Posts Tagged 'Simon Schama'

Questionable Time #19


questionable time 19 david dimbleby marilyn monroe

Good morning Lemmings and welcome to a fairly inconsequential episode of Question Time but one that does contain a few points of interest worthy of further examination. They are as follows:

1. Tunbridge Wells cares not for the NHS.

Assuming you haven’t spent the last week living under a rock or reading The Daily Express (these activities are pretty much one-and-the-same so far as I’m concerned) then you will doubtlessly be aware that the nation has its collective knickers in a twist over the seething cauldron of electoral cyanide that is the NHS reforms. It’s been everywhere and even those who couldn’t usually give two hoots for matters political can’t have failed to notice this train wreck in the making looming ominously on the horizon. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that instead of the NHS being the question at the top of last night’s bill, it didn’t even get a mention during the course entire show. Nothing. Zip. Nada. And how did this strange anomaly come to pass? Well I suspect that it may have something to do with The Cast Iron Law of Town Naming Conventions which can be summed up in two handy bullet points:

  • If a town has a double-barrelled name there’s a better than evens chance that it will be quite posh. Think Chipping Norton, Boston Spa and Alderley Edge.
  • The same odds are also applicable to triple-barrelled town names but in the opposite direction. In this case I called to the stand Messrs Stockton-on-Tee’s, Burton-on-Trent and Southend-on-Sea.

Granted, there are plenty of exceptions to this rule (like the wilfully uncooperative Royal Wootton Bassett. They tired of lending weight to my theory and deliberate bolted on a ‘Royal’ in order to make me look stupid) but for the most part it’s a pretty solid thesis and if one takes a cursory look at the polling data for Tunbridge Wells (and leaves aside the inconvenient matter of the ‘Royal’ that its inhabitants occasionally flirt with), it’s safe to say that Tunbridge Wells is itself pretty posh. And what does that leave us with? Questions about bankers, Europe, Syria, the Work Programme and Murdoch but nary a whisper about the NHS – a point that leads us neatly on to this:

2. Ed Vaizey is a blagger of the highest order.

You may have noticed a strange new development in the Tory party over the last few years and that’s the emergence of contemporary hairstyles amongst some of its newer members. In the past, male Tory MP’s (assuming they had hair) were permitted to wear one of two hair styles: The straight-as-a-die side-parting that reached it’s apex under the stewardship of John Major or the more caddish swept back bouffant favoured by the likes of Alan Clark and Michael Heseltine. This state of affairs held true for a good half-century and it has not been until very recently that frontbenchers such as Ed Vaisey, Jeremy Hunt and Grant Shapps have challenged this natural order and bought forth a third option, The Trendy Barnet. Now, I’m bringing this up because it serves as a handy identifier for this new intake and sits well with their other shared characteristic: They are all absolute blaggers.

In the case of Vaizey’s performance this didn’t really become apparent until the second question as he seemed to handle the bonuses issue rather well. Sure, he nearly got caught out with some old quotes that Dimbers threw at him but for the most part he managed to dance his way out of trouble and presented himself as a likeable and very human guy. However, it was downhill from there and the rest of the show was mainly spent with him trying to affably bluster his way out of situations that he clearly hadn’t prepared for. Take the Work Programme question for example: Here he tried to extricate himself from a tight spot by admitting that he only really knew about one very tiny aspect of it and wouldn’t it be nice if we all talked about that rather than the far more foreboding issue of why the whole scheme is going to hell in a handcart. In the end he got away with it but let’s put this into context for a moment: This was a Tory MP playing to probably one of the safest Conservative crowds in the entire country and this should have been his day in the sun. It wasn’t and at times his performance started to look like an episode of The Thick of It, a state of affairs that was in no way helped by trying to shut down the argument with the line “I’ll tweet about it later”. And that’s the problem with these guys – they all work on the basis that the detail isn’t really that important and that if you look the part, you’ll probably get away with it. Given what we witnessed last night, I’d suggest that the detail probably does matter and that unless this new crop of Bright Young Things start boning up on the dull stuff, life will get very tricky for them in the next couple of years. In short, they call it ‘pragmatism’, I call it ‘shenanigans’.

