Friday 14 January 2022
Elsewhere on East Anglia Bylines this week my colleague Jack Abbott excoriates Tom Hunt MP (Conservative, Ipswich) for his sceptical position on climate change and his inability to understand – unlike his colleague Peter Aldous MP (Conservative, Waveney) – that future investment prospects lie heavily in renewables.
In December 2019, he declined to take part in a climate change hustings, perhaps because it was organised by XR Rebellion. It is difficult to envisage a politician who has built his entire career on gesture politics having anything to do with a bete noire of the Tory right.
But Mr Hunt is really not interested in serious political debate, nor facts which may support it. At the moment he is riding high as the favourite motormouth of the Tory press and enjoying the ride. No cause is too low nor opinion too cynical to elicit a quote. Pecksniff would much prefer to ignore him, but his determination to grab headlines – or more exactly his willingness to lend his name to any headline offered him – becomes increasingly irritating.
Tiresome though Pecksniff finds these constant interventions, there is a danger for Mr Hunt which he may have overlooked. Your correspondent spent a long and tedious childhood in Ipswich, his constituency, and might claim to know the people better than him. The voters there are suspicious of show-offs or those who rise to prominence in local life – even if (unlike Mr Hunt) deservedly so. So it is quite possible that the same irritation felt by this writer is also felt by his voters.
Pecksniff was struck in browsing through an online fanzine for Ipswich Town football club by how the name of Tom Hunt turned up even there, in the chatroom, and was discussed in the most uncomplimentary terms.
According to national polls, Mr Hunt may already be on course to lose his seat at the next election. A brighter politician might pay more attention to courting his mainstream voters than the extreme right of his party and the newspapers that support them. Rent-a-quote Tory headbangers are ten a penny these days, and he will find no sympathy there when he is out on his ear.
Pecksniff hears of another Tory MP reluctant to face his voters at the hustings, this time Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth). There are allegations that during the 2019 general election he failed to turn up either to the hustings or to any public meetings. Then this week he also failed to appear on ITV’s Good Morning Britain to defend his boss Boris Johnson after it was revealed that No.10 staff were partying hard the night before the funeral of Prince Philip and that picture of a distraught Queen sitting alone at the service.
As a result, the programme ‘empty chaired’ him, just featuring the chair in which he would have sat. But this is hardly the time for any Tory MP to be making more enemies. Pecksniff’s informers report that the voters of Great Yarmouth are becoming as restless as those in other parts of the region. Expect a movement in the next few weeks to try and oust Mr Lewis at the next election.
Jo Churchill MP (Conservative, Bury St Edmunds) has been criticised here previously for her reluctance to engage with the constituents who sent her to Parliament. Whilst looking to beard a few MPs in their den this week, Pecksniff had occasion to call Ms Churchill’s Westminster office. As usual there was nobody there, or at least nobody prepared to answer the phone, and the recording failed even to offer the option of leaving a message. A comfortably at-arm’s-length email address was the only offering. Extraordinarily, the web page also declined to give a constituency address or phone number. So the voters of Bury St Edmunds will want to know that the only way of contacting your MP is to email her and – according to reports – wait for an interminable time for a response.
It should be noted, however, that during those calls to MPs, although the office of Dan Poulter (Conservative, Central Suffolk) was one of those whose phone went unanswered, one of his colleagues took the trouble to call back and could not have been more helpful. Except of course in answering questions.
Last week a group of hunt saboteurs took film of Councillor Bill Borrett, cabinet member of Tory-controlled Norfolk County Council, apparently striking his horse with the handle of his whip during a chase. He resigned as director of West Norfolk Foxhounds the following day. Mr Borrett refused requests from hacks for interview, but opposition councillors tabled questions on the incident at this week’s cabinet meeting.
Mr Borrett didn’t answer, and instead the response came from Councillor Andrew Proctor, the council leader. In reply to Steffan Aquarone (Liberal Democrat), Councillor Proctor told the cabinet:
“I accept that the media enjoy harassing politicians as they see that as part of their role. There is little point in commenting on an allegation that has no substance, which has been demonstrated by the relevant bodies taking no action.”
EAB readers may be spluttering into their aperitifs at this, what seems a perfectly apt illustration of modern day Toryism, effectively: “We know there is nothing in it, because we have taken no action”.
Understandably the Eastern Daily Press, which is to be congratulated on reporting the story, took umbrage at the idea that its hacks had been guilty of harassment. Editor David Powles appended his own comment:
“I’m flabbergasted by Andrew Proctor’s suggestion this newspaper in any way ‘harassed’ his colleague on this matter and that we ‘enjoy’ doing so. If a high-ranking local politician such as councillor Borrett is not only accused of such an act, but a video emerges appearing to show the moment in question, it is a matter of massive public interest. …
“Our so-called ‘harassment’ amounted to phone calls to both councillors Proctor and Borrett and then a visit to Mr Borrett’s home to see if he wanted to give his side. None of these phone calls solicited a response, not even a simple ‘no comment’.”
But it does seem that Norfolk Tories are injudiciously touchy, so my dears what fun there is to be had! Be assured, Councillor Proctor, Norfolk County Council will be the first place Pecksniff’s spies, moles, keyhole-peerers and doorstep loiterers will look for stories, both substantiated and unsubstantiated. With a hat tip to Mr Powles and his splendid organ, your correspondent looks forward to any more tip-offs from readers about the council, the more embarrassing and salacious the better. Pecksniff can be contacted via our esteemed editor’s email: editor@eastangliabylines or via DM on Pecksniff’s Twitter account.
Some months ago my colleague Peter Thurlow wrote about customs delays at Felixstowe, resulting from Brexit. One of those interviewed was Jon Swallow, joint managing director of Jordon Freight of Felixstowe, who unhappily predicted further long delays to come. This week Jon tells us that he has had trucks delayed in France for four days, because of complications in the new customs procedures in the UK. Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise informed him they were ‘”too busy”.