Whilst your diarist flitted with the butterflies at Lake Como for two weeks, Rishi Sunak has not had a happy time of it. One of his gaffes has been to insist that one of the (two) benefits of Brexit has been cheaper beer. This statement caused uproar at the Muckrakers. Cheaper beer? Regular topers will not need this diarist to point out this is all my eye and Betty Martin. “Where’s mine?” was a common cry from the wise men on the discursive side of the bar, while the very idea brought mine host George to the brink of apoplexy. His bothering to open at all is, he regularly insists, little more than an act of near suicidal philanthropy on his part, and what thanks does he get for it he’d like to know.
But of course, since he doesn’t touch alcohol, Mr Sunak wouldn’t be expected to know what he’s talking about. Anyway, it’s certainly lost him the votes of the drinking classes. It also demonstrates the absurd folly of ever entrusting power to a teetotaller. What can they ever know of drama, tension and desperation who have never witnessed at first hand George’s call for last orders at the Muckrakers?
We can only assume it was because Rishi Sunak was preoccupied in trying so hard to find a Brexit benefit that he erroneously appointed as his new ‘anti-fraud champion’ none other than Anthony Browne (S Cambs). Only a few weeks beforehand, Mr Browne had accepted a donation of £5,000 from Jeffrey (Lord) Archer, a convicted criminal and one of the most notorious frauds in British public life.
East Anglia Bylines has every right to be smug this week. My colleagues can reasonably claim to have been responsible for South Norfolk Conservatives deciding to give their MP Richard Bacon the heave-ho.
It was an East Anglia Bylines exclusive which first pointed out what a pig’s rectum he had made of mistakenly writing a round robin letter to complaining constituents. (The mistake arose because he had long since been out of practice.) Other media followed only it up when they felt it was safe to do so.
From that day, East Anglia Bylines has regularly reported his further idiocies and the recurrent theme of his failure to communicate with his constituents. It had been plain for years, yet at the last election he still garnered 56% of the vote. His job as local MP had become a sinecure, but once East Anglia Bylines had mockingly drawn attention to his many failings, people began to notice – including his own party. There are chill winds for the Tory party at the moment and suddenly Mr Bacon’s position began to be questioned – for precisely the reasons highlighted by East Anglia Bylines. It was made no more secure by his waffling complacency in the Commons in support of Boris Johnson.
Only a few weeks ago, Mr Bacon was looking forward in interviews to becoming Norfolk’s longest serving MP. Now he tells us he’s decided to go – it’s “time to give someone a chance, there’s a lot more I want to do” – but that was only after his party gave him the bum’s rush. So another Tory bites the dust, and Pecksniff has good reason to believe others will follow.
In a way, his party’s defenestration of Richard Bacon is a pity. Pecksniff still has an amusing and rather embarrassing little story locked away snugly in his tabatiere which will have to remain untold.
Lord Peter Cruddas, a Hertfordshire man these days since he bought himself a stately home, does not do subtle. He is an ex-telex operator become city bruiser, and given his background he is in awe of proper toffs. (He knows perfectly well that he falls into the same category as Michael Heseltine, of whom one of his colleagues remarked dismissively: “The fellow bought all his own furniture!”)
A proper toff is haughty, patronising and supercilious, which brings us naturally to Boris Johnson. Lord Cruddas is a big fan. It was Mr Johnson who gave him his peerage, against the wishes of the parliamentary authorities, and a few days later it was reported that Mr Cruddas – now Baron Cruddas of Shoreditch – gave the Tories £400,000.
To Mr Johnson, his lordship gives obsequious fawning as an acceptable concomitant of his ennoblement, while for his part Mr Johnson has spent an entire lifetime learning to recognise a mug when he sees one. So it is that as Chief Upsucker to Mr Johnson, his lordship naturally looks for ways of undermining Rishi Sunak. In this role he spoke at the recent National Conservatism conference, where il a vendu la mèche. He said:
“If Labour wins, they will reduce the voting age, abolish voter ID, and introduce proportional representation, making it impossible for the Conservative Party to win an outright majority in the future.”
The National Conservatism conference is run by an organisation of deranged US Republicans, with whom our own dear Conservative Party these days are only too happy to mix. Those other than Lord Cruddas who spoke included Jacob Rees-Mogg and Suella Braverman. But it is a sign of how far the Tories have veered from respectable politics that, only three years ago, Tory backbencher Daniel Kawczynski was forced to apologise for attending a similar event in Rome. At that time the party declared: “Daniel Kawczynski has been formally warned that his attendance at this event was not acceptable, particularly in light of the views of some of those in attendance, which we utterly condemn, and that he is expected to hold himself to higher standards.”
Pecksniff has observed before that Duncan Baker (N Norfolk) is suddenly putting himself about. In fact, according to one’s informant, he has achieved seven appearances in seven days. But there is some cynicism about this, it must be said. Like his colleague Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds), he is accused of turning up wherever there is likely to be the click of a camera shutter, as long as everyone is of the opinion that the occasion is A Good Thing. Also like Ms Churchill, it is pointed out that rarely do his appearances have anything whatever to do with his actually doing anything – just turning up for the photo-op.
