Posts Tagged 'Sarah Teather'

Questionable Time #59

questionable time 59 david dimbleby a clockwork orange

Good morning Lemmings and what’s that I can see out of my window? A thin and clingy drizzle? A non-specific yet probably unsatisfactory ambient temperature? A sky the colour of dishwater? Hurrah, Spring must finally be here! In other good news, I am also delighted to say that after 12 days of full spectrum Thatcher saturation, this will probably be the last dose of collective fawning/damning-to-hell-and-back of the late-PM’s memory that you will have to endure for the foreseeable future – barring of course the remote but not entirely implausible scenario where she rises from the grave and returns to visit great terror upon this realm. I can’t rule it, but I think we’re safe for the moment. Right, off we go to Aldershot.


Sarah Teather appears to be trapped in a hellish netherworld…

It was never going to be easy for the more socially democratic members of the Yellow Team to sit comfortably in the passenger seat of power while the Blue Team were running all the red lights but some have coped with it better than others. Take for example Vince Cable: So far as I can tell he’s adapted to this new reality by flipping a coin every morning and letting the outcome decide whether he’s going to be anti or pro-coalition on that particular day. It’s not the most elegant solution but it appears to work for him. Then of course there’s Tim Farron, a man who just flat-out decided that the 2010 election never happened and decided to carry on being an opposition MP just for the hell of it. Again, it’s a rather unconventional approach but it’s one that’s enabled him to live with himself nevertheless. But what of Sarah? Well there’s a tragedy unfolding before our very eyes.


Unceremoniously reshuffled out of government when it became clear that her heart really wasn’t in this whole coalition business, she’s since been fidgeting uncomfortably on the backbenches, occasionally breaking cover to pop off a few rounds of Dear Sir, Imagine My Concern but mostly just looking really ill at ease. Last night’s question on the benefit cap is instructive on this front: Here she made some really valid points about how this measure will probably cost more than it saves and rightly called it out as a cheap political trick, yet it was delivered with such a pained expression of nebulous concern that it got steamrolled by the Flint/Platell Queen Bee-off and all we were left with was a chewed lip and furrowed brow. Similarly, when asked by Dimbers about whether she really was a supporter of the coalition, the answer was so ‘maybe, kinda, possibly’ that it just sort of petered out and gave the impression that she genuinely doesn’t know one way or the other.


This is problematic because as bone-headed as it may be, we have trouble with uncertainty and despite our frequent howls for a more nuanced and thoughtful version of politics, deep down all we really want is a good punch-up. Right now, Teather’s just too conflicted for a proper ruck and until she makes her mind up about which side (if any) she’s on, she will continue to be drowned out by louder voices. So Sarah, you have a very simple choice to make: Either get in that tent and start pissing out or make for the exit and be ready to piss in. What you can’t do though is hover around the fly screen with your legs crossed because eventually you’ll wet yourself.


Hello Strange Stranger…

Imagined being tucked into bed by Michael Howard. There you are with your jimmy jams on and teeth all brushed but something is bothering you.


Uncle Mike,” you say “is it right that people who are on benefits can earn more than those in work? I just asked Auntie Sarah about it and it made her terribly sad”


Weeeeeeell,” says Uncle Mike with his kindly-if-a-little-unsettling smile and rigourously eee-nun-ceee-ated sill-eee-buls “your Auntie Sally is riiiight. No-one waaaaants to cuuuut ben-eee-fiiiiiits. That’s the last thing in the wuuuuuuuurld we want to happen.”

‘Oh good’ you think as your eyelids grow heavy with every stretched vowel ‘Uncle Mike thinks everything’s going to be alright’


Buuuuuut, we’re in HOCK and everyone must paaaaay or the wuuuuuurld will end! Sleep well Tiny Ribs!”


See what I’m getting at here? When it comes to Michael Howard it always starts with ‘there’s nothing to worry about’ and ends up with a bloody great monster under the bed. Having said that, I’d probably take Michael Howard tucking me into bed over him being my dentist any day of the week (see Fig. 1).



Fig. 1

Of Flint and Rhys-Jones…

Not much to say really. Flint, as ever, went into it all guns blazing and seemed to come out on top but as always it was by the skin of her teeth thing as she was in regular danger of tumbling over her own words. As for Griff, well he made good use of talking very loudly and playing the Hey, I’m Just A Comedian card when things got tricky, a winning yet slightly unfair tactic employed by every fifth panelist since the dawn of time. On the whole though there’s nothing to get too steamed about so let’s leave it at that. Move along now, nothing to see here.


And the award for Most Ludicrous Statement of the Series goes to…


I’m proud that the Daily Mail takes this very seriously… To report the facts”

Amanda Platell, 2013

So yes, Amanda Platell made the above statement to a hearty chorus of hysterical laughter and then proceeded to double down on this strategy by calling everyone ‘darlin” and picking a fight with a doctor. Well done Amanda, you’ve got this QT thing down pat.




