Posts Tagged 'Rachel Reeves'

Questionable Time #126


qt 126

Good morrow lemmings and welcome to Telford-in-Shropshire and one of the most catastrophically dull editions of Question Time I’ve ever been unlucky enough to witness. Let’s just get this over with and get back to discussing the real issues – for instance, why has Ed Miliband claimed that the above dress is apparently white and gold? It’s clearly blue and black. Typical short-sighted Labour!

Slow-cook economic yam

As Nigel Farage, currently putting his feet up in a posh American hotel, rubs his hands with glee, we come first to a question on rising migration figures. Mark Reckless MP is the purple representative for tonight and blames the government’s incompetence and…recklessness (YEAAAAHHHH.mp3). The solution is obviously to leave the EU in a huff.

Grant Shapps, looking like a smug ten year old grasping his tuck shop purchases with clammy ferocity, parrots the Tory party line like a parrot. A parrot on crack. Also, everything is fine, he says! Hesitant applause for Grantyboy. Meanwhile Rachel Reeves, in a pink cardigan I would like to wear (not her one, that would be creepy, but a different one also probably made by Romanian orphans) is surprisingly decent on this particular issue, and doesn’t go for shock-and-awe tactics. Then again I think Rachel is fundamentally unable to raise her voice any louder than a drone, so getting hysterical about immigration is something that is pretty much closed off to her. Make her Home Secretary at once, the disgusting grey splendour of the Home Office would suit her perfectly.

Our courageous Lib Dem panellist, Tessa Munt, begins by talking about a promise that ‘couldn’t possibly be kept’. Er…good one, Tessa! Maybe immigration isn’t so bad, she says, gazing wistfully into space. Mark Breakfast remains serene, his featureless pink head jutting out from his suit like a placid tortoise. He wants investment to encourage the domestic workforce, and is okay with letting smart people in but not smelly people. That’s the gist of it. Put it on a poster. Or employ me as his election campaign co-ordinator posthaste.

The highlight of this section, however, was everybody laughing at the young Tory plant using the term ‘long-term economic plan’ which nobody, absolutely nobody outside of the Westminster bubble uses. Have you ever been down the launderette or Sainsbury’s or wherever and overheard someone talking about our long-term economic plan? Have you heard our long-term economic plan debated in the living room while eating Chinese takeaway? Have you heard it come up in any situation that doesn’t immediately make you want to fall asleep? Thought not. Also, the above was an interesting glimpse into my day-to-day life.

Camilla Long is here as well. I forgot about her for a minute there.

We just wanna make the world dance, forget about the price tag

Next: should MPs be allowed to have second jobs, comes the warbling cry. Rachel Reeves only gets the word ‘no’ out before she is greeted with rapturous applause. Nonetheless her voice still does not rise above a mumble, and she remains looking like a drugged rabbit about to be run over by Grant, the farmhand who has stolen the farmer’s tractor while cackling all the way. She points to how they do it in those forrin lands, with a percentage cap ‘n’ all. This isn’t good enough for some in the audience who seem to believe that MPs should only be paid in the shortlived 1990s fad Pogs.

DISGRACEFUL cries Tessa, helpfully.

Grant is on the other side of this debate. He’s all for MPs getting lots of lovely experience, and by experience he presumably means moolah. Camilla Long, however, has a groundbreaking solution! If we value our MPs we should give them more money, she says, which is terribly brave of her because airing this view in public is extremely dangerous and could possibly lead to her being attacked by an angry mob. Dimbleby looks concerned, as if to anticipate this.

Aww, heck…less admits that he abstained in the recent vote cos Nige has been too busy flying off to America to tell him what to do. Everyone laughs again. I could get used to this – ending each question with people collectively pointing and guffawing at the panel. Truly bringing the country together.

Next, there’s a brief discussion about those three girls who went to Syria to ‘live in a hole’. Camilla claims that any loser who wants to be crowned Little Miss Isis must already be a terrorist, or maybe just an arse. The panel falls over themselves to tut about how shocking and tragic this sad affair is. Mark Reckless, funnily enough, is quite sensible here, though: maybe it’s his bank manager aura. It worked for John Major, it could work for him. Watch out, Nigel, he’s after your job!

New Conservative manifesto proposal: polling stations in bingo halls

Last up…should we kick a rich pensioner?

Grant starts as he means to go on, sultrily licking the bums of the older folks who obviously vote en masse for his party. Why not, while you’re at it, just dictate that young people have to make a ceremonial offering to old people every month, like sacrificing a lamb or something? It would be a whole lot quicker and more efficient. So don’t worry, silver foxes who are (one would imagine) the main audience for Question Time – Grandpa Grant is ON YOUR SIDE!

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

Dimbles points out that this might possibly be considered electioneering. WHAT A CYNICAL VIEW gasps Grant, offended. This is all because of the EU, adds Mark. Thank you Mark. Thanks for that contribution.

“Why don’t we do more for young people to get them to vote?” squeaks an earnest young lady in the audience. To be this innocent again! Tessa, our fightin’ Lib Dem, appeals for the youth vote (well somebody has to), and Rachel murmurs that Labour’s policy is to kick some pensioners, but only the types that remind us of Mr Burns.

Grant spreads his palms like he’s Tory Jesus and sighs to the sky. How dare you, Tessa. How dare you, Camilla. How dare you, Rachel. Old people have worked hard all their life. Especially if they’ve had extra consultancy jobs.

It is at this point that Dimbleby cuts him off mid-rant and saves us all.

Time for the scores!

Shapps: 5/10

(LONG-TERM ECONOMIC) PLAN!!

