Thérèse Coffey was heckled as she walked through Woodbridge in her Suffolk Coastal constituency last Saturday.
She is coming under increasing public pressure locally. There are the same strong feelings on issues such as the NHS as elsewhere, but it is also a farming area and the river Deben which flows through the town is one of the most publicised polluted waterways. So national issues are felt particularly keenly. It is usual for the fields around the area to be punctuated by Conservative placards. Not one has been reported during this election.
Dr Coffey was fighting back, however. She visited Martlesham Creek (now popularly known as Shit Creek), in the company of what looks from the photo to be most of the Environment Agency. Afterwards she explained to the East Anglian Daily Times that wild birds were at fault for the pollution.
“The Environment Agency explained that pollution will not only be coming from humans, but from agriculture and wildlife,” she told the East Anglian Daily Times. “Especially wild birds that feed from the mudflats.”
Meanwhile those merry pranksters the Effluencers have another jolly wheeze. The people who brought you Shit Creek, urinal stickers, mock blue plaques and Thérèse Coffey beer mats, now suggest a memorial statue to the good doctor. Anybody who has watched her TV interviews over the years (or read her blaming wild birds, above) will know that Dr Coffey suffers from neither shame nor embarrassment, so it will be amusing to see which gag finally has the undoing of her.
A further outfall of sewage related stories.
This week, whilst blithely telling the punters how much they abhor raw sewage in our rivers and how they are already on the case, Tory MPs omitted to explain that what they are actually doing is voting for more of the same. Last week 32 of the region’s MPs voted against the Sewage Discharge Bill, which would have punished water companies for illegal sewage dumping. It is too tedious to list them all – just assume yours was one of them – so we shall choose one at random: Duncan Baker, the MP for North Norfolk. His is the name we shall mock, since it was the Liberal Democrats from his constituency who brought it to Pecksniff’s attention.
Oliver Dowden (Hertsmere) is an MP we don’t often mention, and for reasons which passeth all understanding he is also our deputy prime minister. He is presently engaged in dirty tricks against Sue Gray, who readers will know once prepared a report on Boris Johnson and is now in the news for having been appointed by Keir Starmer as his chief of staff. Mr Dowden and his black arts team are keen to pin something on Ms Gray, and so instigated an inquiry into her appointment.
A final decision on whether there was wrongdoing is down to the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, but it seems they haven’t come up with much either. Their report has yet to be published, but we can assume there is nothing in it because Mr Dowden has been blatantly leaking bits of it to the media. If they had her bang to rights, we might be sure that Mr Dowden et al would be slavering rather than nit-picking.
Liz Truss (South West Norfolk) quickly earned herself a reputation in her swift rise to prominence for, shall we say, enjoying the fruits of privilege. A lunch bill of £15,000 here, a personal stylist at the taxpayer’s expense there. Avarice is never an attractive trait, but avarice just for the sake of it carries a particular distaste. So it is that we learn Ms Truss has been presented with a bill for £12,000 from the Cabinet Office for her time as foreign secretary. It seems that, as well as running up personal bills whilst at her grace and favour mansion of Chevening House and not paying them, a number of bathrobes and slippers went missing.
How many bathrobes does one discredited politician need? There was also the question of the traces of white powder discovered there, though of course nobody is suggesting for a moment that this was anything to do with Ms Truss, let alone that she charged the treasury for nose candy. All that is known is that what appeared to be cocaine was discovered after Ms Truss had left her post and so given up the house. Pecksniff has never thought of Ms Truss as a drug user and still finds the idea unlikely. It must have been some previous incumbent…
One more stick with which to prod the execrable Tom Hunt (Ipswich) and his support for those protesters against refugees in the town. It is a clip from social media and a stream from one of the organisers of those protests. It claims Jews deliberately started both world wars and praises Hitler, who it turns out was merely trying to save us from them.
For the most part, MPs find having to mix with their councillors a tiresome chore, but most at least attempt to hide it. But presumably if you’re foreign secretary you feel you should even be asked to do that. So here is a hapless Tory councillor, whose name James Cleverly (Braintree) hasn’t bothered to find out, or the name of his ward, or how long he’s been a councillor, but he’s still pretty sure you should vote for him.
One curiosity about the almost ubiquitous use during these local elections of the description ‘Local Conservative’ is that presumably those using the phrase hope it will resonate more comfortably among local voters. Yet in the 18 months or so since Pecksniff began with the greatest pleasure the humble submission of this diary before his readers, it has become apparent that, in Norfolk for instance, almost every council seems at least functionally corrupt. If you live in that splendid (if rather flat) county, dear reader, and know very little about what goes on within your local council, this is almost certainly not accidental. Your elected representatives and sometimes the officers they employ, work tirelessly to ensure that you, the voter, know as little about what goes on within their portals as is possible within the vaguest description of democracy.
Have you tried to contact them recently?