Howard: 5/10



Flint: 6/10



Teather: 5/10



Platell: 4/10



Rhys-Jones: 5/10



The Crowd: 5/10

(Live within the constraints of General Relativity) Theory?


And that’s that: A generally watchable affair spiced up by a brief division into the absurd courtesy of Ms. Platell. Right, I’m off to Sheffield to watch Propagandhi and get dangerously stoked.


Next week Lemmings, next week…


Questionable Time #24

questionable time 24 david dimbleby nelson

Good morning Lemmings (or should I say ‘Ahoy there Sea Lemmings’) and welcome to a city that should hold a very dear place in your hearts, purely because it is the place of my birth. That’s right, you owe Portsmouth a big one because without it, what would you be doing right now? Well I’ll tell you one thing for sure, you wouldn’t be sitting here getting a hefty dose of post-Question Time nonsense and in all likelihood you’d actually be engaged in some sort panic buying, be it petrol, stamps or Steak Bakes. So three cheers for Pompey, that majestic beacon of brutalist architecture and warlike things that was kind enough to bring me into the world. Speaking of which, let’s also hear it for the very early onset of Silly Season this year as this has been the most ludicrously fun week in politics I can remember for some time and that’s even before we take into account Gorgeous George’s stunning little coup in the North. I heard him refer to it as the ‘the Bradford Spring’ this morning. Dammit George, you may be a self-aggrandising, cat-imitating, cranky-despot-in-the-making but boy are you value for money. Anyway, I digress… On to some Questionable Timing. Here’s what we learned last night:

1. Labour really need to get their act together, tout suite…

As I just mentioned, this week has been one of those magical moments in politics where absurdity reigns supreme and seeing how the Tories appear to be main purveyors of preposterousness, the chief beneficiaries of this febrile atmosphere should be none other than the Labour party, right? Well judging by last night’s show, maybe not. Why? Well, I’d hazard a guess at the following:

  • Douglas Alexander was not the man for the job last night.

I’ve got nothing against Wee Dougie. He seems a nice (if somewhat bland) little chap who appears vaguely competent and tends to play things on the duller side of inoffensive. That’s all perfectly acceptable in my book as I have an innate respect for the mediocre and I also appreciate that as a defensive player, he can be rather canny. However, what Alexander is not is a balls-out, pedal-to-the-metal political hooligan and what was the one thing Labour needed last night? A balls-out, pedal-to-the-metal political hooligan. Seriously, I actually found it a little upsetting last night as there was so much potential for mischief from the Red Team yet Alexander simply didn’t have the pace, the instinct or the gumption to make any real hay from it. Ed Balls? As fatally compromised as he may be, he would have at least been able to harness those baser urges of his and would mostly likely have produced more hay than a Massey-Ferguson convention but no, instead we got a politician who although adept at identifying threats is simply not cut out to exploit opportunities. To shame Labour, to shame…

  • By contrast, Anna Soubry was very much up for it.

Come on let’s face it, we were all secretly hoping that the Blue Team were going to send Francis Maude on last night. It would have been the crowning glory to a week of self-inflicted nonsense but alas, wiser heads prevailed at Conservative HQ and what we got instead was Anna Soubry, a politician whose stock has just gone up in my book. So why was she a good choice? Well for one, she is very much her own person who has no problem with taking positions that run contrary to the party line. Considering how the party line this week has been something along the lines of ‘whoopsie-titting-bollocks’, that can only be a good thing. The other key asset that Soubry has is that she doesn’t appear to be posh (a case in point being her stance on grammar schools) and considering how the whiff of privilege is fast becoming one of the most toxic odours emanating from the Tory party, this was also a thing of much goodness. So yes, in contrast to Wee Dougie, Soubry was the right person for the job and the Blue Team owe her big time for successfully navigating their rickety old sloop through such choppy waters.

  • Labour are still incapable of making the political weather.

With the exception of Pastygate which seems to largely be the progeny of one very enterprising Labour MP, all of the open goals that have been presented to the Red Team this week have been entirely a result of the Conservatives own ineptitude and even then, Labour still find themselves vulnerable to counter-attacks (largely over the unions). Considering just how unpopular many of the measures this current government are taking are and just how much of a tin ear they have when it comes to communicating with people we would expect Labour to be heavily in the ascendant right now but they’re not. Why? Because aside from minor tinkering they still can’t articulate a plausible narrative as to what they would do differently and until they do we will continue to see them struggling to gain the initiative. Sort it out, Red Team.


