wright Stuff (which, by the way, is totally the best thing about sick days).

So that was the first half: An almighty clash of arms in which the crowd decreed Ashdown the winner while Murray never seems to have received this message and just carried on regardless. Emboldened by this triumph in the face of insanity, Ashdown thought himself to be in the perfect position to drive his offensive home and marched on to the sound of gunfire (which actually turned out to be a question about the coalition) with his back ramrod straight. Little did he know of the calamity that was to befall him and what appeared to be the Wide Open Plains of Imminent Victory actually turned out be the Hellish Quagmire of Crushing Defeat, but for the most unexpected of reasons: Andy Burnham. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s unexpected because I think Andy Burnham’s a crap politician. He’s not, but by the same token I wouldn’t exactly describe him as the world’s greatest orator AND he’s never killed anyone before. However, he is quite canny and while the whole Ashdown/Murray bunfight was going on, he had the nouce to find a place of relative safety and keep his powder dry for a fight he was more suited to. His opportunity came with the ‘will Clegg be blamed for the AV defeat’ question. After being given the first bite of the cherry by Dimbers, he moved into a more offensive disposition and warmed up with a hearty round of Lib Dem baiting that made much use of the word “betrayal”. At this point he was joined by Iannucchi who had been also waiting for more benign circumstances to prevail and lost no time in unleashing Teh Funneh along with a further side dish of “betrayal”. Sensing that this new alliance could quite possibly harbour the seeds of his destruction Ashdown attempted to defuse the situation with a light-hearted appeal to talk about torture some more, but the crowd didn’t bite. Worse still, those audience members who had only minutes earlier been cheering him as if he were the Second Coming now started to hurumph and appear positively restive. Faced with a heckler calling him a “sell-out”, Ashdown retreated to the only place coalition members seem to know when the going gets tough: The Bunker of Blame Labour. That really didn’t work and Burnham was right back in there, giving him what-for with regards the NHS, fees and anything else he could find to be semi-convincingly outraged about. A kerfuffle ensued but this time the action was very much one-sided as Ashdown kept tripping up as he tried to retreat and mangled his account of the coalition negotiations. The result was pretty ugly and despite a fairly spirited (if misguided) attempt at a last stand it all ended up with the hero of the Bin Laden question becoming the Bin Laden of the coalition question. Oh London, how fickle you are.

So that was that: Paddy Ashdown was Icarus, Murray was mental, Alibhai-Brown pained yet impotent, Iannucci had his moments and Burnham was a bolt from the blue. But wait! Aren’t we forgetting someone? Oh yes, there was Philip Hammond as well. You may be wondering how we’ve got so far with his name barely being mentioned but in actual fact, the explanation is pretty straight forward: The man is so intrinsically dull that he could well have been replaced with a stack of Readers Digests and no one would have noticed. Take for example this picture (see Fig. 1).

philip hammond grey

Fig. 1

Here we have Philip Hammond in front of Monet’s Venice Twilight. As we can see, the power of Hammond’s congenital greyness is actually leaching the colour out of the painting and rendering the area immediately around him devoid of hue (although interestingly, his tie appears impervious to this effect. I hear it was crafted from materials as yet unknown to science). Such is the power of his all-pervading insipidness that it actually has the power to cancel out excitement. Sure, he has a reputation as a steady pair of hands but in this episode he appeared like a supply teacher who had given up trying to actually teach anything years ago and instead just reads out loud from a textbook as the class run amuck and set fire to each others hair. Even when he was being quite spitefully needled by Dimbers (who had props in the form of posters Hammond had given the OK to) I still found it hard to muster any emotion beyond pure ambivalence and if I hadn’t spent a fair bit of time knocking up that photoshop on Thursday, I doubt I’d have anything to say about him at all. I never thought I’d say this but thank god for Douglas Murray.

Tl; dr

Hammond: 100% Grey

3/10

Ashdown: 50% Man of the Hour, 50% Whipping Boy.

6/10

Burnham: 25% Shirker, 25% Politician Trying to Sound Convincingly Angry, 50% Smiter of Ashdown.

7/10

Iannucci: 50% Sidelined, 50% Funny.

6/10

Alibhai-Brown: 33% Bleeding Heart Peacenik Commie, 33% “Dear Sir, Imagine My Concern”, 33% First Casualty of War.

5/10

Murray: 110% Sectionable.

7/10

The Crowd: 25% Andy McNabb Wannabes, 25% Well Rounded Individuals, 1000% Not Fans of the Lib Dems.

8/10

So there you go… An absolute belter of an episode that satisfied some deep-seated lust for blood that has haunted me for years. Now, as is customary from time-to-time, here’s a quick reminder that you can follow these reports on Facebook and Twitter and if you’re into these reports, do us a favour and pass ’em on to people who might like them. Oh, and just in case anyone was remotely interested in how the tour went, let me tell you that it was bloody ruddy great… until our other guitarist trapped his thumb in a taxi door and we had to cancel half the dates. Here’s the thumb in question:

'That' thumb...

I hate that thumb.

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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