Lloyd George said of Lord Derby: “Like a cushion, he always bore the impress of the last man who sat on him”. The same could be said of Matt Hancock, theoretically still MP for West Suffolk, who this week gave evidence to the Covid inquiry. He confirmed what we have always known, that he is a small man wanting to be a big shot, but always somebody’s poodle.
He told the inquiry he is “profoundly sorry” for what he called a “huge error” in Britain’s pandemic planning. Presumably he was aware of this while he was health secretary, though at the time he claimed the response was working wonderfully. (Of course it was, my dears, if you were one of his friends to whom he gave billion pound contracts for PPE that proved unusable.)
He apologises for the deaths. This week the government’s own website gives that figure as 227,871. So for bringing an abrupt end to so many lives through his incompetence, Mr Hancock is sorry. For the NHS staff who became infected whilst wearing plastic bags instead of masks. For the elderly into whose care homes Mr Hancock and his team bussed thousands of already infected patients. Now he has been caught out, Mr Hancock wishes he had done things differently so he could stand there as the hero he always wanted to be, instead of everybody’s villain.
He deserves nothing but our contempt.
Meanwhile we hear that this same now-contrite Matt Hancock used taxpayer’s money to pay a £78 parking fine given to a removals company he had hired to shift his belongings, presumably from the family home after his rather public outing as a self-serving liar and hypocrite, and just before he turned up on telly earning £320,000 from ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here’.
This week the Commons privileges committee was sufficiently outraged by the gang of thugs Boris Johnson put together to intimidate the committee members that they issued a separate report on their behaviour. Two, predictably, are from this region.
Nadine Dorries (Mid Beds) called the inquiry a “kangaroo court” and said the result would be “a disgraceful and possibly unlawful conclusion with serious reputational consequences”.
She was right at least in referring to the proceedings as a “court”. Select committees have a quasi-judicial function, and in other courts the use of such language would be considered contempt, and her ladyship would end up in the slammer.
In a contribution to GBNews of outstanding gibberish even for her, Priti Patel (Witham) declared there had been “collusion”, though it was not clear to what she referred. (As is often the case.)
It is so often the case these days that the party of stability, respect, and law and order, seems to have abandoned all those principles in favour of personal greed and the impoverishment of our public life.
This week has seen Nadine Dorries in her most pronounced flounce yet. She has announced that she will not resign as an MP (as she threatened/promised three weeks ago) until somebody somewhere makes her a dame. So there.
As Violet Elizabeth would have said – and with those little-girl big-bowed frocks, Ms Dorries grows more like her every week – “I’ll thcream and thcream and thcream till I’m thick!”
Well as to the latter, Ms Dorries is there already. As to being a dame, and given her antics in recent weeks, the most appropriate form of that title seems to be that of the pantomime sort.
She has given up any pretence at working for her constituency, hasn’t spoken in the Commons for months and nobody can remember the last time she turned up. Her only interest in her voters is to hold them to ransom in order to get into the House of Lords.
What do her local party think of her? Nobody knows. Not only are they not saying, they can’t be found. But they have however come up with a candidate to replace her. The problem there is, as pointed out by Pecksniff last week, there still isn’t a vacancy. And this week Ms Dorries has spelt it out. “Hand over the peerage or the voter gets it: I’ll stay put.”
Incidentally, the local online newspaper BedfordshireLive carries an amusing regular headline: ‘Has Nadine Dorries resigned today? – updates’, and an online poll: ‘Do you think Nadine Dorries should resign?’ As we go to press, 97% of readers have voted ‘yes’.
A curious and rather sad little photo turned up on social media this week, of a small group of people out canvassing for that same new would-be Tory candidate in Mid Beds.
The unfortunate is Festus Akinbusoye, and he is shown in the company of two of our present MPs, Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden) and Tom Hunt (Ipswich), together with a party hack. Just four of them, and two of them MPs likely to lose their seats.
What possessed them to think showing four people out on the knocker was a good look? And anyway, who would choose a selfie with Tom Hunt?
One can see the problem. They find they have to bus in campaign workers, and the only people to turn up are a couple of down-at-heel MPs, hoping to find somewhere at last where they are not given the bum’s rush on the doorstep. Where was the local party and its canvassers? Does this picture tell us anything about Mid Bedfordshire Tories? Somebody should tell them to put away those rictus smiles, they look like Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Perhaps we begin to get a picture of Bedfordshire Tories from the result of a by-election in deep dark blue Wyboston, where the party won 76% of the vote last time. (That’s getting close to Vladimir Putin levels of popularity.) The Tories held the seat, but with a swing of about 17% against them.
The hapless Bim Afolami illustrates why his voters mock him and none other than Liz Truss calls him “f*cking useless”. Barclays Bank announce they are to close a local branch in his constituency, Harpenden – and with the pomposity of an Old Etonian Mr Afolami announces he is writing to the chancellor of the exchequer about it. Is he seriously expecting his voters to believe he can drag Jeremy Hunt down to the High Street to collect names on a petition?
James Cleverly (Braintree) has scotched rumours that he may be thinking of standing down at the next election. But he hardly seems intent on making a good impression with his voters though. On the day last week when so many Tory MPs were absent from the vote on Boris Johnson’s transgressions, Mr Cleverly was among a number of them from this region who instead chose to attend a drinks party at Tory HQ. Mr Cleverly was to have been the keynote speaker there, but when asked why he missed the Commons vote he is reported to have said he couldn’t remember.
