It is said that if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, it’s just possible you haven’t grasped the situation. This observation comes to mind when watching a Rishi Sunak interview. A man so immured from the vicissitudes of life he didn’t know how to put petrol in a car. A man who asked one of the homeless if he’s thought of a career in finance. A man who, younger admittedly, claimed: “I have friends who are aristocrats, I have friends who are upper class, I have friends who are working class, but … Well, not working class”.
Well, no. We have a prime minister who can mix with the whole gamut of our social classes, from aristocrats down to the upper class. His grasp of the way we live doesn’t even extend to the middle class. What he cannot understand, and that goes for almost our entire political elite, was explained by George Orwell:
“Petty inconvenience and indignity, of being kept waiting about, of having to do everything at other people’s convenience, is inherent in working class life. A thousand influences constantly press a working man into a passive role. He does not act, he is acted upon.”
This week saw the attempted launch of a rocket in Cornwall. It wasn’t a success. It plummeted. But it was a first attempt, and these things happen. It’s a learning process.
What made it an event of toe-curling embarrassment was that it became necessary to turn the failure into a triumph, a British first. According to George Freeman (Mid Norfolk), science minister and chief government willy waver: “This genuinely is a historic moment for Britain. We’ve won the space race in Europe.”
(Incidentally, Mr Freeman enthusiastically retweets the chief of air staff claiming that “space is hard”, which seems to confirm Pecksniff’s description of his role.)
Now, overlooking the fact that nobody in Europe was even aware there was a race, and that this “historic moment” amounts to spending hundreds of millions to try and launch a rocket from a plane only to have it drop like a brick, it turns out it wasn’t the first anyway. The French did it as long ago as 1965. (As a footnote, theirs succeeded.)
But there was more to this story. The always reckless Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield), now business secretary, saw in this forthcoming British triumph the chance to stick his own imprimateur on the occasion, since he happened to have a photo handy which featured himself posing with a reassuringly phallic-looking missile. Trouble was, there was this fat ponce hogging the limelight. (Note to editor: this description is a direct quote from an actual real voter, and not your colleague slipping into uncalled-for vulgarity.) [Noted. -Ed.]
Mr Shapps is no stranger to changing the facts and names to suit his convenience, so why not do it with a photo? So in the manner of erasing a Soviet Politburo member who had fallen from favour, he rubbed his last but one prime minister out of the picture.
Once again one can only express astonishment at how dreadfully bad government ministers so often are at their shenanigans. Who could guess that none other than the fat ponce himself would notice what had been done? (Badly: Mr Shapps left in a bit of his elbow.) But given that Boris Johnson is given to cosying up to KGB officers, perhaps being rubbed out only in a photograph might be the least of his worries.
Incidentally, this talk of politicians proudly posing with enormous high tech penis extensions brings a thought. They are almost invariably men. The exceptions are Mrs Thatcher and Ms Truss, who rather make the point rather than undermine it. So just suppose we had a government exclusively of women. What would photo ops look like then? Would we still have our female prime minister drooling over pictures of tanks, weapons, rockets, fighter aircraft? If not, and it seems likely, then what would be the chosen photo op for Yvette Cooper, say, or Rachel Reeves?
Talk last week of Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) and her curiously absentee relationship with her voters reminded Pecksniff of an amusing event which took place during the furore over Cameron’s attempt to sell off the country’s woodland some years ago. Such was the fury that Dr Coffey, still in her innocence, declared she would explain the government policy at a public meeting – to be held as it happens in a village hall in the middle of a wood. (Rendlesham, since you ask.) Came the evening and most of Suffolk seemed to be there, including entrenched Tory voters, and they were out for blood.
There were so many they wouldn’t fit into the hall, which only inflamed them more. In the end the hall secretary came out to explain that all the 200 inside had voted to move the meeting outside, for the benefit of the other 200 who couldn’t get in. Only one person had voted against the proposal, she declared: ThérèseCoffey.
But the MP was forced to emerge to face the baying mob. The atmosphere was rather like a public hanging, though Dr Coffey was allowed to live. But by some oversight the local press, the East Anglian Daily Times, hadn’t seen fit to send along a hack. Fortunately, Pecksniff was on hand to dob in the recalcitrant MP and tell the paper what they were missing. Thus, a red faced Dr Coffey was gratifyingly featured across three pages the next morning.
Shortly afterwards Cameron dropped the policy, and Dr Coffey lived to fight another day.
