It was Liz Truss (SW Norfolk) who when chief secretary to the Treasury in 2017 closed the UK’s largest gas storage facility, off the Yorkshire coast, thus jeopardising the nation’s fuel security. That is the same gas storage facility the government is now scrambling to re-open. It was closed to save money.
It was Liz Truss who scrapped the necessity for the Environment Agency to inspect the water companies’ sewage outfalls. It was done to save money, for the Treasury and the water companies.
It was Liz Truss who as environment secretary in 2015 cut the Environment Agency’s budget to reduce the number of farm inspections, and boasted about it to the Commons. “We have seen a reduction of 34,000 farm inspections a year! We are considering pilots for landowners and farmers to manage watercourses themselves, to get rid of a lot of bureaucracy.” Since then, farmers can dump waste – including pesticides and animal faeces – into rivers, and farm waste has become a greater pollutant than human sewage.
Liz Truss was contacted last weekend, but declined to comment.
So it seems we can look forward to a Truss premiership of ill thought-out and short term parsimony. But observe the nature of the Sunak campaign in the closing stages of the contest. No attempt at emollience, if anything becoming more combative.
This is unlikely to be an attempt at clawing back the few remaining unplaced votes; more likely it is looking beyond to the next parliament. For Sunak and his supporters, the fight goes on, confident that the wheels will fall off quickly. Then to whom would the party turn for its next saviour? Neither they nor the public could stomach another farce like this summer’s. They would be looking for a shoo-in. And who else could they possibly call upon but the party’s recent second choice?
No, not Fatty Johnson, not yet. That would look too much like disloyalty to his successor. He will have to wait and continue to bask in the adulation of his acolytes. But for Sunak the Tories could not countenance a too obvious attempt at derailing Truss too soon, so will he support a Truss emergency budget? Dear reader, we have an interesting political autumn ahead, though be assured none of it will be concerned with the plight of the country.
Pecksniff has begun investigations into the Liz Truss backyard of South West Norfolk. There are many allegations. A young woman of 17 met Ms Truss to talk about mental health… “She said okay, so what do you want me to do? I said improve the services, investigate what’s going wrong and support your constituents. She replied that’s not her role. At this point I started to tear up and became angry. I explained people have killed themselves waiting for help.
“She laughed and said and? What do you expect me to do for them? She encouraged her aides to laugh with her. There was no compassion or empathy for the situation and kept laughing saying but what can we do? This isn’t a real problem.”
The young woman adds: “How embarrassed she made me feel for standing up for myself and others.”
One version of a single encounter, but disturbing enough given other allegations. In fact, the impression is the voters of SW Norfolk see the elevation of their MP to PM as being the last straw, one insult too many.
… and Liz Truss is an anagram of Haziest Bluster.
Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) is a Surrey MP as well as being industry secretary, so a little beyond our purlieus geographically. But this week’s delicious embarrassment tempts Pecksniff to overlook his regional irrelevance. Readers will recall the defenestration of Owen Paterson, who made a fortune out of dubious services to Randox, who went on to make millions from dodgy PPE contracts. Boris Johnson was prepared to dismantle the whole structure of policing MPs, such as it is, so Paterson could get away with it.
Mr Kwarteng was keen to stress his backing for Boris Johnson and so suggested that the Independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards should consider her position – for doing her job. This caused a national outrage, so the PM reconsidered, leaving Mr Kwarteng hanging out to dry.
But he is ambitious and a close friend, or so it is alleged, of Liz Truss who laughably is about to become prime minister. Mr Kwarteng hopes to become chancellor of the exchequer. So with doubts about his moral probity spread all over Wikipedia for the world to see, somebody helpfully edited the entry to remove any mention of the Paterson scandal.
Unfortunately, this did not work out well. The IP address of the editor was traced to the House of Commons… Now, nobody for a moment is accusing Mr Kwarteng of deleting unhelpful facts about himself from the record in order to enhance his career prospects. But somebody did. Somebody working in the same building. Most delicious of all, the Wikipedia for a time included a report on the scurrilous attempt to alter the record. That too, has since been deleted, though it remains in the history record of the page.
Now we have a tale of an MP of whom we have mercifully heard very little recently. (The reason for his silence must be a cause for conjecture, and any answer would best be left unpublished. Let us just say his low profile is likely to be on the advice of the whips.)
