Always Worth Saying’s Question Time Review

Question Time 30th January 2020


James Cleverley (Conservative)

Sarah Jones (Labour)

Minette Batters (National Farmers Union)

Sacha Lord (Businessman)

Geoff Norcott (Comedian)

Venue: Buxton

In his ignorance and over-optimism, dear reader, your humble reviewer thought that he would start each QT Review with a personal recollection of the venue. I was struggling early on in the series (Liverpool, speeding ticket) and subsequently didn’t even know where last week’s Stoke Newington was. As for Buxton, I have been there only once, passing through on the way to Coalville. ‘If only once, then how did you get back?’, I hear you ask. In the other direction, I went via Etruria, in the days when Etruria was all steelworks and railway yards. This was before the invention of ‘street view’ type software (in fact just about before the invention of software) when driving past Port Vale’s ground made it all worthwhile.

As he types away in his office, your correspondent is spoilt for scenery, therefore I found Buxton to be a bit ordinary and, it being a funny time of the day, somewhat dull. Will its good people, via a Question Time audience, prove me wrong? Incidentally, if a Buxtonian were to tell you that their hometown is the highest market town in England then kindly inform them that an inhabitant of the fine (and better elevated) town of Alston is on their way, equipped with sub-titles, to tell them otherwise.

Politically, Buxton is part of the High Peak constituency and was taken by the Tories, from Labour, at the December 2019 election with a majority of 590. Perhaps the BBC booked the venue well in advance, unaware of what was going to happen? The High Peak constituency voted 50.5% to 49.5% to Leave in the 2016 EU referendum. Finally, the BBC has chosen a Leave-voting constituency (just) with a Conservative MP (just), which therefore better reflects modern Britain.

This being the last QT before Brexit, only 24 hours after the programme, our De-Remainification warfare unit will keep its vigilance in case of a last-minute ambush or an attempt to set an early post-Brexit agenda based upon Remain principles. All will be revealed.

Question one, should the government get the blame for what’s happened to Northern Rail?

Sarah Jones (Labour), has the kind of face that deserves to be unveiled by Jim Davidson. She has spent her entire life in Croydon, where she is the MP, and has suddenly become an expert on Northern Rail. She told us that its problems could be solved by nationalising the entire rail network, as per that failed Corbyn manifesto. She claimed that this would make the railways, ‘Work for us’. No, they wouldn’t Sarah, they’d work for the unions, just like they did under British Rail.

Sacha Lord (Businessman and NHRN – Sacha John Edward Lord – Marchionne) pointed out he was the only northerner on the panel. Albeit more the type of northerner who might have a private halt on his Cheshire estate, rather than the sort on a bench, in a coal wagon, breathing in the sparks on the semi-fast to Rainham. But he did make an important point about the difference in transport funding, and therefore ticket pricing, between London and the North.

James Cleverley (Conservative) said that the railways enjoyed record investment, record passenger numbers and new rolling stock, except with Northern. He’d arrived on a Pacer train (bus on rails) – eventually. The first service he’d tried, was so overcrowded that he couldn’t get on it. No such problem in rural Iran, where the Pacers were so unpopular that they sent them back here to the manufacturers.

James was asked specifically what was going to be done and when, to which he replied that the government (during ten years of Tory rule) had listened and decided that ‘enough is enough’ (after ten years of Tory rule).

A lady from the audience had paid £160 from St Pancras (to Sheffield?) and had not got a seat. A gentleman, £260 from Macclesfield to London, again with no certainty of getting a seat.

There was a bit of a consensus in the hall, that public transport was poor, and that London gets too much. The north and south are out of kilter, with a two-tier Londoncentic system.

Norcs (comedian, nickname stolen from BTL yesterday, no apologies), mentioned that East / West services were poor too, e.g. Manchester to Sheffield. Never mind with London, the North needed to be better connected with the North. Norcs got a bit of applause for this and that was his high point. After that, he became more and more un-funny, with even Bruce getting more laughs than he did, and I mean Fiona, not Forsythe.

Question two asked if HS2 was the best way to achieve an infrastructure revolution?

James waffled and didn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, rather he was looking at it. Sarah Jones of Croydon made an important point. The government had promised £500m to re-instate Beaching era closures but these days that much money gets you only about 25-50 miles of track. Such things, your reviewer suggests are massively over-engineered and exist for the benefit of the industry, not the taxpayer or the travelling public. Perhaps, and no one suggested this, the Chinese railways ‘straight line on a map’ strategy might help? Neither did anyone mention an increasing population putting extra pressure on transport. Surprised?

