Posts Tagged 'Peter Oborne'

Questionable Time #74


questionable time 74 david dimbleby passed out

Good morning Lemmings and welcome to Energy Prices Time, a live debate show where members of the audience spend at least half an hour getting animated about oldsters swapping heating for eating while the Blue Team keep repeating the word ‘tariff’, the Red Team keep repeating the word ‘freeze’ and the Yellow Team don’t bother to show up (what happened to Charles Kennedy this week? Must have ‘missed his plane’ again). This brave new broadcasting venture started three weeks ago with a rather promising pilot but has subsequently gone to seed and left me yearning for the good all days of Euro Crisis Time – a similar show that ran for at least two years before finally being put out of its misery by Phone Hacking Time. Those were the days…

 

I’ve been Reverse Afriyied!

So last week I ended up in a bit of a bind by a) not doing my homework on QT virgin Adam Afriyie, b) jumping to conclusions based on a Wikipedia article/Google Image search and c) having all those conclusions rubbished by a rather good QT performance. Clearly there’s a lesson in all of this and had you been dealing with a diligent blogger you may have expected me to learn it. But you’re not dealing with a diligent blogger – you’re dealing with a slipshod Internet Goon who takes a perverse delight in never, ever learning anything the first (or second… or third) time around. As a consequence I’ve done exactly the same thing to QT virgin Mark Harper although this time the results were somewhat different. Observe the process.

 

Step 1- Homework: A brief glance at his Wikipedia article...

Ok, so what have we got here… Comprehensive kid turned Oxbridge grad, grown-up job upon leaving… Blah blah blah… On the Tory front bench since 2005 – wait, 8 years? Where’s he been hiding all this time? Whatevs – blah, blah, blah – hates Europe, loves Israel – blah blah blah – oh hang on, what’s this? Ended up in hot water for some borderline insinuations about disabled benefit claimants? Central protagonist on the wrong side of the ill-fated forest sell off? And the brains behind the So Tory That Parody Has Turned In On Itself ‘Go Home’ vans? This could be interesting…

 

Step 2 – A Google Image search for ‘Mark Harper MP’…

Alright, so in goes his name… *Click* – WOAH! CHECK OUT THAT SMILE! It’s… It’s… Well I’m not quite sure whether it’s ‘winning’ or ‘shit eating’ but it’s certainly ‘something’. This changes everything.

 

Step 3 – Make rash assumption based on adding Step 1 to Step 2…

This guy must be a live wire, a maverick – maybe even a bounder! I mean c’mon, the combination of way-too-close-to-the-bone-remarks/policy initiatives and that Something Smile (see Fig. 1)? He’s going to be a riot!

 

mark harper go home teeth

Fig. 1

The result: Being wrong. Again.

There was no live-wirery, negative mavericknessnous, inverse bounding and a complete absence of the Something Smile. Instead we got a Should Work On Paper performance where he tried to do all the right things (e.g. someone says ‘you’re not doing enough’ and you then list all the things you’re doing) while neglecting the fact that we don’t really care about what you’re going to do – that’s what the news is for. No, this is QT and QT cares not for matters of the head. It does however care very much for matters of the gut – you know, the knot in the stomach, the smell of fear, the twitching of the eyes – and that’s the bit that Harper completely bypassed by doggy paddling his way through the show, trying very hard not to get into trouble. Did he make it to shore alive? Mostly. Do I feel like I have a better sense of who Mark Harper really is? Not in the slightest.

 

He’s a Doctor don’t you know?

Every time I’ve seen Tristram Hunt on QT I’ve always been left with the sense of a man who’s deeply uncomfortable at after work drinks. Everyone else – all half cut by half six – are living it up but Tristram can’t settle: The music’s too loud, Wetherpsoon’s always sets him on edge and while he’s fond of his co-workers they simply don’t know enough about 19th century social history to make him feel at ease – that, and he’s fretting about whether or not he set The Culture Show to record. The result of this has always been a slightly jerky, overly self-aware QT style which always makes him seem a little off kilter. However it now appears that if you make this man Shadow Education Secretary and then ask him questions about education you get a very different outcome: Suddenly he becomes fluid, assured and – dare I say it – impassioned – all of which is a marked improvement over the usual spectacle of him queezily nursing a pint of Fosters and explaining to his colleagues that he doesn’t watch football. True, we may have to leave aside the fact that he sounded scarily like Michael Gove when it came to content but apart from that it was nice to see him look so comfortable. So go on Tristram, The Macarena’s on and the last bus has already gone… Don’t fight it, feel it…

 

Someone in UKIP is wasting their time…

I bring this up because there was a little giveaway at the beginning of her first two responses: She started both answers with a very stilted ‘Thank you [audience member name] for bringing this up’ as if she’d been told to do so. Now, why UKIP are bothering giving her press training I don’t know because she’s a) pretty capable of handling herself and b) is probably the only member of the party you can put in front of a camera and have a better than evens shot of it not being a complete train wreck. Anyway, she dropped the PR act about midway through and did a half-decent job of appearing to be a functioning human being. Not bad given the company she keeps.