3. I don’t know who Emily Thornberry is but she’s definitely one to watch.

In stark contrast to the fast-and-loose approach adopted by Vaizey, QT n00b Emily Thornberry turned what could have been a stinker of an episode for the Red Team into a quiet triumph and achieved this mainly because she seems to have a knack for tempo. While it may not seem like a big deal getting the right rhythm in debates is a really hard thing to master and she’s found herself right in the sweet-spot: Measured enough to sound like she’s really thought things through but not so slow as to allow others to butt in. Now, if we combine this with her ear for tone (everything was delivered with a comforting firmness that leads me to suspect she might be a Northerner trapped in a Southerners body) then you’ve got quite a potent mix. Did this mean that she trounced the opposition? No, but what it did do was allow her to retain the initiative and that is absolutely vital when you’re on hostile turf (remember that Labour only got 10% of the vote in Tunbridge Wells in the last election). So well done Emily, you have caused me to take note. Consider yourself on the list. The Good List that is, not the other one.

4. There is another member of UKIP.

And if that’s not enough to blow your socks off, hold on to your hats because it also turns out that Paul Nuttall hails from Liverpool, a city not known to be a bastion of cockeyed, twitching Europhobes! I know, I know, it’s all a little much to take in and I must say that I thought I might have had a little too much to drink when he came across as a paragon of social justice on the question about bonuses. Happily though it soon returned to UKIP business-as-usual when we got on to the matter of Syria (he even managed to shoehorn the Falklands in to that one) and by the end we were back on the familiar turf of how Europe will spell the end of everything for everyone. Phew! Anyway, enough of the cruelty as he actually did pretty well and while UKIP are easy to mock, there did seem to be genuine sympathy for his position in Tunbridge Wells. Oh and there was one other thing I noticed about him: His head is so wonderfully, pristinely shiny that it appears to be entirely unmarked by the trammels of existence and the only explanation I can come up with for this is that he secretly retracts it into a hidden cavity in his chest when not in public (see Fig. 1). It’s just a theory but I’ve yet to see any evidence to the contrary.

Paul-Nuttall-head-gif

Fig. 1

5. Christina Odone cannot out-gesticulate Simon Schama.

Silly Christina. I know what you were up to. You thought that you could out-gesticulate Schama simply by flapping your arms about a little and occasionally deploying the ‘inverted comma’ gesture. Well Ms. Odone, I hate to break it to you but you can’t out-gesticulate Schama. No one can. The man’s like a rag doll in a washing machine and I have it on good authority that even his spine is double jointed. So next time, don’t even bother. It’s not worth it. That man will gesticulate you into a fine powder and then disperse the resulting dust high into the atmosphere with the jerk of a flailing limb. Now be off with you for I have to use the remaining space to reproduce some of the rather lovely Schama-isms that occurred last night. Here they are:

My historian’s nostrils…”

Handsome, deep rose-coloured suit”

A dagger in the throat of capitalism!”

Egregious acts of monstrosity!”

I don’t give a toss”

Oh Schama, you are a card…

Tl;dr

Vaizey: Blaggy

4/10

Thornberry: (The opposite of) Raggy

6/10

Nuttall: Flaggy

5/10

Odone: Daggy

5/10

Schama: Waggy

6/10

The Crowd: Craggy?

5/10

So there you go, not much of import but enough to keep me occupied. Right, I’m off but before I disappear there’s just enough time for me to engage in the periodical reminder that you can follow Questionable Time on both twitter and facebook. Quite why you would remains to be seen but if it’s good enough for Ed Vaizey, it’s good enough for me.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

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Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #29


Morning Lemmings and welcome back to the land malfunctioning SCART leads and green hued televisions. That’s right, my technical problems persist but being the selfless hero that I am, I carry on regardless, taking it on the chin just so that you can kill ten minutes at work, reading whatever nonsense I’ve provided you with this week. And nonsense it will be this week as I must confess to have had a very odd day. Now, considering my day job is as a mental health worker, that shouldn’t come as much of surprise and after eight years of being in this trade, I have to say that the bar for what I consider to be ‘strange’ is set very high (you have to do something really weird for me to take notice these days. Arguing with trees? Phhhhht… doesn’t even touch the sides. Accusing traffic cones of plotting conspiracies? Not even close. Insisting that John Snow lives in your chest of drawers? Boring! You get the picture). However, today was one of those where even I had to stop and question my sanity and if this report sounds a little more spaced out than usual, I apologise… It’s merely a consequence of having spent seven hours with the inexplicable.

 

Right, excuses made, fair warning given, let’s go.

 

The Menu

Q1: Was Boris acting irresponsibly by saying the Housing Benefit reforms would lead to “Kosovo style cleansing”?

Q2: Should David Cameron wield a rhetorical handbag on the EU budget?

Q3: Does the news that the economy has grown 0.8% mean the Conservative led coalition are right on the economy?

Q4: Was the head of M16 right to say that we should avoid torture, even if it helps terrorists carry out attacks?

 

In The Yellow Bit of The Blue/Yellow Corner: Ed Davey, LibDem Chief of Staff and rescuer of damsels in distress.

