Pecksniff spent Christmas as usual in Karlsbad.
So, imagine the return from a destination still steeped in the glamour of the Belle Epoque, from the Grand hotel Pupp to the Muckrakers Arms, from a sklenice of Tramin cerveny 2012 Kamil Prokes to a pint of Old Unprintable. My dears, never let it be said that your correspondent is not a man for all seasons. Yet what should be awaiting attention but more on the execrable Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal), now – checks notes – it seems our environment secretary. Apparently in her last environment job, as water minister, she presided over the discharge of 321 years of sewage in just three years.
There is something rather episcopalian about Dr Coffey. One can so easily see her as a bishop. She sees the place of the congregation, or in this case the electorate, as being down there in the pews, listening, not in the pulpit expressing their own heretical views. Like objecting to raw sewage in our rivers. Bishop Coffey has ordained and it is not for us to question it.
Thérèse Coffey of course is a regular old lag in this diary, and more than once Pecksniff has wondered how she can get away with such monstrous complacency without at least a quiver of disapproval from her own backyard. But there is not so much as a frisson. Enlightened and arty as much of her constituency clearly is, politically they could hardly be less engaged. The Labour Party has been too preoccupied with Corbyn. The Greens much prefer to secrete themselves away in Woodbridge Library once a month like an obscure religious brotherhood, disdainfully eschewing the outside world. God knows what the Liberal Democrats are up to, and He’s too embarrassed to say.
The opposition political parties there are no different to those in dozens of seats across the country, no doubt. But one has to ask: what do they think they are for? The punters wouldn’t know they exist between elections, and then their only appearance is through a jumbled and irrelevant leaflet through a letterbox. There is a joke among party agents that the lifespan of one of those leaflets is as long as it takes to walk from the front door mat to the waste bin. Yet still they persist.
The parties represent nobody but themselves, and then often not even that. Isn’t it time somebody picked up the phone to the other parties and suggested they talk?
Steve Barclay is another bishop, like Dr Coffey, who seems baffled by the idea that he should be held accountable for running the NHS, or care about what the public think. In interviews he always looks aggrieved, as though being asked about his sexual proclivities. In fact, he may be happier discussing those than the NHS, given by the paucity of his comments of its present state.
It is noticeable how Tory MPs are beginning to check the opinion polls against their majorities and decide that it may be time to stop listening to the whips and actually do what they can to make up to their own voters. Among them is Kemi Badenoch (Saffron Walden), who has taken a break from auditioning a stellar career in Downing Street to trying to save the one she already has. After the next election there is likely to be a glut of ex-MPs looking for work, and the market for consultancies among Tories is going to be limited in a Labour government.
These MPs seem to choose one of two tactics. The first is to try to erect a firewall between them and their government, bleating about what’s going wrong for their constituency whilst trying to ignore the fact that they had all personally voted for it. The second tactic, and that preferred by Ms Badenoch, is to promise the earth, in the hope either something will magically turn up, or the punters will be too dim to notice it hasn’t.
Promising the earth is a particularly high-risk approach by Kemi Badenoch, given that she is reckoned in the vanguard of those MPs whose last visit to their constituency was probably the night of their acceptance speech. In a declaration of reckless bravura, she announces: “One of my key priorities as part of my plan for our constituency is having a health service we can be proud of.”
Among the specific goodies we can expect are one million more NHS appointments, delivered by 31,000 new phone lines. The details of just how the phone lines will be achieved are still sketchy, since the bids by Tory donors for the contracts are still under consideration. The figure of one million appointments rather begs the question ‘With whom?’ Or even ‘Where?’. In the car park, perhaps?
Pecksniff would much rather be back sipping hock in Becher’s Bar, but in the circumstances he will instruct his dark creatures of the night to watch closely how Ms Badenoch deals with the tsunami heading her way.
Meanwhile the hapless Tom Hunt continues to try to ingratiate himself with his voters in Ipswich, with limited success.
One might have thought that blagging a photo op in a competition to find the best Christmas-lit street in town would be straightforward enough, but no. Our man appears, timidly peeping into the picture, and immediately other competitors pull out in outrage at being associated with him.
Meanwhile he and his backers approached the Daily Express to try to do the dirty on his Labour opponent at the election, Jack Abbott, who the polls show is almost a formality to replace Mr Hunt. The MP is as usual looking to appeal to the racist vote in Ipswich, so his subject is refugees. But the polls show voters find his own party’s policies catastrophically ineffective and prefer Labour’s. So, what to do? Hark back to a humanitarian visit by Mr Abbott to the Calais refugee camps several years ago, taking food, as proof that he is in favour of open borders.
