Posts Tagged 'Ruth Lea'

Questionable Time #32


questionable time 32 david dimbleby michael jackson bad

Good morning Lemmings and many thanks for your patience… As predicted, last week never happened as I was far too busy watching NOFX on the Thursday night and then subsequently far too busy trying to stop the room from spinning wildly out of control on the Friday, hence no Questionable Time. Still, here we are now (minus a certain amount of dignity) so let’s see what we can make out of last night’s choppy little number. Go!

We need to talk about Andy Burnham…

Seriously, we do because while he always seems to do quite well I tend to come away from his appearances feeling like I’ve somehow been hoodwinked. This isn’t a new thing – I’ve always had some lingering suspicions about Burnham – but I think last night was the first time that I caught a glimpse of what it is about him that makes me have to check that my wallet hasn’t been pinched: It’s because he’s a Strong Finisher.

Strong Finishing in Question Time works like this: Upon receipt of a question you do not hesitate and immediately start to answer in a robust manner with the first thing that pops into your head. Now, that thing in your head might very well be wrong so constantly monitor the audience for signs of approval/disapproval and if things start to look dicey quickly segue into the next thing that pops into your head and see if that does any better. The key here is speed and vigour: If you pause or falter for even a nanosecond people will then know you’re up to something so it’s vital that you just plough on through and shimmy so quickly that your flip-flopping doesn’t have time to register in the minds of the audience. Eventually, you will stumble on a line that works and at that point you simply open up the throttle and romp to victory safe in the knowledge that if the finish is strong enough, no-one will remember the bit at the start where you were talking twaddle.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Well maybe on paper but in practice it’s a good deal trickier and not everyone gets it right. Warsi’s a good example: There are times when she uses the above tactics to great effect but all too often she’s stymied by a tin ear for the audience. This can result in her picking entirely the wrong point to hammer and her Strong Finish becomes a Cataclysmic Finish, much to her detriment and the wider world’s amusement. Burnham though? Well he’s bloody good at it, good to the point where it makes me a little queasy. Take for example the question about the BMA strike. Labour are in a right pickle over this and can end up contorting themselves into all manner of uncomfortable stances, just as Burnham did in his initial response (it was one of those ‘I totally condemn you for striking but well done for striking’ type answers). However, what sets him apart is how he then seamlessly reframed the entire question into one about NHS cuts and did so without breaking his stride. That bit at the start when he sounded like he was arguing with an imagined doppelgänger? Forgotten. The overwhelming impression one’s left with? Here’s a man who knows what he’s talking about.

So yes, it’s all very much too-clever-by-half and I’d like to take this opportunity to declare that I’m officially ‘On To’ Andy Burnham but there’s also one last thing I’d like to bring up about the Shadow Health Secretary: His eyelashes. My mum noticed a while back that Burnham is rather well endowed in the eyelash department and upon closer inspection I can confirm that he has both majestic and lustrous ocular trimmings. In fact, they’re so impressive that I think he’s missing a trick by not trying to accentuate them further and I’ve even gone so far as to put together a mock-up of what a little tarting up could do for him (see Fig. 1). Seriously Andy, go for it.

andyburnham-eyelashes-gif

Fig. 1

I find the West Midlands strangely endearing…

If you watch enough QT you start becoming very familiar with the way different audiences react under the studio lights. For example, shows in Liverpool always leave me feeling like I’ve just watched the inhabitants of a belligerent city-state convene a protest march against its geopolitical patron while episodes in Yorkshire are largely dominated by people telling us how bloody wonderful everything about Yorkshire is. The point is that there’s usually a sense of otherness (except in the case of London which simply refuses to acknowledge that anything exists beyond the M25), a sense that this particular locale’s problems are unique or that their virtues are unusually conspicuous. You don’t see that in the West Midlands as the audiences tend to look comfortable in their own skin yet also seem to be completely without guile. Yup, we’re from the Black Country. Yup, it’s not the most glamorous corner of the earth and yup, we may look a little hard done by but that’s perfectly ok with us. You know what? I really quite like that.

Oh, and before we move away from the audience, kudos to the angry young man who told Gove that he “worked damn hard for his GCSE’s” and that Education Secretary can “sit them for [him]”. I spoke to The Man this morning and he said that he got it totally stuck to him last night. Well done there Angry Young Man.

