Always Worth Saying’s Question Time Review

"You have entertained me," Dominic Lawson - Rupert Murdoch employee.

Question Time 6th January 2021


Nadhim Zahawi (Conservative)
Annaliese Dodds (Labour)
Mark Walport (SAGE Scientist)
Humphrey Cobbold (CEO of Pure Gym)
Rachel Clarke (Doctor and Author)

Venue: London

Unhelpfully, Wednesday evening was punctuated by Fiona Bruce presenting this surprise last-minute Question Time lockdown special, on a different day than usual and at a different time than usual. More unhelpfully, it didn’t appear on the iPlayer and the edition on the on-line schedule was dated December 17th 2020. Simultaneously, one’s timeline lit up with all sorts of shenanigans from over the pond. Friends from the stetson wearing and station wagon driving communities informed me that it really was habbening this time, with the Capitol building being overrun by voters and tax payers. One wag commented that at least during the 1812 Burning of Washington, the Red Coats had had to actually fight their way in. The Puffin is a resourceful bird. We shall cobble a review together all the same. We will avoid distraction by typing “Now you know how King George felt” into social media and then switching it off.

The first question was, “There appears to be a huge blockage in our ability to deploy the vaccine effectively, why can’t we do better?”

Nadhim Zahawi (Conservative) accentuated the positive, claiming that a quarter of those over eighty had already been vaccinated and that in a few weeks time they would have the maximum protection when that vaccination really began to take effect. “Could we have moved faster?” asked key worker Fiona Bruce. Zahawi conceded that there had been a “limitation” because of vaccine delivery. Fifty percent of the Pfizer vaccine had been held back because of the regulator, the committee and the chief medical officers. In other words, everybody except Nadhim Zahawi who happens to be the vaccine Czar. They had preferred a twelve-week interval between doses rather than three weeks. But since Monday, he assured us, there were gazillions of doses available, not least because of the Oxford vaccine which had now arrived. There was a target, an ambitious target. Cohorts would be covered by the middle of February.

The second, rather loaded question was, “How many more lives had to be lost to Covid before the Government decided to call this third lockdown?”

“We’re in a race between getting people vaccinated and this new more transmissible variant,” said SAGE scientist Mark Walport, tweedily dressed, like the kind of scientist who might ordinarily spend clear January nights spotting something unusual coming from Mars. He judged the supply of vaccine to be very limited, therefore we needed the “maximum protection from the doses that we’ve got.” He mumbled about Pfizer biotech one and AZ one, a few times, as if referring to Marcian rockets. It made sense to have twelve weeks between doses, he said, before adding, rather ominously, presuming they (live to?) get it. He was looking at it carefully, as was yet another committee. The man from SAGE nodded sagely, as if trying to convince himself the smoking canister crashed on the heath contained nothing more dangerous than a trapped man.

Humphrey Cobbold (CEO of Pure Gym), said he had 270 sites across the country. Not surprisingly, he was keen to get them open again promptly. Each was typically the size of three or four tennis courts, he boasted. He employed three and half thousand staff, all of whom were being paid by the Government (ie the taxpayer, ie you) through furlough. His business had been battered by the virus. He wanted to see the country come through this and offered to provide resources to Government if they told him what they required. The camera cut to Nadim Zahawi, who was nodding contentedly, as if sizing up a business opportunity. “Let’s accelerate the process and be truly ambitious,” continued Humphrey, “If we can do one million [vaccines] a week, why can’t we do two million a week? Or three million a week or four million a week?” He considered there to be enough good people of goodwill in the country to be able to make that happen. Nadhim smiled like a salesman at a gullible mugs convention.

Previously on QT Review, we have covered Nadims business interests, a summary of which can be found in the 4th June 2020, Southampton, review. Amongst other things, Zahawi has acted as a very well paid middle man between his native Kurdish administrative area’s oil concessions and the Caribbean tax havens. He has also accumulated a property portfolio valued in excess of £25 million.

Just after that QT programme, on the 10th June 2020, another company was set up called Zahawi Warren with, as per his previous property companies, his wife as a director in the name of Ms Lana Fawsi Jamil Saib. Zahawi himself was not a director of this new company, presumably as he was now a Cabinet Minister. The other two directors are Mr Ahmad Shanshal and Mr Jaafar Shanshal. Jaafar Shanshal is aged 23 and went to Mr Zahawi’s old school, King’s College School, Wimbledon. Mr Shansal, like Mr Zahawi has experience in the oil industry. Could they be in some way related? Yes, they are father and son. Likewise, Ahman Shanshal is also a son of Mr Zahawi’s.

Previously, similarly named Zahawi businesses (Zahawi Brierly Hill, Zahawi Wantage) have been set up in order to hold properties in those areas. Not so with Zahawi Warren. The day after incorporation, Zahawi Warren’s name is changed to Warren Medical Limited. Unusually for a Zahawi business, its name no longer includes the word ‘Zahawi’. An article in Monday’s (4th January) bylinetimes informs us that Zahawi’s family interest in this business is not declared in Zadawi’s December 2020 list of parliamentary members interests. Bylinetimes adds that, “The experience of the Zahawi family in healthcare is also unclear.”

