Morning Lemmings and oh boy am I in trouble. You see, for years I have struggled with an addiction and not a glamorous one either: I am a Civilization addict. The course of my affliction has been a near textbook case in Civ abuse, starting at the tender age of 17 when I had my first encounter with the notorious gateway drug that is Civ 2. While I was still able to function like a relatively normal human being during this period (at least to the untrained eye), I was constantly being tested by newer and more potent strains of the narcotic with the introduction of Civ 3 in 2001 and Civ 4 in 2006, each of which drew me deeper and deeper into the clutches of dependency. Seriously, I can’t begin to describe the toll it has extracted from me, all those late nights squinting at computer generated maps and whispering over and over again “Just one more turn… Just one more!”. But it never was just one more turn and today you find me staring headlong into the abyss of such depth that Christ himself would wince at it’s very mention. You see Lemmings, today is the day that Civ 5 is released in the UK. Today is the day that I and millions of others will someday come to call The End.
So it is with a greatly distracted mind that I bring you today’s Question Time report as for the past week my computer screen has looked like this (click on the picture to make it BIGGUR):
That’s right, I preordered that bad boy and have had to deal with the pain of knowing that all the data I need to take my addiction to new heights has been sitting on my hard drive, just waiting to be decrypted by it’s makers. Not only that, but I’ve had to put up with Americans on the internet rubbing my face in it by high fiving and cracking wise as it was released there 2 days ago. Today though, my desktop looks like this:
“Ready to play”. “READY TO PLAY”. Words can not describe the anguish I’m going through in order not to just slack off this week’s QT Report and instead just start playing Civ 5 for 72 hours straight. Hell, I’ve even taken half the day off work, just so I can bash this out in record time and then slip into the soothing embrace of my one, my only, my true friend, Civilization. This, Lemmings, is my gift to you. You’d better bloody appreciate it.
Q1: Can the government really have a Business Secretary who believes that capitalism kills competition?
Q2: Can the LibDems survive as a political party when the coalition is over?
Q3: How does the government propose to regain control of the streets with the cuts coming?
Q4: Should the 9000 public sector workers who take home more pay than the Prime Minister be the first to be cut?
Q5: Secularisation in the UK bothers the Pope. Should it bother politicians?
In The Yellow Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and currently Tortured Soul.
Another week, another chapter in the Passion of St. Vince. Anointed directly by God in the wake of Das Kredit Krunch, the last three years have been something of a roller coaster for Cable as he’s lurched uncomfortably between Unimpeachable Voice of Reason to Begrudging Patsy For Tory Cuts, sometimes in the space of only a few days. The last time Vince was on Question Time was a pretty traumatic spectacle to watch as he made the best fist he could of putting on a brave face and pretending that he was well into this coalition business. Unfortunately, the end result was to paint a portrait of a man who was deeply uneasy with the way things had panned out and who couldn’t convince himself, let alone anyone else that this wouldn’t all end in anything but grazed knees and tears before bedtime. However, politics is moving at quite the rate of knots these days and last week saw him careening back to the Voice of Reason end of the spectrum again as he showered the LibDem party conference in a veritable orgy of choir preaching banker baiting and the right wing press lost no time in getting it’s knickers in twist about this sudden outburst of Bolshevism (see Fig. 1). Admittedly, it’s not that hard to get the Torygraph et al all lathered into a fury of McCarthyism these days as even implying that governments may have to spend money on stuff or that perhaps the private sector isn’t entirely populated by altruistic Good Samaritans is enough to get you branded as a Stinking Pinko, but that’s the way it is and thus was the backdrop to Vince’s appearance tonight.
Ok, so as expected the first question on this weeks show was all about St. Vince’s speech and his first stab at it wasn’t a bad one as he tempered some of it’s more contentious parts by doffing his cap to “good business”, but still found a little room to scold the banks for buggering everything up. People liked that, there were claps and for a brief moment, it looked like he got away with it. That was, of course, until everyone except John Redwood (who clearly wasn’t in the mood to help a brother out) all piled in to the tune of ‘yeah, we know you hate the banks and that, but what are you going to do about I?’. ‘This and that’ was the jist of his reply, but unfortunately for him, there was nothing concrete enough there to shut everyone up and he got quite badly mauled as he did his best to extricate himself. Q2 didn’t provide much relief either as he tried to poo-poo all the polls that said the LibDems are heading for electoral oblivion and he was forced to wheel out the ‘look how grown up we are, working with Tories/we’re still an independent party’ line, none of which was greeted by anything other than stony silence from the audience (apart from the guy who somewhat bizarrely suggested that St. Vince would probably join the BNP in the near future). Aware that this probably wasn’t his night, he wisely stayed in the long grass on Q3, venturing out only to mutter something about it being Labour’s fault and the obligatory bigging up of decentralisation which managed to keep him out of any major trouble and it looked like he might have a chance to regroup. Unfortunately, the respite was only temporary as although he started well on Q4, throwing Will Hutton’s name about with wild abandon and having a quiet dig at the private sector for being even more absurd with salaries, the rally was short-lived and he was bought crashing down to earth by Dimbers invoking the spectre of Phillip Green. Damn you, Phillip Green!. Finally, there was Q5, and to be honest, it was a bit of a non-question that simply required a little ‘it’s not politicians’ role to get into religion’ and that was that.
