QUESTIONABLE TIME: The Vince train pulls in at Slough, in time for Mehdi Hasan's stand up

It was at this point that UKIP stopped resembling a harebrained cult that recruits exclusively at village fêtes and started to become something a lot more worrying.

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Fact File
  • 5/10 Cable (tired)
  • 4/10 Thornberry (acquired - a role in a fictional movie)
  • 5/10 Perry (wired)
  • 6/10 Hassan (retired...any hopes of becoming a stand-up comedian)
  • 5/10 The Crowd (were suitably...attired?)

Good morning Lemmings and welcome to Sluff, famous for Mars Bars, tragicomic depictions of the UK workplace and for a bloody great fictional crematorium that featured in Brave New World.

In fact,I find it rather apt that Slough turned up in Huxley's novel as it's always given me the sense of a place where the utopian and dystopian rub uncomfortably against each other. On the utopian side of the coin it can proudly boast the most ethnically diverse population outside of London and although not a New Town per se, it certainly has echoes of that period in British history where we thought we had the future licked.

As it happens, we didn't and the future turned out to be a much more drab and roundabouty affair than we initially anticipated, an unhappy occurrence that leads us to the more dystopian flip side of Slough: Aberrantly high crime rates, 'The Slough Stench' and that unshakable feeling that everything is – well – slightly crap.

Still, it's not my job to bum out the people of Slough. No, my job is to see how the people of Slough react to a damn good Question Timing and so, without further ado, let us bravely put our collective heads into the maw of the beast.

Am I still on the Vince Train? I honestly don't know anymore...

Back in 2008 when the whole world looked to be collapsing around our ears, one man stood forth and boldly donned the mantle of The Voice of Reason. That man was Vince Cable and in 2008 the one place I and many others wanted to be was in the first class carriage of the Vince Train, a doughty locomotive of yellow livery powered by pure Keynsianism. At first the ride was great fun, speeding along while the Hayek Express was forced into the sidings and I felt vindicated in having purchased my first class ticket at the station rather than experiencing the Osborne-esque ignominy of having to upgrade on board. This train, I thought, was going places... Next stop, Government Central!

That, however, was where the problems started and if you ask me, Government Central has a lot in common with Birmingham New Street; it's a cold, dark, subterranean place that's awfully hard to find your way out of. The effect it had on the Vince Train was no less baleful and there soon developed an ominous sounding creak from the axles while the Tannoy spoke of inevitable delays, usually attributed to signal trouble in the vicinity of Wilmslow. Looking back, I probably should've got off at the next stop, when I had the chance, but I didn't.

Why not? Because for all the disappointments and that entire year where Cable carried a pained expression on his face like someone had just jellied his stapler, he had this look that made me stay on board. And it was just a look. A glint in the eye, a tap on the side of his nose that said "Just you wait. The chips may be down, but let me assure you that I've still got a couple of tricks up my sleeve."

Well, it's now four years down the line and, I must confess, I'm leaning so far out of the window of the Vince Train that there's a good chance the next tunnel will take my head clean off. Could his performance last night coax me back safely into the carriage? To put it bluntly, no.

Here's the thing: I actually quite liked the content of what Cable was saying last night. He played it very cautiously on the GDP figures, made it very clear that he wasn't going to lend a hand to some of the Blue Teams pottier ideas (like IDS's new stance on breeding) and was generally pretty reasonable about the Savile scandal. Instead, the problem for me was that he looked absolutely knackered, spent to the point that he simply couldn't bring himself to flash me that look. Well, dammit Vince, I need that look! So what if you never back it up by actually pulling a rabbit out of the hat, at least the look implies you're thinking about it. Last night, that look was nowhere to be seen. Should this situation persist, consider me off at the next stop.

There's a wonderful mismatched buddy movie just waiting to be made starring Emily Thornberry and Claire Perry...

I think it's fair to say that Emily Thornberry and Claire Perry aren't exactly bessies, what with all the blow trading and eye-daggers we witnessed last night. For Perry's part, I suspect that Thornberry's rather measured and deliberate responses jangle her How Dare You Patronise Me nerve, whilst Perry's very assertive presentation scratches some very long fingernails across Thornberry's Why, You Jumped Up Little... blackboard.

Anyway, Perry generally had the better of it and emerged the less bruised of the pair but there was a brief and telling moment that stopped me dead in my tracks. During the Jimmy Savile question Thornberry said, very sincerely in fact, that she agreed with Perry and Perry responded with a genuinely heartfelt sounding “Thank you”. Well that was it Lemmings, after that my mind was set adrift on what could be the UK legislature's answer to Point Break: Claire Perry as Keanu's fresh-out-the-academy hotshot, Emily Thornberry as Busey's seen-it-all-before jaded veteran, a pair who will never see eye-to-eye but find themselves thrown together by fate and the quest for justice. The only unresolved matter is who would take the part of Swayze's 'you can't cage me bro!' adrenaline junkie. Jacob "I've never sworn in my adult life" Rees-Mogg could be quite fun, but I'm open to suggestions.

Paul Nuttall actually makes UKIP a little scary...

I've got all the time in the world for UKIP in the same way I've got all the time in the world for Made In Chelsea: If taken in isolation, they're both a toxic mess of things I'm no great fan of, but this is balanced out by their inherent absurdity, rendering them ultimately harmless yet mildly entertaining. Or, this was the case until Paul Nuttall somehow managed to become the only other UKIP member allowed off the compound unsupervised... Now I'm just plain scared. You see, I can happily dismiss UKIP as a slightly dotty group of people with too much time on their hands when they're fronted by the likes of Farage, but Nuttall? He has an edge and a hard one at that, what with all the talk of punishing people in death and “lunatics” having the vote. What's worse is that he comes across as a guy who might actually hang out with some vaguely ordinary people. It's at this point that UKIP stop resembling a harebrained cult that recruits exclusively at village fêtes and starts to become something a lot more worrying.

I was going to tell Mehdi Hasan off for not smiling enough...

I spend a lot of time looking at QT panelists on Google Images, mainly because I need to Photoshop them into ridiculous scenarios but also because it's good to have a hobby. I've had to do quite a lot of staring at photos of Medhi Hasan lately, and one thing that's struck me is that you rarely see him smiling and that this is a shame because it makes him come across as A Very Serious Man. Now, I like Hasan, I think he's generally on the money but the Very Serious Man thing can get a bit much and I thought a gentle chiding was in order to get him to lighten up a little. As it happens, I need not have bothered as the first thing out of his mouth was a joke and not a bad one at that (he said the government's Plan B was “Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis”). So what did this get him? A slight titter and nothing more. Gah! What more do you people want?! Unperturbed by this lack of audience reciprocation, he had another go during the question on IDS's new wheeze and once more, it was a serviceable little number (“Tough on babies, tough on the causes of babies”) but yet again, nothing. So fair play to you Mehdi, you tried but maybe you were just born to be A Very Serious Man. Them's the breaks, kid.

The Scores...

Cable: 5/10

Tired

Thornberry: 4/10

Acquired (a role in a fictional movie)

Perry: 5/10

Wired

Nuttall: 4/10

Conspired

Hassan: 6/10

Retired (any hopes of being a stand-up comedian)

The Crowd: 5/10

(Were suitably) Attired?

For more of this, please visit questionabletime.com

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