2. Something horrible seems to have happened to Sarah Teather.

If I cast my mind back to the simpler times before the election I seem to recall that I actually grew rather fond of Sarah Teather. Ok, so I took the piss a bit when I insinuated that she was in fact made of interlocking circles but she did have a good line on the hopey-changey stuff and put in some very solid QT performances. However, it appears that all good things must come to an end and the Sarah Teather we got last night was a very different one from that of two years hence, one that appears to have been mentally ravaged by the experience of government. Take that awful moment in the first question when she failed to pick up on the actually quite funny joke made by an audience member about setting your house ablaze during a fire brigade strike. Now I’m a little torn as to whether she genuinely didn’t get it or was just being wilfully aloof but the result was terrible and made her come across like a really uptight school mistress who does not, repeat NOT, find the rudimentary schoolboy drawings of willies on the toilet walls to be funny. Admittedly things did pick up for her a little later on but I was constantly getting the impression that being in government is really hard for Teather and that it requires a considerable amount of self-censorship on her part. That in itself isn’t entirely unusual (in fact, lip biting appears to be the pastime of choice for left learning Lib Dems these days) but the way it manifests with Teather is because she appears to be troubled by an imaginary wagging finger that scolds her every time a non-government endorsed notion pops into her head. That’s a real pity because her appeal used to lay in the fact that she could be quite passionate when she was emotionally invested in a particular issue but now she just seems to have actively repressed her own beliefs to the point that she’s lost a part of herself and that’s a sad thing to witness. Maybe a pasty would cheer her up.


3. The Civilian Panelist were so-so.

Is it just me or could Alexei Sayle simply not be arsed with being on Question Time last night? Maybe it was the rambling answers (‘I don’t care’ → ‘Something about the North’ → ‘Capitalists and that’), maybe it was the fact that he looked like he had a raging hangover (nothing says ‘Oh God, just make it stop’ like sitting with your head in your hands for an hour) but yes, he didn’t exactly look like he had a song in his heart or a spring in his step. By contrast, Simon Jenkins was much more game but he never really got the opportunity to do what he does best: Be difficult for the sake of it. Ok, so he looked like he might get a little cantankerous on the matter of the Falklands and he had the odd moment of wit on the petrol crisis but there was nothing for him to get his teeth really stuck into. However, I am pleased to announce that I have finally obtained conclusive evidence that his face is in fact made of sandstone. Behold Fig. 1 (and really behold it because it is far and away the most technically mind bending thing I’ve ever done in Photoshop).


simon jenkins rock face rockchops

Fig. 1



Alexander: 4/10

(Was as hushed as the Mary) Celeste

Soubry: 6/10


Teather: 4/10


Sayle: 4/10


Jenkins: 5/10

Suppressed (the urge to go absolutely batshit crazy)

The Crowd: 6/10

(Didn’t get) Undressed

So that’s, that… A good episode that could have been great had Labour put up someone with a little more vim, not to mention the luckiest of escapes for the Tories. Anyhoo, that’s enough from me until after Easter but I shall see you three weeks hence when Question Time will be coming to my home of the last 10 years, Leeds. Operation Try And Blag My Way Into The Audience is go! Let’s just hope it’s a little more successfully than the last two times I gave this little maneuver a whirl.



After Easter Lemmings, after Easter…


Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #41

question time david dimbleby magrite 41

Morning Lemmings and praise be, I managed to stay conscious throughout last night’s Question Time, a titanic feat made easier only by the absence of Danny Alexander and his voice. So bully for me, bully for you and bully for everyone. In short, bully all round.  Right, let’s get on with this.


Ok, so the first (repeat) offenders in my sights tonight take the shapely form of Boris Johnson and Diane Abbott, both of whom are very much personality based politicians (although cut form very different cloth) and both of whom, I suspect, are sitting on the horns of a dilemma right now. In the case of Boris, it’s very much to do with the fact that he’s been slightly wildernessed by events and that his naturally ambitious streak is having to rub up against the cruel mistress of reality. If we cast our minds back to a few years ago, you literally couldn’t switch on the telly without being assaulted by some sort of Borisness and despite the occasional gaffe, this worked very much in his favour as he had carved a very comfortable little niche for himself as The Nation’s Favourite Posh Idiot. Sure, technically he was a shadow minister, but by having fostered a cult of personality based largely around buffoonery and bluster, he was given a very generous portion of latitude with which to clown about and cement his position as the only Tory who people could actually begin to relate to (I use the term ‘relate’ in a very loose sense, like in the way we instinctively relate to people who accidentally wet themselves in public or walk around with spinach stuck between their teeth for days on end). However, Boris is a man who never seems content with his current position and beneath all the red-faced boyish caperings, it was clear that he was desperately searching for a bigger fish to fry and that ultimately, the biggest fish would always be the leadership of the Tory party. Unfortunately for Boris, these ambitions were very much put on ice thanks to the ascendance of David Cameron and never being one to play second fiddle, he instead focused on becoming Mayor of London, something that he inexplicably managed to achieve.


