On Wednesday, Pecksniff wrote to colleagues about the government’s ‘safe’ majority and Suella Braverman’s lunatic ideas on banning tents having been omitted from the King’s Speech:
“Both Sunak and Braverman are living dangerously here… it was enough for her to have suggested it, and it’s almost better for her that it has been left out.
“Sunak will presumably keep her in the cabinet because he’s hostage to the right, but which will be more telling? Her making the running or his throwing out the idea? It may depend on whether she crows about it or not.”
Well, we now know that she had floated the tents idea without referring to No 10, but she also crowed, with that Times article accusing the Met of being biased towards left wing demonstrations.
“A safe majority presupposes the party has a common interest in surviving, but Braverman is clearly looking beyond that – as is Truss – to the factional fighting following electoral defeat. So it looks as though that’s more important than the survival of the government. I haven’t read the contents of the King’s Speech, but if anybody is in the business of pulling the rug, a vote on the speech would be the time to do it.”
The next day came that piece in The Times and the revelation that it had not been agreed with No 10. As we go to press, No 10 is still cowering in indecision…
It has been yet another unhappy week for Rishi Sunak. Keir Starmer’s performance after the King’s Speech was confident and commanding, and Mr Sunak in the usual attempt to look anywhere but at the interlocutor gave the impression he was hanging his head. In addition, pollsters Redfield and Wilton report that Keir Starmer leads Mr Sunak on every issue.
And that’s before the conclusion of the Braverman tents issue and her apparent flouting of No 10 over the Times article.
There is the small matter of Rishi Sunak’s visit this week to Bacton gas terminal in Norfolk. Not so small if you are a resident of Potter Heigham, a village still engulfed by floods from storm Ciarán and through which Mr Sunak drove without stopping. (Mr Sunak is notoriously terrified of meeting a real person, let alone one with an axe to grind.) So this is far from being a small matter for all those volunteers, who paused in their labours in trying to get the village habitable again to watch the prime ministerial motorcade pass through.
Under the old boundaries at least, Potter Heigham is part of the Broadland constituency. The MP is Jerome Mayhew, a man notorious for his pompous and placatory observations on how everything is going swimmingly. It is understood that disgruntled voters are pressing him on the arrogance and indifference of his prime minister, and just how literally things are still going swimmingly for them.
It seems to be ‘rats fighting in a sack’ time. A despondent Duncan Baker (N Norfolk) has been photographed schlepping about his part of the world in wellies, complaining that Tory-led Norfolk County Council has failed to take steps to counter the flood risk. Nothing more likely to cast doubt on keeping his seat than for thousands of his constituents finding themselves up to their ankles in sewage in the middle of their living rooms.
The council, on the other hand, are aggrieved at being held responsible for the floods when Mr Baker has spent his entire parliamentary career voting for every penny-pinching reduction in local government finances. Pecksniff has heard the phrase “brass neck” mentioned.
Rats fighting in a sack, part 2. Tom Hunt (Ipswich) is involved in a dispute with Tory colleagues over Suella Braverman. The dispute is about her comments on this weekend’s march, and whether other Tory MPs should keep schtum about it. Those who have been avid participants in Pecksniff’s handy cut out ‘n’ keep series on Mr Hunt and his proclivities will not need to guess where his sympathies lie.
As Pecksniff pointed out last week, Nadine Dorries has a book out. As far as is known it is not intended as a work of fiction, but readers must make up their own minds:
“Oliver Dowden was inevitably first [to try to speak at cabinet]. I have never heard anyone talk for so long and say so little. Oliver used a hundred words when 10 would do, and when he’d finished speaking, I wasn’t the only one left inwardly groaning and wondering at the greatest mystery of the Cabinet: how a man of so little discernible talent had risen so far.”
For once, Nads has a point. Pecksniff has pointed out that Mr Dowden (Hertsmere) isn’t even a household name in his own household. He has been described as a “milquetoast”. His most memorable quote is: “The privet hedges of suburbia are the privet hedges of a free people”.
More from the Nadine Dorries book, courtesy of Alan Rusbridger of the Guardian. As culture secretary Ms Dorries was charged with finding a new chairperson for Ofcom, and claims she was lobbied by Robbie Gibb of No 10 to recommend a party apparatchik, Lord Stephen Gilbert. She says she ignored the suggestion and subsequent bullying, and recommended Michael Grade who eventually got the job.
But Robbie Gibb is now a director of the BBC, so as Mr Rusbridger points out, how can it be appropriate for the regulated to try and handpick the head of the regulator?
Ms Dorries is at pains to draw a distinction between the No 10 minions conniving in the dark and her hero, Boris Johnson, who of course had nothing whatever to do with this sort of thing.
The cabinet secretary until September 2020, Mark Sedwill, told the Covid inquiry this week that he did not trust Matt Hancock (West Suffolk), who of course was health secretary at the time. He was seen as being not routinely honest, and his promises had to be double checked in case he was “over-promising”. (There is another word for that.) He wanted Boris Johnson to sack Mr Hancock.
In one of Mr Sedwill’s WhatsApp messages he says “Hancock is so far up BJ’s (Boris Johnson’s) arse his ankles are brown.” This is a variation on a similarly indelicate observation made by John Bercow, again about Mr Hancock, but in that case the arse belonged to George Osborne.
