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Good morning Lemmings and welcome to Questionable Time’s brand new and, dare I say it, somewhat plusher home (or to be more precise, 'timeshare'). That’s right, after years of lurking menacingly in the darkened recesses at the very bottom of the internet, Independent Voices has finally seen the light/taken leave of its senses and unleashed this Thing That Should Not Be on the wider world. I see big things coming of this, Lemmings…. I see a nation, one nation of average, regular Joes who attended comprehensive schools and had perfectly normal childhoods’ discussing Dialectical Materialism with their parents, all marching forward to a brighter future. One Nation, Lemmings, One Nation Under Questionable Time.
Anyway, delusions of grandeur aside, I suppose I’d better explain what this is all about. It’s pretty simple really: Every Thursday night, I park myself in front of the BBC’s Question Time, scrawl furiously on a notepad for an hour and then try to come up with something that makes sense of the whole sordid affair. Naturally, that means that I will be yammering on about politics to a certain extent but Questionable Time is about a little more than that: It's about the spectacle. It’s about the stuff you only catch from the corner of your eye. It’s about a group of people desperately trying to outdo each other in their quest to obtain some elusive and unspecified prize. In short, it’s like sports writing for people who don’t really like sports (and boy, do I not like sports… Except for chess boxing) but are quite partial to the political equivalent of the Circus Maximus... And stupid Photoshops.
Enough telling, let’s do some showing. To Manchester we go…
A Personal Appeal to Ken Clarke…
Hello Ken… Can I call you Ken? It’s just that you’ve been in my life so long that I feel we can dispense with the formalities. Not only that, but I also feel a strange kinship towards you that has, over the years, developed to the point of a political crush. You see I was born in 1979 and my life to the age of 17 was dominated by a backdrop of wall-to-wall Conservatives, most of whom I had a very bad feeling about. You though, you were different. For example, while most of your peers were happy to carry on speeding into the night after running down some innocent bystander in that rolling political hit-and-run that was the Thatcher/Major years, you were the one who would stop, check that the hapless victim was still breathing and maybe call an ambulance from your newfangled car phone. Sure, you too would most likely flee the scene before the authorities turned up (“Sorry old boy, no hard feelings but I must be getting on”) but it was the thought that mattered. And so it was that I breathed a sigh of relief upon your appointment as Justice Secretary. At least someone on the Blue Team might be able to rein in the wilder excess of their peers.
But look Ken, look what's happened! They've replaced you with a guy who looks like an angry baked bean and cast you into that weird netherworld populated by a shadowy people know as The Ministers Without Portfolios (or as I like to call them, Ministers For Staring Into The Middle Distance). Sure, they've made the obligatory noises about how you'll be a roving “ wise head” but let's not kid ourselves, they've done a number on you and you know it.
And how do I know that you know it? Well, first off there's the fact that you spent a lot of time sticking up for the process of tendering but couldn't quite bring yourself to mount a steadfast defence of your colleagues. Then there was that little jibe about Tory “modernisers” that you managed to stop before it went too far, but it was there nevertheless. Finally, that little ambush that Dimbers set up at the end about your 'responsibilities'? You happily walked into that of your own free will. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it: They chucked you under a bus and no amount of talking very loudly will cover for the fact that it eats you up.
So what now, Ken? What is to be done? Well, common sense would suggest that you have two options available: A) Spend the next three years simply going through the motions as Minister For Staring Into The Middle Distance before resigning your seat in 2015 to accept the inevitable ticket to the Lords or B), tell 'em to get knotted and spend the next three years hurrumphing from backbenches before ascending to the Upper House. Option B certainly sounds like it could be quite fun but I think I might have just stumbled on an Option C: Defect to the Lib Dems.
Think about it, Ken. You're not a million miles away from them and given that you'd be the only person in the world actually seeking to join the Yellow Team, they'd give you anything you wanted. Sick of that yellow dove logo? Bang! It's a purple basking shark. Unimpressed by 'The Land' being the party's de-facto anthem? Boom! It's Mingus Ah Um! Not only that, but can you imagine the leaving do the Tory party would throw for you? I can and I've done my best to mock it up (see Fig. 1). Go on Ken, you know it makes sense.
Douglas Alexander should have employed The Reverse Pixies theory of politics...
Ah, Wee Dougie, nice to see you still wedged awkwardly between Steadily Dependable and Bordering on Dull. Unfortunately for you, tonight you ended up with the bulk of your body mass edging towards the Bordering on Dull side and that's because you didn't employ The Reverse Pixies method. Allow me to explain: The Pixies were always noted for structuring their songs in a certain way that is often referred to as Loud – Quiet – Loud. It's dead simple really - you start your song off all guns blazing, crank down the ferocity to a whisper in the mid section and then finish it off with a hell-for-leather, balls-out assault. This formula works brilliantly for seminal early nineties alt-rock bands and also for some politicians ( Farage sometimes pulls it off, although it's usually Loud -Loud -Loud. Even when it is Loud – Quiet – Loud it's because he hasn't got a clue what he's talking about in the middle bit). However, you are not that sort of politician but fear not because the Reverse Pixie (Quiet – Loud – Quiet) can be equally as potent.
