Posts Tagged 'Shirley Williams'

Questionable Time #129


qt 129

Good morrow lemmings and I hope you all enjoyed the beautiful solar eclipse earlier today. I didn’t, because a cloud was in the way. A cloud over my heart named Question Time, featuring Dia Chakravarty. So let’s plunge straight in, while I cry, and cry, and cry, and cry, and cry, and cry.

Can’t budge it

Damn, this hall is ugly. At least Chuka ‘Ooh, mama’ Umunna is there to lift our spirits and possibly pose for a shirtless calender. I don’t know what Shirley Williams is wearing though, it looks like a five-year-old’s pretty pink princess dress.

The first question is – duh – on Ye Budgete. Do we or do we not feel better off? Sajid gets us off to a flying start by saying…yes. Yes we do. The slow-cooked economic ham is twerking. We need to stick to the ham. Or words to that effect. However, Chuka slowly explains, as slow as wading through molasses, that the government’s triumphant dancing over their employment figures doesn’t mean jack as zero-hours contracts are undermining the very meaning of twerk. I mean work. I’m going to get that wrong all day now.

A shrieky warble pierces through the air as the entire audience holds its breath in overwhelming fear. Or at least that’s what I did. Yes, Dia Chakrathingy from the Taxpayers’ Alliance is back, and so is her infamous giggly yelp. She, of course, has the answer to all our ills. The cost of living crisis, she meeps, is due to – you’ll never guess – high taxes! Give us more tax cuts, you lazy crap-for-craps! If only those big ol’ meanieheads in Westminster would listen and not get their ears clogged up with blood from listening to my voice for longer than five seconds!

The others look blankly on, contemplating the mysteries of the universe.

Dimbleby turns to Shirley and asks her about the embarrassing spectacle that was Danny Alexander holding aloft a bright yellow lunchbox the other day to prove that he too can play with the big boys and their Budgets. Shirley, perhaps sensing that this was an inherently hilarious occurrence, deftly changes the subject to subtly imply Dia is an idiot. When you’ve been in politics as long as she has, you can get away with that sort of stuff, among other things such as flouncing out of the Labour Party.

Will Self, he of the artful navel gaze, agrees with Chuka on this one. Regarding the cuts to come, you ain’t seen nothing yet, he concludes, especially those to public services. Rumblings from the crowd follow and one angry lady rants about how nobody mentions the poor anymore, instead choosing to focus on that most insufferable and inferred middle-classish of archetypes: the ‘hardworking family’. But you don’t understand, continues Sajid, if hardworking families are happy then the poor must also be happy! It makes perfect sense!

Chuka smoothly slides over this topic like an ice skater, going for Shirley instead with ruthless abandon but she strikes back. This is like a (improbably attractive) teenager fighting with an old lady (about the NHS). Speaking of the NHS, David Dimbleby’s got a bad cough, hasn’t he? Maybe he needs to go and sit in A&E for eight hours too.

Sajid leaps to Shirley’s defence by yelling that Labour suck and have a bad record so don’t bully Nice Mrs Williams! Dia interrupts and squawks about cutting stuff like child benefit. Or perhaps not? I get so confused by this woman, she talks so fast and oft-nonsensically that it’s difficult to keep up with what her train of thought actually is. In fact I think her train of thought has derailed and hit a tree.

So you DON’T want to abolish child benefit?, asks Chuka. Dia replies that no, silly-billy, she actually wants to means-test it! Duhhhh!
“But it’s already means-tested,” he mutters, baffled, as if talking to a child who has shit themselves and is unwarrantably proud about it. Also, his face while listening to Dia LaBeouf rabbit on is possibly one of the top ten funniest things in the world.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

Then there’s some nonsense about Wikipedia entries. A man in the crowd makes a jibe about how much Sajid earns, and Will is chuckling to himself like an trim, academic Santa Claus. It’s okay though. All is not lost. After all…Sajid has a snappy comeback ready.

“Don’t believe everything you read on Wikipedia,” he says, “Yours is longer than mine.”

Proving that one never really grows up, the entire crowd erupts in hoots. Sajid blushes like a ten year old girl.

“That didn’t come out right,” says he.
“Don’t make it worse,” says Dimbles, losing the will to live.

Look at this beautiful bunch of bastards

The next question succeeds in calming everyone down, due to being about a particularly unfunny event: the horrible attacks in Tunisia. Nothing like an unforgivable act of terror to make a Question Time panel suddenly feel sheepish about themselves for acting like six year olds.

Chuka claims that we should make sure people coming back from terroristin’ who may have done terrible actions should be subject to the rule of law. Will agrees again, but unavoidably goes off an a tangent about imperialism as is his wont. Shh now everybody, the white dude has to talk about Islamophobia! Meanwhile, Chuka is coming across well this episode, better than he did last time, sensible but finally getting a grip on his unnatural smoothness. Both he and Sajid are clearly angling for their respective party leaderships in the future, or at the least some higher-ranked positions.

At least Dia is always there to bring us back down to Earth as painfully as possible.

I THINK, JUST WHY, she screeches, giving her mature insight into the Middle Eastern conflict. LOOK AT THIS BEAUTIFUL PANEL, she continues, out of nowhere. Sajid nudges Shirley while grinning, obviously pleased the good-looking youngish lady on the panel just called him a fittie.

