Posts Tagged 'Simon Hughes'

Questionable Time #91


questionable time 91 david dimbleby north by north west

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

 

The Cold War is back in town…

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A pleasing interlude…

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

 

And then suddenly…

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

 

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

rachel-reeves-liz-kendall-gif

Fig. 1

 

Tl;dr

 

Heseltine: 7/10

(Still has great) Hair

 

Reeves: 6/10

(Is every)Where (at the moment)

 

Hughes: 6/10

(Is neither) Here (nor) There

 

Aaronovitch: 7/10

Doctrinaire

 

Nekrassov: 5/10

(Knows much about Red) Square

 

Platell: 5/10

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

 

The Audience: 7/10

(Did well not to) Swear.

 

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

 

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #67


questionable-time-67-david-dimbleby-robocopGood morning Lemmings and…wait… hello? Is there anyone there? Oh, right… You guys were all clever enough to go to bed when the footy reached extra time meaning that I’m probably the only person in the entire country who bothered to watch last night’s episode. Well, I can’t blame you and if it’s any consolation I can only claim to have half-watched it (it was more ‘lolling about listlessly whilst going one can over my QT booze quota’ than actually ‘watching’). Anyway, you’re here now so I suppose I’d better slap something together… Welcome to a very a fuzzy and bleary eyed instalment of Questionable Time…

Something’s gone deeply, deeply wrong for the Red Team…

Here’s a little sum for you:

Tory-led Spending Review + Newcastle + Question Time = ?

That should be easy enough to figure out – after all Tyne and Wear is solid red when it comes to electoral results and even if we factor in that the QT audiences are picked to represent the political make-up of the nation as opposed to the locality, the maths should still be fairly straight forward to figure out, right? Wrong. Nope, I’m afraid this is a case of dunce’s hats all round as no matter which way you cut it, Labour came out of last night’s encounter looking thoroughly bruised. So what gives?

I guess the logical place to start is with their horse in last night’s race, Liz Kendall – one of the 2010 intake who is so far famous only for inappropriately tweeting pictures of Parliament (see Fig. 1). Now, in QT terms she’s still pretty wet behind the ears having only one outing under her belt and there was some clear evidence of n00bishness going on (the frantic scribbling of notes throughout the show, the wall of statistics she’d produce at regular intervals, the being hoisted on her own 50p tax petard) but it wasn’t n00bish enough to warrant the frosty response she got. Take her first answer for example: She got to open the show with a response to the Spending Review question and did so with a comprehensive charge sheet aimed squarely at Teams Blue and Yellow. Still vaguely awake at this point, I waited for the robust applause to arrive and put some credibility icing on this largely competent cake but was instead treated to a parade of tumbleweed and scowls. More of the same was the order of the day for the rest of her innings, but it wasn’t Kendall herself – over-eager and trying very, very hard as she was – that seemed to be the cause of all this audience ire. Something else was going on.

liz kendall selfie

Fig.1

‘What about her opponents?’ I hear you say. ‘Could this be a case of her being outmanoeuvered?’…

…And to that I’d reply ‘You’re half right’ as she was up against one of QT’s most frequently underestimated panelists, David Willetts. ‘Willetts? The egghead with the ridiculously soft looking skin?’ you cry as I start to worry that this fabricated conversation might soon overrun the entire paragraph… ‘But he’s soooooo boring!’ to which I’d respond with ‘Ah ha! But that’s one of his secret weapons!’ before quietly shutting down this fictional exchange for fear that I’m beginning to look a little mad. I start making ‘I must be getting on’ gestures, you start feeling a little uncomfortable and we go our separate ways, never to speak of this again. There, it’s over.

So anyway, Willetts: Underestimated a) because he looks and sounds largely innocuous and b) because a he’s right ‘un for triangulating his answers. Did you catch how many times he ended sentences with allusions to ‘a sensible third way’ or some sort of ‘reasonable middle ground’? Well that’s what he does and he goes about it in a meticulous fashion, precisely measuring out the maximum amount of It’s All Their Fault/We’re Really Not That Bad he can get away with before igniting the mixture and escaping under the cover of the ensuing smokescreen. As an offensive tactic this has limited value but that’s not really what David Willett’s is for. No, Two Brains is the kind of guy you want when you’re in a potentially sticky situation (like being a Tory in Newcastle after announcing billions in cuts) and to that end he did really well – to the point that he actually got quite a bit of applause. But this still doesn’t explain why Labour had it so hard last night as Willetts’ effort were mostly directed towards holding the line.

What of Simon Hughes? Was it he that laid the Red Team low?

In a word, ‘no’ and this is because his performance took a turn for the meta and became all about him. Now this whole I Cry Myself To Sleep at Night/I’m Still A Fearless Instrument of Social Justice psychodrama has been a regular QT fixture for yonks but it actually took on a tangible form last night when he was asked directly about it by an audience member. Off he went, picking a fight with himself that he eventually won but that meant there wasn’t much room left for aggressive operations against his opponents and the mystery of the Labour collapse remains unsolved…

So it must be down to the civilian panelist then?

Again, no – but there is a revealing clue in it all that I’ll get to in a second. First off though I must admit that there was some very good baddying going on from Jill Kirby, a panelist who is so cut-and-dry in her veneration of all things free-market that the Snowden affair becomes less about the implications for free speech/national security and more of an HR issue. The government just downloaded the entire internet? Boo-hoo. Some guy breaches the terms of his contract? OH THE HUMANITY! So yeah, that was fun.

However, it’s Mark Steele – a man I’m generally on board with but who’s never more than a cross-media collaboration with Billy Bragg away from annoying me – who provides us with the final piece of the jigsaw. He had a good run last night, saying the things that – by rights – Labour should but also by tapping into the real reason why the crowd were so anti Red Team: It was the feeling that they’d been betrayed by an Opposition that should be fighting their corner.

And therein lies the problem for Labour – they’ve let the Tories choose the music for the next election and that will cost them, particularly in places like the North East where there’s a very sentimental attachment to the Labour movement. Of course, the cold hard logic is that they can afford to burn some political capital in the North (after all, who else are they going to vote for?) in order to chase those juicy Southern swing voters but there is something rather unedifying about it all. There’s also something a little unedifying about David Dimbleby slapping a table but in his defence, at least it woke me up.

Tl;dr

Willetts: 6/10

(Goes in for) Precision

Kendall: 5/10

(Didn’t really deserve all the) Derision

Hughes: 6/10

(Was involved in a) Collision (with himself)

Kirby: 5/10

(Will be having words with Edward Snowden at his next) Supervision

Steele: 6/10

(Is pretty good on) Television

The Crowd: 6/10

(Are most probably appalled by the outcome of this year’s) Eurovision

Well, there you have it… a red-eye special that stands in stark contrast to the giddy tomfoolery of the past two shows. Anyway, that’s nearly it for this run as we have one more episode left and then it’s the summer hols. And what will I be doing with this new-found Friday freedom when it arrives? Illustrating misheard lyrics, that’s what.

Questionable Time #60


questionable time 60 david dimbleby crop circle

Good morning Lemmings and let us not beat about the bush: I really wasn’t feeling last night’s show. The primary cause for this is that the news which – through a combination of sustained Thatchering and high drama on the other side of the Pond – has gone and knackered itself out, leaving precious little of interest for our weekly political cage fight. Should you require some hard evidence of this then look no further than the inclusion of an Abu Qatada question (the QT equivalent of a blinking fuel light) and the now regular ritual of trying to get fired up by sub-percentage movements in the GDP figures. Still, at least there wasn’t a question on the legalisation of cannabis. That’s when you know the tank’s completely dry.

Right, let’s see what we can salvage from these charred remains.

Sajid Javid is not fannying about.

I like a good n00b on QT. I like watching those little beads of sweat and hearing those garbled words as they struggle to get their bearings so I was delighted to see that we had two last night, Sajid Javid and Luciana Berger. As far as the sweaty-garbling stakes go, I’m pleased to say that despite a strong opening, Berger soon got rattled and managed to mangle all manner of straightforward sentences into semantically impossible contortions (Qatada is “Europe’s right hand man in Al Qaeda”, a ‘construction centre’ became a “contruction centre” and something-or-other was “appropriately fine”), all of which is entirely forgivable considering that this was the first time she’d been exposed to the horrors of Question Time, but that’s her Get Out Of Jail Free card gone. Next time it’s Big School Rules.

