Morning Lemmings and welcome back to LCCPQTMR, now skippered by a year older (although probably not a year wiser) Loudribs. Ok, so this week we’re in Maidstone and I had high hopes for this episode as it contained not one, but two panelists for whom I have a perverted political crush: Step forward Ken Clarke and Nigel Farage. Anyhoo, did this episode deliver the goods or leave me wanting? Did Farage finally just flip out and start goosestepping through the audience or did serenity reign? More importantly, am I going to get this finished before the new series of Peep Show begins? Let us stop with this time-wasting and find out.
Q1: In the light of the Greek and Irish bailouts, is the Euro doomed?
Q2: Do today’s comments by Howard Flight really show us what the Tories think of the citizens of this country?
Q3:Does this week’s immigration cap match the Prime Minister’s rhetoric?
Q4: In view of the current climate of austerity, is it ludicrous to spend £2 million on a happiness survey?
Q5: Is it OK for the PM to take part in a joke that calls the Speaker a dwarf?
In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Kenneth Clarke, Secretary of State for Justice, Lord Chancellor and all round good times guy.
It struck me today that Ken is like one of those kids at secondary school who should, by rights, be bullied absolutely mercilessly but for some reason isn’t. Let’s take a second to ponder the evidence. First off, it’s always been abundantly clear that Ken doesn’t go with crowd. Whilst all the other kids are listening to N-Dubz or whatever ‘Urban’ sounds constitute ‘cool’ for the teenage demographic these days (or in the case of the Conservative party, pathological Euro scepticism), Ken isn’t. So surely he’s part of a catch-all subculture that provides a veneer of social acceptance for his fellow misfits and instead listens to My Chemical Romance and paints his nails black (or in the case of the Tory party, hangs out with Phillip Blond and the rest of his bleeding heart Red Tories)? Well no, he doesn’t do that either. In fact, no one knows what Ken Clarke is into because the one time someone was brave enough to sneak a peek at his iPod, they were confronted a list of bands that no-one had ever heard of. Imagine a contemporary teenage Slint fan, that’s where Ken’s at. On top of this, he gets good grades but is never accused of being a swat, he smokes behind the bikeshed but no-one ever nicks his fags (mainly because they’re Gitanes or Sobraini Black Russians) and he always manages to avoid PE without ever being tarred as wimp. How the hell does he do this?
Part of this is inevitably down to his record: All the kids remember how he managed to sneak a ‘teenth into his bag for the Year 9 Residential (or in parliamentary terms, how he was one of the most successful Chancellors of modern times) and there’s also universal (if grudging) respect for the way he always gets served at the offy whilst even the kids with beards are turned away (or in his case the way in which he commands a certain level of respect from all parties in Parliament). But that’s not the whole story and to piece together the rest of the puzzle it’s worth taking a look at how he operates.
I’ve already highlighted a fair few Kenisms in past Post Match Reports, such as his trademark Damning With Faint Praise routine, but I noticed something else this time his round: His ability to milk a good lie. For more orthodox politicians, getting out of a politically sticky situation is usually an exercise in the deployment of either Mobility (the art of convincingly brushing a subject under the carpet before anyone notices) or Sincerity (no matter how faux that sincerity may be). Blair was very good at the Sincerity thing and manage to squeeze just about every ounce of utility out of his “Look…guys…” shtick for a good few years before everyone got wise to it. Brown, on the other hand, always knew he couldn’t do Sincerity (although he was quite adept at Gravity) and would try to go for Mobility instead. Unfortunately, he also sucked at the Mobility thing and we all know how that ended up whilst Cameron seems very good at both of these aspects and if I’m honest, that rather worries me. What makes Ken special he is that he spurns both of these methods and instead concentrates on turning his own lies to his advantage. Take Q1. Here, he was ambushed by Dimbers on his long and extensive history of Euro Lust and asked whether he still wants in on the whole Eurozone deal to which Ken replied “I have no idea”. Clearly, this is a lie. A big, fat, stinking whopper of a lie, yet it was delivered in that ‘nudge-nudge, wink-wink, read between the lines’ sort of way that left you in absolutely no doubt what his true opinion was but never being explicit enough to land him in trouble with his own team. Now, that’s harder to do in practice than it seems (just look at Ed Balls and his distinguished track record of Rubbish Lying) and goes a long way to explaining how Ken has managed to keep this unimpeachable air of independence about him despite being a high-ranking front bencher. Plausible deniability: It’s the name of Ken’s game.
