Posts Tagged 'Middlesbrough'

Questionable Time #113


qt 113

Good morrow lemmings and a wet and windy welcome to this week’s edition of Questionable Time! One hopes the weather hasn’t spoiled your excitement for today’s event! So, without further ado and in the spirit of Bonfire Night, let’s set this place on fire. Flame on!

Behold the non-ginger DAlex

Dimbleby’s got his goldfish tie on this week so the answer to our first question – are we in crisis/a big lump of doggy doo-doo – is clearly yes.

First on the floor is Chazza Kennedy. How dare he get the show off to a great start by being sensible and likable. I won’t stand for this, on this show, my show, where one demands that all panellists be eye-twitching at least and vomit-inducing at most. But Charles ain’t into that. He thinks there’ll be another hung parliament, perhaps wishing it into being by sheer force of will, and tries to mention Nick Clegg as little as he possibly can. Excellent job Charlie. I have a feeling you’ll go far, you young rapscallion.

As Charles is busy being so rational, Dimbleby gets bored almost immediately and we jump straight to Douglas Alexander to ask him why Ed Miliband is so crap. Ed’s been having a tough week and election strategist Douglas is his first line of defence against the critics. However, this is rather spoiled by Wee Dougie being the most boring man in the world. If you were lucky enough to have seen his infamous Powerpoint at the Labour conference this year, you’ll know what I’m talking about. People were rolling in the aisles! Unfortunately, this was due to them all falling asleep at the same time.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

Dougboy asserts that Labour is still the best party out there, but Dimbles keeps rattling on about the whole Miliband issue. While Douglas attemps a comeback, Brandon Lewis, Conservative housing and planning minister, is on the scene. #Poppywatch: he’s got possibly the tiniest poppy in existence on his lapel. Careful Brandon, or you’ll get the Sun on your back for being a traitor! He rattles off some Tory achievements and says they’re working very hard in Rochester – I should think so, considering Michael Gove is relentlessly hounding Conservative MPs who don’t pay a visit like an awful Telltale Heart living under your floorboards.

Meanwhile comedian Matt Forde says that the fact that everyone is so moderate nowadays is all thanks to his hero, Tony Blair. Also, people should learn from Farage! I wonder if Nigel considers him part of the liberal comedy conspiracy? Then he does an impression of Ed Miliband and everyone stops for a moment to boggle in amazement and horror.

Oops, and here comes trouble – you see, there’s been a bit of a controversy relating to the lovely UKIP gentlemen in the front row. Turns out that the BBC invited three UKIP Parliamentary candidates into the front of the audience and took multiple contributions from them without mentioning the fact that they were candidates! The internet is in uproar, of course. I’m not sure how often PPCs from other parties are in QT audiences – can anyone verify? I don’t know, it just seems sketchy to me! #butthat’snoneofmybusiness

But really, what’s the difference when you have Melanie Phillips on the panel? Last time I saw her, she disappointed in not being particularly repellent in her views, possibly because she had been asked to tone it down due to shenanigans. And for now, she hasn’t unleashed the beast…yet. But do not fear, my sweets. Some prime-cut ridonkulousness is a-coming…

Finally, when asked about who would be a better Labour leader than Ed, a confused young man in the audience answers with this beautifully dignified reply:

“There’s, er…Chucka Oomanna…?”

The audience softly groans, like someone would when they hear a favourite TV show has been rescheduled for a different timeslot (although not their ultimate favourite, don’t want to get too exciting here). Looks like poor smooth Chuka’s out of the running then. (What about ‘anime eyes’ Andy Burnham? He’s definitely the prettiest and cutest, so he’d win the One Directioner vote. And Yvette Cooper happens to be a woman – they’re in vogue now.) Wow boys and girls, isn’t this exciting?

Kipper Klusters: rich in vitamin D

Now for some immigration talk and Melanie kicks the door down outta nowhere. Multiculturalism?! she rages. No! Not multiculturalism! National identity! We’ve always been Celts! And then Saxons! And then Normans! Damn, look at all that national identity! It’s okay if they’re from similar cultures…but weird ones? Weird to Melanie Phillips, that is? Oh no!

