Always Worth Saying’s Question Time Review

"You Have Entertained Me," Dominic Lawson (PPE Graduate)

Question Time 24th September 2020


Alok Sharma (Conservative)
Louise Haigh (Labour)
Sir Edward Davy (Liberal Democrat)
Peter Borg-Neal (Businessman)
Devi Sridhar (Public Health Official)
Shappi Khorsandi (Comedian)

Venue: Chingford

The present MP for Chingford is the worthy but rather dull Ian Duncan-Smith. He held his seat at the December 2019 general election with a victory over his opponent, local girl Faiza Shaheen, by 1200 votes. In the two previous contests, he saw off Bilal Mahmood and prior to that, a Ms Arkelian. Although easily mocked, it would appear that Mr Duncan-Smith is fighting them off in modern-day Chingford in much the same way that Vlad Dracula the Impaler managed to protect Romania in the Middle Ages.

A previous MP for Chingford was Norman Beresford Tebbit, a working-class grammar schoolboy who flew Vampires and Meteors in the RAF before joining BOAC as a civilian. He also served in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Himself and Mrs Tebbit, a nurse, were seriously injured in the IRA bombing of The Grand Hotel in Brighton, almost exactly 34 years ago. I wonder what the Tebbit’s would make of this lot?

In the interests of equality, all of tonight’s panellists had a selective education, as did the chair. Four were privately educated and the other, Peter Borg-Neal, went to grammar school.

Firstly, we must toast an absent friend. Your humble reviewer has been horribly caught out by the believingwhatyouhearontheBBC virus. At the end of last week’s programme, La Bruce announced that ‘comedian’ Shappi Khorsandi would be a panellist on this week’s show. Sadly, probably because of important coronavirus developments, she appears to have been hastily dumped. Almost as quickly as the public threw her off “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of the Jungle” in 2017.

Even more sadly, I’d done most of my research on her and was about to enjoy giving her a good hard kicking. Drat you, Shaparak Khorsandi, I would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for that pesky virus! Never mind, the Puffin is a patient bird, aware that revenge is a dish best served cold. No doubt she will be invited onto the programme at some point in the near future and, between then and now, I have those topless jungle shower screen captures to continue studying alone. Also, rather than do it all again, your humble reviewer might be tempted to subtly use her research anyway. Would anyone notice?

The first question was, “How does the new job support scheme help industries that are shut or massively reduced?” Lousie Haig (Labour), whose first name doesn’t mean ‘butterfly’ in Farsi, found the scheme very inadequate and punched lots of holes in it. Labour were going to solve such things by spending more money. Sheffield born, privately educated Louise hasn’t had a proper job, becoming a trades union policy wallah after dropping out of the LSE and graduating in politics at Nottingham. She is the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Previously, as Shadow Police Minister she had suggested banning Britain First.

Peter Borg-Neal (Businessman) claimed that his business was doing very well but he was concerned about others, such as night clubs. Peter Borg-Neal began his education at Changi Junior School in Singapore where, presumably, his father was a serviceman. Subsequently, he went to grammar school in Reading. He graduated in Hotel, Catering and Institutional Management at Cardiff University, entering the hospitality industry on the corporate side, first with Allied Domecq and then Whitbreads. He became the managing director of a new, and subsequently highly successful pizza restaurant, in Tring. After that had been sold, he started his own business, a Tring hostelry called, ‘The Akeman’. From that base, he has built up a chain of food led public houses in the home counties, under the ‘Oakman Inn and Restaurants’ brand.

So far so good. They say that business isn’t a pure science, rather a social science. They are probably correct. But there are one or two laws of business which might as well be laws of nature. Here’s is one of them: “Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity, cash is king.”

Recently, Oakman’s turnover has increased through acquisitions (buying extra pubs). Acquisitions funded by debt. Debt they are struggling to manage. In their latest accounts, dated June 2019 (before coronavirus), over the previous 15 months of trading, they lost £8m on a turnover of £38m. An increase in losses over the previous year. They don’t make a profit and, net, they have no cash. More recently, there has been a shuffle about.

New shares have been issued, presumably to existing shareholders wary of losing their existing investment (good money after bad?). A Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan has been provided by Santander. The board claim that this, along with Government funding and ‘supportive trade creditors’ (suppliers deferring payments aware they may get nothing if the business stops trading), ensures the medium-term future of the business. In dreadful times for hospitality, we shall just have to wait and see if Paul’s optimism is justified.

A chap in the virtual Skype audience wondered what a viable job was? He was making an important point, worth pondering, about what is worth saving and what isn’t.

Alok Sharma (Conservative) spoke. He was more confident about the schemes recently announced by his own government, including a one year deferral business rates and a delay in VAT payments. Alok Sharma is a Remainer. Born in India, he was privately educated at the Reading Blue Coat School. Does that make him a Berkshire Sharma? To his credit, although he looks the type that might, Alok isn’t known to dress up as a 40-year-old schoolgirl in order to promote a show on the Edinburgh fringe while complaining about creepy schoolgirl jokes in old episodes of the Likely Lads. Unlike some.

Paul interrupted to mention ‘a friend’ who’d taken out a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan but, on this very day, it had been refused because of the recent changes in government regulations. Eeek.

Iqbal spoke from the virtual audience screen on the wall. I think he was talking about me, mentioning self-employed businessmen who get nothing, live off their savings and should really have shovelfuls of money thrown at them. Is Iqbal the kind of immigrant we want? He might just be.