It seems that this gentleman’s eating habits on the Southend train were such as would have him curtained off in any decent restaurant. He left behind him a profusion of pie crumbs, other food debris and a collection of discarded soft drink cartons. Other passengers watched his exit with relief. “Who on earth was that awful man?” one woman asked.
Came the reply: “Madam, if you live in Rayleigh and Wickford then that was your MP, Mark Francois”.
The recent strike at Felixstowe Dock was attended by Sharon Graham, leader of the Unite union.
In discussion with her local members, it seems she showed serious impatience with the Labour Party and its apparent timidity in confronting the more egregious excesses of the Tories, and suggested that “If Labour is not going to defend the working class, then we will go elsewhere”. It’s an exasperation which is becoming widespread, far beyond the trade union movement, though in practical terms if Unite doesn’t support Labour, where on earth will they want members to place their votes?
Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) is of course work and pensions secretary. The Tories set up universal credit in 2013, but since then have refused to provide figures that would show how many universal credit claimants are being found “fit for work” through the work capability assessment (WCA) process.
The Disability News Service points out that when Chloe Smith (Norwich N), the minister for disabled people, was questioned about the statistics last month, she announced to MPs on the Commons work and pensions committee that ministers had no intention of producing them.
“She told the committee that it was too expensive and too much effort to produce the figures, even though she will be aware that the assessment system has been linked to hundreds, and probably thousands, of deaths over the last decade.”
The Office for Statistics Regulation wrote to the department in April, questioning their continued failure to produce the figures. But Dr Coffey responds that there are “currently no plans to develop official statistics on UC claimants undergoing a WCA”.
Perhaps the reason why Therese Coffey is so reluctant to reveal those figures is related to a change in the rules she has just sneaked through, while parliament is in recess, meaning that even those with health problems must attend compulsory weekly sessions at Job Centres.
Pecksniff has always felt that Tories really are different. They can only find the worth in any other human being according to his or her potential to earn money. And anybody who cannot demonstrate that they are self-sufficient financially is seen as a drain on the public purse, a scrounger, having no value. That applies to those without work, those in work but which pays badly, those too sick to work, and those who have spent a lifetime working but are now in retirement. Nobody is permitted the dignity of life without having monetary value.
Speaking of Chloe Smith, as revealed in previous diaries, she appears not so much to be retreating from contact with her constituency as abandoning it altogether. A colleague of Pecksniff tried to contact her this week on a story, but could only find a recorded message promising a response within, er, 14 days…
Writing this column can occasionally be rather like treading in something on the pavement which becomes almost impossible to be rid of. An unpleasant character makes an appearance, and once there they stick. So it is with Therese Coffey. This week Dr Coffey kindly sent Pecksniff a copy of her latest newsletter. One could not remember when the last one arrived.
She appears to have a peculiar definition of news. The epistle begins: “Please find below my latest newsletter covering issues I’ve been dealing with and events I have attended in the last few months up until the end of July”. Are we to assume this therefore is the first newsletter during that time?
Still, Pecksniff eagerly read on. Dr Coffey explains she was not among those colleagues so appalled at last at the lies and misbehaviour of Boris Johnson that they resigned. “It was and it remains my view that the wheels of government need to keep turning, especially at the Department of Work and Pensions which helps the most vulnerable people in society. The DWP needs to be firing on all cylinders to support them – and I’ve been working hard to get the cost-of-living payments distributed.”
It may be heartwarming to think of Dr Coffey herself down there in the post room, licking stamps and bundling up letters. But given the two entries above, it might be more appropriate to recall the catch-phrase of former newspaper columnist, John Junor: “Pass the sick bag, Alice”.
At the height of the Covid pandemic, EAB broke the story nationally about wasted PPE worth hundreds of millions of pounds being hidden away around Suffolk, costing £1m every day for storage, because it was unfit for use or some other reason. Our story was covered by every national media outlet and quickly became a scandal reported around the world.
The PPE which was usable at the time, has since passed its use-by date, but still it’s there, somewhere, scattered about the country. Because there is so much of it, there is no ready way of disposing of it. The BBC shows huge dumps of it, and claim there are 70 such sites spread around the country. PPE was bought at a cost of hundreds of millions and, between March 2020 and October 2021, costing a further £737 million in storage alone. It is still costing £4 million a week in storage.
