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Morning Lemmings and rejoice, for Normal Service has resumed. Refreshed and reinvigorated from THE BEST NIGHT EVUR I return to you with renewed vim, pep and possibly ‘zing’. How long this state of affairs will persist however, is somewhat up for debate as most of this instalment will be brought to you from the back of the Leeds to Exeter Megabus and as most Megabus veterans will know, The Cheapskate’s Chariot is the sworn enemy of vim, pep and ‘zing’. Yes, that’s right, abandon all hope as you fold your 6’2” frame into the sweaty, mobile pressure cooker of low budget purgatory. Vim, pep and ‘zing’ won’t help you here, no siree. Only gumption, grit, and possibly ‘moxie’ will save you now. So with this in mind, let us trundle uncomfortably on to this week’s Question Time, bought to you by the denizens of Witney.
Q1: Following Saville, should further inquiries be started for victims on all sides?
Q2: Are today’s £2bn worth of cuts a tax on jobs and future industries?
Q3: Is David Cameron standing up for the national interest in the BP scandal?
Q4: In light of Ken Clarke saying that we should abolish short sentences, should we now send less people to jail?
In The Yellow Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Chris Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, one time LibDem leadership contender and strangely rodent-esque face possessor.
Oh, Chris, just when I was just beginning to like you, you have to go and wreck it all by renouncing the bulk of what you’ve been telling us for years in the space of a few weeks. It wasn’t always like this and back in the day, my feelings towards Huhne were largely in the ‘meh’ category in that I just couldn’t find an angle on him. I tried, time and time again, to form a cogent opinion about the man, but every time it seemed to be thwarted by his overpowering genericness. Sure, those chipmunk cheeks and that slightly jaundiced, John Redwood-esque hue his skin has gave me a few visual handles to cling onto, but apart from that, the only remarkable thing about him was the lack of anything remarkable about him.
However, that began to change over time and with prolonged exposure came the sense that there might be something going on under that very MOR exterior. He’d occasionally have the odd good turn in parliament, he seemed to be pretty consistent and there wasn’t anything that was particularly unlikable about him. Sure, his economics might be a little too liberal for my liking, but he was a million miles away from the nuttier side end of the spectrum and his stance on social policy was generally up my alley. So well done Chris Huhne, finally you made an (albeit delicate) impression on me and our future together looked reasonably sunny, although possibly interspersed with the odd shower here and there.
What I wasn’t banking on was seeing Huhne on the frontbenches and since then, it’s been pretty much wet playtimes all round. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to look at how he did last night. Have at you, sir!
OK, so it all started pretty well with Q1 and there wasn’t really much that could go wrong with his response, given that Cameron has genuinely handled the outcome of the Saville Inquiry very well. All that he really needed to do was damn Jeffrey Donaldson’s ‘this ain’t over’ posturings with faint praise, throw in some ‘need to move forward’ stuff and chuck a few props in the direction of his new patron. The result? Steady message, steady applause, Steady Old Chris. However, this eminently moderate state of affairs was not to last and along came Q2, resplendent in it’s potential to start throwing his stance wildly off kilter. Hain was given first crack at this one and immediately made it personal by saying he couldn’t “understand why Chris Huhne is in this government”, given the LibDems pre-election stance on the economy. Huhne played this by the numbers, tried to turn it into a debate about Labour’s legacy and invoked Liam Byrne’s now infamous “there’s no money left note” (which I still think is genuinely funny). Now, I don’t have a problem with this as it’s part of the game: As soon as you get into office, you have 3 month window where you can blame more or less anything on your predecessors folly. England lose the World Cup? Labour’s fault. Some damn fool has commissioned another series of Alan Carr:Chatty Man? Labours fault. The internet finally collapses under the weight of spammy Farmville updates? Labours fault. That’s cool with me. It’s simply the way it is. However, what annoyed the living crap out of me was how he then went on to play the Greece card not once, not twice, but six times. The first time (where he it spiced up with some ‘think of your mortgage’ bogymanery) was fair enough and he even got some moderate claps on it’s second outing, but six times? Come on Chris, that’s just weak, especially when you spent most of your pre-election working days calling bullshit on the Tories for exactly the same thing. Colour me unimpressed.
Next up was Q3 on the BP disaster and his response to this felt just a little incoherent. At the start, he had a prissy little tiff with Platell, then got a sustained needling from Dimbers and ultimately failed to deliver a message that really hung together. It wasn’t a disaster, but then it wasn’t really a triumph either. Q4 was a little better in that it sounded fairly reasonable, but still, hardly a seismic reversal of fortunes and my overriding memory of his performance come be summed up in one word: “Greece”.