But the ownership of the arse in question is not the point here. Matt Hancock is, by anybody’s estimation, a weak and pathetic creature who should never have been an MP, let alone a minister with the power of life or death. He was foisted on the people of West Suffolk by his local Tory party and has long since abandoned any pretence at representing them, yet still draws his £84,000 salary. But still there is no hint of remorse from his local party, or any attempt at apology.
The noble guerrieri of EAB are ever alert for Tory malefactors, wherever they are. Thus it was that Liz Truss, enjoying her macchiato at Pret a Manger at Waterloo on Tuesday, suddenly found herself confronted by one of this diarist’s esteemed colleagues, brandishing a turkey sandwich, (in granary, since you ask).
This paragon of the journalistic profession had the presence of mind to record the subsequent conversation, though anybody who has ever tried to hold a conversation in Pret a Manger will appreciate why the recording is almost impossible to understand. So for your delectation, Pecksniff has made a transcript.
Our Nemesis politely apologises for interrupting, then declares:
“I’d like to say thank you very much for adding £5,000 a year to my domestic bill by your actions”.
Ms Truss demurs: “That’s not true”.
“Sorry?” Our heroine isaffronted at Ms Truss apparently claiming she knows more about her domestic expenses than she does herself.
“That’s not true.”
“It is true.”
“It’s not true.”
“It is true.”
“I suggest you look at the facts.”
“I have looked at the facts, I’ve seen my bills, my mortgage, gone up about £5,000 a year. And I’m just one person of millions of people who have suffered by your actions.”
“Why do you think it’s my fault?”
“Because of your decisions, your reckless decisions with Kwasi Kwarteng.”
“You don’t know what you are talking about, do you.”
“I do know what I’m talking about.”
“No you don’t.”
“I’m not finished yet.”
“I’m not finished…”
Admirers of Ms Truss will already have recognised her debating style. But at this point, this Socratic dialogue was interrupted by the Truss security detail, who politely requested my colleague to desist, having made her point. As he shepherded her away, she pointed out: “She’s cost so many of us thousands of pounds”.
“I know,” said the policeman glumly. “I’m in the same boat.”
This week has been special for Liz Truss. She had the chance to return to the Shangri-La which is Swaffham, in her constituency of South West Norfolk. She took the opportunity of calling the town “the centre of the universe”. Critics of Ms Truss complain that she has hardly been near her constituency since the last election in 2019. Except, one grudgingly admitted, occasionally where there is some local business she can visit just for the photo op. And here she is this week, visiting a transport company.
The story in the Eastern Daily Press is remarkably brief. It runs to just 148 words, and nowhere do they include ‘the centre of the universe’. How to explain this? At least two possibilities come to mind, neither of which it is appropriate to mention.
Meanwhile, the only quote from Ms Truss, after 13 years supposedly looking after the interests of her constituents, was a throwaway remark that “We really need to get that road upgraded.” One rather assumes there were other reasons for the visit.
My dears, what fun! George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) likes to strike a serious pose, a man outside the argy-bargy of everyday politics. But Mr Freeman is as conscious as the next Tory MP that his days may be numbered. So he has been making regular inroads into the online local community notice boards with his one way pronouncements.
Now it appears one such has had enough.
Dereham Community Notice Board have apparently taken the decision to prevent Mr Freeman from posting in the group. In recent weeks he has posted what is described as a “look at me” style post on an almost daily basis, with his usual comment that he will not respond via social media.
Comments to the board generally seem to confirm allegations that he doesn’t respond to emails either. So over a thousand members of the board voted, and the decision was effectively to throw him out.
Last week this diary had reason to mention for the first time one Lord Howard of Rising, of Castle Rising in Norfolk. As well as regularly backing West Norfolk Tories, he also lent his Westminster town house for the leadership bids of Michael Portillo, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.His lordship apparently has the reputation of being rather feudal in his attitudes, perhaps not surprising for one who is a descendant of William d’Aubigny, first Earl of Arundel, who built Castle Riding in 1138. The castle is still in his ownership.
Last week this diary reported that, with three other Norfolk hunting peers, he had set out to subvert the workings of democracy by filibustering a bill which would ban the import of big game trophies. But there is more afoot.
His lordship has been chair of Castle Rising Parish Council for 40 years, but this week he faced a vote of no confidence. The immediate issue was the plan to introduce 30mph signs through the village, which had been on the table for some time but, for some reason, “roadblocks” meant they were never installed. According to Councillor Rob Colwell, writing in the Lynn News:
“A village-wide petition went live at the weekend, demanding that the whole of Castle Rising should be made 30mph, with the necessary signage installed by highways engineers from Norfolk County Council as a matter of urgency.”
So the roadblocks turned out to be his lordship. Rather than face the indignity of the no confidence vote, he resigned. Having lurked unobserved for so long, his lordship may become something of a regular feature in Pecksniff’s Diary.
Finally, there are strange murmurings of ghosts long laid to rest. Your diarist was talking to a contact at Felixstowe Dock in Suffolk this week, and a gentleman whose word is of the most canonical standing remarked on how many Ferraris are being driven by hauliers and freight forwarders since the PPE scandal.
Thanks this week go to Úna ní Conín, James Porter and ‘Spike’ Milligan.