On the face of it, this should have been a triumph and for a good two years, he was the only Tory in the country who actually wielded any power. However, this seemingly benign turn of events also contained some nasty, jagged reefs just beneath the surface and as time went on, it became clear that this probably wasn’t the cushy number he had hoped it to be. Sure, having some real power is nice and all, but it becomes increasingly difficult to arse about on Have I Got New For You when you’ve got to wake up in the morning and run one of the largest cities in the world and the brand of endearing klutzery that you peddled prior to being in office is no longer the Get Out Of Jail Free Card it once was. “Never mind though” thought Boris, “it’s only a matter of time before the right-wing of the party get fed up with Cameron’s Bodenocracy and as soon as he appears to falter, there I will be, ready and waiting to seize the reigns of power”. On the face of it, that was a pretty good plan but unfortunately, the right wing insurgency hasn’t seemed to have materialised, Cameron is proving to be much more resilient than many gave him credit for and Boris is still knee-deep in being Mayor and having to appear like he isn’t a total disaster. Worsts.


The upshot of all this is that Boris is now rather boxed in when it comes to shows like Question Time. In the past, he could happily play things for laughs, do that whole ‘look at me, using long words and getting in flap’ thing and still go home knowing that one day, the time would be right for him to go for the leadership. Now, he has to temper all the idiosyncracies with a measure of sensibility and present a picture of someone who might actually be capable of getting dressed in the morning, let alone be charge of the capital. That’s not to say that he didn’t have the odd flourish here and there on last night’s show and there were times when he made the odd funny, but I can’t help thinking that he just seems a little frustrated and lost at the moment. It’s also personally galling as I spent a fair bit of time making this pshop of him last night (see Fig. 1) in the certainty that he was going to drop a clanger when it came to the inevitable protest question, but he didn’t really go beyond the standard ‘oiks are bad’ line, much to my chagrin. So come on Boris, let’s just drop the façade. Yes, you were infuriating when you were knee-deep in your ‘Blimey, I think my flies are undone’ phase but I prefer outrage to muted ambivalence so buck up your ideas and stop being so damn…. so damn… not weird! Enough said.

boris johnson riot bike

Fig. 1


So, on to Diane who is also in a not dissimilar pickle having hewed her public persona out of the quarry non-conformism, an exercise that is pretty easy from the backbenches but much tougher when you’re having to at least make a semblance of toeing the party line. In actual fact, I think she came off worse than Boris did because she seems so unused to speaking anything other than what’s on her mind. At points, it seemed the two of them were engaged in a contest of who could apply the word ‘vindictive’ the most times to the other’s policies, but despite a late rally on the EMA question, Boris emerged the victor. Also, when it came to the questions about the protest march and Libya, it was pretty clear that she was really having to reign herself in and not just march headlong into a protracted rant about where Labour went wrong, a situation that lent an air of uncertainty to her performance. Not all of this is Diane’s fault as Labour itself is still grappling with the thorny issue of what they actually stand for and just what in the hell to make of the Blair/Brown legacy, but I very much got the impression that she was pulling her punches last night. For someone who made their name by having principles that went beyond the straight jacket of party politics, that’s not a good look, even if it is a look that inevitably comes with the territory. My advice Dianne? Just jack it in now. You were very effective at playing the role of conscience to the Labour party and I miss you trying to grapple with The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name between you and Portillo on the This Week sofa. In fact, I’ll pay you to go back on This Week because if I see Jacqui Smith on there one more time, I don’t know what I might do. Seriously, I could become capable of some horrible, horrible things if I have to go through that again. So, please Dianne, for the sake of the nation.

Up next we have Sarah Teather, a woman so geometrically round (not fat, just round) that she appears to be constructed from a set of interlocking circles (see Fig. 2) and is enduring a similar fate to that of Baroness Warsi; the post-election shunt to the political broom cupboard. Prior to last May’s WTF-ery one could be forgiven for thinking that Teather was the only Liberal Democrat in existence thanks to her seemingly endless appearances on shows like Question Time, but since then she’s been notable only by her absence. I’m wondering if some of this is actually of her own volition because she spent most of last night looking like a naughty school child in the middle of receiving the mother of all bollockings (much like Cable in the earlier post-election chapters of The Passion St. Vince) and given her generally hangdog demeanour, it was pretty clear that she wasn’t enjoying herself. Part of me thinks this is shame because when she was in heavy rotation, she was bloody good, harrying both Labour and the Tory’s in equal measure whenever the opportunity presented itself and you could occasionally see some of the residue of her past glory on last night’s show, like when she came out fighting about the proposed replacement for EMA. However, another part of me thinks that actually, this is a necessary part of the process: Watching people like Teather go from being some of the most persuasive proponents of genuinely progressive policies to playing the gimp in Osborne’s S&M Dungeon has been painful for me to watch and I can at least take a little comfort in the fact that these people still have a conscience left to punish themselves with. In that sense, we really are All In This Together.