Part of me is now saying “Go easy on Huhne. This is a coalition so of course he’s going to have to play ball with things he doesn’t agree with” and there’s a certain amount of truth in that. However, what riles me is how convincing he looks, parroting the new party line. Take a look at this video of Vince Cable being kicked about by Paxman: You can tell that St. Vince is having a huge amount of trouble justifying to himself and the world at large exactly why it is that he’s done a complete U-turn on his former views and seems deeply uneasy about the whole affair. Similarly, Simon Hughes’ last outing on Question Time was characterised by heavy doses of lip biting: He did his best to read from the new script, but he clearly felt awful doing it. I like that as it shows both of these men to be very human and aware that what they’re doing is going to piss a lot of people off (especially those who voted for them). You don’t get that with Huhne and he now comes across like one of those annoying ex-smokers who berate their former brethren and get very sanctimonious about the virtues of a vice-free life. I don’t like those people.
Credit rating downgraded to 3/10
In Red Corner: Peter Hain, MP for Neath and long term Labour survivor.
Another parliament, another four years of Hain. I make that sound like a bad thing, but it doesn’t actually upset me too much as I have a bit of time for him. What I can’t abide however, is his ‘Take that back Sir!’ face he pulls when someone has a go at him. It’s just all a little overplayed, overindignant and underwhelming. Cases in point are littered all over the show in Q2 where he was grappling with an overly zealous Huhne. The content was all fine as he gave him quite the bollocking for post-election change of heart, but the manner in which he said it was just a little too over the top (as well as getting busted by Dimbers over the difference between real, actual jobs and potential, maybe future jobs). That’s a shame, because a cooler approach could have resulted in a great deal of hay being made and I can’t help feeling that even though he emerged the victor, he still managed to throw away some easy points. Apart from that it was a pretty standard outing with some considered and entirely reasonable arguments put forward in Q1 and a bit of crowd pleasing ‘oil addiction’ (and none-too-subtle Ed Miliband namechecking) in Q3. Q4 looked dodgier as he made some point about women with mental health issues before lurching into a quick ‘paedos and rapists’ clamour. That didn’t look so great, but generally speaking, he did OK.
And that’s just as well because I have a feeling that Hain’s going to be in parliament long after I’m dead. I’m not predicting that I’m heading for an early grave, I just get this feeling that Hain is going to somehow cheat the laws of the natural world and outlast us all to be somewhat over-dramatic on the backbenches for ever more. Don’t ask me why, it’s just a feeling I have.
An alright but highly strung 5/10
In The Red, White And Blue Corner: Jeffrey Donaldson, MP for Lagan Valley and Trimble upsetter.
I had a lot riding on this guy’s performance tonight, mainly because I’d had real trouble doing the photoshops prior to the show (I’ve already done the only funny photo of Hain, Platell doesn’t look grumpy enough in any of her online shots and I couldn’t find a chipmunk that looked sufficiently like Huhne). However, I did find a shot of Donaldson looking like a 80’s stand-up comic that did appear to hold promise. I managed to hash that together into rudimentary 5 panel comic, but there was one problem: The punchline would only work if he dropped a real clanger on the show (or had a total tumbleweed moment) and as my little netbook isn’t exactly a high grade supercomputer, I wouldn’t be able to edit it after the event (at least not without klutzing about at one in the morning). However, I must say that the omens looked pretty good, considering he’s a hard bitten Unionist who’s not exactly been entirely enthusiastic about the peace process and that he’s not on his home turf. So did it work out for me or was my last ditch pshop effort a complete waste of time? Time to find out.
It started promisingly enough with Q1 and he wasted no time in pretty much ignoring the Saville verdict, making a few allegations about Martin McGuiness and submachineguns and then demanding inquiries for Unionist victims (providing they were cheap enquiries). There was a little love from the audience on this but some nice little scraps erupted between him and Kennedy later on and it looked as if my clanger moment might actually come to pass. As it was, it didn’t and he managed to rescue the situation by praising the British Army right at the end of the question. That got a lot of applause and with it went my best chance at getting some cheap laughs out of him. Dammit Donaldson! Do you think image based jokes grow on trees?
Things got worse for me in Q2 as he got a very positive response to how they reinvest tax revenue in Northern Ireland while some yank bashing in Q3 also won him some claps. Gah! One question left and still no absolute clanger! Luckily for me, he did come close enough to what could be construed as a tumbleweed moment on the last question, mainly by completely missing the point and making some bitter statement about victims. Silence ensued. Ok, so it wasn’t a major faceplant, but I reckon it was enough for me to get away with. Check out Fig. 1 but please don’t hold me responsible for any lack of laughter that transpires. I can only work with what I got.
