Always Worth Saying’s Question Time Review

Question Time 9th January 2020


Brandon Lewis (Conservative)
Clive Lewis (Labour)
Anne McElvoy (The Economist)
Miatta Fahnbulleh (New Economics Foundation)
Max Hastings (Writer)

Venue: Oxford

For a short while longer, dear reader, we will persist with the 2016 referendum result as there’s a suspicion that the BBC, unaware that the war is lost, persists behind its own little Remainer’s ‘Red Wall’. Rather like a bespectacled Japanese soldier on a lonely little Pacific island (in the 1980s) prepared to run down the beach with his empty rusty gun shouting ‘banzai’ at the hint of a funnel and smoke on the tropical horizon.

Certainly, the previous Question Time, the day after the General Election, was in the London borough of Wandsworth which contains the only seat in the entire country that Labour actually gained (Putney).

As for Oxford, in the General Election Oxford East returned a Labour MP (the silly Anneliese Dodds) and Oxford West & Abingdon a Liberal Democrat (the ludicrous ‘pansexual’ Layla Moron). In the 2016 EU referendum, Oxford voted 70-30 to remain. As such, quelle surprise, the BBC’s chosen Question Time host city is completely unrepresentative of modern Britain.

And yes, your humble reviewer has lodged there, many decades ago, in a single room containing only a wire-framed bed and stout wardrobe. Being a Philistine, I recall it as being awfully dull. This being the pre-internet days of three-channel TV, I passed my spare time reading Rothmans Football Year Book from cover to cover, in the days when Falkirk got exactly two thousand for every home game. There was the occasional trip to the Manor Ground. It had a thumping good covered ‘end’, with a better than decent noise. The rest of the ground was rather quaint, with pleasantly proportioned but oddly placed stands amongst open and unsegregated terracing on which some of the (older) spectators sat on their own fold-up chairs (drinking tea from flasks), while other (younger) spectators fought with the visiting supporters.

The moot point being that Oxford was a segregated place, one half being car factories and the other half being dreaming spires, glittering prizes and the kind of ‘modern’ outlets that stocked the sort of publications that Mrs Whitehose might have prosecuted for blasphemy.

What of this has survived? And what of it might still be allowed to drift into a BBC Question Time audience? All was revealed.

The first questioner wondered if Prince Harry and Meghan Markle had been petulant and ill-judged in their recent resignation from the royal family. Clive Lewis (Labour) started as he intended to continue and pitched his answer at the comrades who he hopes will be voting for him in the forthcoming Labour Party leadership election. He was in favour of the unhappy couple stepping aside and explained the whole situation by playing the race card (bigly) and by blaming the media. He even managed to mention Grenfell.

Brandon Lewis (Conservative) whose ministerial duties include security, refused to talk about the security implications, gave stout support to the royals, who he claimed do amazing work, and then went on to avoid saying any more by stating that this was a matter for the Royal Family and the Royal Family alone.

When invited to contribute by Bruce, audience members were generally supportive of the royal couple but weren’t enthusiastic about public (i.e. their) money being used to support Harry and Meghan.

When Anne McElvoy came to speak, this reviewer just couldn’t hear what she was saying. She has a strange, high pitched, posh, staccato voice, as if a young, slightly built actress trying to recite her lines while being throttled by Prince Charles. I think I heard ‘international dynamic’ and ‘breath of fresh air’ as though a fallen thespian, in changed circumstances, slumming through a corporate video for the export department a refrigeration factory up the north.

Never trust a seventy-five-year-old man with thirty-year-old hair. Yes, I mean you, Max Hastings. As with McElvoy, it was difficult to understand what Hastings was saying, this time because of the distracting influence of his dreadful toupee. Do these people never look in a mirror? However, as my mind wandered between ironed polyester and a black cat squashed on the road, I think I overheard him not blame all of this on racism nor the media (that pays his wages). The royal family, Prince Charles had suggested to Max, needed slimmed down. Resignations, therefore, not being a bad thing.

Miatta Fahnbulleh, moved the topic towards her point of sponsored interest – constitutional reform. She represents the New Economics Foundation which is ominously, ‘A think tank that promotes…’, and is itself promoted by donations form that old friend of all things pure and holy, George Soros. She also suggested that royal assets should be confiscated and distributed amongst the rest of us ‘as we own it’. Will George set the ball rolling from his own billions?

The second question asked if the assassination of Qassem Soleimani made the world a safer or more dangerous place, at which point Fiona Bruce tried unsuccessfully to change the topic to the Ukrainian aircraft crash at Tehran airport.