The same cannot be said for Javid however. No, instead of running on pure adrenaline like most first-timers he just sat there like an angry brick and stared all danger into submission with those terrifying eyes of his. Fancy having a go about the economy? How about I have a go at you instead. Think you can trap me in a Qatada bind? Please Nigel, feel free to bleat on about how absurd the situation is but don’t for a second think that I’m copping the flak for some rather irksome circumstances. Reckon that my background might make me a soft touch on immigration? Let me categorically disabuse you of such folly with my uncompromising stance on… well… everything really.

Ok, so the content (helping after helping of Tory red meat) was a little protein heavy and flavour light but the delivery was so utterly unshakable that he made for some pretty compelling viewing. So keep an eye on this guy. He may well be a n00b on paper but an hour of trying to duck his laser beam stare tells me that he’s a pre-baked QT hardnut who we’ll be seeing a lot more of.

I wish we got the Farage I saw earlier in the week…

If you didn’t see Channel 4 News’ wonderful ‘Farage in Bulgaria’ piece then stop reading this and watch it right the hell now for it was a thing of much loveliness. For the uninitiated the premise was very simple: Channel 4 sent Farage to Bulgaria with a camera crew, hopefully to discover that the whole nation is hellbent on upping sticks and bringing our welfare state to its knees, except that they aren’t. Nope, despite the cockeyed wailings of unhinged Kippers it appears that the Bulgarians have got this country’s number (damp and grumpy) and would much rather send Nigel on a series of back-to-back drinking sessions instead. For the terminally lazy or those at work, I’ve handily condensed the whole affair into .gif form (see. Fig. 1) but please, do check it out.

farage-bulgaria-gif

Fig. 1

Anyway, it was telly gold (not least because it achieves that impossible comedic dream: The unholy fusion of Partridge and Borat) and in many ways Farage came out of it looking rather good. Ok, so on paper the entire thing was a failure as it rendered UKIP’s latest stick to beat public opinion with rather twig-like but on a personal level it was a triumph because it illustrated the rather more endearing side of Farage: The goofiness, the ‘I can’t believe I’m getting away with this!’ look in his eyes and the fact that he’s probably very entertaining company to keep.

Alas, the Nigel we saw in that film was nowhere to be seen last night and instead it was business as usual for Question Time’s perennial squatter-turned-resident: Shrill on rhetoric (Crime Epidemic!), shifty on policy (Flat tax! Maybe!) and very, very much blissed out on nostalgia (GRAMMAR SCHOOOOOOOOOOOLS!). Still, should his political ambitions come to nowt, at least he’s got a decent shot at the BAFTA for Best Male Comedy Performance.

Fair do’s to Bennett…

So this is Bennett’s second outing in a little more than a month but I can’t find much to gripe about. Naturally, there’re a few tweaks to be made here and there and a little enthusiasm that needs curbing but considering how well she stood up to Sajid’s Terminator act, I’d say she’s got the basics down pat.

*Tenuously related note of unsubstantiated gossip.*

I was speaking with someone who walks in Green circles and was informed of growing consternation in the party’s ranks about the following: Natalie Bennett has a habit of wearing green all the time and it’s starting to look a little… odd. You heard it here first.

Handwringing or angry? HANDWRINGING OR ANGRY?!

That’s the question that Simon Hughes asks himself upon awaking each morning and yesterday he plumped for ANGRY. Luciana’s having a pop about the economy? “Don’t you lecture me!” Javid reckons the ECHR is negotiable? FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS! You get the picture.

Anyway, that was Hughes and I do find his ‘angry’ act rather charming because you can tell he’s trying so hard to pull it off…. Like straining every fibre in his body to let you know that he’s really, really ticked off. Does it work? Sort of. Is it better than the handwringing? Infinitely.

Tl;dr

Javid: 6/10

(Man of) Steel

Hughes: 5/10

(Made a) Meal (of his angriness)

Berger: 5/10

We’ll (see)…

Farage: 5/10

(Sur)Real

Bennett: 6/10

(Likes to wear shades close to) Teal

The Crowd: 5/10

(Idolise Ian) Beale?

Hmmm… Not QT’s finest hour but I guess it will do. In a brief aside, I’m playing a gig next Thursday night so apologies in advance but you’ll just have to get thoroughly Starkied without me. Ooh, you lucky little buggers!

In a fortnight Lemmings, in a fortnight…

Questionable Time #37


questionable time 37 david dimbleby grant shapps caroline flint zephaniah hair plus flag

Good morning Lemmings and welcome back to this, Our Hour of Reckoning. Should you have been lucky enough to remain unmolested by the collective gnashing of Blue Team teeth that was the Conservative Party Conference, let me bring you up to speed: It’s sink-or-swim, dog-eat-dog, kill-or-be-killed out there and if we’re not careful Johnny Bloody Foreigner is going to end up eating our lunch, breakfast and dinner. Happily though, you needn’t fear because Messrs. Cameron and Osborne have let it be known (via a rather charming Bad Cop With A Heart/Bad Cop routine) that they’ve got this all under control. It’s about striving and it’s about jolly well ensuring that the feckless poor stop getting paid for this silly breeding business. Most of all though, it’s about doing exactly the same thing that hasn’t worked for the last two years but doing it with a bit more gusto. As plans go, that sounds pretty watertight to me.

Anyway, how did the good people of Birmingham respond to this invitation to tragedy?

How indeed…

Grant Shapps is either very, very brave or just flat-out mad…

Oh happy day! Happy, happy day! In the three years I’ve been covering Question Time, one panelist has repeatedly stymied my attempts to draw a bead on him. You see, on paper Grant Shapps’ appearances have always been pretty solid. He does that whole bright-eyed and bushy-tailed thing that Nick Clegg used to before life had its way with him and not once can I recall him committing any screaming errors. However, there was always something niggling at me about Shapps, a nagging doubt telling me that he had something nasty in the woodshed that he’d rather not show us. Well now we know what’s been stowed away at the bottom of his garden and it’s not pretty: Grant Shapps has been making several names for himself through some – how shall I put it? – very iffy sounding business ventures. You can find a good run down of what’s come to light so far here but the short version is that Shapps has been engaged in some legal-yet-dicey sounding practices that don’t exactly have the invigorating whiff of propriety about them.

Now, should a veil of suspicion ever envelope my life, I’m guessing I’d probably hole up for a while, issue a few statements about how the allegations were pure claptrap and wait for things to blow over, but oh no… Not old Shappsy. No, he’s got a better idea: Why not put myself in front of a braying mob comprised of worked-up Brummies and political enemies? Yup, that sounds like a winner.

Luckily for Schappso the whole Michael Green line of attack was a bit of a busted flush as it didn’t get its own question and ended up being shoehorned in by Dimbers towards the back-end of the show. Naturally, it wasn’t an edifying spectacle, watching him try to laugh it all off whilst everyone else formed an orderly queue to have a pop, but it could have been worse. Much, much worse. This, however, is not to say that last night was in any sense a victory because it wasn’t. Far from it in fact. No, what happened was that the threat of the Michael Green question emerging was enough to put the zap on Shapps and what we got was an hour of the muted twitchiness that haunts a man who knows his fate all too well.

So what is to be done about it? Well, I’m no expert but if I was the Shappsarino, maybe I’d start thinking about knocking this whole ‘politician’ thing on the head. Ok, so for a while you looked like something new and shiny but that’s the problem with shiny new things: They tarnish easily. Don’t worry though… If it all goes completely pear-shaped we can tap up this guy I’ve heard about. He can turn $200 into $20,000. Michael Green, I think his name was…

I was genuinely looking forward to Caroline Flint being on…

Here she is, Ol’ Flinty McFlinterson, a panelist who has grown on me quite considerably over the years. Now I’ve been pretty hard on Flinters in the past, mainly based on the fact that she had a habit of getting into avoidable scraps that had a tendency to go very sideways very quickly, but what has always endeared her to me is that no matter how badly Ol’ Flinty got mauled, she’d always dust herself off, spit out a few broken teeth and then carry on as if she had nary a scratch on her. The other reason I was looking forward to her appearance was how self-evidently stoked she’s been to have first dibs on beasting Shapps – stoked to the point that she’d taken to winding him up on Twitter earlier in the week. ‘My,’ I thought, ‘how well this bodes’.