Thérèse Coffey seems to have learnt from this experience, and hasn’t been keen on facing her public ever since. At hustings it is not unusual for her to turn up for a few minutes and then simply leave. And she has a curious and what may be unique understanding of what constitutes a public meeting.
The event is advertised to a select audience, (which incidentally doesn’t include hacks. Dr Coffey gets on no better with the press.) Entry is by prior application only, the names being checked to weed out interlopers and troublemakers. Then the venue and other details are emailed immediately prior to the event, rather like an illegal rave. Whether what takes place within those meetings might be called a rave is not known. Perhaps the audience are treated to one of Dr Coffey’s celebrated karaoke sessions. Pecksniff couldn’t say, having always fallen at the first fence. Perhaps hiding behind a pseudonym might work…
The increasingly tuberous-looking Tom Hunt (Ipswich) continues to flap about with his team to try and find local issues he can use to show what a good constituency MP he is. In this he is hampered by the difficulty in finding anything he can hang on to which won’t involve blaming his own government for its failures.
Sewage in our rivers is a huge issue everywhere, of course, and one of his lackeys discovered that, by some oversight, Anglian Water have so far omitted to kill everything in the River Gipping, which flows through Ipswich. It is certainly polluted, but fish have not been entirely eliminated yet. (It is believed to be on the company’s to-do list.) So, exultantly, Mr Hunt grovellingly asks the minister in the Commons what “assessment” she has made.
Hardly a killer question, but the best Mr Hunt could do in the circumstances. And he chose the Gipping with care. As it passes through Ipswich the river changes its name to become the Orwell, and under that name as it continues through the town it is so badly polluted it fails to meet even this government’s minimum pollution standards.
More on Tom Hunt. This week saw publication of a useful online tool to check where MPs derive their money. Most of Mr Hunt’s other income derives from five sources, one of which is the Carlton Club. The club is for Conservatives, so that may not be surprising.
But the club accepts donations itself, and donations can be kept anonymous. As might be expected, the money seems to come from much the same sources as the Tory party receives theirs. So the key question appears not to be why the Carlton Club gives money to Tom Hunt and other Tory MPs. Rather, it is: who gives the money to the Carlton Club so it can be passed on?
It seems money from unknown sources flows through an apparently respectable organisation and is extruded for use by others. Let us emphasise these donations are likely entirely blameless, even if to some it might look rather like blatant money laundering. We live in such cynical times. As Francis Urquhart from ‘House of Cards’ might have put it: “You may think that. I couldn’t possibly comment”.
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Browne MP has represented The Cotswolds for more than 30 years, and according to one of the sages at the Muckrakers was once voted the stupidest MP in the Commons. But he was brought up in Norfolk and still owns a farm there, at East Beckham near Cromer.
Sir Geoffrey is a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture, whose secretariat is provided by public relations consultancy Front Foot Communications. They have given the APPG £102,000 since 2016, “in kind”, which presumably means they provide their services free. Quite why may be deduced from their client list, which includes manufacturers of fertilisers, Roundup (the glyphosate-based weedkiller) and other agricultural chemicals, as well as GM technology. These groups campaign against both the rewilding of the countryside and the restriction on use of pesticides.
Michael Gove when environment secretary planned farmers would be paid for creating “public goods” such as space for wildlife as well as restoring peatlands and other habitats that absorb carbon. But the government is now expected to drop “local nature recovery”, with a little help from the APPG and a nudge from the pesticide manufacturers who back them.
One dark wet evening this week, Pecksniff drove off to meet a dedicated group of EU supporters and thwarted remainers on licensed premises. They had formed following the referendum, like many others, though Covid has interrupted their meetings. This was to be their renaissance.
They were thoughtful and civilised, good company. They were also realists. They realised the Remain bus has long since left the depot, and there is no telling when the one to Rejoin may arrive, if at all. This was perhaps a surprise and, in many ways, reassuring. But driving away, your correspondent was aware of disappointment. We certainly need wise heads, but one wonders whether we don’t really need hot heads too. We tut-tut at the calumnies still trotted out daily as the basis of further erosion of our rights and of our economy, because we are much too ‘civilised’ to do anything more.
There was an interesting political defection this week in Cambridgeshire. Councillor Douglas Dew has sat for the Tories on both Cambridgeshire County Council (representing Hemingfords and Fenstanton) and Huntingdonshire District Council where he represents Hemingford Grey and Houghton. As CambsNews points out in an exclusive interview, his defection to the Liberal Democrats will both strengthen the Rainbow Alliance on the county and weaken Tory opposition in Huntingdon.
