Always Worth Saying’s Question Time Review

Question Time 28th October 2021

The Panel:

Simon Clarke (Conservative)
Lucy Frazer (Conservative)
Bridget Phillipson (Labour)
Sir Howard Davies (NatWest)
Dr Miatta Fahnbulleh (New Economics Foundation)
Jenny Campbell (Businesswoman)

Venue: Stockport

Your humble author has been to Stockport for the Wendyball and didn’t like it. There stood an odd glass pyramid. Aeroplanes en route to Ringway passed too close to the head. A railway viaduct interrupted the town. Beside another part of the line, between a reservoir and trim Victorian terraces, Edgeley Park minded its own business.

At the time, the Hatter’s centre forward was a certain Mr Kevin Francis, at 6′ 7″ then the tallest player in the then Football League.

These days Stockport compete in the Conference Premier. My local XI have fared little better. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks up at the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool. Your humble author, on the windswept and rain-sodden terraces, stands on his tiptoes, cricks his neck and stares with green-eyed desire towards the Barrows and Harrowgate Towns.

My suspicion of all things Stockport intensified when Simon Clarke (Conservative) didn’t turn up – after I’d done my prep! The non-appearance of 6′ 7″ Mr Clarke spoilt my Kevin Francis joke and denied me the opportunity to tell you that, in much the same way invasion has forced democracy upon unlikely places such as Afghanistan and Southern Iraq, the Labour Party’s inability to cope with Brexit has forced Red Wall Conservatism upon the environs of Middlesborough.

You will never learn that Clarke’s Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Conservative and Unionist Association is headquartered halfway between Guisborough Rugby Union Football Club and the Ironstone Miner’s ‘Spoons. Not quite the Carlton Club or the Reform, the MS&EC C&UA proudly enjoys being a converted dwelling at the middle right-hand side of a block of four terraced council houses.

Never mind.

Apart from thee and me, everybody is a bit strange. Simon Clarke is no exception. Originally appointed Minister of State for Regional Growth and Local Government, he resigned in September 2020 for mysterious personal reasons before re-joining the Government 12 months later upon being appointed to the Treasury. For Wednesday’s budget, he was unable to join the customary Downing Street photocall due to his agoraphobia. He has obviously thrown another wobbler in anticipation of tonight’s Question Time.

Mr Clarke’s QT Review biography now sits appropriately unread alongside GP’s legendary unread comments.

The first question was about the budget. Dr Miatta Fahnbulleh (New Economics Foundation) thinks a cost of living crisis is biting hard and the chancellor hasn’t done enough. Millions are not in a job through no fault of their own. Nonsense, there is a labour shortage. If you are unemployed – get a job.

One of the Royal Tonbridge Wells Fahnbulleh’s, Miatta is part Liberian and part Sierra Leonian. An old girl of £30,000 a year Beechwood Sacred Heart School, Ms Fahnbulleh graduated in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Lincoln College, Oxford. Currently employed by the George Soros funded New Economics Foundation, The Guardian newspaper contributor has never had a real job.

After Oxford she studied at Sir Howard Davies’ LSE before a non-career of non-jobs in the non-occupation of ‘research and policy’.

As for the New Economics Foundation, amongst their research policies are, ‘Building on the vibrant movement opposing the cut to Universal Credit, which has aligned the labour movement with celebrities like [Saint] Marcus [of] Rashford’ to change the name of Universal Credit to ‘Living Income’. Changing the name will ‘guarantee that everyone has enough income to live in dignity, whether in or out of work’, apparently.

Lucy Frazer (Conservative) boasted of the budget’s increase in the minimum wage and improvement in Universal Credit.

Speaking of which, your author has had another of his usually catastrophic brain waves – possibly up there with trying to fix a dripping pipe in the attic by embedding it in concrete.

Staff shortages bring out all of the codeword anti-British prejudiced tropes that the Britain hating bigots in their London bubble use to try to justify mass immigration.

The problem with picking jobs in agriculture and Christmas jobs in retail and distribution is that they are seasonal and short term.

With a Victorian mill owner’s shiny black tall top hat on, one is tempted to abolish benefits altogether and create a strong pull factor (work or starve) to incentivise claimants into seasonal employment.

Wearing Jeremy Corbyn’s Mao cap, another idea would be to supplement, or replace, salary based tax thresholds by allowing some months of employment outwith notifying the Department of Work and Pensions or paying tax or altering benefit payments. At the moment, temporary workers have to sign off (or if on tapered benefits, partially sign off) then sign back on again. This becomes a Kafkaesquely complicated nonsense that can cost them a fortune especially if seasonal workers leave the Tax Credit system and then have to begin again through Universal Credit.

The world of work has changed. Worth a try.

The budget puts in place a large number of measures that will help everybody, said Lucy. If the tax and benefits don’t help you then increases in public spending will.

Howard Davies saw things as being bad and getting worse and blamed it on Brexit.

Hold on a minute. Staff at QT Review HQ are paid in beer and the price of beer went down at the budget. During this time of booming wages and an increase in the minimum wage, our very own sarcasm and snide remark wallahs appear to be the only members of the Red Wall lower-middle classes taking a pay cut. Every silver lining….

Question two asked what example lifting air passenger duty in the budget set to other countries just before COP26. The carefully selected audience applauded and applauded again when Miatta dropped various net-zero cliches. The government is talking with one hand but acting with the other, she said. I think.

