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…


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