With the Liz Truss (South West Norfolk) embarrassment growing more jaw-dropping every hour, the Pecksniff wastepaper bin is overflowing with screwed up and discarded parchment. This has been written and rewritten three or four times, but we won’t try to catalogue every howler and every banana skin. Let us concentrate on what happens from here on.
As at Saturday morning, Jeremy Hunt is the new chancellor. Let us recall that in the Tory leadership contest he was knocked out in the first round, with only 18 MPs voting for him. So not quite the darling of the party then. He was given the job as a ‘safe pair of hands’, and more importantly in order to settle the febrile atmosphere, he is from the opposite wing of the party to Ms Truss.
We can’t know whether Ms Truss thought this through – she is extraordinarily dim, so it is quite possible she didn’t.
Because now it is Mr Hunt who is pulling the strings. From being summer’s nowhere man, he has become all-powerful. Ms Truss can’t afford to dismiss him if she doesn’t like his ideas. (This clip from ‘The Thick of It’ illustrates why.) She can’t even publicly disagree with him, or the markets will react again. So he has effectively become the most powerful figure in government, with Ms Truss a prisoner to his ideas. And if she can hang on for a few weeks more and he doesn’t make too many spectacular blunders in the meantime, when she is finally pushed out he is in prime position to take the keys to No.10.
So what does Liz Truss do now? She is in politics not for hard graft and detail but for excitement and prestige. She certainly has all the excitement she might crave at the moment, but there is quite a gap between prestige and humiliation. So has she any way out?
One way, which would put everything thus far into the shade, is within her own hands. As one of the wise heads at the Muckraker’s suggested, if she wants to be remembered as anything more than a national embarrassment, she could go to the palace and ask the King for a general election.
That is in her power. She is appointed by the monarch to form a government. It is entirely her own choice when she wants to resign. By asking for an election she could claim that the situation is so serious and so complex that, though she could battle on, the proper course would be to put options to the British people.
That would allow her to leave the stage with some vestige of honour and dignity, and at the same time stymie the ambitions of her rivals in the party. It would also, of course, destroy her party as an electoral force. But then, she could claim with a tilt of the chin, she had put country before party.
But she would have to do it in the next few days.
The Economist has les mots justes on the last few days. The magazine points out that, excluding the Queen’s mourning period, it took Liz Truss seven days to “blow up the economy”. Seven days. This, as they point out,is the shelf life of a lettuce.
Last week Pecksniff observed that, as their dream-world came crashing down after scarcely a month of the new government, Tories were already looking beyond Liz Truss to Suella Braverman as their new hero. There has been further evidence this week, from the mutterings of MPs but also from the members. If one were in any doubt as to what lay behind both Brexit and the increasing ravings of the Tory party, Ms Braverman’s present popularity makes the point. Look to xenophobia and racism.
How unfortunate for the members, therefore, that Ms Braverman’s comments on Indian immigration have already scotched chances of a trade deal with that country, and are proving even too mad for her prime minister.
It seems Ms Truss has removed responsibility for immigration from Ms Braverman’s brief – the very thing she was put there to focus on, and the thing Tory die-hards are still frothing at the mouth about.
Amid all the accusations of plotting among Tory MPs, attention should be drawn to Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield), who regular readers will recall Pecksniff reported taking a swipe at Liz Truss last week. Mr Shapps is a serious conspirator – he has lots of previous – and nobody has been busier in the bars and the tea rooms than Welwyn Hatfield’s finest.
He began gauging the mood of MPs at conference, and continued this week when parliament returned from recess. Why is he doing it? Perhaps just for fun, but one particular concern for Ms Truss will be that Mr Shapps is very close to Boris Johnson and ran his successful leadership campaign.
Recently EAB published an astute article on the extraordinary opinion polls of the last two or three weeks, showing a Labour lead on 25% and in one case 33%. The article very properly joined other wise heads in warning not to invest too much in the numbers, since those kinds of figures have rarely if ever been seen before. And experienced political activists know that these extremes are never replicated in reality.
Pecksniff has another observation, however. True, these figures are extraordinary, and scarcely believable. But then our present situation is also scarcely believable. The polls reflect the public’s alarm at what they perceive may be an almost existential threat – perhaps losing a home, a job, unable to keep your family warm this winter – so it is not surprising that the polling reaction against the government has been so violent.
What will the polls show then if all of those fears come to pass? If fears of catastrophe become reality? When YouGov showed that 33% Labour lead, Pecksniff remarked to the wise men gathered around the bar at the Muckrakers that there may still be some way to go yet.
Polling in individual constituencies shows a grim mood among the voters. Already it is reckoned that one in five families in Liz Truss’s seat of South West Norfolk would lose out under her plans to cut benefits. Now campaign group 38 Degrees reports the results of polling among voters in individual constituencies. In SW Norfolk 25% of respondents fear homelessness within a year. But Ms Truss doesn’t hold surgeries so she wouldn’t know. In Southend West it’s 24%. What have you done since your by-election win, Anna Firth?
