Always Worth Saying’s Question Time Review

Question Time 2nd December 2021

The Panel:

Maggie Throup (Conservative)
Thangam Debbonaire (Labour)
Wendy Chamberlain (LibDem)
Theo Paphetis (Businessman)
Professor Peter Openshaw (Medical expert)

Venue: Weston-super-Mare

As a measure of how inward-looking the politic bubble is, the Somerset seaside Question Time venue’s MP is John Penrose, husband of Diana Mary Harding, Baroness Harding of Winscombe. Mrs Penrose is better known to Puffins as ‘Dido’ Harding, the Number 10 press conference COVID hysteric formerly in charge of the disastrous but very profitable track, test and trace programme. In the interests of equality, Dido is the daughter of a Baron and granddaughter of a Field Marshall.

The first questioner asked, I live at number ten on my street, can I have a party regardless of Covid regulations?

Nobody laughed but some applauded.

There’s been a Christmas party in high places, announced Thangum Debboinare with the gravitas of pooper at a knees-up.

Ms Debbonaire is Shadow Leader of The House of Commons and the MP for Bristol West. Peterborough born Thangam Elizabeth Rachel Debbonaire (not her real name) is in reality one of the Cambridgeshire Singhs. As her husband is opera singer Kevin Walton, where does the Debbonaire come from? It is a leftover from her first marriage, the Jezebel.

Comrade Thangam was educated privately at the £40,500 Bradford Grammar School (not to be confused with Bradford Girl’s Grammar School) and the £33,000 per annum Chetah’s School of Music. After dropping out of Oxford, Ms Debbonaire continued her education in Manchester, eventually being awarded an MSc in Development and Social Responsibility. In 2015 Thangam became the MP for Bristol West after benefitting from an all-female Labour Party selection list.

As Thangam Elizabeth Rachel Singh-Walton, known as Thangam Debbonaire, is a bit of a mouthful and difficult to spell, shall we, in order to avoid offence, call her …… Dorothy? I think we should.

As for the partying, Dorothy announced Boris isn’t funny anymore, as if about to throw a glass of wine over him and storm out of the room.

Dapper-looking Theo Paphitis (businessman) has cancelled his Christmas Party. He’s having a summer party instead.

Despite being born in Limassol, Southern Cyprus, Theodorus is one of the Weybridge Paphetis’s where he lives with his wife Debbie. The couple are the proud parents of five.

After finishing his education, Theo Paphitis went into insurance in the City of London, graduating to property and retail before hitting the jackpot through a mobile phone concession within Rymans office supplies stores. In the interests of equality and bad taste, Theo drives a chrome Maybach, dines at the Ivy and parks on double yellow lines. Yuk.

Fiona Bruce (chair) wanted a show of hands. Who’s having a Christmas party? Who has had one cancelled? In the tiny, socially distanced audience, it looked like a 2-2 draw.

Maggie Throup (Conservative) wouldn’t give a yes or a no but claimed she had no evidence there’d been a Christmas Party but there might have been an event at which all guidance was followed. In other words, there was, but she hadn’t been invited.

Peter Openshaw (medical expect) wasn’t having a party either because of the risk of spreading infection. He wouldn’t feel safe at a party indoors with no masks, even if among the tested and vaccinated. He was very worried. There was an unusual number of genetic mutations in the newly emerged Omicron variant.

Wendy Chamberlain (LibDem) thought everybody had been working hard but hadn’t all been to parties last Christmas. Both of her stepchildren are police officers. Businesses are on their knees, hard-hit hospitality needs support.

Ms Chamberlain is the Liberal Democrat MP for the North East Fife constituency which includes St Andrews, Cupar and Leuchars. The LibDems being short of MPs, she is also their Chief Whip and spokesman for Wales, Scotland, Works and Pensions. A graduate of Edinburgh University, shinty playing Wendy is a policeman’s daughter who joined the force herself and served for twelve years with the Lothian and Borders constabulary.

Somebody my age, trying to look and talk like a teenager, spoke from the audience. His impersonation successfully included the inaudible mumble of the young. The next chap had a comedy moustache to accompany a similarly impenetrable comedy Indian accent. None the wiser but frightened of being called racists, the audience clapped all the same when he’d finished.

