Question Time tonight features a virtual audience drawn from Chingford, where former England captain David Beckham grew up. But who will put in a match-winning performance like Beckham against Greece in 2001 – and whose will more resemble his ignominy versus Argentina in 1998? Here’s your guide to the panel…
Who? Business secretary
The cabinet’s energy vampire, Sharma was the man tasked with fronting daily Covid briefings on the days when it was in the government’s interests for the entire nation to simultaneously nod off. One of the Remain-voting MPs on the Tory benches who subsequently converted to cheering the hardest of Brexits upon discovering the remarkable effects it can have on one’s career, he served as international development secretary for seven months before taking up his current role. Has been piloting the controversial Internal Market Bill through the Commons, writing in Brexiteers’ house journal the Daily Express that unless the government broke international law by over-riding Boris Johnson’s own withdrawal agreement, “Scotch Whisky producers could be blocked from buying barley from English farmers”. How’s that Project Fear working out for you?
Who? Shadow Northern Ireland secretary
One of the Labour MPs who “lent” Jeremy Corbyn their nomination to get him on the Labour leadership ballot in 2015, Haigh subsequently backed Owen Smith when he challenged Corbyn and this year backed Lisa Nandy for the top job. A former special constable in Brixton, she recently told the Political Party podcast how coppers would hype up the local danger areas, saying “We’ll take you down this estate. You won’t have seen anything like this before.” She would reply: “Well, on one of my first stop and searches we found a sub-machinegun on a 13-year-old. I’ve seen plenty.” Was the shadow minister who got to sit incredulously opposite Brandon Lewis as he boasted of breaking the law in a “specific and limited way”.
Who? Leader of the Liberal Democrats
54-year-old MP who last month succeeded in his inexplicable desire to be leader of the Lib Dems, Davey served as energy and climate change secretary in the coalition government. Upon winning the leadership election Davey ruled out the Lib Dems immediately campaigning for a return to the EU, describing the policy as “for the birds”, one of those phrases used solely by denizens of SW1A. Was the MP who forced a promise out of Boris Johnson for an inquiry into the government’s handling of Covid-19, a promise which countless women down the years could have told him was, at best, questionable. Speaks French, German and Spanish, the sort of conduct which would do the blood pressure of most Question Time audience members no good were they allowed inside.
Peter Borg Neal
Who? Entrepreneur and CEO of Oakman Inns
Not, as his name suggests, a Swedish pop trio, Neal is a businessman who worked his way up from being a 16-year-old cellar boy in Reading to CEO of a company with 24 properties across the Home Counties and Midlands. A critic of the government’s handling of Covid restrictions, he yesterday described its decision to impose a 10pm closing time on restaurants and pubs as “a political decision designed to make worried voters think they are taking effective action” and “cynical, damaging and rather stupid”. Says: “The reality is that the highest incidents are in care homes which ludicrously suggests thousands of grannies going down to the pub.” According to Oakman’s website, Neal’s personal mantra is “See. Think. Act” which, if nothing else, means he could go and write slogans for Dominic Cummings.
Who? Professor and chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh
This week’s token Person Who Might Actually Know What They’re Talking About, Miami-born Sridhar researches the effectiveness of public health interventions and how to improve developmental assistance for health. A member of an initial group set up by the Scottish Government to develop its Covid response plan, she has compared the strategy north of the border favourably to England’s. Has said “it is the tragedy of history that when a serious pandemic hit the world where leadership and good governance were required, Donald Trump was US president and Boris Johnson was UK prime minister”, comments which attracted fury from Scottish Conservatives, despite being demonstrably true.
Question Time is on BBC One at 10.45pm tonight (11.25pm in Northern Ireland)