Alas, as mentioned earlier, the whole Shapps Shenanigans went off half cocked (partly because Flint had been so obviously dying to stick the boot in that she fluffed her lines) but the rest of her performance was solid. Ok, so she overplayed her hand a couple of times near the start and the Sword of Damocles hanging over Shapps’ made it a slightly uneven playing field but the message – that the Tories don’t care – was direct, effective and well received. On top of that, her bit on abortion was great and was also the moment when she finally found her pace. That’s the big tell with Flint, the pace. When she’s anxious or blagging the tempo goes up, but at that moment last night she was 100% on the level. And ‘on the level’ gets points…

I’m never sure which Simon Hughes we’ll be getting…

So come on then, which Simon Hughes is it this week? The self-loathing, long dark night of the soul Simon Hughes who can’t square the circle of trading principles for power, or the bloodied-but-unbowed, from my cold dead hands Simon Hughes who doggedly defends the foxhole of Social Democracy to the last round? Happily, it was mostly the latter, what with him getting all hot under the collar about Housing Benefit and having the odd to-do with Shapps , but there was still this sense that the last two years have really taken their toll. Don’t get me wrong, the resolve is clearly still there and he looked much better than some of his recent outings (there have been times when I’ve thought of ringing the Samaritans on his behalf) but I can’t help thinking that deep down, he’s flagging. Of all the Lib Dems, he’s had one of the most ideologically wrenching experiences with the coalition and bit-by-bit, it’s chipping away at him.

Still, he’s in better shape than I expected and that’s good because I’m really rather fond of Simon Hughes. Yeah, I know, he’s got the air of a man who’s out to atone for some unspecified thing that probably wasn’t his fault but I think he probably is a genuinely decent guy who’s in politics for the right reasons. And it’s not very often that I get to say that…

Lovely Benjamin is lovely…

I usually have a go at Benjamin Zephaniah because he’s always just so close to getting it right but never quite makes it. On the face of it, it’s all there: He’s a very gentle yet eloquent guy who knows about people and can convince them to listen to him. However, the problem in the past has always been that he’s rubbish at homework. So many times I’ve sat here going “Come on son! Get in there!” as he hits the nail on the head at the start of a question only to see him stall halfway through when he realises he hasn’t got much to follow-up with. We got a little bit of that tonight and there were instances where he was clearly playing for time, but by and large it was pretty good. I will say this though: His hair is a total nightmare to cut out in Photoshop.

I’m still very ‘meh’ about Cristina Odone…

Here’s the thing: I don’t actively dislike Cristina Odone. We have different views but at least she thinks them through. No, my problem With Cristina Odone is that I wouldn’t like to be stuck in a lift with her. Why? Because she just has this look she sometimes pulls that says very clearly ”This was your fault”. I can see it all so vividly now… Me and Cristina in the lift. A sudden jolt. It stops. Then… That look…

This was your fault”.

Nah. Sorry Cristina, but it just puts the jibblies up me. No shame in your QT performance though.

The Crowd.

Well, I gotta say that this wasn’t what I was expecting. I dunno, maybe I was all strung out on Shappsenfreude and got too greedy but I was hoping for a right bloodbath. That’s not to say it was bad because it wasn’t. The panel was mostly strong, the crowd were vocal and if I were the Tories, I would be more than a little concerned. However, the entirely-appropriate-yet-grimly-consensual nature of the first question sort of nixed the fight in everyone and that critical mass of anger/mischief that was needed to turn this into a great show was never really achieved. Still, kudos to the girl who was wearing half a dead peacock on each ear lobe. At least she tried…

Tl;dr

Shapps: 4/10

Cowed

Flint: 8/10

(Has reason to be) Proud

Hughes: 6/10

Ploughed (relentlessly on)

Zephaniah: 7/10

(Is) Allowed (around my house whenever he wants)

Odone: 5/10

(Can, at times, be) Loud

The Crowd: 6/10

(Live – on average – 61.4 miles away from) Stroud

So there you go… A nice, even spread of points for a fairly evenly spread show. Now I know what your thinking – ‘Where’s the other goddamn pshop?’. Well, I had a lovely (if slightly creepy) .gif of Tim Farron all set up and ready to go but as you may have noticed, he didn’t end up being on. However, what I do have is this rather saucy pin-up of Dimbers that should just fill the gap (see Fig. 1) and was rather fun to make. I don’t know why but there’s always a certain thrill to applying make-up to an old man’s face.

dimbleby pinup

Fig. 1

Right, it’s 3am, one of my eyes has decided that it no longer wants to remain open and the cats are demanding the sofa back. Time for me to go…

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #26


questionable time 26 david dimbleby wonderbra

Good morning Lemmings and welcome to a somewhat more straight-forward instalment of Questionable Time than last week’s rather narcissistic little jaunt. Yes that’s right, I’m back in the cheap seats and in some ways I’m glad: Thrilling as last week was I’m just not sure that I was built to sustain the levels of excitement/terror that come with being a part of the audience. Anyway, here we are and there’s a lot to get through so let’s crack on. Here’s what we learned:

The news is back and this time it means business.

One of my biggest beefs with being in the audience of Question Time last week was that it occurred on a week when pretty much nothing of any import happened and the news appeared to have beached itself on the Sandbank of Uneventfuness. Sure, there was the whole Abu Qatada vs. the Gregorian Calendar affair and the preliminary stages of the Omnishambles, but lets face it, a couple of soggy sky rockets does not a fireworks display make. This week however stands apart from its immediate ancestor in that wherever you turn something spectacular is happening and from whatever angle you view it one can only conclude that all of these spectacular things are spectacularly bad for the coalition government, particularly the Tories. Here’s the jist of it:

      1. The economy has basically given up and called it a day.
      2. The Murdoch clan have put on their own production of Gotterdammerung and invited the entire world to attend.
      3. Having a name that lends itself to accidental profanities is now the least of the Culture Secretary’s worries.
      4. Nadine Dories.

Clearly this wasn’t going to be a week laden with promise for the Blue Team but as is the way of the world, someone was going to have to cop for it. And just who would that lucky soul be? Ladies and Gentlemen, please put your hands together for Minister of State at the Department of Work and Pensions, the Rt Honourable Chris Grayling MP! Whoop-whoop!

Now I actually think that Grayling did quite well last night and the reason he did quite well was that he was totally unremarkable: No heroics, no soaring oratory, no impassioned call to arms, just plain old ‘unremarkable’ and in my book that’s quite alright. Why? Well because despite outward appearances the very last thing you need in a situation like this is a hero. Heroes are great when you need that last bit of umph to really carry the fight to your enemies or to stage a decisive counter attack but they are not cut out for situations where there is simply no prospect of a win’ No, what you need at times like that is someone who can simply endure, hack off a pound of their own flesh and present it to the assembled mob with silent ambivalence. Granted, there’s not much glory to be had in being a human punch bag and Grayling did end up resembling a washing-up sponge that’s seen better days but at least he left things in a state that wasn’t that much worse than they were an hour before. In the grand scheme of things I’d be happy with that outcome.

The other person who had the most to lose last night was Simon Hughes and I must say that I wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of him being on. It’s not that I don’t like the man (in fact I’d go so far as to say that I have somewhat of a soft spot for him) it’s just that there’s only so much lip-biting, hand-wringing and self-flagellation I can witness before I start feeling sad. And that’s what Hughes has been like over the last couple of years, a tortured soul who rationally knows that he’s committing mad acts in response to a mad world but somehow can’t convince his soul that this is the case. Happily though, he seemed much more at peace last night and actually appeared to be a proper human being as opposed to a totemic whipping boy for the Lib Dems’ collective self-loathing. The way in which this manifested was that he was much better at picking his fights and managed to suppress the urge to dive on grenades that were clearly intended for the Tories, something which has been a problem in the past. Instead he stuck to the things he knew and cared about – like housing – whilst also making quiet overtures to the Red Team (“It wasn’t all Labours fault”), all of which was a refreshing change to being the principal apologiser for his party’s self-harming tendencies. I guess the big question is ‘does this mean that he thinks that coalition is toast?’, the answer to which only he knows but it’s certainly nice to seem him looking a little less spiritually broken.

The people with the most to gain didn’t gain that much.

By rights this should have been an episode in which both Diane Abbott and Polly Toynbee cleared up – what with all the fruit hanging so low – but somehow it didn’t quite turn out like that. I guess the main reason for this is that Romford voted very strongly for the Tories in 2010 (they had a clear 26.5% lead over Labour) so there’s clearly some loyalty there but it’s also down to the fact that while the Left’s critique of the current government is pretty robust, its alternative solution just doesn’t hang together as well as it should. Apart from that it was business as usual for these guys, what with Toynbee talking ever-so-seriously about ever-so-serious things and Abbott doing that ‘Dear Sir, imagine my concern’ face that she is wont to do. Both got some solid applause but neither really managed to find that killer angle of attack without exposing their own flanks. Had this been up t’North or a few miles to the west then things could have turned out very differently but as it stands they emerged much like their counterparts: In no better nor worse a situation than they started.

So no revelations there, but hang on, aren’t we missing something here? Damn straight we are! Nigel, Nigel, where for art thou Nigel?