I've seen you do it before on QT, lulling the crowd into a false sense of security with that measured, almost soothing tone of yours before shocking them back to reality with a sudden outburst in the middle of a spiel. Then, once the message has been delivered by means of verbal sledgehammer, you tuck them back in with some of that Scottish low-talking of yours. Unfortunately, you didn't manage to pull off the Reverse Pixie tonight and what we actually got was Quiet – Quiet – Quiet, a method that only really appeals to fans of hellishly twee acoustic singer-songwriters and trust me Dougie, you don't want their votes.
Just what exactly does Susan Kramer get up to when she's not on Question Time?
Now this has been bothering me for a while: What exactly does Susan 'Hair Like Cosmo Kramer From Seinfeld' Kramer do? Well, a cursory glance at the internet suggests that she's now a Baroness after losing her seat in 2010 (did you know that? I sure didn't) but there it pretty much ends. No, the only thing that Susan Kramer actually does is appear on Question Time around once per year and this leads me to suspect the following: Baroness Kramer is the QT production team's version of Blue Peter's George the Tortoise (although with a slightly lopsided hibernation cycle). Once a year, they carefully remove a straw filled box that's kept in the airing cupboard and gently coax her back to life with leaves of lettuce. Then, once the show is complete they gently lower her back into the container, check that the air holes are unobstructed and stow her away safely until another year dawns. It's the only logical explanation.
Be that as it may, I must confess, this was a pretty good year for George Kramer, the Question Time Tortoise. Ok, so it wasn't the toughest competition, what with Ken halfway checked-out and Dougie unable to crank the volume but fair play to her, she did get the most claps. I also like the fact she really had it in for Willie Walsh, something that leads me to suspect that she spends most of her hibernation dreaming about being delayed at airports.
Talking of Willie Walsh...
Now here's a guy I'm having trouble pinning down. On the upside, he's more interesting than most of the business types they have in the dummy seat. Usually it's all 'blah blah CUT TAXES blah blah RED TAPE!' but Willie Walsh seems to have a little more depth than that. However, that depth is offset by that weird, locked-down presentation where everything is delivered in such a controlled manner that you can't help but wonder what's really going on underneath. It's not a deal breaker and his performance wasn't bad but it does lend the whole thing an air of oddness that it probably could do without.
Now, while we're on about business types being on the panel, I have a small suggestion to make. Can we please get Michael O'Leary of Ryanair fame on one day? Yes, I know he'll try to turn the whole show into an hour-long Ryan Air commercial but seriously, it would be fun. That man is nothing if not value for money.
JSP is AOK...
I have to confess that I actually wasn't that wound up by Janet Street-Porter last night. Ok, so I've still got some sort of congenital vulnerability to her voice (it totally rustles my jimmies and makes me feel like I'm eating sand) but in her defence she didn't blame absolutely everything on men and that sudden disclosure of the hairdresser incident really took me (and everyone else) aback.
Manchester still vexes me...
Once upon a time I was a student in Manchester and I can sum up my time there as thus: 50% ridiculous, world-class partying and 50% pure, abject terror. Now don't get me wrong, the partying bit was great, but the terror? The terror I could have done without. So it is that I'm always slightly twitchy whenever I watch Manchester shows. It's the vowel intonation (“stick yore head in a freezor, sound like yore from Manchestor”). It just sets me on edge.
Despite the above, I must confess that this was one of the more benign Manchester outings. Ok, so the show itself was mostly scrappy. The West Coast to-do was a bit of train wreck, the Miliband question failed to generate enough steam while the Savile thing only had one logical response ('This thing is not a good thing'). However, the strong showing of support for not arming the police and the repudiation of the gallows were both rather heart warming and by-and-large the crowd didn't frighten me. Whilst we're on the crowd, special mentions are mandatory for the guy whose glasses were so far down his nose that they flat-out confounded physics and also to the Classic Metalhead who made the rather good joke about Ed Miliband's “Adrian Mole voice”. Should I ever be in Jilly's Rock World, I will buy you a snakebite and black.
So not bad from a city that not only gave me a degree but also more Crime Reference Numbers than you can shake a stick at, superficial facial scarring and a compo cheque for £2200.
(Should have) Resorted (to the Reverse Pixie Method)
Reported (that she didn't like planes being late)
(Has) Transported (a great many people to far away locations on his aeroplanes)
Purported (to know a great many unsavoury things in the world of light entertainment)
The Crowd: 5/10
Next week Lemmings, next week...
To read the vast archive of Questionable Time reports, visit questionabletime.com.
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