Always Worth Saying’s Question Time Review

"You have entertained me," Dominic Lawson - Old Etonian.

Question Time 1st October 2020


Grant Shapps (Conservative)
Alison McGovern (Labour)
Helen Stokes-Lampard (GP)
Stuart Rose (Businessman)
David Linden (SNP)

Venue: Carlisle

Question Time began its celebration of black history month in the best possible way, by having an all-white panel, an all-white audience and coming from Carlisle. Where the Red Wall meets Hadrian’s Wall, where England meets Scotland. Where the Eden, Caldew and Petteril meet the Solway firth. Where the Midland Railway meets the Caledonian mainline (and the Maryport to Carlisle and the Newcastle to Carlisle and the Lancaster to Carlisle and the North British and the Waverley line and the Solway Junction Railway and the horsedrawn dandy to Port Carlisle). Where typing in ‘Why is Carlisle’ autocompletes with ‘full of racists?’. Where King Edward I, Longshanks, Hammer of the Scots, died peacefully in his sleep. Where King William Rufus held his parliament. And where, from exactly halfway between Lands End and John O’Groats, your humble author pens (fashionably north of Hadrian’s Wall), with a quill from a marsh goose, ink from a berry copse and vellum from a wild roaming calf, grazed on sea-washed Solway turf, his most modest review for your erudition.

Dear reader, having Question Time and Question Time Review coming from the same place at the same time creates the possibility of what great scientific minds, such as Devi Shrivar, might call a ‘temporal paradox’. If panellists and audience members begin to fade away and disappear from the screen (like on ‘Back to the Future’), I shall endeavour to type more slowly.

Carlisle is served by a Conservative MP, the invisible John Stephenson. Although a Scot, Mr Stevenson displays a Cumbrian canniness for the ways of the political world. Not bothering to go to parliament, he continues to work as a local solicitor.

The first question was about illegal asylum seekers, not coronavirus. Alison McGovern (Labour) answered first. Alison is the Member of Parliament for Wirral South, 140 miles from Carlisle. Comrade Alison benefited from a selective education at the Wirral Grammar School for Girls where she was head girl. Subsequently, she studied Philosophy at University College London. Alison has never had a proper job, having ‘toiled’ in ‘communications’ at quangos. Her husband is also a quangocrat. She is a shadow sports minister. Worryingly, in an interview with Grazia magazine, Ms McGovern spoke of her mental ill-health (her upper case),

As I stand on a stage or face a TV camera, something in my head screams ‘FAT YOU ARE SO FAT AND DISGUSTING WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS PEOPLE WILL SEE HOW FAT AND DISGUSTING YOU ARE’.

Ironically, while your humble reviewer types away, the voices in his head don’t shout, “Bald, you are bald, blind, deaf, and your teeth are falling out.” Alas, dear reader, they could but thus far they don’t. Alison blamed the media for this type of question, it being a distraction technique because the government were having problems elsewhere. La Bruce decided that the illegal immigrants were legal.

Stuart Rose (Businessman) told us that we’d always been a home for ‘these people’. Have we? Modestly introduced as ‘Stuart Rose’, he is, in fact, a member of the House of Lords, a Conservative life peer, Baron Rose of Monewden (which is 314 miles from Carlisle). Rose was educated at St Joseph’s Convent School in Dar es Salaam where his father worked in the Imperial Civil Service. He was subsequently privately educated at a Quaker school in York. Previously, Rose worked for the BBC. He is of Russian descent, his family name being Bryantzeff. It sounds as though he might be a one of ‘these’. In business, he is a former chairman of Marks and Spencers and present chairman of Ocado.

Stuart was also chairman of the Remainer “Britain Stronger in Europe” campaign and, helpfully for Brexit, claimed at their first press conference that leaving the EU would increase wages. In the present day, upon addressing the question, Lord Rose wasn’t keen on sending illegal immigrants to St Helena.

Grant Shapps (Conservative), in this locale not to be confused with Grant from Shap, is the Member of Parliament for Welwyn Hadfield, 275 miles from Carlisle. A grammar school boy, he studied at Manchester Polytechnic from which he was awarded an HND in business and finance. His wife, Belinda, sells your clutter on eBay for a commission, through her own business, Auction Girl Limited.

Grant mentioned criminal gangs bringing people across in tiny boats. Bruce interrupted, she wanted a clarification. A magic wave machine to send the boats back? Oil rigs? Moldova? She mused. Grant claimed he’d never been to a meeting about those things and preferred to mention ‘people trafficking’.

David Linden (SNP) is the MP for Glasgow East, a mere hundred miles from Carlisle, albeit in another country. State educated, he previously worked for the council and the credit union. Does being state-educated mean that he is an enlightened and equal man of the people? Or does it just mean that he’s not as well educated as the other panellists? We shall see. He met his wife at church. At the December 2019 general election, he was returned with a majority of 5,500, but not a majority of the votes. 48% of his constituents voted for the SNP and 52% for the unionist parties.

David decided that the illegal immigrants were the victims. His gaydar was telling him that they were persecuted because of their sexuality. He mentioned the Highlands of Scotland, but in a tone that suggested he didn’t really want them there.

Another David had asked the question. They were coming here illegally from France. Bruce contradicted him. They’re not illegal. Yes, they are. David said they could have been processed in other parts of Europe. And he was right.

Helen Stokes-Lampard is a Lichfield GP, Lichfield being 189 miles from Carlisle. Properly titled, Professor Helen Jayne Stokes-Lampard MBBS (Lon), PhD, DSc, FRCGP, DFSRH, DRCOG, LOC(IUS), MRCGP, LOC(IUT). Memo to Helen, nobody likes a smart arse. Dr Helen claims to be an ordinary GP, even one at the GP coal face, but she isn’t really. She’s a Professor of GP Education, a GP Principal and Chair of the National Academy for Social Prescribing (NASP) at Birmingham Medical School.

