Liz Truss (SW Norfolk) has been savagely criticised by the chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee, Tory Alice Kearns, for her proposed trip to Taiwan. Ms Kearns said: “The trip is performative, not substantive. It is the worst kind of example of Instagram diplomacy.”
In other words, Ms Truss is merely going to Taiwan, at a moment of acute international tension over the island, in order to impress the US nationalist right wing. She is prepared to risk possible world war just to increase the fees she can charge on her speaking tour.
Dear reader, we have already travelled through several circles of hell with La Truss, but we still apparently have some way to go. Heaven knows Pecksniff is a reasonable man, but it may be about time to begin harbouring grudges against the voters who visited her upon us.
Kemi Badenoch, MP for Saffron Walden, was in trouble this week for her other job, the one she at least turns up to – that of business and trade secretary. Ms Badenoch and her chums can’t decide whether to go ahead with a promised mass repeal of EU legislation or not. Repealing it would mean more chaos, not repealing it would infuriate the Tory headbangers.
Her latest change of mind was to ditch the idea (subsequently changed yet again, though this is being written on Thursday so all may change again by the weekend). But Ms Badenoch announced her change of mind in a newspaper article, rather than in the Commons as protocol requires.
The Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, demanded: “Who do you think you’re speaking to? I am not going to be spoken to by a secretary of state who is absolutely not accepting my ruling.”
Ms Badenoch grovelingly apologised because she “did not meet the standards of which you would expect of secretaries of state”.
Meanwhile Ms Badenoch’s own party headbangers are furiously criticising her for treachery, in backing down on rescinding EU law.
You have to laugh.
The sound of trumpets! Not another bloody coronation surely … No, it’s that popular diary spot in which we examine what embarrassing self-promoting activities our favourite MP has been up to this week: What a stunt! It’s that Tom Hunt!
Our Tom has been pretending to back the cause of those left homeless in the disgraceful fire cladding scandal, which has affected many in Ipswich so badly. Those involved seem to have fallen out of love with Mr Hunt rather quickly, but the only other gig he had was to abuse refugees taking shelter in the Ipswich Novotel. East Anglia Bylines proved that the anti-refugee protestors included hard core nazis. He hasn’t said a word on the subject since.
So it’s back to cladding, only the best he can come up with is a 10-minute rule bill. Now for those not familiar with Commons procedures, this has about the same chance of becoming law as talking loudly in the tea room. The measure exists just for MPs to show off. Nobody even turns up in the chamber to hear it read. But Mr Hunt callously presents this to his electorate in the vain hope of giving the impression he is being effective.
There is more of course, there always is with Tom Hunt. He was enticed by the Daily Express into apparently writing an opinion piece for the paper, applauding the police for locking up a bunch of troublemakers at the coronation for criticising the monarchy. Unfortunately, by the time his opus was published, the Met themselves had already apologised for what Mr Hunt was trumpeting. In fact even some of his own MPs thought the police had gone too far.
The police seem to be pursuing a dangerous course at the moment. Policing is supposed to be with our consent. If we withdraw our consent then, whatever the laws under which the police claim to act, they lose their legitimacy.
So arresting people without charge, as the Met did at the coronation, hardly fits the picture.
Something similar occurred in September last year in Norwich. There was a Conservative Party leadership hustings, and Liz Truss was in town. (Her first sighting in the county since the last election.) But so of course were the news media.
Somebody In Authority decided they weren’t going to allow the impression they couldn’t keep the peace on their own patch, so they sent out the force to take the ringleaders off the street. In the case of Norwich, the ringleader was judged to be a student called Sophie Ciurlik-Rittenbaum, on account of her holding the loudspeaker. She told East Anglia Bylines what happened next. She was taken to Aylsham police station. (Yes, it was considered that serious.)
“What do we do now?” one officer asked his colleagues. “After detaining her we can’t just let her go.” She was told she had been arrested but not detained, on the suspicion of potentially causing a breach of the peace.
