A constituent writes to point out that during her 44-day premiership, Liz Truss didn’t visit her South West Norfolk constituency once. A visit had been planned, but on the day arranged it was cancelled because sacking Kwasi Kwarteng was considered more important.
There are signs of renewed support for Liz Truss among the Tory party faithful though. From being the grassroots’ darling, once she was in power the wheels began to fall off, and in particular she failed to meet the strident measures demanded on immigration by Suella Braverman. Attention swiftly (but very briefly) moved then to La Braverman as the new hero.
Now a survey of Tory members shows just how fickle they can be. In hardly more than a fortnight her popularity has plummeted, according to a poll on Conservative Home. Looking for a reason, we would do well to read the views of Paul Goodman, who edits the website and knows his Tories.
“You may conclude that Suella Braverman is fifth from bottom on 20.5 points because of the controversy over the use of her private devices for government devices, or her consultations with John Hayes, or her liaison with Policy Exchange.
“Or you may believe that panel members share Roger Gale’s view of the home secretary’s culpability for what has happened at Manston. Or because of her use of the word “invasion”.
“My take is that the panel has marked Braverman low because many members of it believe that for all her rhetoric on stopping small boats nothing much will actually be done.”
Ms Patel wasn’t strict enough on turning away refugees. Ms Truss wasn’t strict enough on turning away refugees. Now it’s Ms Braverman’s turn. And without the raging spit-flecked support of the membership, her position looks even more tenuous.
It is however worthwhile noting that in the latest polls, Labour leads the Tories on the issue of immigration by 16 points – an unheard-of figure. That is probably as much concerned with perceived incompetence as attitudes to immigration per se. So immigration is the very subject on which Keir Starmer should be pressing the government.
Which leaves Rishi Sunak in an impossible position. That perception of incompetence is at the moment largely down to the performance of Suella Braverman, (following the party’s views of all-mouth-and-no-trousers Priti Patel). For that to change, Braverman has to go. But within the parliamentary party that would be seen as a declaration of war against the right.
For the record, Britain has now had five prime ministers in six years, four chancellors of the exchequer in four months, five home secretaries in three years (and there’ll be another along in a minute), and several ministers who have swapped jobs like musical chairs. (James Cleverly, MP for Braintree, was education secretary for two months this summer, exactly coinciding with the school holidays…)
For those who are in thrall to conspiracy theories, dear reader, what kind of cunning conspiracy is it that changes its mind on objectives and the people who should achieve them every other Tuesday? This chaos is not the result of any mastermind, but the direct result of the lack of one. Nobody is in charge of the Tory party, so nobody is running the country. We are all being sacrificed to an interminable power struggle within a small clique which has taken over the Conservative Party. Everything that has happened over the past several years has been the result of the needs of the Tories, not the country. It has all resulted from Tory in-fighting.
So no talk of deep conspiracies. What you see is what you get. They are all idiots.
There is much to write about on the subject of Matt Hancock (West Suffolk), but EAB has already summed up his predicament in a story earlier this week. There is bound to be more surrounding his appearances on ‘I’m a Celebrity’, though it is doubtful that you will read about them here. Mr Hancock is quite unsavoury enough and is so lacking in class in his career thus far, we hardly need go looking for more grotesque examples.
One would like to think that readers of this diary would not for a moment consider watching the programme: there are no excuses.
Pecksniff tries to limit writing about Suella Braverman, since beyond a prologue the diary tries to concentrate on East Anglia and the east. (Ms Braverman represents Fareham.) But she is hugger-mugger with Sir John Hayes, an MP peripheral to this region from South Holland and the Deepings, and his Common Sense group. Two local MPs are among its members, Giles Watling (Clacton) and the poster boy for the dolt-right, Tom Hunt (Ipswich). Mr Hunt is also the vice chair.
Their activities mostly involve frothing at the mouth at the prospect of immigrants of the wrong colour polluting these shores. It was the Common Sense group who attacked the National Trust for ‘wokeism’, of being “coloured by cultural Marxist dogma” and of being in the grip of “elitist bourgeois liberals”.
The group is supportive of Restore Trust, the pressure group set up (via Tufton Street) to try and take over the National Trust. It claims to be a grassroots organisation with 6,000 members. The National Trust has 5.37 million. So Restore Trust represents 0.1% of them. It seems hardly worth pointing out that an organisation which only represents the views of one in a thousand hardly qualifies as ‘grassroots’.
Tom Hunt also made a dramatic plea for cash this week. He was effectively making a public demand of Rishi Sunak that he comes up with some moolah for his constituency of Ipswich. The question is… Is he making the demand having already been assured that the money is on its way, so trying to appear as though the PM follows his every word? Or is he so convinced that he will lose his seat that he is trying overt blackmail? “Give me money or this is another seat you’ll lose.”
No doubt we will shortly know the answer. If the money is not forthcoming, Mr Hunt is left looking ineffectual and of no importance to his party. If it turns up in the next couple of weeks, we will know it had already been earmarked, and this was just another forlorn attempt by Tory HQ to improve the impression of Mr Hunt’s lacklustre performance.
My dears, nobody regrets this more than Pecksniff, but there is more on Tom Hunt. There always is. The boy Hunt these days has the air of a dyspeptic, perhaps the result of eating so many of his own words over his preference in leadership contenders. (Rishi Sunak can hardly not have noticed.)