Aside from that, other notable turns by Ken this week include his zinger of a line on Q2 (“people breed for other reasons”), a chosty little scrap with Gloria de Piero and even a brief outburst where he ‘shhhed’ Dimbers. He even got to cram a nice bit of vintage Damning With Faint Praise on Q5 (John Bercow is “very good… Can be a little School Masterly”) so in general, it was your usual Ken. However, the thing that got me was just how far removed from government he seemed. Seriously, I needed reminding that he is actually Secretary of State for Justice and the by-product of this ability to distance himself from his role is that he managed to avoid taking any serious flak from the crowd. Ok, so it wasn’t an incendiary performance by any measure, but in terms of showing off a political larder that’s stocked with the most exotic of goods it was all good stuff. MOAR PLZ KEN.
A crafty 7/10
In The Yellow Bit of the Blue/Yellow Corner: The Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, ex-Lib Dem Leader and one time de facto ruler of large swathes of the Balkans.
Paddy Ashdown has no eyes. I have suspected this since being a small child but there has been no means of verifying this assertion as the place where his eyes should be lie so deeply recessed within his skull that you would need one of those probes they send to Venus to actually find out for sure. At least that is what I thought until I came across a piece of shocking photographic evidence that I have displayed below (see Fig. 1).
You see? No eyes! Just a pair of obsidian sink holes that appear to exert their own gravity and are probably composed of anti-matter. Shocking, I know but you can’t argue with the facts.
Anyhoo, Paddy’s in town and he, much like Ken, also has this air of separation from the mainstream world but in a different way. Whilst Ken seems very comfortable in his oddness and carries it well, you get the sense that with Paddy, separateness is something that was inflicted on him rather than something he chose to wear. I say this because he always seems very detached from the rest of his peers, but in a way that’s hard to pin down. Part of it may be that he’s lived quite an extraordinary (and probably at times horrific) life, what with being ex-SBS and effectively ruling Kosovo for a period but there’s something else there that just makes me think that he walks in a different world to you or I. For example, his performance tonight was a pretty by-the-book affair where most of the stuff he said was reasonable enough (although he did get pulled up by the crowd for claiming that it was the Lib Dems who were stopping the Tories from being Uber Tories in Q3), but never was he able to really carry the audience with him and I was left with the impression of a little boy who was trying desperately to impress his parents whilst simultaneously striving to appear like he wasn’t trying to impress anyone. I know that sounds all very Freudian and hyperbolic, especially as there were moments (like when he seemed to have a genuinely good laugh at Cameron’s dwarf joke) where he seemed authentically human but I still think there’s something about him that makes him look a little, well, haunted. Mind you, he did have to go up against Thatcher at the Dispatch Box for a couple of years and if that doesn’t send you a little plumb loco, god knows what would.
An emotionally orphaned 5/10
In The Red Corner: Gloria de Piero, Shadow Minister for Culture and Media and former GMTV hackette.
Move over Ol’ Snaggletooth, there’s a new contender for Shadow Minister for Sauciness in town! Yes, that’s right, de Peiro has upped the Fruity Pictures Stakes to the point where you could probable get into quite a bit of trouble for running a Google Images search on her at work and I fear that Flint may have quite the fight on her hands. However, before I get too stuck into a raging torrent of misogyny there’s another issue at stake when it comes to de Piero and that’s what would have happened if she had entered parliament in 1997? I asked this because she seems to the manifestation of what pure New Labourism would have ultimately developed into if it had not been so rudely interrupted by a crushing electoral defeat. I don’t mean this in the sense of her beliefs (in fact I can’t really tell you about her beliefs as this is the first time she’s crossed my radar), but in terms of pedigree and posture, she appears to be pure NuLab. For a start, she’s from a media background and not just any media background but from the weird half touchy-feely, half uncompromisingly authoritarian netherworld that is GMTV but she also seems to travel very light when it comes to such trivial matters as beliefs. Seriously, in terms of her answers to last night’s questions, it’s very hard to get a sense of what bricks her political house is made of and all of her responses relied very heavily on the potency of her delivery (and it was potent at times) rather than their content. Take Q2 for example: Here, she started off with a slightly hot under the collar telling off about what a nasty man Flight is that eventually resulted in applause after a brief and slightly bewildered silence, but then spent the rest of the question biting off any head that dared to question this and generally looking for any reason to have a go. Similarly, Q4 was just a lunge at the obvious (politicians should “talk to people”) and never was there any danger that the wider issue (which was ‘should we care about happiness?’) should creep into the frame.