Hmmmm… not quite sure what to make of this guy in that he’s got one of those faces that doesn’t really match his personality. Every time I look at him, I just hear the words “RUGGER BUGGER” repeating over and over again in my head and he also has this semi-vacant, middle distance stare that looks a little, well, thick. But none of this tallies with the way he presents which is actually pretty on the ball. I say ‘pretty on the ball’ because while he’s appears to be quite an accomplished offensive player, driving whatever point he’s making home in quite a forceful manner without crossing the line into belligerence, he’s not great at cornering and when plans start unravelling, that ‘Wayne Rooney with a multiplication problem to solve’ look involuntary spreads right across his face and he looks a little helpless. Still, it’s early days for Ed and the fundamentals seem to be there so let’s see how he did.

It was a fairly promising start as he looked convincingly cross whilst damning Johnson’s “appalling” behaviour, but then came unstuck as Sturgeon slapped him with a bunch of figures and Chris Bryant piled in with some pointed stuff about ‘progressiveness’ that sounded like an invitation to a duel. Q2 saw much waffling about not much at all followed by an admission that neither he nor Bryant had a clue about the real figures (which Bryant took in his stride whilst Davey looked a little out of sorts) and Q3 was basically a fighting retreat with a sudden out burst of wide-eyed Deficit Panic and a weaponised comparison of Scotland to Iceland. Last but not least was Q4’s no-brainer which he handled in the prescribed manner of ‘Torture = Bad’ and that was that. Home time.

Reading that back, it sounds quite unimpressive, but bear in mind that he was in Glasgow and on a week the coalition haven’t exactly been rolling in good news. Yes, it was a little dry and no, he’s not very quick on his feet, but given the circumstances, he did well to come away without any jeering and he even got a few good claps along the way. And that, in my opinion, is not bad going for someone who’s largely been a backroom boy with very little QT experience. Grant Shapps, take note.

A perfectly acceptable 5/10

In The Red Corner: Chris Bryant, Shadow Minister for Political and Constitution Reform and be-panted self photographer.

Now this guy is interesting. Really interesting. Not only does he have a suitably unorthodox background (former Anglican vicar and conservative student who came out as being gay and then went on to become a Labour MP), but his QT technique is also rather unique and out of the ordinary. For one thing, he’s incredibly nimble, spotting weak points in opponent’s arguments within the blink of an eye and then adjusting his tack very quickly to exploit these weaknesses to their full extent. He’s also one for close combat, not necessarily making things personal, but always ensuring that he’s all over whoever he’s up against and giving them very little space to manoeuvre. Now, this already sounds like a glowing report, but hold on: There are flies in the ointment, not the least being that he’s pretty much a flat-out gambler, taking some pretty hefty rhetorical risks that don’t always go his way (as this weeks “social cleansing” parliamentary jibber-jabber aptly illustrated). Still, credit where credit’s due, he doesn’t seem phased when these ventures go sour and you get the sense that he’s a hard man to rattle.

It all started inauspiciously enough as he spent the first part of Q1 defending his “cleansing” remarks, but he did get to lash out quite effectively at Davey later on and was given some crowd love for his efforts. Q2 turned into a right old scrap between him and Ed as he invoked the banker argument and they both accused each other of turning the debate into a “pantomime”, but he later found an exposed flank regarding Cameron’s lack of friends in Europe and he worked that in a quiet, effective manner. However, this more understated approach was fleeting as he decided to take on both Davey and Hendry simultaneously in Q3 (much shaking of the Bonus Stick ensued) and largely got away with it whilst Q4 saw some weird metaphor involving Anne Frank and some self referential ‘I used to live in Argentina’ stuff.

Now none of this sounds especially exciting and to be honest, he should have done better considering the territory and the political backdrop. However, it’s not really what Bryant says that fascinates me, it’s the way he moves. I’ve got a feeling that we’re going to be seeing much more of this guy as there’s something about his history and presentation that tells me he’s just different from a great many politicians. Is he destined for great things? I doubt it as although he’s a great tactical player, I’m not sure if the strategic reasoning’s all there and his penchant for risky moves could well derail him in the future. However, he does seem to have a remarkable ability to reinvent himself, his instincts seem pretty sharp and he’s tougher than he looks. With this in mind, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to mark him. Part of me wants to give him big numbers for just generally intriguing me, but then it would be somewhat unfair to class his performance as any sort of victory. So with fairness in mind, I’m going to split the difference but keep an eye on this guy. I’ve a feeling he could be quite fun in the near future.

A potential laden 6/10

In The Other Yellow Corner: Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister of Scotland and Salmond sidekick.