 

Stated Intentions vs Actual Outcome:

 

Bonnie ‘Germaine’ Greer:

Stated Intention – “I don’t have a strong, long, comprehensive answer”

Actual Outcome – Didn’t have a strong, long comprehensive answer.

 

Peter ‘Grumpy Pants’ Oborne

 

Stated Intention – ‘All these guys will lie to you and talk codswallop for the next hour’

Actual Outcome – Aggressively nuzzled Tristram Hunt with tender

affection for the duration.

 

I guess one out of two ain’t bad…

 

Tl;dr

 

Harper: 4/10

Flighty

 

Hunt: 6/10

Brighty

 

James: 5/10

Blighty

 

Greer: 5/10

Fighty

 

Oborne: 6/10

Alrighty

 

The Crowd: 5/10

Good nighty

 

Well, that’s that then… Oh wait, I almost forgot about announcing the winner of this year’s Most Applause For A Meaningless Platitude competition. Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you the bloke who said “I feel for the kids” and was rewarded with a torrent of approval. Well done sir, you must be very proud. Right, that’s me done but if you’re suffering from a bad case of idle thumbs then please feel free to check out what happened when I cut Paul Dacre’s brain in half.

 

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #28


questionable time 28 david dimbleby nevermind

Good morning Lemmings and thank your lucky stars I’m writing this at all, tempted as I was to slack it off and park myself in front of the Leveson Inquiry all day. Yeah, I know it’s pretty sad that my idea of a good time is to watch in-depth legal proceedings but it’s the closest thing I have to ‘sport’ in my life. Still, let’s make the best we can of it, put on our Friday best and crank up the Questionable Time. Here’s what we learned:

 

Oldham always sets my teeth on edge.

There are some towns that know what they are about and once-upon-a-time this was the case for Oldham: It was about cotton. Sadly, it turned out that cotton is not the most faithful of suitors and since it upped-sticks for more distant shores Oldham has been left scratching its head about where it fits into the scheme of things – a predicament only made worse by the fact that the town in question is built on a series of demographic fault lines. Some of this is down to physical geography: Oldham finds itself caught between the heave of cosmopolitan Manchester to the west and ho of the provincial Pennines to the east but the main problem comes from the fact it contains two very distinct communities who’ve never quite managed to, well, make a proper go of it with each other. That these two entities have been rubbing uncomfortably up against each other is nothing new but it wasn’t so much of a problem when the cracks could be papered over with a plentiful supply of jobs. However the brutal truth is that there aren’t very many jobs in Oldham nor have there been for a very long time. Given the above, what could be more emotionally charged than a question about race and child abuse? I reached for my tin hat…

 

Thankfully it seems that – despite a few tense moments – cooler heads prevailed and rather than a spittle-flecked punch-up we actually saw quite a searching debate from the crowd last night. Sure, I nearly jumped behind the sofa when I heard the dread phrase ‘I’m not a racist but…’ and the incident with the vicar (note to vicars everywhere: Never use the words ‘lust’ and ‘children’ within 500 miles of each other) looked like it could have gone very sideways, very quickly but by and large things remained mostly civil. That’s a pretty good sign given that only three or four years ago you could guarantee to see at least one person making clear their intention to vote for the BNP. So well done Oldham, it’s still not an entirely comfortable thing to watch you guys trying to hash things out but it’s getting there. Keep it up.

 

I’m not entirely sure what Chris Bryant was up to.

