A Question of Time
February 13, 2010

The north was buzzing (or more accurately humming) during the week with the prospect of the BBC’s Question Time being broadcast from Belfast.   It reminded me of the 1970s when my father would tell us to ‘wheesht’ when The Nolan Sisters were shaking their booty.   Not that it was their shiny, clinging spandex that prompted him to call for hush, just the mere fact that they were Irish.   If ever this parochial attitude in the north was to be exposed then it was the ill placed pride that half a dozen of our finest minds would be held up to ridicule on a, ahem, ‘national’ stage.

We weren’t to be disappointed, the absence of spandex aside, when the panel was announced and later updated to include the new SDLP Supremo, Margaret Ritchie. In the finest of northern traditions, the first task was the sectarian headcount. Okay, let’s see,

Trimble, Wilson, Allister – Unionist.

Woodward – British

Kelly – Republican

Ritchie – We’ll hold off on that for a while yet.

Damn it, round one to the prods.   Bet Dimpledbottom will give them first word too.

Question 1. Could the panel please take this query regarding the ill-treatment of terrorist suspects in Cuba and bring it round to a bickering match about local issue in less than two sentences? Unqualified success by all concerned.

Question 2. Could the panel please have a bickering match about local issues with the added delight of a Unionist feud? Pretty good again.

And so it went on, with the host well warned and trigger happy with reprimands for what he must have known was inevitable.

Question 3. Could the panel discuss the chronic financial state of the Greek economy whilst simultaneously exposing their lack of economic understanding and also criticize the Republic of Ireland, not for their financial management but because they are the Republic of Ireland? No problem.

So how did the individuals perform on the night? From left to right (not politically but directionally).

Jim Allister: Poor Jim got shafted. The loony lefty/pro Republican BBC packed the audience with a cross section of voters and did not allow a cabal of noisy protestors to cheer his every word. He performed his usual selection of face pulling between questions and sang his rhetoric like a track from an old Willie McCrea CD.   No one was interested; least of all Dimbles who chastised Jim’s every effort to turn the discussion off topic.

David Trimble: His mental illness has clearly not improved, not even the gelling down of his erratic hair was enough to conceal that the man lives in a dream world. Davey tried his age old routine of starting off placidly, ‘look at me, I’m not bonkers, I’m much too thoughtful and relaxed for that’. A little to relaxed as he walked into a man trap from Dimbles about MP expenses.   He took a compliment about winning the Nobel Peace Prize seriously and at that point disappeared into his own legend, never to recover.

Shaun Woodward: Honest broker, like all Englishmen.   Shaun pre-empted every reply with a nod to one of the others referring to how correct they had been (Allister aside) and dodged his own expenses barb with greater finesse and style (ignored it) that Trimble could muster.

Gerry Kelly: Man of the Match, not every Question Time guest has to fence questions about being guilty of blowing up The Old Bailey and shooting a Prison Officer in the face. Gerry eased through the badgering and allowed only a little irk to enter his tone as he tailed off an attack on Allister to rousing applause from the audience.

Margaret Ritchie: Margaret has been to a class. ‘How to win favours with the audience by incessantly congratulating them and the voting public in general’. Populist wouldn’t cover it, Ritchie had the viewers saying, ‘well said, good on you’. Unfortunately, minutes later, they were also asking, ‘What did she say anyway?’

Sammy Wilson: Strangely subdued. That’s a description of his performance not how I’d like to see him. Sammy wasn’t going to lower himself to Allister’s level regardless of how small a drop that it would have required. Most interestingly was his announcement in retaliation to ‘Double-Jobbing’ jibes that he had just this week resigned from Belfast City Council. Turns out, he didn’t actually get around to resigning that particular post until the following day; maybe someone else will notice this anomaly.

Dimples: David was too eager to jump in like the strict headmaster revealing his game plan early on but it resulted in him having a sneer at Kelly when he had simply misheard what Gerry had said.

The Studio Audience: Well the taigs all clapped for the taigs and the prods, well they clapped for the taigs too. Strange enough behaviour and behaviour which deserves a mention. Everyone, including myself was all set for the collective embarrassment of sectarian clapping competitions but even the individuals in the audience behaved with a surprising amount of moderation.

Jim Allister was the sole man on the outside in this debate and well he knew it. Whether that translates as a less than dramatic effect when it comes to Stormont or Westminster elections remains to be seen.

Oh, and the funny question at the end? Nah, let’s quit while we’re ahead.

Still, those Nolan Sisters eh?

5intheface    13. 2. 2010