So we’re in Glasgow tonight and that means that we’re going to see the SNP which in turn means that it’s either going to be Salmond or Sturgeon. Now, I must confess that I don’t really keep abreast of Scottish politics, mainly because it has absolutely no bearing on my day-to-day life in any way, shape or form, but c’mon! There’s got to more than two people in the whole bloody party! Anyhoo, minor chunter aside, it was Sturgeon’s turn tonight and I must say she did better than last time when she ended up embroiled in all sorts of Megrahi related bother. I’m not going to get to carried away in writing this up as it was a pretty much textbook regional party play: Have a go at whoever’s in power, stay well to the left of the mainstream and make damn sure you get some nationalist call-to-arms type stuff in the (something that she got told off by Dimber’s for in Q4 but went ahead with anyway). However, she did play these tactics quite well and she came close to knocking Davey right off-balance with a pretty well-reasoned argument about the Housing Benefit reforms in Q1. So yes, pretty solid Nicola. However, you do still look like a tomboy and I have a nasty feeling that you may be the person who keeps buying Sharleen Spiteri Albums. Please stop with that. It only encourages her.

A fairly standard but fairly good 7/10

In The Independent/Brainy One Corner: Simon Schama, history buff and flowerpot man incarnate.

Oh Jesus, I feel sick and not just because of the green shroud that has enveloped my telly. No, what’s got me all a chunder is trying to keep my eyes on Simon Schama as he gesticulates so wildly that he threatens to shake the earth loose from it’s orbit and cast us adrift into the depths of space. And it’s not just the possibility that his head might actually rotate a full 360 degrees that’s bringing me to the edge of motion sickness (see Fig. 1), it’s also the way he sends you on a verbal rollercoaster every time he answers a bloody question.

Fig. 1

Seriously, I pretty much gave up taking notes about Schama as it was like putting your head into a semantic tumble dryer and in the end I invented a new shorthand symbol for whenever he was waffling long tracts of wordy sounding bollocks (see Fig.2)

Fig. 2

However, I did manage to snatch a few choice nuggets, some of which include:

“Spitting fire in Johnson’s eye!”

“He needs a handbag full of knuckledusters!”

“The Duke of Wellington would be spinning in his grave!”

Something about vultures and Tolstoy

“Suicide bombers aren’t cowards!”

“WAKE UP PEOPLE!” [whilst violently slapping the table].

Alright, so I’m taking the piss now, but in the main he’s fun to watch (the crowd seem to think so as well), even if I haven’t the got faintest idea what he’s talking about. This in turn leads me to conclude that Simon Schama isn’t a genius. No, I think he’s just a very good blagger who hasn’t got any O-Levels and reads a dictionary on the toilet in order to chance his way through life by connecting long words together in random configuration and if that is the case, good luck to him. Come what may Simon, stay animated, stay wobbly and we’ll swallow any old tosh you throw in our direction.

An enjoyably inexplicable 7/10

In the I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Hugh Hendry, hedge fund manager and seemingly unrepentant bastard.

Oh wow. Never in the history of LCCPMQTR has there been someone so ill suited the title of ‘I’m The Funny One/Just Like You’ as much as Hugh Hendry and that’s even following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Vorderman, McKenzie and Phillips. Quite clearly, Hendry isn’t one for ‘funny’ unless it happens to be at the expense of one of the many people he seems to regard as a useless mouth (which I think covers around 99% of the population) and the ‘Just Like You’ bit could only ever apply if you happened to be a misanthropic supervillain who was in the business of creating complex derivatives out of human pain and suffering. In some ways I kind of knew what I was in for as I’d seem on Newsnight a few months back and was pretty shocked by his apparent lack of compassion for his fellow man then, but that didn’t even come close to preparing for what we witnessed last night.

 

In short, Hendry has three default positions which are as follows:

 

1. Whatever you’re talking about is bleeding heart nonsense that will drive humanity to extinction as it clearly doesn’t turn a profit. As a result, you are stupid and I mock you from my palace made of solid gold.

 

2. I couldn’t give a shit about what you’re talking about as it has no bearing on the making or not making of profits.

 

3. Whatever you’re talking about is more important than the air we breath as it has the potential to make me vast sums of money and as a result I will continue to tolerate your existence, at least until you stop 100% agreeing with me.