Though he claims the way Liz Truss crashed the economy was the last straw, his wider observations will ring a bell with many Tories across the region. Cllr Dew has 40 years of politics behind him, on the left of the Tories, but says: “it has moved so far in the other direction, I no longer recognise it”.
One issue in particular resonates with every complaint from every doorstep Pecksniff has heard over the past year. He recalls: “I was out one day canvassing and one woman said to me ‘Doug, I always vote for you but cannot do so any longer. Whilst my husband was dying in hospital during Covid, Boris was out partying’. It was then I realised the issues were real.”
This week the appalling Andrew Bridgen MP – fortunately not of our region – had the Commons whip suspended by his party because of his lunatic ramblings about the Covid vaccine. This brought to mind one Steve Tierney of Wisbech, Tory member of Fenland District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council.
Cllr Tierney, you have to understand, sees himself as a warrior. Until recently he included on his personal blog a picture of a shield, bearing the legend: “Human shield: I take the flak so you don’t have to”. Readers may think this kind of juvenile bravura belongs more appropriately in Boy’s Own, and anyway Cllr Tierney is a little too vertically-challenged to be taken seriously as the Clint Eastwood of the Fens.
But to the point. When some rabid conspiracy theorist on twitter compared doctors administering the Covid vaccine to Josef Mengele, the man who used human beings as disposable laboratory rats in the gas chambers, Cllr Tierney appeared to approve.
We wait to hear from Cllr Tierney’s local constituency Tory party how his echo of Andrew Bridgen’s sentiments also earns him a suspension. We are told, however, that the party backs him to the hilt.
CambsNews also draws our attention to the curious case of Councillor Ryan Fuller, who is a member of Cambridgeshire County Council representing St Ives North and Wyton. It seems nobody has seen him for weeks or months, and there are strong rumours he has moved to Thailand. He has removed all his personal details from the members’ register, including his employment which was, at least, as senior researcher for Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly. But he still holds his council seat. Tory colleagues on the council seem unhelpful in explaining his absence, and it goes without saying that Cllr Fuller hasn’t bothered to explain it to his voters.
Cllr Fuller has some previous. In 2010 he was accused of racism for mocking travellers on Facebook with a colleague, Jason Ablewhite, who went on to become Tory police and crime commissioner for the county. And at a noisy hustings meeting, Mr Djanogly was accused of insulting the family of a disabled child and Cllr Fuller, his agent, was reported to the police for threatening behaviour. Nothing came of the complaint.
Pecksniff has heard whispers for some time of unrest in both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats across the region. For Labour, internal strife runs through the party like ‘Blackpool’ through rock. But their present problems seem organisational. Local parties claim they are being sidelined by party HQ, who contact members directly without involving the local party. That is how IT works, of course, but local parties can’t help wondering whether this is perhaps a first step towards accumulating all power to the centre. (Whatever their political leanings in recent years, Labour have always remained steadfast control freaks.)
The most frustrating effect is to deny local parties other than in target seats the right to hold candidate selection procedures. Party HQ demands the initiative begins with them. This blinkered incompetence means that, at the last election, many parties were only allowed to choose a candidate once the election was called, giving voters just a couple of weeks to get to know them. An approach guaranteed to mean defeat.
Frankly, finding news stories about Bedfordshire can be tricky when Nadine Dorries doesn’t have a bee in her bonnet or a glass in her hand. Its best story this week illustrates the point. A headline tells us: “Luton beats London, Edinburgh and more to become second best UK location for parking” The story adds with pride that the town’s parking is “ranked ahead of Crawley and Leicester”.
Is there no political skulduggery in Beds? Is every politician there morally spotless? (Except perhaps one.) Are they all po-faced in Potton, blameless in Biggleswade and good as gold in Gravenhurst? Pecksniff called in a special correspondent and waited for the drama to unfold. And the hot news?
“I do know that there was quite an issue about the possible loss of the parsnip crop prior to Christmas due to very harsh weather. Brussels were smaller than usual …”
Readers in Bedfordshire or who know the county well are welcome to spill the beans on goings-on there – always supposing that parsnips and brussels sprouts don’t occupy every pub conversation – and Pecksniff would be delighted to hear from you. Please email [email protected] or tweet by direct message to @PecksniffsDiary.