We begin, as so often, with Matt Hancock (West Suffolk). Here we see him as secretary of state in 2020 declaring that ‘Scientific evidence does show that asymptomatic transmission does occur’; then in April 2022 declaring that “We ministers were not told about the asymptomatic transmission.”
US Representative William R Keating is the chair of the House sub-committee on Europe in the US Congress. This week he wrote a letter to Liz Truss MP (South West Norfolk) in her role as Foreign Secretary. In case the bluntness of his language escaped her – Ms Truss is after all not the sharpest pencil in the box – he published it as a tweet, in which he says: “Tonight I sent a letter to @trussliz responding to reports that UK has threatened to end negotiations with EU related to Northern Ireland protocol. This would undermine Good Friday Agreement & is in direct confrontation with wishes of majority of @niassembly.”
The letter itself spells out: “Secretary Truss, the worst possible outcome of Brexit would be one that leads to violence and upheaval in Northern Ireland. With a commitment that we will act as honest brokers, we call on you to uphold your end of the deal and act in good faith, within the parameters of international law, to maintain peace and stability in Northern Ireland.”
Now it seems that Congress is sending a deputation to spell it out in person, in case Ms Truss still doesn’t get it. In pursuing Brexit, she and her boss have abandoned hundreds of years of careful foreign policy in avoiding the countries of Europe banding together to be at odds with Britain, and in fact their new policy seems to encourage it. In doing so, the government have ruptured our relationship with the whole of Europe and are bankrupting the country. They are blatantly ignoring the wishes of the majority of the citizens of Northern Ireland and gambling with the possibility of a bloody return to the Troubles. They have abandoned our principal trading partners. Now they have outraged the ‘special relationship’ with the United States which they claim to prize above all others.
It is rare for any country, let alone the US, to use such abrupt and accusatory language in diplomatic affairs with a close ally, and it has probably never used it when addressing a British government. It is a bleak and stark warning. The Prime Minister and Ms Truss risk a return to bloodshed in Northern Ireland, catastrophic new sanctions imposed both by the EU, the collapse of the British economy, an enforced penury which will last for years, and an obloquy on the foreign stage which will last for decades.
But you know, as long as Boris Johnson can stay in his job…
It is clear even Priti Patel MP (Witham) has realised her job as Home Secretary is beyond her. She has made a pig’s rectum of every issue that has crossed her desk, broken international law, threatened anybody who looks at her in a funny way with having their British nationality removed, and exhorted the border force to risk drowning asylum seekers rather than have them land on these sacred shores and upset a handful of fishermen in Hastings.
But now, she refuses even to discuss whatever is her latest cock-up in the Commons. Though it is literally her job to be held accountable by her opposite number, Yvette Cooper, she remains seated. Note the excruciated looks of her minions gathered around her. Even watching day-time television couldn’t be this embarrassing.
Pecksniff is told Duncan Baker MP (North Norfolk) is “pounding the streets” looking for votes. Clearly Mr Baker feels there is room for innovation in political canvassing, since it is considered more usual to canvass for votes before an election, not just after one.
But perhaps what has alarmed him is that bogey man who has always woken Tory MPs in a night sweat and has been foretold for some time now, rather like those omens that turn up in Game of Thrones and the like. A phrase to terrify even the most hardened Tory MP and which not even a string of garlic will keep at bay: “Liberal Democrat revival!”
Sir Oliver Heald MP (North East Herts) is being given a hard time by constituents over the failure of the government’s vaunted Homes for Ukraine scheme. He admits there have been delays of five weeks, which presumably means we can realistically double that.
“We have to be careful to ensure we do know who is coming here and that where they are going to is a secure place, because we are dealing with vulnerable people,” he says. It is curious to believe that the most pressing need of vulnerable people waiting desperately to escape rape and death is a wait of several weeks while British bureaucracy grinds slowly and begrudgingly towards a conclusion.