 

 

It really is as simple as that. Take Q1 for instance: The very notion of thinking about people on Housing Benefit seemed to be fathoms below his pay grade, as if it were a chore, but then he remembered that he might have to pay taxes for that sort of thing and branded the whole thing “insane!” (as well as “crazy!”, “out of control!” and once again “insane!”). I’ve put exclamation marks behind those quotes as I think they were intended to be exclaimed, but in practice, they were delivered in a tone that said “You bloody idiots. I can barely muster the energy to explain these things to you peasants because you’re all stupid bloody proles who aren’t making me money at this given moment in time”. Similarly with Q2, he had plenty of scorn to pour on the EU (include some weird little aside about bureaucrats not being “people”), all delivered in a manner of such resignation that you were left with no doubt that he does in fact dwell in a completely different reality from the rest of us. Q3 stirred some slightly more convincing interest as it appeared to be a subject that might have something to with whatever parallel universe he inhabits, but it pretty much ended up with him telling off the entire nation for not being very nice to bankers (although he did land a well-aimed slap on Bryant about Labour’s relationship with the City) and a strange little outburst where he said that “Nicola Sturgeon won’t employ your kids!” (of course she won’t. She’s in a party that only has two members). However, the real fireworks were in Q4 where he just came straight out and said that he liked the idea of torture being used to scare terrorists (all said whilst looking bored). Rightly concerned, an audience member picked him up on this a little later and asked whether he really was in favour of torture. Without batting an eyelid, he confirmed this, said he didn’t want the intelligence services hindered by such trifling things as morality and even managed to squeeze in a weird reference to himself in the 3rd person (“Hugh Hendry lives in London with three young children”).

 

WTF?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?11111111111

 

Truly, I was blown away by this guy. I knew he had a reputation as a bit of fundamentalist but I didn’t realise just how black and white his view of the world are and when it comes to marking, I’m at a total loss. In the past, I’ve always marked those who I disagree with but add something to show quite well (your Douglas Murray’s and Nigel Farage’s, for instance), but there was something just so otherworldly and actually quite frightening about this guy that it left me wondering whether Ayn Rand had risen from the dead, got a sex change and moved to Scotland. Ok, I’ve decided: Low marks, if only for making Ruth Lea look like a member of the Woodcraft Folk.

 

A fear inducing 3/10

 

The Crowd: Glasgow

Yet again, not as I expected. Given that Glasgow is usually pretty anti-Tory I was expecting pretty much one way traffic when it came to bashing the coalition but it wasn’t like that. Yes, generally opinion seemed mostly against the cuts, Sturgeon got the majority of claps and most people sounded very dubious about the plan for growth, but it was not a done deal and there was plenty of support in the opposite direction, especially when it came to Housing Benefit in London. Ok, so one guy managed to blame Thatcher, but this is Glasgow where Thatcher Blame is only marginally cheaper than heroin so yeah, colour me surprised with the general tone of the evening. Politically, I didn’t take much from this episode as it seemed to be a rather indecisive ding-dong but in terms of the characters involved, I thought it was interesting, especially watching Bryant and trying to figure out what he was up to. The crowd themselves were a pretty stock affair, but I can happily report that Question Time audience members have taken last week’s advise to heart and that there was a man there sporting a bow tie. For that, Glasgow, you get one mark above average.

 

Average score + 1 Bow Tie Modifier = 6/10

 

Right, we’re done. Actually, that ended up not being completely weird, a feat that is made all the more remarkable on account of the fact that I’ve been listening to the entire Man Or Astroman? discography on random whilst writing this. I remain sane. This is good news.

 

Next week Lemmings, next week.

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #11


Woking, yeah?

Is that a gang sign he's pulling?

Wtf Question Time?! Wednesday?! I haven’t yet got my head round the carnage caused by the bank holiday jiggering my week and now you go and throw another spanner in the works? It’s as if the International Date Line has somehow achieved sentience, given the mid-Pacific the old heave-ho and is currently pacing around West Yorkshire, confusing my fragile grip of the days of the week. Colour me unimpressed. Anyhoo, Wednesday or no Wednesday it’s still Question Time, brought to you this week by the good god-fearing folk of Woking. Brace thyself for some dormitory town action…

In The Red Corner: David Miliband, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, erstwhile will-he-won’t-he Labour leadership maybe and apple of Hilary Clinton’s eye.