So what to make of all this? Personally, I found it harder to watch than his last appearance because he looked more aware that he was being played this time round. It must be heartbreaking for him. He’s the reason a good many people voted for the LibDems and there must have been a few days when he dared to believe that he could actually be in a position to affect some real changes. Then the reality of coalition began to bite and St. Vince had to watch as he was quietly shuffled away from any positions of real power and into the Give Him Enough Rope To Hang Himself position of Business Secretary while his plans were quietly neutered. Sure, he carried on, hoping that because he was too big to be outside the tent (pissing in), there might still be a chance to get something of worth out of it all and he even managed to get his conference speech cleared by the big boys (who still need him patch the holes on the good ship Coalition’s port side). However, he must know that they were simply giving him a thumb to suck, that they gave into it too easily for it not to be a stitch up and that at some point in the not too distant future he will look upon what is being done in his name and conclude that none of this is worth it any more. I hope it doesn’t come to that because I like Vince and I think that (most) of his ideas are on the money, but I can’t escape the whiff Inevitable Tragedy I get every time I see him on TV. So Vince, if you’ve got any miracles kicking about, now is the time to use them, otherwise you’ll end up as a martyr, not a saint.
A darkly foreboding 4/10
In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: John Redwood, MP for Wokingham and right wing Vulcan.
Whilst on my usual trawl through Google Images for pshop fodder, I couldn’t help notice an uncanny photographic similarity between John Redwood and Alan Partridge. It’s not about their appearances as Redwood looks like a jaundiced Space Cad while Partridge just looks a little stupid, but the poses they pull and the scenes they set all seem to have a suspiciously high level of correlation. Take the photo I posted of Redwood the last time he was on: Now, imagine that his female companion has an Eastern European accent (“It is an alien judge, Alan!”) and that the room isn’t in a house, but in a static caravan instead. See what I’m getting at? Then I stumbled on this little beauty (see Fig. 2).
It’s a clear as day. John redwood is Alan Partridge’s Evil Twin. Ok, so they’re not identical twins and it is fair to say that there are plenty of differences between them. For one, Alan Partridge is a stupid and insensitive prat while Redwood isn’t stupid and clearly, their lives have taken very courses. Also, Redwood has a streak of determination in him that Partridge has always lacked, but you have to admit that the turtleneck sweaters, the pints of Directors that both almost certainly claim to enjoy and their fondness for right-wing views do point to some sort of common heritage. It’s a theory, but you know…. Just saying…
OK, so how did Redwood do? Well, to be brief (because the Civ pangs are growing in intensity and duration), it was pretty much standard Redwood and characterised by lots of gritted teeth and invitations to read between the lines. Basically, John Redwood knows what he believes in and he believes it well. Unfortunately, for him, these beliefs do not appear to be the beliefs that coalition would like to be known for and as a result, he has to make a pretence of not being the kind of guy who would privatise the air we breath at the drop of a hat. And is he good at pretending? In a word, ‘no’.
Take Q1, for example. Clearly, the party line is ‘Vince has his views and although we may disagree slightly, we will be best friends forever’. Redwood certainly managed the ‘different views’ bit admirably, reeling off a list of all the things capitalism had provided for Vince (it was very extensive), but didn’t do so well on the BFF part by simply writing Cable’s speech off as the LibDems being a bit flouncy. This was pretty much the theme for the rest of the evening which mainly composed of blaming Labour for everything, less than convincing endorsements of the benefits of coalition politics and unconditional love for all things private sector. He also got into numerous scraps with Mehdi Hassan and got to rattle off another big list in Q3 when he speculated on the causes of crime, but by and large it was pretty standard stuff. That’s not to say I didn’t like him being on because at least he’s not afraid to get stuck in and have a good scrap, but I could have told you what his response to every question would have been well in advance of his answer and it’s fair to say that the crowd weren’t exactly enamoured with him. Still, it could have been worse. At least he didn’t put the Potato Famine down to the Irish being “fussy eaters”.
