There were times during the Conservative Party knees-up in Manchester when Rishi Sunak must have wondered whether he’d turned up at the wrong conference. No-one was remotely interested in him. One cabinet minister complained only about a fifth of those members with tickets had actually shown up, and those that did were rarely in the hall. It was almost empty for James Cleverly (Braintree) and Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield), though both (however improbably) are senior members of the cabinet.
But as my colleague Anna Damski has pointed out, there were much bigger audiences at the side shows – rather like those grotesques in marquees at a travelling fair. ‘See the bearded lady’, or in the case of exposing the mad Truss ideas: ‘See the lady bearded’.
The sideshows were rancid with ambition – either thwarted, as with Liz Truss (SW Norfolk) or Boris Johnson. (No longer an MP, these days he represents nobody but himself. But then of course, he never did). Both are planning their return, rising from whatever dark place they lurk. It is believed that Hammer have the film rights.
But there is also the ambition still to be tested, and Kemi Badenoch (Saffron Walden) now has her eyes on the leadership. You could tell because she gave a TV interview praising the man she was there to assassinate. Ms Badenoch is a favourite to succeed Sunak when the bloody business is done, and when she arrived to speak on Sunday there were queues to get into her event.
One of the government’s more barking ideas during a cacophonic week was opposition to the so-called ’15 minute cities’. This was originally a perfectly innocent idea that everyone should ideally live within a 15-minute stroll of the local shops.
GBNews calls the idea dystopian. Transport secretary Mark Harper calls it sinister, claiming the schemes mean “councils can decide how often you go to the shops”. But junior minister Andrew Bowie, couldn’t give a single example of any council suggesting the idea. It was just “coming up in discussions online”.
By which he means those foetid chat rooms exhorting each other to rise up, as in Thetford where a mob burst into the local council meeting. They believed the idea is a dastardly plot by a mysterious New World Order, to enslave the world and take over our brains by secreting electronic bugs in covid jabs. Now, the latest bunch of cranks to sign up to the crackpots charter is none other than the Tory government.
Dear reader, it is unclear where we go from here. Once you’re through the looking glass you are on your own.
While we are on conspiracy theories, then perhaps we should look askance at a secret meeting Kemi Badenoch held with Rupert Murdoch, the kingmaker and perhaps in this case the queen maker. We know it was secret because Ms Badenoch failed to declare it, and she is aware that not to do so is in breach of ministerial guidelines. So we are left pondering what might possibly prompt a savagely ambitious right wing politician to meet a billionaire newspaper proprietor with a reputation for buying politicians and having them dance to his tune?
Answers on a postcard please, to the usual address.
There is possibly no better illustration of the desperation of the Conservative Party, or how far they have strayed from any grasp of the public mood, than to believe that the voters are gagging for the opportunity to buy mementoes of their leader.
This week Pecksniff received a note from the party, headed “Don’t miss out”! It reads:
“Everyone who donates £5 or more by midnight tonight will be automatically entered into a prize draw with a chance to win a signed copy of his speech. But you have just two hours left. Rush a donation of £5 to us in the next two hours and together let’s deliver the long-term change this country needs. Yours sincerely, The Conservative Party”
A signed copy! But just look what they are asking for: £5. The party that is donated millions by billionaires has come down to scratching around in a hurry among the punters for the odd fiver.
Let us suppose that a thousand of the intellectually challenged were to stump up the money. That’s only five thousand quid – less than Boris Johnson would have spent on a week of those posh takeaways when he was in No.10 (always supposing he ever paid for them himself, of course). But why on earth should the party need that kind of chickenfeed in such a hurry?
Whilst the cabinet trooped out disconsolately to face empty conference halls, one who packed them in was Liz Truss (still SW Norfolk, though her constituents may have forgotten). Before her election as leader, polls showed the public thought she was mad. Her crashing of the economy cost every household thousands, and is unlikely therefore to have endeared her any more closely to the voters.
Yet here she was, still the crackpots’ darling. Ms Truss is feeling the love. She can put electrodes in their Covid jabs any time. The members are still enchanted – particularly bad news for Rishi Sunak of course, since they decisively chose her over him, yet in the end who do they get?
But there was always something comical about Ms Truss. She just Doesn’t Get It. Regular readers will recall the many instances highlighted by Pecksniff in which she made herself a figure of ridicule. She would dearly love to be compared to Margaret Thatcher, and in this one respect at least they are very similar: Mrs Thatcher notoriously lacked a sense of humour. This week, in exhorting carbon fuels, Ms Truss told her packed audience: “We need to unleash that gas that we are sitting on.”
But enough of the Tories’ scandalous dismemberment of the country, I hear you cry: what about their sex scandals…?
Regular readers of Pecksniff will acknowledge that this diary always abjures smut. Our liturgical bent has studiously avoided the salacious. Indeed, the motif chiselled in bass relief above the portals of the EAB newsroom reads: “Risqué, sed numquam crissum” – Risque, but never coarse.
We have had four prime ministers in five years. So it is with a reluctance which those readers of a delicate disposition can readily appreciate that this diarist feels encumbered to reveal a whisper into the Pecksniff shell-like this week. It concerns the sexual predilections of one of them towards BDSM. (Delicacy requires that you, dear reader, look it up yourself.)