Security Minister, Brandon Lewis, refused to talk about security but claimed that the United States had an absolute right to defend itself. He also chanted ‘de-escalation’ more times than a bad-tempered ayatollah at a particularly rowdy Friday prayers shouts, ‘death to America’. But he offered no suggestions as to how that might be achieved.

The ‘Middle East has been turned into the Wild West’ claimed Clive Lewis. No, not by Iran sponsoring Hamas, Hezbollah, Assad, civil war in the Yemen, terror attacks on Saudi Arabia or the Revolutionary Guard, but by The Donald permanently stopping the chap responsible for the aforementioned. ‘International law has been broken!’ You bet it has Clive, what are you going to do about it? Clive is going to blame a rogue president. Assad? Rouhani? Putin? Abbas? No chance, blame Donald Trump.

Bravely, Bruce mentioned Clive’s time in the TA in Afghanistan, at which point she was blanked. Surely Clive isn’t afraid of Labour party member’s electoral response to his patriotic service overseas?

Miatta Fahnbulleh echoed Clive’s sentiment, pointing out the sanctions against Iran and claiming that they had caused great hardship. She called Trump ‘reckless’. Whereas allowing the ayatollahs to build an atom bomb is ……

Max Hastings turned the question around and asked what if Putin had used a drone to take somebody out? He claimed there was no strategy or policy behind Trump’s attack and that Boris Johnson should say to ‘no’ to Britain having any direct military involvement in Iran. He claimed that since 1941, consecutive British governments had had nothing in return for our military support for the Americans.

Having made a clean break from gratitude for (amongst other things) the American support of NATO during the Cold War, question three appropriately asked,

‘Should the Labour party make a clean break from Corbynism?’

Max Hastings carried out his own drone strike on the closet door and announced that he’d always been a soppy, leftie Tory voter but had then voted Tony Blair, who was a very good Prime Minister until the invasion of Iraq. Given the chance, Max would vote for Kier Starmer.

Miatta said that the general election result in December was too big a defeat for the Labour Party to ignore. She claimed not to know what Corbynism was and said that it was pointless mentioning socialism. She then went on to repeat a Corbynesque list of grievances that the Labour Party had ‘rightly highlighted’, such as stagnation in wages and the pushing to the limit of public services. Wait for it. Wait for it. Keep on waiting for it. No, she forgot to mention immigration.

Brandon Lewis just sat and smirked.

Clive Lewis also chimed out the Corbynista agenda, inequality, climate crisis, radical economic change, existential crisis.

He was a great believer in the centre-ground but, fortunately, politics was always changing and the centre ground had moved to where Clive happened to be. Lucky chap.

He stated that he’d supported most of the manifesto that the voters had just rejected. The problem was that there was too much good in it, and the plebs hadn’t had enough time to understand. Is he stupid? Possibly. Is he preaching to the demented end of the Labour Party in order to try to further his leadership ambitions? You bet.

And he had a cunning plan to win back lots of seats in the north. Form a coalition with the SNP and then, presumably, with the extra forty-eight Scottish seats, the old patriotic ex-Labour heartlands can be told to stuff off altogether.

I have no idea what McElvoy squeaked on about. She seemed to reference ancestors in the north turning in their graves. Battered to death by Prince William while doing a soap for Tyne Tees? You never know.

The final question pondered if special advisors are a threat to democracy. Bruce advised the audience that this meant Dominic Cummings. If this were also drone wars, Dominic might have survived. There was a bit of a split decision. Max Hastings much preferred the professional administrators of the Civil Service, no doubt over-seen by his much-admired chum Anthony Charles Lynton Blair who never had any use for the likes of Cummings or Alistair Campbell. Clive Lewis complained that the special advisors were unaccountable. In fact, the whole of government was unaccountable and that was a thoroughly bad thing. May this humble reviewer advise Clive that part of the reason for this is that the opposition, of which he is a part, is so crap?

Miatta saw a role for both civil servants and special advisors and, prompted by Bruce for advice to the advisors, she encouraged them to be humble.

The biggest enthusiast of Dominic Cummings’s special advice was, perhaps not surprisingly, the well-advised and recently victorious Brandon Lewis. There were some smart people out there, he told us, neither elected nor part of the civil service, why not draw them into the political bubble?

No thanks Brandon, we’d be better advised to lie on our rock-hard steel-framed beds, in the shadow of a stout wardrobe, reading Rothmans Football Year Book from cover to cover.

© Always Worth Saying 2020

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