I’ve had enuff of this anti-EU guff! bellows Matt in return, and Brandon bravely fights back by sitting on the fence. Charles takes the always-popular line of dissing Thatcher (well, except in, like, Finchley) and, secondly, that UKIP guy in the audience. Then the rest of the audience also rounds on the front row Kipper Kluster, and chaos ensues. Fight! Fight! Fight!

Luckily, Douglas Alexander puts us all to sleep before someone can get hurt.

The next question is on the clusterfuck of an abuse inquiry that probably should have started by now. A big neon sign flashing ‘TREAD CAREFULLY’ practically lights up above the panel’s heads. Thankfully, all there is to report is some respectful discussion about appointing the right chair, and the nature of the establishment, but then…Melanie Phillips steps up in her own very special way. This inquiry is nonsense, apparently, because all sorts of terrible things happen all the time and nothing gets done about it. Then she points out that sexualisation of children is a societal problem – true, true – but then.

But then.

Sex education is apparently causing a ‘paedophile society’. That is literally what she said. Let it settle in. Let it marinate.

Yes, teaching kids about where babies come from and to respect their boyfriends and girlfriends – unforgivable! It caused Savile! No, hundreds of Saviles, dancing in a line! Well hand me a cigar and call me Jim’ll. The panel snorts in derision as they very well should.

Now let’s all listen to Charles Kennedy instead. I’m not even a Lib Dem or anything but…luv u Charlie 5eva (that means I luv him more than 4eva). Kiss kiss.

I apologise for Questionable Time’s institutional anti-North bias

Final question: should there be an elected assembly for the North East? I’m swiftly losing the will to live, so let’s make this quick. Sorry, Northern-types.

The crowd, who have already been extremely rowdy tonight, use this opportunity to hector with all their might. Melanie thinks this will all end in tears. Don’t we know it. Douglas drones on about how George Osborne needs to sod off. Don’t we know it. Charles Kennedy mentions Mags Thatcher for a third time this edition. Don’t we…know it?

In the end, nothing of any value is said and we all go home crying and snotty. I guess Melanie Phillips was right after all.

Time for the scores!

Kennedy: 9/10

Reign(s over QT like a pudgy ginger king)

Alexander: 5/10

(Did not have much to) Gain

Lewis: 5/10

Plain Jane

Phillips: 4/10

Bane (of one’s life)

Forde: 5/10

Pain(ful impressions aside…)

The Crowd: 7/10

Again, again!

Next time: WELSHYYYYyyyyYYYYyyyy

Next week Lemmings, next week…

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Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #28


Morning Lemmings and praise be: I finally feel better. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for my telly which has been afflicted by a nasty SCART (the most hateful connector ever devised by evil scientists) related disorder and consequently, everything I watch is now washed in an eery green hue, as if I’m peering through the sides of a dirty fishtank (I’ve rejigged this week’s title picture to try to convey just how unsettling this effect is). SCART related prattle aside, this week’s Question Time is somewhat of a biggy, what with all the Comprehensive Spending Review business going on and considering it was taking place in Middlesbrough (which I will from here on in refer to as MBro as I don’t like typing ‘Middlesbrough’… It makes me say ‘Middlesbruff’ in my head and that just sounds silly), I was expecting fireworks. Was this the case? Well, let’s just see.

The Menu

Q1: How can the government talk of fairness with cuts that’ll devastate the poor, the unemployed and the disabled?

Q2: Will the cuts push Mbro over the edge?

Q3: Britain used to rule the waves. Why are we now dependent on our NATO allies?

Q4: How come the banks are getting away with it when everyone else suffers?
In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Phillip Hammond, Secretary of State for Transport and multimillionaire.
Man, does Phillip Hammond look washed out. Seriously, I feel about 60 years old every time I look at him, what with that grey suit, that dishwater tint that hangs on him and those sad-looking, downward slanting eyelids. Not only that, but the way he presents himself is equally as soul sapping as he appears to be running a pretty hefty charisma deficit and seems to approach politics in a rather mundane, by-the-numbers sort of way. Obviously, there must be something going for Hammond as he’s managed to climb pretty high up the ranks of the Conservative party and has amassed quite the private fortune along the way. But whatever ‘that’ is, it’s a mystery to me and I was quite surprised to see him on tonight, given that there was a fair chance it could turn into a bloodbath. Then I thought about the alternatives: Lansley? His department’s had some good news which would give him a veneer of protection, but that timeshare spiv look that he’s got is too much of a liability given the circumstances. Gove? Again, good news for his department, but he’s a true believer and true believers can sound quite mad, which isn’t exactly great at a time like this. IDS? He’s a pretty good performer these days, but circumstances rule him out, what with benefits taking such a big hit. May? Nah, she’s a QT liability and 20% cuts to the police force are hardly going to endear her to the public. And Clarke? Ha! Not a chance! He’s way too capable of independent thought. So with all that in mind, maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to send Hammond on. After all, at least his department had some good news and while he’s hardly going to inspire the general public and put a song in their hearts, at least he’s dull enough to not cock anything up too majorly. So yes, I’m chalking him up as a counter intuitive canny pick.