Nigel Farage is still my favourite prat.

Yes! After what seems like an eternity (it’s actually only been five months) he’s back and if the papers are to be believed, he should have been soaring like an eagle last night. And soar he did as he socked it to the government for being a bunch of “college kids” and eulogised sole-traders as “heroes of the nation”. The crowd roared their approval as he seemed to levitate out of the studio. Fly Nigel, fly! Go on son, slip these earthly shackles! And upwards he went, propelling himself by cackling at the IMF loan, high into the night sky from where he rained down thunderbolts on Jeremy Hunt. But wait! What’s this? He seems to be stalling! What’s that he just said? ‘Immigration’? No Nigel, no! His rate of climb slows and then suddenly reverses. Oh god, he’s saying he’s spoken to “several people” and what they’ve told him is that it’s just too ruddy easy for Jonny Ruddy Foreigner to get a ruddy council house in this sceptred isle. Missiles are unleashed from the crowd and one from a housing worker who appears to know what he’s talking about scores a direct hit. BOOM! He’s falling now, falling fast! The crowd look on aghast as certain death looms and then CRACK! His fall is broken by a freak question about teen sex! Battered and bruised, he picks himself and limps off to lick his wounds. Nigel, you flew too high. You tried to touch the sun only to be dashed to earth like the mortal you are. Bad luck. You’re still my favourite prat though. Here’s a little something I made for you (see Fig. 1).

nigel farage hope poster absurdity

Fig. 1

Vince Cable still has a fan.

And not just any old fan but a super-fan by the looks of it. So well done Mr. Yellow T-Shirt And Suit Jacket, well done for being supremely unfashionable in every sense of the word! A cheer for Mr Yellow T-Shirt and Suit Jacket!

Tl;dr

Grayling: 5/10

Soaked (it up)

Abbott: 5/10

Poked (at Grayling)

Hughes: 6/10

(Seems pretty) Stoked

Toynbee: 6/10

Provoked (a few claps)

Farage: 6/10

Joked (about this and that)

The Crowd: 7/10

(Should have been) Revoked (since I wasn’t in it).

So there we go: A pretty solid episode where everyone except Farage ended up pretty much where they had started. Now, if you’ll excuse me I must get back to my busy schedule of not being recognised on the street and my phone not ringing off the hook. Ah, the perils of QT fame…

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #40


question time david dimbleby chris bryant 40

Morning Lemmings and urgh… I have been laid low by an ill-tempered bug. Seeing as I’ve been rendered stupid by a combination of daytime telly and the effort of keeping everything inside me inside me, I’m going to keep this short which is a bit of a shame as it was a great episode last night.

Anyhoo, first surprise of the evening for me was the discovery that I may have grown slightly fond of Baroness Warsi. While many may say that this is just an outward manifestation of my current sickness, I’m inclined to disagree and cite this in my defence: Warsi and I go back a long way. When I first started writing these reports over a year ago, Cameron was at the height of his ‘down wiv da kids’ phase and as a result, Warsi was wheeled out on a seemingly endless basis in an effort to bring some much-needed ‘we’re not all total bastards’ tarting up to the Tory brand. In this endeavour she roundly failed but in the process gave me plenty to make fun of at a time when I was only just getting the hang of writing these reports, something for which I am eternally grateful. Since then, Warsi seems to have been somewhat sidelined, emerging every six months or so to say something of not much consequence so I was interested to see how she would perform tonight and I must confess that I was quite pleasantly surprised.

A year ago, the Warsi Field Manual dictated that all questions should be dealt with by throwing caution to the wind and recklessly charging at them with limbs a-flailing and teeth a-gnashing. The upshot of this inspired strategy usually turned out to be Warsi starting very strongly before completely overplaying her hand and then drowning in a ditch she herself had dug. This time however, she managed to keep herself in check and actually manage to avoid a number of ambushes that were laid for her by both Dimbers and Bryant. Granted, she still hasn’t shaken that tendency to talk down to everyone when she’s wearing her ‘serious’ face and she still does the Power Point thing where she very slowly makes a list of all the reasons why she’s right, but she did manage to sound like someone who had spent slightly longer than a nanosecond thinking about what she was going to say and in terms of improvement, it was a massive leap forward. So yes, well done Warsi… It’s not like I fancy you or anything but you are growing on me.

Not content with experiencing just one revelation, I was also quite pleased to see the return of Simon Hughes as an actual human being as opposed to the wraith-like representation of the collective guilt felt by the left wing of the Lib Dems he’s portrayed of late. Clearly unable to carry on making excuses for the Orange Book brigade, Hughes dispensed with the hand wringing and lip biting and actually (shock horror) started talking like a man who might start acting on his principles rather than just trying to smother them to death with the pillow of coalition. Nuclear power? Nein danke. NHS reform? Do not want. Midsommer Murders? STFU. All of which was nice to see but perhaps his moment of glory last night was when he put across the best case I’ve heard yet for intervention in Libya. Coming from a man who was at the heart of the anti-war movement, that’s tricky terrain to navigate but he did it and that’s quite impressive. As his reward, I’ve posted a small piece of wish fulfillment that he may appreciate: A picture of him goading Ming into throwing Nick Clegg off something very high (see Fig.1). Enjoy Simon, enjoy.

ming campbell simon huges throwing nick clegg

Fig. 1

Moving on to the Labour end of things we have Chris Bryant, a man who is worth watching (if only to see who he upsets next). Sadly though, it was not to be his night, partly because the coalition players put on a rare display of competence and partly because Labour’s lack of policy left him looking somewhat naked (not that he cares… he’s God’s gift to lazy satirical photoshoppers, what with the abundance of semi-in-the-nip pictures of him available) when ever he was asked what his party would do. Oh, and the comment about having people you don’t like over to dinner with regards to Libya? It may well be true, but it’s probably best not to bring it up when the aforementioned dinner guest is getting stuck into a bit of massacring. Just sayin’ Chris, just sayin’…

Fourth on last nights panel we have Green-in-Chief Caroline Lucas who managed to make plenty of hay from the whole Japan fallout (probably not the best choice of words from me there). However, she couldn’t really sustain that momentum and by the time it got to the Libya debate she was starting to look a little unsure of herself and seemed slightly troubled that she couldn’t rely on Hughes to bolster her case. Still, Lucas did regain some ground on the NHS question and as ever, she managed to get a green argument across without conjuring up images of didgeridoos and dogs with leads made out of blue nylon rope. Or the Levellers. Man, I hate the Levellers…

Finally there’s Kelvin MacKenzie, walking foghorn and general affront to humanity. Surprisingly enough, he ended up being quite the crowd favourite and raked in much applause by simply getting very, very angry about everything. Personally, I still think he’s a bit of a shit and his sudden transformation into Cheerleader General for the nuclear industry (“fantastically green!”, “fantastically safe!”, “nuclear or nothing!”) was a little hard to swallow (just as his random shouting of the words “Wooton Bassett!” was a little unsettling) but the crowd appear to have spoken. Oh well, every dog has his day I suppose…

So that was the panel and quite an interesting bunch they were to. For me I guess the thing that made this show was that it’s the first time I’ve seen the coalition behave as they should: As two separate entities, bound uneasily together by cruel circumstance but still very much in possession of their own agendas. That’s nice to see after months of witnessing the coalition’s Lib Dem super ego being Shanghaied into doing the bidding of the Tory led id and it made it feel like Westminster politics may finally be regaining some of its definition again. Of course, none of this was possible without a willing crowd to play along and save for their MacKenzie worship, Eastbourne did a good job. Of particular note was the kindly looking doctor of advancing years who piped up at the end and used Lansley’s proposed reforms to beat Warsi about the chops. That was nice, doubly so as he looked entirely non-threatening and benign. Also of note was the guy wearing a green shirt and beret. Now I know Eastbourne is a little bit of a time warp but seriously? A beret? ’68 has come and gone, man… Let it go.

Tl;dr

Warsi: Improved

6/10

Hughes: Approved

7/10

Bryant: Removed

5/10

Lucas: Unmoved

6/10

MacKenzie: Screwed

4/10

The Crowd: Booed

7/10

Right, that’s enough… I’m crawling back under the duvet to continue whimpering pathetically. All those in the market for stoicism, I suggest you go the hell some place else. Next week Lemmings, next week…



Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #34


Morning Lemmings. So then, the traditional title picture and title itself all seem to indicate that things are back to normal at this end, right? Wrong! No Lemmings, I’m afraid to say that I’ll be messing with the format yet again, mainly in the interests of keeping these reports a little shorter and thus emancipating me from 6 hours chained to a keyboard every Friday night. As a result, those of you with strong OCD tendencies may find themselves all at sea but my advice would be to view this as a form of treatment: We’re pushing the boundaries, breaking new ground, feeling the fear and doing it anyway…this is our Brave New World. Anyway, if this sudden wrenching away of the familiar leaves you feeling out-of-sorts, please feel free to let me know but if you couldn’t give a toss (and I strongly suspect that 99.9% of you don’t) then sit back and prepare thyself for what turned out to be quite the epic Question Time last night. Welcome, Lemmings, to Burnley.