Reeves: 6/10

(Wake me up before you go-go, as sung by the popular 1980s group) Wham (which is exactly what one needs to do whenever they hear her speak, that is to say, fall asleep, and thus need waking up)

Munt: 4/10

(Was brave to) Yam(mer on about certain subjects that could be very easily mocked as I have just proven conclusively)

Reckless: 6/10

(Got himself out a) Jam

Long: 5/10

(You want to give MPs more money?) Damn

The Crowd: 7/10

Grand slam

Next time, ever more surreal scores. Look forward to it!

Next week Lemmings, next week…

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Questionable Time #91


questionable time 91 david dimbleby north by north west

Good morning Lemmings and boy-oh-boy do we have a lot to cover today, so much so that I’m not even sure where to start. How about starting at the start? That would be a good start indeed so that’s what I’m going to do: Starting… at the start. Watch me start Lemmings, watch me start!

 

The Cold War is back in town…

…And boy have I missed it because, truth be told, I wasn’t getting on very well with the post-Soviet world. Sure, it was nice that we were ‘winning’ and could invade whoever the hell we wanted under the shakiest of pretexts but it was a complicated, random world that was very difficult to make sense of and didn’t have the cosy certainty that the Cold War possessed (the sort of end-of-the-world certainty that led my dad to fill the cellar with cans of tuna in case the balloon ever went up. He never had a tin opener down there though so the slow death of my family would have been a case-study in absurdity). Anyway, it seems that Putin’s decided that the game is back on and in a weird way I find this all rather comforting as it’s a world I understand and that fits together in my head (bearing in mind that this is the sort of head that reads atlases on the toilet and occasionally draws little arrows on them to signify hypothetical invasion routes). It also seems to fit together rather well in the heads of Michael Heseltine, David Aaronovitch and Alexander Nekrassov, the three panelists who really went to town on this subject.

 

For Aaronovitch, this couldn’t be more black and white: Putin’s up to no good, the Crimea vote will be rigged (at least he’s 95% sure it will be) and to do nothing is not an option. ‘Fair point’ I say, but wait, what’s this? Nekrassov’s got a juicy little counter in about how NATO has been more than a little underhand in its eastward expansion and anyway, this was a coup, not a revolution. Hmmm, also a fair point. What say you, recently-defrosted-cold-warrior Michael Heseltine?

 

‘Bollocks to the details, we’re not doing anything because we can’t’

 

And he’s right: There isn’t a great deal we can do because this isn’t some far-flung sandy place on the fringes of the world, this is a top-ranking nuclear power that happens to keep Europe’s lights on and as galling as it may be, that’s just the way life is. No well-meaning yet essentially empty ‘heads around the table’ platitudes a la Reeves and Hughes, no morally certain chest pounding a la Aaronovitch and Nekrassov, no just sitting there looking like a cat a la Platell, just a very straightforward ‘Life sucks kiddo, suck it up’. It was one of the very rare times on QT I actually felt like I was being treated like an adult and more power to Tarzan for that.

 

A pleasing interlude…

So that was a satisfying, meaty chunk of muscular debate and what followed with the Stephen Lawrence question was also quite heartening with thoughtful response all round (especially from Hughes and the audience) – except from Amanda Platell. Instead, she chose to address the questioner as ”a beautiful black man” before embarking on less-than-subtle eulogy to the Daily Mail (“my paper”) and Paul Dacre (“my editor”). Alas and to absolutely no one’s surprise these shenanigans came to an abrupt end when Dimbers told her to shut up and my attention swiftly moved on to the Scottish lass who claimed that she had chased her attacker to a police station only to find no-one was there. Her general demeanour left me in no doubt that this claim was 100% true and that her attacker was probably running to the police station for fear of their own safety.

 

And then suddenly…

…Everything went mental. Out of nowhere came a question on immigration and the tone was set to ‘febrile’ the minute the original questioner stated that Barking was now “the most terrible place on Earth to live”. Well, that was it – the pro-immigration section of the audience start working up a sustained chunter but it was the anti camp who kept catching the camera. Most notable of these was the bloke who started off on how he didn’t receive rejection letters when he applied for jobs any more and implied that it was probably the fault of immigrants. Understandably, this didn’t go down too well with the majority of the audience but was he going to take any notice of them? Was he hell. No, instead he just carried on going, this time blaming immigrants for not letting him have a house until it finally dawned on him that he might just have made a massive tit of himself. The solution? To grab his coat and leave the studio on the pretext of finding “somewhere to live”. It was surreal, a little bit frightening (although not frightening enough to dissuade the next audience member from describing immigration as an “invasion” and comparing it to the situation in the Crimea) and probably a QT first.

 

And how did the panel deal with this? Not badly actually. There were attempts made to reason with the man but I suspect that ‘reason’ was the last thing this guy was in the market for and anyway, it’s not like he stuck around to see what they would come up with. That just left Reeves (who somehow managed to go through the entire show without being referred to as ‘Liz Kendall’ – see Fig. 1) and Heseltine to have a minor to-do over Labour’s past immigration policy whilst Aaronovitch did most of the legwork for the pro camp and Hughes tried to split the difference but couldn’t quite carry it through. One thing we can be sure of though is that Barking certainly lives up to its name: It was all totally Barking mad.

rachel-reeves-liz-kendall-gif

Fig. 1

 

Tl;dr

 

Heseltine: 7/10

(Still has great) Hair

 

Reeves: 6/10

(Is every)Where (at the moment)

 

Hughes: 6/10

(Is neither) Here (nor) There

 

Aaronovitch: 7/10

Doctrinaire

 

Nekrassov: 5/10

(Knows much about Red) Square

 

Platell: 5/10

(Feels the need to) Share (her love of the Daily Mail)

 

The Audience: 7/10

(Did well not to) Swear.

