Posts Tagged 'Mark Serwotka'

Questionable Time #38


questionable time 38 david dimbleby braveheart glasgow

Good morning Lemmings and if I’m not mistaken we appear to be in Scotland. For some of you this will be a Good Thing (I suspect that this will be the case if you happen to be Scottish) but from my point of view, this is less of a Good Thing and in actual fact may even qualify as a Bad Thing. Now, before a be-kilted rabble come crashing through my door, hellbent on upholding the honour of their proud nation let me state categorically that I have no problem with Scotland or the Scottish. There is no beef of any import between us and I see no obstacle to our continued co-existence. I do, however, have a problem when Question Time is in Scotland. Why? Because I don’t have a clue who anyone is, what they’re on about or why I should really care one way or another. Ok, so I guess there would be some sort of tangible effect on my life should the Scots take the nuclear option and divorce themselves from the Union, but outside of that? Nah. They could be sending wee bairns down haggis mines or pouring Irn Bru into the water supply for all I care… I won’t be losing any sleep. Having said that though, last night’s show did have one potential saving grace for me: It was coming from Easterhouse, a particularly hard corner of a very hard city. Would this be enough to offset my ignorance induced disinterest? I wonder…

The first question was the most cruel of false reprieves…

Let’s face it, we all knew this episode was going to be about the independence referendum and as I explained above, this isn’t the sort of thing that butters my current affairs parsnips. With this in mind, imagine my delight when the first question was not concerned with some exclusively Caledonian affair but was actually about the rapidly unfolding ‘Combi-Shambles‘. Yes! I was saved! This was about Westminster! This was about stuff that has a vague relevance to my life! Unfortunately, this fleeting sense of triumph was dealt a mortal blow when it dawned on me that I have no idea what exactly is going on with this latest governmental face-plant other than assorted ministers seem to be running around with their hair on fire and there’s a faint whiff of panic wafting ominously from Downing Street. Luckily it appears that I am not alone in this predicament and pretty much everyone on the panel decided that it was probably safer to turn some rhetorical tricks instead of actually trying to make sense of the unfolding chaos. In practice this took the form of the three political panelist (Sturgeon, Davidson and Curran) assembling themselves into a circular firing squad, counting to three and shooting each other in the back of the head whilst Mark Serwotka called for a plague on all their houses. Has this left me any the wiser about just what in criminy is going on with our nation’s energy policy? No. Was it fun watch. Yes, it was rather…

Scottish politicians are a tough bunch…

Ok, so the accent helps but I think it’s also fair to say that both Margaret Curran and Ruth Davidson have pretty thick hides. For Davidson, this partly comes with the territory: Being a Tory in Scotland is not noted for being the most relaxing of vocations and I’m sure she’s pretty used to being bashed about on a daily basis simply because she exists. However, what Davidson doesn’t do is let it get to her and I must admit that whether I agree with her or not, she does remain very steady under fire. Curran is also one who cops a lot of flak (thanks to Labour largely having taking Scotland for granted) but her talent is that she endures. Sure, she talks too fast when her feathers are ruffled and the fact that she’s played this game so long has led to a certain level of attrition, but Curran’s still just about in the game and played a reasonably solid hand last night.

The interesting one is Nicola Sturgeon though. Now, she does a very good initial line in the forthright, storming into questions with lashings of ‘Dear Sir, imagine my concern…’ before cobbling together some scheme whereby Scotland has cakes for both storage and immediate consumption. All of this is fine and dandy, particular if the going’s good but she does have one glaring vulnerability: She rattles easily. It happened a few times last night. Sturgeon would open with a broadside about how Labour let everyone down, the Tories – well, they’re just Tories – and wouldn’t it all be much better if we simply had our own country to mess about with? However, the problems begin when people start pressing for detail. You can see a little shudder develop and her eyes starting darting from side-to-side, sizing up the potential exits. Unfortunately, these exits have a nasty habit of being obstructed by irksome things such as ‘facts’ and ‘realities’ and this tends to lead her to double down on the offensive, a risky tactic made riskier by the fact that Sturgeon’s never quite as good on the second pass. That’s not to say I don’t think that she’s capable because she clearly is. It’s just that she can’t quite keep her fear under wraps and once you spot it it’s hard to ignore. That, and something about her bearing just really reminds me of a generic 6th-former from a late-80’s run of Grange Hill.

What about the other guys?

