Half a century or so ago, creaking boarding school sanatoriums were invariably run by eccentric dears in the Maggie Throup mould.
Known to the boys as ‘nurse’ or ‘matron’ they wore cable-knit cardies and had an unnerving preference for pre-Crimean remedies over emerging modern medicines. Rarely was there an ailment, it seemed, which couldn’t be alleviated by a stiff saltwater gargle.
Ms Throup, you probably won’t be aware, is our new vaccines minister. No, must admit I’d never heard of her either. She popped up like a cork during the last reshuffle.
She is a biochemist by training, so one assumes she possesses a more sophisticated pharmaceutical brain than those medical matriarchs of yesteryear. Yet there is a certain befuddlement about her, endearing at times but, at others, well, a trifle unnerving.
Half a century or so ago, creaking boarding school sanatoriums were invariably run by eccentric dears in the Maggie Throup mould. (pictured, the new vaccines minister yesterday)
She was summoned yesterday to answer an urgent question from Labour’s health spokesman Jon Ashworth on the Government’s coronavirus winter strategy now that infections are on the rise again.
Ashworth looked miffed by Throup’s presence. The main purpose of asking these urgent questions is to get one over on the Secretary of State, in this case Sajid Javid. Perhaps for that reason Ashworth kept his interactions short.
His opponent’s opening responses were rickety to put it mildly. Answers were punctuated with hesitant pauses and the occasional flash of bamboozlement. There was an over reliance on prepared answers. And every now and again there would be a hurried shuffle of papers as she struggled to locate a figure from her clippings.
Small wonder Number 10 is yet to unleash her on a tour of the television studios.
She got a predictably warm welcome from health committee chairman Jeremy Hunt, who lamented that Throup – unlike her predecessor Nadhim Zahawi – had been denied a seat at the Cabinet table. Maggie dutifully shot him a bashful smile. Would it be harsh to say there is an unctuousness to Hunt’s charms? He does lay it on a bit thick sometimes. Bet he’s a mother-in-law’s dream.
She is a biochemist by training, so one assumes she possesses a more sophisticated pharmaceutical brain than those medical matriarchs of yesteryear. Yet there is a certain befuddlement about her, endearing at times but, at others, well, a trifle unnerving
Peter Bone (Con, Wellingborough) complained that Throup had been sent out onto ‘a sticky wicket without a bat’. This was meant to sound sympathetic but came across as an acknowledgement that she wasn’t faring very well.
Some of Throup’s colleagues certainly made it pretty sticky. Chief among them was Sir Desmond Swayne (Con, New Forest W), whose laconic appearance conjures up images of rakish supper clubs and tones of musky aftershave. The mere mention of making facemasks compulsory in public again had got Sir Dessie’s mutton chops twitching.
Up stood Mark Harper (Con, Forest of Dean) who, like Swayne, froths at the gills at the threat of restrictions. He pointed out that hospitalisations are currently lower than they were a few months ago.
Holly Mumby-Croft (Con, Scunthorpe) demanded a vote before the imposition of any new restrictions in the coming weeks. Whoa, hold your horses, said Throup. We were still some way off all that. From Labour’s benches we heard the usual sermons from on high about ‘protecting the NHS’. Isn’t it meant to protect us?
She was summoned yesterday to answer an urgent question from Labour’s health spokesman Jon Ashworth (pictured) on the Government’s coronavirus winter strategy now that infections are on the rise again
Steve Brine (Con, Winchester) pointed out that the Government had just voted for ‘manifesto-busting’ tax rises to help the NHS clear the Covid backlog.
Yet a demand to suspend life-saving operations is Labour’s default response whenever there is an uptick in infections. Another is to blabber on about government complacency. ‘Now is not the time to be complacent,’ they always say. When is?
Richard Burgon (Lab, Leeds E), who moonlights as membership secretary of the Jeremy Corbyn fan club, said it was ‘complacency’ that was threatening the lives of low-paid front-line workers.
Throup gave him little mind. Few ministers do any more. There appears to have been an edict issued by the Government’s whips office that responding to Burgon’s interventions isn’t worth precious oxygen. Anyway, Throup survived just about. Sometimes in this game that’s all a debutante can ask for.
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