 

Well, there you go – a dramatic little number with enough geopolitics to keep me drawing little arrows on my atlas and an audience member crazy enough to fill 300 words. Trust me, that doesn’t happen very often. Right, that’s me done. If you’ll need me I’ll be upstairs… With my atlas…

 

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #81


questionable-time-81-david-dimbleby-drag-gif

Good morning Lemmings and how are we feeling this morning? Tired? Bleary eyed? Morally conflicted by being annoyed that QT was delayed and then realising that this annoyance was a direct result of Nelson Mandela’s death and that you must be A Very Bad Person for thinking such thoughts? Yes, I am familiar with this jarring emotional repertoire. Anyway, it’s going to be a mini-Questionable Time today as I struggled to stay awake last night and cannot claim to have taken the whole thing in. With this in mind let us power through with the greatest of haste.

Danny Alexander – I’m beginning to find the Alexander Process rather endearing and to the uninitiated it looks like this:

  1. Danny sits there looking like he’d rather be anywhere else on earth than the QT studio and grimly awaits the torrent of ill will that’s about to come his way.
  2. Whilst waiting for the sky to fall in, Danny does something right – like crack a joke that doesn’t fall flat on its face – and suddenly looks like he might actually grow to enjoy the experience of this whole ‘politics’ thing.
  3. Flushed with confidence, he then tries to do something else right – like cracking another joke – only to find that the crowd have fallen out of love with him again and the torrent of ill will has merely been delayed.
  4. A look of resigned defeat takes hold of his face and the cycle begins again.

Poor Danny. Still, if it’s any consolation I had so much fun pshopping him as a hunky male model last time that I’ve decided this is now his ‘thing’ and he will be male modellified in all future encounters (see Fig. 1).

 danny alexander fit again

Fig. 1

Rachel Reeves: I’m still having trouble working out where the very serious and diligent looking politician ends and the actual person begins. Don’t get me wrong, she’s pretty good at not putting her foot in it and you do get the sense that she does – at least in some very abstract sort of way – care, but none of this can quite cover up the fact that her performances are just a little, well, dull. My prescription? Show us a bit of human frailty. Get something wrong. Make an outrageous statement every now and then. Yes I know this runs counter to every fibre of your being but it’s going to be damn tricky shaking off the ‘Boring-Snoring‘ charge if you continue to display all the warmth of an Excel spreadsheet.

David Davis: Last night saw one of those very rare moments where David Davis is largely in agreement with his own party and manages to confine the use of that I’ve Killed Before look to scaring the bejesus out of the opposition. It also scares the bejesus out of me but in a very good way.

Mary Beard: I like Mary. She’s a good egg with a massive brain who’s more than capable of fighting her own corner yet her past performances have always had this faint tinge of caution to them – like she’s thinking really hard about how to answer a question without unduly upsetting anyone. Thankfully this wasn’t the case last night and what we saw was a great piece of Question Timing that struck the balance between comprehension and conviction just right. Everything flowed naturally, you got the sense that she was talking from the heart and there was no hint of some internal governor trying to restrain her delivery. In short, she was bloody brilliant.

Nick Ferrari: My initial plan was to go town on Ferrari for being the sort of lowest-common denominator blowhard that really grinds my gears but I had a change of heart half way through. Why? Well for one, he made for a really good sparring partner with Mary Beard and it was this pairing that made the show, but more importantly he absolutely melted my heart with the way he gushed effusively about Tom Daley coming out. I really hadn’t expected that but it looked 100% genuine and made me feel all warm inside (although that might have been down to the extra tinny I consumed in an effort to stay awake). So no monstering for Mr Ferrari today, just a doffed cap and an uncharacteristically high mark.

Tl;dr

Alexander: 5/10

Not

Reeves: 4/10

Enough

Davis: 6/10

Sleep

Beard: 8/10

To

Ferrari: 6/10

Make

The Crowd: 6/10

Rhymes

And thus is the tragedy of this show: It was great – aside from the rather wooden efforts of Reeves and Alexander, people had proper debates where they not only got beyond the superficial but also, shock horror, appeared to be listening to each other – yet I’d wager that only a handful of people managed to stay up long enough to watch it. Oh great, see what I’ve just done there? I’ve made myself feel like A Very Bad Person again.

Right, that’s me done. Sorry for calling it in this week but I really am rather knackered and I suspect that there won’t exactly be a queue of expectant Lemmings waiting at the door today. Anyway, see you next time for the last pre-Crimbo episode and should you be in the market for left-field Xmas presents then may I point you in the direction of this rather lovely Catch-22 t-shirt I made…

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #21


questionable time 21 david dimbleby john lennon yoko ono

Good morning Lemmings and before we get under way I would just like to take a minute to relate a rather bizarre story that unfolded exactly a week ago today. Having just literally pressed the ‘Post’ button on last week’s Questionable Time I got a knock on the door and found myself confronted by two smartly turned out representatives of the local Labour party. Sensing an opportunity for some gentle mischief I then spent the next five minutes explaining how my ‘Never Vote For An Incumbent’ rule leaves them with an outside chance that I might put a tick in their box at the next election but they had better not count on it because I have a long memory and still can’t quite forgive New Labour for this, that and the other. Rightly sensing that much tastier and lower hanging fruit may lie further down the street (it turns out bearded men in dirty tracky bottoms aren’t the core demographic they are after), they politely took their leave and moved on to pastures afresh. So far, so ‘meh’. Anyhoo, off I went to the kitchen to crack on with the washing up and as I was gazing listlessly out of the window when I caught sight of a small figure moving purposefully down the street. Then something started stuttering in my brain. “Hmmmmm….” I thought as I ran the hot water “why is this seemingly innocuous scene giving me the jibblies? Is the Matrix glitching again?”. Squinting a little as I tried to seek out the cause of this weird sensation I was suddenly deafened by the sound of a thousand pennies dropping. “That’s not…. It can’t be…Wait… No… IS THAT RACHEL BLOODY REEVES?!?!”

