Question Time returns from its three-month summer break tonight with an virtual audience drawn from Oldham, hometown of actor Ralf Little. But whose performance will capture the nation’s hearts, like The Royle Family – and who will be an embarrassment best forgotten, like Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps? Here’s your guide to the panel…
Who? Junior business minister
The co-founder of polling firm YouGov – which is always good for getting Twitter’s more enthusiastic conspiracy theorists wound up – Zahawi was a reluctant Brexiteer who wrote for Conservative Home prior to the referendum that “there are some extremely unattractive figures campaigning to leave the EU from George Galloway to Nigel Farage and it pains me to be dragged towards them on any issue”. An ambitious loyalist who would be the first to volunteer for the morning media round were Dominic Cummings to propose the slaughter of the first-born, asked on Sky News last week if Boris Johnson’s Operation Moonshot plan to test 10m people for Covid a day was “pie in the sky”, Zahawi replied: “I think it’s important that we are ambitious and I think it’s right that the prime minister wants us to be able to test everyone.” So, yes. Playing the nightwatchman role for the Tories tonight.
Who? Shadow health secretary
Jon Ashworth. You know, Jon Ashworth? The shadow health secretary? The Labour frontbencher has remained largely imperceptible to the electorate despite shadowing the health portfolio during AN ACTUAL PANDEMIC. Made ripples during last year’s general election campaign when he said in a leaked recording of a phone call to a Tory friend that Jeremy Corbyn would not win the election. The friend leaked it to the right-wing Guido Fawkes website and Ashworth claimed he was trying to “psyche out” his friend “like football managers do”. Has since conceded that the leaker was “clearly not a friend” and, besides, he was proved right. Has described the Covid testing system routinely hailed by Boris Johnson as world-beating as “not just any shambles but now a world-beating shambles”.
Who? Businessman who co-founded the mobile phone retailer Phones 4u
Co-founder of Phones 4u – the mobile firm now best remembered for their terrible TV adverts in which the name was accompanied by an irritating hand gesture – Caudwell is a billionaire who at one stage was said to be Britain’s biggest taxpayer. A Brexiteer who once donated £10,000 to Tory MP Bill Cash, the headbangers’ headbanger, he was reported to have given £500,000 to the Conservatives’ general election campaign last year, saying he would “just go and live in the south of France or Monaco” if Labour won power and adding tastefully: “Why stay here and be raped?”. Reported to own a £85m Mayfair townhouse, two superyachts, a private jet and a £12m 50-room Jacobean manor house, he said last year that his friends thought him “a mug” for staying in the UK when he “could easily be in Monaco with my girlfriend and paying no tax”. Those hand gestures.
Who? Journalist, campaigner and novelist
A journalist and campaigner who writes bestselling novels with her husband under the name Nicci French, Gerrard won the 2016 Orwell prize for her reporting on the care of dementia patients in the UK. Has been at the forefront of a legal fight to prevent people in residential homes being separated from their carers due to the coronavirus crisis. Has said: “In the name of infection control, great harm is being inflicted. 70% of people in care homes have dementia, which is a neuro-degenerative condition that can attack a person’s deepest sense of their self. Family carers are crucial to keep them connected to the world and for their survival. ONS figures show that deaths from dementia have risen by more than 50% in the past six months. People can die of heartbreak.”
Who? Infectious disease epidemiologist and professor of theoretical epidemiology
Professor of theoretical epidemiology at Oxford University, Gupta is this week’s Person Who Might Actually Know What They’re Talking About. A critic of the lockdown, arguing that the cost is too high for the poorest in society, she has said that “people are treating [Covid] like an external disaster, like a hurricane or a tsunami, as if you can batten down the hatches and it will be gone eventually. That is simply not correct”. Has also said “maybe the way to counter it now is to say, actually, not only is it a good thing for young people to go out there and become immune, but that is almost their duty”. Moaned last week that mainstream journals were refusing to publish her work, saying “sadly anything that deviates from the consensus has been met with criticism – not simply of the science, but we’ve been labelled as saying things that are dangerous”.
Question Time is on BBC One at 10.45pm tonight (11.25pm in Northern Ireland)