Minette Batters (National Farmers Union) also made a number of important points. Farmers have (unhappily) had their land compulsorily purchased. The project was already ten years behind. It joins cities to cities with no benefit to the countryside, in fact ancient woodlands were being destroyed. Her views were warmly received by the audience.

Question three. Was it safe to fly people back from Wuhan to the UK?

Norcs didn’t know, didn’t say much and mumbled a bit, embarrassing himself. Rather than being as entertaining as Laurence Fox, it was more like watching a lamb being eaten by a fox.

Sacha Lord admitted to being unqualified to speak but that didn’t stop him. Wuhan, twinned with Manchester. Lockdown. Panic. Your humble reviewer’s spies in Wuhan beg to disagree. They are inside for the duration, comfortable enough, and can manage on their own resources. They can go without for long periods of time and do not complain.

Sarah Jones. Bring them back and quarantine them here, she decided, managing to mention (alleged) cuts, not only to healthcare but to the chaps at the embassy over there. She waved her arms about and talked some more nonsense.

Minette Batters was no not so sure about bringing people back. With the farmer’s eye for the transmission of disease, she pointed out that the illness had appeared at a ‘wet’ market, where wild and domesticated animals and people mix and where infections can ‘jump’ between species.

Yes, they should come back, said James Cleverley. There are world-class experts here. There is an isolation plan, after which the returnees wouldn’t be a medical threat to others.

Question four asked if, on Brexit night the next day, Remainers might be a bit too mardy? A Derbyshire word? Too southern for me, I’m not quite sure what he meant.

Unfunny Norcs had now become about as much fun as a twitter party at Alastair Stewart’s house on a Wednesday night. He was enthusiastic about Brexit and optimistic about the future but managed to make it sound very dull and humourless. He had now fallen about as flat as an emaciated Nordic climate change activist’s chest.

Incidentally, Norcs was awarded a medal after entertaining the troops in Afghanistan. One recommends each of his audience be awarded two.

Sarah Jones wouldn’t be celebrating Brexit as her children were having friends for a sleepover. Think about it. This is in Croydon. Seven boys would be coming around to her house. Let that sink in. Croydon. She did concede that she was going to lock herself in a room. With a machine gun? No, she would only admit to a bottle of wine. She then spoiled the fun by saying that the economy has already taken a Brexit hit, which it hasn’t.

A Remainer in the audience was just pleased it was all over and would rather look forward.

There was then an outbreak of ‘as a’. As a student, a young lady said, she was going abroad and fired one last operation fear salvo by mentioning ‘Erasmus’. For the umpteenth time, you don’t have to be in the EU to be in Erasmus. Palestine is in Erasmus and it isn’t even a country let alone a member of the EU.

The Tories have a strong mandate, noted Minette Batters and it was not so much about getting Brexit done, now more about getting Brexit right. Clarity was required on what we want. She suggested standards must be maintained and then pointed out that this wasn’t contained in the forthcoming agriculture bill.

Relieved also about Brexit, Sacha Lord hoped local matters might now come to the fore. For instance, homelessness, knife crime and the NHS and clarity for EU workers in the night-time economy and the hospitality industry.

James Cleverley gave us permission to celebrate but not to rub other people’s noses in it. There were genuine worries and he was determined to calm them. We are a high-standard global country which does not need to be in the EU to keep those standards up.

Minette challenged him, stating that this should, therefore, be in the agriculture bill, at which point James got very tetchy indeed, pulling a face that deserved to be unveiled by Bernard Manning at half time during a Millwall match. Chlorinated chicken, he said, nobody wants to buy it, so what’s the point of banning it? Selling on price not standards, that’s the point, James. We shall see.

A lady from the audience spoke up for the ‘green hairy hill cow’, and she looked the type who would. Pets and their owners.

The final question concerned very young people and mobile phones. Again, there was a bit of a consensus regarding it being the usage, platforms and apps that were important rather than the actual phone. A lady in the audience rightly mentioned that they are addictive, hinting at the dopamine reward cycle which, at this time of the night, you can Google for yourselves!

And that was it.

© Always Worth Saying 2020

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