Within seconds my mind had gone into complete meltdown: “But… But you were only on my telly a few hours ago and I’ve just spent the whole day writing about you! I must have gone too far. I must have blogged too hard and am now hallucinating about members of the Shadow Cabinet stalking me. Oh my God, this is how it starts! This is how people end up inside Secure Units!” At this point I stopped making conscious decisions and felt the hand of compulsion grab me firmly by the scruff of the neck. Out I went, out into the street and before any of my usual social circuit breakers could kick in there I was, barefoot and hollering “RACHEL REEVES I JUST GAVE YOU FIVE OUT OF TEN!”. The figure stopped in her tracks and turned to face the source of all the commotion. “Bloody hell, that is Rachel Reeves! And bloody hell, she’s coming over here!”

As to what happened next, well that will probably never be known as I was no longer even slightly in command of my faculties but I do remember her saying “Five out of ten?” to which I responded with “Something something Questionable Time! Something something you were just on my telly and now you’re on the internet! Something something something!”. To her credit, she took it in her stride and allowed me to babble on (although I do remember a big neon light saying “SHE’S BLAGGING” pinging on in my fevered brain as she neither confirmed nor denied that she had any idea as to what ‘Questionable Time’ may be) before slowly withdrawing and making good her escape. And there I stood, bemused, dishevelled and not even remotely interested in doing the washing up any more. I gathered myself just enough to put together a garbled tweet and minutes later my phone pings to tell me that Rachel Reeves is now following me on Twitter. Was that the whiff of burning plastic I could smell emanating from cranium? I think it might have been.

Anyway, I’m bringing this up for three reasons:

  1. It’s was really, really weird and I feel compelled to share the weirdness.
  2. I would very much like to take this opportunity to tell all future panelists of Question Time that they best not be getting any ideas and trying this out for themselves. It is not ok to go swanning passed my house on the day that I’m straining every inch of my brain to poke fun at them. It’s not right and there are probably laws against it. Rachel Reeves I can forgive: She’s my local MP and as a consequence she has a hall pass but the rest of you guys? No. It’s not on.
  3. Recounting this tale has eaten up a good 700 words and that’s just dandy in my book because I was having real trouble making anything out of this episode.

And why would that be? Well, I guess part of it is because I had entirely the wrong attitude when it came to last night’s show. I was looking for a damn good hating and both Eric Pickles and Will Self have very good track records in stoking my hate levels (Pickles for frequently being on the wrong side of the folksy/condescending line and spectacularly buggering up my life since he’s been in government, Self for saying a great many things that I completely agree with but saying them in a way that makes me feel nauseous and wretched). Add into that a generic Mail columnist in the form of Janice Atkinson (or is it Janice Atkinson-Small? The internet stands in defiance to Dimber’s assertion of the former) and we’re on for a right old session of heartburn and high blood pressure, right? Wrong!

In the case of Pickles I thought I was onto a winner as he spent the first question looking pissed off and constipated whilst saying approximately nothing at very great length. However, that trend was not to last and by the second question he found himself largely on the right side of the folksy/condescending line, even if it was at times through gritted teeth. Add into this some rather disarming outbursts of humour tinged with barely submerged contempt for his peers (I did really like it when he started scrawling out Atkinson’s notes) plus a remarkably reasonable stance on gay marriage then it becomes clear that this wasn’t going to be the day that I could absolutely let rip on him. It is still however the day that I can post a photoshop I made of Eric Pickles as a pickle (see Fig. 1). No one rides for free around here.

eric pickles dill gherkin

Fig. 1

As for Self, well he really wasn’t as obnoxious as he usually is and I have to say that the points he made on both Afghanistan and the railways were very, very good. Ok, his pulling of the ‘Ooooooooooh!’ face in response to something Atkinson said did grind my gears a little but in the general scheme of things he did well. So that just leaves Atkinson on my Hate Bench and given her day job, I was pretty sure that she would whip me up into a frothy lather of spittle and bile. As it turns out, she couldn’t and I put this down to the fact that I never really had a clue what she was talking about. It wasn’t so much the content as the jarring and completely arbitrary pauses that seemingly came out of nowhere, not to mention her halting ramblings about a “leaky pipeline” and female MPs. In short, she just left me bewildered.

Hmmmm… So not a lot of hate to be had here and given that our next two panelists are none other than Caroline Flint and Will Young, it swiftly became clear that my Thursday night was going to end up becalmed and adrift in serenity. Now, I know that some of you are going to wonder why I’m making Caroline Flint out to be some sort of beacon of tranquillity as she can be both combative and irksome so allow me to explain: Ever since Questionable Time has been going, Flint has been on more than any other panelist and thus I have had several years in which to watch her go from an overly aggressive diamond-in-the-rough into actually quite an accomplished performer who could well see her status upgraded to Steady Pair of Hands. Ok, so much like Reeves last week she suffered from Labours belated recognition that they now need to be really hammering slogans home (Ol’ Snagletooth never actually said ‘the squeezed middle’ but she might as well have done given how many platitudes along the same line she came out with) but on the whole, her performance was solid. And for me that’s nice because such prolonged exposure to Flint has left me feeling quite fraternal towards her and it’s pleasant to see her continue on the trajectory of incremental improvement. I realise that this hardly makes for an objective account of her performance but that, I’m afraid, is just the way it is.