He’s a strange beast, David Miliband. His rather speedy trajectory through the ranks of the Labour party has been remarkable, but it also belies his fundamental weakness: He’s a purely political animal. Formally a think tank policy wonk, he worked his way from parliamentary researcher to Tony Blair’s inner circle, then onto parliament and then to some of the highest offices of state. Not bad for a 44 year old. The problem is that while this has made him an incredibly difficult and determined political adversary to anyone foolish enough to stand in his way, a life led in the political bubble means that he doesn’t quite have that knack for the common touch, unlike his brother who does seem to be a genuinely nice bloke. He also looks alarmingly like a teddy bear, what with that happy little fuzz of hair that sits atop his head (see above), although this seems to have gone down very well with Hilary Clinton. Eww. He got off to a rough start on this episode and faced an uphill struggle with the ‘Is Gordon Brown more qualified than business when it comes to the NI raise?’ question. Nevertheless, he went straight into ‘not one step back’ mode, pulled his ‘intense’ look and tried to make it all about the Tories (they’re “coming after your public services!”). That didn’t go down well and some moderate heckling developed (as well as some feisty little tiffs with Dimbleby and Daley), although another lunge at the Tories did bear some nearly ripe fruit. Further audience intervention aimed squarely at Big Gordy (to the effect that he was “economically illiterate”) soon followed, but again he kept driving at the same point, oblivious to the political shrapnel flying all over the place and scornful of any notion of retreat. At this point it’s tempting to say “Well done Mr Minister of Teddy Affairs. You stick to your guns sir! Hail fellow and well met!”, but it just didn’t seem to work. Sure, he looked cool as a cucumber, despite the apparent mauling, but it left you with the impression that this guy just doesn’t work on the same wavelength as everyone else and maybe in not such a great way. Question 2 was a much easier affair (‘is Chris Grayling and his gay B and B comments a sign that the Tories haven’t changed?’), so much so that he even had a set piece lined up for it. Again, looking very serious and intense, he took his time laying up his “Camera on. Camera off.” manoeuvre before a hearty bout of ‘same old Tories’ and ‘thin end of the wedge’-ing. That got a healthy response, but let’s face it, scoring points against gum flapping Tory with Victorian values is hardly rocket science. The third question caught him strangely off balance (‘what’s the point in voting Labour if they’ll have a new leader in a couple of years?’) and Dimbers took a personal interest in tightening the screws by reminding him of his own leadership ambitions. This did cause him to wobble but credit where credit’s due, he did do a deft little recovery with his “Lord Mandelson works in mysterious ways” gag before attempting a fighting withdrawal with ample use of words like “judgement “, “values” and “commitment”. It sort of worked, but his subsequent ‘I’m totally behind Gordon’ bluster didn’t look so great. The audience got in on the act later, slapping him about for some of his off camera comments about Brown and they did manage to draw some blood. However, being who he is, Miliband didn’t seem to notice the bleeding and looked totally unmoved. The next question (‘would the LibDems get in bed with a party who promised PR’) was less dicey, but he still took some flak for Labour’s piss poor record on all of their promised reforms and he had to resort to using the intense look directly against the audience which is always a risky strategy. Finally, with the end nearly in sight, he had a stab at the ‘Is Gordon Brown’s middle class act essential to politics these days?’ with another preplanned response (a Bevin quote about ‘it’s not where your from, it’s where your going’) before going straight back on the offensive and lashing out at inheritance tax. That confused the bejesus out of the audience who clapped and booed in equal measure. And so ended a rather belligerent appearance.

The thing that gets me about Miliband is that although it’s clear that he is bloody clever, very quick on his feet and properly knows his stuff, that does not translate into someone you’d want in charge. Sure, the Terminator-esque ‘hell or high water approach’ may work very well when employed against political opponents and scare the shit out of anyone who may have a beef with him, but to most people it just looks like he’s a bit of a weirdo with an obsession for pain, combat knives and air pistols. That, combined with the teddy bear look, is just far to much for my brain to take in.

A Blitzkrieg in a civilian area 4/10

In The Blue Corner: Theresa May, Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, token ‘stylish’ Tory.