Perhaps the best way to describe last night’s Question Time is to look at it as some fraught tale of maritime woe. Imagine if you will a dingy, probably named ‘Coalition’, adrift in the ocean and occupied by the now very guilty conscience of the Liberal Democrats, Simon Hughes and the ever fishy (what with all the expenses, nannies and whatnot) Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Caroline Spelman. Life on the Coalition isn’t that fun. Neither of them really wanted to sign up for this trip, the dingy appears to have sprung a few leaks of late and there is no disguising the fact that Hughes and Spelman clearly can’t stand each other. Nevertheless, here they are and for the most part, they at least try to make a pretence of some united front, even if that means extended bouts of lying to themselves.

But wait a second…what’s this? Two triangular fins, poking above the water and moving erratically? Clearly they were shark fins and if I’m not mistaken, they belonged to the well-known man eaters that are Gorgeous George Galloway and Malcolm Tucker Alastair Campbell! Sensing that some first class flesh tearing and access to carrion action could be in the offing, a flock of seagulls began to gather whilst another boat containing Clever Footballer (purely on account of appearing on Countdown… the bar’s pretty low, OK?) Clarke Carlisle approached from a safe distance.

I nearly went with "FUCKCHOPS"

Fig. 1

Oi! You guys down there!” squawked the gulls, “What do you think about Alan Johnson resigning and Ballsy getting the job?”

We bloody love it!” growled the sharks in unison. “Balls is just as sharky as us and he’s going to duff Osborne up good and proper! Go sharks! Go sharks! Go sharks!” Sensing that things probably aren’t too rosy when the killers of the deep circling your boat start chanting “Go sharks!”, Spelman did her best to look imposing and immediately launched into the now well-past-it’s-sell-by deficit/’living beyond means’ spiel, but failed to convince anyone that she wasn’t heading for a sticky fate in a matter of moments. Hughes however, knew that this was a doomed venture and instead tried to placate the sharks (by paying “tribute to Alan Johnson in passing”… He’s resigned Simon, he’s not dead) before bopping the marauders on the nose with a well delivered ‘Balls = Brown’ jab, much to the amusement of the seagulls.

Then something weird happened: Just as it seemed that it was only a matter of time before the good ship Coalition would be condemned to a toothy death, another onlooker (called David Starkey no less) chirped in with a question about the Iraq Inquiry and all hell broke loose. Suddenly, the sharks lost interest in mauling the Coalition and instead squared up to each other, much to the visible relief

of both Hughes and Spelman. The first to lunge was Gorgeous George who lost no time in popping open a bottle of Vintage Dastardly Rhetoric from which he poured references to “establishment stooges” and “war crimes” before climaxing with a shower of likening Tucker Campbell to “Goebbels” and “Lord Haw Haw”. This drove Tucker Campbell into a frenzied semantic defence (and a hairy moment where narrowly avoided confirming that he should stand trial if the Inquiry found him to be a big fat liar) whilst Spelman and Hughes looked on with bewildered delight. Surely these sharks are drunk! Also notable at this point was Clarke Carlisle’s first intervention (that wasn’t based on purely sports based analogies) which involved a rather impassioned tract about his cousin being in the forces and how those in power should be “held responsible”. The seagulls loved that and heartily brayed their approval before throwing him completely off-balance with a question about the NHS (“I’m not familiar with the complete mechanics”).

Sadly for Hughes and Spelman, the respite did not last and by the time the NHS question got round to Tucker Campbell, both he and Gorgeous George swiftly sobered up, dusted themselves down (if you can ‘dust yourself down’ underwater) and returned to original object of their blood lust. First up was Tucker Campbell with accusations of “broken promises” and the seagulls all bundled in, dive-bombing the coalition in formation whilst Galloway harried their flanks and got Lansley’s name wrong (“Stuart” Lansley?). Presented with this renewed onslaught Spelman did the political equivalent of clicking her heels three times whilst repeating the phrase ‘there’s no place like home’ by claiming she was delivering a “message of hope”. No-one bought it and the beasting continued. Even more interesting was Hughes who was clearly aware of how much trouble he was in and began flat-out pleading with his assailants: “I’m not a Tory!” he wailed to which Tucker Campbell replied “you’re getting there…”. Ouch.

By now, the once pristine dingy was rapidly being reduced to matchwood but worse was to come when one of the seagulls chipped in with a question about youth unemployment, driving his brethren into a maelstrom of murderous intent. Tucker Campbell got the ball rolling by shifting the argument in the direction of EMA’s but to be honest, the sharks were pretty much surplus to requirement as the gulls descended to peck out the eyes of Spelman (who was just whittering bollocks at this point) and Hughes (who finally gave up pretending that he was in any way on board with most of this and was consequently spared quite the hammering Spelman took). Broken, battered and listing heavily, the dingy managed to limp onto the final question about Oldham, but it was clear that they had only just escaped with their lives. Moments later, the gulls dispersed, the sharks got bored and went to look for something else to bite whilst Carlisle weighed anchor and pootled off into the sunset leaving Spelman and Hughes to ponder just how much fun the next four years of bailing/arguing over the freshwater/watching each other pee/mutual loathing would be. A cautionary tale if ever I heard one but a ripping yarn nevertheless.

TL;DR

Spelman: 3/10

I try very hard to be impartial, but something about her just stinks. Lucky to leave the studio alive.

Malcolm Tucker Alastair Campbell: 6/10

Yes, he’s an unrepentant ball of belligerence with a book to plug and possibly a war criminal too, but you have to admire just quite how proficient he is in the Dark Arts.

Hughes: 5/10

A valiant and spirited effort, but it’s actually rather disturbing to watch a man rend his soul apart on live television.

Gorgeous George: 7/10

Pompous and self-serving rabble-rouser that he is, it has to be said that he still represents Question Time Value For Money on a par with Farage.

Clarke Carlisle: 6/10

Actually quite good, despite the nervous start, occasional manglings of his own arguments and inherent sportiness. Kind of makes me feel a little guilty for doing a sarky pshop of him (see Fig.1).

The Crowd: 9/10

A well deserved whopper of a score for the most awesome crowd I’ve seen in ages. Reet Northern, reet pissed off and reet keen to get amongst it. Burnley: Walk tall this week… you’ve bloody well-earned it.

So that’s that. If this slightly different format has left you pining for the old/enthralled by the prospect of a brighter future, feel free to let me know. Oh, and just before I go, remember how I said ages ago that Ed Balls is probably the world’s least effective liar? Well, I think I might have just found the most compelling piece of evidence to date…

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #26


Awww crap.....

Good morning Lemmings and just what, may I ask, is that fishy odour, wafting it’s way from the Blue Corner this evening? Why, it’s hyperactive Tory foghorn Baroness Warsi’s non-appearance! That’s right Lemmings, after making some rather lurid allegations of electoral fraud in the New Statesman, way after the deadline had passed when anything could be done about it, Warsi is nowhere to be seen on this episode. According to BBC Look North, my local news and official mouthpiece of Yorkshire Nationalism, Warsi was unable to attend tonight on account of being “sick”. Hmmmmm, not wanting to sound like cynic or anything, but that does sound rather convenient, given her proven track record of biting off more than she can chew on Question Time. But hey, what do I know?

Right, enough of this green inkery and off to Manchester with us before I start fashioning elaborate headwear out of tin foil.

The Menu

Q1: Is Labour now in the pocket of the unions since they backed Ed Miliband?

Q2: Is Ed Miliband the Labour equivalent of IDS?

Q3: Does David Miliband’s decision not to return to front bench politics undermine his brother’s leadership?

Q4: Does the IMF’s approval of Osborne’s plan mean that Ed Miliband has lost the economic argument?

Q5: Should the UK and France share their nuclear deterrent?