(To be fair to Dia, she did at least have a good point about not giving terrorists celebrity status. As a proud and graceful Media Studies student, this analysis pleases me. Good job Dia. You get One Point.)

Hice are nice

Next up, controlling rent prices.

We need more houses! begins Dia, starting us off once again I know not why. Everyone nods sagely. Let’s build on the green belt! she continues. The nods stop faster than a crane game at a funfair.

“We don’t build on the green belt, that’s why it’s called the green belt,” says Dimbleby, as if to the same excited child that Chuka previously had to deal with.

Then a member of the audience reminds us what the question really was since everyone seems to have gone off topic again. Sajid thinks a rent cap would make things worse, quelle horreur. He and Chuka have a cat fight before Will Self finally throws down the gauntlet, in his distinctive sarky monotonous voice, by pointing out that it’s highly unlikely that rent controls will be introduced when so many MPs make money off being big greedy renty poopyheads.

Ooooh, goes the crowd. Way to lay down the law, Selfy Stick.

Last question, to massive and predictable applause – why can’t MPs be more truthful? Well, to sum up:

Will Self feels sorry for the poor powerless bastards, Shirley Williams tells us a bedtime story, Dia smiles blandly and chooses not to be cynical, and Chuka and Sajid make up and hug. And kiss. And possibly more. All of this to be continued in my 1000 page forthcoming fanfiction.

Time for the scores!

Javid: 6/10

(Will die another) Day

Umunna: 8/10

(Did surprisingly) Okay

Williams: 5/10

(Not much to) Say

Chakravarty: 5/10

(Easy) Prey

Self: 6/10

#Slayyyy

The Crowd: 7/10

(Hear them) Bray

Next time: Jim Murphy faces his public. Uh…good luck with that.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #117


qt 117
Good morrow lemmings and welcome to another splendiferous edition of Questionable Time, live from Doncaster! This, incidentally, is where Ye Greate Laboure Leadere Ed Miliband keeps his counsel and apparently was in danger of getting the boot but now isn’t, according to some Ashcroft dude you may have heard of. Whatever, I’m sure nobody actually cares. My goodness this was a boring episode, though, so I’ll just expand this little opening paragraph for as long as possible. Hm hm hm. Lalalala. Okay, that’s enough. We really should get started. Don’t worry, my friends – it won’t be like this next week [imagine foreboding music playing here].

The 1930s were like the 1920s only crappier and with the characters in Downton Abbey probably had to sell their house because of the recession. Tragic. Isis the dog didn’t die for this

Sajid Javid starts us off, with his weirdly disproportionate head, talking about ~*~the challenges~*~ of dealing with the deficit and how that happens to involve cuts, and you’re all just gonna have to get used to it, sry2say. I hope you like the 1930s ‘sack dress’ aesthetic! By the way, I can’t read his lapel pin. It looks like a pretty blue flower. Anyone with any insider info on what the heck it is, give me the deets.

Why don’t we ask the people where the cuts should or should not come from, says Omid Djalili. After all, we don’t trust folks who moo like they do in that there House. Having watched a great many PMQs in my time like a saddo, I can confirm that they do indeed moo a great deal. Just pad the benches with hay and they’ll be happy. Wait, do cows even eat hay?

Meanwhile, representing the red team, Yvette ‘pixie woman’ Cooper is up to bat. It’s strange, for the last few weeks we’ve had the most likely future Labour leadership candidates in quick succession: Burnham, Umunna and now Cooper. Feel free to debate amongst yourselves what their respective QT showings say about their chances, but for now let’s all concentrate on Yvette bellowing about the great unfairness of it all. So unfair! These cuts are just so unfair, mum, she cries, practically stamping her heel but in a much more boring way. We’ll balance the books…but…fairly. Sajid demands to know exactly how, but his interruption is interrupted by the arrival of Jill Kirby on the scene.

Looking like Theresa May’s older, even scarier sister, she makes a worryingly long diet-related metaphor and finishes it off with an order to ‘please clap’, which for a moment I thought was a frightening threat to the terrified audience. I can see how she was formerly head of a think tank set up by Maggie T.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

Shirl the Pearl, one of the QT old guard (I am thankful, at least, that there is a QT old guard still remaining, who can remember the glory days of Robin Day and whoever it was that came after him) umms and ahhs, and the general public are not satisfied by her or indeed any of this nonsense. Tell us exactly what’s going to happen, they cry in unison. Yvette rattles off some Labour policies and the panel scoffs at her, or at least Sajid and Jill do, and presumably high-five under the table afterwards. Jill wants us to be exactly like the blessed USA. ‘They have a much more balanced economy’, she gushes, conveniently forgetting that they also have barely any truly public services and certainly no proper health service. But maybe that’s the best way forward, eh?

It seems that direct democracy is the way2go, even if it would probably end up in a huge screaming mess. Everyone wants referendums! You get a referendum! I get a referendum! We all get referendums!!

The next question is on the British Identity: what is it? We just don’t know.

Isn’t it all about being a jolly nice chap? asks Yvette innocently. Dimbleby is also somewhat confused. He corners the man who asks the original question – about the name ‘Mohammad’ and how it is scary – in his own, Dimble-ish way that makes you pee yourself but very quietly. However, it is the audience who really answer this question, by taking part in many people’s favourite pastime of all: dissing the Daily Mail. Now that’s what I call British Identity!