Performance wise though, it was a really odd bag and one that can be largely summed as ‘Blame Labour’. Now, no one in their right mind would contest the fact that Labour did some pretty piss poor things in their time and it’s part of the game that any new government blames those that went before them. However, when it becomes the cornerstone of your narrative it starts to lose potency and very rapidly at that. This was clearly the case last night as every question Hammond answered on the night was loaded with huge quantities of ‘Blame Labour’ and at first, it worked, garnering some reasonable applause in the early stages. However, by Q2 it had started to sound like a mantra and there was even an outburst of booing when he wheeled it out again in Q3, making him look like a bit of a prat along the way. That said, he did have a few other tricks up his sleeve, notably his hammering of the ‘Fairness’ line in Q1 (describing the cuts as “the opposite of wicked”), but again, this didn’t hit the mark and felt much more like a regurgitation of spoon fed platitudes than any sort of heartfelt plea for understanding. Later attempts to highlight the positives of the North East’s economy in Q2 ended with mixed results as he got some crowdlove for mentioning Nissan, but this gain was later reversed when he said that Sunderland was growing strongly and everyone laughed at him (something which also happened in Q4 when he said in his ‘cross’ voice that the government were going to force the banks to sign the code of conduct). However, the real kicker for the night was when an enterprising member of the audience bought up the small subject of the Dispatches report that said he’d been a bit cheeky with his tax arrangements. Dismissing this as “unfounded inuendo”, he was then forced by Dimbers to admit that he had transferred shares to his wife. Jeering ensued and his dignity was the first casualty of the night.

Now, on paper, that looks terrible, but I have to admit that it could have been much, much worse. Yes, there was nothing to really commend his performance, but he did stick in there and there was some support for the Tory viewpoint, despite the fact that they’ve just announced cuts that sound even worse than the ones that originally gutted the North East in the first place. So, although I’m giving him a fairly crap mark for being generally nondescript and lacklustre, I’m also going to chuck one more on purely for the fact that anyone clapped him at all. Given the circumstance, that has to be worth something.

A dingy 4/10

In The Red Corner: John Denham, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Iraq War resigner of note.
Whilst I was doing my prefunctory google of tonight’s panelists, it occurred to me that John Denham is something of a conundrum. On the one hand, he’s been about for ages, sitting in government (and heading up some pretty hefty departments) since 1997 and he’s also been a regular face on our TV’s. Yet for the life of me, I can’t remember a single thing that he has said or done and I even needed reminding about his resignation over the war (which is the sort of thing I would remember). So what’s going on here? Is he a forgettable person? Well no, not really. He speaks well, looks comfortable in his own skin and smiles rather a lot, although not in a disingenuous sort of way. Does he have a history of buggering things up? Not really. Sure, he was a member of a government that ended up being wildly unpopular, but his credentials are pretty clean, doubly so as he at least he had the gumption to resign over the Iraq. So what is it? Well, it might just be that he’s a congenital klutz. It’s not his fault, it’s just that whatever he does and no matter how hard he tries, it just ends up not working quite as expected.

This tendency was apparent right from the start last as he attempted quiet a deft little maneuver in Q1. Faced with Hammond’s ‘Blame Labour’ line of attack, he didn’t go straight for denial and tried to reframe the argument around the fact that things would be an awful lot worse if Labour hadn’t borrowed money. The execution seemed fine, but somehow a sneaky little line from Hammond about Labour borrowing before the crisis derailed it and he was suddenly on the defensive again, flailing about quite badly until he managed to cobble together a half-hearted stab about growth being downgraded. That seemed to knock his confidence and he then took a backseat for most of the show, although he did land a good Forgemasters related punch in Q2 and also came across as quite genuine in Q4 when he admitted Labour hadn’t exactly been angels.