This is why I can only see her through New Labour lenses: Pretty much her whole performance was based around the use of single, sweeping and simplistic statements and then a fall back position of combative reactiveness in much the same way that the governments of both Brown and Blair were based on a larger version of this principle. That’s not to say that her delivery wasn’t good (it was) and I have a feeling that I may be being a little unfair here as a) it’s her very first time on and I don’t really know that much about her, b) I missed her response to Q5 as I was too busy scribbling down the name of a dwarf activist group that Dimbers mentioned (Walking with Giants. Catchy name!) and c) she was up against some very seasoned veterans, but the original question still stands: What would have happened if she was in Parliament in 1997? She’d be Leader of the Labour Party by now, Jeremy Kyle would be Home Secretary and Question Time would be hosted by Fern Britton, that’s what.
A well delivered but paper thin 4/10
In The Red, White And Blue Corner: Nigel Farage, MEP, Leader of UKIP (again) and all-round comedy demagogue.
Here he is, Inexplicable Political Crush #2, Nigel Farage! Yes, that’s right, my favourite Amateur Cad/Cheater of Firey Plane Death is on again and boy did I have high hopes for him tonight given that not only is Europe in a whole heap of trouble but also because one of his colleagues had just this week thought it prudent to shower a German MEP with a mouthful of Nazi slogans. Thus thought I, the scene would be set for a perfect example of the Farage Trajectory and I could have a good laugh as he lurched from The Giddy Highs of Victory to the Crushing Lows of Defeat. However, I was to be disappointed and while we did get to see him being fairly mental about Europe (although only mental by normal standards, not by Farage standards), no-one mentioned the whole ‘ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuehrer’ incident and as a result, there was no real opportunity for the whole Crushing Lows of Defeat scenario. All of which is a double shame as I spent ages on Wednesday night messing about with stuff I don’t know how to operate in order to make an animated picture that perfectly encapsulates the Farage Trajectory in all it’s glory (see Fig. 2).
So yeah, I’m a bit miffed, particularly as I have to credit Farage with quite a lot of applause and not very many boos last night. Still, at least I can take comfort in the fact that he will inevitably be back on in less clement circumstances sooner or later (providing that UKIP hasn’t imploded under the weight of its own absurdity) and when he is, that animated picture will have at least three frames in it. Three frames, Nigel, THREE FRAMES. You have been warned.
A not nearly mental enough 5/10
In the Independent/Brainy One Corner: Kate Mosse, author and QT n00b.
Ok, so here we have a very interesting approach to being a Question Time panelist. I’m guessing that by and large, when people know that they’re going on QT they probably try and bone up a bit on stuff that’s going on and how they feel about that stuff because if you don’t, you’ll probably end up looking like a bit of a tit. Kate Mosse however has chosen a slightly different approach and I must say, not a fully functional one at that. Take Q1. As soon as it came to her turn, rather than make any attempt to answer it herself, she violated The Protocols of Dimbers by simply asking the guy who asked the question what he thought the answer was and then lifted that as her own. Genius! No wait, actually it wasn’t genius and no one bought it. At this point, I’d probably try and rethink my tactics and to her credit, she did. However, her new tactics weren’t so great either and Mosse’s response to Q2 was “I agree with everyone here”. Ok, I’m being cruel now as she did eventually cobble that into a semblance of a platitude, but still, it was fairly shonky. Q3 was also quite confusing when she recited a big list of things that could be good or bad about immigrants and then gestured to the audience to carry on going (which they didn’t) and at this point I thought the game was pretty much up for her. However, what I hadn’t counted on was her response to Q4 and that totally blindsided me for it seemed that she had been boning up, just on one, very specific subject. As soon as that happiness question landed, she was all over it and even went to lengths of throwing in references to the relevant literature as she went before finally petering out and calling for libraries not to be shut. Stunned, the audience clapped in an effort to comfort themselves in the face of information overload.
So yes, a very odd appearance that encompassed some very peculiar tactics with wildly varied results. It wasn’t terrible but if there’s one tiny bit of advice that I might impart it would be ‘spread your boning up butter on your Question Time toast a little more evenly next time’. That is all.
A slightly head scratching 4/10
The Crowd: Maidstone
My my, they’re a well turned out lot in Maidstone and with the exception of one old man who looked like he lived in a house made of coal, everyone looked rather dapper. Politically, it was an odd show as their didn’t really seem to be a representative of the government there (despite there being two coalition members on the panel, one of whom is on the front bench) and most of the argy-bargy tended to be Europe related (I think the Euro Sceptics made the most noise all-in-all). What particularly struck me about the Maidstone crowd was the names of the question askers, two of which had very confident monikers: Mark Power and Mark Everest. I so wish my last name was ‘Power’ or ‘Everest’. Loudribs Power. Dr Loudribs Power. Who the hell wouldn’t be impressed by that? No one, that’s who.
An odd but enjoyable 6/10
So there we go. A bunch of oddballs yacking in front of a very dapper crowd. Here’s a picture of Beefy.
...and lo, there was Beef.
Next week, Lemmings.