Gordon Brown, texture like sun

Now here’s a question about (guess who?) nail-chewer supreme, Grumbly Gords. Jill Kirby blames Gordy for everything except keeping us out of the Euro. Thanks Obama Gordon. But – wait, what’s this? It’s Shirley Williams, riding to the rescue! She passionately defends the departing ex-PM which takes everyone a little aback for a moment. However, the Eggman/Sajid has the master plan, and he fights back, claiming that while Gordon was a smart dude ‘n’ all he was also a complete dingus. Yvette disagrees, obviously (although doesn’t praise Gordo to the high heavens or anything either – Labour know he’s a liability, deserved or not. Isn’t it sad, Gordon?).

Then everyone gets into an argument about zero-hours contracts. We’re abolishing them! No, we are! No, we are!! A zero-hours contract is better than no contract at all, says Jill, to general uproar, and a man in the audience yells ‘go back to London!’. So say we all.

Question Time must be stopped

Our final question of finalness is finally about obese people and whether we should care about them and their lives. Jill is not in favour (surprise surprise) and wants people to help/heft themselves. The rest of the panel shake their heads with varying degrees of ferocity.

Omid, who so far this programme has been the only source of non-boredom by actually cracking a few jokes (which I hear is something he does for a job, imagine that) is grotesquely offended! I am also offended. My roast potato addiction isn’t going to go away on its own, you know. It’s terminal. And slathered in gravy.

Dimbleby closes the programme with a bombshell, but first:

Time for the scores!

Javid: 5/10

Tumbled (down the hill with his big egg head)

Cooper: 5/10

Fumbled

Williams: 6/10

Rumbled (in a stern grandmotherly sort of way for you young people to not be so gloomy)

Kirby: 5/10

(Was not) Humbled

Djalili: 6/10

Jumbled (his jokes all together)

The Crowd: 7/10

Grumbled

Well folks, it’s Nigel Farage and Russell Brand next time round – ‘if we survive that’ according to Dimbledore. The two greatest minds of our generation. Merry Christmas one and all.

And, by the way, another plug: I’ve created an Ed Miliband Adventure Game in my spare time. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a comedic text-based adventure game starring Ed Miliband. Because that’s just the kind of thing I like to do. Go play it if you’re interested – which if you’re reading this blog, you should be.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #98


questionable time 98 david dimbleby rambo

Good morning Lemmings and if you’re feeling a little shell-shocked by the box of frogs that was last night’s show then stop crying because we only have ourselves to blame. Oh sure, we all thought we were being so clever, inviting Farage on week after week so we could all smugly mock his rubbery face and outlandish views. We thought we were doing it ‘for the lulz’ but now? Now he’s looking like he might actually win an electoral contest and it’s all our fault: We’re the ones who created this monster. We’re the ones who thought everyone else was in on the joke and we’re the ones who’ll be crying into our quinoa the day after the European elections. So answer me this Lemmings, where are your lulz now? WHERE ARE YOUR LULZ NOW?!?!

Anyway…

I love the smell of mania on a Thursday night…

So, Nige is back after his 5 month QT exile and if first impressions are anything to go by then he’s all hopped up to the nines on either a) green room booze, b) unshakeable self-belief or c) a mixture the two. Why do I say this? Well, the shouting was a bit of a giveaway (“They never tamed me!”) but most of all it was just how relentless he was in making the point that I Am None Of The Above (And I Am Most Definitely Not Grant Shapps). Got a problem? Well these guys won’t help you (particularly Grant Shapps). They don’t care, they don’t understand, they CAN’T understand because they’re not like you and me. Sure, they’ll try to paint me as part of the establishment, but you know better. You’ve seen me with my fag and my pint. You know I’m a chancer. You know that I’m probably not that competent but you don’t care. Why? Because you’re sick of being by fobbed off by these guys. Go on, give me a vote and I’ll tell them to naff off.

It’s not the most sophisticated message but it’s effective and very tricky to counter (as evidenced by the rest of the panel’s inability to decisively knobble him). The problem is that sometimes it works too well and last night might just have been one of those occasions. Allow me to explain:

Nigel Farage’s greatest gift is The Knowing Wink that he appends to every interaction – that look on his face that says ‘I know! I can’t believe I’m getting away with it either!’ (see Fig. 1). That’s the thing that we can relate to in Farage, the inner-blagger in all of us that cackles heartily when we’re given too much change or accidentally jump a queue. The problem last night was that The Knowing Wink was being subtly overpowered by The Prospect of Success: You could just see it on his face – he’d caught a whiff of his own hype and quite liked the smell. That gave his delivery this certainty and – dare I say it – a tinge of mania that made it all just a little scary.

Nigel Farage Ladbrokes

Fig. 1

This is a problem because Farage’s entire pitch (and thus by extension UKIP’s) has been that he’s just like us despite the fact that he patently isn’t and the thing that makes that pitch work is The Knowing Wink. Lose that and what have you got? Well, funny you should mention that because the bit on Grant Shapps is about to start.

How not to blag…

Ha! I’ve waited a long time to say this – Grant Shapps is now officially a busted flush and the proof of it is in just how thoroughly trounced he was by Farage last night. Seriously, it was embarrassing at times, watching him try to referendum his way out of the corner the Tories have painted themselves in to but no-one was buying it. And why weren’t they buying it? Because Shapps’ brand of blagging is an entirely different strain to Farage’s and an ugly one at that.