It’s May’s second appearance on the old LCCPQTMR and I have to say that she didn’t do too well the last time (a paltry 3/10). So, was that just a bad day? Was I being overly unkind? Is there life in the old girl yet? Unfortunately, it seems to be a categorical ‘no’ on all three and if anything, I was being generous in my write up last time. The trouble with May is that she seems utterly devoid of independent thought and totally reliant on whatever line has been fed to her by Tory HQ beforehand (the same accusation can be levelled at Miliband, but you get the feeling that he created the party line in the first place so at least it’s original material). I say ‘fed’, but I think ‘pumped’ is a more appropriate term, as if they hook her up to a machine like the ones they use to milk cows, just reversed and fixed to her mouth. Once the nozzle is firmly in place, a high pressure stream of soundbites, platitudes and buzzwords are forced in, filling the vacuous caverns of her head with precious substance. This process isn’t particularly unusual and all political parties have people who need a thorough pumping before being let lose on the public, but May has one other fatal weakness that was all too evident on this episode of Question Time. The valve that she uses to release all this political slurry has only two settings: Full Blast or Not A Cocking Drop. Take the first question about NI for example. The Tories have had the initiative on this issue all week and the crowd seemed to be onside so it was a simple case of turning on the tap and drenching everyone in a torrent of party approved blabber. And so it was as she switched the valve to Full Blast and poured forth some “jobs tax”, “cut waste” and “kill recovery” (a line that keeps switching sides between Labour and the Tories with alarming regularity at present). Job done, the valve was switched back to Not A Cocking Drop and some audience love duly came her way. So it’s in the bag, right? Wrong. Despite Miliband taking it fully in the chops from the audience, Ming came to his aid and started to lay into George Osborne, much to the approval of the crowd. Maybe at this point it would be prudent to change tack, try a different angle or head for higher ground, no? Wrong again. Faced with a swiftly developing threat, she switched the valve back to Full Blast and out came a load of ‘threaten jobs, jobs, threaten, jobs jobs threaten jobs economy, jobs…..threaten’. Unconvinced, the audience decided that any lead she had was probably an aberration and took it upon themselves to have a pop at politicians in general instead. A brief glimmer of independent thought stuttered to life when she tried a ‘Labour will only save one pound in a hundred’ gambit, but the meagre glow was swiftly extinguished when it turned out that no one gave a shit. So that was pretty ropey. Question 2 (Grayling’s off message rascality) was a much more dangerous affair, but her tactics were the same as ever and she kicked off with a spurt of ‘we believe in the law’, ‘we love gays’ and bizarrely enough ‘we love the NHS’ hokum. Clearly, no one was buying this and Dimbers started to tinker about, stirring things up. Again, on went the valve and out came a load of ‘we believe in the law’. After that, it turned into a bit of a free for all, but not once did she offer a convincing defence, other than ‘we’re nice now’ and ‘we believe in the law’. Basically, it was a bit of a rout. Question 3 (‘will Gordy go after election?’) should have been a cake walk, but she wazzed away the opportunity with a slew of unconvincing ‘change’ stuff (although there was some minor applause for that) while the response to the constitutional reform question was entirely forgettable. Finally, as she limped towards the finish, she opened the valve for the last time on the middle class issue, but it seemed that she had exhausted all the good, high pressure stuff earlier on and all that was left was the vapour from the last question’s ‘change’ platitude. And with that she was wheeled back to the depot where she would be refilled and primed, fresh for whatever the next day may bring.

Ok, that all sounds really unkind as she didn’t receive the same sort of roughing up that Miliband did, but the point is that this should have been a walk over. The Tories have had a good week, the audience seemed largely sympathetic (except on the Grayling matter) and there was real potential to wipe the floor with the opposition. Instead, what we got was a whole bunch of boil-in-the-bag semi-opinions served with a glass of flat diet cola (not the real stuff, own brand) and that’s just not bloody good enough. I know that her whole footwear saga has helped bridge the gap between the two Tory tribes of Maillites and Telegraphios (spicy enough for the Mail! Not too brash for the Telegraph!) but seriously, is that a price worth paying for guaranteed mediocrity? I think not.

Again, a vapid 3/10

In The Yellow Corner: Menzies Campbell, MP for North East Fife, former Olympian and victim of Long Knives.

Oh Ming, what became of thee? Back in 2003, when parliament took complete leave of its senses and dashed headlong into the Iraq fiasco, Ming was the voice of reason. His opposition to the war was resolute, forthright and simply oozed gravitas, making him a natural figurehead for those like myself who had a really bad feeling about the whole clusterfuck (and there were millions of us). Thus it was that when he came to replace Chat Show Charlie as leader, I was quietly confident that he would bring some much needed oak and copper cladding to the otherwise balsa and string LibDem Ship of the Line. Oh how wrong I was. Teased mercilessly by all and sundry before being forced out to pasture, Ming’s stint at the helm will pass into history as a footnote that the LibDems would rather forget, like when Ashdown was caught shagging his secretary. That’s not to say that I don’t think he’s a wise, honourable and decent sort of guy, it’s just that he seems to be from another age and almost looks like a helpless innocent amongst the rough and tumble of the Westminster Ghetto. Having said that, he got off to a pretty good start on this episode with the NI question, natural offering prayers to St. Vince, calling shenanigans on efficiency savings and vilifying Osborne. As St. Vince is eternally benign, heaven opened and applause did poureth forth. Question 2 (Gayling…sic) also saw him on good form as he rightly pointed out that this isn’t the first time Grayling’s buggered things up, pointed out the Waffen SS venerating European company the Tories are keeping and capped it all off with a splendid “still the nasty party”. The crowd got right behind that and stayed with him as came back for a few further swipes at May. All good stuff. The next question (will Brown stay on?) saw him go a bit flatter, just giving a matter-of-fact ‘I know him and he won’t’ response while the PR issue had him skitting about, trying to say very little in a lot of words. Finally, he rounded the show off on the ‘middle class’ question with some pretty vintage LibDem ‘we want a tolerant society’, which was fairly warmly received and that was that.