On her webcam, all of her degrees were lined up behind her in boxes on shelves. And we used to laugh at Bob Peston. Helen gave us another laugh by playing the race card and then shutting up.

The next question was from a student, sounding marooned at a Scottish university, because of the pandemic.

Mr Linden answered this coronavirus question without mentioning SNP colleague Margaret Ferrier MP, a hatchet-faced growler even by the standards of her native Rutherglen. The voices in my head are saying, “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit but keep on kicking Ms Ferrier all the same.” With her distinctive jet black hair, concreted to her head like a solidified bucket of tar poured over the head of a Coatbridge Protestant chained to a lamppost, Ms Ferrier has been caught travelling the length of the kingdom after testing positive for coronavirus.

The panel didn’t mention her either, nor offer a solution beyond people having to isolate and universities having to be ‘responsive’. What does ‘responsive’ mean in this context? Absolutely nothing. Bruce mentioned Alison McGovern’s mental health. You heard it here first, Puffins. Alison had found comfort in team sport and waxed lyrical about its therapeutic quality. There is an XI at nearby Brunton Park, Alison. Be careful what you wish for.

The next audience member spoke ‘as a nurse’ but beneath a big timetable, stuck up on her wall, itemising the arrival of guests and cutting of the cake. Not sure what was going on there. Had she bought a surprise pack from Grant Shapps’s wife? Lord Rose took a broader view of health, including that of business and suggested that the cure was as bad the disease. We must relax, and get used to the virus. He asked Dr Helen how many people had actually died of COVID. She put it at 15,000 above the official figure of 42,000. Stuart pretended that that proved his point.

Bruce asked David Linden if students trapped in Scotland might be out by Christmas. He wouldn’t commit but he hoped people would get home for the holidays.

Jonathan Dodd spoke from the audience and asked a question. He wondered about the effectiveness of local lockdowns and how well the message had been put across. Grant Shapps picked upon Luton and Leicester. I wonder what they have in common? Shapps claimed the numbers infected there had come down and had prevented a national lockdown. There is a national rule of six, he reminded us. Beyond that, you can type your postcode into the internet and it will tell what your local rules are.

Eventually, La Bruce prompted David Linden to mention Ms Ferrier. He thought her position was untenable and she should reflect upon it. He thought she should resign. Stuart Rose wanted uniform rules across the UK. Nobody was talking about UK plc’s health. Bruce took umbrage and told him he should have been watching last week when the issue was discussed. Alison McGovern wanted to protect people, so did Stuart, he wanted lots more fast and accurate testing, once a week at work, and then people could start using public transport again. He was often on the tube and it was deserted while the roads are clogged up.

Audience member James had a couple of restaurants and didn’t know what to do. There were no Christmas bookings and he had had no guidance from government regarding the next three months. He was impressed by the grants and furlough but there was uncertainty ahead. The next speaker was also in hospitality, he could take 120 customers COVID safe but it wasn’t allowed because of the sudden and blanket nature of the government’s changes in advice. Meanwhile, people partied in the street outside his premises. Victoria said something similar, she’d lost a year’s business and was closed until next March. The politicians didn’t get it. They’d never run anything and got paid every month anyway. There were no revenues coming in. She was classed as ‘non-viable’ but was viable without the virus. Small businesses are described as being the backbone of the country but had been left high and dry. How can we move on? What can we do?

Bruce sprang to the defence of the politicians, Grant had run something (QT Review regulars will recall his pyramid selling scam). Victoria deployed the death stare and rightly so. Hands, face, distance, space test and trace and isolate, chanted Helen Stokes-Lampard. We need simple messages. She was sad and frustrated by parties after 10 pm. She doesn’t get invited? Smart arse. Told you so. Follow the rules and look after each other, was her advice.

In the final question, Gordon McGregor asked about the funding of local XI’s. Alison McGovern concentrated upon governance and didn’t seem to understand the game at all. David Linden has Celtic in his constituency and the loss of 60,000 attendances have a big local economic impact. Stuart Rose is a Spurs fan. The industry has to help itself. People at the top end have a disproportionate amount of the money. Like at Marks and Sparks and Ocado, he forgot to add. A lady on the wall seemed to suggest that our local XI had taken the pennies from the season ticket holders, locked them out of the ground and were spending the money on themselves, as if that was a good thing.

Grant noted that Carlisle United are playing Barrow on Saturday. Bruce told him off for swotting up on the venue. Grant seemed to want the Premier League to stump up for the other clubs. Gordon wanted the crowds back at Brunton Park, they could socially isolate. Arguably they have been for years. The clubs could sort the money out between themselves. The best-paid players could take a pay cut. No need for the government to be involved, the governing bodies could do all that. Dead right he was too. Grant wanted people to watch Carlisle play Barrow (as though that was a good thing) but the ‘R’ rate was above one.

Puffins who play a different sport, blindfold five-dimensional chess, will have realised that the average distance between the panellists and the Carlisle venue was 203 miles. Next time Question Time comes from London we shall return the compliment. We shall choose five panellists who hail 203 miles from the BBC at Langholm Place. Such a calculation is possible. Google Maps (and a wasted life) remind us to the Stout Keiken hostelry, next to the Albert Canal, just the other side of Antwerp docks. If your humble reviewer’s memory serves him well, the regulars included a retired sea captain, a great-nephew of Hergé and a couple of desperate five hundred Belgian Franc tarts. No doubt a random drunk, slumped in a corner afore an empty bottle of genever, might be volunteered to make up the numbers. Couldn’t be any worse than this week’s shower.

© Always Worth Saying 2020

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