The main problem Shapps has is that his face just seems to constantly militate against sincerity and always ends up coming to a rest in a smug little pout – not a good look at the best of times but doubly so when you’re being taken to the cleaners by the closest thing politics has to Alan Partridge. However, the real kicker is how that look reflects on us, the blaggee. It says ‘I’m taking you for a ride because I’m better than you. Because I hold you in contempt.’. You don’t get that with Farage (who quite frankly seems delighted that anyone’s paying attention to him at all) and when you stack it up next to Shapps’ list of past offences, it becomes clear that it’s going to take more than just cheap beer and bingo to sort it all out.

It’s all coming up Umunna…

A good innings from Chuka last night and one that was aided greatly by both AstraZenica and Nigeria being on the agenda. However, it wasn’t all luck as the Europe question could have gone just as badly for the Red Team as it did the Blue Team had Chuka not been so on the ball when it came to denying Farage the space to make mischief. It’s also personally heartening because I can end up getting quite cross with Umunna for over thinking things and getting hobbled by hesitancy. Not last night though so pointy-points for the Ridiculously Good Looking man in the Red Corner.

Shirley’s bid to outlive Questionable Time…

I can just see me in 40 years time looking at this crap netbook of mine and wondering just what the hell I’m going to say about Shirley Williams after her 10,000 QT appearance. Seriously, she was knocking on a bit when I started doing this but now she’s properly old and still shows no signs of slowing down apart from isolated senior moments (the “country of Asia” anyone?). But still, I won’t complain when that day comes because despite over familiarity, there is an enduring appeal to watching a very forthright woman tell everyone off in turn before conjuring up some anecdote about the mid-20th century. Consistency: There’s a lot to be said for it.

If claps translated in to votes…

Then surely Caroline Lucas would be Queen. Alas, it appears that this not the case and despite a) a very solid performance and b) dressing up as a Christmas present I’m not predicting a Green landslide any time soon. In fact it’s almost like we’ve friendzoned the Greens, telling them how much we love their progressive policies but never actually taking them to the ball. That must be a pretty galling thing to deal with, particularly when they see us getting out of the limo with that weird kid from UKIP. Stay strong Caroline, there’s plenty more fish in the sea.

Tl;dr

Farage: 6/10

High (as a kite)

Shapps: 3/10

(The end is) Nigh

Umunna: 7/10

Aye

Williams: 6/10

(Still surprisingly) Spry

Lucas: 7/10

(Must wonder) Why (the Greens get such a raw electoral deal)

The Crowd: 7/10

(Were pretty) Fly

Well, there you go – a messy affair in which Farage nearly overdosed on himself and Shirley Williams finally took on the form of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. That’ll do for me.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #70


questionable time 70 david dimbleby will t sherman bbcqtwarquotes

Good morning Lemmings and before we get under way let us take this moment to give thanks that whatever the hell happened to Tuesday’s edition of Newsnight has not yet happened to Question Time. For those of you that missed it, it started out as a run of the mill ‘let’s have a QT-style debate on Scottish independence’ type thing (cementing Kirsty Walk as my #1 choice for QT-Tyrant-if-anything-nasty-should-happen-to-Dimbers in the process) and ended up with bagpipes, blazing torches, sweeping boom shots and a dodgy looking ‘voting procession’. It’s what I’ve always imagined The Antiques Roadshow would like if it was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Anyway, enough. Let’s get on with the job in hand.

I shuddered when I saw this week’s line up…

I’ve got nothing against Ken Clarke, Harriet Harman or Shirley Williams and on an individual basis I tend to welcome their little jaunts into QT-Land. However, the thought of this combined ensemble of highly seasoned veterans – none of whom are really that far apart in terms of outlook – just sort of sucked the wind out of me. This wasn’t going to be the white knuckle roller coaster ride of a show I’m hunkering for, this was going to be a suburban commute.

My mind, addled by the familiarity of it all began to drift as soon as I got on the train: Look over there. There’s Ken in an aisle seat, head bobbing lower and lower as sleep overcomes him before it finally settles on the shoulder of his nervous looking neighbour. Occasionally he jolts violently back to consciousness, realises where he is and then re-surrenders to sleep all the same. Oh Ken, when will you learn! Further down the carriage we see Shirley Williams sat ramrod straight whilst silently policing the carriage with the threat of stern looks. The teenager opposite moves to put his feet on the seats. ‘Not so fast, Sunbeam’ says Shirley’s eyebrows as they pinch together. The teenager backs down and order prevails. You get ’em told Shirley! And finally there’s Harriet. She struck up a conversation with the woman next to her when she got on but that conversation has now run its course and her co-commuter is beginning to fiddle nervously with her phone while Harriet continues to talk at her. Good old Harriet! You just can’t keep her down!

And that’s pretty much what the first half of the show was like – the panelists peacefully co-existing as the train pulled out of Niqab Central and headed for Free School Meals Interchange. However, something strange happened at the midway point: Both the seniors decided to have moments.

The first was Shirley who after giving free school meals her usual dose of forthright barnstorming suddenly took it upon herself (after some Dimblegoading I should add) to have a go at Simon Hughes for his past opposition to the scheme.