In The Yellow Bit Of The Blue Yellow Corner: Simon Hughes, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats and potential troublemaker of note.
“Ah ha!” thought I. “This will be fun! Another left leaning Lib Dem who’s going to do a crap job at hiding his disdain for all things coalition and thus paint himself into multiple corners!”. Given that Vince Cable looked like a man with toothache trying to eat a gravel sandwich as he wearily tried to pretend he was deeply enamoured with The New Politics last week, I was pretty much sure that Hughes would make a complete botch of this, particularly as he’s been appointed de facto Head Boy of the Lib Dem Awkward Squad. In fact, I positively needed him to bugger this up because he’s quite hard to poke fun at. Ok, so he’s a bit wooly and ‘Right On, yeah?’ in a very Lib Dem sort of way, but this is somewhat offset by the fact that he’s very sincere and genuinely seems to care about stuff that matter. All of this is very good news for politics, but incredibly bad news if you write a blog about Question Time that has to include a certain compulsory level of ‘funny’. Even photoshopping in some ridicule is pretty hard with him and the best I could do was to merely caption this shot of him punching a pensioner in the chest whilst smiling in a caddish fashion (see Fig. 1).

Pow!

Fig. 1

Ok, so I did airbrush out the pensioner’s hand that he happened to be holding at the time, but even so, he’s a hard man to mock. With this backdrop, the crux of my plan was to hope that Hughes would do the same thing that Cable did: Try to pretend he was a convert to the new orthodoxy whilst sounding completely unconvincing and thus come across like a devil sick of sin and provide me with a whole bunch of stuff to take the piss out of. Unfortunately for me, Hughes didn’t and in fact sounded like a proper, pre-election LibDem who barely noticed that his party was in government with the Tories. There were a few exceptions here and there, such as when he got all IMF happy in Q4 and rattled off numbers whilst invoking ‘interest payments’ (and throwing an odd little reference to when he couldn’t get cash out of an ATM), but never did the word ‘Greece’ pass his lips. In fact, the vast bulk of his answer sounded like he properly meant them, such as actually admitting that he quite liked the unions in Q1 and his fairly level-headed assessment of Ed Miliband’s problems in Q2 (“He’s not new. He’s part of the old government”. Fair play). Some of his more familiar “Diversity FTW!” posturings where on display in Q3 where he relished the opportunity to list all the un-PC things he was against, but it was in Q5 where he decisively hammered his Lib Dem colours to the mast. Rather than engage in the de rigueur coalition talk of ‘compromise’ and such, he went straight in for the kill, damning Trident for being dependent on American support and urging the country to lobby against it. After swimming in a sea of fudged boundaries and fuzzy borders since the coalition came about, this was like music to my ears: Politics I understand.

In pure performance terms, Hughes was neither here nor there on this episode. It was generally good, decent stuff but nothing that earth shattering and if the context was different, I’d probably chuck him some fairly average marks. However, it was impossible for me to watch Hughes without inevitably comparing him to Cable the week before and in this respect, it was a triumph. So well done Baldy, you’ve proved there still is such a thing as the Liberal Democrat party.

A welcome return of old certainties: 7/10
In The Red Corner: Dianne Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and eternal backbencher.
OK, I admit it, I’m all Abbotted out. Appearing twice in the space of seven shows was bad enough, but three times in the space of nine is just too much, especially after five solid months of exposure after the leadership contest. I realise that it would have been pretty hard for Labour to decide who to send on, given that they haven’t got a clue who’s in any given job right now, but come on, it would have at least been more entertaining if they’d sent David Miliband on, even if only to weep uncontrollably and tell people off for clapping throughout the show. So here we are today and the well is dry. My stockpile of funny is depleted and google images yields little of use. You’ve beaten me Dianne, beaten me to a bloody pulp by dint of your repeat QT offending. You win, I lose, let’s make this quick.

On the whole, it was textbook Abbott with plenty of New Labour condemning and Tory scolding frontal assaults, all wrapped in the maternity dress of casual informality. Her support for Ed Miliband sounded genuine throughout, her bouts of slapping Starkey went down well and it’s fair to say that the crowd were generally on board with her for most of her responses. All of which is pretty much exactly what happened when she was on two weeks ago (apart from the Ed Miliband bit. That would have been really stupid) and to be honest, I can’t quite muster the energy to go over the same old ground again.

So that’s it, Abbott. No offence to you, but I think we need to stop seeing each other for a while, hang out with other people, that sort of thing. In the meantime, I suggest that you get some photos of yourself pulling silly faces circulated around the web as there’s only so many times I can face-switch you with Marx.

A very familiar 6/10

In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Grant Shapps, Minister of State for Housing and Local Government, QT Lamb to the Slaughter and JustWhoInTheHellExactly?
OK, so Warsi couldn’t attend, but seriously, who is this guy? Visually speaking, he seems like some genetic experiment that went horribly wrong as mad scientists tried to splice the DNA of Clegg, Cameron and Blair whilst tweaking his facially genes so that the only expression his face is capable of rendering is an intensely annoying smirk. OK, so maybe that’s a little a harsh and a trawl through his Wikipedia page does show that he might not be such as bad guy as he spent Christmas Eve 2008 sleeping rough in order to highlight the plight of homeless (something I have yet to see from any of his genetic donors) and he is the cousin of the sainted Mick Jones. But this is Question Time so past good deeds count for nothing while performance on the night counts for everything. So what of his performance? Well, the words ‘depth’, ‘his’ and ‘out of’ are the first ones that spring to mind and it has been quite some time since I’ve observed such a cruel hazing on the show. Observe, if you will.

Q1 started inauspiciously enough as he tried some preliminary skirmishing on the union front, but he quickly ended up in a sticky situation as he said that Ed Miliband would totally swing to the left. “What?” said Dimbers and Cox in commanding unison, knocking him right off-balance and he retreated in a babble of wibbled guff. Q2 contained little worth repeating while Q3 saw him squirming again as he proudly affirmed his Jewishness before getting into a right old tangle when Dimbers enquired whether he practices on not. Unsure as to what the best sounding answer would be, he flapped about before changing the subject and then excitedly claiming that he had “backed Ed Miliband’s campaign”. Whatever works for you, Grant. Coming into the finishing stretch, he made up for Simon Hughes’ unforgivable failure to mention Greece when the deficit issue arose and he lost little time in doing exactly that in Q4 before finally blathering something about the coalition agreement in Q5. In a word, ‘n00bish’.

Alright, so it was the guy’s first time on and he had been called in at short notice, so I do have some sympathy for his plight, but the enduring image I am left with of his performance is of Cox and Abbott shoving his head down a toilet and demanding him to surrender his dinner money. Grant, you need to wise up. Question Time is a rough school and unless you want to spend the rest of your days walking around with ‘Kick Me’ signs stuck to your back, I’d start seriously thinking about learning how to kick people in the knackers.

A decidedly Year 7 3/10

In The Independent/Brainy One Corner: Brian Cox, perenial movie bad guy and avowed Labour supporter.
My first reaction to seeing Brian Cox on tonight’s show was one of “Fuck! FUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!”. It’s not that I’ve got anything against the guy, it’s just that when I did the photoshops for this episode it was Wednesday evening and I was expecting Brian Cox, particle physics heart-throb and ex-keyboard player of D:Ream to be on instead. As a result, this week’s title picture looks somewhat bizarre as I didn’t have time to take that Brian Cox out and had to slap the other one in at very short notice. I can only work with what I’ve got, OK? Anyhoo, if I had known it was the actor Brian Cox, I wouldn’t have had any strong opinions either way as all I know about him is that he’s a bit of a thesp who tends to play Nasty Brits in Hollywood films. That though, was before I saw the magical chemistry between him and Starkey and by ‘magical chemistry’, I’m not talking about the ‘love at first sight’ kind. I’m talking about the ‘Uranium 235’ kind.

Take Q2, for example. After a fairly rabid outpouring from Starkey about Ed Miliband, Cox was right up in his grill, calling him “corrupt” and telling him that his “sense of theatre is ridiculous”. The crowd loved that and despite numerous counters from Starkey, he emerged the victor. He also gave him a clip round the ear hole in Q4, reminding him that it wasn’t “the 50’s any more” before having a final nuke related to-do on Q5. So that was all good fun, knockabout stuff, although it has to be said that both of them looked genuinely pissed off with each other. The rest of Cox’s input was pretty good as well, leaning heavily to the left, but done with enough gravitas to not sound overly zealous. I did get a little annoyed when he sounded a little too high and mighty on one poverty related line, but yeah, by and large, it was good stuff.

So well done Brian, good job there. Now to arrange a five way between him, Starkey, Farage, Douglas Murray and Vorderman. A man can dream.