Should we shine a little light on the Zahawi’s experience in healthcare? I think we should. In 2013, Zawahi’s son, Jaafar Shanshal was employed as a researcher by, oh, Matthew Hancock MP, the current, gormless, Minister for Health. Meanwhile, younger brother Ahmad Shanshal, despite being the director of a medical company, was still at university in 2019, at Princeton, the alma mater of his older brother. Studying at the sociology department, he did his thesis on “Brexit: Why Did It Happen and What Can We Learn from It?”

A contributor from the audience said that he had lost his mother to Covid on the 9th of April, aged 58. He added that there was a photo of her on the wall behind him. It was tastefully surrounded by vases of lilies, but your reviewer would be neglecting his onerous task if he omitted to mention, somewhat tastelessly, that she did look more than a little like QT Review favourite Dianne Abbott. The audience member added that they are “more than 76,000 families out there that are grieving the loss of a loved one.” He expressed support for key workers especially the nurses who had held his mother’s hand as she passed. One sympathises with his loss, but his language sounded rather practised. His mother had messaged just before she’d died to praise the nurses but say that they were completely overwhelmed. He claimed there were now 30,000 in intensive care units fighting for their lives.

Rachel Clarke (Doctor and Author), reminded us that in the last 24 hours, over 1,000 people in the UK lost their lives to Covid, which she claimed to be more than the entire total in Australia, during the whole pandemic. It would have been more accurate for Rachael to say that over 1,000 had died of various causes having tested positive for Covid within the last 28 days, which is how the statistics are compiled. Rachel also forgot to say that according to Oxford Universities Our World in Data Project, the seven day rolling average of deaths in Europe, per 100,000 population, is as follows,

1st Lithuania 34
2nd Croatia 13.36
3rd Slovakia 16
4th Czech Republic 12.74
5th Hungary 11.65
6th Bulgaria 10.22
7th United Kingdom 10

As ever, on these types of programmes, carefully selected contributors try too hard to attribute a unique failing to our own country.

Rachel did say that conditions in hospitals at the moment are ‘unimaginable’, with ambulances queuing up outside, containing patients who couldn’t enter as every single bed in intensive care, on the wards and in A & E was full. Just like every winter, Rachel? Rachel had had a message to say that police cars were delivering critically ill Covid patients into a hospital in London because there were no ambulances. Makes a change from the police cars being full of the mentally ill that even the Guardian newspaper suggests the NHS no longer helps.

Rachel blamed the government for allowing things to get so bad. Others might place at least part of the blame on the NHS. She said SAGE had asked for a ‘circuit breaker’ in September and for a lockdown subsequently. She claimed that Boris Johnson was "pathologically incapable of making a difficult decision" and that that was "reprehensible".

An audience member spoke. She said that she was part of a medical team and that everyone was exhausted. She said that people were being found dead on the wards. People dying in hospitals? Surely not. "People are being found dead in intensive care?”; responded a staggered Bruce. "No, people on the wards," by the time the critical care team get to them they've already died. "If we'd gone into lockdown earlier….." Her voice trailed away to nothing as if realising that minds immeasurably superior to ours looked upon the NHS with envious eyes while slowly but surely drawing up their plans.

At this point, I will inform you what my spies on the inside inform me. Our local district hospital has well over 400 beds. 400 hundred of them are currently occupied, 100 occupied by Covid patients. Remember, these are patients tested positive with Covid over the last 28 days. They may now be suffering from something else. They may have caught Covid in hospital. Back in the day, 30 years ago, we had far more beds. I would put it at 600+. In the intervening time, the number of beds has gone down significantly while the amount spent has rocketed, as has the number of staff. Draw your own conclusions.

The next question was, "Do you think the government was right to wait until the first day of term to announce school closures?"

Annaliese Dodds (Labour) said that lots of things hadn't been put into place. She mentioned the lack of e-learning. She is wrong, there is endless e-learning. There is nothing but e-learning. Even in ordinary times, the students teach themselves at home, mostly online, with the help of homework. I recall a very experienced education professional acquaintance of mine describing school as "crowd control" with study at home being the actual learning. Ms Dodds said there wasn't proper educational provision during the first lockdown. She is wrong again. There was e-learning, Zoom type remote teaching and private study. Schools remained open for key worker’s children and the vulnerable. The children are not helpless, left to their own resources there is no good reason why they cannot thrive. As ever, the trades unions have far too much influence over what Labour politicians say. Annaleise said we needed a plan for re-opening. If you have a crystal ball which will predict vaccines, strains, R rates and the like, then log on to Annaliese's Zoom and let her look into it.

The next question was, "Rishi Sunak said he would do whatever it takes to support small businesses. When did the government change from this?"

Another silly, loaded catch out smart-alec remark, thinly disguised as a question. An audience member had her own solution. The cameras returned to the first questioner. Before you ask, she wasn't a stick insect. She informed us that, “I took full advantage of Eat Out to Help Out, I think I actually ate at 22 restaurants in August alone.” Proudly giving herself obesity and diabetes in order to help the NHS, she must be a public sector worker. It was rather like listening to Lenny Henry proudly announce that his ex-wife (another member of the eat yourself thin community) had been helping Comic Relief's starving Africans by stuffing her face every day for decades.

© Always Worth Saying 2020

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