Always Worth Saying’s Question Time Review

“You have entertained me,” Dominic Lawson (Nigella’s brother).

Question Time 17th September 2020


Nadhim Zahawi (Conservative)
Jonathan Ashworth (Labour)
Sunetra Gupta (Epidemiologist)
John Caudwell (Businessman)
Nicci Gerrard (Author)

Venue: Oldham

Fiona Bruce beamed excitedly as she introduced the first Question Time of this new series. Smiling because it’s from Oldham? Or because it’s payday?

The first question was about the availability of COVID testing. Jon Ashworth (Labour) declared the present set of circumstances a shambles. He listed Track and Trace’s shortcomings in a ‘told you so’ tone. Appropriately for Battle of Britain week, Jon makes a noise like an aeroplane that’s just been shot down. He whines and whines and whines, and, as soon as silence returns, you can’t help but think, “What’s it all about? Is it worth really worth it? What a waste. There must be a better way.”

John Caudwell (Businessman) wasn’t impressed by Track and Trace but declared it unimportant. He said that death rates were dropping compared with April because, amongst other things, a large proportion of the most vulnerable people had already been killed. Founder of Phones4u, John made his pennies from shifting mobile phones. He donates to Conservative MP Bill Cash and is involved in the Caldwells Children’s charity. Fiona Bruce was quick to tell us that he has donated half a million pounds to the Tories. Is the girl obsessed with money?

If Nicci Gerard (Author)’s webcam background looked rather grand, that’s because it is. It’s not a CGI, that really is her front room. She found the testing a farce, with the process taking too long and being unavailable locally. “A farce that is eroding trust in the government.”

Nichola ‘Nicci’ Gerrard is a privately educated (Alice Ottley School, now part of the Worcester Royal Grammar School, fees £4000 per term) Guardian journalist and author. She also writes novels with her husband, Sean French. A hereditary journalist, his father was Philip French OBE, film critic and radio producer, late of the BBC and Observer. French junior is a London grammar schoolboy who, after graduating from Oxford, became a literary editor at the Sunday Times, theatre critic for Vogue and film critic for Marie Claire. He also became a columnist with the New Statesman. At the New Statesman, in order to maintain their integrity at that temple of concern for the working classes, the Gerrard-French’s gave all of their money to the poor. Hold on a minute. I wonder if they did?

You can see the outside of their modest egalitarian Guardianista home here. Are those cars? Think of the CO2. And their tiny back garden. Were any precious trees chopped down? As you can see, they are short of space. Nicci was forced to do a little something in the oak beam timbered loft. With no money, and living off a worker’s wage, there was nothing left for the kitchen. Then again, maybe there was. Obviously, they can’t afford children and even if they could, the poor souls would be miserable and emaciated. Oh. No wonder they’re laughing.

In fact, the Gerrard-French’s live very well indeed. So much so that moving to Guardian colleague Polly Toynbee’s Tuscan castle and driving around in her Ferrari, would be a bit of a downsize. But, as always, all is not well in paradise. Et in Arcadia ego. Might Nicci and Sean test positive for lefty privileged hypocrisy? If you have any contact with them you might develop symptoms too. Perhaps a mouthful of vomit?

Ian from the virtual webcam audience of 16, blamed slack allocation of government contracts for the coronavirus testing problems. The focus moved to Jacob Rees-Mogg who had complained about people “carping”. Fiona Bruce called upon Nadhim Zahawi (Conservative) to comment. The average distance travelled for a test had dropped from 6.4 miles to 5.4 miles, he calculated. 240,000 people are being tested a day, he said. Fiona Bruce contradicted him. 80,000 a day she said. Were they still talking tests? Had the conversation slipped back towards pounds and pennies?

Question Time can be repetitive, with the political parties putting the same people forward time after time. QT Review won’t be, if you want to read about Zahawi’s big number connections with the Kurdish oil concessions and tax havens you can read about it in this previous review.

There followed a round of comments from the audience. Was that a giant perm above an open-necked shirt within which nestled a medallion? Are the nineteen seventies still pandemic in Oldham?

Sunetra Gupta (Epidemiologist) spoke. She mentioned an alternative pathway to build up herd immunity whilst protecting vulnerable people. But how? Nicci, involved in dementia charities herself, wanted to open up the old people’s homes without spreading the virus to them. But, likewise, how? Ms Gupta is an actual expert on this kind of thing and was part of the Oxford Martin School which provides this review with its coronavirus infection rate statistics. These scientific types tend to amass a lot of titles. Amongst other things, Sunetra is the Harassment Officer at the Oxford University Department of Zoology (keeps the tiger away from the antelope?) which should bode her well for a night on Question Time.

