In all the argument about the difficulties put in the way of Ukrainian refugees by the British government, nobody had actually recorded a single man, woman or child who had successfully cleared those hurdles until Saturday morning. We may be sure that, if one Ukrainian foot had stepped upon this sceptred isle, the news media would have swarmed all over them and the government would have claimed we lead the world in kindness and generosity.
But not a mention. All over the country, British families have reorganised their households to produce a spare bedroom or two, done it up in pretty colours and teddy bears, learned what Ukrainians eat, bought Ukrainian flags, and with jubilation and excitement that at last they could do something, waited… Rarely can a government have misread the public mood more comprehensively.
Was all that generosity of spirit to be thwarted, all those tears of pity shed in vain? Only 2,700 vias have been granted, because in the Home Office we have the mean and vindictive spirit of Priti Patel.
Ms Patel is also the MP for Witham. Pecksniff would be intrigued to hear a single reason from the people of that town as to why they feel she is deserving of their vote.
Now at last, the first trickle of refugees arrive, to a Britain which is desperate to welcome them and embrace them. Compare if you will the spirit of the British public with that of the Home Office, or of anybody in government. If ever we wanted an illustration of how mismatched are government and people are in their desires and their outlook on the world, nothing could make it more stark than Ukraine.
EAB is always interested in the billions of pounds of PPE ordered by the government from their friends and left sitting unused in containers stacked around Suffolk – because we were the first to reveal the story. Now, and as we predicted, 1.5 billion items of personal protective equipment have passed their expiry date. In all, 3.6 billion items are being stored because the Department of Health and social care believes them unsuitable for frontline services.
According to the National Audit Office, more than half of the 51 so-called VIP suppliers – those given special access through having government contacts – provided PPE that was unsuitable. So it had to be stored somewhere while they decided the least embarrassing way to dispose of it. The answer was to stack it around Suffolk, and between March 2020 and October 2021 that storage cost a further £737 million.
Much of the PPE is now being burnt.
This week Rishi Sunak declared that everyone knew we would be poorer once we left the EU. Really? Pecksniff was keen to check. One awfully keen Brexiter is John Baron MP, who represents Basildon and Billericay. He has been positively Tiggerish in his support…
“Leaving the EU would be beneficial for the economy.” “This Government can be proud of reducing both relative poverty and inequality. So, does the Prime Minister agree that if we leave the EU and control immigration to benefit our public services, wages will rise even faster?” “There is every reason to believe that the British economy would thrive outside the EU, particularly after the removal of deadweight EU business regulation and the signing of trade deals with the faster-growing economies outside the Eurozone.”
There is more, as you might imagine. Lots more. So Mr Baron was just the man to put the chancellor right. But sadly – and this will shock those readers of a nervous disposition – answer came there none. Nobody was at home, either in Westminster or at the constituency office. Several attempts, and still only an answering machine.
A couple of years ago, even if MPs were reluctant to answer questions, on anything at all, at least the office was staffed with pimply youths whose job it was to sound gormless and not answer questions. It has become commonplace over the past few months however for MPs’ offices to remain empty, telephones unanswered, and members of the public relegated to sending emails, often on pro formas, to be answered in their own time by their MPs – if they can be arsed. (See Richard Bacon below)
Mr Sunak has had quite the fall from grace in recent weeks, from the time during the pandemic when he was Tory voters’ blue-eyed boy. Tory backbenchers had only him in mind when questions were being asked about a successor to Johnson and the first of those letters began to be submitted to the chair of the 1922 Committee.
But it seems things have changed since then. One of the reasons why Johnson’s position appears safer is that, with Sunak’s demise in popularity, there is no obvious successor. One does not have to be overly cynical to wonder whether it was chance that brought Sunak so low so quickly. Were those brutal and often irrelevant measures announced in his statement all his own ideas, or is it possible someone at No.10 had a hand in them? After all, Sunak’s fall is Johnson’s salvation… We can but wonder.
Dan Poulter MP (Conservative, Central Suffolk) continues to plough his own furrow, at odds with his government’s line – this time on Covid. Our Dan is an NHS doctor and, in case his own sensibilities weren’t enough to tell him, no doubt daily contact with his NHS colleagues and having worked on the front line during the pandemic presses home his concerns. He writes at PoliticsHome of a “quiet long-Covid epidemic in the UK today”.
The Office of National Statistics reckons 1.5 million people in Britain are living with the condition already, leading to “significant staff absences, with far-reaching consequences for our economy and vital public services”. Dr Poulter goes on: “A quarter of UK employers cited long-Covid as one of the main causes of long-term sickness absence among their staff. We know things are bad now, but we have to consider that this could get even worse as the virus spreads through the population again.”
