There is a theory called ‘the infinite game’.
In the theory, success comes not from striving to win, but from staying in the game. Ambitious players in politics sometimes play a finite game, as though it were like 90 minutes of football with a clear result. In doing so they can crash and burn. Think of Priti Patel (Witham), whose serially poor judgment in trying to get a headline discounted her from the leadership ballot. But politics is an infinite game, and players come and go.
So success in the infinite game comes not from making a dash for victory but from just staying there, because that makes you stronger. Liz Truss (South West Norfolk) was the longest serving cabinet minister until the party’s members chose her as its leader. She was always there, always slip-streaming, always toadying. Ms Truss is probably too shallow to have heard of the infinite game, even though she may have been playing it unwittingly. She was merely being sycophantic, but making clear to every leader in turn that you pose no threat is a good way of becoming known as dependable – and staying in the game.
Dear reader, what to make of the Tories now? Even weeks ago they were compared to a ‘death cult’, and short of queueing up to drink poison form a communal pot, this week’s conference could hardly have done more to make the point. The game is up. International research institution TS Lombard in describing the British economy has coined the phrase “moron risk premium”.
“We’re f***ed” says one unnamed Tory MP of Liz Truss. “Very senior colleagues are telling me she won’t be here much longer.”
A poll shows only one in 10 of voters approve of Ms Truss. Another gives Labour a 33% lead. Another in Red Wall seats shows 38%. Even headbangers in the media are beginning to admit it’s over. Visitors to the conference speak of tense young members with mad eyes and implausible haircuts, demanding a libertarian utopia of scrapping planning laws, phasing out the police and an end to compulsory education. Though most of the faithful turned up for the Trussgrand finale, it was apparent by the day before that the new hero is already to be found elsewhere. With Ms Truss apparently becoming wobbly on the detail, the zealots are casting their eyes towards Suella Braverman as their next saviour.
Among those right-wing media headbangers is Sherelle Jacobs, a Daily Telegraph columnist. She rages against social democracy and all its faults, though according to Wikipedia the phrase means “advocating economic and social interventions to promote social justice within the framework of a liberal-democratic polity and a capitalist-oriented mixed economy”.
So if Ms Jacobs opposes “a mushy social democratic worldview”, as she claims, then we must assume this means she supports a free-for-all with no care for social justice and no civic ownership whatever; everything run by private enterprise, including government. And for those still in any doubt, she feels that’s what Ms Truss wants too.
Ms Jacobs is apparently not the only one to share this view. The Good Law Project reports that Liz Truss raised £500,000 to support her successful leadership bid, more than half of which came from hedge fund bosses, venture capitalists and other city financiers. But it so happens the cap on spending for the leadership campaign is set at £300,000. So one has to wonder what she will spend the other £200,000 on.
Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield), who was transport secretary until sacked last month, has declared that Liz Truss has 10 days in which to turn her precarious premiership around.
“She’s got a conference speech to make after a very difficult few days,” Mr Shapps says. “She’s got the MPs coming back together again for the first time since things became choppy, of course, I mean, it’d be ludicrous to say anything else.”
Mr Shapps made the remarks on Wednesday, so time is up around Saturday 15 October. If Mr Shapps is right, will the Tories by then have decided to stick with her, or that she has to go? It so happens that 15 October is apparently Global Handwashing Day, from which we can all draw conclusions.
Meanwhile, lurking there still on the back benches remains the porky figure of Boris Johnson. He has no interest whatever in a backbench career, and the only reason he remains in the Commons is a desire to return to No.10 to preen before his devoted acolytes. So with his usual blundering lack of delicacy, who should be the first to make clear the plot to return him to his rightful place but Lord Peter Cruddas, one of Hertfordshire’s finest. This is the gentleman whose ennoblement by Mr Johnson happened to coincide with a multi-million donation to the Tory party.
“The 1922 committee will stop at nothing to get their man (Rishi Sunak) as PM,” claims his lordship. “What is playing now is a conspiracy to bring down Truss by MPs loyal to Rishi.
“(Truss) needs to act quicky as the cabal is coming for her and she only has weeks to survive. I believe the best option for Truss is…” – wait for it – “… to work with Boris to return as the leader with Truss getting a key job in the new cabinet.”
Just when you thought it was safe again to go out after dark, that terrifying creaking sound is of a coffin lid opening as Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedordshire) emerges from her crypt. She had given up her Twitter account, it was thought because her intemperate ravings might have jaundiced her chances of a peerage. So what are we to make of her return?
Bizarrely, the first tweet in her renaissance is an attack on Liz Truss, whom she wholeheartedly supported in the leadership contest. She claims Ms Truss threw her chancellor under a bus. She also calls for a general election – the first Tory turkey to vote for Christmas. According to last week’s polls she might also lose her seat – if she hasn’t jumped by then. Is she sure of ennoblement to the House of Lords and so doesn’t give a flying fig? Or is she planning to resign as an MP anyway?
This is fun… Still in the Nadine Dorries backyard of Central Beds, the Tory council voted unanimously against spending 82p per child on free school meals in their district, then immediately and unanimously voted themselves a pay rise, since “We’re all affected by the cost of living crisis”…
Pecksniff doesn’t write half enough about Bedfordshire, and would be delighted to receive any further news or gossip about the members of the Tory group running the council.