This week he made an almost unintelligible speech in the Commons. But having watched the speech several times, sometimes with the sound off, one comes to the conclusion that he is expressing honest emotion. There is nothing counterfeit about his rage, emphasised by the grimace and the hacking action of his hand as though he is trying to destroy some venomous or particularly disgusting small creature.
The subject of his speech was asylum seekers.
And still it goes on. The Home Office tried to take over the Novotel in Ipswich to use as a hostel for asylum seekers. The Labour controlled borough council intervened and successfully requested a temporary injunction to prevent it. Tom Hunt provided his own wisdom on the matter: “We need to do our best to make sure it’s permanent. In the meantime I will continue to escalate my efforts to convince the Home Office Ministers to intervene.”
Intervene? But it was the Home Office who came up with the plan. Now, Mr Hunt is going to get Home Office ministers – those same people whose idea it was – to fight back against their own decision. This may seem like gobbledegook, and be assured it is. But presumably the idea of attacking his own government for the decision in the first place would not have appealed to him.
Imagine the disappointment of Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden). He has long been avoided in the Commons tea rooms, having bored colleagues endlessly with tales of how close he is to Rishi Sunak. Yet when his hero is elected as prime minister, Mr Afolami is left still anguishing on the back benches.
It is perhaps time to ask what Mr Afolami is for. As an Old Etonian he naturally assumes he was born to rule, yet his attempts at a ministerial career have been singularly inept even within present company. Being told you’re absolutely useless by Liz Truss is enough to put anyone off their cornflakes. His seat isn’t secure, and in any case he faces boundary changes. He has made his choice between the new constituencies clear by buying a £2.5 million country house just outside Hitchin.
This is the more attractive, since the other new constituency includes Harpenden which has just been lost to the Liberal Democrats.
And speaking of Bim Afolami, the man who the New Statesman describes as “putting extra pomp into ‘pompous’” doesn’t seem quite able to cut it as a man of the people either. Electorally the strength of the ‘ground game’ of the parties is often overlooked. Are there local volunteers available to do the donkey work? Every party wants more, but Tory activists have noticeably dwindled in recent years. That dearth of support was noticeable in last year’s elections, but new evidence arises this week from St Albans and Hitchin and Harpenden. Local canvassers seemed reluctant, so workers on behalf of Clare de Silva (the St Albans Tory hopeful against MP Daisy Cooper)and Mr Afolami were being bussed in from neighbouring constituencies.
Still in Hertfordshire, there was some interest in exactly who was the man who so enthusiastically grabbed the Greenpeace flag from a woman protestor at the Tory party conference.
A little late, Pecksniff can now reveal it was Councillor Ralph Muncer, a member of North Hertfordshire District Council where he represents Kimpton. Cllr Muncer is also a magistrate. No doubt he became the poster boy of the conference. It remains to be seen what the good people of Kimpton feel, or come to that his colleagues on the bench.
In September, Pecksniff reported on unrest among the Tory group running West Norfolk Borough Council, suspected partly the result of deteriorating relations with South West Norfolk, the constituency of Liz Truss but which partly overlaps the council’s area. James Wild, the MP for North West Norfolk is a Sunak man, whereasthe Truss party backs her.
Pecksniff forecast a coup against council leader Councillor Stuart Dark in October, and the spies were correct. But the coup failed. Instead, Cllr Dark dismissed his rival and former leader, Councillor Brian Long from the cabinet.
Cllr Dark had probably had enough of Cllr Long, who is described by a political acquaintance as “toxic”, though the failed coup was actually organised by the South West Tories. Within all the chaos, the public hardly seem to matter.
Meanwhile, Cllr Long remains chair of the Kings Lynn Internal Drainage Board, which unpromising title becomes of more interest when it is realised this is the body which is responsible for the dying Gaywood River – the subject of a growing grassroots movement.
Pecksniff understands there are plans to give Cllr Long the bum’s rush from that post too.
Industrial relations at Felixstowe Dock have become notoriously poor, involving recent union-led action which was bought off with what was claimed to be intimidation by management. The port is run by CK Hutchison, which reported net income last year of $4.3 billion. The Hong Kong-based CK group also recently agreed to sell a 25% share of Northumbrian Water (NWL) to a New York-based investment giant. The price was £1 billion.
Meanwhile, Northumbrian Water last year accumulated fines of £780,000 for environmental breaches. The company is accused of dumping 820,000 tonnes of untreated sewage through one outfall alone.
As Aljazeera points out: “As a privatised monopoly with secure assets to borrow against and a captive customer base, water companies in England like NWL have long been considered a safe bet for international investors, including those in Asia”.
And back at Felixstowe Dock, workers are bought off by a hugely profitable Asia-based giant at minimal extra cost, and are still complaining that they don’t get a living wage.
It is ironic that Britain now seems to have become the colony, and those we once saw as the colonies plunder our country with indifference, as perhaps we once used them. Water pollution for profit is a requirement of the new relationship for a global Britain, and our dock workers become their unentitled and unconsidered labourers.
The Guardian reported this week that Liz Truss had been chosen as this year’s guy to be burned at the annual Edenbridge Bonfire Society’s celebrations. The choice follows a long tradition of picking a public figure to ridicule. To emphasise the spirit of the occasion, Ms Truss is shown with a triumphant lettuce.