Matt Hancock (West Suffolk, for the time being) is becoming increasingly boring. A misguided public continue to be outraged, thus ensuring that he remains box office for the producer of the next lunatic TV idea. A petition against his appearance on Strictly (whatever that is) only ensures that he will be signed up. Presumably he will also shortly make his debut in pantomime. Pecksniff has observed before that the English are a profoundly unserious nation, and the fiasco surrounding Mr Hancock only seems to confirm it.
Meanwhile his local Haverhill Town Council are trying to do their bit.
In a letter to Mr Hancock, with sumptuous dignity they declare: “By your actions you have made it clear to everyone that you see your future outside of politics. My members ask that you do the honourable thing and resign your seat, so you can follow your chosen path and clear the pitch for someone who wants to serve the people of West Suffolk”.
Now it so happens that this is the weekend when Tory MPs are supposed to notify the party as to whether they will be standing again. What will Mr Hancock tell them? Or perhaps his local party will beat him to it?
Poor Oliver Dowden (Hertsmere) is rather off the pace when it comes to trousering money from rich and willing clients. It seems in October Mr Dowden was paid a paltry £8,398 by hedge fund firm Caxton Associates for “policy advice”, only four months after leaving the cabinet.
There is no suggestion of course that Mr Dowden has broken any laws. What he did seems perfectly normal in today’s Tory party. Anyway, what could you buy for eight thousand quid? Given the money involved in the PPE free-for-all, for some involved that kind of moolah wouldn’t have been enough to get them to make the tea.
There was an interesting county council by election this week, at Gaywood North & Central in Kings Lynn. Two weeks ago Pecksniff wrote of the expectations that the Tories would be beaten, and probably with a repeat of the election which saw the Liberal Democrats leapfrog Labour to take Gaywood South last year.
That was what happened. The Liberal Democrats leapt from 7% to win with 35.6%. Labour had been previously second and held on to their vote, up by one point to 34.8%. The Tory vote fell from 56% to 25%. But there are special issues with Kings Lynn which made the Liberal Democrat victory very likely.
There are serious problems involving flooding, new development and, of course, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. The party has a vigorous local campaign team, which has made the most of addressing them, taking their Tory opponents by the throat.
Labour brought in support from around the county, but it seems the local party has not yet overcome the aftershocks of having had a strong and truculent Corbyn support base.
For anyone who doubts that Brexit was based entirely on racism and xenophobia, reactions to the dispersal of refugees to hotels across the region is instructive. East Anglia voted heavily for Brexit, of course, and were one to guess at the likely hot spots for resentment then Wisbech and Ipswich – both among Brexit’s strongest supporters – would be on the list. There are good reasons to believe bussing in refugees and simply dumping them in hotels is a bad idea. But predictably, those reasons aren’t behind the public anger.
In Ipswich, resentment of refugees is stirred up by its MP. Resentment might be understandable, but racism isn’t. Wisbech has in recent years become host to a significant influx of immigrants, mostly from the Baltic states. The local MP is Steve Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire), now for our sins once again the health secretary. He is presently trying to persuade a sceptical public that the 500 refugees vaccinated against diphtheria and the “dozens” of suspected cases who have left Manston in recent weeks were no longer contagious before they were moved into the hotels.
Anglia TV reports that Anglian Water has been fined £536,000 at Chelmsford magistrates court for illegally dumping nearly four million litres of sewage into the River Wid in Essex. It happened because they hadn’t bothered to install an alarm system which would have cost £205. Fish died, including a number of protected species, and four kilometres of the river were contaminated with ammonia for six days. Last year the company was fined £300,000 for an almost identical incident in the River Wid in 2016. But at least the shareholders will still get paid.
Judge Sam Goozee described the company’s record as “lamentable”. But a spokesman for the Environment Agency looked on the bright side, as only a spokesman for the Environment Agency can. Gavin Senior declared: “The fine handed to Anglian Water shows polluters are made to pay for damaging the environment.”
Well, it’s a point of view. Half a million quid is a tiny fraction of what any water company pays to its shareholders – many from the Far East and with no connection to this country except as a milch cow. For them, it’s merely a minor overhead. It’s just the price of doing business.
We and our environment are being deliberately and cynically poisoned. The government cares not in the slightest. The law is hamstrung. How much of this will we tolerate?
You will be hearing much more on investigations into Anglian Water over the coming weeks, but as a taster – if that isn’t too unsavoury a word here – here is one of a series of tests carried out by Woodbridge Climate Action Centre on the River Deben in Suffolk. Every blue dot represents a trace of E.coli and more than nine dots is illegal…
It so happens that the local MP for Suffolk Coastal is none other than the torpid figure of Thérèse Coffey, the environment secretary. Dr Coffey blandly told the Commons environment select committee this week that since Brexit the government has scrapped 140 environmental regulations. Her constituents are lamentably inept at giving her the bum’s rush, and blame of course must partly lie with the other local parties. Labour had fallen into the hands of the Corbynists, so for them Starmer was of course the enemy, but Pecksniff is informed they joined the party as a bloc and have left as a bloc. The Greens have no intention of talking to anybody but themselves, preferably in language which nobody else can understand; and the Liberal Democrats could take a leaf out of the book of their colleagues in King’s Lynn.
Pecksniff has been assured by local Labour bosses that things are about to change. This diary will be delighted to report on events should they ever occur.
Still on the subject of Anglian Water, they are at pains to strike up relationships with fine upstanding organisations across the region, a strategic move to try and make themselves smell a little sweeter. One of those organisations is the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, which describes the company as a “strategic partner”. Presumably that means they give them money. The institute’s website doesn’t make it very clear quite what it actually does, except it’s big on urging “wealthy countries to meet their obligations under the Paris Agreement”. No mention there of wealthy companies.
Pecksniff understands Polly Courtice, emeritus professor and senior ambassador of the institute, is also a non-executive director of Anglian Water. Your correspondent has asked the institute about their relationship with the company and is awaiting a response. But should they be reading this diary, there is only one relevant question for them to put to their strategic partner… When will Anglian Water stop illegally dumping sh*t in our rivers?
The head of a social care agency in Suffolk complains that the sector is “criminally underfunded” by local government. It is a dramatic-sounding phrase, but it might have a more literal relevance. The local authority has a statutory duty to provide social care yet is drastically underfunding it, and therefore knowingly conniving at misery for thousands and perhaps also the death of some.
One sympathises with the plight of local government but having a few council leaders storming Westminster to express their own outrage wouldn’t come amiss, rather than the supine acceptance they constantly show at every financial outrage visited on them by the government.
At what point is the charge of criminal underfunding taken literally, and those responsible – whoever they are – held accountable for their lack of action? (Sadly, the lack of a backbone is not as far as is known a criminal offence.)
There is a curious lack this week of the kind of bloomers which so often overwhelm this diary. What can be going on?
It would seem that some local Tory MPs are hiding away under a tarpaulin, while a few have ventured out to try to sound normal and even perhaps electable. One of them is James Wild (North West Norfolk), the home of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. He actually dares mention it in a TV interview, though without for a moment suggesting it is a disgrace and an affront to his voters. There is only, he tells us, “a compelling case”.