An Inner City Sumo of a 5/10
In Red Corner: Caroline Flint, MP for Don Valley and regular QT flak taker.
Snaggletooth again? She gets about does Old Snaggers, but I must admit that she is improving over time. During her period in government, Flint’s QT appearances were usually characterised by an insane capacity to blithely soak up punishment and a tendency to rely overly on aggressive counter attacks. However, she seemed much mellower tonight and, perhaps almost unbelievably, admitted that Labour had got stuff wrong in the past. That’s a big watershed for Flint who would have usually gone fully nutso on anyone who even implied that Labour were anything other than sainted bringers of greater things, but yes, tonight she did actually come clean and say that there was stuff they got wrong. That’s not to say she hasn’t completely lost some of her more jagged edges and she did overplay her hand towards the end of Q3, but by and large it was quite a well-rounded performance, even if there still is something about her that I still find to be a little serrated.
A pleasingly gentler 6/10
In The Independent/Brainy One Corner: Mehdi Hassan, Senior Editor for the New Statesman and full lefty.
Right, come on, I can’t take much more of this. Four damn years I’ve waited for this game and there’s still two panelists to go. Let’s make this snappy. Mehdi Hassan is, as the above suggests, a journalist who’s pretty left-wing and I’m pretty sure that this is only his second QT outing. First time round was generally good, but he’s got a tendency to get a little overexcited and throw away some valuable points by falling on the wrong side of the passionate/nutter line. Tonight was also a competent display where he got a lot of mileage out of holding Cable’s feet to the fire but he managed to combine that with not letting Labour get away scot-free, had some ace punch ups with Redwood (in which he emerged the victor) and largely managed to keep the crowd on his side (I think her netted the most applause overall). There were a few times where he looked in danger of going too far and getting stuck out on a limb, but luckily, he managed to keep these tendencies mostly in check. The interesting thing for me was watching him and Hislop eye each other up somewhat nervously. Both knew that they were largely on the same side, but there was an unspoken element of uneasiness between them that nearly bubbled over at times. Oh, and he started his answers to both Q’s1 and 2 with the word “Intriguing”. Intriguing.
A solid 7/10
In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Ian Hislop, Editor of Private Eye and libel magnet.
I think it must be quite hard being Hislop as there must an overwhelming temptation to never agree with anyone about anything. Part of this comes with the territory as Private Eye’s job is to hold the powerful to scrutiny, no matter who they are, but I think there might also just be a naturally contrary streak in him and that he really rather enjoys being a thorn in any given side. True to form, Hislop managed to have a go at a wide range of targets including Vince for being all mouth and no trousers, Labour for being too cozy with the banks, the police for playing politics and every man, woman and child in the land for saying that they wanted the third party in power but then hating them when they finally got in. All of these were valid points and were well made, but there was always a lingering danger of him coming across as Anti-Everything, purely for the fun of it (like when he said “no one would care” if the LibDems disappeared). That would be a shame as generally speaking, he does know what he’s talking about and we need people like Hislop in the world, but if everyone thinks your simply taking the piss then they stop listening. So, Ian Hislop, your mission for next time is to agree with somebody about something, just to prove you can. And to stop your head wobbling so much. It makes me lose my train of thought.
A recalcitrant but worthy 6/10
The Crowd: Liverpool
So, we’re back in the North for the first ‘proper’ QT of the series and very northern it was too. The general feeling from the crowd was one of open suspicion (occasionally veering into open hostility) towards the coalition and a very real fear of what the cuts were going to bring. This is not to say that Labour were the apple of the audience’s eye either, but I think the Red Corner was probably the safest place to be on this episode. I must say that I quite enjoyed this instalment as I felt robbed by last week’s placid-yet-confusing Labour leadership show and although no one went properly nuts, there was enough friction in the air to keep me interested. Audience members of note this week include a guy with a thin face but a wide head who made me think the aspect ratio on my telly had broken and a beponytailed Scouser in a suit who went in for some impassioned wailing about the Lisbon Treaty that included the word ‘birthright’. There’s always one.
A steady 6/10
Omg! It’s done! I’m free! Free! Ok Lemmings, I’m outta here. I hope to be back next week, but there is quite a high chance that I may overdose on Civ and end up in a permanently psychotic state, shouting at the cats for not building the Three Gorges Dam damn quickly enough and telling the postman to declare war on Bismark. Addiction is an ugly thing Lemmings, an ugly thing.