And the rest of ’em?

Well Ken Clarke certainly looked little more awake and alert than last time and didn’t do a bad job of soaking up the ire while Len McClusky cemented himself as Most Palatable Union leader simply by not looking as smug as Mark Serwotka or as violent as Bob Crowe. Disappointing to see Ruth Lea being largely calm and level-headed last night as I do love it when she gets a bit scatty on the free market catnip. Alas, she kept things largely within the realms of the reasonable last night so there’s no fun to be had there I’m afraid. And finally there’s Julie White, a lady of unknown providence who tends to say “you know?” when she clearly doesn’t know. Having said that, she was the least annoying entrepreneur we’ve had on for years and should I ever need to bore through large quantities of concrete with a diamond headed drill, she’ll be the first to know.

Tl;dr

Burnham: Sneaky

6/10

Clarke: (Doesn’t seem bothered by who got) Leaky (with the GCSE thing)

6/10

McCluskey: (Is less) Creepy (than some of his colleagues)

5/10

Lea: (Disappointingly un-)Freaky

5/10

White: (Looked a little) Peeky (at the start)

5/10

The Crowd: (Like to wear) Dashiki(s)?

6/10

Hmmm… Adequate marks for an adequate show, no more, no less. To be honest, I’m rather hoping that the news straightens itself out in the coming weeks as it’s been a little disjointed of late and that hasn’t made for great QT-ing. Still, we’re off to sunny Luton next week and who can tell what delights await us other than a hard-to-get-to airport and simmering racial tensions? Come back next week to find out.

Next week Lemmings, next week….

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #23


Morning Lemmings and well done for having survived an entire week without me. The pain, I realise, must have been close to unbearable but you’re through to the other side now, basking in the warm glow of our shared love for Question Time. So kudos to you.

Anyhoo, I’m back and if I’m not mistaken, this appears to be the last episode in this series of Question Time. That’s right, the Series That Stubbornly Refused To End appears to have finally chuntered itself into a state of coma, leaving us all to twiddle our Thursday night thumbs for the next six weeks. So, with this in mind, let us gather round the hospital bed as the Good Doctor Dimbers makes ready to yank out the power cord from the life support whilst we mouth empty platitudes and extrapolate wildly on the contents of the will. This, dear Lemmings, is The End. At least until September, that is.

The Menu:

Q1: Was it right to revoke Nick Griffin’s invite to Buckingham Palace?

Q2: Is The Big Society Big Cover for Big Cuts?

Q3: 67% of the population want a burqa ban but Damian Green says it’s “un-British”. Who’s right?

Q4: Should Alex Salmond account for the release of alMaghari to Obama instead of David Cameron?

Q5: Is the Tomlinson case a cover-up?

In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Damian Green, Minister of State for Borders and Immigration and one time Man In The Frame for a very fishy bit of policing.

I’m always at a bit of loss with Damian Green because although he’s been knocking about on the Tory frontbenches since 2001, the only thing that springs to mind when his name is mentioned is the rather sketchy looking incident when he was arrested (and then subsequently cleared) for misconduct in public office. To be sure, that was a grubby looking brouhaha that deservedly filled the front pages for a good long while, but it’s had the effect of defining his period in parliament and I really can’t recall a time when Damian Green has been on my radar for any other reason.

Part of this is down to the fact that it was a genuine scandal in which he appears to have been stitched up, but some of it is also to do with the fact that he simply isn’t that memorable. On the one hand, he’s certainly not incompetent and I can’t recall a time where I’ve thought ‘that there Damian Green, he’s a right numpty’, but on the other hand, he simply doesn’t seem to have that much of a presence and his MO very much seems to be ‘say things with an air of mild understatement, stick to the middle, don’t rock the boat too much and it will all be gravy’.  So yes, he’s political semi-skimmed: Serviceable in a workaday manner, but hardly the heady luxury of vein clogging silvertop.