Fig. 2

OK, I’ve waffled about the first three quite a bit so let’s make it brief for Victim’s #4 and #5. First up is TUC bod Mark Serwotka who did a decent job at not being Bob Crow. Yes, some of it sounded a bit pious and soapboxy, but at least I didn’t have to hide under the covers through the fear that he might physically smash his way out of the TV screen and then punch me repeatedly for not going on the march (I am sorry Bob. I was at home playing Battlefield: Vietnam. I think that makes it even worse, doesn’t it?). But yes, he did pretty well and there was fairly broad (but by no means unanimous) support for the union position last night. I must say though, he does have a really weird accent, almost like it’s half Welsh and half Yorkshire. In purely geographic terms, that would place him somewhere around Congleton which is fortuitous because I happen to love the word ‘Congleton’. Try it. ‘Congleton’. ‘Congllllllllllleton’. Ace isn’t it?

Finally we have Clive Anderson and I must say that I was left a little confused by his performance (I think he was as well). I think it stems from the fact that his brain clearly works at a million miles an hour but isn’t very good at discriminating between the Relevant and the Only Just Sort Of Relevant, as was evidenced in most of last night’s responses. He’d always start by attempting to address the question but then keep jumping onto minor tangents as they popped into his head. As these tangents multiplied, he’d get further and further from the original point and would eventually end up in a position that was only very tenuously related to the topic in hand. The stuff itself all seemed to sound OK and he’s clearly not an idiot, but all the mental hop-scotch made him appear a little like a labrador chasing a plastic bag and I just ended up a little nonplussed by it all. The other thing I noticed is that he’d make a very good mascot. His face has a very mascot-like quality to it. If the showbiz work ever dries up Clive, give me a bell. You’d look great on my mantlepiece.

Final lap now. This is usually where I fob the crowd off with a few muttered platitudes and then leg it on to the scores so that I can get on with my Friday night, but not tonight Lemmings. In fact, I’m actually going to give the crowd a bit of a fairer do in this report because there was a marvellous little scene near the end that warrants a little extra attention. It started when the girl who asked the EMA question, Gladys, got offered a second bite of the apple by Dimbers. Pitching her tone just right (she sounded thoughtful but concerned), Gladys explained how EMA had really helped her and that she and her mates had used the money to buy sensible, education type things. Well done there Gladys, nicely put, have some claps. Then, out of nowhere came this proper foghorn of a woman in a red top who a gave it a bit of the old “I had a part-time job when I was a student”. BOOM! Half the crowd went mad for that and it looked like the Foghorn had delivered a match winning blow. But what’s this? It’s Gladys and she’s right back in there with a “So did I”! ZING! The other half of the crowd go mad as Gladys goes on to explain how she couldn’t have afforded books without EMA, unaware that she’s just exposed a flank for the Foghorn to exploit: “Go to the Library then” intones the Foghorn and the crowd now rips itself in two, half cheering, half booing. “But the libraries are all being closed!” says Gladys and KABLAMO! It’s all over. Bloody great. More of that please. And the rest of the crowd? Yeah…. whatever.


Boris: Muted


Abbott: Uprooted


Teather: Refuted


Serwotka: Suited


Anderson: Rerouted


Gladys: Undisputed


So there you go, a LCCPQTMR first: A score to an individual crowd member. Truly, we are breaking new ground. Right, I’m done here and am going to get about the business of having a Friday night. Next week Lemmings, next week…

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #10


Pigeon action, yeah?

Morning Lemmings. After last week’s anticlimax I was hankering for a more substantial undertaking and the panel for this episode looked good on paper. However, good paper panels have often let me down so it was with baited breath that I plunged into the behemoth that is Question Time this week. So, to hell with this idle banter and onwards we must go, onwards into the depths that are Stevenage.

In The Red Corner: Alan Johnson, Home Secretary, ex-postie and oft mooted Brown antidote.