The thing is, it’s difficult to identify any achievements by any member of the present government, even by their own lamentable standards. Pecksniff has been musing on this, since this week saw the 20th anniversary of the death of Roy Jenkins. He made himself a reputation as a bon viveur: He didn’t come into the office before 10am and gave instructions to his civil servants never to arrange meetings between 12 and 2pm since he insisted on a good lunch. And he was not known to work late, like after 4, since he always had something to attend. (Mr Jenkins was notoriously fond of claret, and ladies who drank it.)
But Pecksniff is not one to begrudge Mr Jenkins the good life when his achievements far outweigh those of almost any other politician of the last century. In only two years as home secretary, in a bid to introduce a more “civilised society” – his words – he brought in legislation to legalise abortion, reform the divorce laws, decriminalise homosexuality, abolish the death penalty and birching, and liberalise the laws on theatre censorship, immigration and licensing. And still, so he claimed, in the time left him during what seems a remarkably short working day at his desk he found time to re-read the entire oeuvre of Proust.
Nadine Dorries (Mid Beds) – Is she still a thing? – will be spitting out her spleen over the government’s decision not to proceed with the sale of Channel 4.
Her life’s work had been distilled into two goals: getting Boris Johnson back into No. 10 – how’s that coming on, Nads? – and selling off Channel 4, now scuppered. Her plans to privatise the TV channel were not helped by her complete ignorance of its governance or how it is financed, and then deliberately ‘misleading’ (shall we say) the Commons select committee on what appeared to be an invented cock-and-bull story about how they made up stuff. To lie to a select committee – a quasi-judicial body – is an extremely serious offence, so it’s just as well she didn’t do that.
The committee has still to play out its findings into the evidence she gave them, but if it were for example to lead to her suspension from the Commons – which it might well – then in some circumstances that can allow constituents to demand a recall of their MP, and so a by-election. It had been suggested in the past that Ms Dorries had been prepared to fall on
his her sword for Mr Johnson, handing over her seat to him, but even Fatty wouldn’t fancy trying to succeed La Dorries at the moment, however big her majority.
According to a survey in the Daily Telegraph last month, the Reform Party (formally the Brexit Party) are polling at half the Tories’ vote share. At that time the Tories were at 20% and Reform on 9%. But membership figures aren’t that wonderful – the last published count was 6,819.
Reform was set up by Nigel Farage and Catherine Blaiklock, who previously stood as a candidate in Southend West on behalf of the English Democrats.
The deputy leader, David Bull, a former UKIP MEP and now a talk show host, also has links to this area. He lives scarcely a bottle’s throw from Pecksniff. Interest by this diary was in whether the party’s boast that it would stand a candidate against every Tory at the next election might be taken seriously, and how that might affect East Anglia. But readers will not be surprised to learn that talking to Reform is a near impossibility.
We reported in November on the slippery antics of Hertfordshire Constabulary in improperly arresting two journalists during a JustStopOil protest on the M25, presumably on the grounds that having hacks report on the police inability to stop a protest was embarrassing. So best we just chuck them in jail and appeal to the public’s unforgiving nature to hold them accountable.
It backfired, as it was always going to. Herts police have been forced to admit they acted unlawfully and have to pay compensation for unlawful imprisonment. That’s out of the public purse, of course, your money wasted in a vain attempt by the police to cover up their own incompetence and embarrassment. Worse, the good people of Hertfordshire know their police are quite prepared to break the law in order to suit their own purposes.
A report in the Eastern Daily Press tells us that police were called to a planning meeting of North Norfolk Council (NNC), following uproar over an application for a single storey house extension at Weybourne. A “fracas broke out”, apparently, when from the public gallery the chair of the parish council, Lyndon Swift, took exception to the planners ignoring Weybourne’s opposition to the plan. Approval was eventually granted by eight votes to one.
Fascinating, amusing perhaps, though probably not if you were the chair of Weybourne Parish Council or one of the residents. We know that village opposition was based on concerns at harm to the surrounding Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. NNC were po-faced about the incident, remarking only that “In light of this event, the council is reviewing its processes to ensure the safety of all those who attend its committee meetings.” Which we must take to mean that the council will make itself even further removed from the people it serves.
The decision by NCC might have a rational basis, but there will hardly be a village dweller anywhere in the region who couldn’t tell of similar frustrations when their views are ignored. Most do not involve the police. But at a time when councils all over Norfolk are taking deliberate steps to make themselves even more opaque and unapproachable to residents, one has to feel sympathy for Weybourne.
And finally via CambsNews we look to the village of Farcet in Cambridgeshire, near Peterborough.
The parish council has just voted to try and block the building of a school there, for children with special educational needs. The reason they give is that the move will bring “no economic benefit to the village”. A curious reason. And what of St Mary’s church? That brings in the moolah, does it? And the premises of the Farcet Salvation Army corps, that employs locals by the dozen, perhaps?
There couldn’t be any other reason, could there?