“I think Simon is not a parent. If he was he would

have never had made those statements.”

It was as if she had just stood up in the silent carriage, pointed at a fellow commuter and said “You sir, your suit. It’s silly and I don’t like it” before sitting back down as if nothing had happened (and that’s even before taking into account the fact that a Tory MP just got himself into a great deal of bother for making essentially the same point about Sarah Teather).

Not to be outdone, Ken then jolted back to life a few moments later and started accusing Harriet Harman of embellishing a very good spiel she did on the bedroom tax. “She added the epileptic attacks to make it appealing” he blurted out as every eye in the carriage tried to find somewhere else to look. In fact, so shocking was this outburst that you could even hear a quiet murmur from Anthony Worrall Thompson – “You’re a hard man Ken”. Ouch.

So what to make of all of this as a whole? Well it’s neither one nor the other – neither a roller coaster nor a suburban commute but more a weird fusing of the two, like driving to work in a dodgem. Actually, scratch that…. This wasn’t as fun as driving to work in a dodgem.

What to do with Penny?

Be Nice To Penny – that was the gist of a text I received from a good friend just prior to last night’s show. The gist of my mental response was ‘That’s odd, I can’t remember being nasty to her in the past’ but my friend was on to something – there is a part of me that makes me want to go to town on her and that troubles me (don’t panic though, it doesn’t stem from a dark pool of vile misogyny that I’ve somehow managed to conceal for years… Everyone step away from their Twitter accounts…).

Let’s start with what I do like about Laurie Penny. I like the fact that she operates on principles rather than tactical calculation and I like the fact that she’s dogged in her approach. I think she writes well and I’m pleased that she’s become a permanent fixture in the landscape of opinion but there’s still a snag that I just can’t unhitch: As I’ve got older, people who operate purely on principle have started to frighten me a little. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t lie awake in abject terror every night waiting for Laurie Penny to haul me off to a re-education camp or anything like that but I do get this jarring sensation when I see people divvying up the world into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parts. Take the niqab question for example. Here we have a situation where one of Penny’s ‘goods’ (women having a choice in what they wear) collides with what should be one of her ‘bads’ (women being forced by men to wear something in the name of religion) and totally annihilates it – Niqabs are good, end of. That there may be an ill-defined and porous no-man’s-land where both good and evil roam at will is never really considered and that’s a real shame because it’s within this mess of swirling ambiguities that most people’s lives actually take place – you can try to will it out of existence but that won’t make anyone’s lot any easier. This is the snag I can’t unhitch.

AWP came good in the end…

I’m massively overrunning so I’ll be brief: Anthony Worrall Thompson started the show looking like he hates life, hates the world and probably hates you. He ended the show sounding like he hates Nick Clegg, hates David Miliband and probably hates David Cameron. That sounds pretty dour but it was actually quite fun in a grumpy sort of way. Now here’s a very jolly gif of him on a spacehopper (see Fig. 1)

anthony-worrall-thompson-space-hopper-gif

Fig. 1

Tl;dr

Clarke: 4/10

(All a bit slap-) Dash

Harman: 6/10

Cash(ed in on Ken’s slapdash approach)

Williams: 6/10

(Can still) Bash (heads together)

Penny: 6/10

(Got a little too) Rash (over the certainty of it all)

Worrall Thompson: 5/10

(Reputedly cooks very good) Mash

The Crowd: 5/10

(Consider Megadeath to be a more authentic purveyor of) Thrash (metal than Metallica)?

Hmmm… Not a bad episode but not a great one either. I guess it’ll do. Now, before I go I should alert you to yet another side project I’ve got going with the good people at Red Molotov. It’s called Celebribellum and involves cutting famous brains in two. I’m told that it’s suitably stupid so give it a look. Right, that’s your lot, see you on the other side…

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #41


questionable time 41 david dimbleby bexhill on sea

Good morning Lemmings and what’s that I I smell? Fish and chips? Invigoratingly salty air? Old people and a strong Tory vote? We must be on the South Coast! So yes, it’s Bexhill-on-Sea this week and it’s a rather timely turn of events since we haven’t been to a Conservative stronghold since the last run of QT. Considering that the Blue Team vote has only twice dipped below 50% twice in Bexhilll’s and Battle’s 29 year history, this seems as good a place as any to redress the balance. Anyhow, enough prattle, on with the show.

Damian Green has the best I’m Somewhat Confused face ever…

We first got to witness this thing of beauty when David Blanchflower was laying his economic charge sheet at the feet of the government early on in the show. Now usually, politicians do the scrunched up Come Off It Mate face when someone cleverer than them starts picking holes in their nefarious schemes (in fact George Osborne does it all the time, to everyone, regardless of the situation) and I suspect that’s what Green was trying to do. However, something went wrong along the way and he ended up with the sort of pained expression you’d get if you a) tried to work out whether the cat in Schrödinger’s box is dead or alive, b) what exactly the lyrics ‘What is love? Baby don’t hurt me’ actually mean and c) why the alien invasion fleet in Independence Day were running Windows 95, all whilst faintly remembering that you might have left the gas on.