I like Chris Bryant. He’s rhetorically athletic, does a good line in sincerity and frequently looks like he’s up to no good, all of which makes him a solid QT performer and out of all the political panelist he put in the best turn last night. However, there were a couple of flies in the ointment, one being that his balance got jiggered in the home straight when an otherwise innocuous looking member of the audience accused him of looking smug, the other being the weird tension between himself and Lord Oakeshott. Now I’m no political strategist but if I had been Bryant my game plan would have been pretty simple: Oakeshott is clearly not on board with this coalition business and it looks increasingly likely that he’s going to go outright rogue in the foreseeable future. Consequently all I have to do is make it easy for him to plant a knife squarely between the shoulders of government, sit back and enjoy the fireworks. As it happens, Oakeshott didn’t need any external encouragement to start getting busy with the sedition and while he merrily poured scorn on his notional partners in government all that Bryant really needed to do was lay down a bit of suppressing fire to aid him in this endeavour. But he didn’t. In fact, rather than lending him assistance towards their shared end Bryant took it upon himself to have a pop at Oakeshott who then retaliated in kind by bringing up the matter of Labour’s economic record. I don’t know, it may be that they just genuinely don’t like each other or that Labour really are hellbent on the humbling of the Lib Dems but I can’t help thinking that this was a bit of a tactical blunder and one which took the sheen off an otherwise polished performance. Still, at least Bryant can take solace in the fact that he’s escaped being photoshopped this week. He just makes it too easy. There’s no challenge when the source material is this good.

 

And the rest of them?

First off, Mary Beard totally gets how to do the 5th panelist thing and it’s not rocket science as to how she does it. It’s based around two key ingredients: Honesty and sticking to what you know. Granted, the honesty component is contingent on having a reasonable outlook on life (try as might I can’t exactly envisage a clamour for more honesty from David Starkey) but providing it looks like you believe what you’re saying, you’re half way there. However, honesty counts for nothing if the audience ever get wind of the fact that you may be trying to blag something you don’t really know about so it’s imperative that you pick your battles. Mary Beard does all of the above (‘I know nothing about economics but neither do you’) and it works brilliantly, especially when political panelists stray into her pet territory of Roman history (what were you doing Oakeshott?! Had you lost your mind?!). That, and looking like a female wizard doesn’t harm the cause either.

 

The same can’t really be said for Caroline Spelman who is unfortunately hobbled by her innate jauntiness (her picture on the pre-election Tory website is a masterclass in jaunt. See Fig. 1). Now I don’t have a problem with jaunt per se (in fact I’d go so far as to declare myself a fan of jaunt) but Spelman’s jaunt is a weird form of jaunt. It’s more muted than regular jaunt and seems to be a cover for the fact that she’s actually not sure of what to do in any given situation – like the chairperson of a village fête trying to explain away the rain. Still, at least she actually appeared to be awake unlike Peter Oborne who spent the first half of the show doing that scrunched-up eyes thing and taking us round the houses as he slowly spluttered into life. The word ‘Europe’ seemed to jolt him violently back into consciousness later on but his whole performance had this sort of juddering quality to it that I found to be quite unsettling. Oh, and the bit where Dimbers accused Spelman of being racist after she made fun of his tie? Yeah, that was nice.

caroline-spelman-projected-expectations-gif

Fig. 1

 

Tl;dr

Spelman: 4/10

(Likes the word) ‘Thrift’

 

Bryant: 6/10

(Looked a) Gift (horse in the mouth)

 

Oakeshott: 5/10

(Seemed rather) Miffed

 

Oborne: 5/10

Adrift

 

Beard: 7/10

Swift(ly carried the day)

 

The Crowd: 7/10

(Did much to up)Lift (me).

 

Aaaaaaaaand that’s that. As is intermittently customary here’s a quick reminder that you can follow Questionable Time on both Twitter and Facebook should ever feel inclined to do so. Now if you’ll excuse me I really must get down to some Levesoning. I know, I know… How can one man lead a life so packed with action and adventure? Well somehow he does.

 

Next week Lemmings, next week…

 

PS: Bonus photoshop! I made a card for Clintons (see Fig. 2)!

clintons cards sorry you've gone into administration

Fig. 2

Questionable Time #4


questionable time 4 david dimblebyGood morning Lemmings and welcome to another instalment of Questionable Time, this week brought to us by the seemingly sunstroked denizens of Liverpool. Now, I realise that our national character leads us to become a little giddy when faced with the prospect of unseasonably clement weather but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how unhinged we can be in the face of elevated temperatures until I watched last night’s show, seething pit of madness that it was. I also can’t help but feel a little sorry for the Labour party who (much like the Lib Dems last week) found their conference thunder stolen by a villain no less mundane than the possibility of driving 10mph faster on the motorway. Seriously Britain, have we not bigger fish to fry? Anyway, I’m sure we’ll come to that a little later on so in the meantime, let’s get this show on the road (at the current speed limit of 70mph).