Last time Mark Serwotka was on I was pretty mean to him, mainly because he came across as rather smug. Luckily for him, this wasn’t the case last night as he had little time to display any other emotion than pure scorn for both the Tories and Labour, a move which paid off handsomely with the crowd. Actually, it was quite interesting to watch as while he’s never been shy of criticising the Red Team, he was really out for them last night. I’m guessing that part of this was playing to the gallery (which seemed to work splendidly) but the really telling thing was how he Goldilocksed the SNP, making sure the signals he was sending were neither too hot nor too cold. If I was in the Red Team, I think I’d be keeping a very close eye on that.

And what of Alan Cochrane? We’ll I’ve never come across him before but I will say this: His beard and voice match perfectly. He didn’t really get that much of a look in and when he did it was the sort of thing you’d expect the Scottish Editor of The Telegraph but I’ve got to say, that beard-voice combo really did it for me.

Is ‘Crazy Levels of Crowd Participation’ a compulsory part of the Scottish Curriculum or is Easterhouse just a bit special?

As expected, I had very little idea what was going on last night. Ok, so the drugs question was kind of interesting but it didn’t really bring anything new to the table and was simply a repeat of the merry little dance that Question Time periodically engages in (crowd + entire world conclude War on Drugs has failed. Politicians conclude that they can’t say its failed because they’ll get the blame for its failure). However, despite my complete inability to fathom anything, I must admit I actually really enjoyed this episode and the lion’s share of the credit for this should go to the crowd. Why? Because they were feisty as hell. They booed, they cheered, they booed and cheered at the same time. Quite what they were booing and cheering about I honestly couldn’t tell you, but the fact that they did was enough to keep my head in the game. So points for sore palms and horse throats and extra points for the following gentlemen: Mr ‘A Lot Of My Friends Smoke Cannabis” (or as I like to call him, Mr ‘My Employers Might Be Watching This’) and Mr ‘Because Of The Type Of People Who Frequent This Area’. Sir, you’re bravery is beyond question… Your wisdom? Not so much.

Tl;dr

Sturgeon: 5/10

Flighty

Curran: 5/10

Fighty

Davidson: 5/10

Bitey

Serwotka: 6/10

Incitey

Cochrane: 5/10

Alrighty

The Crowd: 8/10

(Can’t decide if they want to remain a part of) Blighty

So there you go… The televisual equivalent of trying to drink a 6-pack of Super-T whilst sitting in a washing machine that’s halfway through its spin cycle. Speaking of somewhat discombobulating experiences, I’d best share with you the fruits of an experiment I conducted earlier in the week. Using cutting edge photo manipulation software and a part of my brain that I really shouldn’t listen to, I tried to determine whether Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon would make for convincing Krankies. The result speak for themselves (see Fig. 1)…

alex salmod nicola sturgeon krankies

Fig. 1

Next week Lemmings, next week…

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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…

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #41


question time david dimbleby magrite 41

Morning Lemmings and praise be, I managed to stay conscious throughout last night’s Question Time, a titanic feat made easier only by the absence of Danny Alexander and his voice. So bully for me, bully for you and bully for everyone. In short, bully all round.  Right, let’s get on with this.

 

Ok, so the first (repeat) offenders in my sights tonight take the shapely form of Boris Johnson and Diane Abbott, both of whom are very much personality based politicians (although cut form very different cloth) and both of whom, I suspect, are sitting on the horns of a dilemma right now. In the case of Boris, it’s very much to do with the fact that he’s been slightly wildernessed by events and that his naturally ambitious streak is having to rub up against the cruel mistress of reality. If we cast our minds back to a few years ago, you literally couldn’t switch on the telly without being assaulted by some sort of Borisness and despite the occasional gaffe, this worked very much in his favour as he had carved a very comfortable little niche for himself as The Nation’s Favourite Posh Idiot. Sure, technically he was a shadow minister, but by having fostered a cult of personality based largely around buffoonery and bluster, he was given a very generous portion of latitude with which to clown about and cement his position as the only Tory who people could actually begin to relate to (I use the term ‘relate’ in a very loose sense, like in the way we instinctively relate to people who accidentally wet themselves in public or walk around with spinach stuck between their teeth for days on end). However, Boris is a man who never seems content with his current position and beneath all the red-faced boyish caperings, it was clear that he was desperately searching for a bigger fish to fry and that ultimately, the biggest fish would always be the leadership of the Tory party. Unfortunately for Boris, these ambitions were very much put on ice thanks to the ascendance of David Cameron and never being one to play second fiddle, he instead focused on becoming Mayor of London, something that he inexplicably managed to achieve.

