Last week, Pecksniff wrote of allegations that Steve Barclay (North East Cambs) had doctored the Sue Gray report. No.10 have denied the claims, though in the past few days they have become more insistent. If, as is claimed, he did no such thing, then he can sleep easily. Pecksniff has no evidence to the contrary.
Which is just as well, since constitutional lawyers confirm that knowingly altering the report might amount to misconduct in public office, a serious criminal offence.
Our regular delve into the increasingly bizarre world of Liz Truss comes up this week with comments from Dominic Cummings, who gave an interview to UnHerd. Of her role in the Tory party and the state of its leadership, he says:
The Tory party itself is quite rotten now and the sign of that is that they can’t think of anyone better than Boris, who’s clearly just completely shot. They are collectively saying, ‘if we get rid of him, we might get somebody worse’.
It says a lot about the state of the Tory party. And they actually could get somebody worse: Liz Truss would be even worse than Boris. She’s about as close to properly crackers as anybody I’ve met in Parliament.
Likewise, could we let a week go by without some mention of Richard Bacon, MP for South Norfolk? You will recall that he came to reluctant prominence a few months ago when he replied to more than 80 frustrated constituents, angry at his failure to answer correspondence from constituents, by writing a single group email to them all. This achieved three things. It was in breach of the Data Protection Act, it further infuriated every one of them at the audacity of the one-off response, and of course it put 80 of his most enraged voters in touch with each other.
Mr Bacon attempted to put the toothpaste back in the tube by demanding that they should not on any account attempt to communicate with each other, an appeal that was greeted with an immediate flurry of ‘Bacon Out’ posters appearing all over the constituency. It even brought out protests and canvassers onto the streets of Diss, Mr Bacon’s home town.
Since then, our man’s troubles have only multiplied. There were accusations (unproved, it should be said, though from more than one source) that he is in the habit of destroying constituency correspondence without even reading it. Mr Bacon has been scrupulous in the past to remain out of the public gaze, becoming all but invisible to his constituents. But in these past few months he has had a number of opportunities to make a complete idiot of himself, and he has assiduously made the most of all of them.
One such contribution came two weeks ago when, because the prime minister was in hot water over Partygate, he contrived – with no evidence whatever – to accuse much of the NHS of going on a massive in-house bender during Covid lockdown.
Mr Bacon must be yearning for that blessed anonymity which he has courted during his parliamentary career, and the last he wants is more attention drawn to claims of his utterly failing in his duties to constituents. But this week comes another disclosure. It is claimed that his personal website as an MP shows absolutely nothing about his activities, such as they may be, and has been a single home page “under construction” with no progress for at least three years.
News on the shambolic attempt by Tory MPs to challenge the prime minister via a vote of no confidence. We turn to a regular will-he, won’t-he player in this game, Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk).
Dr Poulter is at least more forthcoming than most of his colleagues, and in a letter to a constituent this week he gives the clearest indication yet of his misgivings.
“I am as unhappy as you are that people in very senior positions in both the Civil Service and in politics appear to have breached the very same rules they were making for others to follow.
“However, there is a much bigger issue at stake which is of trust and integrity in high public office. The most serious charge against the Prime Minister is of knowingly misleading parliament. Given the scale of rule breaking in No.10 and across Whitehall that has now been confirmed by the Sue Gray report, I find it difficult to accept that the Prime Minister was unaware. His repeated assurances in Parliament that there was no rule breaking lack credibility.”
He goes on: “It is a matter of principle that a minister who knowingly misleads Parliament should resign, and this principle should also apply to the Prime Minister.”
It does sound as though the Prime Minister can expect another letter to be delivered to the chair of the 1922 committee.
Dr Poulter’s concerns are increasingly echoed among the Tory party’s rank-and-file. The Daily Telegraph this week carried a story headed: “Boris Johnson should resign before he is forced out, say grassroots Conservatives”.
It went on to quote the new Mayor of Kings Lynn and West Norfolk, Lesley Bambridge.
She suggests the prime minister should “seriously reflect…whether he is the right man for the job”. The mayor is a member of the council which covers the South West Norfolk constituency of Liz Truss. Ms Truss has of course been wholly supportive of her boss, and her own version of the dead cat trick is to try to start a trade war with the EU. But according to the whispers reaching Pecksniff, behind the scenes the local party is badly split on where their sympathies or possibly best personal interests lie. In these circumstances, it is either courageous or risky for the mayor to speak out, of course. But one wonders how long those internal divisions, becoming prevalent across the region, can any longer be hidden.
