Always Worth Saying’s Question Time Review

Question Time 14th May 2020


Stephen Barclay (Conservative)
Bridget Phillipson (Labour)
Mick Cash (Trades Union Leader)
Luke Johnson (Venture Capitalist)
Devi Sridhar (Accademic)

Venue: Oxford

Author of the Hippocratic oath and conqueror of smallpox, father of the first 48,000 children conceived by artificial insemination in Belarus, double Nobel Prize for Medicine laureate, Professor Doctor Sir Robert Peston MD FRCS FRS ITV, is currently fully occupied single-handedly re-engineering the human genome. Therefore, on tonight’s Question Time, the medical expert is accademic Devi Sridhar.

Your humble reviewer is sad to announce that old friend of Question Time Review, Lord Bilimoria, has been relieved of his unique Puffin’s Accounting Hall of Fame award. Details to follow.

Originally this week’s QT was billed as coming from Oxford. Oxford’s turn on the QT carousel would have come around very quickly indeed. Venues often wait many years between visits but Question Time was last in Oxford only four months ago. However, in these virtual audience days, the venue seems to have disappeared from the pre-programme BBC publicity. Never mind, Oxford tends to visit Question Time.

In keeping with the BBC’s commitment to a particular type of diversity, a remarkable proportion of QT panellists attended Oxford University. On last week’s programme, racial discrimination victim Afua Hirsch, after leaving £6500 a term Wimbledon High School, studied PPE at St Peter’s College. Her fellow panellist, Nicklaus Thomas-Symonds, also studied PPE, at St Edmond Hall.

The week before that, George Osborne, Magdalen College, Modern History. His fellow panellists, the useless Annelise Dodds and Sir Paul Nurse, are and were, an Oxford MP and chair of the Oxford University Department of Microbiology, respectively.

This week, the working-class people’s party MP, Bridget Philipson, attended Hertford College, Luke Johnson, Magdalen (again). Devi Sridhar was an Oxford University Rhodes scholar. And, of course, as every grateful license fee-paying Puffin knows, £15000 an hour key-worker, Fiona Bruce, is an Oxford graduate, French and Italian, also at Hertford College.

If the panel ever consists of two grumpy farmers, a struggling local XI journeyman, a Scotsman who has made a wrong turning and my humble self, then you will know that the BBC has changed tack and become obsessed by your modest reviewer’s remote and neglected county shire.

Devi Sridhar has a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Miami and both MPhil and DPhil degrees from the University of Oxford. Having turned down a position at Harvard law school, she joined the University of Oxford Global Economic Governance Programme. Her book “The Battle Against Hunger” was described by Foreign Affairs Magazine as a “must-read”. Devi is a postdoctoral fellow at All Souls College, Oxford and an Associate Professor in global health politics at Wolfson College.

She is a Full Professor and Chair at the University of Edinburgh and a founding Director of the Global Health Governance Programme. Currently, she divides her time between Edinburgh Medical School and the Blavatnik School of Government. In mid-May 2020, her already impressive career reached an apotheosis when she was appointed mega, deffo, you bet, 100%, ‘Would of the Month’.

The label “worst in Europe”, regarding the Corona pandemic, remains both overused and dishonestly applied. According to researchers at Oxford University’s Our World in Data Project, up until Thursday, May 14th, deaths per million are as follows:

  • 1st. Belgium, 763
  • 2nd. Spain, 579
  • 3rd. Italy, 514
  • 4th. UK, 488

I have yet to hear one single MSM mention of the situation in Belgium.

Much has been made of BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) deaths. Data is available from the Office of National Statistics (ONS). Look at figure 2 via this link. BAME outcomes cover a multitude, differentiated by race. We are allowed to say “race” as such things come under the Cabinet Office’s published Race Disparity Audit.

In Britain, those least likely to die of Covid-19 are Chinese women.

It is not true to say that BAME deaths are higher than whites. It is fake news. The rate of Chinese deaths is lower. Given the range of error, mixed-race and ‘other’ deaths may be lower too. Indian deaths are higher. Pakistani / Bangladeshi and Black deaths are much higher.

In next week’s Question Time Review, I will tell you why.

The first question was asked by Daniel, who has a new job as a key worker and must travel to work on public transport. What’s to be done? Fiona Bruce (Chair) said, “Congrats.” How much was spent on her education? We are off to a bad start. Mick Cash (Trades Union Leader) announced that public transport should be free for key workers and if too many of them turned up to take advantage of the generosity of the comrades then they were going to go on strike.

Stephen Barclay (Conservative) was dismissive of strike action claiming that commuters would be travelling on foot and by bike anyway. Will the M1 be like Hanoi in the 1970s? One thinks it might be. Comrade Mick replied that this was the “Marie Antoinette school of management.” Let them eat British Rail sandwiches? Dear God, are things really that bad? Although, that might be better at killing the virus than a new wonder drug?

Luke Johnson (Businessman) spoke in a strange accent, hinting at far away exotic places. He noted that the comrade train drivers just sit in a cab and pull leavers and don’t need PPE. There is an obsession about being safe all of the time, he said. The lovely Devi spoke. I’m not quite sure what she said. Distracted, I couldn’t help but imagine her in a mask, while I put on my protection.