Meanwhile, it is true that Sir Oliver’s government has been careful to ensure they know who comes here. In fact, they put British citizenship up for sale to those who could pay several million for the privilege. All of them, as far as Pecksniff is aware, have been Russian, and many of them Putin-backers whose credibility recently has been, shall we say, undermined.
Now to another Oliver, Oliver Dowden MP (Hertsmere) in fact. Minister without Portfolio with a seat at Cabinet, and joint chair of the Conservative Party. Mr Dowden wants to keep his job, so has stoutly defended the Prime Minister and declared he “doesn’t believe that Boris Johnson misled Parliament” over the Partygate scandal. But he says he is “disgusted” at what took place at No.10.
Now this week Jay Rayner spotted news of a curious event, which illustrates plainly enough quite how seriously Mr Dowden takes the scandal. His local Tory party auctioned a bottle of champagne signed by the prime minister, and which bears a label with this coy message:
“A bottle of champagne signed by Boris Johnson. Hugely valuable as a souvenir of partygate and the exemplary behaviour and morality of our dear leader!”
When news of the auction leaked out, Mr Dowden was reported as being extremely angry. It was suggested that the note was written by the charity who were to benefit from the raffle, which suggests that they were under no illusions as to the morality of their supposed benefactor. Among the Tory audience, however, there is said to have been hilarity. So presumably Mr Dowden was either angry at the impertinence of the charity, or with the fact that the story had become known.
There is a cross-party parliamentary group to fight plans for an army of electricity pylons marching across East Anglia. The outrage is predictable but no less welcome for that. The idea of the group is to include all those constituencies which are affected by the plan. Most if not all those MPs representing those constituencies in East Anglia are Conservative, of course. But it is rumoured that one name is missing, conspicuous by its absence but now attracting much criticism: the name of Richard Bacon (South Norfolk).
Perhaps the organisers made the mistake of emailing him, and it got caught up and shredded as allegedly is the case with his constituency correspondence.
How reassuring to be able to write about beach huts for a change, if only of an unwanted and costly scheme likely to vandalise the sea front by a particularly dim local council. The council under scrutiny here is East Suffolk, and the beach huts are at Felixstowe.
I wonder, is there a special tendency towards cultural vandalism by local authorities in Suffolk? These huts have a Victorian pedigree. The county does seem to have a record of trashing its history in the name of what the dullards running the county assume must be progress. Pecksniff cannot bring himself even to glance at those pictures of medieval warehouses in Ipswich with their cobbled courtyards along the quayside being bulldozed back in the 60s because, well, they were old and who needed them when we were just about to build the all-concrete monstrosity of Greyfriars?
Anyway, East Suffolk Council wants to move 44 huts which stretch along the promenade because their remaining presence is “not a viable permanent option”, though it is not clear why. Something to do with bureaucratic neatness perhaps. Step forward the splendidly named Felixstowe Beach Hut and Chalet Association. (Remember when in future years you talk about the revolution to your grandchildren: it began here.) The Huttists have the support of Griff Rhys Jones and are going for a judicial review.
After months of pressure from the local community and opposition councillors, the controlling Tory group on Norfolk County Council have agreed to abandon support for a waste incinerator at Wisbech. The current capacity of the present arrangements is deemed sufficient.
The leader of the council, Andrew Proctor, was in self-congratulatory mood as he announced the decision and, to be fair, indeed he had every reason to be. It’s not every day that he can announce any kind of decision which appears to have been made in the interests of Norfolk rather than those of the present ruling group. So Pecksniff will raise a glass to him at the Muckrakers this evening, but also to those indomitable campaigners who achieved this volte face by their efforts. They are a brilliant example of what citizens can do when they decide they have had enough.