In many ways, Denham represents the flip side to Hammond’s performance in that he should have done really quite well tonight, but only just about managed to hold it together. Like last week’s Red Team outing, some of this is down to Labour not really knowing where they are right now, but I also can’t help thinking that Denham is in some way cursed. In theory, he’s got all the attributes that were required to make last night an easy win, but yet he didn’t and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. Highly puzzling.

A strangely lacking 5/10
In The Green Corner: Caroline Lucas MP, leader of the Green party and Link (of Zelda fame) lookalike (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

Poor old Caroline. The Greens have spent an eternity trying to get someone into parliament and were no doubt hoping to play on their novelty value to advance their agenda as best they could. Unfortunately for them though, they didn’t reckon on a coalition government sending the novelty ratings into outer space and as a consequence, the Greens are now even more of a sideshow than they were in the first place. Bad luck there Caroline, bad luck. However, she did get to cash in some of her hard-earned democratically elected chips tonight as the LibDems are nowhere to be seen. Whether this was by their design, I do not know, but they must be breathing a collective sigh of relief as I can hardly envisage an eager queue of yellow tied volunteers, champing at the bit to be bollocked by the general public.

Anyhoo, back to Lucas. As always, it was a very straight forward but largely good performance that I’m not going to dwell on too much as she’s already had plenty said of her in previous Match Reports. By and large, it was pretty textbook ‘to the left of [insert party here]’ stuff that was well received and harvested much applause. The one thing I did notice that was slightly different from usual was that she was really going at a rate of knots last night, reeling off huge lists of the potential harm in the cuts and even going so fast that her voice got squeaky at one point. Still, it was fairly assured sounding stuff and out of all the party political opponents, she clearly won. So good marks for you Caroline and I’ll see you the next time the LibDems can’t be bothered/aren’t allowed to show up.

The standard 6/10
In The Khaki Corner: General Sir Richard Dannatt, former Chief of the General Staff and meddlesome soldier.
I think it’s fair to say that as a breed, generals are pretty odd. Some of this I put down the fact that they spend most of their time devising ways to kill people, whilst the rest is probably due to having to spend your life in fancy dress, hardly something that promotes sanity. But yes, in the main they are an odd bunch. However, there is an even odder breed and those are political generals. Some countries absolutely beam off them, like America for example. They’ve had their Washingtons, their Grants, Eisenhowers and may someday have a Petraeus, but on the whole, we’ve spurned them as being simply too odd and even a little bit dangerous. Dannatt however, appears not to have received the memo stating these facts and last year, he made all sorts of noises about becoming a Tory advisor (with an eye towards a peerage and a seat in the cabinet) only to discover that Brown was going to everything in his power to stop this. And stop it he did, but Dannatt, although somewhat out on a limb, is still about and is pretty much the go-to guy for the media should they ever wish to indulge in some defence related mudraking… or Question Time appearances just after the Strategic Defence Review.

In actual fact, Dannatt turned out to be a bit of a damp squib, fudging his response to Q3 into an exercise in fence-sitting, whilst his response to all the other questions seemed well-meaning, but with a hint of unspoken paternalism that stopped people from getting behind him. And that’s the problem with political generals: They only really get anywhere if they win something big. As it stands, we’re as about as far away from a ‘win’ in Afghanistan as we ever were and trying to paint Iraq as any sort of victory is just self evidently wrong, so I’m afraid your out of luck on that front, General Sir Richard Dannett. I’d stick to the fancy dress and killing people if I was you.

A very middling 5/10

In The Brainy/Independent Corner: Polly Toynbee, Head Girl of the left leaning commentariat and bete noir of the right leaning commentariat.
Oh Polly, Polly, Polly… Back in 2007, everything was looking so good for you. Blair (who you warned us was up to no good) finally got the boot, your man Brown (who you told us was up to some very good things) got in and we could all look towards a gilded future of flying cars and Post Neo Classical Endogenous Growth Theory. Unfortunately, things started going very sideways, very quickly after that as it turned out that Brown wasn’t quite the political whizz you made him out to be and before long, you too were calling for his head on a plate. The unfortunate effect of this was that all that credibility you built up over the years started to ebb and it wasn’t long before you yourself were considered to be politically damaged goods. Sure, you never really had any fans on the right but after ‘Brown FTW!/Brown Sucks!’ saga, the left also began to turn on you and things started looking a little dicey.

