Very affable and humourous in the warm-up, and about a stone lighter than he looks on the telly.
I spent the first 10 minutes of last night’s Question Time Special believing I had been transported back to the post-9/11 edition of the same program, a program so utterly beyond the pale that it made me feel ashamed to be British.
The way we started, one could have been forgiven for thinking that everybody, but everybody was responsible for the 7/7 atrocity, apart from the fanatics who actually carried bombs onto trains. “We need to understand why these young men felt so detached, blah, blah…” Self-hating Brits, I’d call them. Well, I’m sorry, but I’m just your ordinary Joe: wife and kids, mortgaged up to the hilt, unfulfilling job, not enough money, etc., etc.. It’s a hard enough slog as it is without some one-step-removed apologist insisting that I take partial responsibility for the irrational actions of people I’ve never met, never hurt, but who would, given half the chance, slaughter me and everyone else I love. Its not my fault, see, and I resent being asked to contemplate the possibility it might be. In fact, it makes me quite angry.
Which is my problem in these sorts of public meetings. I tend to spend more time with my head in my hands than I do with my hand in the air. So when I hear people whose most important decisions each day are what to play on the iPod lecturing the country’s most senior policeman about the rules of engagement for suicide bombers, telling him how his men are “executioners” (these being the officers who ran towards, not away from, a man they suspected of being half a second from committing mass-murder), I want to be sick, have a shower, scream……do anything in fact, but speak.
Before the show, the director, David Coleman, talked a little about the selection process for the audience. He seemed a genuine enough guy, so I’m inclined to believe he’s being sincere about the efforts they go to in order to get a balance of opinion on the major issues of the day; although, you wouldn’t know it from the anti-war narrative that characterized this and most editions of the show since 9/11. That said, I think there is another reason for the real, not perceived, one-sidedness we witness most weeks, that has really nothing to do with all QT researchers being members of the Guardianista tendency.
Forget Shy Tory Syndrome, what we’ve got here is Reticent Pro-War Disorder. Voicing unqualified support for a course of action that will, inevitably, result in the deaths of many innocents, as well as the guilty, can be difficult for some. Certainly, it’s a damn-site more difficult than uttering mealy-mouthed platitudes in support of a policy of inaction which has theoretical consequences only: on the one hand, there’s a pile of bodies; on the other, a gaping space where the bodies would be. All things being equal, who will choose to pontificate atop a mound of corpses?
And it’s no surprise that it’s the activist student and early-20-something demographic that gets disproportionate airtime. They are the ones with arms arrow-straight in the air for the full 60 minutes, desperately seeking an outlet for the moral certitude that will otherwise consume them. A rectitude inversely proportional to their knowledge. You know, it’s nothing to be remotely proud of, but I’ve yet to hear an argument from this clique that I couldn’t destroy in a thrice in a forum that allowed for cross-examination of their unintelligent and unintelligible positions. I’ve spent the last couple of years confronting our future leaders of industry and tomorrow’s political elite as they parade through Cambridge market square in orange boiler suits, whilst fellow-students Cassandra and Abigail blow whistles and the token ethnic hands out leaflets so banal, so lame and just so utterly, utterly wrong, that the world famous alumni, with more Nobel Prizes between them than any other institution, are likely so embarrassed by the association that they must wish they’d gone to Trent Polytechnic.
But Question Time is about banging your drum the loudest, nothing more, and quite clearly, it’s something the antis are much better at than we are. Having superior arguments counts for nothing. And even when those arguments get an airing, when was the last time you saw a supporter of the war on QT matching the passion of the righteous stopper, or implacable zealot?
Which is why Blair’s performance at his monthly news conference was extremely heartening and why I hope it’s a sign of things to come. I’ve had my fill of the semi-apologetic defence of the most progressive foreign policy decision in a generation. It’s about time we started thumping a few tables ourselves, from Blair down to the humble blogger.
So apply for tickets and if you manage to make it along to future editions of Question Time, don’t be cowed by the loud-mouthed membership of the UK branch of Baathists Abroad. Give them both barrels, deride their isolationism, be appalled at the apologia, heap scorn on their childish anti-Americanism, and be proud of the fact that you believe people you will never meet, living in a country you will never visit, deserve a chance to experience the democratic and free existence that is the birthright of every last one us.
As I clambered aboard the tube at White City, I spied a young man across the carriage and, recognizing him as someone who had voiced opposition to a war he felt had created mass-murdering, fanatical zealots out of thin air, set about putting him straight on one or two things. Talk about catharsis!
Even better, he got off at Marble Arch having already informed me he was going to Croydon and therefore needed to stay on until Oxford Circus. I hope the objectively pro-Saddam bastard missed his train.