Right, first victim tonight is Grant Shapps, Housing Secretary and a man whose constant, low-key gesticulation makes him look like he’s forever playing with an invisible Rubik’s Cube (see Fig. 1). Although relatively new to Question Time, Shapps seems to be getting the hang of it rather quickly and actually looks quite comfortable nestled between his mortal enemies/esteemed coalition partners on the panel and this, it would be logical to conclude, can only be a good thing, right? Well, yes and no. On the one hand it means that he doesn’t feel the need like some of the newer intake to stick his oar in to absolutely any two-bit point going (as is the case for many a Question Time rooky) but there’s something else I noticed about him this week that takes the sheen off this otherwise virtuous trait: He’s already getting a taste for applause.

grant-shapps-rubiks-cube

Fig. 1

Now, the very fact that a fresh-faced Tory minister can garner a few claps in Liverpool is an achievement in itself and one that was usually the result of skirmishing with Caroline Flint (who is quite a tough cooky when it comes to Question Timing), but it’s what he does with those claps that bothers me as his primary response to applause seems to be to look a little, well, pleased with himself in a ‘Look Mum, didn’t I do well’ sort of way. I realise that sounds churlish as after all, he earned those claps but he is sailing very close to the Line of Smugness right now and unless he starts to crowbar some humility in there (however faux it may be), he will run the risk of becoming annoying. So how should he respond? Well, there’s a few schools of thought here, ranging from the Warsi-esque Continue To Shout Relentlessly Over The Applause approach to the Look Wild Eyed And Visibly Pissed Off manouevre favoured by the likes of Mehdi Hassan. Personally speaking though, I’m a fan of the Shirley Williams technique: Look Unmoved Yet Regal and Imposing. Granted, this is a tricky one when you look so young that you’d get asked for ID when buying paracetamol but the blueprint is fundamentally sound. It’s worth a punt Grant as while you may well have the right to look tickled pink, too much self-satisfaction can only lead to people wanting you to look punched black and blue. Not a bad performance though.

Right, Red Team next and here comes Caroline Flint, Shadow Communities Minister and someone I feel slightly sorry for on account of the number of search queries I get for the term ‘Caroline Flint naked’. Let me assure you, she’s pretty unique in this respect and I’m not exactly drowning in a sea of ‘Ken Clarke naked’ searches. Ickiness aside, Flint was quite interesting last night as for the first half of the show she looked genuinely at ease and I’m chalking this up to the fact that following Miliband’s conference speech she no longer feels the need to unconditionally defend every aspect of New Labour’s time in office. For example, had this been a year ago she would have been all a-bristle and jumping down the throats of anyone who dared question the merit of the Blair/Brown government’s yet last night she seemed much more mellow and even hinted at that New Labour might have got some stuff wrong (shock horror). This isn’t to say that she wasn’t without edge and she did use pretty much every opportunity to have a go at the Tories, but it wasn’t quite as visceral as it has been in the past.

So, it was all well and good, right? Flint no longer feels haunted by the ghosts of Labour’s past and can stride confidently into the sunlit uplands of Militopia without even breaking a sweat? Erh, no. Going on last night’s performance she’s having real trouble getting her head around exactly what New Old Purple Blue Labour is and it was actually left to Peter Oborne of all people to do the heavy lifting on Miliband’s behalf. And that’s the problem with Flint: She’s very good tactically, tough as nails and capable of sustaining damage that would destroy other panelists. However, when it comes to the strategic picture she’s all at sea and often seems incapable of fully articulating what it actually is that she stands for. Still, she could always go on naked. From what I hear, there’s a market out there for that sort of thing.

Moving on to the Yellow Team we have Tim Farron, President of the Liberal Democrats and a man who last night popped his QT cherry. Now there’s something I instinctively like about Farron in that he’s clearly a born trouble maker who’s making absolutely no effort to disguise the fact he really can’t abide being in coalition. That makes a nice change from the usual earnest hand wringing we’ve seen of late and the fact that he has no problem in nailing some fairly crimson colours to the mast is also refreshing. However, like Shapps, he also suffers from an undercurrent of latent smugness and despite the fact that it should be fairly easy for someone bigging up the virtues of social housing to turn a quick applause buck in Liverpool, the going for him was tougher than it should have been last night. Most of this was down to his unrepentantly pro-European stance but he also threatened to drag the show into the realm of farce at one point when he tried to make a convoluted and not entirely brilliant point about “sheep tagging”. I’ll leave it to your imaginations to figure out how that was interpreted by the audience but needless to say, it didn’t go quite the way he intended. So bad luck there Tim. Next time try bringing up a reference to ‘snow jobs’ or the importance of ‘rowlock safety’. That’s bound to work.