Actually, I think that this turn of events is a bit of a shame as I do have time for Toynbee. She does genuinely care about fairness and while she’s been sort of bracketed as the left’s version of Melanie Phillips (albeit with a little more going on upstairs), I don’t think that’s entirely justified, as was in evidence last night. Take Q1: Here, she tried to get the point across that these cuts will be very damaging for Mbro but got ambushed by Dimbers asking whether it was Labours fault. When she said that this “wasn’t entirely true” the crowd turned on her and she started looking rattled, aware that she is seen as a cheerleader for the party and that this is not a good thing. This is where she’s different from the big name right-wing commentators because they would have ploughed on regardless, oblivious to the notion that they could be wrong. Toynbee sort of attempted that, but you could see doubt and hesitation in her, as if she knew and was bothered by the fact that people didn’t believe her. Would this happen to Phillips? Fuck no! Phillips would have barely broken a sweat and would be right back at the audience, shouting at them until they were too shell-shocked to offer any resistance and would then move on to call for someone (probably in the public sector) to be tarred and feathered. Toynbee though, is more vulnerable than that.

That’s not to say that she didn’t have good moments and points were made that the crowd liked, but when they were they took a long time to get going and any moves in the right direction always appeared slightly fraught and wobbly. As I said before, I think this is shame because there’s a lot to like in Toynbee’s views and I think she does what she does for the right reasons. But something is just not quite right with her at the moment. I don’t know if it’s that she feels genuinely haunted by her relationship with New Labour or that she’s just sick of always getting it in the neck, but yes, it’s an odd thing to witness. Then again, she has probably been exposed to quite toxic levels of Peter Mandelson back in the day and that really can’t be good for you.

A troubled 5/10
In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: George Pascoe Watson: Former Murdoch man and ex of Kate Burley.
I don’t know much about Pascoe-Watson except for the fact that it’s nearly impossible to say his name without sounding really posh. Try it: “Hellooooooooo…. my name is George Pascooooooooooe-Watson”. See? Posh. You can, if you try quite hard and throw in a few words here and there, jiggle it over to an almost Westcountry type lilt (“A’right moi luver, George Pasco-Whaaaatson ‘ere!”) but it’s a bit of a stretch and there’s far more mileage to be had in ridiculing the rich. Anyhoo, George Pascoe-Watson. I don’t really know much about the guy except that he used to be political editor of The Sun and seems to hold News International approved views on most things in life. Consequently, most answers were along the lines of ‘private good/public bad ‘ and ‘stuff that could potentially hurt sun readers is bad’, but he did manage to sneak a little fib into Q1 by saying that our national debt was just basically paying foreigners (when actually 80% of it is held by British people and institutions). In terms of audience response, he did OK, getting a fair old portion of the crowd behind him, but you know what? I just got the feeling that I didn’t like him that much. In my mind’s eye, I can see us sitting next to each other on a plane, heavily engaged in an undeclared but very real battle for the armrest. Neither of us would back down, nor we utter a single word. Instead, we’d just sit there, quietly fuming under a tidal wave of rage that was building in us both. For 23 hours. We’re flying to Australia for some reason. I’ll shut up now.

A forgettable 5/10

The Crowd: MBro

As expected, this was a lively episode, but not for the reasons I had anticipated. I was pretty sure that given it’s location and scale of the cuts, there would have been a very heavy anti coalition feeling in the air. However, it wasn’t that clear-cut and if I had to sum up this episode in a word, it would be ‘messy’. Yes, arguments from the left did seem to go down a better than the ones from the right, but not by the margin I had predicted and no one got a free ride on the night. There was also a sense that Labour have an uphill battle in getting people to forgive the mistakes of the last 13 years and that the Tories are succeeding in framing the debate around Labour’s ‘deficit denial’ (a clever bit of politics and one that Ed Miliband really needs an effective counter to). However, the coalition also have a big problem with the plan for growth and if this episode was anything to go by, people are less than convinced that private sector is going to ride to the rescue and rather frightened by the seeming absence of a Plan B.

