Always Worth Saying’s Question Time Review

Question Time 26th March 2020


Robert Jenrick (Conservative)
Emily Thornbury (Labour)
Richard Horton (The Lancet)
Humphrey Cobbold (Businessman)

Venue: Shrewsbury

In another alteration to the usual format, tonight’s panel were in London, the questioners in Shrewsbury. After a gap of many weeks, your humble reviewer can report a pleasant personal reflection upon the venue. He has visited Gay Meadow (I kid you not) and enjoyed the sport there. I am speaking, of course, of my local XI whom I have seen enter contest, many years ago, with Shrewsbury Town, within a leaping salmon’s distance of the river Severn. In those days, an elderly chap with a coracle risked his life (for four shillings a go) to rescue footballs that had landed in the river. Better times. Leafing through the record books, I can’t help but note that this was over forty years ago. How time flies. Forty years from now we might all be dead. Although, now I come to think about it, forty days from now …….

I can also recall a giant Rolls Royce factory, which, after reference to our friends at Wikipedia, I’m informed, made the Sentinel engines for Sentinal shunters, alas like Gay Meadow, long gone.

Shrewsbury returns a Conservative MP, the interesting Daniel Kawczynski. One of the Shropshire Kawczynski’s, for some reason he appears to try a little bit too hard to be an elitist English Tory country gentleman. Sound on Brexit and even sounder on Saudi Arabia, he does his bit for the environment by taking a £6000 a month fee from those nice people in the ‘natural resources’ sector who have done so much to make Africa the prosperous, democratic and equal continent that it is today. This humble scribe, as the great-great-great-great grandson of a Virginia slave trader, doffs his hat. As QT is now broadcast before supper, Squire Kawczynski’s libertine private life must remain just that.

Question One, under the new scheme (where the self-employed are paid according to their taxable income over the last three years), what about self-employed people with less than twelve months books? I’ll answer that one. Claim Universal Credit. The questioner will already get tax credits and family allowance (i.e. in work benefits). Use your savings and cut your costs. Borrow the difference (interest rates are 0.1%) and pay it back when things improve. Carry on in self-employment; declare yourself vital. Apply for a job in a vital industry. Go to your local supermarket, they are recruiting. The scheme starts at the beginning of June and the lock-down didn’t start until towards the end of March. In effect, you are only missing one paycheck, in April.

Fiona Bruce suggested the simplicity of a universal income. Apparently, the Irish are paid 350 Euros a week, no matter what. There appear to be two sides to this argument, self-sufficiency or dependence on the state.

United Nations Assistant Secretary General’s daughter, high court judge’s wife, Lieutenant General’s sister-in-law and Islington townhouse resident, Lieutenant Colonel (temporary) The Right Honourable and Learned Lady Emily Ann Nugee QC MP (Labour)’s, heart bled for those who might be evicted, suggesting a six-month moratorium on evictions. She also suggested looking at access to benefits for people on zero-hours contracts. Mr Jenrick (Conservative) said Universal Credit would be more generous and payments (albeit initially as loans) would be speeded up.

Question two was from a GP having to self-isolate, mentioning the lack of coronavirus tests and protective equipment (PPE). He answered his own question in that, as self-employed contractors, GPs should source and buy their own equipment.

Richard Horton (The Lancet) called this a national scandal and talked us through the shortcomings in PPE procurement, despite a few months warning of what was on its way from China. Richard is Editor-in-Chief of the Lancet and an Honorary Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. His CV includes contentious articles about inoculations causing autism, disputed estimates of casualties during Gulf War II and even an open letter to Gaza. He uses the Lancet to interfere in court cases involving his friends. He is a climate change crackpot.

Interestingly, as with a previous good friend of the Question Time Review (the silly TV celebrity ‘Doctor’ Xan Van Tulleken), ‘Professor’ Horton isn’t listed with the General Medical Council as a doctor, having previously relinquished his registration. Rather than wasting valuable time healing the sick, the good and Honorary Professor has spent it more wisely by using the Lancet to pontificate on Gaza, Iraq and Extinction Rebellion. It’s only a matter of time before ‘Professor’ Richard is invited to become an honorary member of the BBC. That does not mean that he is always wrong, just usually.