And it didn’t stop there. Despite a genuinely good joke about voting to keep Nadine Dorries in IACGMOOH it all came apart again when the matter of the PCC elections came up, except this time he actually had to talk as well. It went like this: Chuka Umunna made a point about how the money for the PCC elections would be better spent on actual policing and Green’s face lit up. ‘Ah-ha!’ it said, ‘I have you now!’. The money – according to Green – wouldn’t come from the policing budget and he visibly relaxed, safe in the knowledge that he’d dodged a bullet. Unfortunately, Dimbers rather unhelpfully interjected and asked just where it would be coming from. “The Home Office” he quietly spluttered. Well, that was it, everyone wanted a piece of him and he spent the next five minutes all over the place as he fended off blows from all directions. At this point, I did feel a little pang of sympathy as it was starting to look a little brutal but then I remembered that I have absolutely no idea who the PCC candidates are in my neck of the woods and that and the entire wheeze sounds like a huxter’s charter. My sympathy soon spoiled its ballot.

I’m fairly sure that Shirley Williams will outlive me…

Don’t panic, I’m not planning on a premature exit or expecting to die outside of the usual time frame, it’s just I have trouble envisaging what exactly could kill Shirley Williams. A speeding car? No, she would stare it down until its axles fractured and bearings crumbled. A disease of the body? Mother Nature is no match for the solidity of her 20th century values. Then how about the assassin’s callous blade? Well let me put it this way: Would you try to assassinate Shirley Williams? No, of course not, partly because your soul will have curdled if you ever got to that point but mostly because it’s clear that Shirley Williams will not quietly into the night. 82, Lemmings. Shirley Williams is 82.

Chuka Umanna does strange things to me…

I’m a straight man, but I have to admit that one look at Chuka and I go slightly weak at the knees – it’s like he’s been lovingly crafted out of pure unicorn’s tears by Christ himself or something. However, this in itself is a problem as I have an overpowering and automatic distrust of people who are ridiculously good-looking. Call it jealously, call it pettiness, call it want you want, I’m just very suspicious of things that look too good to be true. Having said that, he had a good night and it would be truly petty of me to say otherwise. Alright, so his dogged perusal of a single line of attack (‘bring ALL the things back to the Tory’s record on the economy!’) looks a little threadbare after a full hour but he was right on point for the bulk of the night. Considering that Bexhill-on-Sea really shouldn’t be his turf, that’s good going.

And the others?

I like David Blanchflower but sometimes he doesn’t make it easy for me. Generally speaking, I think he’s been one of the few economists who has broadly called most things right and I’ll always have time for his opinion. The thing is that when he writes about those opinions it’s a really disconcerting experience as he always starts his columns with a little round-up of what he’s been up to. They tend to look something like this: ‘Had lovely day, played golf, went out on a boat, THE WORLD IS GOING TO END IF WE DON’T INJECT MORE MONEY INTO THE ECONOMY’. It’s a just a little jarring. Anyway, he’s much better in person, even if he did try to shoehorn his American residency into the conversation in the hope that it could lead to a nice little recounting of his leisure time.

Conversely, I don’t like Jane Moore and I’m struggling to find a reason why that should change. Granted, she didn’t look as grumpy as she usually does last night (see Fig. 1) and she got a couple of good gags in (the one about Nadine Dorries claiming for a second home in Australia draw a genuine chuckle from me) but I just get a little riled when Moore tries to bring everything back to real dog whistle stuff (like that massive tangent she went on about sex offenders getting cautions during the PCC question). That, and she’s very right when she says “I am not an economist”.

things-that-make-jane-moore-grumpy-gif

Fig. 1

Tl’dr

Green: 4/10

(Looked) Pained

Umunna: 6/10

Remained (ridiculously good-looking)

Williams: 7/10

Maintained (an iron will to confound nature itself)

Blanchflower: 6/10

Refrained (from telling us what he’s been up to)

Moore: 4/10

Sustained (an air of iffiness)

The Crowd: 6/10

(Have all been) Ordained

So there we are, a so-so affair in which Phillip Schofield experienced the combined wrath of everybody. Now, just before I go I’d like to point you in the direction of a University of Cambridge project called ‘Voting Time’. They appear to be something scarily brainy with people’s QT opinions so if you have a minute, please check ’em out.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #17


questionable time 17 david dimbleby alan partridge

Good morning Lemmings and – assuming you haven’t all frozen to death – welcome back for what was quite the humdinger of a Question Time last night. Now, there are plenty of reasons as to why this was an especially zesty show but lets start with the obvious: The highly engaging spectacle of two very capable yet somewhat compromised panelists taking a big stick and applying it to the chops of the Daily Mail. I am of course talking about Dark Master of the News Cycle Alistair Campbell and the knowingly imperfect Steve Coogan. The beauty of this coupling lies not only in the fact that both men are masters of the invective who have every reason to despise the Mail but also because they themselves are in absolutely no way paragons of virtue who can claim that their integrity is beyond reproach.

Let’s start with Campbell: Now, here’s a man whose one goal while in power was to bend the media to his will and largely succeeded in doing so by dint of being the physical embodiment of terror itself. Seriously, every time I look at Campbell I think of that scene in Apocalypse Now when Willard gets on the boat for the first time and the Chief, alarmed by this turn of events, clocks him in an instant:

My orders say I’m not supposed to know where I’m taking this boat, so I don’t! But one look at you, and I know it’s gonna be hot.”