As for the crowd themselves, they were very vocal and there was some genuine anger in the room, especially from some guy with a side parting who looked like he’d spent the last 24 hours winding himself up so that he could be super angry on the show. Audience Member of the Week however, goes to the gentleman with the bow tie. I haven’t got a clue what he said as I was too busy writing down ‘OMG! GUY WITH BOW TIE!!!!!!!’ but he was a welcome addition to the show and I hope very much that others will emulate this look on future episodes. I like seeing guys with bow ties. I always think they’re either going to perform a magic trick, cure cancer or bring me something really nice to eat, all of which I approve of. More of this, plz.

A fractious 7/10

Ok, that’s you’re lot. Please feel free to get back to fearing for your jobs. Good times!

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #4


Conti. Semi-naked. Harsh.

Morning Lemmings and say hello to Middlesbrough. I had to say hello to Middlesbrough recently. It was on a stag do and we had, for convoluted reasons, ended up drinking in the town’s Walkabout at around lunchtime on a Saturday. It was a new low. As it is unwise to delve deeper into this traumatic episode, let us hasten on the action: QTime meets M-Bro.

In the Red Corner: Lord Roy Hattersley, former Labour Deputy Leader and Spitting Image mainstay.

Who’s this odd looking creature that has emerged from the depths of the oceans? Why, it’s Roy Hattersley! It’s easy to be mean to Roy as he has a face built for ridicule but he is also somewhat of a political oddity as well. Back in the day, poor old Roy was often pilloried in the Labour party for being far to right wing. Luckily for him, when Tony Blair came along the left of the party pretty much ceased to exist and many of those who had been calling him names made their way quietly into the night. Unluckily however, Tony Blair drove the party so far to the right that it wasn’t long before he had a brand new set of tormentors who were now wailing on him for being too far on the left, quietly tutting away as he ensconced himself on the backbenches. Fair play to him though, he has survived and in many ways he represents the conscience of the Labour party, not so much in a fire-and-brimstone, old testament way, the likes of which Tony Benn busts out now and again, but in a much more quietly naggy way, chiding it for not doing it’s homework or hanging out with bad lads from the City. From the party’s point of view, he was a good choice for the show as there was a lot of potential for trouble that night. Middlesbrough, it seems, is inches away from having it’s industrial guts wrenched out again and Labour are highly vulnerable on this front as there’s only so many times you can play the ‘global recession’ card. Damage limitation is pretty much the best you can hope for and you could do a lot worse than sending in a back bencher who people associate with Labour’s much more pro-industrial past. It was a nice little sidestep and one they nearly got away with.

OK, so down to the action. First question up was about Gordon Brown’s interview with Piers Morgan. As he’s not in the cabinet, Roy had a certain amount of leeway on this and got away with damning our fickle culture whilst also concluding that actually, Gordon came out of it looking alright. The crowd were into that and buoyed by this, he had a crack at a mild joke (which was so forgettable that I forgot to write it down). This was met with sympathy titters but he was later thrown a bone by Ruth Lee who got a bit excited about Brown tanking the economy. Spotting an easy point, he confidently threw down the ‘global recession’ card and basked in the glory of solid applause. So far, so good Roy. Things were about to get tricky though, as the next question was about the Corus ‘mothballing’ and the room was positively seething about this (they applauded the question, for Christ’s sake!). I must confess that I’m not particularly up together on the ins and outs of multinational steel shenanigans, so when both he and Ruth Lea started getting deeply involved in a lot of talk about complicated sounding steel stuff, I drifted off a little. However, what was clear was that the crowd were not exactly enthused about what he had to say and although he escaped without getting mauled, neither could he claim any sort of victory (although he did get a brief flurry of applause by chastising his own party for neglecting industry), which is probably as good as it’s going to get for Labour right now. Calmer waters prevailed later as he picked up some low hanging fruit on the Nicholas Winterton question (the Tory MP who effectively called anyone travelling by second class ‘scum’), calling the man an “ass” and telling tales about David Cameron, while the Afghanistan and Ray Gosling efforts were fairly steady affairs. Encouraged by this, he went for a late flourish by defending the right to offend and warning of (perhaps a little over dramatically) ‘totalitarianism’ if we didn’t. As with most Roy Hattersley performances, it wasn’t an earth shattering affair, but it did allow Labour to escape relatively unscathed from what could have been a nightmare evening.