All the above leaves us with Young and let’s face it, there’s no way he’s walking out of here without some really good marks. As to why he deserves such plaudits, well part of it is to do with the way he gets points across (he’s thoughtful and reasoned while assertive when he needs to be) and partly because the role of 5th panelist fits him like a glove. Usually when a figure from the realm of celebrity is shoehorned on to the show they come with a health warning: ‘This person will probably have an opinion on one specific and personally dear issue but will be useless for the rest of the show’. Not so with Will Young because he actually had well thought out opinions on everything (including the habitually toxic question of Afghanistan) and delivered these opinions in such a soothing-yet-confident manner that I just couldn’t help but get right behind him. Oh, and the stuff he came out with on gay marriage? Top flight Question Timing.

So, where does all this leave me, hankering as I was for a right old evening of venom? Well part of me is a little a disappointed as it was just one of those nights where I really fancied getting hot under the collar but I must confess that it was a generally high quality episode made even higher by the presence of an audience member in a bow tie and dinner jacketish sort of affair. I’m still a sucker for innately posh gentlemen in a dapper get-up and as always, Surrey didn’t fail me. It must be down to all those £2 million homes that are full of grannies.

Tl;dr

Pickles: 5/10

Weigh(s a lot)

Flint: 6/10

(Has a certain) Cachet

Self: 6/10

(Is looking quite) Grey

Young: 8/10

(Is quite clearly) Gay

Atkinson: 3/10

(Is) Away (please leave a message and she’ll get………………. Right back to you)

The Crowd: 6/10

Way-hey!

Oaky-doaky, there we go(ky). I’m off to do the washing up and try to quell this feeling of apprehension that I’m about to see Eric Pickles barreling down my street. Have you people got nothing better to do than harass bloggers of minor significance? Have you not got homes to go to? Do I have to involve the authorities? Question Time panelists: There’s just no trusting them.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #20


questionable time 20 david dimbleby mona lisa

Good morning Lemmings oh God, this is going to be a little trickier than I anticipated. You see, the problem I’ve got is that is that I spent my whole week lulling myself into a false sense of security for the following reasons:

      1. Dewsbury is just down the road from me, I’ve covered it before and was pretty confident that things would pan out in a certain way.
      2. Whilst I didn’t (despite strenuous efforts) manage to get on the show myself, I did manage to insert a spy into the audience in the form of the redoubtable @smokethiscity. After a week of intensive QT coaching and espionage training I deployed my little Manchurian Candidate to Dewsbury with a clutch of pre-prepared questions and a communication device (see Fig. 1). Advantage Loudribs.
      3. Thanks to my new-found knack for subterfuge I also gained valuable prior knowledge with regards to the composition of the panel. Given that they were all repeat offenders whose foibles are well documented I was now supremely confident that I had the drop on this week’s episode.

Fig. 1

So yes, I had it all figured out. Starkey would be insufferable, Clarke would flounder but everyone would be very kind to him whilst the politicians would provide me with the regular meat and potatoes I need to make a decent Questionable Time. For once I was holding all the cards and I’ve spent most of this week looking forward to a nice, easy Friday write-up that would call for very little effort on my part. So why am I sitting here right now feeling like my brain’s about to explode? Here’s why:

1. Bloody Starkey

I think I can be forgiven for simply assuming that David Starkey was going to be a breeze to write-up this week given that the man’s a vortex of absurdity who seems to grab every opportunity to get a little repellent and theatrical with both hands. In fact, I could pretty much get away with giving him a good kicking in today’s Questionable Time as he did spend a disproportionate amount of time accusing audience members of “insolence”, having a go at the French for being smelly ingrates and being told (very firmly no less) to shut up by Dimbers, all of which is exactly the sort of dickish behaviour we’ve come to expect from him. The problem is that even though I would very much like to stick the boot in (not only would it be easy, it would also be incredibly fun), I just can’t bring myself to because in actual fact, he came out with some good stuff last night. HEY, WHERE ARE YOU ALL GOING?! COME BACK! I KNOW IT SOUNDS CRAZY BUT HEAR ME OUT!

Ok, still with me? Good. Let’s start with the NHS question. Now, as Starkey rightly pointed out, we as a nation get a little bit crazy with the Cheeze Whizz whenever the topic of health is bought up and in no area is this tendency more pronounced than that of GP’s, Unimpeachable Bastions of Moral Integrity that they are. Here’s the thing though, I used to work in primary care and while I can confirm that the vast majority of GP’s are Hard Working Pillars of the Community there is also a minority that are, for want of a better word, Money-Grubbing Bastards. It’s not a nice thing to say but it’s true and there are many practices out there that use every possible trick in the book to squeeze as much as they can out of the NHS for their own personal enrichment. Given that suggesting such a thing in public is only slightly less socially-acceptable than telling children that Santa’s dead, it takes a certain amount of guts to shine a light on this issue and Starkey deserves some credit for that.

Similarly, he also had some worthy stuff to say on the segregation question, particularly when it comes to the thorny issue of what do we do when the rights of two minorities collide (which in this case was the right of the gay community to be gay and the ‘right’ of a small section of the Islamic community to hate people being gay). Now, this is an area that most people shy away from because not only is it loaded with emotion, it is also savagely complicated and littered with squares that can’t be circled without some very hard and very painful soul-searching. Yet again though, Starkey had the chops to bring it up.