His general reasonableness was very much on display in Q1 where he gave props to The Red Team for beating the BNP in Barking and generally sidestepped any potential booby traps by simply saying it was the Queen’s call. Q2, however, was less benign and he had to resort to the ‘it’s all Labour’s fault’ defence after Dimbers started looking dangerous with talk of unbuilt schools. Now, the Coalition have to be careful with this particular attack because it’s fast approaching it’s sell by date and will start to look pretty shabby if they carry on using it at its current frequency after September. Following this, the schools issue continued to be a thorn in his side, but he did have a brief flourish at the end when he declared that Labour would have probably done something pretty similar themselves (whilst simultaneously trying to look very, very upset and serious. D- for feigned indignation). That just about got him off the hook. Next up was Burqagate in Q3 and the mood in the room suddenly soured. Sensing some easy points, Farage lost no time in huffing and puffing about the madness of it all and he was soon scrapping with Green about what happens when burqa wearers go to banks. The audience then bundled in with supplementary ‘we have to show our faces in Tesco/BBC studio’s/etc, etc’ but credit where credit’s due, Green stood his ground and then went on the offensive by asking everyone to imagine just how stupid it would look if the police actually started arresting burqa wearers. That was a nice little switcheroo. Unfortunately, that was pretty much it from him as Q’s 5-6 mainly consisted of empty waffle and hedged bets that didn’t really go anywhere. Still, it could have been a lot worse and all-in-all, it wasn’t a bad effort, even if it wasn’t exactly gripping stuff. Still can’t say that he left much of an impression though.

A low fat 6/10

In The Red Corner: Sadiq Khan, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport and pay rise turner-downer.

Now here’s an interesting specimen. Oft-mooted as a potentially British Obama, Khan sports a set of pretty much spotless credentials, marred only by some minor expenses shenanigans. After being raised in a council estate, he’s gone from being a human rights lawyer to a Labour councillor before finally making it to the Commons in 2003 and then on to the Cabinet in 2010. So far, so admirable. However, there is one vital ingredient  missing in this otherwise beneficent mix and that, I’m afraid to say, is charisma. It’s not that he’s a bad communicator or that he has a habit of sticking his foot in it. It’s just that it takes him so long to get going, like an engine that’s lubricated with Marmite. He also has hair like Guile from Street Fighter 2. That’s cool though.

So yes, he’s not noted for his acceleration, but he did get off to a reasonably good start on Q1 by looking stern and telling everyone that it ‘served Nick Griffin right’ to get his invite to the Palace withdrawn. Boxes ticked and applause received, he then went on to Q2, a question that had a lot of potential for a Labour panellist. It started promisingly enough when he accused the Tories of being “vacuous branding men” who weren’t fooling anyone, but he didn’t drive home the attack and the initiative passed him by. Later on, he came back for another swipe, this time aimed at the middle-classes for receiving too much Tory money (which is a very dangerous game) and soon found himself handing over some easy points to Green. Hmmmm… Not the wisest strategy. Q3 resulted in much scrapping between himself, Farage and the audience and although he did make a good stab at taking the high ground, it wasn’t entirely effective and Farage managed to reap some fairly handsome applause when he played the old ‘you guys had 13 years to do something about this’ card. Ouch. Finally, along limped Q’s 4 and 5, but everyone had pretty much given up caring at this point and not much was made of it.

The above is a good illustration of why Khan has never managed to convert his ‘British Obama’ props in to the cold, hard, political power that such a title demands: You just don’t get the sense that he has the killer instinct. Yes, he’s clearly a clever guy who’s achieved a great deal in his life and yes, he has an admirable record in all of his dealings with the exception of his (admittedly minor) expenses claim. However, when it comes to the crunch, his manner just doesn’t carry that much weight and I found myself to be left wanting by his performance. I hope that this changes over time because I do think he has a lot to offer, but until then, he really needs to start pumping some oratory iron.

A somewhat clumsy but somewhat acceptable 5/10

In The Red White And Blue Corner: Nigel Farage, UKIP leader and shamelessly death defying self publicist.

Look who’s back! It’s Britain’s favourite value-for-money demagogue and amateur cad, Nigel Farage! That’s right, for as we are all aware, just prior to the election, Nigel Farage literally crashed and not so literally burned as an oh so UKIP publicity stunt went oh so predictably wrong. Yet from this wreckage emerged a man who will not let anything as trivial as death stand in the way of his tireless defence of our green and pleasant land. Gawd bless yer Nigel, the yeomanry of Great Britain are forever indebted to you. Speaking of which, I have noticed that a photo of the incident, featuring a dazed, battered and dishevelled looking Farage has since disappeared from Google Images, which is a shame as it represented the perfect juxtaposition of both comedy and tragedy. Luckily, I managed to save a copy myself, now proudly displayed below in a somewhat enhanced form below (see Fig. 1).