An assured 6/10

In Blue Corner: Rory Stewart, prospective Conservative candidate, former Deputy Governor of Maysan province, Afghan rambler and generally interesting bod.

I like Rory Stewart. He’s got a backstory and manner that are from a completely different age and he tends to talk a great deal of sense when it comes our deranged foreign adventures. In the past, he’s absolutely run circles around MP’s on the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan and he can back up his impressive knowledge with equally impressive first hand experience. That sort of thing terrifies professional politicians Tonight though, was going to be interesting as I’m pretty sure this has been the first time he’s been on under the official Tory banner and that meant he was going to have to at least try and do the party line thing. So how did he fair? Well, on the Gordon Brown/Piers Morgan number, he was actually quite nice to the big man which was quite refreshing really and he too had a pop at a joke (about the ‘mile high’ club question) which went down better than Hattersley’s effort but failed to set the world aflame. However, the Corus question presented a much thornier problem as if Labour were in the dog house on the issue, then the Tory’s were even further up to their necks in it, particularly given some painful memories that are still very much alive in the North-East. Wisely, Stewart stayed well away from the whole mess, uttering a few sentences of not-a-great-deal before slinking back into cover and letting Hattersley and Lea fight it out. He did look out of his depth, but at least he resisted doing a Baroness Warsi by diving in straight at the deep end on matters he really wasn’t up together with. He even got some props from the audience later on when he ventured out for a quick dig at Mandelson. Let us not forget though that saying nasty stuff about Mandy is pretty much an assured win where ever you are, so let’s not get carried away. On Winterton, it was fairly easy as the Tory’s have pretty much disavowed him and he was free to bad mouth the guy. He also managed to see Dimbleby’s “would you go 2nd class?” raise by inviting him to go with him and that was duly rewarded by the audience. Afghanistan was the question that he really got to flex his muscles on and it was a tour de force, appearing grown up and yet far from patronising. His main strength on this front was that this guy does nuance in a big way and isn’t afraid to tell people that the reality of the situation is going to be long, difficult and messy. People appreciate being treated like adults and it is fair to say that he came across as totally devoid of bullshit. Saying that we need less troops rather than more is also a winner and while he wasn’t saturated in applause, you could see that the crowd took him seriously. A robust performance. The rest of his answers weren’t so steady and he got sidetracked by some Commandments quoting on the Ray Gosling question and a minor tiff with Hattersley on the same subject. Although he ended well on the freedom to offend question, you can tell he has some work to do when it comes to the whole politics deal and that when people start asking about things other than foreign policy, he has dangerously little to say. Take my advice Rory, stick with what you know and don’t get blagged into being a party man. No one will thank you for it.

A potential laden 7/10

In the Yellow Corner: Lynne Featherstone, Lib Dem Youth and Equality Issues Spokesperson and Stationary Hoarder.

I’m not overly familiar with Lynne Feathstone and can’t recall whether she’s been on before or not. Sadly, I’ll probably be saying the exact same thing next time she appears as she really didn’t stand out too much last night. She had a solid start by confessing that she actually quite liked “grumpy Gordon Brown” and that trying to rebrand him was a bit sad, which seemed to resonate with the audience, but she failed to really get stuck into the Corus question (which was a shame as she represented the only political party that could have possibly made some hay out of the issue) and simply concluded that investing in jobs is “good”. Well done there. She did pull it back a bit with an answer that sounded heartfelt on the Ray Gosling hot potato, but on everything else she was just a little flat. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a cock up by any measure but I couldn’t help thinking that if she was just a little quicker on her feet, she could have scored some big points for the Lib Dems.

A ‘Must Try Harder’ 4/10

In the Independent/Brainy Corner: Ruth Lea, Right Wing Economics Fruit and Nut Bar and Perennial Spinster.

I only noticed yesterday quite how much Ruth Lea resembles that odd little boy who was an antiques expert on Wogan when he was 12 and then grew up and had a sex change (see Fig, 1).

Separated at weird birth?