The second question wondered if non-essential travel should be banned until spring in light of the new Omnicom coronavirus variant.

Expert Peter was in favour of travel but restricting it to the essential while doing lots of testing and taking lots of precautions.

Theo wanted proper guidance, not Peppa The Pig and spin. This wasn’t Tory bashing but frustration at poor communication from Number 10.

The next comedy accent was local. “Wot the UK ‘av, oim not a scientist, give orrr vaccinations abroad.”

Dorothy, dressed as a man in blue jacket, polo jumper and tieless collar, wanted to stop the pandemic by sending all our vaccines abroad too.

Maggie Throup thought not. There was a red list with ten countries on it. We need to keep the economy going.

Theo interrupted and told her the new rules are nonsense. Why masks in quick visit shops but not in venues where you sit close to other people for hours?

Wendy didn’t know what non-essential travel was. She needed the government to define this for her. She wanted our vaccines over here and over there simultaneously.

Hold on. Why can’t they use their own African vaccine? There are European ones, North American ones and a Russian and Chinese one. Why no African one?

Peter thought it possible that Omicron might be mild. In spreading a mild version of the disease, it might immunise people against the more serious variants. Then again it might not. More information was required.

Question three. The UK and France, tetchy relationship. Migrant deaths.

Maggie blamed criminality for illegal immigrant fatalities in the Channel. Trafficking needs to be stopped. They arrive in Europe under false pretences.

The spat between Macron and Johnson is unedifying, said Wendy. These people are fleeing persecution and war. In France? There isn’t a safe and legal route for illegal immigrants, it has been removed by the government.

It’s sad and it’s been politicised, noted Theo. He was sickened. It’s not a European problem, it’s a world problem. Iraq and Syria aren’t in the EU so don’t bash the EU. But he offered no solution.

An audience member noted France is a safe country and suggested hampering the sale of giant dingies.

Somebody else had been to Calais for the refugee porn. “The lack of humanity. I was very distressed. Let’s be human. These people have no life,” she moaned.

Dorothy found this unedifying. We need to get along with the French to fight climate change. The government could increase foreign aid and do more work upstream (perhaps an unfortunate phrase considering the drownings). They want to come here as they are desperate to be with their families.

Erm, why not re-united families by sending the ones already here back?

Professor Peter dug out a racist trope claiming ‘mobile people’ are cleverer than the native population.

More nonsense from Dorothy, this time about Afghan interpreters trapped overseas. The counterargument might be that every single word that was said within their earshot was sold to the Taliban, hence the defeat.

The next question was about the Labour Party reshuffle.

Wendy was very enthusiastic. Too enthusiastic. Does she anticipate being shuffled into a Progressive Alliance Shadow Cabinet at some point in the future?

Governments are stronger with strong opposition, noted Maggie. We need to be held to account. Time will tell if this Shadow Cabinet is stronger than the previous one.

Margaret Anne Throup is the Conservative MP for Erewash and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Vaccines and Public Health. Margaret was educated privately at Bradford Girl’s Grammar School (not to be confused with Bradford Grammar School) and is a graduate of Manchester University where she read Biology.

According to The Pharmaceutical Journal, after a career in biomedical science with a local health authority, specialising in haematology, Ms Throup moved into sales and marketing for the pharmaceutical industry.

In 2010, she narrowly lost to the LibDems in Solihull subsequently becoming MP for Erewash in 2015. Erewash consists of the rural area between Nottingham and Derby and includes towns such as Long Eaton and Ilkeston.

Looking down her list of declared donations, Lord Harris of Peckham catches the eye. Furnishings magnate Lord Harris made his money from Carpetright plc and is a Conservative peer. A Theresa May sceptic, should he have been donating to Conservative backbench MPs while plotting against the then Prime Minister? Possibly not.

Another donor is John J Pye. Based in neighbouring Nottingham, the Pyes are, amongst other things, auctioneers of commercial properties.

On 31 January 2020, Ms Throup became a board member of Erewash Borough Council Towns Fund Committee. An undiluted success, on 8th June 2021 an Erewash Borough Council press release announced £25 million of government funding had been granted to improve the Erewash constituency town of Long Eaton. The derelict Box Cinema will become a cultural hub. In the High Street, the historic market will be moved back to its historic Market Place site. The former Galaxy Cinema will be converted into a four-story residential building.