Bridget Phillipson (Labour) thinks wrecking the economy with power cuts and banning central heating and cars will be good for the economy and create lots of high paid jobs. Bridgit is the MP for Houghton and Sunderland South. A graduate in Modern History from Oxford University, Ms Phillipson possesses an unsustainably dreadful fake northern accent which wavers to posh London as she speaks. Her face and hair resemble a conveyor belt accident in a plasticine factory.

Air travel is one of the worst polluters, the future of mankind is in peril, said a nut in the audience. Does he realise COP26 entails 30,000 delegates flying to Glasgow?

Incidentally, now that the Queen isn’t going to COP26 shall we pray in earnest that the whole thing will be a disaster? One feels obliged too. Ideally the weather would be exceptionally mild to attract the eco-loons, make the piles of uncollected Glasgow rubbish hum and encourage the associated rat infestation. Then we want extreme cold and snow (blamed on global warming) to freeze the lot of them and particularly to solidify the diesel (-8C, doable in Glasgow in November) in the generators charging up electric cars outside 5-star hotels where the third world kleptomaniacs and private jet owning classes are staying. Joanna Lumley, that includes you.

Jenny Campbell (businesswoman) struggled to rationalise the cut in airline taxes. She supposed it would boost the airline industry and the wider economy. She thought this budget was about the economy rather than global warming. She had been sceptical about climate, especially of the politicians and scientists but listened to David Attenborough. Don’t follow the science, follow the TV presenters!

Howard was against tax cuts. He was against energy being cheaper too. Presumably he wants NatWest Group to pay more tax and have higher costs. Do the shareholders realise that?

Sir Howard is one of the great and the good of British business and is currently the Chairman of the NatWest Banking Group. Grammar school boy Mr Davies has, amongst many other positions, been a consultant at McKinsey and Company, Director General of the CBI and a Deputy Governor of the Bank of England.

As befits an English gentleman of a certain social standing, Sir Howard has previously been bogged down in embarrassingly low-grade corruption. Having had to resign as director of the London School of Economics after accepting a donation from the Gaddafi’s while, co-incidentally, awarding Saif al-Islam Gaddafi an LSE doctorate after someone else had written the thesis.

Likewise, as every Union Jack underpants wearing city gent must, Howard has ‘links with China’ via his presence on the International Advisory Committee of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission and the International Advisory Committee of the China Securities Regulatory Commission.

A lady in the audience asked the killer question. What kind of person actually takes domestic flights? The panel, Love, shhhhh. On expenses, double shhhh.

Lucy was taking a lot of measures. It’s about connectivity. The government is spending £100 billion pounds on infrastructure so we can all get to work. Crikey. Where’s the girl’s office? The moon?

We and the French get on each other’s wick, noted Sir Howard in response to the third question which was about our kidnapped trawler held hostage by the people who lost at Trafalgar. It’s coming up to election time in France, it gets them over-excited, he wisely reminded us.

We have a special relationship with France, preferred Jenny. This is post-Brexit chest-beating. We need clear lines about where you can and can’t fish.

In the interests of equality of opportunity, privately educated Jenny (£12,600 a year Manchester High School for Girls), after completing her formal education, went to work for Sir Howard Davies’ NatWest, with whom her father was a Stockport bank manager.

In 2006, Jenny was made Head of Operations at Hanco ATM Systems, a subsidiarity of NatWest Group (then known as the Royal Bank of Scotland or RBS).

In an FT interview with Nathalie Graham, Jenny boasted that she turned Hanco around, from losing £7 million a year to making £7 million a year profit, in a process she described thus,

In 2006, the company had 6,000 cash machines in the UK — all pay-to-use. The transaction fee that consumers paid to withdraw cash was agreed with the site owner, and shared between us.

However, this strategy was controversial with claims that NatWest/RBS had bought the cash machine company to circumvent the UK banking industry’s ATM charging regulations. The Guardian newspaper reported,

Mr Robertson [John Robertson MP for Glasgow North West] has confronted RBS over its purchase last year of Hanco, which operates several machines in his constituency. The bank has been accused of breaching the Link agreement, which confirmed Britain’s banks would maintain a free network after Barclays attempted to introduce charging six years ago. “RBS says Hanco is a separate operation, but as far as I’m concerned it is all the same company,” he said.

Following the credit crunch, Hanco was bought by a private equity consortium that included Ms Campbell, although she only contributed a nominal £100,000. In 2013 the company was bought out by its own management team, again including Ms Campbell, its name now changed to YourCash. In October 2016, YourCash was sold to Euronet for a cool £50 million with Jenny leaving to become one of the Dragons on the BBC’s Dragon’s Den.

In the FT interview, we also discovered Jenny is an RAF officer’s wife who lives in a Suffolk manor house. In order to help the environment, perhaps prompted by widely travelled multi-millionaire David Attenburgh, she drives an F Type Jaguar convertible and regularly flies to her apartment in Bermuda.

Miatta is a Remainer. Her Remainism gets warmer every day. The fishing boat has made it warmer still. She will hit 50 degrees of Remain centigrade by the end of the century, no doubt about it.

Bridget is trapped by the Red Wall. She dare not criticise Brexit so she criticised the government’s lack of a Brexit plan instead. She rightly suggested Brexit should have allowed a cut of VAT on energy in the budget.

The next question was about mixed messaging during the pandemic especially regarding everybody at the House of Commons having to be masked except the MPs. All of the panellists tut-tutted and shook their heads at our Members of Parliament.

Interestingly, although the panellists are socially distanced and separated by perspex screens, after last week’s programme a photo was posted of them huddled together without masks for a selfie. Panellist Brain Cox is 75 and diabetic.

Bit of a mixed message from BBC QT! Tut tut.

© Always Worth Saying 2021

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