Always Worth Saying’s Question Time Review

Question Time 12th March 2020


Steve Barclay (Conservative)
Louise Haigh (Labour)
Pete Wishart (SNP)
Richard Walker (Retailer)
Professor John Ashton (Medical Expert)

Venue: West Bromwich

Your humble reviewer has been to West Bromwich and was very unimpressed by it. He is used to little places separated by large distances. Big places close together make him feel unwell. In your reviewer’s Debatable Lands, some places don’t have names; they don’t need them. Likewise, some roads have neither names nor numbers. Anyway, roads are a luxury. My in-law’s house didn’t have a road, it was approached by walking across two fields.

Therefore, the West Midlands urban conurbation was a place of unpleasant confusion in which this scribe knew not where he was. Where did Birmingham stop and Walsall start? Wolverhampton and West Bromwich? Solihull and, *shudder*, Lozells? There was also a lack of landmarks. Mountains? None. Lakes? None. A coastline? Not that I could find. If you ever invite this humble author to your West Bromwich home, do not be surprised if he turns up late, confused, grumpy and with a nose bleed. And if I’ve bumped into John Ashton on his way to a Question Time, I may feel even worse.

The first question asked if our country was doing enough, given that all other countries seemed to be more proactive, regarding the coronavirus.

Steve Barclay (Conservative) reminded us that the emphasis should be upon the science and the needs of the United Kingdom. He was about to tell us about Italy when Fiona Bruce (chair) interrupted to ask about the anomalies regarding completely different strategies on either side of the Irish border. To which, there wasn’t an answer beyond ‘timing’.

Louise Haigh (Labour) claimed to be supporting the present efforts but sounded puzzled by the different approach here. She played a party political card anyway, criticising comparatively low rates of statuary sick pay here. A pressing concern. Weaknesses in the safety net. Applause.

Dr John (Professor John Ashton, medical expert) didn’t know where to start beyond expressing embarrassment. He suggested earlier firm action, such as had been taken in island city-states like Hong Kong and Singapore. He didn’t go to Anfield last night. Johnny foreigner, from infected areas, can’t go to their own matches but can come over here for an away day. (As long as they don’t go to the doctor’s, Dr John, they might spread the virus there). The public will have to organise these things themselves. The government hasn’t made the kind of preparations that a women’s committee in an Ebola-infected area of Africa would have.

Professor John Ashton CBE was a medical officer in my part of the world. He was a shameless self-publicist who enjoyed hearing his own voice and reading about himself in the newspapers. He was a Labour party member. He was a mass of contradictions, insisting upon Stalinist like restrictions on tobacco and alcohol (and even the school run) while advocating the legalisation of class A drugs. He wanted to lower the age of consent to 15. He was in favour of euthanasia and wanted a four-day week in the NHS. Is he always wrong? Let’s hope so, as throughout the programme he sounded very pessimistic regarding coronavirus.

An audience member, judging by appearances, badly caught out by the panic buying of soap and razor blades, mentioned his children’s overseas school trips and his wife’s heart problem. Boris Johnston might be prepared to lose people but the gentleman in the audience wasn’t. Another gentleman, from Ghana, wanted more checks on the border. All thirty-five of them between Ghana and West Bromwich? Perhaps. The next audience member was an Indian. And the next had blue hair. This is what I’m missing out on because of my West Bromwich phobia.

Pete Wishart, having crossed a border to be the Scottish Nationalist voice in Staffordshire, pointed out the conflicts in advice. He was looking for the best medical and scientific opinion. He mentioned ‘timing’ too and seemed to be agreeing with Boris Johnston. The Scottish ban on gatherings of over 500 people was based on freeing up resources for the front line. If he’s looking for a ‘front line’ like the one at the Somme, might I suggest keeping the Celtic and Rangers game on?

Dr John took us back to Hong Kong and working from home. Did he blame Brexit? I think he did.

Richard Walker (Retailer) told everybody that there’s plenty of food. Before he could add, ‘get yourself down to Iceland’, he was interrupted by Fiona Bruce who can’t get any hand sanitiser. That’s distribution not retail, love, he was kind enough to tell her. As for communication from Government to retail. There isn’t any. Dr John interrupted to say that communication from Health England is dire too. He gets more communication about coronavirus from his gym.

Back to Richard Walker, he was interested in the models. Aren’t we all? Oh, the epidemiology computer modelling. Excuse me. Somebody from the audience, who’d been to Thailand, Singapore and somewhere else, had made it back to West Bromwich and was actually still alive. Two more Indians spoke, one with a retail outlet and one with a now cancelled and therefore useless Indian visa.

Steve Barclay wanted this to be driven by science and told Dr John that he was out of step. Closing stadiums was ‘operational’ not health-related. Schools, not simple. Grandparents are childcarers if the schools are off. Parents work in health care and are needed at work.