A pleasingly anti-Starkey 7/10

In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: David Starkey, flambouent Tudorphile and avowed Tory supporter.
Hooray! Starkey’s back! Part shrieking Grande Dame, part petulant teenager, Starkey is simultaneously one of the most irritating people on earth and one of the most entertaining, the balance of which depends heavily on the company he’s keeping at the time. Noted for disagreeing with anything that doesn’t smack of full-blown autocracy/return to the Days of Empire, Starkey really needs someone else on the show to be able to stand up to him, otherwise he just looks like a nutter shouting at the sky for being too fat or accusing the moon of stealing his newspaper. Luckily for all involved, Brian Cox filled this role amply well and made a whole stack of hay by calling bullshit on Queen Starkey’s (see Fig. 2) many and varied accusations, a few of which I have listed below.

quees

Queen Starkey

Fig. 2

The Miliband/Kinnock Axis of Evil will be the “kiss of death” for Labour. “I adore it” proclaims Queen Starkey.

Ed Miliband is guilty of “fratricide”, New Labour are like “Richard III murdering his nephews” and Brian Cox is “naive”.

The unions will inflict “profound strife” on us all and Miliband has already shown “astonishing personal brutality”.

Cuts should be “fast and ruthless” and he really doesn’t like Ed Balls (he even told off the audience for clapping him as he still had more bile to pour on him).

The French are self-centred, selfish bastards who shouldn’t be trusted.

So there we go. Another restrained show of reason and subtlety from the ever moderate Professor Starkey. And I wouldn’t have it any other way as although he may be completely off his tits, it is a deeply engrossing display of high camp, spat dummies and frothy outbursts. Neither was he without support and he did manage to coin in quite a bit of applause on Q4, much though this quietly worries me. I guess the bottom line is that you know where you are with Starkey. He comes in a tin that says “Caution: Product contains dangerous levels of absurdity” and providing you’re in the right company, that can be kind of fun.

A blathering, incoherent 7/10

The Crowd: Manchester

I was totally into this episode. Politically speaking it was no great shakes, but in terms of pantomime action, especially at the Cox/Starkey end of the spectrum, it was delightfully unhinged. The crowd also did well, mucking in and adding to a fairly raucous atmosphere where it was hard to pick out who was cheering for what. Furthermore, there were quite a few audience members who stood out, including a very young man in a waist coat and bow tie (which captivated me so much that I didn’t hear what he said), a fully decked out member of the clergy and a girl with the loudest voice in the world. However, Audience Member of Note goes to the poser of the first question, purely on account of his name: Roman Fox Hunter. Here it is again in bold. Roman Fox Hunter. That’s made my week.

A giddy 8/10

Right. All done. Good show. Just enough time to squeeze in a few turns of Civ 5? There’s always enough time to squeeze in a few turns of Civ 5. Laters, Lemmings.

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #15


Scariness...

Good mornings Lemmings. And we’re back. Ok, so I know I promised a small award ceremony at the end of the last QT Report, but a number of developments emerged in the intervening period that stymied my progress. They are as follows:

  1. I developed a very unhealthy News 24 addiction. Reality for me is now a flurry of high velocity red and white graphics, relentlessly dramatic drum backed pips and Nick Robinson’s smug little face. It’s reduced me to a level of such helpless passivity that I’m not even sure who I am any more.
  2. I spent most of this week in Barcelona, desperately trying to mangle French and Spanish together in a doomed effort to pretend that I can speak Catalan and failing miserably. I also spent much of this period in awe of the inexplicable concentration of mullets and tattoos that the city has generated. Seriously, even the pigeons have ape drapes and full sleeves. I thought about threatening to do a Lloyd-Webber, but all the hair and body art put me off.
  3. I bought Just Causes 2 and have spent most of those precious moments where I could tear myself away from the Soma of rolling news blowing the living crap out of everything that moves or stays still too long. The reasons for blowing up said crap still elude me, but that doesn’t stop blowing crap up from being awesome.
  4. The world as we know it has ended. From the moment that exit poll came in, the Earth’s magnetic field flipped polarity, wing-ed beasts took to the sky, stars began to fall from the heavens and death stalked the land.

So that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. I haven’t forgotten though and there is an outside chance I might manage to shoehorn it into next week. Enough already. Time to re-engage with the one constant in this disorientating flux. Welcome back to Question Time.

The Menu

Q1: Should LibDem voters feel betrayed by the deal with Tories?

Q2: Has David Cameron sacrificed too much to the LibDems?

Q3: Who should be the next Labour leader?

Q4: Are we really in an era of ‘new politics’ when the government is full of white, middle class, Oxbridge educated men?

In The Blue Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Lord Heseltine, wild haired big beast and Mace defiling big shot of yesteryear.

Heseltine used to scare the absolute shit out of me. He was everywhere when I was a kid and although I didn’t have much of an idea about whatever it was he was ranting about, I did know that he looked like a genuinely dangerous berserker of a man. These days though, he doesn’t carry the same whiff of cortisol and testosterone. Instead, there’s something endearingly vulnerable about him. This is not say that he isn’t still quite, quite mad, it’s just that he sometimes gets stricken by this haunted, frightened look, as if he’s just spotted Death himself in the audience, beckoning him towards a pool of pure obsidian. Actually, it probably isn’t Death. It’s probably Liam Fox (he will come for us all in the end).

So yes. Heseltine is not the cataclysmic destroyer of worlds that he once was and is now like a gummy old tiger who has lost the ability to kill, but will still indulge in the odd ill-tempered outburst to remind us that he still has a taste for blood. On this episode, Heseltine turned out to be quite a lot of fun, just about keeping his instinct to damn the coalition to hell and back in check and instead, blaming it on the voters, fickle creatures that they are. In practice, this boiled down to repeated, through-gritted-teeth chantings of the National Interest/Strong Government/Pound Through The Floor mantra coupled with some rather wonderful ‘you bastards voted for this so tough shit’ rebukes to every man, woman and child in the country. It’s nice to see a politician go out of his way to alienate absolutely everyone and I must admit that he does have a point. Which ever way you cut it, this is what the votes stack up to so yes, we only have ourselves to blame. This rather spirited display of bloodymindedness also had the effect of making him more or less immune to tricky questions that would have totally derail more consensual types. Take for example Q2. For a wet behind the ears Tory noob, this would be a nightmare as every answer you could give would be wrong. If you say ‘yes’, you have sacrificed too much, you risk upsetting your brand new bessies and thus incurring the wrath of your own masters while if you say ‘no’ you’ll surely be called out for blatantly lying. None of this bothered Heseltine and he was refreshingly blunt about it: ‘This is what we’ve got. It stinks to high heaven, we’ll be hugely unpopular but that’s what you idiots voted for. Suck it up’. Refreshing and refreshingly well received by an audience who were taken off guard by it. He also had some nice little scuffles with Mehdi Hasan, confessed to being around for the last coalition (which was in 1721… or there abouts) and although he tailed off somewhat on Q4, his response to Q3’s ‘who should be the new Labour leader’ was great. “I don’t care”.

Considering what a minefield tonight could have been for the Tory panellist, all the above is quite an achievement and a testament to the fact that although he looks like his marbles are being mislaid at a steadily accelerating rate, there’s life in the old boy yet. Call Liam Fox and tell him to delay his visit by a year or two.

A couldn’t give a shit (in a good way) of a 7/10.

In the Yellow Bit Of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Simon Hughes, LibDem MP for Bemondsey, never-quite-makes-it-loiterer-on-the-cusp-of-greatness.

Hughes is the one I’ve had the most trouble pegging down this week as there’s something I just can’t fathom about him. On the one hand, he’s an able debater who’s made stands that are both principled and commendable yet on the other, there’s ‘a day late, a buck short’ quality about him that somewhat tarnish his other achievements and he strikes me as a man very much destined to be an ‘also ran’ in the mould of Peter Hain.

This will creep you out....

...sometimes google images just delivers.

This episode of Question Time was going to be a nightmare for whichever LibDem went up, given that no one was happy with the Condemocrat Alliance and straight from Q1, he was having to straddle an unstraddlable divide. To the left of him he had Hasan and Falconer, both sticking in the knife about the “betrayal” of the centre left while to the right was Phillips, bleating on about what a “sordid” “stitch-up” the whole deal was. In theory, Heseltine should have had his back, seeing as they’re ‘all in this thing together’, but Tarzan was having enough trouble biting his own lip and thought it far more fun to pick on the nation as a whole. That’s not what you really need when your appearing as a spokesperson for the Reasonable Team. Given this background, he struggled to keep his head above water, fending off blows from both sides whilst flailing away desperately in a bid to at least inflict a minor injury on his tormentors. Q2 had a similar ‘no-win’ quality to it, the same pattern applied and he ended up being laughed at by the audience when he said, with gallant levels of inexplicable conviction that the current coalition would last 5 years (although there was some love for him when he reminded the crowd that they’d be doing away with ID cards). For the best part of Q3, he wisely stayed behind cover, venturing out only to declare New Labour “irrelevant” before retreating in the face of Hasan baiting him on immigration while Q6 saw him call for positive discrimination before sloping off under another volley of Hasan’s fire. Hard times.

