Last weekend the press was full of the Liz Truss relaunch, but it was of course a purely Westminster affair. In spite of her vows to become a good constituency MP, her voters in South West Norfolk have still seen neither hide nor hair of her. (Other than her causing even more turmoil over the ill-fated plan for Norfolk devolution.) But the Liz Truss we saw as she climbed her way up the greasy poll has always been the one and only. Pecksniff has tired of pointing out that, however crass her personal publicity stunts, however excruciating her public appearances, she seems to have no intellectual equipment to process quite what a fool she is making of herself. Many of her colleagues in Westminster have their heads in their hands over her insensitivity in claiming that losing £34 billion of public money was the right move.
Shamelessness always exacts a certain astonished respect though, and both Ms Truss and Boris Johnson have it in spades. But it has long been your correspondent’s view that the English are so bad at politics because, above all, we dread embarrassment. Ms Truss is quite incapable of self-awareness, and others around her are just too squeamish to point out that she has, metaphorically at least, caught her skirt in her knickers.
Every week, tales are whispered in the Pecksniff ear of the collapse of morale among Tory voters. Anger and disgust is reported on the doorstep, especially over Mr Johnson and Ms Truss, and especially (from what one hears) in Cambridgeshire. Now, a poll (£) of 28,000 voters for the Daily Telegraph (no less) finds that, in a snap election, the Tories would be reduced from their present 365 seats to just 45. That would be less than the Scottish National Party, who would then become the official opposition. Labour would win 509 seats.
But that malaise seems to have spread to Tory party members and even MPs. Members are furious at their government, and Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) at environment is a particular target for their ire. She is mocked for her desire to be “the voice of the countryside”, since Tory members are no happier about sewage in the rivers than anybody else.
Over the past few days, Tory leadership hopefuls have begun to speak openly about leading the party “in opposition”. There are rumours some Tory MPs are only hanging on in the hope of a gong, then they’ll be off. Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden) appears to have set up a new legal practice with his wife, to which he will turn after election defeat. And over plans to leave the European convention on human rights, Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) declares in a leaked memo:
“I have been a member of the Conservative party for 36 years. This group leaves me cold. Upholding the law should never be a matter for debate for a Conservative. Our Home Office is crap. If the government wants to have a phone[y] war over the ECHR instead of sorting itself out it can do it without me.”
The implication seems clear. If the move goes ahead, Ms Doyle-Price may resign the whip or leave the party altogether.
In another leak, this time a letter to a constituent, Jackie Doyle-Price blames the horrendous financial position at Thurrock Council on providing support to a local theatre. “Being frank, it is an unwillingness to address spending commitments that has led to the council’s current financial position,” she says.
Sadly, there is no record of the pub concerned. But George behind the bar at the Muckrakers Arms, always a man of almost biblical solemnity, has let it be known that there has been no sign of that kind of moolah crossing his bar recently, thank you very much.
But let’s return to that matter of the leadership of the Tory party. It takes on new levels of absurdity if one looks forward to the days following the kind of defeat that appears on the cards. Rishi Sunak would certainly go, probably of his own volition, though his party has never liked him and would be quick to have him gone.
There seem three main contenders at the moment. Kemi Badenoch (Saffron Walden), Liz Truss (SW Norfolk) and Boris Johnson. So the best the party can do is to return to the two recent leaders who have destroyed it, to begin a death struggle over its carcass. It would be medieval in its ferocity. And to the victor, what? The losing survivors would skulk away, bloodied, leaving behind one of the deluded to lead a handful of demented ideologues to a fantasy promised land.
And this doomsday scenario for the Conservative Party, dear reader, will still apparently hold Labour in thrall over its policy on Brexit.
Ho hum. It seems Nadine Dorries (Mid Beds) has broken ministerial rules. Again. This time by taking a job as a TV presenter without notifying the Commons authorities in case of conflict of interest.
Ms Dorries is never short of a word, however unwise its use, and she is another who has added her view on the state of her party: “Today it’s 24 points behind (in the polls). And that, my friends, could be described as terminal. It leaves the party boxed into a corner with no exit route.”
Wake me when it’s over. Or at least when Ms Dorries is.
Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) has one of those faces that always makes one wish one had a custard pie handy. But being assaulted with crème pattissiere is the least of his worries at the moment. Readers will probably have seen the story about his being sued by a couple of his domestic staff, for whom placing an avocado in a bowl the wrong way up was almost a dismissal offence. Not it seems that the Djanolglys paid them anyway, which is the nub of the court action.
Add to this, he claimed £5,000 parliamentary expenses to have an automatic gate installed at his home. He is accused of threatening the mother of a disabled child with legal action at an election hustings. Also, of hiring detectives to spy on staff who he suspected of fiddling expenses, and allegedly bugging his own party agent.
Have we missed anything…?
