“After a great deal of soul-searching, I have reached the conclusion that the Prime Minister should resign.” So tweets Tory MP Peter Aldous representing Waveney. No surprise, Aldous has always flirted dangerously with the moderate wing of his party, such as it exists today. Next likely is his colleague Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk). But after that, my dears, who else? Not Tom Hunt MP (Conservative, Ipswich), who has predictably come down in favour of Johnson, and is cited in the national press this week with “flirting with far-right rhetoric”.
Our regular rogues’ gallery provides us with most of our amusement and outrage this week, supplying us with perfect examples of the ignorance and incompetence which dogs this government. First up, Foreign Secretary LizTruss (South West Norfolk) has scored two spectacular own goals in the past week. First, she haughtily defended her spending £500,000 on a private aircraft, though Paul Waugh of the i newspaper pointed out that, in Back to Black, published in 2009, she demanded:
“Every public sector worker should feel personal responsibility for the money they spend and the money they save. They should spend taxpayers’ money with at least the care they would give to their own. This change of mindset would be reflected in everyday changes such as travelling by economy rather than business class.”
But then, by “public sector worker” Ms Truss probably had in mind hospital porters, teachers and the like, rather than foreign secretaries…
Then in one of those staggering faux pas for which Ms Truss is becoming notorious, in a warlike flourish in the context of the Ukraine she declared that Britain was sending supplies to its “Baltic allies across the Black Sea”.
Pecksniff usually finds himself impervious to embarrassment – such a provincial sensation – but really, Liz Truss does make one want to hide one’s head under the armoire. As our much-travelled readers will know, The Baltic and Black Seas are 1200 miles apart. One is at the top left hand corner of Europe, the other at the bottom right. The Truss embarrassment was gleefully exploited by the Russian foreign ministry, who observed:
“Mrs Truss, your knowledge of history is nothing compared to your knowledge of geography. If anyone needs saving from anything, it’s the world, from the stupidity and ignorance of British politicians.”
Next out of the jamboree bag of lunacy we pluck out, gingerly, Nadine Dorries, Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire. This week she turned up in the Central Lobby of the Palace of Westminster to defend her boss Boris Johnson on TV. Her performance has given rise to some speculation from the coarser end of the commentariat. It has been suggested that, in the words of the blessed Eliza Doolittle, she may have “had some in”.
Then no diary would be complete without the latest on that irrepressible rogue Matt Hancock, Tory MP for West Suffolk, who has not heard the last of his stint as Health Secretary. This week the government’s auditor in chief, Garett Davies, refused to sign off the Department of Health accounts for the year 2020-21. He was concerned that £1.3 billion of public money may have been subject to fraud. This covers the period when Mr Hancock was in charge.
The figure includes £150 million not approved by the Treasury and on which the paper trail is said to be uncertain. The impression given by reports is that minions at Health are presently rummaging at the back of drawers to see if it has been mislaid there, and searching the stationery cupboards for brown envelopes which may inadvertently contain the missing moolah.
The PPE situation was only made murkier this week when Byline Times published an extensive email trail between Mr Hancock and his former MP colleague Owen Paterson, who of course resigned recently over sleaze allegations. Mr Paterson was a paid consultant to Randox, which has won £619.7 million in government contracts since the beginning of 2020. First contracts were signed on 30 March 2020, without being subject to the required tendering process, and renewed on 30 September 2020 again without tender. The excuse for the first was that haste was imperative, but the chief operating officer for the civil service and permanent secretary to the cabinet office, Alex Chisholm, expresses himself ‘”disappointed” that, given six months, no attempt had still not been made by Hancock to put the renewed contract out to tender as required.
Given the accusations and speculation surrounding just how the money was spent and who profited from it, in normal times it is inconceivable that such a sum should have been spent at least unwisely and without proper documentation, and perhaps through fraud, without a serious investigation. But it seems at the moment that the British public’s only role is to consume as little public expenditure as possible, whilst acting as cash cows for the government’s friends.
