Good morning Lemmings and rejoice for a new record has been set! That's right, I managed to fully comprehend around 68.2% of last night's show which is by far and away the most clarity I have ever achieved with an episode from Northern Ireland (I usually manage 20 or so percent). So yes this bodes well, as to be honest I didn't really have the highest hopes for last night's show and was fully prepared to give it only a cursory write-up. However, as things panned out, it turned out to be a bit of a good 'un (if a little weird in places) and I certainly learnt a thing or two about our Northern Irish brethren, but more on that later.
Right then, kicking off with the Blue Team we have Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and unknown QT quantity, this being his first time on the show. I have a suspicion as to why he's never been on before and that's because he's been in deep hibernation in a cupboard somewhere in Tory HQ since the mid-90's. As is clearly evident, the primary effect of having spent nearly two decades in such a deep sleep is that his speech has suffered to the point where sentences move at the rate of a treacle glacier and his words have all the brilliance a of stuttering fluorescent tube, but on top of that he also seems uniquely ill-equipped to deal with the rough-and-tumble world of Question Time. This is odd for if his suspiciously fawning Wikipedia entry is to be believed, this guy has been widely held up to be some sort of paragon of media savviness by a right-wing press that's developed something of a crush on him, but as to why this is the case I have absolutely no idea.
Let's start off by quickly recounting how thoroughly he ballsed up the pensions question: First off, he went straight into 'chuck some deficit numbers about' mode but did it at such a staggeringly slow pace that it seemed as if he was reading out a list of random phone numbers. Then, when confronted by a disgruntled and articulate audience member who was having his public sector pension cut he lurched into possibly the worst rendition of 'We Are All In This Together' that I have ever seen. Now for a start, this is potentially the most ludicrous and self-evidently absurd political slogan since 'The End of Boom and Bust' and the fact that it was delivered with all the verve of a soggy tissue didn't help matters much either. But the more fundamental point is this: What, in all that's holy, could possibly possess a man to deploy such a line when the reforms to MP's pensions indicate that we clearly are Not All In This Together? He deserved every boo he got.
So that was probably the nadir of Paterson's performance but he did come close to running a repeat of it when he refused to take a clear line on Catholic priests getting married. Now, I do have a little sympathy here as no one likes getting involved with the internal arguments of someone else's faith but when you're Northern Ireland Secretary it does pay to at least form some sort of opinion on the matter. Ok, so I did like his line about Libya not being a "rinky-dinky Scandinavian democracy", even if I'm not entirely sure what the 'rinky-dinky' part means, but by and large he was super weird and not in a good way. I think it's probably for the best that someone coaxes him back into a hay packed cardboard box, seals the lid and lets him hibernate for another ten years or so.
Red Team next and oh my gosh/what a surprise, we have Diane Abbott, an MP who might soon have to register the Question Time studio as her second home. Given that I've pretty much said all there is to say about Abbott in previous outings I shall keep this short and just say that it wasn't her best performance. The only issue she really got stuck into was the pension question but that soon went sideways as she got cornered on whether she thought Ed Miliband was right to condemn strikes and her attempts to wriggle out of it looked somewhat shifty. She also go a little lost on the Libya question (lost to the point where Dimbers had to confess that he didn't "have the slightest clue" what she was saying) and like Paterson, she too ducked on the celibacy question. All-in-all a bit sub-prime. Never mind, I'm sure she can make up for it next week. And the week after that. And the week after that.
Moving on and we come to Nigel Dodds, Deputy Leader of the DUP and a man I know precious little about, other than that he has a distinctly weird mouth (very wide and underbitey). What I could glean from last night's show was that his outlook seems fairly Unionist as he hates the EU and likes to use the word 'scripture' a lot but he doesn't seem to be at the hyper-mad end of the DUP and can put a sentence together without showering everyone with hate infused saliva a la the lovely Dr Paisley. That's not to say he doesn't appear to have a taste for Unionist red meat, it's just that the bar that marks the point of insanity is set quite high in the world of the DUP. In short, it could have been worse.
Unfortunately the same can't be said for Sinn Fein's Martina Anderson, a women who's giving Owen Paterson a run for his money in the race to become Weirdest Panelist of The Week. Like Paterson, Anderson also has a very odd line in verbal communication and one that is largely characterised by talking like a ventriloquist. Weirder still, she seems to have different modes when it comes to answering questions. The first is where she looks so disinterested and bored that she can barely bring herself to move her jaw while the second is where she starts talking really slowly and decides to upset people in detail. This first occurred when she had the world's slowest rant about the Catholic Church but it really got into gear when she plunged into a right to-do with Nigel Dodds about the peace process. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what it was all about as it seemed very Northern Irelandy, but what I could make out was her winding people up at an excruciatingly slow pace. Predictably, it all ended in tears as Dimbers finally moved to shut her but it was quite the spectacle to behold and aroused much ire from the crowd. So yes, Anderson was fully weird and I'm struggling to find any redeeming qualities other than that she's got a very jaunty fringe. It's something I guess.
Right, time for our final panelist of the night, investment fund manager Nicola Horlick. Now, I had never heard of her so I gave her name a quick google and was annoyed to find that she's been described as 'Superwoman' on account of her being able to juggle a very large family with making stacks of money (so that she can then go and lose a whole chunk of it Bernie Madoff). My annoyance was largely due to the fact that I really can't abide the super-busy and the knack they have for making me feel like a slothful wretch, but I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by how normal she was. Sure, I might not have agreed with her on all the issues but she did deliver her answers in a refreshingly straight forward manner and never got preachy, all of which leads me to conclude that she's probably a Reasonably Nice Person. In an episode such as this, that's not bad going.
So that's the panel done, now it's time for what was probably the most interesting component of this week's show, the audience. The first thing that struck me about this lot was just how bloody earnest they were and how they went after the big points rather than the 'let's just have a pop at politicians' shenanigans that we usually see. When these guys got the bit between their teeth (as they did with the pensions and celibacy questions) they were dogged and passionate, something that we have not seen much of late. On top of that, I was also surprised to discover that everyone in Derry works in the public sector, people in Northern Ireland seem to care deeply about something called 'religion' and that they don't seem to appreciate politicians who talk very slowly. Audience Members of Note this week include the woman who was really, really pissed off with the Catholic Church (using phrases such as "heinous desperation" and "catch yourself on" in close proximity of each other is always a point scorer with me) and the drunk looking guy who demanded that the world's debt slate be wiped clean... It's good to have a dream.
Dodds: Not as weird as he could have been
Anderson: Weird and sketchy
Horlick: Neither weird nor sketchy
The Audience: Hardcore
Ok, there we go, that's your lot. Well done Derry, you almost managed to make me believe I had the faintest idea about what's going on in Northern Ireland and that takes some doing. Well done also to my band's bassist, Beefy, who I've just discovered has gone and broken his finger by trapping it in a van door. Considering that the last time we had to cancel a gig was when our guitarist caught his thumb in a taxi door, I hereby decree that all members of Achtung Everybody may only travel in doorless vehicles. It's for our own good.
For a full version of this article and many others like it, please go to QuestionableTime.com.
Next week Lemmings, next week...