Anyway, since the polls are currently so enthralling, we might note that Mr Djanogly is given only a 32% chance of holding his seat.
Which brings us to a number of silly rumours about quite where the grifter supreme Boris Johnson might find himself a safe seat, given that his Uxbridge and South Ruislip sinecure is as good as gone. Both Nadine Dorries’ seat in Mid Beds and Matt Hancock’s in West Suffolk have been mentioned, though West Suffolk is due to disappear with the boundary changes. The latest to be floated is Huntingdon, once Jonathan Djanogly has been given the bum’s rush by his local party.
One of the most tedious kinds of story to have to write is about yet another government reshuffle. They never mean anything. It’s just whoever the incumbent PM is at the time trying to give the impression of Doing Something. True, Rishi Sunak has, so we are told, signalled a significant change of direction in inventing two or three new departments. But it is hard to believe that, if he were serious, he would want Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield) to head one.
Mr Shapps, who is the new energy and net zero secretary, has the desperately jaunty persona of a racing tipster down on his luck, and is just one of many MPs who scotch any idea that the Conservative Party is made up of toffs. It is of course made up of vulgarians. Electoral Calculus is presently predicting that Mr Shapps has only a 15% chance of keeping his seat at the next election. Labour has a 17 point lead in the polls there. So it may be apposite to mention that it is only this week that we hear Labour is getting round to considering who it will choose to be the seat’s most likely next MP.
About two years too late. The Labour Party really are incompetent at this stuff.
There was a council by election in Hitchin, in which Ian Albert retained the seat for Labour. Its significance may lie in the decision by the Liberal Democrats not to contest the seat, out of goodwill at the death of a colleague. But EAB will be watching May’s local elections closely, breathing down the neck of canvassers, looking for any sign of this goodwill perhaps being extended more generally.
This week Pecksniff was to be found at one of those country stores selling animal feed: all horse boxes, check shirts and green wellies.
The young woman behind the counter yelled at the youth who carries the sacks: “Oi, Doris!”
“Doris?” a customer asked. “Is that really his name?”
“No, but he annoyed me so much last week, I told him he was so useless and so lazy I was going to call him Boris. Then I changed it to Doris, because I thought that was less offensive.”
Poring over the secret despatches one day this week, Pecksniff of a sudden thought of Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds). This wasn’t because of anything she had done, of course. In fact one of Pecksniff’s most trusted informants had just written – in lemon juice, of course – that once again there was nothing whatever to say about La Churchill. She appears to live, like so many of her fellows, in almost Hasidic seclusion.
This is always a puzzle. One would imagine that, once elected, the most pressing priority for an MP would be to keep the punters happy. Be a good constituency member. It is their own voters who hold the MP’s future in their hands, after all.
But no. The party whips come calling with their instructions. “Vote for sewage in the rivers. Vote to dismantle the NHS.” Soon there is an impossible-to-explain gulf between the interests of the local voters and government policy, and so the gaslighting begins.
Pecksniff recalls a particular incident involving Jo Churchill which illustrates the point. A while ago she had agreed to take part in a charity bike ride for a disabled support group, but only a few days beforehand in the Commons she had blithely voted down an increase in disability benefits, apparently not seeing any contradiction. But one of the riders did, and objected. The response from Ms Churchill was to gaslight her audience, but though they were disabled that didn’t make them stupid. In the subsequent fall-out, Ms Churchill did not take part in the bike ride. Another photo op gone begging, and another group of punters disgruntled at No Show Jo.
Still, it’s good to know some Tories are focusing on their voters’ most pressing problems. At this week’s PMQs, Shailesh Vara (NW Cambs) asked Rishi Sunak, with what Anthony Powell would call “the congruous demeanour of a Levantine trader”:
“Does my right hon. Friend agree that Burghley would make a fantastic venue [for the world eventing championships in 2026], and will he lend us his support so that we can be successful with our bid?”
All over New Fletton, Stanground and Orton Wistow, it is understood, citizens are giving high fives in the streets, turning up the central heating and working out how they will spend all this new moolah.
If you live in Suffolk or Norfolk, dear reader, and are under the impression that there is less and less news in your local papers, that is because they are being filleted. Newsquest now owns the East Anglian Daily Times, Ipswich Star, Eastern Daily Press and Evening News and has just announced six redundancies among journalists. That means six fewer hacks working on what you read, so even more content will come from generic sources rather than from your own backyard. More content will be removed until there is little left but advertising.
Pecksniff has worked with hacks for many years and has a soft spot for local rags, in spite of their fall from grace. Regional TV has gone the same way, where the only news covered is the sort which takes no time or research, just a cut above rude shaped vegetables. It is not the hacks’ fault: this isn’t what they came into the industry to write about. But the old model is broken. It is without hubris that your correspondent points out that for news with any more gravitas than a man who is flipping beer mats for charity, you now have East Anglia Bylines.