‘Magical thinking,’ announced Dr John.

Steve played the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Officer cards. They had flanked Boris Johnson at his post-COBRA press conference this afternoon.

Dr John called them, ‘Scientists from a particular part of the story.’

Steve Barclay and Dr John spoke over each other.

‘The politicians are listening to their own rhetoric and they are wrong,’ according to Dr John, who was then closed down by Fiona Bruce, as if a northern Italian town.

I would guess that the next contributor was a Pakistani, with the kind of roundish face, perhaps found partway between Islamabad and Abbottabad? The next one, female, definitely south Asian. Then a white one! By Jove. Remember that Bernard Manning joke about being the spot on the domino?

‘Flattening the curve,’ decided Pete Wishart, like sitting on a sombrero. He’s not a clinician but he is listening to the experts, except perhaps, Dr John. Louise Haigh got a word in to say that there isn’t a social care strategy from the government.

Question two, from an NHS worker with a brummy accent. Are we doing enough to help the vulnerable?

Communities need their own resilience plans, according to Dr John. He pulled a 30% mortality rate at care homes statistic out of the hat. Dr John had been working in Bahrain. They’re letting the prisoners out. Our prisoners are Victorian and crumbling. Or was it the prisons?

We interrupt this programme with the following important message. Part of the World Health Organisation’s advice, during a pandemic, is that you should not spread rumours and that you should limit your exposure to media, especially if it is doing your head in. Message ends.

Richard Walker thought about his customers. There’s not a shortage of food. Fiona Bruce mentioned the hand sanitisers again. Does she eat them? No wonder there’s a shortage. Richard wanted people to look out for each other and do some shopping for them. Just as he was about to say ‘at Iceland’, he was cut off by Fiona Bruce who asked Steve Barclay about NHS spending. And here was his chance to contradict Dr John. Coordination, interest rates, the credit cycle. What every vulnerable person wants to hear. And working with various Quangos, together to coordinate.

Pete Wishart, complimented the government on the extra money set aside in the budget but wondered how it would be spent? The key challenge is staffing, replied Steve, especially if staff weren’t available through illness. People are hearing lots of different things. Go to NHS online. Dr John asked the audience if they believed any of this?

Steve Barclay had talked to Jeremy (he of the omnipresent Chinese wife), an informed voice who had, therefore, been engaged with. Is that what they did in Singapore and Hong Kong? Maybe.

Chap in the audience, a long thin south Asian face, the Deccan plateau? Could be? An audiologist, where’s the money coming from, he asked? It’s coming from you, pal, that’s why we’re all taxed to death. A lady of visibly African heritage mentioned that 111 gives out the wrong information. They’d told some people that they don’t need to quarantine. ‘According to The Guardian,’ came a cry from off-camera. Don’t trust 111.

Question three was about the budget. Has the chancellor found that magic money tree?

Louise? Investment is welcome after ten years of austerity but it is galling coming from the Tories after they’d trashed Labour for promising to do something similar. The care system needs to be spent on and there’s still no care system plan.

Pete Wishaw detected a rainforest of money trees, populated by a foreign tribe, more foreign even than the good people of West Bromwich; Dominic Cummings and his weirdo’s and misfits. Lurking in the jungle was ‘Brexit’, the worst thing since the last worst thing and before the next worst thing. One might prefer a plague.

Richard Walker saw opportunities in Brexit but no one in Brussels is listening because of the virus, maybe put the trade deal negotiations on hold? Levelling up (the regions and London) is a great thing, especially if nearly all of your shops are outside of the M25. Richard has a lot of land which he has to pay tax on. Better bus routes and more housing would busy this land up a bit.

Another South Asian, something in the public sector, mentioned several years of cuts. Another South Asian, an engineer, something is needed to encourage engineers. A white person with black hair (in every sense) complained that the Tories had destroyed communities in the West Midlands. Unlike mass immigration which could never do such a thing.

Steve Barclay blamed it on the previous Labour government who had spent all the money. Steve is, therefore, going to spend even more. He seemed to think it was being spent on increasing productivity. How can it? How can spending on public services increase productivity when public services don’t produce anything?

Dr John was brought up in the sixties and could remember the phrase, ‘Rejoice when a sinner repents’. Must have been the AD60’s, as that’s a quote from the Bible. He lost me at this point. Back in Bahrain, all was well, the Crown Prince (who presumably pays John’s wages) is a jolly good egg. A consequence of coming out of the EU. Nope, I’ve lost it altogether, I shall self-isolate.

Fortunately, at this very point, Fiona Bruce announced that time was up. Good news, my week of self-isolation will expire just in time for next week’s Question Time, from Weston-Super-Mare.

© Always Worth Saying 2020

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