She tweets and has been tagged by Black History Month. She has edited the BBC’s Pathological Hatred of Men Hour Woman’s Hour. Alarm bells begin to ring. Sunetra takes part in Ada Lovelace Day. Ada Lovelace having being credited, by crackpot harpies, with writing the first computer program. Which she didn’t. Can’t we inoculate the university cites against this kind of crap? Is there a Jim and Six Ex-Wives Davidson Foundation rolling in money, working on a vaccine? Added to which, Ms Gupta keeps a blog. As a little girl, she had a rabbit called ‘Andropov’. She writes fiction. It can be somewhat abstract. She invents new words and has a unique perspective upon how new life is brought into the world.

“Amid the rickety bricolage of his Calcutta garage-turned-laboratory, a dreamy young scientist, Promotesh, discovers how to create life out of inanimate matter, making chlorophyll from his wife’s copper ear stud.”

Her blog contains no mention of a husband or a boyfriend but many mentions of her father. The romances described in her novels are somewhat naïve. You humble reviewer is out of his comfort zone. Suffice it to say, I would wager your jackal skin purse of tiny Annai coins to my gold clip of folded billion Rupee notes, that poor little Andropov was boiled to death in a copper saucepan, upon a kindling fire, in a wet kitchen on a rooftop in Jaipur. We shall leave it at that.

As for QT Review’s own medical expert, promoted further during the Summer, awarded even more titles, he became so important that, irony of irony, he became a mononym (like ‘Davina’ and ‘Cheryl’ and ‘Gazza’). Some call him ‘Bob’, some call him ‘Peston’. Some say he has become a cult, others say he always was one. In keeping with the empty tomb of Jesus, or Mohammed’s abandoned sandals at al-Aqsa, too good for this world and without a 5 pm Downing Street COVID press conference, Bob has disappeared from daytime TV. All is not lost. As Phil Collins, every Puffin’s favourite chanteur, sang of the desert wilderness of ITV at night (in Genesis’s ‘Ballad of Big’),

“Some say he rides there…. Cursing still… Some say they’ve seen him…..He still won’t lie down….”

The next question was about school. Although they’ve only been back for a short time, year groups were off again because of pupils testing positive for COVID. Sunetra wanted to test very vulnerable people only, and then protect them as best as possible. Jon (Ashworth) droned on, more like a long-distance bomber this time, a low drone, easy to ignore, but he took a bit of incoming anyway from Senuptr who disagreed with his view that coronavirus is ‘multi-organ’. The other John (Caudwell) shot him down altogether, accusing him of making a party political broadcast. Various similarities were beginning to emerge between your humble reviewer and Mr Caudwell. Could we be mistaken for each other? We have the same hairstyle, the same £85 black framed Specsavers specs. We are sound on Brexit and accidentally made our money by being in the right place at the right time. Arguably, neither of us do anything much useful these days. A note of caution, if you ever see me with a blonde-haired Lithuanian girl athlete (half my age) draped around me, dripping in diamonds ……. that’ll be billionaire John.

I’m not quite sure what happened next. A lady appeared, masked everywhere except across her nose and mouth. Bunched up on one side of her head, the rest of her voluminous black garment was tied in a knot. Is this instead of a vaccine? Worth a try.

When I was at school, we had an English master. He was a very impressive chap, Oxbridge and all the rest. Beyond clever, he was a genius. More than genius, he was a bit strange, more than that, somewhat eccentric, beyond that, stark staring bonkers. Imagine Roy Stewart’s really odd cousin who even Rory thought was a bit much. He drove a Reliant Robin van. He wrote poems, generally non-rhyming quatrains with a misplaced stanza, about Anthony Wedgwood Benn. He painted them on the side of the van.

The thing is, as a three-wheeler with a fibreglass body, this vehicle was very light. You and your friends didn’t have to be first XV types, or the boarding ruffian offspring of ex-pats in a copper belt in Northern Rhodesia, to be able to pick it up and sneak it somewhere else. Moving it to a different space in a different car park soon became passee. It raised eyebrows when spotted on the lawn beside the back porch of the convent. At the far end of the playing fields was an observatory. Things could be hidden behind it. Our greatest achievement was carrying it into the town, accumulating parking tickets, and then returning it to its original place.

But here’s the rub. What if Mr Reliant had (because of a three day Mr Heath oil war strike down a coal mine) decided our grades instead of an external examination? Doesn’t bear thinking of. That’s why a chap called Johnston, a couple of years younger than me, from a slightly inferior school, dreamt up this Summer’s famous attempted algorithm. High grades were to be lifted from state school pupils and carried towards the chaps and gals at public school. Why not?