So here I am in a quandary: On the one hand I simply can’t get past the fact that watching Starkey is like watching an enormous trifle made of bile and that all the histrionics (“he thinks he’s Moses!”) do nothing to lessen that perception. However, I have to admit that unappealing as it is, that trifle does – in places – actually taste quite good and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s even a hint of nutritional value in it. Ah, bugger it. I can’t keep this of level cognitive maturity up… Here’s a puerile photoshop of a very fruity looking David Starkey circa-some-time-in-the-mid-’80’s (see Fig. 2). There, that feels better.

david-starkey-1980s-sailors-gif

Fig. 2

2. Clarke Carlisle absolutely blew me away.

Ok, I confess. I spent the first part of this episode being an absolute snob towards Clarke Carlisle. “Awwwwwww…” I thought out loud, “Look at the little footballer fluffing his careful rehearsed lines and looking totally out of his depth. Bless.”. So yes, again I was lulled into the notion that he’d be a doddle to write-up as he was performing exactly how one would expect a footballer on QT to perform. Then the segregation question landed and I was forced to instantly STFU for from this unassuming figure gushed a torrent of utter brilliance. Seriously, his response to that question hit so many nails on the head and did so with such obvious passion that I was completely taken aback. I can’t even remember exactly it was that he said but the way he said it put an instant song in my heart and for the first time in God knows how long I actually felt myself actively rooting for a panelist. So I’m sorry Clarke Carlisle. I’m sorry for being snobby and doubting you and I’m also sorry for that time when I inadvertently made your name a high-ranking result for the search term ‘pissflaps’. BFF’s?

3. The other panelists mattered not a jot.

So with all this Clarkey-Starkey business going on, I guess it’s fair to ask how our three political panelists did and if I’m being honest, there’s not a great deal to tell. Part of this was that because it was a very evenly split crowd so no-one really got the upper hand at any point, but it’s also because it was a very middle-weight panel in which the combatants were quite evenly matched. Sure, John Redwood was (as always) a little weird, Rachel Reeves a little over-briefed and Jo Swinson a little unbalanced by some torn loyalties but no-one really buggered anything up and nor could they really make their voices heard over Starkey’s shrill rhetorical antics. As a result I’m awarding all the politicos an arbitrary ‘5’. There’s no shame in it guys… Mediocrity is under-rated.

TL;DR

Redwood: 5/10

Largely fine.

Reeves: 5/10

I can’t whine.

Swinson: 5/10

Pretty benign

Starkey: 6/10

Bit of a swine

Carlisle: 8/10

Did shine

The Crowd: 7/10

Contained a spy (who dropped me a line).

So there you go, despite all my efforts to play puppet master and have myself an easy Friday my efforts have been in vain. Clearly myself and @smokethiscity aren’t CIA material. On a rather more sombre note, I’d just like to take this opportunity to say a fond farewell to Bob Franklin, a regular commenter on Questionable Time who sadly passed away last month. I always greatly valued his support, opinion and kind words and my thoughts are with Di, Toby and Rupert.

Next time Bob, next time…

Questionable Time #9


 

questionable time 9 david dimbleby italyGood morning Lemmings and welcome back? If that greeting doesn’t sound particularly resounding it is because last night’s episode was so dull that I’ll be genuinely surprised if anyone who watched the whole thing can summon the will to actually get out of bed today, let alone operate a computer. Seriously, I had to check my wrist to see if I still had a pulse about twenty minutes in and even this morning I still feel as if I’m on the edge of lapsing into a coma. Still, here we are so lets at least make the pretence of a go at it.

Ok, so the first indication I got that this wasn’t going to be a particularly riveting affair was when I saw the line-up and noted that none of the panelists had even the remotest connection with Newcastle. Granted, this isn’t necessarily a kiss of death but when combined with the fact that the civilian panel members were a neuroscientist and the editor of a Jewish newspaper in a week which has been neither very neurosciencey nor Jewishy, things start to look a little ominous. Still, there was a glimmer of hope that there may be some fireworks and that dull flicker came in the form of the ever-excitable Nadine Dorries. Surely a woman who is basically a moral panic generator (that is when she’s not too busy fibbing on her blog or crashing mini-tractors… See Fig. 1) can spice things up a bit? Wrong! To my shock and consternation, Dorries turned out to be pretty much a picture of restraint last night and despite wearing the largest poppy known to man she still managed to fall far short of her usually howling mad presentation.

nadine-dorries-tractor-gif

That was a bitter pill to swallow but I still had one iron left in the fire, a position filled by sad-eyed and harsh-voiced Labour Treasury bod Rachel Reeves. Tipped as one to watch and a woman whose star is presently on the rise, I was very much hoping that she could drive an armoured division of economic arguments straight through the coalition’s rather wobbly front line and on to the Wide Open Plains of Question Time Glory. However, what I wasn’t prepared for was quite how annoyingly good Michael Moore (a man whose head appears to be clamped into a permafrown by an invisible vice) is in defence. Now, when I say ‘good’, please don’t take that to mean anything in the realm of ‘exciting’ or ‘interesting’ because he wasn’t: In fact, Moore’s strategy seems to largely consist of checking the opposition by dragging the fight into the Tangled Thicket of Policy Detail and thus pin them into a very a narrow and frankly boring debate about how many Border Agency devils you can fit upon a Pilot Scheme Gone Wrong matchhead. To the extent that it denied Reeves the room to manoeuvre this little play was a resounding success but in terms of entertainment it was the equivalent eating Weetabix with no milk (or sugar).

So with Reeves unable to gain any real traction and Dorries on her best behaviour the only remaining hope that any good could come of this episode was left to Professor Colin Blakemore and Steven Pollard, both of who I considered to be long shots given that their day jobs weren’t exactly laden with topical potential. Ok, so it was occasionally entertaining to see Pollard get a little frothy about imagined terrorists in our midst/the virtues of Rupert Murdoch and Blakemore seems a reasonable enough bloke, but neither seemed that relevant to the debate and both were unable to provide anything more than a brief respite from the otherwise grindingly dull main event.