Yowzers!

Fig. 1

Anyway, it was pretty much stock Farage tonight and he stuck to his tradition of starting out on a semi-reasonable footing before picking a fight with everyone and then consequently drowning in a sea of animosity he himself created. I call it The Farage Trajectory. Here’s how it worked last night: Q1 had him sounding, dare I say it, very sensible as he took the now familiar ‘hate the BNP, but they are elected’ line which was received with some very sensible sounding applause before then embarking on a bit of a non-answer to Q3 that was saved at the last minute by some ‘isn’t the voluntary sector great’ cheapery. However, it was Q3 where the more confrontational Nigel (who I’ve perversely come to actually quite like in a completely counter intuitive way) emerged and scraps were had with all. Some nonsense was spouted, some wide eyed monkeyshine invoked and a telling off from Dimbers received but oddly (and worryingly) the crowd seemed to be mostly behind him. The Farage Trajectory then asserted itself with renewed vigour as he made a fairly long winded stab at Americans in general, only to find that there was an American woman in the audience who happened to take offence. Doh! Bad luck there Nigel! Finally, he managed to buck his eponymous trajectory on Q5 as he got a brief squirt of applause for saying that the Tomlinson case “stinks”. Damn. I hate it when a trajectory doesn’t come together.

So that was that and as usual, I really quite enjoyed it. Yes, he’s crazy as a shit house rat and yes, he’s full of tawdry, two-bit plays, but come on, he really does bring something to show. Never change Nigel. Never change.

An awe inspiringly tacky 8/10

In The Independent/Brainy Corner: Ruth Lea, hard headed economist type and purveyor of all round wtf?!-ness.

Ok, ok, so I’ve done the ‘doesn’t Ruth Lea look just like that weird little boy from the Antiques Roadshow who ended up being a woman’ gag before (see title image), but c’mon, gags like that come but once a lifetime. In fact, so taken am I by this rather cheap trick that from here on in, Ruth Lea will always be represented by a picture of the aforementioned Weird Little Boy From The Antiques Roadshow Who Ended Up Being A Woman. My blog, my rules, ok?

Anyhoo, Ruth Lea’s back she’s usually pretty predictable. It works like this: If it’s anything to do with the public sector, it’s bad. If Gordon Brown’s been within 500 miles of it, it’s bad. If there’s the slightest whiff of anyone trying to pour cold water on the throbbing sinews of dog-eat-dog capitalism, it’s not just bad, it’s an affront to humanity and the perpetrator fully deserves to have their eyes poked out with a statuette of Milton Friedman. That’s how Ruth Lea works and providing there’s someone around at the other end of the spectrum to put up a bit of a fight, it can be quite fun watching her get all fundamental and crazy about all things economic.

When I saw the line up tonight, I was delighted. I wasn’t too bothered by either the Red or Blue team, but the thought of Ruth Lea going toe-to-toe with her polar opposite, Bob Crow, filled me with giddy optimism. This had to result in an epic and bad tempered shitstorm, right? Wrong. In actual fact, what we got was a quite sedate Ruth Lea who failed to build up to her usually ginormous levels of moon howling lunacy. Q1? Perfectly reasonable. Q2? Low levels of bureaucracy and Gordon Brown bashing, but nothing like the torrent of fervent zeal we’re accustomed to. Q3 A picture of even handed tolerance (and she told Nigel Farage to “put a sock in it”) Q4? Neither here nor there. And Q5? Not even worth mentioning.

Well, that wasn’t very fun, was it and if I’m being totally honest, I feel a little cheated. So come on Ruth. You’ve got a role to fill and that’s the role of Never Say Die, snake eating, free market extremist. Next time, I expect to hear at least one reference to how the Invisible Hand is going to bitchslap me silly for paying my taxes or a call for Parliament to be sold to Primark. Now be off with you!

A disappointingly sane 4/10

In The ‘I’m The Funny One’/Just Like You Corner: Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT and Salt Of The Erf.

