The Liz Truss leadership campaign has no no-go areas, nothing is off the agenda for schmoozing or frightening the Tories’ octogenarian members into voting for her. That apparently includes involving in her campaign team the director of a company allegedly interviewed by the FBI regarding criminal charges of fraud.
The alleged fraud is by a Venezuelan banker, Julio Herrera Valutini, who has also apparently been a donor to the Conservative Party – even though foreign donations are supposed to be illegal.
And so it goes on… But while we wait for the revolution my dears, the prospect of spending eternity writing week after week about Ms Truss as prime minister is too gruesome for words. So in future Pecksniff will be much more interested in what she is doing in her constituency, South West Norfolk. Any gossip therefore from those she has mocked as the Turnip Taliban will be gratefully received.
But like giving up smoking (or other vices which Pecksniff has promised his editor won’t be mentioned), it really is a difficult habit from which to escape. No sooner have Pecksniff’s better angels tried to wean attention from La Truss, then she says something else inexplicably stupid. There have been 186,000 deaths from Covid in this country, and Boris Johnson is held personally responsible for about 30,000 of them because of his reluctance to introduce a lockdown early enough. Now, in her latest burst of hubris, Liz Truss declares to her faithful acolytes that he went too far… “No lockdown would happen under my leadership. I can assure you of that,” she says.
So that’s another 30,000 deaths we might look forward to when Covid returns this winter, is it? One of the most depressing characteristics of the woman is she really doesn’t realise she has not a single quality necessary in a prime minister.
Gordon Brown’s sudden re-emergence as a statesman over the past few days, discussing what should be done to alleviate the cost of living crisis this winter, reminds us what politicians used to be like. (Not all of them, of course, but enough to make a difference. Some even Tories.) Mr Brown’s tenure as prime minister is not judged an unalloyed success, but nobody could ever doubt his integrity and determination to make a difference.
It not only shows up our present government, but also our opposition. Keir Starmer’s tenure suggests he shares Mr Brown’s integrity, but in his lack of determination he more closely resembles the days of Ed Miliband. For Starmer to decide what the Labour Party stands for would be a step forward, but of course that is the crux of the problem. Like the Tories, they don’t really know, and are scared to hazard a guess for fear of getting on the wrong side of some truculent voter in a Tesco in Wigan, grumbling about how immigrants have put up the price of black pudding.
In the meantime, those hoping for any kind of response from the official opposition on the country’s woes might best be advised to use a ouija board…
“Is anybody there…?”
As we list the calamitous shortcomings of Britain’s political system, one of the least discussed must be the constant game of musical chairs among ministers. Consider James Cleverly (Braintree) as an example. In little more than three years since his first government job as parliamentary under-secretary for Brexit, he has held six government posts and two – as deputy-chair and co-chair – in the Conservative Party.
He has been a minister in the cabinet office, the foreign office (switching between three jobs) and is now education secretary. Now we understand he is hankering for defence. In the seven months of this year alone he has had three different jobs. Even for the brightest, most dedicated and public spirited politician – and nobody has ever accused him of being any of those – this switching between offices would be impossible to carry off with any degree of competence.
So to whose benefit were those changes made? Five happened under Boris Johnson, so this came under the heading of shuffling the pack to keep everybody confused. Johnson’s benefit. Though Mr Cleverly will feel he has done well out of it too. It doesn’t matter what kind of a pig’s rectum he makes of the job, whichever job, it will always be somebody else’s responsibility to clear it up.
Writing of James Cleverly, as so many members of the government, always brings a sense of shame that we’ve allowed a government of people this dim to ruin our lives for us. The mis-named Mr Cleverly this week wrote a newspaper article in which he contrived to point out how inept his government is. As an actual serving minister in this government, he writes: “With rising inflation, the highest Tax burden in 70 years and forecasts of a recession, it may not feel as if there is much to celebrate at the moment.”
Another shortcoming of the British political system is Tom Hunt (Ipswich).
It has been drawn to the attention of Pecksniff that the boy wonder may have been using public money for improper purposes. Shall we give him the benefit of the doubt? He has been distributing a leaflet, paid for by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. One of the rules is that the leaflet should be strictly non-party political.
Yet on the front page Mr Hunt blames the catastrophic rise of living crisis as being down to the war in Ukraine. It is a factor, of course, but then there is Brexit and other government austerity policies. And since freezing and starvation don’t seem to be threatening any of the rest of Europe, is it possible that our man is telling a porky? We may never know, unless of course some assiduous reader who is also one of Mr Hunt’s constituents approaches the IPSA for a ruling…
Last week Pecksniff mentioned the Case of the Curiously Missing MP when his local hospital is falling down, held up by over 1500 props with ceilings caving in and buckets to catch the rain. It is not a problem James Wild (North West Norfolk) is keen to discuss. In fact he seems reluctant to discuss anything except how public buildings should by law have to fly the union flag.
Two weeks ago however, he was tempted out of hiding to declare the triumph of a new NHS dental practice opening in his constituency on his Facebook page. Then this week comes news that the practice is already fully booked and can accept no new patients at least until October. Mr Wild has now deleted the post, is now nowhere to be seen and there are few if any means of contacting him.