But it wasn’t just the panel that were the problem: It was also the nature of the questions that were at fault. Now, as you can probably deduce from the picture at the top of this post, I was pretty sure that Italy was going to be the pressing issues in this episode. And well I may have as the present woes of our Latin cousins marks the point at which this Euro crisis starts getting very real, very quickly and while I accept that the run up has been formidably long and drawn out, we’re now at the stage when the roller coaster stops its click-clack ascent and plunges us several hundred feet downwards at an eye-watering rate of knots. Remember when the world lost its head in 2008 and everything seemed to be seconds away from falling apart? Well that’s like the teacup ride compared to what this bad boy could have in store for us. Yet when this issue did finally raise its head it was wrapped up in the context of regional development and what should have been a serious discussion about impending economic doom turned into rallying point for the champions of that most totemic of causes, The Dualling of the A1. Ok, so there was a semi-interesting moment when some woman started calling Michael Moore a liar but seriously guys, do we have not slightly more substantial fish to fry? As for the rest of the questions, well the Borders Agency row could have gone somewhere if anyone had the slightest clue what’s going on with that at the moment while the whole poppy affair largely turned into a ‘don’t we love the troops?’ circlejerk. All-in-all a pretty ropey affair.

And the crowd themselves? Well, I suppose they did have the odd outburst every once in a while and watching a guy who was clearly doing his Movember best ask a question about computer games was fun in the sense that it reinforced just about every stereotype one could hold about checked shirt wearing do-gooders but in the main it was a pretty flat and tepid affair. Not that it was entirely their fault… I mean what exactly do you ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when you happen to be sitting in Newcastle? Please don’t annex Berwick-upon-Tweed?

Tl;dr

Dorries: 5/10

File under ‘S’ for ‘Sedate’

Reeves: 5/10

File under ‘T’ for ‘Thwarted’

Moore: 4/10

File under ‘U’ for ‘Uninspiring’

Blakemore: 5/10

File under ‘P’ for ‘Personable’

Pollard: 4/10

File under ‘I’ for ‘In Constant Fear of Terrorists’

The Crowd: 4/10

File under ‘D’ for ‘Downbeat’

Hey, that spells ‘STUPID’! That’s an acrostic. Stephen Pollard knows about acrostics.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #48


 

 

question time huddersfield

Morning Lemmings and praise be, we are no longer in Scotland and back on a more familiar footing, unhindered by issues I care not for and accents I can’t fathom. No Lemmings, this week we find ourselves in Huddersfield and I’m happy to say that I’ve got a pretty good idea of what goes on in that neck of the woods thanks to a rather colourful history I share with the town. Most of this is down to the fact that it’s only a few miles down the road from me but also because when the band I’m in first started playing live, we ended up in Huddersfield on a fair few occasions. Unfortunately for both me and Huddersfield, we hadn’t quite figured out the correct alcohol-to-performance ratio and one of our earlier gigs was largely characterised by me trying to explain/slur to the audience that “there’s no ‘I’ in ‘Huddersfeld Bus Staton”. This was largely met with bemused puzzlement but I remained undeterred and continued to berate the assembled rabble that “there’s no ‘I’ in ‘Huddersfeld Tran Staton” either. For reasons beyond me I just wouldn’t let this go (probably because I was very proud of being able to remove ‘I’s from words whilst barely being able to stand) and the evening rapidly descended into farce as I realised that all the things that my hands were doing with the guitar were not the things they were supposed to be doing. So yes, Huddersfeld and I go back a bit.

 

Sub-prime tales of amateur rockery aside, I was into this episode, not because it was in any way an epic bloodbath or anything remotely like that but mainly because it proved a cautionary tale into the pitfalls of frontbench politics. Our two protagonists in this tale of woe take the form of loco right-wing lodestar John Redwood and Womble-esque Secretary of State for Transport Norman Baker. Now, this pair have come at their career from completely opposite ends with Redwood entering government a bare two years after becoming an MP whilst Baker has only just arrived into a position of power after 13 years on the shelf. The experience of government for Redwood had been a chequered affair to say the least, what with him being possibly the most rabid proponent of Thatcherism in a government full of rabid proponents of Thatcherism, his now legendary bollocksing up of the Welsh national anthem and his failed attempt to topple John Major. Basically, he veered erratically between being genuinely, frighteningly crazy and a general purpose figure of ridicule. In contrast, Baker spent his early years being pretty much the textbook example of an effective backbencher and he had the guts to take on some very powerful figures (he started in motion the chain of events that led to Mandelson’s second resignation), would go out of his way to uncover things of an iffy nature (the Dr. Kelly affair comes to mind) and nurtured a whole host of kooky little side causes like Tibet. Here he is with a tiny manifestation of the Dalai Lama levitating between his cupped hands (see Fig. 1… it’s been a dry week for Google Images).

norman baker dalai lama

Fig.1

Fast forward to last night’s show and we find that the tables have turned and the results are quite dramatic for the fortunes of our protagonists. Take Redwood for example: Since he’s been on the backbenches Ol’ Vulcanchops has actually become quite fun as he wilfully takes potshots at his own party and this was apparent throughout the episode. Greece (which he insisted on addressing as ‘she’)? Let the bastards go under! U-turns? Couldn’t care less providing that someone stops Clarke from bumming offenders. Pensions?The public sector can go suck a lemon (actually, that’s a little unfair as he did attempt to act in a slightly conciliatory manner on this question)! Sure, some of what he said really shouldn’t be uttered north of the Severn-Wash line and he was rightly pilloried for taking the ‘it’s all Labour’s fault’ jalopy out for its ten trillionth spin but all the while he looked very comfortable and certainly wasn’t going to arse about with such trivialities as toeing the party line. Now, I realise that I’ve relentlessly taken the piss out of him in the past but that’s mainly because it’s so easy and in actual fact, I quite enjoyed seeing him on last night’s show, despite how weird that sounds as the words pass my lips. Jesus, did I really just say that?

