Question Time 28th February 2019
Nadhim Zahawi (Tory. Leaver [just])
Barry Gardiner (Labour. Remainer)
Layla Moran (LibDem. Remainer)
Lionel Shriver (author. Leaver)
Henning When (comedian)
Venue: Catford, London
It is a matter for conjecture, is it not, that Noel Coward probably did not pen his song “London Pride” with Catford in mind? Lying just south of Lewisham and with the more desirous Dulwich – the Islington of South London – to its west it is one of those suburbs that offers little other than yet another hurdle in the desperate drive to rid oneself of the shackles of the Great Wen. Combine the location with the two most boring political gasbags from the House of Commons, Zahawi and Gardiner, and you have a recipe for a programme that quickly empties the will to live of even the most ardent Bunyanesque Pilgrim.
And so it proved.
I once had a History teacher, “Nobby” Clarke, that had the same vocal delivery and propensity for lengthy descriptions of effectiveness of the court of 9th century Charlemagne as does Barry Gardiner. It would not be long – in the region of 30 seconds – before one’s mind began to wander as the voice churned ever onwards in its relentless journey towards a denouement that you just knew was never going to arrive. Some of my best daydreams of the enticements of the young lovelies from our neighbouring girl’s school, St. Anne’s, were enacted during his lessons. By the time the 40 minute lesson had finished and Nobby had closed his book of words I had mentally ravished the most desirous Ursula of the Fifth Form any number of times. Of Nobby’s verbosity I could not recall a single useful syllable. Gardiner sucks the air out of any discussion and he was allowed to blather on for endless minutes in last night’s programme but the truth is that he is, like Nobby Clarke, a charlatan at his job. No-one in their right mind would employ this man to promote your business. Any prospective buyer would groan at the sight of Gardiner the salesman coming through the door knowing that one was going to be subjected to an endless patter that would not stop. The response of “Shut the fuck up!” would only be met with a patronising smirk before he began to start all over again.
Zahawi has a similar tendency to waffle and by the time he and Gardiner had answered the first question “Will the extension of Article 50 go against the democratic vote of the Referendum” we had been round the roundabout of the usual Brexit arguments as does a nervous driver circling the Arc De Triomphe desperately trying to find the exit. It was left to Lionel Shriver – who calls their daughter Lionel? – to cut through the fog with a simple “Yes. And it will be the beginning of the end of your democracy”. The rest of the panel, including The Rear of the Year 2010, looked at her in utter mystification as if she had just arrived from the planet Zog. What could she mean? The audience seemed to get the gist of her answer to judge by the response but it must be a matter for some dismay, is it not, that the three politicians on the panel appear to be totally unaware of the disaster that they are willing to inflict on the democratic history of this country?
Layla Moran from the Provisonal wing of the LibDems has the ability to work herself up into a froth quicker than a can of Heinz tomato soup left on a high gas. One can only imagine how poor Vince Cable manages to avert a heart attack when she mounts her high horse with her shining armour of empty virtuousness glistening in the heat of battle. It is no surprise that she describes herself as a teacher displaying, as she does, all the attributes of the venerable Karl imparting his diktats to a bewildered and empty-headed following. Her perorations are designed to fire up the blood and drive on the plebs to carry their Excelsior banners ever higher but, sadly, the muted and in some parts hostile, response to her call for a Second Referendum rather took the wind out of her sails. There is something about her that reminds me of Cruella De Vil combined with one of my primary school nun teachers, Mother Mary Michael, who would slap you across the legs with a ruler if you stepped out of line.
Henning When, the German comedian who, to be fair, has made me chuckle on occasion managed to come up with one gem of an answer to the second referendum question which fairly punctured Moran’s argument. He asked the audience to put their hands up if they had changed their mind on the way they voted and what we saw was just a few – a small minority – owned up. “And there you have it. From all the discussions and arguments of the last 30 months hardly anyone will change the way they voted. We will get the same result or something very similar and what then? Best of 3 or 5 or 10?” Unfortunately this was his only real contribution to the whole evening – but it was probably the best from any of the panel.
Lionel Shriver did her best to battle for the centre Right but by the time we had reached halfway she had more or less given up trying to wade against the tide of Gardiner’s tedious monologues. The programme limped over the 60 minute deadline, Bruce pocketed her £15k and made for the BBC taxi to take her safely back home north of the Thames. The rest of us slumped back on our pillows and dreamt once more of the fragrant Ursula and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….
© Roger Ackroyd 2019