Our old friend Richard Bacon, Tory MP for South Norfolk, can’t stay out of the news either, after 20 years of complete anonymity. After last week misleading the House of Commons – an offence which requires an apology, which has not been forthcoming – he faced further accusations of laziness and inactivity this week.
The usual accusation is that he doesn’t correspond with his constituents. In fact, he has spent his entire parliamentary career ignoring them.
One outraged constituent this week shared a photograph on Twitter which claimed to show a pile of sacks awaiting collection for shredding, which – according to our man – were filled with unanswered constituency mail. Pecksniff is quite sure this claim must be mischievous, though from the responses it seems many of Mr Bacon’s constituents are prepared to think the worst of him.
But stung by the criticisms, this week Mr Bacon made a rare appearance beyond the portals of his Pretoria House offices. He ventured the few miles to Bressingham, where local residents were upset at the prospect of an industrial anaerobic digester plant being built in their backyard. (Don’t ask.) This gave him the welcome if rare opportunity to appear before his adoring public. There in the Diss Mercury was a photograph of Mr Bacon standing in front of local people, their hero of the day.
Unfortunately, during the interview he admitted “he did not have a lever that he could pull to stop the development”. It is a planning matter, and therefore not within his influence. So though the villagers will get little from the visit, Mr Bacon no doubt came away feeling well pleased with himself. The invitation to Bressingham might allow him to take control of the narrative and turn it to his advantage. And if it so happens that the planning authority does turn down the digester, guess who will be prominent in claiming some credit?
He is under constant attack for laziness and his slavish devotion to Boris Johnson, while the rivers of South Norfolk stink of untreated human sewage. But now, whenever one of these unfortunate issues is brought up, he hopes he can wave the picture of himself with his apparently adoring Bressingham public as his get-out-of-jail card. It is unlikely that his detractors will be impressed, but it muddies the waters – if only it were just mud in there – and allows him to feel a little more comfortable.
But then only days later came allegations that Mr Bacon has been ignoring similar appeals from several parish councils over a 140,000 tonnes of liquid waste site at Seething. This is something that my colleagues at EAB will certainly be following up. It is far too early to make any assumptions whatsoever, and all we know at the moment is as follows:
The land is apparently owned by John Fuller.
John Fuller is also the local district councillor for Seething, as well as being leader of South Norfolk District Council.
Mr Bacon is the MP for South Norfolk.
Parish councils’ evidence begins at about 40m.
Another old friend made his customary appearance on TV this week and made his customary pig’s rectum of it. George Freeman, Tory MP for Mid Norfolk, was answering questions on when young people were entitled to the covid-19 jab. He paused for a moment, and with that chutzpah we begin to associate with him got his answer quite astonishingly wrong. ‘Minister in Shock Complete Ignorance of Government Policy Horror!’ When there is a TV interview capable of being botched, the cry goes out: ‘Send for George!’
It seems Norfolk County Council’s plans for special educational needs and disability are as chaotic and brutal as those already highlighted by EAB in Suffolk. On 29 November last, Councillor Brenda Jones (Labour, Lakenham and Tuckswood) asked cabinet member for children’s services Councillor John Fisher the number of appeals made by families which the council lost. Councillor Fisher blithely replied that 95% of appeals were lost. So 19 out of 20 cases decided by the council and questioned by the families were judged to be wrong. He did however acknowledge that this was not a good figure to have to defend.
Then on 31 January this year, in following up her colleague’s question Councillor Maxine Webb (Labour, Wensum) pointed out the council had spent £575,000 on legal fees for tribunals during year 2020-21 – that is, £575,000 trying to defend the council against local people who have felt wronged by its policies. She asked what progress had been made.
This time, Councillor Fisher had another story to tell.
“The figure of 95% seems to have been taken from a national figure that has been reported by various media sources and has been used in discussions regarding the situation in Norfolk.”
So it seems his first answer was nonsense and he didn’t actually know the Norfolk figures. Either that, or he is trying to confuse the figures by employing some form of jiggery-pokery. If this is unkind to Councillor Fisher, he needs only contact Pecksniff and your correspondent will be pleased to clarify the issue.