Even in the long, bedraggled and dishonourable retreat from certainty which has characterised the realisation that Brexit is not going to work and never could, this week surely marks an apostasy none of us could ever have expected. The Institute of Economic Affairs, no less, that darkest of dark habitués of Tufton Street, tells us that: “Some libertarians supported Brexit due to a misunderstanding of the European Union’s essential nature and role”.
You what? So you agree the EU are the good guys after all? Apparently, says the IEA, the idea that the EU was on the march to become a European superstate was “a misconception” by Brexit supporters. It turns out “the European Union’s foremost goal is to diffuse and limit power, rather than centralise it”. So that’s alright then. Sadly they don’t pause to discuss the implications or make any suggestions on how to get out of the mess they left us in.
Has anybody told the Labour Party? One supposes not. Even as the original Brexit supporters pack their caravan and steal away in the night, Labour is still chuntering on about how Brexit represents the future.
Can anybody explain what is happening to the Labour Party? Rachel Reeves puts on her attempted determined face, which instead makes her look like one of those gargoyles carved on the end of pews in medieval churches, and if it’s not the latest incomprehensible nonsense on Brexit, it’s abandoning all the party’s much vaunted green investment promises or gibbering obeisance to whatever excesses the City of London desires. Only three months ago, Ms Reeves declared: “In the midst of their cost of living crisis the Conservatives are scrapping the cap on bankers’ bonuses. It tells you everything you need to know about this Government.” It seems to tell us an awful lot about the next government too.
Does anybody know any more whether Labour has any principles left? Does anybody know why their members are still in the party? Pecksniff would dearly love to hear of dozens of motions put down by outraged branches all over the region. But, dear reader, we will probably wait in vain. Nobody dares squeak out of place.
Nobody that is, except perhaps Clive Lewis (Norwich South). In what appears to be kissing goodbye to any ministerial preferment but ensuring his enduring reputation with his voters, he points out that slavish acceptance of every whim and every get-rich-quick scheme from the City doesn’t have a great provenance. As Gordon Brown discovered.
Rarely if ever can the demise of a government have been more desperately desired, yet its replacement been less attuned to the needs and the desires of the people. Will there be celebratory bonfires in the streets on election night? Will new mothers christen their babies Keir or Rachel? It seems unlikely. As we all retire befuddled to bed on that fateful morning after, we are more likely to be taken with relief, certainly, but also perhaps sober reflection and even a sense of foreboding.
It seems we may be moving into a period of potentially dangerous instability. Labour seem likely to win handsomely, but from what we know of their policy proposals – and reversals – they will fail to engage with the anger or the fatigue or the desperate hopes of the people. And it is at the point of dashed hopes rather than the pit of despair that societies rupture.
We have grown weary with successive Conservative governments. We expect nothing better from them. It’s Labour’s job to bring life, and above all hope, not to dash it. Political discourse is out of control already, and in order to bring back reason and cogency Labour needs to present radical ideas. If they don’t, and it doesn’t seem likely, then there are plenty on the murky edges of politics who will be happy to use the subsequent fury for their own ends.
It seems EAB’s series on Brexit, Our Place in Europe, is meeting success in some unexpected quarters. As well as being read among the council chambers of Europe and by well known politicians and commentators domestically, it seems the satraps of Brexit itself scrutinise our narrative and wonder fearfully where it is taking us. Tory peer Lord Moylan himself has interceded, grumbling of a recent contribution: “More fervent academic work being done off-stage to prepare to take us back into the EU”.
We are naturally delighted that he sees EAB in the vanguard of the march back into the European Union. So those readers who would like to read for themselves how Britain might join Europe again, this diarist would recommend our series Our Place in Europe, and in particular the thoughts from a European contributor, the charming professor Jacob Öberg of Syddansk University in Denmark, who has so annoyed his lordship.
Not a week goes by without further leadership machinations among the Conservative Party.
It seems that last weekend, while Kemi Badenoch (Saffron Walden) was exhorting her parliamentary colleagues to “stop messing around” and get behind Rishi Sunak, she was at the same time the gloating focus of a secret Tory WhatsApp group calling itself the “Evil Plotters”. Its aim is to promote Ms Badenoch as yet another new party leader.
Ms Badenoch publicly dissociates herself from those openly promoting her name, dismisses speculation and declares that those putting her name forward are “not my friends”. Now one of those in the WhatsApp group is Michael Gove, otherwise known as Rupert Murdoch’s representative on earth. His entire career has been based upon leaks; he is so perforated one could use him to strain spaghetti. So if Mr Gove is involved in the group in any way and yet he isn’t leaking, it would be the first time.
Regular readers may recall Pecksniff reporting previously that, while Ms Badenoch was supposed to be touting somewhere for Britain recently, she was in fact holding secret meetings in New York with Mr Murdoch. Now what can that have been about…?