Fig. 1

Anyhoo, Ruth Lea occupies a similar place in my heart to Douglas Murray: I couldn’t disagree with her more on pretty much everything, but I have all the time in the world for people who really don’t give a shit about what everyone else thinks. In the past, Ruth Lea has demonstrated this complete lack of social fear with considerable aplomb, but tonight I felt there was something lacking, that some vital spark simply wasn’t there. I think this was partly to do with who she was up against as there’s usually a culpable frontbencher for her to sink her teeth into. On this week’s show, she had to make do with a back bencher who hasn’t been anywhere near the levers of power for nearly 20 years and although she did get into a fair few scuffles with him, it failed to draw out her usually torrent of blood and stomach pills. The only other people who seemed to be up for a scrap were the audience and although she had a good crack at defending the indefensible, even she sensed she was out numbered and outgunned. On the non-economic questions, she was unable to get into her stride and adopted a position of minor belligerence that failed to provoke any decent outrage and much to my disappointment, she failed to wind me up. Come on Ruth, I’ve grown accustomed to your rabid free market tirades and I won’t settle for anything less. Next time I demand to see at least a little bit of foam around your chops.

An Unduly Moderate 5/10

In the I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Tom Conti, actor and thesp.

It seems that Tom Conti is largely famous on account of being in Shirley Valentine. Considering I was 9 when it came out and thought that it definitely needed more explosions to be watchable, you’ll forgive me for having no string recollections of him (although I am into his daughter’s awesome ventriloquist act). Having said that, he was pretty entertaining tonight, coming across as a slightly drunk uncle who thinks he’s just found the answer to some pressing issue and gets wildly evangelistic about it over dinner, even though it’s as clear as day that his idea is totally shit. He started off by completely blind siding everyone by simple refusing to answer the first question as it involved the death of a child and could not be coaxed to comment further on the matter. However, he roared back to life for the Corus question and lost no time in making a full blown economic recovery plan on the fly. It went a little like this:

Cars → Made of steel → Tarta make steel and cars → Tarta make cars out of steel → Corus is owned by Tarta → Blah!

I have a feeling the audience was aware that it was probably slightly more complicated than this, but his slightly lopsided enthusiasm was hard to resist and he picked up a fair bit of applause. He then heard someone mention something about “orders” and seized on this as the crux of the whole issue. Looking gravely concerned about these “orders” he demanded to know why no one was getting any of them and then seemed drift off, consumed by vision of invoices and stock ledgers. Snapping back to life in time for the Winterton chunter he then took the deeply unorthodox position of saying that MP’s lived “a hand to mouth existence.” and that they “need” to travel first class. “Need”. That’s a brave man right there. Afghanistan was a similar cocktail of bat shit crazy as he pointed out that we were way “too nice” to win, the logic being that the Soviets were well nasty and even they lost. Continuing this reductive path, he ended the question with a call to “help women!” and that was the end of that. Talk of murder and Ray Gosling bought lead him into some feverish speculation about his “motives” while the right to offend drew out a Braveheartesque “Freedom!” outburst followed by a less Braveheartesque “Society is crumbling!” eruption. I’m not sure if he himself entirely understood what he was going on about but he said it all with such conviction that I’d happily go along with it.

A random but enthralling 8/10

The Crowd: Middlesbrough

I felt so sorry for the audience tonight. Over the last 30 years, the North East has been consistently dealt a shitty hand and within that hand, most of the worst cards ended up in Middlesbrough. With very fresh, bad news, steaming away on their front door, it’s understandable that people would want to lash out a little. However, on tonight’s show, there really wasn’t a suitable target. Sure, Ruth Lea got herself into hot water a few times but she doesn’t really have that much blood on her hands and in the place of the real baddies (i.e. a frontbencher from either Labour of the Tories) were a guy who’s too old, reasonable and too far removed from power to be implicated and a new boy who simply wasn’t going to get in a fight. They did succeed in making their anger very visible and the best point of the night was made by a guy who pointed the grim truth that it would be the BNP and UKIP who would clean up on this, but they certainly didn’t get there pound of flesh and that’s unfair. Having said that, there were some notable individuals in the crowd including the most awesome moustache I’ve seen in a long while on QTime, a guy with a sore face and my mate Laura’s mum (who had the good fortune of sitting behind the guy with the awesome moustache). Middlesbrough, it was a valiant effort that was not without dignity, but I’m afraid the major parties managed to do a number on you this time. Gutted on your behalf.

A brave endeavour, sadly stymied. 8/10

So there we have it, our first tie. Congrats to the audience for their justified anger and well done Tom Conti for being off your tits. Come back next week for further nerding out.


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