Ed Davey (LibDem) had been talking to a lot of businesses and had seen a lot of anxiety. The Government’s measures weren’t sufficient. He talked about me as well. He wanted to bring me into a scheme which would bury me in piles of cash. Not so easy for you Mr Davey. I’ve already thrown away my Shappi Khorsandi research, I can’t afford to bin yours as well. Fresh from his LibDem leadership election victory over political colossus, the pretty but big-bottomed, half Palestinian, pan-sexual odd-ball Layla Moron, Sir Edward Davey follows in the footsteps of Tim Farron whilst being carried on the shoulders of Jo Swinson.

In the coalition government, Davey was minister for Energy and Climate Change during which time he approved the building of the new Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Station. After being thrown out of parliament by the good people of Kingston and Surbiton, Sir Edward took up a number of appointments. These included a consultancy with MHP Communications. By an astonishing coincidence, MHP handle the PR account of EDF, part of the £18bn Franco Chinese consortium that will build Hinkley Point.

In part of the same trade deal, signed by then Prime Minister Mr Cameron and Chinese premier Li Keqiang, The Shanghai Nord Engine Capital Asset Management Group promised to invest £250m in British small and medium-sized enterprises. At the time, Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Nicholas Clegg, expressed his reservations. He spoke of the, “Very large scale abuse of human rights that still continues [in China].” To handle the £250m asset management fund, Shanghai Nord set up a subsidiary in London called Nord Engine Capital and guess who accidentally found himself appointed to the board? Yes, concerned Nick Clegg’s LibDem colleague, The Right Honourable Sir Edward Jonathan Davey!

Devi Sridhar (Public health wallah) appropriately spoke from the naughty corner of her Edinburgh apartment, at the point at which two bad paintings met, one of them of Superman. Appropriately? One of the most stupid suggestions ever made on QT was that lockdown is good for the economy. It was made by Devi Sridhar.

My new best friend, Iqbal, asked another question. Cow-eyed, salivating and dreaming of all that money, I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying. Paul Borg-Neal mentioned Hancock shenanigans. Mr Hancock had blamed hospitality for the recent spike in coronavirus infections. Hospitality had re-opened in July but the spike had not appeared until September. Paul had sweated blood to take out distressed loans from the Bank of Cyprus get his premises open again. They had served 1.5 million people and none of them had caught COVID. Hospitality is way down the list of places you are likely to become infected, Paul rightly declared.

Fiona read out some numbers and asked Paul about the 10 pm curfew. He retained his optimistic narrative, saying it wouldn’t affect his business but the local vicar would have to be rushed through his chocolate souffle to get him to the till and out of the door by 10 o’clock. Paul would prefer a safer, gradual dispersal via a later closing time. Devi said there is no normal now, just different degrees of trying to protect people. She reminded us that there is a real-world point at which a rate of infection will max out medical resources and cause real problems with people’s treatment.

While the panellists go round and round in circles, I will share this with you. An excellent article, showing why Germany has done so much better than ourselves in fighting coronavirus, appeared in Prospect Magazine. In short, the early adoption of Track and Trace, the early invention of a test, de-centralised health care (and healthcare which is nothing to do with the government) and an apolitical disease control and prevention Koch Institute in Berlin whose advice is obligatory. Having said that, as there is still no cure or vaccine for COVID 19, the Germans may be caught out later on, as the Swedes have been after their early success. The Swedish rate is now 581 deaths per million, just below Italy at 591, with ourselves on 616. Incidentally, the worst affected part of the world is South America, which never really gets a mention.

Dave spoke from the wall. Was he born in Iran and had to flee the country after his satirist and poet father, Hadi Khorsandi, was threatened by the Ayatollah? Actually, taking a good look at him, he might have been. Bonnie Langford spoke from the wall too. She hadn’t aged a day. The hair and eyebrows were just the same but the voice much deeper. Hopefully not the result of a persistent cough?

Linda wanted to ask a question about Christmas. She had an algorithm for getting all of her children and grandchildren into a pub in groups of six for Christmas lunch. Sir Edward didn’t care, he wanted to score points. He wanted testing to be less central, a locally based approach rather than a central booking system. He had the gall to mention the allocation of lucrative contracts for testing. See above. In terms of Track and Trace, Paul already has an app for ordering food in his pubs and had been able to adapt that to show who had been in the pub and when. He thought Christmas would be different rather than cancelled.

Oh no. Louise said she could fit all of her friends and family on one table. Trying to ban Britain First hadn’t gone down well in Sheffield or with Clan Haigh. Elliot in the audience mentioned that the NHS weren’t doing the testing, it was done by the private sector. Some people had been paying privately for £175 tests.

The next questioner wanted to know why you could meet family after a holiday abroad but not if coming back from university. This was a job for Devi. Cramped student living, cramped bathrooms, socialising, shared bathrooms, she cited.

“Then why did they go back to university in the first place?” wondered La Bruce.

Devi wanted ventilation and bubbling. There’s a rag mag joke in there somewhere. A student in the audience thought that the young were getting the blame. It was Matt Handcock’s fault again. The young had been told to Eat Out and Help Out and get back to school whilst being told to stay inside as well. She had a point.

Kier was being educated at Hogwarts, judging from the webcam she (he?) seemed to be stuck under the stairs, Harry Potter style. She thought going to university would help her mental health. Compared to living under the stars, it might just.

Bruce decided that Scotland was ahead of England. Keep that to yourself on next week’s Question Time, love. It comes from Carlisle.

© Always Worth Saying 2020

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