Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Question Time (episode 1)

British politics got back from holidays this week. And although parliament itself is still out for summer; taking advantage of the off-peak holiday deals; the politicians and pundits are back doing their thing. This was heralded by two events in particular... the Liberal Democrat Annual Party Conference and the return of BBC television's Question Time.

Of course the LibDem conference was competing for column inches with some massive news stories. A second hurricane, as powerful as the one which only a couple of weeks ago so effectively ripped apart the fabric of modern America, was bearing down on the Gulf coast. Oil prices were through the roof and Matt Simmons appeared on Channel 4 News warning that "Winter demand for crude oil may outstrip supply by 2 to 5 million barrels per day". That's a recipe for social and economic chaos. Upon which subject... in Iraq, UK Special Forces were arrested by local police and then sprung from prison by the British army. Oh, and let's not forget that a supermodel might have taken some recreational drugs.

The LibDems never stood a chance.

Which can only be a good thing from the LibDems perspective. As I'm sure anyone who noticed what happened in Blackpool would agree. The conference was initially billed as "A Celebration" of the wonderful results achieved by Charles Kennedy's LibDems at the election. 6 months ago.

Look Charles, you came third. OK? Bronze medal. Third fricking place. What's with the celebration? Seriously.... think back to school, and think about the kid who came third in the 500m inter-school backstroke. I was that kid, so I know whereof I speak. That kid does not prance around like an arse with his bronze medal, holding it aloft for all to see. That kid takes the bronze medal, hides it away, broods for a month and decides to give up competitive sports completely and smoke pot and listen to music instead.

OK. So maybe that's a bit specific.

But you get my drift. I guess the other productive option would be to get pissed off at putting in all that effort and still only coming third. You'd use that frustration and anger to get yourself focussed and examine exactly what went wrong, and you'd vow to train harder and better so that next time you'd win.

But if you're that kid and you are genuinely celebrating your bronze medal... well, it's because some part of you knows that's the best you're capable of. And either you're oblivious to the condescension of those cheering you on, or they too feel third place is worthy of celebration in British politics.

It wasn't enough that they were celebrating their poor showing at the polls (no third party in this country has any cause to celebrate until they are no longer referred to as "the third party"). But they were trying to celebrate while simultaneously having a leadership challenge! Except they weren't really. That was just a bit of high-jinks and giggles by bored journos sat in Blackpool watching a third party celebrate a small reduction in the amount by which it loses.

I'd like to be able to segue into the second of this week's political events with the line; "Unlike the LibDems Conference, however, the first in a new season of Question Time saw the return of genuinely informed political debate". But that statement would be ludicrous in principle. We live in the age of political soundbite... repressive legislation is soon to be introduced that will mean that - by law - the phrase 'informed political debate' must always have '[archaic]' in italics after it when used written English; and must be followed by a satirical "m'Lord" or "m'Lady" when spoken.

But even accepting the narrow constraints of the hour-long stream-of-soundbite format, this was as lacklustre a Question Time as I can recall.

For overseas readers: Question Time is a political TV show. A panel of guests sit before a studio audience of a couple of hundred. The panel usually comprises one member of each major party plus a couple of other guests - journalists or cultural figures (for example, one of this week's guests was a playwright and one was a hack from spiteful tabloid; The Daily Mail). The discussion is chaired by the amiable David Dimbleby and is prompted by questions from the studio audience. It's an interesting show as it provides time every week for the public to demand answers to their questions from those they have elected. Prior to the last general election, each of the three party leaders appeared before a Question Time audience. It was the closest they got to a head-to-head debate.

I was going to write a little about how the various parties responded to the questions asked of them. But they were all so unlikeable that I can't be arsed (with the exception of the playwright who wasn't unlikeable, but wasn't hugely insightful either). I couldn't help imagining a person who succeeded in smuggling a custard pie into the studio... they'd be physically paralysed, shocked into inaction, by the impossibility of having to choose between David Miliband and Theresa May. They each so perfectly represent all that is unlikeable about their respective parties.

So fuck 'em. Instead I'll answer the questions posed by the studio audience...

Q. Prior to the Iraq war, Saddam Hussein warned that the soles of the feet of his enemies would burn. Given the spectacle on Monday, is it time we pulled our troops out?

Yes it is time. Though nothing to do, specifically, with the pictures on Monday (of British servicemen on fire). That is after all what happens when you send soldiers overseas to fight wars. Some of them end up on fire. If it took Monday's pictures to make you think "haaaaang on a second... you mean people are getting burnt out there?" then can I humbly request that you seek voluntary sterilisation? The world has plenty of people already. It doesn't need your kids.

Fact is, people have been on fire plenty of times in Iraq lately. They rarely did it wearing a British uniform while appearing live on TV, but if those details are really your primary concern then you should be deeply ashamed of yourself.

People have been burning out there because of our policies for quite a while now. That's one of the many compelling reasons for the US/UK to pull out their troops. Neither the nationality nor the notoriety of the burn victim should factor into what is essentially an ethical decision.

Q. Does the panel agree with Trevor Phillips' comment that Britain is "sleepwalking" into a kind of segregation that so disfigured New Orleans?

I have no idea to be honest.

It seems unlikely to me that race-relations in Britain would develop along similar lines to America. I've lived in both places and they're very different cultures. Race exists within separate historical contexts. But as I said, I don't know enough about this subject to agree or disagree with Trevor Phillips.

Q. Does the panel think that role models should behave impeccably?

This is actually a question about the Kate Moss non-story, and I really don't want to add any more internet chatter to this topic. Except to ask, in an incredulous voice, "role model?"

Q. Is the apparent U-turn on council tax a genuine response to the need for further assessment or a cynical political move?

Couldn't care less. The whole system of government finance should be ditched and replaced. However, this should be accompanied by a programme of nationalising essential industries and resources; as well as a massive public consultation on the issue of sustainability.

So you can see why I might not be all that interested in decisions about tweaking the numbers in an existing local taxation system. "Actually Carruthers, I think that deck-chair would look far better next to the large chunk of iceberg over there"

Q. Should Charles Kennedy lead the Lib Dems into the next election?

The tories will win the next election. Labour will be defeated by a significant margin but the LibDems will still come a distant third. I suspect this outcome is guaranteed no matter who runs the third party.

See what I mean about it being a lacklustre Question Time? Add to that the overwhelming unlikeability of Miliband and May, plus the general silliness of the audience participation, and it wasn't a very good advertisement for British democracy.

Fingers crossed for next week.


Blogger merrick said...

Absolutely fuckin brilliant Jim.

Laugh out loud funny in the swimming bit, coupled to Several Big Truths that we all know but nobody says, but once they're declared than we're never fooled again.

As good as you've ever written.

26/9/05 12:57  
Blogger Oscar Wildebeest said...

I quit the LibDems in about 1989 (along with about 70% of their supporters) when a fellow defector said to me, "they think it's a champagne moment when they win a council seat."

It was a Damascene moment. Sadly, my political naivety was not confounded, as I then joined Labour and voted for Blair as leader. Don't worry, my right hand will be thrust into the flames first, I'll make sure of it.

27/10/05 17:26  

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