Then according to Ciurlik-Rittenbaum: “They threatened that if I didn’t give my full name and address, that was a criminal offence and they would hold me overnight. I later found out from Netpol (The Network for Police Monitoring) that this is bullshit – it’s not a criminal offence.”
So they let her go, with the meeting safely concluded and few embarrassing shots on the telly.
Since the Met police have now also concluded (inevitably) that no offence was committed – safely after the coronation was concluded – we must assume the reason for the arrests in both cases was an obsequious and contemptible desire by the police not to offend those in power.
East Anglia Bylines broke the news last week that East Suffolk Council appeared to be breaking electoral law by using ‘greeters’ outside polling stations, to warn off those without proper identification before they could be recorded by the polling clerks. The council vehemently denied it, in spite of our having four independent sources who claimed that was the instruction given.
Now, the Electoral Commission points out, trying desperately to get out of a chaotic mess, that: “Councils will need to separate out polling stations with and without greeters when submitting data after the polls. This is because information on refused ballots can only be recorded at the ballot issuing desk.”
But East Suffolk haven’t. They present only one figure. Another cock up. And the figures? It seems those who didn’t have proof identity amounted to 0.06%, about three in every thousand.
And in addition to the sources we used last week, we are informed that greeters were also used at Worlingham, in Beccles at Blyburgate Hall and St Luke’s Church, and the Fromus Centre in Saxmundham.
As Pecksniff has reported, so concerned were Conservatives in the local elections that many were hiding the fact they actually were Conservatives. Some didn’t mention the word, many others got round the difficulty by calling themselves ‘Local Conservatives’, to mark the difference between them and that lot up there in Westminster. “Nuffin’ to do wiv me, guv. I might have supported them, voted for them, mocked any criticism of them, but now the solids are hitting the fan they are nothing to do with me.”
But curiously and at the same time, those they were trying to disavow were joining a new movement called National Conservatives. This group includes such luminaries as Suella Braverman, David Frost, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Gove, so we get the picture. It’s not yet clear what their standpoint is, other than presumably that the total horlicks visited on the country over the past few years was nuffin’ to do wiv them either. Presumably, in retribution, they blame it all on those ‘Local Conservative’ councils …
The local elections are over and the Tories survey the debris. Not a pretty sight, and they must know now that they will lose next year’s general election.
The elephant in the room remains Brexit, of course, and its absurdities can only increase. Many of the idea’s most fervent champions look likely to lose their seats, and without them breathing down their colleagues’ necks, Brexit’s repercussions will become more unpopular among the Tory backbenchers. Already some are having second thoughts. Losing face is as nothing compared to losing their seat.
Changing their minds (though it would never be put that way) would come too late to avoid the destruction of the government. But it might begin to resurrect a party in the longer term when their grasp on electoral life has recently seemed terminal. So where, we wonder, does that leave Labour?
As perhaps the only remaining hard-line Brexit party, they have Jeremy Corbyn laughing in his political grave. As a new government, they would have to spend the full term arguing that black is white on Brexit, with the country ranged against them. And all this, dear reader, just so Lisa Nandy can go into her local Gregg’s in Wigan without getting dirty looks.
But still, another round of elections means another day of bombast from Labour. Privately activists admit it could have been better, but publicly it’s the same old hubris. It couldn’t have been worse for the Tories. But since Labour believes in a zero-sum game – if Tories lose, we win: there are no other serious players – then how do we explain the mismatch? The LibDems have done well, though not spectacularly, but most significant (in this region at least) is the breakthrough of the Greens. They are rapidly gaining credibility just as Labour are beginning to lose theirs. They took Mid Suffolk, a dramatic result by any definition, and lead the coalition of LibDems and an independent in East Suffolk. Meanwhile Labour are sulking and refuse to take part. Their exclusive role is to ‘fight the Tories’, so they have gone off in a huff.
But their voters put their trust in them. They don’t do so in the hope that they will stay outside the fray and keep the ideology of socialism pure and untrammelled. Frankly, the voters don’t give a f*ck. They just want them to get on and do something.