It seems the BDSM community has embraced one of those four holders of the highest office as one of its own, for carrying a secret signal. It is an accessory always discreetly worn about the person, but which the keen-eyed can spot for themselves.
And yes, Pecksniff is privy to the ‘whom’ involved, though for reasons of decency, a natural tendency to smugness, and to avoid the further attentions of m’learned friends (with whom the editor had discussions only last week), readers must draw their own conclusions.
Last week we speculated on rumours that Priti Patel (Witham) is about to decamp to the Reform Party. She is certainly up to something, though that something may yet be joining the queue of those mentioned already to make a ritual bid for the Tory leadership.
But here we have her at the Tory conference, enthusiastically dancing with Nigel Farage, that doyen of Reform, who are presumed to be at daggers drawn with the Tories. But the lyrics of the song to which they were boogying on down declare: “At last, love has arrived!”
On the other hand, since Rishi Sunak says he sees no reason why Nigel Farage couldn’t rejoin the Tories, perhaps we have this the wrong way round. Perhaps after all Ms Patel is the vestal
virgin dame through whom Mr Farage will be re-annointed as a Tory.
Dear readers, let us refresh our glasses and watch this space.
Did anybody notice in Laura Kuenssberg’s ‘State of Chaos’ series that a very senior diplomat accused Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) of lying?
Speaking of that, one of the most egregious of Boris Johnson’s inventions about the EU was that it wanted to control how bendy bananas should be. In fact, the law was to ensure food standards.
Now, environment secretary Thérèse Coffey tells us this law is to be repealed before the end of the year. So there goes another guarantee of food safety being ditched by the Tories – so inferior fruit can be imported to lower standards than those in the EU.
On Monday at conference, James Cleverly (Braintree), the foreign secretary, told his meagre audience that it was Brexit which allowed Britain to act so speedily on Covid vaccinations. This of course was untrue. The vaccines were delivered through provisions under European law.
A regular reader, Paul Hodgson, implores Pecksniff for news of his MP, Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds). But No Show Jo is living up to her nickname, and one wonders if she is even at her party conference. There is nothing on her website to tell us. In fact, there is nothing much on her website at all. The last entry calling itself news, however derisory, was more than two months ago, and on the events page there is not one entry.
Tom Hunt (Ipswich) can’t stop joining things. Perhaps it’s because they all have badges and it’s really the badges he collects. There would be no question of his not attending conference. So this week he was talking at a fringe meeting of the New Conservatives group. He said:
“Being frank, it is not xenophobic when you walk into your town centre to not want to feel like you’re living in a foreign country. I don’t think that makes you a xenophobe. I think that makes you somebody who wants to live in a community with shared values.”
So let us, dear reader, deconstruct his words. What, we wonder, makes it feel Ipswich is part of a foreign country? Is it because there are foreign voices, say?
Mr Hunt has claimed a “disproportionate number” of offences are committed by “individuals from certain communities.” He led a debate in the Commons on grooming gangs and expressed his frustration that “data relating to the ethnic background of all those found guilty” was not readily available. In his opposition to refugees being housed in an Ipswich hotel, he described it as, “an appalling and intolerable situation that angers me,” describing “men hanging around in large groups in the town centre. Blighting the town centre experience for many.”
Anybody who he considers a foreigner certainly has no place here. So a difference in skin colour or language could explain how, by simply walking into town, Mr Hunt claims there are people there who don’t share his values.
In the past, Mr Hunt has explained that his apparent gormlessness is in fact dyslexia, but that of course is only word blindness. It doesn’t explain stupidity or prejudice. The word ‘xenophobia’ means dislike of or prejudice against foreigners. Yet here is Mr Hunt admitting he doesn’t like the feeling of living in a foreign country, or one that doesn’t share his values.
Tom Hunt is a xenophobe, out of his own mouth.
Lest we forget, there is a by election under way in Mid Beds, and it isn’t going well. One voter captures the zeitgeist: “This election is so nasty. Politics shouldn’t be like this.” No, dear voter, it shouldn’t. But Labour and the LibDems are intent on making this a deeply unpleasant experience for all those they pretend they want to represent. The Tories are almost forgotten in the hate-fest, though through the mutually eviscerating tactics of Labour and LibDems it is by no means certain they won’t hang on to the seat. (There are other candidates but who knows what they’re doing, other than being trampled underfoot.)
For what it is worth, this seems to be the picture on the ground. The voters are deeply disillusioned, not only with the Tories but all politicians, (and the unseemly behaviour of those wanting to replace Nadine Dorries is only compounding that disappointment). So while there is no enthusiasm whatever for the Tories, the general view is: “They’re all the same”. So canvassing is proving a depressing experience for all the party faithful.
Both Labour and LibDems are striving for momentum: Labour appears not to have much, but the LibDems probably have little more. (If any party cares to provide Pecksniff with some plausible data we will be delighted to consider it.) The outcome seems likely to depend on just how many Tories stay at home. But next week Pecksniff will be strolling the leafy boulevards of Ampthill in person, so in the next diary readers can read a forecast of the outcome.
And on the subject of elections, the East Anglian Daily Times is reporting that more than 200 wannabe MPs initially applied for the position of prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for the new seat of Waveney Valley in Suffolk. That has now been whittled down to a manageable shortlist, which includes several well-known local names. No doubt your diarist will return to this battle as the whispers and the tip-offs sneak in.