Much or most of this money has gone to Tories or friends of Tories in the VIP lane of contractors arranged by Matt Hancock (West Suffolk) when he was health secretary, and is still wholly unaccounted for.
Yet my dears, those responsible remain wholly unapologetic. They expect to give hundreds of millions of your money to their friends, and that you will accept their word it was money well spent. Even when it’s left rotting in fields and costing millions more to dispose of. They also, incidentally, expect you to thank them for it. It is what has become known as ‘gaslighting’.
Every day brings a new list of crucial parts of our country and economy which are failing because of the cost of living. One of them is schools, which have been leading a hand-to-mouth existence for several years, but now seem to be looking into the chasm. Suffolk schools warn of redundancies, bigger class sizes and cut-backs to the curriculum. One head teacher says: “All of the things that are causing a crisis for your everyday person in the street are causing a crisis for any public sector body. The issue is that our budgets aren’t increasing, but our costs are increasing. So, everything is incredibly squeezed.”
Domestic hardships intrude into schools too, of course. Imagine the humiliation and misery faced by a child who is told in front of a queue of his friends that he can’t have lunch because he can’t afford to pay for it. This dinner lady faces that anguish every day.
The government’s arrogance even ignores the concerns of its own Tory party members. The party’s own website complains of the Truss/Sunak debacle: “Schools are facing real-term spending cuts. Neither candidate seems to care.”
But the government has dismissed Suffolk’s education leaders’ fears, declaring that the extra costs are “broadly affordable”…
The good people of Longstanton in Cambridgeshire are distraught as water levels fall dramatically. But this isn’t just the drought. To quote Wendy Blythe on Twitter: “The other night in this lovely old Cambs church at Longstanton the community shared their grief about the dried-up ponds, wildlife deaths, trees dying, gardens subsiding & not enough water for agriculture. These were good people. How does this correlate with “New Era” economics?”
The cause of their grief is the proposed new town of Longstowe. The BBC reports that developers needed to “dewater” the site, lowering water levels in the gravel aquifers that fed the ponds.
Monstrous chaos then, and destruction of a village and its wildlife. In response and in a move which is unlikely to send local people into paroxysms of joy, South Cambridgeshire Council (who are responsible for the destruction) tell local people they are developing an “action plan”…
Something here for readers in Cambridge who find they can’t find the property they want or can’t afford the exorbitant prices. Coming up next week, a Cambridge property investment seminar held by the Golden Emperor property agency of Hong Kong. It will be held at the Regal Hong Kong Hotel, 88 Yee Woo Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. The blurb speaks excitedly of the “shortage of housing supply in the city” which is, presumably, waiting to be exploited, and promises wealthy investors “first-hand insider tips for buy-to-let investment options in Cambridge”.
The ugly side of politics sometimes expresses itself quite literally. Here is an item in our occasional series ofThe Visigoths are at the Gate, in which Pecksniff features yet another example of why local authority planners should never be permitted anywhere near projects involving good taste.
This one features the old Lowestoft railway station, part of which – the old cafeteria – remains unused since 1970. Given its splendid contours, it quite naturally has an enthusiastic team of supporters, keen to see it restored and put into use once again. Set against them are the East Suffolk planners, whose reputation for brutalism, arrogance and uncaring incompetence is well deserved.
We have pictures of the old station as it is, and two of a model of what is anticipated and appears to be constructed of old yoghurt cartons and corrugated cardboard. The amateurism of this approach and the insensitivity of the plan aptly sums up East Suffolk’s level of professionalism.
The public consultation runs until 9 September.
Our esteemed editor would be the first to point out that this is not a forum for fomenting revolution. We are an online newspaper. But that is not to say that there would not be occasions when EAB would not applaud and be delighted to report on its first stirrings. Should you, dear reader, be planning any event involving blowing raspberries – literally or metaphorically – at those who govern us, email details to the [email protected] or send a direct message on Twitter to @PecksniffsDiary. We shall be delighted to hear from you.
This week special thanks go to James Porter and those diligent burrowers for truth in South West Norfolk.