Yup, that’s Campbell all over: A man who’s been fighting a dirty, nasty and vicious war for so long that he’s actually become the war itself. A man who knows where the bodies are buried because he buried them there. In short, he’s no angel when it comes to media ethics.

Coogan by contrast is less straight forward and harder to peg down. Anyone who is a fan of his work (and I am) can’t help but feel a certain affection for him but he doesn’t always make it easy for us to like him – the whole Courtney Love thing being the example that sticks out in my mind. This always leaves me feeling slightly bemused when I see him as I really can’t fathom out as to whether he’s just a misunderstood soul who’s been given a raw deal in the press or whether he genuinely is a bit of a dickhead (a debate made no easier by the excellent yet frighteningly post-modern The Trip… My jury is still out).

Still, what cannot be doubted is that both of theses guys know how to handle themselves in a debate and were positively relishing the chance to stick the boot in to the Mail. Now, had the person fighting the corner for Britain’s Premier Hate Rag been the likes of Melanie Phillips, Jeremy Clarkson or Richard Littlejohn then this would have been a massacre: All these guys take is a cursory winding up and boom! Here comes the crazy! However, none of the above were present last night and instead we got QT veteran Ann Leslie. This turned out to be a very canny pick for the following reasons:

  1. She’s actually a proper journalists rather than a lurching tangle of jerking knees.
  2. She is tough as old boots.
  3. I never know whether she’s drunk or not.

All of the above conspire to make her a much harder target than some of her flightier colleagues and the result was a show full of crowd pleasing set pieces from Coogan and entertaining spats between Campbell and Leslie – both of whom clearly despised each other. In terms of who won, well lets just say that the Daily Mail doesn’t seem to be the periodical of choice for this particular crowd but Leslie does deserve some credit for looking like she couldn’t give a toss either way. I suspect that gin may have played a part in this.

The other big news on last night’s show was how well Philip Hammond did given that he was surrounded by some pretty big beasts. I say this because Hammond isn’t exactly the most charismatic of politicians and I reckoned it likely that Alistair Campbell was going to blow his head off using some satanic powers he acquired in trade for his soul (see Fig. 1). As it happens, Hammond managed to hold his own rather well and came out relatively unscathed in what should have been a fairly torrid week for the Blue Team. Ok, so he wasn’t exactly thrilling to watch and his attempts at humour were a little on the crap side but considering the amount of trouble he could have got into on the NHS question I think he did all right. However, the thing that really wins him points for me is his role in what has become a rather rare thing in QT: A Spontaneous Outburst of Collective Agreement. This occurred on the Syria question and Hammond won his spurs by doing something I’ve not seen from a Defence Secretary for years: He admitted that there really isn’t a whole lot we can do about Syria. Having spent the last decade listening to Defence Secretaries telling us that we can bomb this or shock ‘n’ awe that I was really pleased to hear the opposite sentiment for once. If that wasn’t enough to give me a warm fuzzy glow then imagine my surprise when the entire panel echoed that sentiment including Alistair Campbell, chief cheerleader of the Iraq calamity. I nearly fell off the sofa.

phillip-hammond-alistair-campbell-skulled

Fig. 1

So yes, Philip Hammond is still an unremittingly dull man who’s going to look terrible in body armour (I can’t wait for his first ‘In Theatre’ photo-op) but he seems pretty level-headed and that will do for me right now. And as for Shirley Williams? Well same-old, same-old really: The human personification of some of the 20th Century’s better ideas wrapped in the language of the Crimean War (it’s all “holding the line”, “powder kegs” and other such ironclad pronouncements). It also seems like she’s caused something of a sartorial stir with women of a certain age as I got a fair few search queries along the lines of ‘where did Shirley Williams get that jacket from?’ last night. Apologies to all those who were bitterly disappointed when they ended up here. I can photoshop the crap out public figures but fashion procurement is not this blog’s strong point.

Tl;dr

Hammond: Did well

7/10

Campbell: Gave ’em hell

7/10

Williams: Excel(led)

7/10

Coogan: “Ruddy hell, it’s Soft Cell!”

7/10

Leslie: Was a bit of a bombshell

7/10

The Crowd: Were perfectly acceptable clientele

7/10

Well would you look at that? Sevens all round. That’s it from me this week as I’m off to mentally steel myself for the prospect of the Ken Clarke/Prezzer face-off next week. You know when male Elephant Seals fight over a mate? Yeah, it’s going to be like that.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #8


questionable time 8 david dimbleby big benMorning Lemmings and apologies in advance for my mind is somewhat fractured today. Why? Well mainly because I spent all last night turning my 32-bit Windows into the slightly more splendid 64-bit version whilst sharing my living room with a cat who simply loves jumping on my computer’s on/off button (a process that’s not dissimilar to defusing a bomb in the presence of a curious toddler). As a result my sleep has been tormented by visions of my precious data howling in pain whilst if I close my eyes all I see is a giant progress bar that seems to be going backwards. In short, I’m feeling a little febrile right now. With this in mind, let us make haste and sally forth to what was a pretty good episode of Question Time, coming as it was from the hallowed innards of the Palace of Westminster.