I don’t know if it’s just us, but my better half and I have always been aware of something very pigeon-like when it comes to Alan Johnson. Maybe it’s the beady eyes, the raft of grey suits or the way his head wobbles about when he speaks but there’s something there that leads us to believe that he actually lives in a nest atop Nelson’s Column and and survives on a mostly crumb based diet (see Fig. 1). That aside, I’ve got a big soft spot for Johnson, largely down to the fact that he seems very human (well, human/pigeon, like if The Fly starred a dumpy David Bowie impersonator and it was a dove that had got into the teleporter) and he doesn’t entirely fit in with the rest of New Labour. He’s also one of Question Time’s most proficient defensive players and has a gift for sounding sincere when breaking bad news, a rare trait in an age when hard-truths usually end up spun into an sprawling mass of bullshit. Take tonight’s first question, which was about whether the rash of business leaders who came out for Cameron’s NI cut had “sealed the deal” for Cameron. This would present a problem for most New Labour meat puppets who are usually afraid of offending anyone (hence their love of triangulation) and especially the Holy Cows of Enterprise. Not Johnson though, who was pretty blunt about the fact that of course business wouldn’t like this, but tough shit. The money’s got to come from somewhere and at least we have a plan as to where that is (unlike the Tory’s). That’s actually surprisingly refreshing, watching a Labour front bencher basically telling the high and mighty of commerce to go and get bent. Of course, it didn’t entirely go his way and he was harried by both Clarke and the audience for effectively taxing the recovery, but he didn’t yield on this one and managed to land some fairly heavy blows on the Tories for their lack of coherence on the economy.. Nice work. Question 2 was pretty straight forward (did St Vincent of Cable win the Chancellors debate?) as Darling had acquitted himself well that night, but I was a little disappointed to see him resist the urge to stick the knife into George Osborne. I know that a lot of Johnson’s strength lies in his coming across as genuinely nice guy, but it has to be tempered with at least a little killer instinct and to miss an opportunity to really hammer the weakest link in the Tory chain is frankly a little limp. However, he did win back a few points when an audience member got all hard left about things and he countered with a list of Labours achievements (a recurring tactic throughout the night). That got him his first smattering of applause on an evening where Labour should have been entirely on the backfoot so kudos on that one Pigeonface. The next question (is the re-emergence of Blair a help or hindrance to Labour?) had the potential to go horribly sideways, but he managed to defuse the situation with a canny little flurry of nudge-nudge-wink-wink (an unspoken ‘you guys know what I’m thinking but you also know I’ll be in a whole heap of trouble if it slips out’), before flipping the whole issue 180 degrees and laying into Cameron’s ‘heir to Blair’ routine. The brief outburst from Littlejohn that followed was swiftly suppressed by again going through the list of Labour achievements (which again got applause) and he emerged unscathed from what could have been a sticky wicket. The outcome of Question 4 (is Brown a big fat liar?) was less certain and Johnson wisely decided to keep a low profile, venturing out only to defend the immigration statistics as ‘an honest mistake’ before reminding everyone that Chris Grayling has dabbled in similar roguery on the knife crime stats. To the extent that he himself came out relatively unscathed, it was a good move and by the end of it, it was Littlejohn who looked to be the biggest twat. The last question (does Lumley deserve an apology from Kevin Jones?) was a no-win situation for him (as is pretty much any situation involving a scorned Lumley), but he did his best to switch the heat over to the Tories for not having done anything about the Gurkha s on their watch. It wasn’t entirely successful, but yet again, any anger that emerged appeared to be directed at Labour rather than at Johnson himself. And that was pretty much it from him.


Even pigeons can be terrorists... Best keep an eye on them.

All-in-all, it was pretty impressive performance given the circumstances and it highlighted the fact that he excels at fighting proactive and fluid rearguard actions whilst simultaneously appearing to be bracingly normal. It’s like when you turn up to the airport and find that you’re plane’s been cancelled, the hotel’s burnt down and your luggage is on it’s way to Kinshasa. In this situation, the last person you want to talk to is the overly aggressive holiday rep who bungs you some half-hearted platitudes, blames everyone on earth but steadfastly refuses to accept any responsibility themselves (a Ryan Air version of Jack Straw for instance). Instead, you want the guy who calmly takes you off to one side, admits that this is a all horrendous fuck up, seems genuinely sympathetic to your plight and subtly implies that the bigwigs upstairs are way out off their depth. It flies totally in the face of New Labour orthodoxy, but it’s a potent and powerful tactic in the right hands and Johnson gets it very much right. So well done Pigeonface. Although I wouldn’t mind seeing something a little more predatory from you, you can fly back to your Nelson’s Column homestead safe in the knowledge that you did a good job. Go and treat yourself to some discarded chips and to hell with the crumbs.

A proficient and authentic 8/10

In The Blue Corner: Kenneth Clarke, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, jazz hound and good-times Tory.