The figures above are similar across the region, but it would be a pity to miss out an old friend, one of the most pompous and ineffectual of all our MPs and one always ready to toady to the great leader, whoever that may be after this weekend.
I refer of course to Richard Bacon, whose constituency of South Norfolk features prominently in these polls. They show 53% of Mr Bacon’s constituents fear they won’t be able to pay their energy bills, 21% fear homelessness and 23% think they may have to resort to food banks. Real and grinding poverty for a great many citizens of South Suffolk, while Mr Bacon struts and puffs and plays the 18th-century landed gentleman.
More than half your constituents fear they won’t be able to keep warm this winter, Mr Bacon. One in five fear they may lose their home. A quarter think they won’t be able to feed their families. This is Britain in 2022. Is your answer still that the government’s warm words will keep them safe? Perhaps voters will be clearer now what to do at the next election.
In one of the most astonishingly dim contributions to the present political imbroglio, James Cartlidge (South Suffolk, see above) excitedly showed off his political tin ear by telling the Commons this week that parliament should “embrace” increasing reliance on private healthcare as a “policy opportunity”. The “post-Beveridge Revolution” is here, he says, and the government should support it.
The emergency in the NHS means seven million patients are waiting for hospital treatment – 100,000 of them in his own backyard – and some have to wait weeks even to speak to a doctor on the telephone. But all this is to be welcomed, because it will mean the end of the NHS, to be replaced by ruinous private health insurance and vast profits for the health companies.
Would Mr Cartlidge rub his hands at the prospect of all those sick constituents of his, suffering and dying so the fruition of their MP’s mad ideology might come to pass? He may not go that far, but if his constituents become aware of that speech, they may well not wait for a general election but give him the bum’s rush now.
If they do, Pecksniff would be delighted to see the photos.
Last week too, Pecksniff mused on the saga of the Nadine Dorries peerage. It was promised by Boris Johnson, but when Ms Dorries hastily cancelled her Twitter account – full of tasteless and wildly incorrect allegations about anyone who crossed her – it was assumed it was so as not to prejudice the appointment. When she reappeared on Twitter, your correspondent mused on which outcome this portended.
Perhaps we have an answer. Now we have reports that her peerage may be blocked on the grounds that she deliberately misled the House. There are rumours that Ms Truss may have become involved in the decision. If so then, though Ms Dorries supported her leadership bid, perhaps her continued idolatry of the lurking figure of Boris Johnson may have prompted the intervention. If this were so, that could also explain why La Dorries is now accusing her PM of being “a disrupter” and threatening that in the next election the Tories face “complete wipe-out”.
In an attempt to portray Liz Truss as a hard working and determined woman, her team put together a short video of the places and events in her life which have influenced her. (One or two indecorous interludes have been omitted.) But it is pointed out by Councillor Terry Jermy, the hard working gentleman who represents Thetford, that in this paean of praise to those places that have helped her, she does not even mention her constituency, South West Norfolk.
Here is Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal), now the health secretary, failing to answer 18 questions on government policy in just three minutes. Thank heavens none of them were very pressing. Dr Coffey has the habit of making any answer sound like musing on whether to go for a fourth helping of spotted dick in the Commons members’ dining room.
She got her job – as well as being ‘deputy prime minister’ which has no formal status whatever and is purely a courtesy title – because she is a good friend of Ms Truss.
Meet our Deputy Prime Minister – failing to answer 18 questions in 3 minutes. I counted 26 “I’m not aware of” and 14 “that’s someone else’s job”.
North Norfolk Liberal Democrats are to be congratulated on their fierce rebuttal of a Tory propaganda leaflet.
As the formidable Lance Corporal Jones might have said: “They don’t like it up ‘em!” As the Liberal Democrats explain in their own leaflet, a YouGov poll from last year puts support for local Tory MP Duncan Baker at 43%, with the Liberal Democrats only 3% behind. This is the constituency of the former Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, a well respected figure for whom there remains a deep pool of residual goodwill. The waspish attitude shown by Mr Baker in recent weeks suggests he is becoming increasingly aware of just how important that goodwill may prove to be.
On Tuesday, the second question of the day at full council meeting of Norfolk County Council to its leader, Andrew Proctor, was on the plight of Norfolk people facing the cost of living crisis. He replied the solution was for those on low incomes is “taking more responsibility” for how they spend their money. People will have to make choices for themselves – like, for example whether to starve or freeze to death.
Now bear in mind, dear reader, that this man is elected, by somebody, as being trusted to look after the best interests of the people of Norfolk. Instead, he is washing his hands of them, leaving them to sink or swim. It is, apparently, a matter of complete indifference what happens to them. Is this really what we elect him into high office for?
As Councillor Lucy Shires asks: “Is it really everyone for themselves”? Is this what our country has come to?
Still on the astonishing incompetence and indifference of Norfolk County Council, their debt has doubled in 10 years to reach a staggering £1 billion. It costs Norfolk tax payers £86,000 every day in interest payments. It is astonishing that any Tory county councillors have the face to walk into a meeting any more, let alone charge tax-payers for their attendance.