Luke re-entered the conversation. The country has become petrified. Maybe they’re frightened someone steals their money, Luke? You are more likely to drown than die of corvid if you’re under 45, he claimed. Off a tropical beach perhaps? At this point, Bruce lied about the death rate saying that ours was the “second worst”. The lovely Devi intervened, she claimed that lockdown was good for the economy, at which point she fell off her pedestal. Take her award from her too. Has the girl not seen the stock market?

In the guff that accompanies Question Time, Luke Johnson is described as being a “Businessman and entrepreneur. On the board of Brompton Bikes.” Quaint. The BBC is being too modest on his behalf. Mr Johnson is a venture capitalist, who has a stake in Brompton Bikes and many other companies. His investment vehicle is called Risk Capital Partners. On their website, they boast

“We are not governed by rules and do not have to report to external committees – if we like your story, we will invest. We invest solely our own money in each transaction – so we have a real alignment of interest with our management partners / founder shareholders.”

The phrases ‘not governed by rules’ and ‘solely our own money’, might ring alarm bells. This is a private fund, without any scrutiny from shareholders.

For some bizarre reason, their website’s list of current and ‘selected previous investments’ misses out Patisserie Valerie. Johnson floated that company in 2014 and then sold nearly £23m of shares. The next year he sold another £13m of shares and continued to collect dividends and a salary of £60,000 per annum. In 2018, the business crashed because of a co-incidental £37.8m black hole in the accounts.

High street prepared food retailing is a ‘cash business’. Cash can go round and round within the business fraudulently and be accounted to many different outlets simultaneously. Any shortfall can be covered temporarily from ‘hidden’ banking facilities. Sales figures become inflated, income overstated and the share price is artificially high. An unscrupulous executive can gain by selling shares at an inflated price and by being paid an inflated dividend. Simultaneously, lax non-executive directors and auditors trouser their fees without providing due scrutiny.

Extra detail of how such a scam might work, is contained in a Financial Times article and from its un-read contributors below the line. An even fuller explanation to follow. First, we must de-bag Lord Bilimoria (and throw him in the pond behind the mess), in order to liberate that Puffin Accounting Hall of Fame award from his office wall and hand it to someone else.

Interestingly, on September 9th 2018, a month before Patisserie Valerie crashed, perhaps like a monologuing super-villain at the end of a half-decent film, Luke Johnson explained how such a scam would operate. His Sunday Times column, “Luke Johnson: A business beginner’s guide to tried and tested swindles,” began with the following passage:

“Here is an aide-memoire for those looking to spot the next fraud — or indeed for aspirant swindlers who want to learn the basics of their trade. Surprisingly, very little changes — many of the same tricks were played 50 or even 100 years ago.

Cash businesses: it is much easier to disguise nefarious activities if you run a cash business — then HMRC, banks, auditors and others find it hard to monitor real takings. This sort of trade enables villains to launder money from illegal activities, or simply skim money to keep it away from the taxman.

Base it offshore: make sure the holding companies are registered in tax havens with strict secrecy laws. That way no one can tell who owns …”

Given the nature of tax haven secrecy, we would never know if Johnson had been involved in the kind of offshore company that would be required to carry out the kind of scam that he describes.

Or would we?

According to Companies House, Johnson’s Risk Capital Partners changed its name in May 2008. Prior to that, it was called “Risk Capital”, having originally been incorporated in August 2006. One of the other three founders was Paul May who also profited from Patisserie Valerie, becoming the parent company’s chief executive.

According to the Pamama papers leak, on the 21st September 2006 (the month after the incorporation of Risk Capital Group), Risk Capital Group Incorporated became a legal entity in Panama and the Bahamas. Its company registration in Panama describes it as a “valid anonymous society.” Quite.

Companies House notes Luke Oliver Johnson to have a total of up to 12 company appointments. However a cursory glance elsewhere, reveals another 200. As our award is handed over, might weapons-grade accountancy PPE be advisory?

Not to worry, Luke still writes in the Sunday Times, where he wails of his tragic heartbreak at the unexpected loss of Patisserie Valerie. He did try to save the striken company, putting in £10m of his own money, having taken £40m+ out. Avoid.

As I’m sure you realise by now, Luke was the real victim, not the hundreds of people who lost their jobs. Is there another (annual) Going Postal gong that Luke’s name might be put forward for?

Mick Cash is the leader of the RMT (the Rail Maritime and Transport workers union). As such, he represents £60,000 a year train drivers and £80,000 a year tube drivers. Wages and job security are too high for there to be a need for a union. In this reviewers part of the world, jobs on the railway (the ‘rattler’) are passed from father to son like country estates. The RMT should be abolished and replaced by a salaried staff association, bound by a no-strike agreement. There, I’ve said it, and you all thought I was going to rant about my Railtrack shares.

As well as Question Time Review, last Friday also saw the Queen’s VE Day anniversary broadcast. Her Majesty reminded all of us, collectively and individually, that “the streets are full of care and love.” In a message specific to the Question Time Reviewing community she also told us that we must, “never give up, never despair.”

However, as often, what wasn’t spoken was as poignant as the words actually said. Her Majesty pointedly didn’t say that one has to watch every single minute of Question Time before writing a review. God bless you, Ma’am. A guilt-free, early night beckons for this, both Her Majesty’s and Going Postal’s, humble reviewing servant.

© Always Worth Saying 2020

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