Out of all the party political panellists, it’s safe to say that Ming was the winner and when he gets in his stride, he’s great. The problems arise when he’s not in his stride and he just looks a little lost and confused, as if someone’s has just told him that the popular beat combo, ‘The Beatles,’ have just split up. Stick with what you know Ming and you’ll be fine.

A mature 6/10

In The Independent/Brainy One Corner: Simon Schama, wobbly historian and dictionary swallower.

Seriously Question Time, before you put this guy on again please display a warning that watching him will likely cause motion sickness, disorientation and nausea. He simply can’t sit still, jerks about like a marionette being operated by a detoxing alcoholic and his joints are like those of an Action Man: Fully articulated and capable of traversing a full 360 degrees, head included. If that wasn’t enough, the stuff that comes out of his mouth takes an equally circuitous route, full of flowery, impressive sounding words but somehow skinny on the substance. Having said that, there is something oddly compelling about this otherwise incongruous combination and while most of the stuff he said can either be filed under ‘I’ for ‘Incomprehensible’ or ‘O’ for ‘Of No Great  Import’, you end up convincing yourself that because it all sounds so bloody wordy, it must be true and of great relevance. To illustrate, here are the notes I took for the NI Question, verbatim.

SS – la de dah

don’t know how I’ll vote

la de dah

[doodle of wobbly stickman to remind me that he looked like a bourgeois Thunderbird]

Labours are deficit hawks

Tories are Keynesians

[picture of upward arrow to indicate applause]

That first ‘la de dah’ bit went on for bloody ages and didn’t seem to make a lick of sense, but watching it was strangely captivating. The conclusion, on the face of it (having been completely baffled by the explanation) also seems fairly mad but like the audience, I was clapping in my head and I have no idea why. He was a little more rooted in reality for the Grayling question, busting out an epic phrase in the form of “homophobic hyenas” while the ‘will Gordy stay’ matter had him wetting his pants about how great democracy is. I was dying for a wee myself at the end of Question 4, so I only caught the last bit of his stint but he was back on ultra-elaborate form for the final act, merrily taking us through the backwoods of Gladstone, Sociology 101 and normality before leaving us with this: “leave circumstances of pedigree and swap it for political philosophy”. That sentence only just makes sense and the audience had to pause, perhaps to gather their senses after this whistlestop tour of goddamn everywhere before finally bursting into applause after concluding that it sounded clever, so it must be clever. Did I learn anything from Schama that night? Not really. Did I feel brainier afterwards? Yes! Yes I did! And I’ll never know why! Damn you, Schama!

A doesn’t-stand-to-reason 7/10

In The I’m The Funny One/Just Like You Corner: Janet Daley, Telegraph columnist and scary haired lady.

I’m not familiar with Janet Daley and the only thing I can really say with any certainty is that her hair is absolutely mental (see Fig. 1), something which came as quite a shock as I thought the Telegraph only permitted bowler hats and tiaras.

FUCKING HAIR!

Fig.1

I haven’t got an enormous amount to say about her because she didn’t really make much of an impression on me, despite being quite combative at points and taking the fight to Miliband at regular intervals. That’s not to say it was a bad performance and her “economical illiterate” accusation that she aimed at Brown went down like a storm with the audience who then recycled it three times hence, it’s just that it wasn’t stellar. Maybe when I’m less distracted by trying to decipher just what the hell Schama is talking about I’ll be able to give her a fairer go, but for now she’ll just have top live with moderate marks.

A neither here nor there 5/10

The Crowd: Woking

I’ve only ever been through Woking on the train to Portsmouth but the very brief impressions I have of it are generally in the ‘leafy’ category. Given where it is, I was pretty sure that this would be a firmly Tory crowd and this seemed to be confirmed during the first question. However, it went downhill pretty quickly for the Conservatives after that and I must say I was pleasantly surprised by how much anger there was towards Chris Grayling and his being a totally div. As an audience they were a pretty vocal lot and as has become near compulsory of late, pretty pissed off with politicians in general. Can’t say that I noticed any real stand-out members, but in general they were a fairly solid crowd and made for a not bad episode. A sound effort, Woking.

A steady away 7/10

And that brings us to the end. Sorry it’s a day late, but as I said earlier this whole Wednesday thing (combined with a thorough Schamaring) has got my head swimming. Down is up, up is down, rivers flowing backwards, etc, etc. See you next week when I’ve rotated back to reality.


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