Aside from my rather self absorbed concern for whether my pshop worked, how did he do? Well, not that great, truth be told. As I said at the beginning, he has a reputation as a dyed-in-the-wool Unionist who really can’t abide working with the enemy and these days, that just looks a little sad. I say this as someone who is old enough to remember the later years of the Troubles, but too young to have a good grasp of the overarching narrative, but still it does seem like the world has moved on while Donaldson remains resolutely the same. And that’s a bit of a shame.
A bygone 4/10
In The Independent/Brainy Corner: Baroness Helena Kennedy, Labour peer and ethics buff.
I didn’t know much about Kennedy prior to this show so I looked her up on wikipedia and bugger me if she hasn’t sat on every worthy sounding committee/group ever created in the history of mankind. Not only that, but she must also have enough letters after her name to make some pretty impressive swear words with and she is positively dripping with honours.
Anyhoo, how does this translate into real life? In a word, ‘hardcore’. She knows her stuff and is not to be messed with. This was pretty evident from Q1 as she made a big deal of the Army being ‘agents of the state’ and thus more accountable than most. This went down well and despite some resistance from Platell and Donaldson, she took home a lot of crowd love for her efforts. Q2 saw her decry the government spending cuts as “absolute folly” and “a madness” (not just any madness, ‘a’ madness) before opening both barrels on Huhne for being “sheep’s clothing” for a Tory government. That went down very well. Q3 was more sedate, although she did manage to needle Huhne some more while blaming everything on ‘oil addiction’ while Q4 saw her signing up to the Ken Clarke Fan Club with much gusto (whilst also ticking off Labour for their prison happy ways). All in all, a pretty assured outing.
So that was Helena Kennedy. I still don’t know a great deal about her, but I know that I’m not going to go out of my way to have a scrap with her as her brain alone would beat me to a bloody pulp.
A mentally forceful 7/10
In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Amanda Platell, Mail Columnist and general decrier of everything.
Gah. Platell. Let’s keep this short and sweet. Platell annoys me. She annoys me because she is constantly wearing a look of disapproval, is actually constantly disapproving of everything and generally pushes all the buttons that Mail Columnists tend to push. By and large, these aren’t good buttons and let’s just leave it at that, alright?
On last nights show, she started in a strangely consensual mood on Q1, before scuzzing that up by overemoting on this that and the other. Q2 boiled down to a visceral hatred of the Stonehenge Visitors Centre while Q3 presented her with an ideal opportunity to have a stab at the yanks (to be fair, her ‘if they hate us so much then send our troops home line’ did go down very well). Finally, she got to give David Cameron and Ken Clarke a knock for being bleeding heart softies when it came to crime, but not before an ill advised attempt to plug her column that she didn’t get away with. And that was that for her and do you know what, I think it might have been one notch above her usual level of dire crapness. Or maybe I’m just a bleeding heart softy like Ken Clarke and David Cameron. Enough of this! We’ve wasted enough time on her already!
A barely worth mentioning 3/10
The Crowd: Witney
I’ll level with you: This was a bit of a crap episode. Mostly this was to do with the questions as Q’s 1 and 3 were both pretty amiable affairs (Donaldson withstanding on Q1) and thus the only real bloodletting that could take place was in Q2 (which Hain didn’t make the most of) and Q4 (which was so late in the show that no one had the time to get stuck in to a proper bout of fisticuffs). As for the audience, the first thing that struck me was that there were three guys wearing exactly the same shirt (a red, white and blue checked number that looks just like my laundry bag). Speaking of shirts, there was also a guy in a screaming pink number with a black tie (not a great look, sir) and some YTS urchin in a suit that was too big for him (who chuntered something about ‘when will I be proud to be British?’ Never, if you’re going to wear clothes like that, Sunny Jim). However, the audience member of the night goes without doubt to the guy who pulled Chris Huhne up whilst wearing what appeared to be some sort of traditional African lion skin jerkin. That, young YTS urchin is what you must wear if you ever want to feel proud to be British. But apart from that, little to report I’m afraid. Damn these broad areas of agreement!
A tepid 4/10
Ok, that’s me done. I’m now stuck in traffic in just outside Manchester while some guy keeps looking like he’s going to doze off on my shoulder. I’m absolutely gagging for a fag, this bus is a hellish sweatbox, I’ve got at least 5 hours left to go and the chances are that I’m going to completely lose my shit at some point and just start screaming “KEYTONES! TURN THEM OFF! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD TURN THEM OFF!”. It sucks to be me right now. Next week, Lemmings, next week.