Another among the entirely predictable topers was Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coastal), who has a reputation in her constituency for rarely turning down an invitation to get her knees under the table.
This week’s other story about Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) is not, for a change, about sewage. Instead it’s about there being no sea otters in the River Wye. And no, that’s not because Dr Coffey has eaten them, but because they are sea otters. There never were sea otters in the Wye because they live in the sea. There is a clue in the name.
But this clue was missed by Defra, Dr Coffey’s department, who were using film of the supposed sea otters gambolling in the river to illustrate how wildlife is thriving under their care. They have 13,000 core staff and an annual budget of £4.6 billion, but it turns out nobody knew that sea otters live in the sea.
The offending film was withdrawn in confusion. Even as we speak, highly paid civil servants are struggling to discover whether there are some other kinds of otter living there, or alternatively what the bloody hell does live in the Wye that looks cuddly. (Bivalve molluscs need not apply.)
Ben Elton was on the telly this week and attacked prime minister Rishi Sunak for his failures. In his turn he was also attacked, by Paul Bristow (Peterborough), who mocked him for having “about as much in common with working people as a £12.50 avocado on toast breakfast”.
It should perhaps be pointed out that on top of his £84,000 salary, last year Mr Bristow claimed £221,986.11 in parliamentary expenses, and since 2019 has received gifts to a total of £46,480. And speaking of mixing with working people, one of those gifts was of £5,000 from Stalbury Trustees, who it was revealed recently by EAB are run by none other than the Marquis of Salisbury, Lord Cranbourne, descended from the same Cecil family who were fixers for Queen Elizabeth I.
Oh, and last month Mr Bristow was thrown out of the Commons by the Speaker for misbehaving during prime minister’s questions. (If it had been George at the Muckrakers instead of the Speaker he would have been out on his ear the moment he walked in.)
This week Kemi Badenoch (Saffron Walden), minister for women and equalities, and ever the cultural warrior, heard talk of a child at some school somewhere identifying as a cat. She was on it immediately, demanding that Ofsted carry out a snap inspection of the school to root out any trans-feline characteristics. MPs and the news media were scandalised. The Daily Mail warned parents of “outbreaks of so-called ‘furries’ in schools”. (My dears, it’s true!) One commentator blamed liberal parents for bringing up their children on faddy foods. Like Kit-e-Kat, presumably.
Somewhere at the back of the crowd Rye College, where this feline outrage had supposedly taken place, were crying out plaintively that no children had ever identified as a cat or any other animal. But nobody was listening, of course.
Councillor Jonathan Emsell represents Thorpe St Andrew on Broadland Council. He has referred to some of his voters – those who don’t vote Tory – as “the great unwashed” in an unguarded remark on a cosy Tory WhatsApp group. Somebody dobbed him in.
Cllr Emsell appears to concede that his party will lose the next general election, and adds: “Our lot thought running a country would be easy, which it is if you have the balls to make the hard decisions and get things sorted.”
It would be no surprise if he were seen as an embarrassment by his group leader, Frank Whymark, but beyond telling Pecksniff that “those are not the words I would use”, Cllr Whymark was reluctant to criticise. In fact, he seemed to agree somewhat. “We all know there are people who could work but don’t,” he said. So it seems he shares Cllr Emsell’s views on some of his voters, it’s just that he wouldn’t use his words in public.
Anyway, Cllr Emsell is unrepentant. He seems to feel what he says and does in his role as an elected councillor is of no legitimate concern of either the press or the public. He told a hack from the Eastern Daily Press: “I said it to other Conservatives, not to you, I don’t see how it is your business.”
We have more on the by-election which is keeping political nerds awake across the country: West Depwade. These days they speak of little else at the Muckrakers. But it is a vacancy on Norfolk County Council and not the district council, as was reported by Pecksniff last week. (The man responsible has since been thrown out of his cottage.)
This has always been a safe Tory seat, but though the Greens only have three seats on the council they are pouring resources into this by election. That’s because West Depwade is part of the new Waveney Valley parliamentary constituency, which they hope to win.
The Tory candidate is Tony Holden, who lost his district council seat last month. He is described as “conniving but ineffective”, which paints a pretty picture, but he has a big majority to lose. There are two Spratts, though curiously unrelated. Bev Spratt is a former Tory, now independent after a bust-up. (Expect no quarter to be given.) The LibDems have Ian Spratt, an ex Fleet Street snapper, against Labour’s Pam Reekie. These two ought to go head to head and probably split the vote, though voters can be quite canny even in West Depwade. Don’t be surprised if they plump noticeably more enthusiastically for one rather than the other, though it would be unfair to hint at which one.
Following May’s elections, the Tories are now the minority controlling group at Southend Council. They have come under fire for what is claimed to be “a pattern of censorious behaviour towards public art in the city”. According to the Labour group: “In 2021 Gabriella Hirst’s An English Garden was removed from its site in Shoeburyness after Conservative councillors disagreed with it highlighting local history in relation to nuclear weapons and threatened ‘a national media campaign targeting her work and associated arts organisations’ if it were not removed.
“….Local artist Emma Edmondson suffered objection to her project, Made from this Land, which celebrates the local history of brickmaking. Conservative and independent councillors repeatedly attempted to block the installation.”
We can only puzzle over what the Tories found controversial in brickmaking, but threatening a national media campaign targeting an artist’s work because you don’t like her views on nuclear weapons is alarming even from Tories.
Pecksniff would like to know more.
Thanks this week go to Becky Turner.
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