One of the region’s MPs is apparently becoming itchy about allegations involving Russian money, and threatens to have recourse to m’learned friends. For that reason and in order to save the editor from sleepless nights, Pecksniff will only say that the foreign press seem more interested in our MP’s financial backers than the hacks of the British media. Those financial backers may apparently have questions to answer on money laundering and tax dodging, and there is talk of some very unsavoury business associates.
On 10 May, Anglian Water were reported to have been fined £18,000 for killing dozens of fish in Pig Water Drain, a river near Peterborough, by discharging raw sewage over a period of several hours. The pump had failed. A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said: “Anglian Water could and should have acted quicker.”
And a spokesperson for Anglian Water said: “We take our responsibilities to the natural environment very seriously.”
On 1 June, the Environment Agency announced another fine, this time of £300,000, for another pump failure. This time all three pumps at Shenfield and Hutton Water Recycling Centre failed, following a fire. The EA reported:
“Further investigations found that the pumps being used by Anglian Water were almost 40 years old… Around 10 kilometres of the River Wid experienced high levels of ammonia for 3 days. In total, at least 5,431 fish were found to have died during this time with invertebrates affected in almost 5 kilometres of the river.”
This time there was no comment from the company.
A moment then to remember that only a few months ago the government voted to allow these incidents to continue.
According to finance website money.co.uk, council tax payers in Great Yarmouth are getting the worst value for money in the country, being placed 305th in a table of 305 areas. Residents in Norwich are reckoned to be getting the second worst.
The website examined six services, four of them provided by Norfolk County Council. The councillor responsible for finance is Andrew Jamieson, and readers may not be astounded to learn that he refuses to accept the findings. But do not despair – all that jubilee bunting can be held over for a further celebration. Put any remaining champagne on ice, because Councillor Jamieson is promising his council tax payers they can look forward to the excitement of a “strategic review…”
Bizarrely, less than a month after being elected, new Colchester Tory councillor Martin Leatherdale (representing Lexden) has resigned from the party. Equally bizarre, he won’t say why.
What on earth can have been the shock awaiting him at his first Tory opposition group meeting? Did they practice blood sacrifices? Are black cockerels smuggled in
under the robes? It also appears that Mr Leatherdale had only been a member of the party for just under a year. He joined on 10 May 2021, just in time to be elected to serve for the 12 months before these scheduled elections. So perhaps more interesting than what happened on 5 May this year was what happened on 10 May a year ago.
Polls show a small majority in favour of keeping the monarchy. Many more people just like a party and feel that on the whole the old duck hasn’t done so badly – just so long as you don’t mention her family.
But the monarchy is symbolic of the country, like it or not, so the public’s approval of the queen is used as a crude flag waver for the status quo. In looking back over 70 years of the queen’s rule – let’s not forget that we are still her ‘subjects’ – we are also looking back over 70 years of politics. So there is a struggle by those who maintained their power during this period to claim the narrative; whereas opponents can easily be drawn into a crude rejection of what the monarchy is seen to stand for, and so appear churlish and allow themselves to be accused of lacking patriotism.
An absurd oversimplification, of course, and carried to absurd extremes.
A royal correspondent who got her job through her father’s having been a member of the royal household sets up a straw man to pretend there is a wild and unexpected outburst of love for the monarchy. “No-one cares they said,” she claims in a now-deleted tweet. “No-one will come they said.”
Nobody said any such thing, of course. But while she posts a picture of a thronged Mall, a Scot shows a picture he claims is the jubilee celebrations in Aberdeen.
The picture on the right may be misleading, but it makes a point. Scotland is once again assumed to be a fiefdom of the English. The flag waving is another gesture of English nationalism. The two pictures only serve to illustrate the chasm which has been allowed to grow between and within our nations. There are dramatic and dangerous differences which the present government, with its lies and its pretence, makes no attempt to ameliorate so as to provide a focus for its culture wars. The political and historic narrative remains the narrative of an English ruling elite.
The problem is that events like the jubilee appeal to a much deeper need than politics. That appeal is not rational, and can’t be rejected by rational argument. We all need to understand a national story about ourselves, understand who we are, and we on the left have allowed the political elite to capture the monarchy, the flag, and the word ‘patriotism’ itself. So we need to find our own narrative. But it has to recognise we have a back story which explains who we are, not just reject it as being outdated. Of course it’s outdated: it’s history. That’s where the elite live. We need to find a new identity, but to do that we need a narrative which can explain how we came to be where we are; and perhaps more to the point, where we want to go.
As often, Pecksniff offers his thanks to a special informant who has helped compile this week’s diary. But on this occasion that informant must remain anonymous, for reasons readers may guess. So we shall know this special correspondent as Deeping Throat.