Likewise at the BBC, what would happen to the perverts, Communists and druggies at Broadcasting House if the unwashed simple people decided their salaries? *Shudders* Much fairer to let the media types invent some big numbers for themselves. Which brings us to the BBC’s Annual Report, published on Tuesday. As you’ve probably gathered by now, the BBC operates a giant algorithm of its own. It takes money from the poor and gives it to the rich. It is called ‘The Licence Fee’. QT’s very own Ms Bruce benefits bigly. According to that annual report, she is now paid £456,000, an increase of £195,000. A look at the small print shows that BBC Studios payments aren’t included in these figures. More small print reveals that one of La Bruce’s other programmes, Antiques Roadshow, is produced by BBC Studios. Quelle surprise. As for the pay increase…. Hold on a minute. Does anybody know who £399,999 a year Lauren Laverne actually is? Or £394,000 a year Stephen Nolan? Are they paid to hide? Is this some kind of licence fee funded invisibility experiment?

The next question moved us from coronavirus to the whereabouts of the oven ready Brexit trade deals. John Caudwell spoke first, he blamed the EU. They had kicked Mrs May around the room and Mr Johnson was right to stand up to them. He blamed the internal problems of the EU, mainly the temptation to other EU members to leave, if our leaving was straightforward.

John Ashworth moved the conversation towards international law. If he was still an aeroplane, he’d now be a 737 Max, best grounded. The Remainers have called upon International Law in much the same way that a desperate marionette boffin, trapped on an out of control nuclear-powered train, might call International Rescue. This is the brave and just International Law that prosecuted Tony Blair over the illegal invasion of Iraq. Previously, they prosecuted John Major for being part of a government that allowed the sale of arms Saddam Hussein during an embargo. Then again….

British law takes precedent here, end of argument. I am grateful to The Spectator who have found the following judgement regarding ourselves and the Geneva Convention of the Sea.

‘the Crown [The Government] has a sovereign right, which the court cannot question, to change its policy, even if this involves breaking an international convention to which it is a party and which has come into force so recently as fifteen days before’.

No doubt dozens of other such examples exist, if only Conservative Party researchers could be bothered to look for them. Nadhim Zahawi said that although he had previously praised the Withdrawl Agreement to the skies, there were still i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed. What he outlined, seemed to be no more than tipping money on Northern Ireland’s Stormont parliament in order to keep the Irish border issue sweet.

Nicci wanted to talk about the rule of sex, the quiet ones are the worst (or was it the rule of ‘six’?). Fiona guided her back to the question all the same, just in case.

Let’s talk about Fiona’s pay increase again. If she was still on £261,000 a year, there’d be one less woman in the top ten earners. Is that the only reason that she has a had a whopping pay rise, because of her sex? It certainly isn’t because she does more work. In the 2018-2019 report, she was itemised as doing 110 combined ‘presentation days’ and Question Times. In 2019-2020, only ninety. Twenty percent less work, eighty-three percent more pay, only at the BBC. Elsewhere, Puffins will be pleased to hear that Head of Portfolio Scheduling is paid £165,000. Director of Workplace, 155k, Head of Architecture, 155k, Director of Platform, 220K, Nations Director, 200k etc etc etc. I know it’s vulgar to talk about money, and I hope you don’t mind me asking, but how much does Head of Portfolio Scheduling make at your place?

Away from the salaries, mixed news at the top of the Annual Report’s page 41. First the bad news. The World Service’s BBC Pidgin has seen a 2.5% drop in its weekly reach. The good news? It still finds more people than BBC Russian, Chinese, Indonesian, Turkish and Ukrainian. BBC Pidgin’s massively overpaid sports correspondent (might his accountant be a Puffin?) is quoted as saying that he remains, “Ova dat dem dere mun.”

Having been directed back to the question, Nicci reminded everybody that she was a Remainer and would regret to the end of her days, the obsession with minutiae…erm the 52%… No, I’ve no idea what she was on about. Nicci was such a quiet little thing that it seems a shame to give her another kicking but this week’s QT was so dull and it’s much more fun looking around people’s houses. Google called. Never mind Street View, the Gerrard-French property is visible from outer space and includes a swimming pool and a tennis court. Is that a moat? Yes, it is. Valued at £2.7 million pounds, this Grade II listed building sits out the countryside, well placed to be surrounded by new build homes, perhaps for refugees? What? A planning application for new homes, a mighty 200 yards from Castle French-Gerard, was rejected as the locals objected to ‘an important countryside view’ being spoiled? Reference to Street View shows the ‘important view’ to be one of those giant, flat, empty, featureless East of England fields. Oh well, back to the dinghies you lot and please take this week’s panellists and virtual audience with you.

© Always Worth Saying 2020

The Goodnight Vienna Audio file