I sometimes have this dream where I’ve been caught poaching on George Osborne’s estate. I’m bundled off to some barn by his squires (which in the dream include Hague, Lansley and bizarrely enough, Widdecombe dressed as a man, moustache and all), tied to a chair and then subjected to a very landed-gentry form of roughing up as Osborne looks on with that perma-sneer of his. Just as all appears lost, Ken Clarke walks through the doors, calmly beseeches my antagonist to “Go easy on him, chaps” and then tells them that he just saw local government killjoy sizing up Osborne’s planning permission infringing gazebo down in the meadow. Gripped by this alarming new development, the assembled mob run off with pitchforks and 4-10’s , determined to stop the tentacles of authoritarianism encroaching on their green and pleasant land. Ken then cuts be free, offers me a pull from his hip flask and apologises for their over-exuberance. “They just get a little carried away” he says before giving me a comforting pat on the shoulder , slipping me a tenner for a taxi and showing me the quickest way to town. Thanks Ken! You’ve saved my bacon yet again! Yes, it’s true. I have a slight political crush on Ken Clarke and during the dreary days of the Major government I must confess to developing a textbook case of Stockholm Syndrome around him. At the time, there was little to love about government. Howard was criminalising everything, Widdecombe (this time dressed as a woman…sort of) was all up in my face and Portillo had yet to chill out. Yet despite all this I could take comfort that somewhere, deep inside the Treasury, there was Ken Clarke, listening to Charlie Mingus, puffing on a stogie and getting slightly tipsy. Somehow, that thought got me through. So what of Ken last night? Pretty darn good, as is usually the case. The first question about the NI cut gave him ample room for manoeuvre and he wasted little time into laying into Labour for taxing small business. The crowd were largely (although not wholly) on his side and although he got clobbered by Dimbers on ‘efficiency savings’, he somehow managed to bluster his way out of it. Question 2 (Chancellor’s Debate) was a bit of a landmine (thanks to barely contained tension between himself and Osborne), but he did a good turn in pretending he wasn’t really bothered by it all and gave a slightly less-than-convincing endorsement of Boy George which ticked the party line box but also implied that he wasn’t completely blind to the glaring weakness in the Tory team. It looked like it was played for laughs but there were plenty of between-the-lines messages in there. He also managed to bust out some of his trademark ‘damning with faint praise’ routine where waxed lyrical about how Cable was a good guy, but he never has deal with anything serious because he’s a LibDem. Vintage Clarke. The Tony Blair question time saw him sounding very forthright about how Gordon Brown was the real baddy and also taking the piss out of Blair’s tan , much to the amusement of all, while the immigration stats point had him being pretty fair about the whole deal (‘it’s all a bit naughty, stats are sacred’ type stuff) until he was ambushed by Dimbers on Chris Grayling’s knife crime number mischief. This caught him off balance and he flapped around a little (you can tell when Clarke’s in a flap because he stutters a little) before falling back on a rather desperate ‘it’s all very complicated’ defence.. The final question (Gurkhas) was a hurried affair, but he did manage to make the point that it was the Commons that had defeated the government when it came to their right to stay. So there we have it. A typically robust and impressive performance from a man whose primary virtue is being just so bloody reasonable. I know there are a million issue on which I disagree with Ken Clarke, but I will always give him the time of day because there seems to be a genuinely interesting person underneath it all. That, and he’s a troublemaker. I like troublemakers.

An as-we’ve-come-to-expect 7/10

In The Yellow Corner: Sarah Teather, LibDem Spokesperson for Housing, former Baby of the House.

Who’s this collection of interlocking spheres? Why, it’s Sarah Teather! That may sound cruel, but I don’t mean it from a bitchy angle. I’m simply fascinated that someone can be entirely formed out of such geometrically perfect circles (seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if she could recite pi to a million intervals, so spherical is she). Anyhoo, I’ve got a lot of time for Teather. She’s by far the most impressive of the younger LibDems, her opposition to the war was eloquent and categorical and she’s proven herself to be a solid Question Time performer. Given the opposition that she was up against tonight, I rather feared that she would be drowned out but happily, this was not the case. The opening question had her socking it largely to the Tories for their parroting of the mythical ‘efficiencies savings’ line and she got a fair bit of support from the crowd for her efforts. Question 2 was an absolute doozy (did Cable win the debates?), especially as Littlejohn was going out of his way to desecrate the shrine of St. Vince and thus incurred a heavy bout of Mail-damning from Teather, much to the delight of the audience. The Tony Blair number had her rightly pointing the ‘war’ finger at him and the crowd response once again highlighted the fact that this is very much an live issue, no matter how much Labour (and the Tories) pretend it isn’t, while a late attack at Cameron for aping him also did some damage. The question on the immigration stats saw her in a less aggressive posture, chiding Littlejohn for being “unfair” to Brown whilst simultaneously castigating Brown for not taking enough care, all of which sounded pretty fair. Finally, she got the last word on the Gurkhas, calling Labour “bad losers” and wisely staying on the right side of Lummers.