Because you continue to re-elect the same faces every time, the possessors of those faces become used to doing things in their own (increasingly secretive) way. Then along comes a few weeks of nuisance when one of these timid and lacklustre events called an election occurs, and once it is past things can return to normal. The voter is rarely what local government is about these days. He or she is merely a tiresome by-product of the system.
We are jaded and indifferent to politics, so the lack of democracy is partly our fault. Years ago, Pecksniff stood on the Cornhill in Ipswich with a man who had cut his teeth on local town politics and gone on to make himself a reputation on the national stage.
The occasion was a local election count. As results came through, they were broadcast from loudspeakers up on the balcony to the small crowd in the square, to a few cheers and cat-calls. Our man was disdainful.
“Look at that!” he jeered. “In the old days they used to stand up there in person so you could chuck bottles at them.” He shook his head at the limp nature of modern politics and added: “What we want is more fighting in the pubs.”
It goes without saying that this attitude has gone out of fashion, though the anecdote has served Pecksniff well over the years. The point is, however, that if politics has lost its passion and become more anodyne, whose fault is that?
Writing this the day before the council elections, several portents for the result come to mind. Political hacks are accustomed to refer to East Anglia as a “sea of blue”. But that has gone, probably never to return.
The reason those hacks will give is the change is a reflection of national politics, a top-down interpretation as usual. It is partly true, but it isn’t just that the punters have grown fed-up with the Sunak-Truss-Johnson years. A bottom-up exploration can offer a much more practical explanation.
They have run out of Tories.
The party can’t find candidates, sometimes even in seats it’s imperative to win. If they do have candidates, they haven’t enough canvassers or leaflet posters to support them, and so ashamed are they of the Tory brand they even hide the fact that they are Conservatives at all.
They won’t be swept away this week, but it is the beginning of the end and it will no longer be appropriate to call East Anglia a sea of blue. That won’t stop lazy hacks still using the phrase, of course. But for the first time this week, voters in rural areas will have known their cross may mean something.
The keen newshounds of EAB were dragged out of the pub during election day to investigate what appeared a clear breach of the new electoral law on voter identification. (They were not happy. For several it was the first of the day.) Those refused the vote because they had no identification were supposed to be registered as having turned up. But it appeared several councils at least were turning voters away before registration, so they wouldn’t appear in the data.
Naturally EAB weren’t the only hacks reporting the elections, but whereas we were concerned with a clear breach of the law, BBC Look East interviewed a man who was clearly breaking it and yet reassured viewers all was positively tickety-boo. Either they didn’t know the law was being broken, or for their own reasons they chose not to report it.
Nothing works. Put the BBC on the list.
As we go to press, the afternoon results from the local elections are appearing. The Tory vote shows signs of collapse, but without the resultant surge for Labour – who have done well enough but nothing to make them exultant. The overnight results, from urban areas, only showed half the story: if the Tories aren’t flocking to Labour (which our canvassers have been telling us they weren’t). Where were they going?
The answer comes from the rural seats, where the Tory vote has always held sway, of course, but where its collapse is more noticeable. Most of Hertfordshire now is under no overall control, including Welwyn Hatfield (home of Grant Shapps), with Dacorum going to the LibDems.
But nowhere is more noticeable, of course, than Mid Suffolk which has seen a Green triumph. East Anglia Bylines spent a day campaigning with Greens leader Adrian Ramsay in January, showing this has been a long and well managed campaign.
This is the first outright council victory for the party in the country. In fact, apparently it’s the first in the northern hemisphere. (My dears, who would have thought dear old sleepy Suffolk would lead the revolution?)
One issue comes to mind that may be immediately and dramatically affected. My colleague Kate Moore wrote recently on Freeport East and Gateway14 – a Tory gimmick in racing to try and eradicate local accountability as far as possible. What new thinking on these proposals might a Green majority on Mid Suffolk and power-sharing in East Suffolk bring?
So what can we deduce from an early glance at the entrails of the elections? As expected, there is a general rage against the Tories. (After all, there is no reason why Tory voters should want incompetence, sleaze, and sewage in the rivers more than anyone else.) Labour of course will claim it as a victory for them, though they are the only ones who believe that. It will be interesting to see how they react. Will the party remove its head from its orifice and join the real world, or continue to pretend that anything but a Labour vote is a wasted vote? If it does, then in what may now become a fast moving political scenario, they could be left skulking behind.
The LibDems have their successes to crow about too. But with respect, the most intriguing question is just how the Greens’ triumphs, especially in Suffolk, will affect public opinion. A breakthrough for them has been a long time coming, mostly their own solipsistic fault. But at a time when cynicism in politics has never been more enervating, fresh faces and lots of beards might bring dramatic advances for the party.
Thanks this week go to Jess Knopp, Lifelong Landlady, and all the politics team from East Anglia Bylines.