I have a theory about Bob Crow. I contend that there are in fact two Bob Crow’s and that they alternate their media appearances on a random basis. Sometimes, it is the principled, down to earth, Defender of The People Bob Crow who sallies into the studio, ready to fight the little guy’s corner and stand up for a fairer society. On other occasions it is YOU’RE GOIN’ ‘OME IN A FACKING AMBULANCE, Scargillite bull-in-a-china shop Bob Crow who bludgeons his way through the door, ready to pick a fight with anyone who grew up in a house that had an indoor toilet (as aptly represented in Fig. 2 and in this episode of Have I Got News For You).

SHADWELL ARMY!

Fig. 2

Tonight, we got the former and I must say, I was quite impressed. On pretty much every question, he made his point in a robust way that managed to stay on the right side of anger and even when he was harried by a bloke in the audience who clearly was a bit of a tit, he managed to keep the aggression that can so often be his undoing in check. Ok, so his performance was littered with an inordinate number of slightly bizarre World War II references (his granddad in the 8th Army, the uncle shot in Rangoon, Q2’s “Dad’s Army” barb , government spending in 1945, etc) and his bankers/Dick Turpin joke fell a bit flat, but the audience were behind him in impressive numbers and he came across like a man with genuine convictions who was in it for the right reasons. I will admit to being slightly pissed off that the other Bob Crow didn’t turn up, if only to have a fight with Ruth Lea, but I can’t deny that there was a lot to like about this outing.

A sturdy 7/10

The Crowd: Hartlepool

Ok, so I don’t quite know what to make of this lot. On the one hand, they were a pretty noisy, knockabout crowd with some good stand out solo’s (American Farage Mauler, I’m looking at you), whilst on the other, the reaction to the burqa question scared me a little and I sort of got the feeling that quite a few of them were there simply to have a go at someone (which is the point of Question Time, but you know what I mean, right?). This wasn’t really helped by having Red and Blue panellist who were competent enough to not really bugger anything up, but not seasoned/skilful enough to build a head of steam and smite their foes. Add in to that the fact that Ruth Lea’s medication has obviously kicked in while Bob Crow has experienced some instant mellowing and the show as a whole ends up looking a little frustrating. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad episode and there was some interesting stuff there, but in general I just found it a little incoherent and slapdash. Thank god for Farage, eh?

Oh Christ… I really did just say that, didn’t I…

A confusing 5/10

So that’s it! This series over! While this is the first series that I’ve actually written about, it totally does stick in my mind as one of the more eventful and dramatic ones, particularly during the March-June arc. Since then we’ve been through a period of politics that really has completely turned everything on its head and we emerge at the other end in a very uncertain, but utterly fascinating landscape that continues to shift and contort. I have no idea where things are going at the moment. I have suspicions and inklings, but nothing that I’d take to the bank. All I do know is that it’s watching the flux of events through the window of Question Time is a whole bunch of fun and that I’ll be back for more in September.

If you’ve been following this blog, many, many thanks. It’s sometimes a pain in the arse to write and produce as I work full time and you’d be surprised just how much long it takes to make, but it’s all worth it when people say nice things to me about it. I’m not entirely sure what’s going to happen to it by the next series. It’ll be back in one form or another, but it just might be on a different platform. Anyhow, check back in from time-to-time, because you never know, I might get round to finally updating the scoreboard-that-is-of-my-own-devising-yet-I-still-don’t-understand. Emphasis on the word ‘might’. MIGHT

And finally some special thanks go out my Mum for the proof reading and gentle ticking offs whenever the spelling/typos/swearing got too appalling (I was born in 1979. I am living proof of 18 years of Tory education policy), the good people at reddit’s /r/unitedkingdom and /r/ukpolitics (your upboats and comments gave me a major morale boost at exactly the point when I needed it most) Jalf for techy brain picking/holiday Friday escapism, Benry for Spreadhead, Rick for the banter and most of all to my partner Hannah for putting up with what could quite often be quite the curmudgeonly Loudribs. xx

See y’all in September.

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #4


Conti. Semi-naked. Harsh.

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

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

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

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

An assured 6/10

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

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

A potential laden 7/10

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

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

A ‘Must Try Harder’ 4/10

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

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

Separated at weird birth?

Fig. 1

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

An Unduly Moderate 5/10

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

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

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

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

A random but enthralling 8/10

The Crowd: Middlesbrough

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

A brave endeavour, sadly stymied. 8/10

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


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