On the other pressing matters of fuel bills and frighteningly high inflation, naturally he has nothing to say. But perhaps he reads this column. So how about the choice this winter of either starving or freezing to death, Mr Wild? Anything to say on that? How about if we all wrap ourselves in the flag? That should do it, eh?
And on the subject of North West Norfolk, Pecksniff remains puzzled. What of the Labour Party there? Do they still exist? Have they run away to join the circus? It’s a question that has puzzled your correspondent for some months. In all that time there has been not a peep, not a motion, nor any offer to stand in solidarity with anything at all. Pecksniff took the trouble to try calling them, but there was no reply. Only a message declaring: “This number does not accept incoming calls”, a response worthy of any Tory MP.
One is told that presently there are certain internal difficulties for the local party. The obsequies have still to be read over the sanctimonious hypocrisies of Corbynism there, apparently, so of course it is much more satisfying for both factions to eviscerate each other rather than the Tories.
But while the Liberal Democrats and in particular Rob Colwell, their 2019 parliamentary candidate, provide a constant annoyance to the execrable James Wild, there is nothing from Labour. Come the general election, this could lead to a problem. Who to vote for to get the Tories out? It ought to be Labour, since they came an easy second last time, but they are nowhere to be seen and no rational voter could assume on present performance they could unseat Mr Wild.
Pecksniff would dearly love to hear from the local Labour Party. As indeed would tens of thousands of voters. If this misrepresents your endeavours, do send your man round with a missive. The far corner of the bar at the Muckrakers will usually find your correspondent.
Another politician gone missing. (Possibly not in action though, that would be an exaggeration.) Councillor Fleur Curson is a member of South Norfolk Council, and also works on Rishi Sunak’s team. But as has been evidenced in previous diary entries, the role of councillor sometimes looks like a convenient stop-gap by local Tories to fill the seat, with no real intention of actually working on behalf of the people of Harleston in this case, who she is supposed to represent. Meanwhile, it seems that the town has been virtually closed off by road works, right in the middle of summer and the tourist season.
Poncing about in Westminster is obviously too exciting a draw for Councillor Curson. It is hardly surprising that she is hardly ever present at council meetings if she lives and works in London. (She has attended once in the past six months by one estimate – but happy to be corrected on that.) The schedule would seem to clash with cocktail hour at the New York Bar.
Elsewhere this weekend, EAB published an account of the story of Breckland Council losing £8 million on the Barnham Broom property deal and refusing to say how it happened. (Pecksniff covered it last March.)
A watchdog tells the council they must reveal all. The council refuses and goes to appeal, saying the information “has not been made public because we firmly believe that releasing commercially-sensitive information is likely to damage the business of the tenant, could negatively impact the local job market, and may be detrimental to the council’s own commercial interests which in turn will adversely affect the public purse”.
Always distrust any official explanation which runs to four excuses, in case the first doesn’t work. Readers will notice public interest doesn’t even register. Commercial interest is everything. But whose? Given the extraordinary trouble the council have gone to in hiding their activities, the public has every right to assume this is either major incompetence or outright corruption. Which is it? Nothing else would make any sense.
In related news, as we go to press we hear of a bizarre and scarcely believable claim that Thurrock Council invested a staggering £665 million of local taxpayers’ money in various schemes all put forward by one local businessman. It is alleged that £138 million of that money is now missing. Missing? What, as in lost down the back of the sofa? Next to Thurrock, Breckland’s little problem of losing £8 million on Barnham Broom is little more than beer money – even at the Muckraker’s prices. How many other of our councils are playing fast and loose with your money? Pecksniff and his EAB colleagues will be following up the Thurrock tale, and you will be able to read it here.
Back to Norfolk – in fact this week seems almost entirely preoccupied with the county. Is everybody else on holiday? We turn in fact to Kings Lynn and West Norfolk Council, and an allegation that their approach to conservation and climate change is at best half hearted, and perhaps just downright cynical.
As a gesture, the council planted 6,000 trees on this site in May… just before the hottest and driest season. And since they haven’t been watered it’s estimated that 90% or more have died. What’s more, the tree guards are too short to protect against predation by deer, the site seems to be of lowland grassland – an endangered habitat – and there are charges of double accounting to polish the council’s green credentials.
Did anybody at the council have the faintest idea what they were doing? It doesn’t look like it. Or was it just a cynical attempt at greenwashing all along? If the council has a good excuse for this cock up then Pecksniff would be delighted to hear it.
Pecksniff is aware there has been too much coverage in this humble diary of the doings in Westminster, which hold little interest since they are beyond the range of your correspondent’s quill. So if only our regional MPs will, for a single week, stop making buffoons of themselves on the national stage, we can scrutinise in more detail their shortcomings at home. In Downham Market, Whittlesea, Harwich, Welwyn, Stowmarket and Potton, in village halls, village shops and humble caravanserais, politics stirs if you know where to look.
Special thanks this week go to Peter Clitheroe.