Baker, by contrast, had an entirely different match and not a great one at that. He largely got away with the Greece question by letting Redwood go through the ‘Labour’s fault’ motions but he seemed vulnerable on the u-turn and pensions numbers. Granted, there was only one moment when things got really dicey (the boo-fest about the manifesto) but you could tell that he was on borrowed time and although he generally sounded reasonable, you got the sense that singing from the Downing Street issued hymn book was actually bloody hard work for him. And therein lies the rub: People like Baker and Redwood are essentially free range politicians and enticing though power may be, captivity in government leads inevitably to their slow decline into madness. In many ways I think that’s a shame because I like Baker and I think he’s well suited to his brief (Transport Minister is an inherently nerdy posting), but his main strengths lie in the fact that he’s very adept at holding the powerful to account and that’s something that’s very tricky to do when you’re actually in government. So sorry Norman, I know it’s cool to play with the biggest train set in the world but seriously, is it worth it?

The other big political story of the night was that Labour’s panelist actually did very well and about bloody time too if you don’t mind me saying (mind you, that’s what you get when you only put forward ex-Home Secretaries for ten million weeks in a row). On the stump for the Red Team was parliamentary n00b Rachel Reeves and funnily enough, the MP for my constituency. While I’ve never met Reeves personally, I did send her a very pedantic email prior to the election demanding why exactly I should vote for her and to her credit, she replied at length. Ok, so we had a few disagreements about foreign policy and I actually ended up voting Green, but at least she took the time to indulge my curmudgeonry and from that point on, I’ve been keeping a close eye on her. In terms of the show, she got off to a strong start with some well-aimed jabs at the coalition and also had the gumption to bring up the fact that the Tory’s were fully signed up to Labour’s spending plans prior to the crash. Quite why Labour have been so reluctant to pull this one out of the bag more often I don’t know but it’s nice to finally see someone pour cold water on what has been the coalitions stock response to pretty much any criticism. Most of her other response were also fairly robust with a good innings on pensions/u-turns and the crowd seemed to be largely signed up to the Reeves Manifesto. Ok, so if you’re a Labour politician facing Redwood in Huddersfield and the crowd aren’t with you then you might as well just give up as this is about as easy as it gets, but I was impressed with her performance and I’ve got a feeling that she’s one to watch… Even if her slightly blokey voice jars with her otherwise female face.

Right, that’s the political bit, now for the civilians, this week represented by Anorak-in-Chief David Mitchell and paragon of mumsiness Fern Britton. Given that Mitchell has now been appointed as the Default Face of Middlebrow Satire he was pretty much in his element on Question Time and he was very easy to watch. All his answers were pictures of reasonableness with a few chuckles thrown in for good measure and while he isn’t so great with the details, the points he was making all seemed to make a good amount of sense. Britton on the other hand was a completely different kettle of fish and most of her responses can be summed up as follows:

I’m too sure about [insert current subject here], but as a mother/woman/feminist [delete as appropriate] I despair/enthusiastically endorse [delete as appropriate] of whatever it is that we’re talking about”

When this approach to political debate is combined with a halting yet impassioned delivery you begin to feel like you’re being smothered to death with several tons of marshmallows. I’m conscious that this all sounds a little po-faced as Britton doesn’t pretend to be anything other than human security blanket and her Blair interview made it clear that she’s the softest of softballers but I just don’t think her MO makes for very good Question Timing. Sure, it garners claps-a-plenty but it doesn’t really add anything to mix. Having said that, it would have been funny if Phillip Schofield was also on the panel and they ended up descending into their obligatory fog of giggles and innuendo, but until that happens my face will continue to be po.

So that was panel, what of the audience? On the face of it this was a pretty mundane show: Redwood largely behaved, no-one said anything especially earth-shattering and the biggest clap of the night actually went to Dimbleby when he speared Baker with some high velocity tuition fees. Having said that though it was just what I needed, largely because I instantly understood it. Given that I live in Leeds, the politics of the M62 are my bread and butter and this crowd were pretty much a living representation of what that entails. Sure, they weren’t the most exciting bunch (although the guy who looked like the Pennines’ answer to the X-Factor’s Wagner did spice things up a little) and no major scalps were claimed but it had the feel of a very well made cup of tea: Ultimately unexciting but immensely comforting nevertheless.

Tl;dr

Redwood: 6/10

(orange) Hued

Baker: 4/10

(got) Booed

Reeves: 7/10

Wooed

Mitchell: 6/10

Dude

Britton: 5/10

(probably makes a whole bunch of women feel) Brood(y)

The Crowd: 5/10

(sub)Dued

Ok, so that was totally mellow. Sorry if it wasn’t the most exciting report but it really did feel like a warm bath episode and warm baths are only funny if someone farts in the them. No one farted in this episode. Anyway, you’ll be pleased to know the mellowness was only transitory in nature and was soon ripped apart by the eye-splitting spectacle of Michael Portillo and Alan Johnson wearing near identical stripy shirts on This Week (and that was before the horror of watching Will Hutton’s strange face in HD). Expect more reasonable levels of irritability to return in the next instalment.

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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