Right, first up we have Home Secretary Theresa May who has been on something of a QT journey in the past couple of years and one which has mainly displayed an upward trajectory. Prior to being in government, May was pretty much a QT disaster on legs and it almost seemed as if her mouth were less a functional organ and more a portal into a world composed entirely of nonsense (see Fig. 1). However, upon assuming the mantle of Home Secretary she regained some of her composure and a new-found calmness started to peek through, something that I must say caught me off guard a little. Sure, she didn’t stop dressing like an astronaut and her capacity to get very Tory, very quickly was still much in evidence, but overall everything just seemed to be a little more measured. So that was then, but what of now? Well, to tell you the truth I think something’s really rattled May and what we saw last night was actually quite a faltering performance, almost as if she were walking on stilts whilst trying very hard to make it look like she wasn’t. Ok, so she didn’t do badly on the pensions question and largely held her own in the areas where she’d been properly briefed but there was still this lingering tinge of panic that coloured her responses, almost as if her mind was constantly telling her ‘Shit! They’re onto me!’. Her encounters with Balls were fairly instructive on this front and while she did get some claps for a pretty tawdry recital of ‘The Nation’s Credit Card’ you could still see her brain going like the clappers, trying to identify the myriad of threats she perceived to be bearing down on her. So yes, something has put the frighteners on her and if I were to take a wild shot stab in the dark, I may venture that this summer’s complete breakdown of everything law and order related may have something to do with it. I know, it’s a crazy theory but there you go.

theresa-may-gif-woah

Fig. 1

Talking of Ed Balls, after watching him last night I found myself coming to the conclusion that he is the person I would least like to be my doctor. It’s not the fact that he has no medical training, nor that my partner has an inexplicable crush on him that puts me off, it’s just that his face is so innately implausible. Seriously, with that permanent Cheshire Cat grin he displays I really can’t fathom whether he’s flat-out lying to me or just a little pleased with himself and this doesn’t commend him to the role of my GP.  “The test results are back Mr. Loudribs!” I can hear him say, “Everything is fine!”.Oh my God, I must have cancer!” would be my response.

So yes, Balls is a slippery customer and as is par for his course he spent most of the show splitting hairs and sounding like a snake oil merchant. However, there was a brief moment in the middle of the show when he did something I’ve never witnessed before: He sounded like he was genuinely telling the truth. This occurred on the Europe question and following a dithering response from May he launched into a passionate and actually quite searing critique of the government’s position. This caused May to start lurching all over the place and, unable to help himself in the presence of a wounded foe, Balls lapsed back into his more familiar mode of point-scoring one-upmanship. But for a brief moment there, it did actual happen: I actually believed something that Ed Balls was saying. Either that, or the stress induced by reformatting my computer had finally sent me over the edge and the whole thing was an illusion conjured up by a brain that had lost its footing. I hope it’s the former, but I really can’t rule out the latter.

Our final party-political bod this week comes in the form of Shirley Williams and I must say how struck I was by the mellowness she displayed. Usually Shirley can be counted on to rhetorically bop various panelists on the nose whilst thundering away about something that sounds very worthy, but last night she seemed much more at peace with the world and tended to stay out of the bigger rucks. Having said that, she did at one point unilaterally call for the removal of Berlusconi, an act that doesn’t sit well under the heading ‘Mellow’ so I’m not overly concerned that she’s going to hang up her spurs any time soon.

All of which leaves us with our two civilians, Peter Hitchens and Benjamin Zephaniah. Now, I have a confession to make when it comes to Hitchens: I have a horrible feeling I might actually quite like the guy. Sure, our opinions couldn’t be further apart and he does have the capacity to freak me out (like when he said the biggest measure of wellbeing was “faith in God” whilst staring so intensely at the camera that I worried my TV would explode) but I need a Peter Hitchens in my life. I need him because I require a counterpoint to my opinions and he provides that whilst being slightly more tolerable than the likes Phillips and Heffer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to charge off and join the Peter Hitchens Fan Club but I can co-exist with him quite happily, something which can’t be said for the bulk of his more rabid counterparts. Oh, and he does deserve an extra mark for his part in the magical little scene that unfolded when he declared that “the BBC don’t believe in God”.

Have a care, Hitchens” came Dimbers response.

Wonderful.

And what of Zaphaniah? Well, my fear was that his line would be a very ‘them and us’ sort of affair and there were times when his approach was a little too simplistic. However, he did have some good points in there and he made them well thanks to his generally pleasant manner. Ok, so he might not be up to speed on all the details and there’s only so many times you can invoke the name of “the people” before I get annoyed but he was never in any real danger of making a fool of himself and he generally came across as a pretty decent bloke who isn’t afraid to speak his mind.

Considering the above, it’s tempting to chalk this up as a bit of a damp squib of an episode as there were never any major fireworks and the questions failed to spark any incidents that held true drama, but there was plenty going on in the background that you could see from the corner of your eye. Granted, the audience weren’t the most exciting bunch (although I was into the young man who harangued Balls for making questionable gestures in the Commons) and the grand setting didn’t really live up to it’s billing but yes, I quietly enjoyed it.

Tl;dr

May: 4/10

Wobbled

Balls: 5/10

Cobbled (together any old rubbish to advance his agenda)

Williams: 6/10

Gobbled (too much Valium)

Hitchens: 6/10

Squabbled

Zephaniah: 6/10

Nobbled (May on a few occasions)

The Crowd: 5/10

Bobbled?

Right, that’s that done… I’m off to install the ten millionth update to my computer and get angry with drivers. My life: It’s a rollercoaster ride of action and adventure.

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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