 

On the face of it, this should have been a triumph and for a good two years, he was the only Tory in the country who actually wielded any power. However, this seemingly benign turn of events also contained some nasty, jagged reefs just beneath the surface and as time went on, it became clear that this probably wasn’t the cushy number he had hoped it to be. Sure, having some real power is nice and all, but it becomes increasingly difficult to arse about on Have I Got New For You when you’ve got to wake up in the morning and run one of the largest cities in the world and the brand of endearing klutzery that you peddled prior to being in office is no longer the Get Out Of Jail Free Card it once was. “Never mind though” thought Boris, “it’s only a matter of time before the right-wing of the party get fed up with Cameron’s Bodenocracy and as soon as he appears to falter, there I will be, ready and waiting to seize the reigns of power”. On the face of it, that was a pretty good plan but unfortunately, the right wing insurgency hasn’t seemed to have materialised, Cameron is proving to be much more resilient than many gave him credit for and Boris is still knee-deep in being Mayor and having to appear like he isn’t a total disaster. Worsts.

 

The upshot of all this is that Boris is now rather boxed in when it comes to shows like Question Time. In the past, he could happily play things for laughs, do that whole ‘look at me, using long words and getting in flap’ thing and still go home knowing that one day, the time would be right for him to go for the leadership. Now, he has to temper all the idiosyncracies with a measure of sensibility and present a picture of someone who might actually be capable of getting dressed in the morning, let alone be charge of the capital. That’s not to say that he didn’t have the odd flourish here and there on last night’s show and there were times when he made the odd funny, but I can’t help thinking that he just seems a little frustrated and lost at the moment. It’s also personally galling as I spent a fair bit of time making this pshop of him last night (see Fig. 1) in the certainty that he was going to drop a clanger when it came to the inevitable protest question, but he didn’t really go beyond the standard ‘oiks are bad’ line, much to my chagrin. So come on Boris, let’s just drop the façade. Yes, you were infuriating when you were knee-deep in your ‘Blimey, I think my flies are undone’ phase but I prefer outrage to muted ambivalence so buck up your ideas and stop being so damn…. so damn… not weird! Enough said.

boris johnson riot bike

Fig. 1

 

So, on to Diane who is also in a not dissimilar pickle having hewed her public persona out of the quarry non-conformism, an exercise that is pretty easy from the backbenches but much tougher when you’re having to at least make a semblance of toeing the party line. In actual fact, I think she came off worse than Boris did because she seems so unused to speaking anything other than what’s on her mind. At points, it seemed the two of them were engaged in a contest of who could apply the word ‘vindictive’ the most times to the other’s policies, but despite a late rally on the EMA question, Boris emerged the victor. Also, when it came to the questions about the protest march and Libya, it was pretty clear that she was really having to reign herself in and not just march headlong into a protracted rant about where Labour went wrong, a situation that lent an air of uncertainty to her performance. Not all of this is Diane’s fault as Labour itself is still grappling with the thorny issue of what they actually stand for and just what in the hell to make of the Blair/Brown legacy, but I very much got the impression that she was pulling her punches last night. For someone who made their name by having principles that went beyond the straight jacket of party politics, that’s not a good look, even if it is a look that inevitably comes with the territory. My advice Dianne? Just jack it in now. You were very effective at playing the role of conscience to the Labour party and I miss you trying to grapple with The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name between you and Portillo on the This Week sofa. In fact, I’ll pay you to go back on This Week because if I see Jacqui Smith on there one more time, I don’t know what I might do. Seriously, I could become capable of some horrible, horrible things if I have to go through that again. So, please Dianne, for the sake of the nation.