Fiona Bruce (Chair) pinned Jenrick down as to when the protective equipment would be here but he didn’t know. There then followed a tractor production in the Ukraine type contradiction over numbers and bits of equipment. Mr Jenrick might be better advised to keep on repeating a Golden Rule, might I suggest, ‘We are doing what we can with what we’ve got, more equipment and supplies will be arriving as soon as possible.’

Mr Cobbold (Businessman) mentioned the importance of logistics and expressed surprise that we seemed to be behind the preparation curve, given what we’ve seen happening in Italy.

There is a political attack here, Lady Emily (a good candidate for locked down isolation, no matter what the epidemiology) joined in by saying Islington had only 300 sets of PPE and few tests. When this problem is solved, Emily and the BBC will move on to ventilators. This angle of attack will be constant. On the political side, Boris and Cummings need to come up with one simple ‘Golden Rule’ type line that can counter it.

‘Professor’ Richard focused on criticising the original strategy of ‘herd immunity’ which had cost us valuable time before lockdown. Fiona Bruce joined in, mentioning a disparity between Germany’s testing and ours. Repeat that Golden Rule, Mr Jenrick.

Question three, what’s vital and what isn’t? Non-vital workers are clogging up public transport and spreading the virus.

Mr Cobbold said that the advice to his company had been clear and that they had been able to act on it promptly. Born in Keyna. Humphrey Cobbold is a Cambridge University graduate and an MBA (Master of Business Administration). His background is in management consultancy, venture capital and private equity. He spends his days setting up topco’s, bidco’s, midco’s, newco’s and holding companies, in much the same way that one’s ancestors might have busied themselves preparing the manacles on B deck.

Without really trying, I managed to find forty-eight company appointments for Mr Cobbold. These include Chief Executive Officer of Pure Gyms which has become (via acquisitions funded by debt) the UK’s largest gym operator. Its parent, ‘Pinnacle Topco Limited’ is owned by private equity company Leonard Green and Partners. According to their accounts to the end of 2018, Pure Gyms have over a million members and 222 gyms. There are two directors, one of whom is Mr Cobbold. The highest-paid director received £851,000 in remuneration plus an unspecified sum (but less than £248,000) via shares. Who needs exercise machines and weights? Mr Cobbold’s lungs heave and his muscles bulge, every time he staggers, laughing, all the way to the bank.

Back on the question, Humphrey concluded that should the guidance be kept clear, we will follow it. On the subject of working building sites, ‘Professor’ Horton reminded us that Chinese cities had been very, very locked down for 12 weeks and something similar was needed here. Not shutting down would make the period of shutdown longer.

Mr Jenrick repeated the existing government advice. He claimed that Public Health England had outlined ways in which some construction sites could continue to operate. Mr Jenrick claimed that we didn’t need a total lockdown as many things had to continue. He mentioned Grenfell. Present government policy is based on the best advice from the medics, he said.

Lady Emily saw a conflict between keeping the economy going and maintaining public health. There was a big difference between fixing an old person’s boiler and continuing work on HS2. Lady Nugee decided that we all need free money, free food and the NHS. Mr Jenrick claimed that he was doing just that and added hundreds of thousands of volunteers. ‘But without gloves and masks,’ Lady Emily smirked, thinking she’d scored a point.

‘Austerity costs lives,’ no, not a comment from Emily, one from impartial chair, £15,000 an hour Fiona Bruce. Lady Emily was now nicely set up to suggest that the NHS wasn’t up to scratch at the start of this crisis. A consensus seemed to be emerging around a likely twelve-week long lock-down.

‘Unimaginable,’ exclaimed vital-worker Bruce.

This reviewer would be more optimistic. Twelve weeks is based on what happened in China in mid-winter, but we aren’t in mid-winter and neither are we in China. We shall see. ‘Professor’ Horton suggested the virus may return in waves, even after the twelve weeks is over, at which point, with a resigned sigh, Fiona Bruce called a halt to this week proceedings. Should members of the reviewing community pass this time by laughing at phoney professors and private equity wallahs? I think I should. As someone who’s used every trick in the book to keep his declared taxable income at an absolute minimum for the last three years, they’re certainly laughing at me!

© Always Worth Saying 2020

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