It would be churlish to deny places like Long Eaton, battered by internet retailing, out of town shopping, and now COVID, their development money, but is it wise for the local MP to have a continuing financial arrangement with local property auctioneers while chairing a committee that allocates public funds that alter the value of local properties?

Mrs Throup has a number of other interesting donors, including Sir Michael Hintze, Lord James Nicholas Bethell and the enigmatic Midlands Industrial Council. However, the one that causes the most alarm is the United and Cecil Club, not a social club on a Derbyshire council estate but a London dining association.

A 2014 Independent newspaper article titled “Tory dining club secretively channels hundreds of thousands of pounds of funding by anonymous wealthy donors” claims,

The Conservatives are funnelling hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of donations to the party through a secretive dining club that allows donors to keep their identity hidden.

New figures, released today, reveal that in the last four months alone the Tories have been given £140,000 by an organisation called the United and Cecil Club to fund election campaigns in their most marginal seats.

The money was given by donors at lunches and dinners attended by senior Conservative figures, including at least five cabinet ministers, and threatens to embroil the party in an embarrassing new row over cash for access.

In the intervening seven years, nothing has changed with the United and Cecil Club donating £2,500 to Ms Throup’s constituency party weeks before the December 2019 general election. According to a 2017 piece by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on behalf of The Observer,

In disclosures made and published by the Electoral Commission the U&C club is registered at an address in Iver, a village in Buckinghamshire. However, in the parliamentary register, the U&C lists its address as a riding school in Berkshire. The stables are run by Tim Lord. Lord, a former chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, confirmed to the Bureau that he is honorary secretary of the U&C club.

QT Review begs to disagree, or at least to note the situation has changed since 2017, your humble reviewer having donned his dark grey hat, downed one last shot of Bourbon and set about sleuthing across the mean streets of London.

The trail led me to Abbatt, an award-winning property recruitment agency based in High Holborn, who act as a conduit between anonymous dining club donors and Tory MPs. The parent company board consists of only one director and a company secretary.

Fortunately, that secretary, a Mrs Vivienne Mervis, lives near a tube station. Forty-five minutes later, the collar of his gabardine drill trench coat turned up to the December chill, your humble private eye’s dark brown brogues crunched the pavement frost before an exclusive £3 million property. Post COP26, Puffins will be alarmed to hear there were five cars on the drive, but reassured one was a hybrid and another a charging EV.

Being in a particular part of North London, I recalled my own scribbled note in my Pinketon’s jotter which wondered, “Mrs Troup? Conservative Friends of Israel? £2,000 donation to visit Israel and the West Bank? Why?” Aware that Mrs Mervis was one of the Finchley Mervis’s, that deafening sound approaching wasn’t a Tangier bound Lockheed Electra but the Careful Now Klaxon. A big chill rattled down my spine. Cursing my luck, I muttered a long goodbye, a farewell to my lovely Ms Mervis, as I trooped defeated back to the Underground pondering which of the usual suspects to blame instead for the Tory Party’s murky funding.

Theo had been saving up a line. Boris was like a headless partridge looking for a pear tree. Groan. He thought the Boy Cooper coming back to front line politics was a positive. He concluded the new Shadow Cabinet might be centrist and possibly even electable.

Peter wanted more scientists in the cabinet rather than classicists. Dorothy noted scientists didn’t want to be in politics, it being driven by emotion not logic.

Weston-super-Mare high street is a shadow of its former self. What’s to be done?

Theo said it was up to the local authority (ie you as a taxpayer) to invest in an ecosphere that makes the high street more attractive. Cut non-negotiable business rates.

A gentleman in the audience nailed it. From the corner shop to the supermarket to out of town to the internet, you can’t buck the market. You’re going to have to do something else with the high street instead.

Wendy suggested socialising there as well as shopping while making retail more attractive by cutting VAT.

There are so many changes, Peter agreed, we have to alter what we do there. Thinking was required but it is not his area of expertise, he modestly conceded.

Dorothy wanted to tax the internet to death because it’s a more convenient and efficient place to shop. Clueless.

As if being threatened by one of her anonymous donors pretending not to bribe her, Maggie ended the programme by advising, “Use it or lose it.”

© Always Worth Saying 2021

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