Up next we have Sarah Teather, a woman so geometrically round (not fat, just round) that she appears to be constructed from a set of interlocking circles (see Fig. 2) and is enduring a similar fate to that of Baroness Warsi; the post-election shunt to the political broom cupboard. Prior to last May’s WTF-ery one could be forgiven for thinking that Teather was the only Liberal Democrat in existence thanks to her seemingly endless appearances on shows like Question Time, but since then she’s been notable only by her absence. I’m wondering if some of this is actually of her own volition because she spent most of last night looking like a naughty school child in the middle of receiving the mother of all bollockings (much like Cable in the earlier post-election chapters of The Passion St. Vince) and given her generally hangdog demeanour, it was pretty clear that she wasn’t enjoying herself. Part of me thinks this is shame because when she was in heavy rotation, she was bloody good, harrying both Labour and the Tory’s in equal measure whenever the opportunity presented itself and you could occasionally see some of the residue of her past glory on last night’s show, like when she came out fighting about the proposed replacement for EMA. However, another part of me thinks that actually, this is a necessary part of the process: Watching people like Teather go from being some of the most persuasive proponents of genuinely progressive policies to playing the gimp in Osborne’s S&M Dungeon has been painful for me to watch and I can at least take a little comfort in the fact that these people still have a conscience left to punish themselves with. In that sense, we really are All In This Together.

sarah-teather-circles-gif

Fig. 2

OK, I’ve waffled about the first three quite a bit so let’s make it brief for Victim’s #4 and #5. First up is TUC bod Mark Serwotka who did a decent job at not being Bob Crow. Yes, some of it sounded a bit pious and soapboxy, but at least I didn’t have to hide under the covers through the fear that he might physically smash his way out of the TV screen and then punch me repeatedly for not going on the march (I am sorry Bob. I was at home playing Battlefield: Vietnam. I think that makes it even worse, doesn’t it?). But yes, he did pretty well and there was fairly broad (but by no means unanimous) support for the union position last night. I must say though, he does have a really weird accent, almost like it’s half Welsh and half Yorkshire. In purely geographic terms, that would place him somewhere around Congleton which is fortuitous because I happen to love the word ‘Congleton’. Try it. ‘Congleton’. ‘Congllllllllllleton’. Ace isn’t it?

Finally we have Clive Anderson and I must say that I was left a little confused by his performance (I think he was as well). I think it stems from the fact that his brain clearly works at a million miles an hour but isn’t very good at discriminating between the Relevant and the Only Just Sort Of Relevant, as was evidenced in most of last night’s responses. He’d always start by attempting to address the question but then keep jumping onto minor tangents as they popped into his head. As these tangents multiplied, he’d get further and further from the original point and would eventually end up in a position that was only very tenuously related to the topic in hand. The stuff itself all seemed to sound OK and he’s clearly not an idiot, but all the mental hop-scotch made him appear a little like a labrador chasing a plastic bag and I just ended up a little nonplussed by it all. The other thing I noticed is that he’d make a very good mascot. His face has a very mascot-like quality to it. If the showbiz work ever dries up Clive, give me a bell. You’d look great on my mantlepiece.

Final lap now. This is usually where I fob the crowd off with a few muttered platitudes and then leg it on to the scores so that I can get on with my Friday night, but not tonight Lemmings. In fact, I’m actually going to give the crowd a bit of a fairer do in this report because there was a marvellous little scene near the end that warrants a little extra attention. It started when the girl who asked the EMA question, Gladys, got offered a second bite of the apple by Dimbers. Pitching her tone just right (she sounded thoughtful but concerned), Gladys explained how EMA had really helped her and that she and her mates had used the money to buy sensible, education type things. Well done there Gladys, nicely put, have some claps. Then, out of nowhere came this proper foghorn of a woman in a red top who a gave it a bit of the old “I had a part-time job when I was a student”. BOOM! Half the crowd went mad for that and it looked like the Foghorn had delivered a match winning blow. But what’s this? It’s Gladys and she’s right back in there with a “So did I”! ZING! The other half of the crowd go mad as Gladys goes on to explain how she couldn’t have afforded books without EMA, unaware that she’s just exposed a flank for the Foghorn to exploit: “Go to the Library then” intones the Foghorn and the crowd now rips itself in two, half cheering, half booing. “But the libraries are all being closed!” says Gladys and KABLAMO! It’s all over. Bloody great. More of that please. And the rest of the crowd? Yeah…. whatever.

Tl:dr

Boris: Muted

6/10

Abbott: Uprooted

5/10

Teather: Refuted

5/10

Serwotka: Suited

6/10

Anderson: Rerouted

5/10

Gladys: Undisputed

9/10

So there you go, a LCCPQTMR first: A score to an individual crowd member. Truly, we are breaking new ground. Right, I’m done here and am going to get about the business of having a Friday night. Next week Lemmings, next week…


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