Not quite the view of Matt Hancock (Conservative, West Suffolk) then, who trumpets: “By vaccinating fast, with scientifically robust vaccines, and with the brave decision to remove Covid restrictions, the UK is one of the freest (sic) countries in the world.”
Dr Poulter wants long-Covid taken much more seriously, and for the government to provide increased resources for the NHS, to provide treatment which is apparently already available elsewhere in Europe. But then, unlike Mr Hancock, he is presumably not prepared to sell his soul to get back into government.
James Cleverly MP (Braintree), a minister of something or other at the Foreign Office, was keen this week to let the world know that he had met the Armenian ambassador to discuss the problem of Nagorno Karabakh (me neither) and “future partnership opportunities”. (Watch the exports of English marmalade just shoot up now. Liz Truss will be dancing on the table.)
Poor Mr Cleverly. Always so desperate to win a place at the cool kids’ table, but still stuck down there below the salt and with only his expenses claims to give him succour. And his trump card this week is a meeting with some bloke to discuss somewhere nobody has ever heard of. What is perhaps more humiliating is that, though Mr Cleverly boasted of meeting the Armenian ambassador, there is no record of the ambassador bothering to mention that he had met Mr Cleverly.
And whilst our lip it still curled, hold it right there. This week Boris Johnson held a dinner for his backbenchers, in the hope that a few unsavoury jokes about the poor would help dissuade them from sending any more letters to the chair of the 1922 committee. A crowd of those who had lost loved ones during the Covid crisis gathered outside the hotel to jeer at those going in. And who do we see striding purposefully towards the nosh and just as purposefully avoiding the eyes of the crowd? John Whittingdale MP (Maldon). If there is a free dinner, with risqué jokes and who knows what other pleasures awaiting, who would be your guess at the MP first he get his knees under the table?
By the way, as the crowd held up photos of lost mothers or brothers or husbands, with that touch of class for which he has become known Matt Hancock avoided them and sneaked into the hotel by a side entrance.
“Our UK sanctions are designed to hit Putin’s cronies & the despicable Kremlin war machine,” claims George Freeman MP (Conservative, Mid Norfolk). It is not clear whether he includes among Putin’s cronies those among his colleagues in East Anglia who have received Russian money. To remind readers, they are Brandon Lewis (Gt Yarmouth), John Whittingdale Maldon), Robert Halfon (Harlow) and Will Quince (Colchester).
That arse Anthony Browne MP (Conservative, S Cambs) pointed out to chancellor Rishi Sunak that “the risk of reducing energy bills obviously is you encourage people to burn more energy”. And of course, though he omitted to mention this, there is a risk of fewer people dying of hypothermia. But let us follow his logic (such as it is) to its natural conclusion. Can we assume that MPs, who have all their heating bills paid on expenses, are therefore the greatest energy wasters of us all?
Pecksniff is aware that there are those poor benighted souls from South Norfolk whose weekend would never flourish without some word of their MP, Richard Bacon. This week he has been out and about. He walks! He speaks! But only apparently to a very small gathering of Tory members attending their party’s AGM at Brooke Village Hall.
Even here, things were not plain sailing for Mr Bacon. One member of the audience and himself a Tory, was plainly not impressed. “I asked him about the accusations of him being missing; website under reconstruction (since before COVID) no social media activity since Jun21,” he says.
“I also asked him about partygate. I was left underwhelmed in (his) response. I no longer have confidence in (his) ability as an MP for South Norfolk and he should stand aside before the next GE.”
In fact one little birdie has added a further comment to add to Mr Bacon’s discomfort: “You should hear what the good people of Diss say about him. One of his former staff has alleged that constituents’ mail was shredded without being read or dealt with.”
Staff and former employees of Suffolk County Council will be alarmed at news that their pension fund had £4 million invested in holdings in Russian companies. The value of that investment is now written down to nil. It is worthless.
Pecksniff realises without pleasure that he and one of his colleagues are presently investigating most of the councils in Norfolk, for either blatant incompetence, a hubristic disregard for the voters or their interests, or just plain old-fashioned corruption. Most of the councils in Norfolk… A sobering thought, and most of Norfolk without even the chance to vote them out this year.
With further outrage every week over apparently deliberate dumping of raw sewage into rivers by the water companies, it is worth noting that the Australian bank which owns Thames Water and paid out millions to shareholders, has apparently just bought Britain’s national grid. As reported in EAB last week, Anglian Water are being investigated by the regulator, Ofwat, for illegal discharges. There will be much more on this in the weeks to come.
Pecksniff owes thanks this week to my colleagues Anna Damski and Jess Walsh, as well as James Porter for his assiduous dobbings in. He will find a pint of Old Unprintable waiting for him at the Muckrakers.