Kemi Badenoch is one of many Conservative MPs who must fervently hope Bertrand Russell was right when he asserted that: “What men really want is not knowledge but certainty”. Their every statement these days is based on the hope that the latest lie will sound convincing enough not to be investigated further. She dismisses polls that show the public would be in favour of removing the VAT exemption from private schools, suggesting that such a policy would cost the country much more in accommodating their pupils in state schools.
But actually, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies points out, absorbing those students into the rest of the school system would cost between £100 and £300m. The added income to the Treasury accruing if VAT exemptions was removed would be £1.6 bn.
Grant Shapps (Hatfield Welwyn) has claimed in an interview that there is a Labour majority in the House of Lords, which he says explains why the government is so often stymied in its attempts to force through legislation. Now, only stupidity or dishonesty could explain how he could make such an obviously untrue statement, and among the very many accusations one could make about him, stupidity would probably not feature highly on the list.
George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) made rather an arse of himself this week by declaring that he had to give up his job as science minister “because my mortgage rises this month from £800pcm to £2,000, which I simply couldn’t afford to pay on a ministerial salary”.
As a minister, he earned £118,300, but now as a backbench MP that figure is reduced to £86,584. It means however that he is free to take on other jobs more lucrative than being a minister. Mr Freeman believes this to be quite reasonable, though it is not clear quite how all those shiny new directorships will also allow him to fit in representing his constituency. (Many of his voters already have a view on that.)
Mr Freeman’s sense of self esteem does not end there, however. It seems he rather fancies becoming Sir George – so much more seemly when touting himself around City boardrooms – and he has had the barefaced chutzpah to apply personally for a knighthood. Rather as one might send away for a collection of commemorative stamps.
Unfortunately, in error, he sent it instead to 110 of his backbench colleagues. My dears, the embarrassment. One would never feel able to duck into the Muckrakers again. Also, the accompanying letter from supporters speaks of his being an “outspoken champion”, though not, sadly of his own constituency.
Though it can’t be true that Norfolk has exclusive claims to a particular form of buffoonery among its MPs, it certainly has its fair share. Here is another, this time from Jerome Mayhew (Broadland). As a colleague remarks, all that seems to be missing is the carriage clock.
It seems that, for Nadine Dorries, the days of wine and poseurs may be over. Having flounced out of her job as an MP, she discovered she wouldn’t be following it up with a seat in the Lords after all. She then had to watch through gritted teeth as several of her rivals donned the ermine instead. Her hero Boris Johnson was defenestrated in front of her eyes, Brexit collapses around her ears, she finds she has to repay £17,000 wrongly paid to her over her resignation and then she is sacked from her GB TV slot.
But really, that’s a blessing. Our Nads flouncing about in those hideous frocks, like a middle aged Shirley Temple, and all on the grounds presumably that she had once been culture secretary. Culture secretary! My dears, such a scream! Rather less Henry James and more Sid James, one feels.
Now Dacorum Borough Council is not well known, but for puzzled readers, its home is in Hemel Hempstead. The council has made a bold bid this week to become better known, however, by declaring it will treat public urination in the countryside as an offence punishable by a fine. And to make clear they mean business, they have employed a firm of enforcers, appropriately called District Enforcers.
So far this company has caught only two offenders – red handed, as it were. But apparently this dedicated team roam the countryside looking for unfortunates with full bladders to, er, set about their business. Now it’s easy to see how they could themselves fall prey to the law, creeping about in the bushes at such moments, but one wonders just how many of them are employed on this epic task. After all, two offenders doesn’t seem like a lot to show for all that eagle eyed willy watching. Perhaps they make the mistake of playing a little jingle as they drive, like ice cream vans. And my dears we have to wonder – what on earth do they call themselves when asked at parties?
Anyway, Jolyon Maugham of the Good Law project has expressed the view that in law the council are probably acting beyond their powers. Peeing in public, as long as conducted with
dacorum decorum, is probably not punishable. One can’t help wondering, however, just what degree of pomposity drove the good men and women of the council to make such utter buffoons of themselves.
Finally, the tragedy of detailing the failings of our politicians week after week is that it may give the impression that this is the picture for all of them. But it is worth pointing out how, beyond the liars, mountebanks and scoundrels castigated in this missive week after week, there are numberless thousands of councillors and even some MPs who diligently go about their tasks, serving their communities without thanks or favour. While some councillors may be riding to hounds, those like Councillor Julie Stephenson who represents Orton Waterville near Peterborough are personally scrubbing racist graffiti off lamp posts. Dear lady, there is a pint of Old Unprintable in the pump at the Muckrakers waiting for you when you have the chance to look in.