Given the company she was keeping that night, this was a pretty impressive performance. Where Sarah succeeds is in coming across as sincere and principled, but not blind to nuance. It’s not entirely perfect and she does display some signs of ‘Goldsworthy Syndrome’ when she tries to barge in on questions, but unlike last week’s LibDem panellist, she does it in a way that doesn’t appear overwrought or needy. So well done Sarah, you took on some very old, skilled hands and lived to fight another day. Kudos.

A resolutely spherical 7/10

In The Independent/Brainy Corner: Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail Columnist, right wing foghorn.

Sigh… Must I write this guy up? In the interests of fairness, I suppose I must, but there’s little of merit to say about someone who doesn’t appear to have any redeeming features. Littlejohn’s Question Time gameplan is always as thus: Identify the lowest common denominator on any given subject and then relentless plumb the depths until the opposition are too exhausted to contest you. That’s it. Tonight’s particular line of attack more or less amounted to ‘Tax is bad, politicians are shitbags and Brown is the biggest shitbag of them all.’. Most of his answers resided within this rather tired, limited framework and the only point of note was when an audience member baited him about the BNP admiring his column. This bought forth a biblical sounding “WITH DRAW THAT, YOUNG MAN!” to which he obligingly did (“fair enough”), but it was clear who the audience were clapping for. It’s not the fact that I fundamentally disagree with 99% of everything Littlejohn says that winds me up, it’s that his methods are so crude and brutal. Having someone who’s a little ‘out there’ is vital to a good Question Time, but they’ve got to bring at least a little something to the table in terms of style. Littlejohn does not. All he brings to the table is a casserole of contempt with a side order of intolerance. That’s a dish I will always pass on.

A depressingly predictable 3/10

In The ‘I’m the funny One’/’Just Like You Corner’: Victoria Coren, poker champion, columnist, comedian and of-late-omnipresent TV bod.

I really don’t know where I stand on Victoria Coren. On the one hand, she’s a poker champion (which is always cool, doubly so if you’re a woman), can have genuine turns of wit and sometimes writes some OK stuff. On the other hand, the comedy is a little patchy, she seems to try too hard to come across as clever and her ‘jolly hockeysticks’ accent cuts through me like a knife. By the end of this episode of Question Time, I was pretty much of a similar opinion but I reckon that the main element is that I simply can’t get a handle on what she believes in. Most of her responses on the night started out vague as she played for time, thinking of something brainy and witty to say before rambling on a while and then she’d suddenly tack some on-the-hoof joke to the back of them. Sometimes the jokes were OK (the ‘Tony Blair as violent ex’ turn was pretty good) and the audience seemed to like them, but the substance underneath was shaky. Take the first question (NI) for instance. Her response was a round-the-houses ‘they’ve lost our trust’ lament (but dressed up to sound shrewd and canny) that somehow morphed into a call for better accounting in government. I get what she was driving at (as did the crowd, who did clap), but the message was in a grave danger of being lost under this need to make everything sound terribly bloody brainy. Fair enough, she was very reasonable on the ‘is Gordy a liar’ question as well as the Chancellors Debate one, but I always felt she was thinking too hard about what she was saying, as if terrified that she’d be caught out as a fraud. Don’t get me wrong, it was an unpleasant affair, but it did leave me strangely non-plused. A little more heart and a lot less head Victoria, that is what you need.

An oddly perplexing 5/10

The Crowd: Stevenage

After last weeks disappointing Glasgow affair, I was praying that tonight’s rabble would be better but was unconvinced that Stevenage (which resides in the Meh-Belt that orbits London … hardly creativity central) could come up with the goods. How wrong I was. Once again, it seems that my shaky grip on socio-geography has let me down and eaten-hats are the order of the day as the Stevenage crowd turned out to be great. What was interesting about tonight’s show was that that it appeared to be largely good natured affair, but never veered off into cosiness. I suspect that part of this is because Johnson, Clarke and Teather actually seem to like each other but the audience had a role in this as well, mainly in the way that didn’t have any firm favourite and applause seemed to be doled out on merit rather than through any tribal instinct. On top of this, they were by no means a pushover and also managed to resist the temptation to embark on one-dimensional tirades. Notable show-goers that night include the aforementioned Littlejohn baiter (Point Of The Night goes to he) and a church treasurer who displayed the most emphatic clapping I’ve seen to date. Seriously, this guy looked like he was going to clap his hands clean off. So well done Stevenage. Hertfordshire has just gone up a notch in my book.

An even-handed and enlivening 8/10

Right, that’s your lot. Johnson and Stevenage reign supreme, closely followed by able performances from Teather and Clarke. Good show, QT, good show.

Have a Good Friday, y’all .

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March 2023

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