There was speculation during the week, at what seemed a sparse audience in the main hall of the Tory conference compared to a crowded event arranged by the European Movement.
But who were these people so desperate to hear arguments in favour of rejoining the EU? Some would have been journalists, doing what a journalist’s gotta do. But the others? Some have suggested the ‘moderate’ wing of the Tory party, but there is no evidence that they exist anymore, let alone that they would take their lives in their hands and attend conference. And it is too much to hope that any now-mainstream Tories were ready to u-turn.
So the puzzle remains. Pecksniff would be interested to hear any information which throws light on the conundrum.
Four Suffolk MPs have banded together to warn the government not to abandon Suffolk’s ‘levelling-up’ projects. This is after their new prime minister has let it be known that any attempt to look at fairer distribution of the pie is now a matter for scorn, so good luck with that. Lights burning late at No.10 to deal with their threat, you can imagine.
In any case, demanding a fair share of a non-existent fund that was never going to cough up anyway does not seem a productive argument. But then the MPs make an odd quartet. Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk) is a member of the One Nation Tory group, so levelling-up at least conforms with his political ideas, however little he does to promote them. Peter Aldous (Waveney) sometimes joins Dr Poulter in mild protests at some of the more lunatic government proposals. James Cartlidge (S Suffolk) is another without a government job so feels safe in making… well, if not waves then the teensiest ripples.
But what of Tom Hunt (Ipswich)? Of the four, his seat is the only one in serious jeopardy. He will join anything that gives him the chance to pretend that the people of Ipswich are of any concern, but it would be fair to say that he and Dr Poulter, for example, make curious bedfellows. For example and to be fair, nobody would ever accuse Dr Poulter of being an anti-muslim and refugee-hating xenophobe.
And yes, regular readers of this diary will know that stories about Tom Hunt are like buses, and never turn up singly. There are a group of readers who revel in tales of the latest misfortunes to befall the Ipswich MP, though it is not to satisfy their mockery that his name keeps appearing in this diary. Mr Hunt is nothing if not slavish in his admiration for whoever is in the ascendant at any given time. Thus he was a late convert to Ms Truss as leader and fully supportive of the chancellor’s ‘mini budget’; then naturally when the controversial plan to remove the 45p tax band was dropped, he claimed in a radio interview that he had always been against it. His difficulty however was in recalling quite when he had so courageously spoken out against his own government.
When that great Commons Speaker in the Sky surveys his heavenly chamber at God’s Question Time, one of the many MPs who can never hope to be called is Anthony Browne (S Cambs). The first we have heard of him for some time is in a leaflet being distributed, promising he will be “making a difference” in his constituency. He has had three years to make a difference on his fellow Tory predecessor, but there is little to record of his career – a few accusations of “disgusting racism”, little else. (He accused migrants from Africa of bringing disease into the country, based on nothing other than the keen scent of a devoted bigot.)
Naturally he also fails to mention that if the issues he highlights are in such disrepair it can only be because the Tories have been in government for the past 12 years. On the other hand, the leaflet also fails to mention the word ‘Conservative’ on the cover at all. Cynics may see some link there.
The leaflet is the same boilerplate stuff, generated by Tory HQ, with which other Tory MPs have also been decorating their voters’ doormats, like it or not. Pecksniff mentioned Tom Hunt pulling the same trick a couple of weeks ago.
Following the lead of EAB, the Eastern Daily Press trawled around South West Norfolk, the Liz Truss constituency, talking to voters. They found no more enthusiasm for their MP than my colleague, even though they were asking questions in the Downham Market Con Club. “As Norfolk’s first prime minister in 280 years took to the stage at the Conservative Party Conference to deliver her maiden speech as leader, it is fair to say that the mood back home was hardly rapturous,” the paper reports.
“She’s not that popular round here,” one regular declares. “Hasn’t she resigned yet?” asks another. So as usual the perplexing question arises. If they don’t even like her in her own Con Club, wo on earth keeps re-electing her?
As a postscript, a couple of days later news came that the Downham Market Con Club may have to close – because of rising energy costs.
Not far from where the disconsolate drinkers at the Con Club are whingeing about their MP, Pecksniff is hearing tales of bullying among the Tory group on South Norfolk Council. It involves threats of de-selection, losing a committee chair and other sanctions. Not long ago there were resignations from among the Tory group. But these latest rumours of distasteful goings on suggest we should investigate further.
There were pleasingly rowdy demonstrations around the country last weekend – there was one in Norwich, another in Cambridge – regarding the cost-of-living increases. They were organised, as far as Pecksniff is aware, by Enough is Enough, which seems to be principally the vehicle of trade unions, though it also includes the Communist Party and a couple of smaller hard left parties and their offshoots. One is the Breakthrough Party, another the People’s Assembly. They have every right to act as they do, and as one who has spent fruitless years trying to persuade the British to get off their fat bums and do something, Pecksniff finds the presence of angry crowds on the street encouraging.
But many of those attending would have no knowledge of the politics of the organisers and would also be naïve enough not to spot the attendance of those perennial leeches of the left, the Socialist Workers. They were leading the chant they have used for at least the past 50 years, with the crowd not knowing they were siding with Trotskyists and their contempt for ‘bourgeois democracy’. Which portends badly if society does collapse. Revolutionaries are always the very last people who should lead revolutions, since ideology always trumps ‘the people’.