“Truss showed no sign of recognition that we were there… Her mouth turned down, her brow furrowed and her eyes slid across me. Turning on her heel, she swept away before I could even begin to speak: she had been forced into an unlooked-for encounter and wasted no time in escaping.”
Pauline Buchanan Black tells of her meeting with Liz Truss (South West Norfolk) in The New European. It is similar to Pecksniff’s own experience, in the company of a grieving mother who had turned to Ms Truss for help. She was something junior in education, and clearly saw the meeting as a waste of time. It is fair to say that the attraction of politics to Ms Truss does not involve helping her constituents. There was no smile, barely an acknowledgement of the mother’s presence, just an impatience to draw the encounter to a close. Ms Truss had a career to build, and the messy problems of her constituents had no part to play in that.
It was a chilling experience. Buchanan Black goes on to recall an apt description: “When later I read Dominic Cummings saying of her that ‘the eyes had a thousand-yard stare’, I knew I’d had personal experience of it.” Regrettably, so had the grieving young mother.
This diary is principally concerned with the gaffes and vicissitudes of East Anglian politicians. But when one happens upon a video of Rishi Sunak, the other Tory leadership candidate, boasting to Tory members of how he has surreptitiously moved public money from deprived urban areas to prosperous Tory voting constituencies, in this case Royal Tunbridge Wells, it seemed unfair to Ms Truss not to point out that she does not have the monopoly on unfeeling and arrogant hypocrisy.
Boris Johnson is not one of the East’s politicians either, but it seems appropriate to make an exception for him too. It really does appear that he will be found guilty of misleading the House. The penalty is suspension from the Commons, and if for more than 10 days then he faces possible recall by his constituency voters. Many Tory backbenchers are furious at this, and alarmed that the speaker has sought legal advice as to how long Johnson’s suspension should be.
That means it will be more difficult for his cultists to bully the speaker into applying a more lenient period of suspension. But there is more in play here. Liz Truss will shortly replace Johnson as prime minister, and the last thing she will want, is knowing he is sitting behind her on the back benches, plotting to overthrow her and reclaim the prize. Much more convenient if he were required to face his voters, be soundly defeated and thrown out of the Commons. So expect loud trumpetings of support from Truss and at the same time a dirty back corridor campaign to make sure his erstwhile backers know who is the head honcho now.
As it happens, voting in the Tory leadership race has been suspended because of security concerns over the methodology – a problem spotted by GCHQ, which is interesting. But Pecksniff can reveal that the source of the problem might well lie in the Truss backyard.
Pecksniff is told the chair of South West Norfolk Young Conservatives was so pleased at getting his voting slip for the Tory leadership he photographed it and put it on Twitter – complete with security bar code. So anybody could presumably copy it and would be able to vote.
The tweet has since been deleted, which may speak for itself. Fortunately, Pecksniff has a copy…
It is said the obviously dim James Cleverly (Braintree) is being lined up as the new Truss foreign secretary, and the frankly terrifying Suella Braverman as home secretary. Those refugees have had it easy under Priti Patel (Witham). At least they escaped to Rwanda with their fingernails.
Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) is in trouble for making up statistics again. In January this year her Department of Work and Pensions declared a target of moving 500,000 people from universal credit into work. In June the department triumphantly claimed they had met that target – in only five months.
However, when pressed by the Office for Statistics Regulation, the department admitted the figures are not “official”. Nor is there an explanation of how the target was defined, how it was measured or the methods used to come up with the claim.
Brandon Lewis (Gt Yarmouth) gave an interview to the Today programme, swearing fealty to the latest Liz Truss u-turn over public sector pay, even though he knew, his interviewer knew, and every listener knew that he was making it up, and he knew that we all knew that he didn’t care that we knew. It seems we have plumbed new depths of arrogant cynicism. No minister now will even pretend that what he or she says is true.
But when we are shocked, and shocked that others aren’t shocked, it may be that we have missed an observation by Sartre which, however unlikely, the Tories have understood: that truth and myth are one and the same thing. For the English, brought up on national myth and not overburdened with the truth, what would be more natural than to suck up myths about the undeserving poor, standing on your own two feet and untrustworthy foreigners.
So for the voters, Tory myths are perhaps more easily understood as truth than what we see as the real thing, but which challenges myth. Because in challenging them, we challenge what it is to be English.
Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield), who as transport secretary is still refusing to attempt to solve the rail dispute, blithely remarks that “archaic rules from 1919 mean working on rest days is voluntary”.
Imagine! A system so lax that employees can’t be forced to give up their time off and come into work!
Mr Shapps says he intends to do something about this. And since the government seems to think that enforced working on days off is such a good thing, perhaps we should assume they will extend the idea more widely.
Shailesh Vara (NW Cambs) boasts of how his own family was thrown out of Uganda 50 years ago and were welcomed here as refugees to make a new life.
He is a strong supporter of the present government’s policy of driving back refugees attempting to cross the Channel.
Readers will recall what a breakthrough we were promised that the new blue British passport would bring. Apparently the world would tremble at the sight.
Only, the Henley Passport Index keeps a track of these things. Back in 2016 when we were members of the EU it was indeed powerful – the most powerful in the world according to the HPI, allowing entry to more countries without a visa than any other. But unfortunately, the go-it-alone new British passport seems to have lost its muscle. It has dropped to 13th in the league table, just below Portugal.
“Three operating theatres at Kings Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital had to shut last week when staff noticed movement in the ceiling nearby.” So reported the Lynn News this week: hospital staff had seen the ceilings of operating theatres actually crumbling before their eyes.
At the last count there were 1528 props holding up the hospital roof, but as the story shows there are more now. It seems everyone has lost count. There is still no word on what the government proposes to do about it. No word either from local MP James Wild (NW Norfolk), who is understandably reluctant to talk about it – one of many such omissions – preferring instead to devote his time to the crucial importance of public buildings flying the flag.
Pecksniff passes on this persiflage without further comment…