It is also a sign of the times that, once again, we are talking about the natives becoming restless in northwest Norfolk. It must be something they are putting in the water (other than sewage). It seems East Anglia is positively seething with the seeds of revolution. If it doesn’t break out among the Huttists in Felixstowe or at the Muckrakers Arms at closing time, then it will be among the good people around Kings Lynn.
More on Norfolk County Council. This tweet appeared a couple of days ago, accusing them of “arrogance off the scale” for “poking about” in Ringland Woods when they had no business to. Pecksniff made an attempt to speak to the council but became lost in a forest of their devising. After the first 137 multiple choice questions had been fielded, the machinery decided that the call must be about potholes, and no matter what numbers were pressed it refused to leave the topic.
Hrrumphing, Pecksniff gave up. But we shall return.
This week too, Norfolk County Council’s ruling Tory group refused to back a climate emergency motion. Cabinet member for the environment Councillor Eric Vardy claimed “Declaring a climate emergency is just words”. But the thing is, councillor, it’s not supposed to be just words. It’s only just words if you make it so. Pecksniff believes you may be new in post. If so, in your first time on your feet you have just announced to the world you are apparently utterly worthless in your new position, since you have no intention of taking the issue seriously.
But the people of your county do, and so does EAB. So expect Pecksniff to take a keen interest in your multiple failings in the months ahead.
One of the victors in last week’s local elections in Harlow was Councillor Marco Lorenzini, who represents, or at least represented, Bush Fair. It is fair to point out that Harlow and its Conservative Party have a long and distasteful history of virulent racism. Three years ago a previous councillor, Peter Lamb, posted a number of shocking racist and anti-muslim tweets which led to his being thrown out of the local Tory party. Its deputy leader, Joel Charles, condemned all forms of Islamophobia.
During those three years, however, the Bush Fair ward Conservatives adopted Marco Lorenzini, apparently without demur from the constituency party. He also sends tweets, some of which are reproduced here. They suggest Muslims come here to “colonise us”. Or “Sadiq Khan is Islamifying London by stealth”. Another: “The Muslim invasion”.
One says “I support Tommy Robinson”, the leader of the neo-fascist English Defence League.
Anyway, however brief the tenure of Councillor Lamb, Councillor Lorenzini’s was shorter. Farcically, he was (as they say in Scotland) “oot the windy” and had resigned from his newly elected position in less than 48 hours. So now there will be another election.
Councillor Lorenzini only beat his Labour opponent by four votes. Also standing against him were the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats, who between them amassed 163. In two other wards won by Tories, the progressive vote share together would also have beaten them.
It would appear that either they have never heard of a progressive alliance in Harlow, or the parties are so mired in tribal warfare they are prepared to let racists help to run their town. We await the announcement of the new election and will watch the opposition parties’ tactics with interest.
But speaking of a progressive alliance, Pecksniff hears of a promising initiative to bring together local councils to embrace progressive alliance. It is put together by Make Votes Matter and GET PR DONE! and will feature Clive Lewis MP (Norwich South), a prime mover behind the PA movement.
Last week Pecksniff wrote about a young single mother whose son had been refused free school transport because she had moved from one end of her village to the other. She had approached both Dr Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk) and Councillor Elaine Bryce for help, and for two weeks both had ignored her. Pecksniff tried contacting them both, left messages but they too had been ignored.
So imagine Pecksniff’s surprise to find Councillor Bryce is apparently employed by Dr Poulter. It is not clear how or even if this has anything to do with the distressing delay, but it is rewarding to hear that Dr Poulter’s office have now been in touch with the young woman (with or without Councillor Bryce). Dr Poulter has apologised and, presumably, is taking up the matter with Suffolk County Council.
But meanwhile, dear readers, there has been a touching new development. A reader approached Pecksniff to offer to pay the cost of £250 for the young boy’s school bus for a whole term, should the council remain obdurate.The boy’s mother was predictably astonished and almost moved to tears at such generosity.
Be assured, we shall keep readers informed of progress.
Special thanks this week go to Jess Walsh.