Most annoying however are his wild claims for two new hospitals for Norfolk, whereas the likelihood is there will be no new hospital at all. The government has made commitments for 2030, seven years away. No government will seriously make promises that far ahead, and the present shower has often made commitments on the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn that were only a few weeks away, and broken them all.
For the Tories, the Visigoths may be about to burst through the gate but their corruption and arrogant sense of entitlement continues unabated. Polling analysis still suggests they may suffer a wipe-out at the next election, but the privileged life of a Tory MP goes on.
Bim Afolami (Harpenden and Hitchin) still has the effrontery to be caught speeding twice in the same month and claim both £80 fines as parliamentary expenses. He asserts that both claims were inadvertent, one after the other. To misquote Lady Bracknell: to trouser public money improperly once may be considered inadvertent. To do it twice looks like (fill in your most apposite but libellous-if-printed description here).
There is also the matter of Mr Afolami’s other jobs. Since the end of 2019, he has declared 51 other financial interests. So one imagines he sees his work as an MP as his 52nd. One assumes all those jobs must take up much of his time. Yet by coincidence, on both occasions when he was speeding he was presumably about his parliamentary business, since we – the public – are the ones he charged.
In another matter of MPs’ expenses, it is your diarist’s unwelcome duty to announce that Nadine Dorries (Mid Beds) is still with us, in name and annoyance at least – not of course in any sense with her constituents. But then she has naturally been diverted recently by her TV series. (My dears, did you see what she was wearing?) The experience seems to have gone to her head, since somehow she has omitted to record her earnings from this macabre exercise in the register of parliamentary interests.
While we are on the subject of the undead, Matt Hancock (West Suffolk) has popped up again, apparently trying to persuade a pub full of reluctant listeners that he is a “normal person”. A normal person, that is, who gets himself filmed having maggots poured over him and eating a kangaroo’s penis.
The pub involved was most certainly not the Muckrakers. Had he attempted it there, be assured, the penis he would be expected to eat would have been his own.
Amid all the anxieties about the need for tactical voting and the parties’ refusals to do deals nationally, it looks as though the recent council elections may have offered reassurance. The voters certainly seem to have learned sophistication in how to keep the Tories out. Meanwhile the local parties themselves – possibly cocking a snook at their national leaderships – have often gone much further in going into coalition than a grudging nod and a wink. Many of these coalitions show genuine collegiate enthusiasm.
This sometimes includes Labour, who Pecksniff has frequently chastised for its exaggerated amour propre. So a hat tip is due to those involved. Voters make it clear that they like coalition councils, so it really wouldn’t be very bright of Labour to put themselves so deliberately at odds with what the voters want.
The newly elected councils across the region have been meeting for the first time, many of them bearing little resemblance to the outgoing authority. The east is a sea of blue no longer. We shall watch with fascination just how these new authorities try to do politics differently – if they even attempt it. One which quite evidently does have clear views is Hertsmere Borough Council, if we are to accept the words of its new leader, Labour’s Councillor Jeremy Newmark. He leads a coalition, and puts into words precisely what has been a constant aggravation to your diarist. In his words: “We’re not here to represent the council to the people, we’re here to represent the people to the council, and that will be the biggest change”.
Bold words, and to be applauded. Pecksniff will be pleased to report on progress.
But let us stay for a moment among the leafy avenues of Hertsmere. A moment’s contemplation if you please, dear reader. Ask yourself, how can any little boy – however unpromising – ever grow up to be Oliver Dowden? This must be one of the great unanswered questions of modern politics. Can he ever have imagined he would grow up to be what he is? What will he look back on, what will be his ‘blue remembered hills’? And through what bizarre warp in the space time continuum has he become deputy prime minister? Perhaps, as Maynard Keynes suggested of a colleague, like Odysseus he looked wiser when seated.
While we are concerned with the aftermath of the local elections, what are we to make of East Suffolk Council apparently breaking electoral law by fiddling the figures on voters with no proof of identity? They claim they didn’t, but several members of their staff tell us of briefings which seem to suggest they did. The staff told us in good faith, merely recounting their instructions and drawing no political conclusions – as neither do East Anglia Bylines.
Did the council deliberately try to bypass the statistics? If so, was this part of a dastardly Tory plot to fix the data, so the true numbers of those not entitled to vote were hidden? Or just some council bureaucrat wanting – in the words of one of our interviewees – “to reduce the paperwork”?
The latter seems much more likely, but even so it’s an act of deceit, one more short-cut to avoid the requirements of a functioning democracy. Pecksniff believes those in public life, in whatever station, should take responsibility for their actions. “I vas only obeying orders” when you are part of a corrupt political culture can lead in some dangerous directions.
Special thanks this week go to Richard Scott and Linda Buckmaster.