The continual criticism of Labour brings Pecksniff no pleasure. Your correspondent’s happiest political times have been amid the bonhomie of the party in its heyday. (Ken Weetch, Richard Risebrow, John Mowles, Andy Phelps, where are you now…?) But a large majority of both the country and their own members want PR. Voters actually like the idea of parties working together. They become exasperated when parties refuse to do so. But as always, Labour knows best, and only Labour. The mere ownership of a Labour membership card apparently bestows on its holder such wisdom as the Greek philosophers could only dream of.
In all elections, one looks for probably that single comment from a voter, somewhere, which sounds as though it could have been spoken by any one of millions. Last Friday evening, when the results of the council elections were still being digested (and East Anglia Bylines’s ace team of political reporters were putting the finishing touches to the most comprehensive analysis of the results across the region), a young woman was interviewed on TV, from somewhere across East Anglia. She had been a regular Tory voter and was asked why this time she had decided to vote Green instead.
She began giving one of the expected answers, then changed tack. Instead, she said in words which must have resonated across much of the region, if not the country: “I’m just fed up with being governed by old men.”
The mayor of Bury St Edmunds was not re-elected to the council. He had made unfortunate headlines the week before the polls, being embroiled in fisticuffs in one of his town’s more outré little night clubs: “You can’t arrest me, I’m the mayor!” Sadly for him, Messrs Plod did indeed arrest him, though they let him off with a caution. The voters were not so forgiving.
One of those toiling long in the vineyards who might have thought they had been forgotten was Lucy Frazer (SE Cambs). By some oversight she appears to have been made culture secretary. But she seems no more adept at not putting her foot in it than her predecessor, Nadine Dorries. After all the hoo-ha over the chairman of the BBC having to resign because of his far too close links with the Conservative Party and the allegations that the Tories were dictating BBC policy, one might have assumed anybody in that position would wish to tread warily on the subject, but not Ms Frazer. During a Sky TV interview with Sophie Ridge she declared: “I’m in charge of the BBC!”
Oh dear. My dear Ms Frazer, the BBC is not a state broadcaster, whatever you may wish – though the fact you believe it is probably explains a lot.
Readers of the Eastern Daily Press this week learned of a public consultation exercise to be launched into plans to build 670 houses in Trowse, on the outskirts of Norwich. If permission is granted, the houses are to be built on an old brownfield site. But only a couple of weeks ago, local residents were horrified to find dozens of mature trees were cut down, without notification and before anybody could protest, along the banks of the river. This crime against nature was committed by two firms, May Gurney and Deal Ground.
Those left furious and in tears about this vandalism will be relieved, however, to learn that South Norfolk Council are to (checks notes)… launch an investigation.
Even as the ink dries on this diary, senior executives of the two companies will no doubt be cowering under their desks at the fearful prospect.
So whatever happened to kicking in doors?
These were mature trees. They would not have been destroyed in a matter of minutes. Can it be that nobody during the hours it must have taken to destroy them actually reported what was taking place? And if they did, can it be that somebody at the council just made a note and forgot about it?
Those hoping to make a fortune out of the development will still make their pile. The trees are gone, never to return but never forgotten. It is difficult to imagine the kind of cynicism by the developers which led them to make the decision, or the grotesque incompetence by the council which allowed it. But as Pecksniff has pointed out before, local councils are rarely there to serve the interests of local people; rather to keep them in line, fob them off and ensure the smooth passage of private enterprise in making money.
Regrettably there is to be no Mr Pecksniff’s Diary for the next two weeks. Your correspondent intends to spend the time butterfly hunting on Lake Como with East Anglia Bylines’s distinguished religious affairs correspondent the Reverend Dr Vesey Stanhope and his delightfully raffish family. The next diary will therefore be published on 2 June.
(Please note: no butterflies were harmed in the making of this joke. If any offence has been caused either to butterflies or lepidopterists, other jokes are available.)
Thanks this week go to Elizabeth McWilliams and Jess Knopp.