Ok, that’s the politicos done but it is with heavy heart that I introduce the first of tonight’s civilians: Janet Street-Porter, a woman whose sole aim in life is to scream the reason out of any debate. Last night we had the dubious pleasure of her railing variously against Europe, Labour and (of course) men, but it was the crowd’s reaction that vexed me as they heaped applause on her despite the fact that nothing she said made a lick of sense. You see, I’ve been exposed to such repeated and heavy doses of JSP in the past that I can deal with the fact that her vocal chords are only capable of making white noise and that her proposed solution to most problems is to line the male population against a wall and shoot them but what I can’t get my head round is why anyone else would go along with it. It just puts me into a flat spin of anguish and shakes my faith in humanity to its very core. I really hope I’m not alone in thinking this because if I am, then the game is truly up and the end is nigh. Surely I am not the only one who looks upon her works and despairs?

Ughh… Enough on JSP as I can take no more. Happily though, our final panelist is a doozy and one that I was secretly hoping would be on the roster after his wanton display of unreasonableness on Wednesday’s Newsnight. Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you Peter Oborne, columnist-of-note and all round mentalist. Never one to shy away from controversy, Oborne lost no time in taking the seemingly innocuous speed limit question and turning it into a call to arms for the repeal of pretty much every law and the dissolution of Europe. But he wasn’t done with Europe yet, not by a long shot and he was soon able to piggyback on the anti-EU comments of an audience member, denouncing the project as “brutal”. The crowd went totally bananas with that comment, applauding him to the rafters and showering him with praise. However, none of them were prepared for what happened next and I’m pretty sure that it was the most comprehensive reversal of fortunes I’ve witnessed in nearly two years of covering Question Time. The first indication that his star was on the wane came when he effortlessly segued from damning Europe to calling Thatcher “a great woman”. As he happened to utter these fateful words in Liverpool it came as no surprise that the mood turned from one of jubilation to that of lynch mob but what was surprising was how little he cared about this turn of events. No, instead of backing off he then went on to describe Thatcher as “compassion itself”, a phrase that can get you sectioned if you’re north of the Severn-Wash line. Predictably, this lead to a torrent of heckles and the most comprehensive booing I’ve seen for some years but did he care? Did he cobblers.

So that was pretty exciting, but it was also very much in character as we all know that Oborne is a man who goes in for Euro Damning/Thatcher Venerating. What I wasn’t expecting however was his answer to the Miliband speech question. So far as I was concerned, this was going to be a pretty standard exercise in scorn pouring but in actual fact it turned out to be quite the opposite: He loved Miliband’s speech! Well, that pretty much finished me off and by the time the credits were rolling my whole world had been turned upside down. So well done Peter Oborne, you may be pathologically contrary old hack who couldn’t give two hoots about who you offend but by golly are you entertaining. Big marks for you and your complete disregard for social approval.

Alright, so that was the panel and all that’s left is the audience, odd bunch that they were. My first reaction to this lot was one of unmitigated gloom when it turned out that the first question was neither the existential financial crisis nor the seismic shifts currently taking place in the Labour party and was in fact all about the speed limit. Unsurprisingly, that made for the most tepid of debates and I was on verge of writing them off on the basis of that folly. However, they did pull things around and when it came to the meatier issues they did prove to be a vocal – if mercurial – lot. Like Birmingham’s audience last week, they went in for an awful lot of random clapping (so much so that I couldn’t really figure out which of the politicians actually won the day) but at least they had the saving grace of seeming to actually believe in something, even if that something was that they still very much hated Thatcher. They were also rowdy enough to provide the ideal foil for Oborne’s panto villain and to that end, I’m grateful. However, I would like to address the question raised by one lady as to whether you “can be a Eurosceptic and Pro-European?”. The answer to that is ‘no’. Because it would be stupid.

Schapps: 6/10

Good enough

Flint: 6/10

Tough

Farron: 6/10

Up to snuff

JSP: 3/10

Duff

Oborne: 7/10

Gruff

The Crowd: 6/10

Acceptable stuff

And that’s you’re lot. I’m off to continue torturing myself with the Battlefield 3 Beta: There’s a great game in there somewhere but I just wish the damn thing would stop lagging so I could at least have a chance of finding it. Ah, the joys of beta rage…

Next Week Lemmings, next week…


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