Judging by the audience reaction, this episode’s effort was pretty poor but I have sympathy for the fact that he was having to defend the indefensible. While there is no way that he can chalk this up as a victory, he can take comfort in the fact that most of the ire was aimed at the LibDems rather than at him personally and although he seemed to be the most grieviously injured party at full time, when he did get a chance to counter attack he took it, even if the odds were massively stacked against him. However, there’s something that still doesn’t add up about him and he reminds me of one of those weird middle management types who, although able and largely likeable, can no longer fit in with the shop floor staff nor swallow enough of their pride in ingratiate themselves with the bigwigs. Instead, they inhabit a shadowy world of lunches eaten alone, rounds bought for whole departments who still ignore him and suspicious looks from the boardroom. He’s not a tit, but he is a bit odd.

A distinctly undecided 5/10

In The Red Corner: Lord Falconer, lawyerly New Labour type and Blair cahooter.

Bah. Falconer’s back again and I can’t say feeling him any more than I did last time. On the one hand, I shouldn’t really care as on the face of it, he’s yesterday’s man and his views should be of little consequence. However, it’s also too early to write him off as people like Falconer (your behind the scenes, quietly scheming types) have a nasty habit of surviving and although they may fall out of the limelight, they’ll still be furtively scuttling about, doing something fishy and wielding power they don’t necessarily deserve. His appearance on this episode was also of little consequence as the focus of the show was squarely on the coalition and the impending doom that appears to be bearing down on us all. As a result, most of his answers were pretty much stock affairs, a dig at the LibDems for their supposed treachery here and a jab at the Tories for being Tories there. All standard stuff and nothing which warrants repeating at length. His only slightly interesting moment of the night was on Q3 when he did some less than subtle ‘isn’t David Miliband grand’ manoeuvrings, but then again, it was always pretty much assured that he’d back him so it wasn’t exactly earth shattering news. There was also a brief outburst of fun when an audience member whipped out a very tasty little jibe about him leaving documents on trains which went down very well, but Falconer didn’t cop as much grief as he should of on this one and managed to slink off largely unscathed.

So yes, not much to report on Lord Falconer and that’s the worrying thing: You never really know what’s going on with him until it’s too late. Most people, when asked to point out a villain in the Labour party will go for Mandelson and on the face of it, why not? He’s just as unelected, has been mired in deeper scandals and wealds terrifying amounts of power like a sledgehammer. However, he does have one saving grace that Falconer doesn’t: Showmanship. Love him or hate him, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer skill of his Machiavellian antics and there’s a perverse elegance in the sinister little dance that he does (he was a brilliant on election night. Watching him scheme in real time was a master class in the dark arts). All of this adds up to a sense of knowing what this man is about and although he might not be about very nice things, it’s cool to watch in the same way that documentaries about sharks are cool to watch. The only thing you can say about Falconer is that you’re not sure whether he’s up to something or not and that makes watching him like watching a documentary about carbon monoxide poisoning: Dull, banal and terrifying.

A shifty 4/10

In The Independent/Brainy One Corner: Mehdi Hasan: Political Editor for the Staggers, ex-C4 News politics bod.

I’m largely on board with Hasan. His pieces for the New Statesman are usually well researched, pertinent and very readable while his time with C4 was also characterised by a good nose for a story and a refreshing level of passion for his tribe (which is quite clearly the left). However, he does have to be careful as quite often his writing skirts very close to the border between ‘urgent’ and ‘shrill’ while his combative style can sometimes slip over into belligerence. He was on good form on this episode however, being presented with what is very much a target rich environment as now that the LibDems have come out on the Tory side of the divide, the left can (quite justifiably) kick them about all over the place. So no more ‘I agree with Nick’, no more ‘brethren progressives’, the gloves are well and truly off and what we got so it was an all out assault on the government of “Tweedlecam and Tweedle Clegg”. Many a scrap was had (largely with Hughes as Heseltine wasn’t playing ball), the word “betrayal” was bandied about a great deal and if the audience are anything to go by, it struck a chord with quite a few people. He did slip into a more thoughtful frame of mind in Q3 when he said that hoped the Labour leadership contest would be a long, drawn out affair that would allow time for proper reflection and also dropped in tacit support for the younger Miliband, but by and large he was on the offensive. As I said before, he does need to exercise some caution as shouting too loud at everyone makes you look a nutter and that wouldn’t really be a fair reflection on the man, but by and large it was a spirited affair that summed the sentiments of some of the audience very well. It’s also nice to see a little fire back in the belly of the left. For far to long, the right has had the monopoly on righteous indignation so it’s nice to see some angst going in the other direction and who knows, maybe a few years in the wilderness will finally get the left back where it should be: In the business of ideas.

A rousing 7/10 that just about avoided becoming a rant.

In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Melanie Phillips, standard bearer for right wing disgruntlement and Daily Fail foghorn-in-residence.

I fear many things in life. I fear war, destitution and teenagers playing music through mobile phones on the bus, but the thing I most fear is this: Watching Melanie Phillips after having just learned of a landslide Tory victory. Could you imagine just how smug, how ‘I told you so’, how ‘now you’ll get what’s coming’ she would be as she unfurls the schematics for her Immig-Paedo Re-Education Internment Centre she’s been working on when she hasn’t been too busy making sure that Middle England’s blood pressure never drops below 160/100 she would be? It’s enough to drive a man insane. Imagine then, my relief, upon hearing that not only was it not a landslide but that in fact Phillips’ beloved party would have to snuggle up to the filthy Libs. Gone was threat of undue smugness and apparent was the reality of another unspecified period of seething hatred from Ms. Phillips to an ungrateful nation. Bullet: Dodged. Actually, I have to admit that on this episode, Phillips wasn’t quiet as ghastly as she usually is and at times, I actually found myself agreeing with her, particularly her point on the 55% rule looking very dubious and some of her stuff on why New Labour failed (“Blairism could never explain what the left stood for”. True, dat). The rest was your standard welter of abuse aimed at anyone to the left of Franco, but with particular spite reserved for the Libs, perfidious upstarts that they are. Heavily used words include “betrayal” (a favourite for many on the night), “squalid”, “stitch up” as well as a new entry for “Cleggaroon”. So yes, pretty standard piss and vinegar but given that we’ve avoided having to deal with a post-landslide MetaPhillips I’m happy to award her slightly less crap marks than usual.

A lucky escape of a 4/10.

The Crowd: London

If there’s one thing that became apparent from this episode, it’s that I wouldn’t want to be a LibDem right now. People were really pissed off them and sided equally with both Phillips and Hasan when it came to pouring scorn on them. I know that u-turns in opinion are fairly common in politics, but to go from nobodies to saviours of the universe to lickspittle turncoats in the space of a month is pretty impressive. I also suspect that the Tories would have got a much rougher ride, had it not been for Heseltine’s inspired ‘blame the audience’ tactic (a manoeuvre that will known as a ‘Heseltine’) and it also seems clear that Labour very much on the sidelines for the time being. By and large though, the overriding sense I got from the crowd was the same as the one I’ve picked up from pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to of late which is “What the fuck is going on?!?” and this made for a vocal, if not somewhat bewildered mass that made for a lively show. Good work all round.

Members of note include the guy who asked the ‘leaving stuff on a train’ question to Falconer (well done sir, fine display), the poser of Q1 who’s name was ‘Diggory’ (absolutely fantastic name you have there sir) and a girl who looked a boy from McFly (well done Miss, top notch gender bending).

A struggling to comprehend but pissed off anyway 7/10

So there you go. Heseltine’s right. We got what we deserved. I wanted a hung parliament and here it is, grinning at me through it’s jagged, mangled teeth whilst making as much sense as an Escher staircase. But you know what? I’m actually quite liking it (it certainly makes for great TV) and I get the feeling that the next 12 months are going to be fairly epic in terms of things being turned on heads. One thing I will go out on a limb and predict is that there is no way this government is going to last 5 years (which really isn’t much of a limb to be going out on). This episode of Question Time is some of the first evidence of what a volatile mass of tension this coalition is and something will happen that’ll make the whole bloody mess explode, showering us all with fragments of Clegg and Cameron. I, for one, will enjoy the fireworks and hope to pick up a few souvenirs of the blast in the aftermath. Osborne’s severed and scorched nose would be particularly choice. See you next week for another voyage into the uncertain.


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