Lucy Frazer is the MP for South East Cambridgeshire, one of our own here in East Anglia, yet so far has hardly appeared in Pecksniff’s jottings. We should be obliged if Ms Frazer could explain the small matter of what appears on the face of it – we put it no more strongly – to be a clear conflict of interest.
Ms Frazer is married to David Leigh, who is the boss of a recruitment firm called Alexander Mann Solutions (AMS). In September last year she moved to her present ministerial position as financial secretary to the Treasury. But AMS has a seven-year public resourcing contract with the Crown Commercial Service, which is an agency of the Cabinet Office. It provides temporary staff to the government, including to the Treasury.
The contract is worth £15 billion, though AMS only takes part of this sum. Somehow, the fact of Mr Leigh’s firm earning huge sums of money from a government – and a specific department – in which his wife serves as a minister, seems to have been overlooked.
What is more embarrassing – or at least would have been embarrassing for any previous British government – is that Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise insists that its suppliers must ensure the tax compliance of workers. Except it is known that AMS has used disguised remuneration arrangements for some of those workers – which is to say a tax avoidance scheme.
Ms Frazer is unavailable at Westminster, because parliament is in recess, but is also unavailable in her constituency. (We understand this is not unusual.) Pecksniff was referred to the Treasury for comment and, at the moment, they seem to be puzzled at the mere idea of a conflict of interest, a phrase which seems unknown to them. It is unlikely that anything of value will be gained, but Pecksniff has a man on the case.
Still, the Treasury have other things on their mind…
Apparently Boris Johnson, who we all know loves a party, invited Nadine Dorries, MP for Mid Befordshire, to Chequers for the weekend. (Perhaps not everybody’s idea of fun, but we digress.) It seems their main topic of conversation and source of amusement was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak. Johnson has good reason to dislike Sunak.
First, he failed to support him over the early stages of Partygate – hardly surprising when Mr Johnson’s only possible replacement was Rishi Sunak. Second, Mr Sunak is extremely rich, his wife is richer still, yet recent events make clear they want to keep all their money for themselves and won’t give Boris Johnson any.
The New Statesman has it that the prime minister and La Dorries amused themselves with making up obscene nicknames for the chancellor. Ms Dorries of course will laugh at whatever she is told to laugh at. But this savage warfare at the very top of a Tory government is not new. Pecksniff has already reported on Matt Hancock (West Suffolk) being installed in the Liberal Democrat-run business department during Cameron’s coalition, with the specific role of undermining their every policy. Success of the government? Running the government to the benefit of the people? Neither came close to the priority of doing down the enemy within. Sadly, there is little evidence that the Liberal Democrats at the time had an inkling of what was afoot. We believe however that such naivete is a thing of the past.
In February, Dr Dan Poulter MP (Central Suffolk) wrote this to a constituent: “If the Prime Minister failed any of these tests (been found guilty of an act resulting in criminal sanction), then I believe he would be honour-bound to resign and he would no longer command my support.”
Many of his constituents have written to him following the revelations that police have fined the prime minister over Partygate, demanding to know if he will now expect the prime minister’s resignation. But Dr Poulter excuses himself from an immediate answer, giving a dose of Covid as the reason, but says he expects to respond more fully next week, when parliament returns and “I also anticipate that Members of Parliament will have an opportunity to hold ministers to account for their actions in the House of Commons.”
To this rather ambiguous position, he adds: “Please be assured that I deeply share you (sic) concerns.”
We haven’t heard recently from Jerome Mayhew the MP for Broadland. He is another obligingly popping up this week for his own stern declaration of high principle over Partygate.
“Whilst I accept that a proper investigation needs to be undertaken when people’s jobs are at risk,” he said earlier in the scandal: “if it confirms that there was a terrible breach of the rules, then those implicated should be removed from No.10.”
Well, it has become clear this week that one person’s job in particular is at risk, and it’s just possible he will not agree to be removed from No.10. What then, Mr Mayhew? Apparently, Broadland’s champion of democratic liberties says he needs to give the matter serious thought before being able to respond to the news of the fine…
And still on Partygate, Norwich North MP Chloe Smith tells us all that she at least has graciously accepted the prime minister’s apology for erring over the furore. Ms Smith appears to believe she is speaking for us all.
So where are we…? Ah, yes. We’re on to Duncan Baker, MP for North Norfolk. In January he told BBC Radio Norfolk that revelations of the prime minister attending a Downing Street party during lockdown were “absolutely disgraceful” and made his continued tenure in office “very difficult”. But in spite of repeated requests from the media this week, he has remained absolutely silent on news of the fines. He has also made no comment on either his Facebook or Twitter accounts.
Mr Baker is also under attack over Ukrainian refugees. He has taken in a family, for which he must be applauded, but it has displeased many that he regularly posts updates on social media. “Using refugees to gain support for your political career,” is how one constituent sees it.
Richard Bacon, the beleaguered MP for South Norfolk, is also taking a stern line. He writes to a constituent: “I have been assured that if it is found that Covid rules were broken, then there will be disciplinary action for those involved.”
Doesn’t he do pomposity well? But imagine then Mr Bacon’s response on hearing that the prime minister has been personally convicted of breaking the law.
(Incidentally, readers will no doubt have noticed how those Tory MPs desperately looking to excuse the prime minister always refer incorrectly to ‘rules’, not ‘laws’, which of course is the accurate word.)
Meanwhile, there is news which will hardly enthuse those many constituents of Richard Bacon who complain that he doesn’t take them and their concerns seriously. His constituency office is at Pretoria House in Long Stratton – or at least was. But it seems neighbours are of the view that the office is now unmanned. Nobody seems to go near it.
Pecksniff was recently sent a photograph of sacks full of constituency correspondence, which was claimed to have been taken in Mr Bacon’s office. It was also claimed that this correspondence had never been answered, in fact was unopened, and it was bagged up in this way ready to go to the shredder. But there were no means to check the claims.
However, a former member of his staff also recently alleged that sending unanswered correspondence to be shredded was a common occurrence. But this was hearsay, and again could not be corroborated.
Raspberry of the week goes to somebody readers will never have heard of, but will nevertheless know well as being yet another cloned incompetent in the lower muddy puddles of government. We speak of Lord Harrington of Watford, a junior minister in the Home Office. His lordship was previously known as Richard Harrington, the MP for Watford.
In an interview on LBC, he was asked about the possibility of the government trying to send refugees to Rwanda. He poo-pooed the idea.
“Well, if it’s happening in the Home Office, in the same corridor that I’m in, they haven’t told me about it!” he declared.
And after all, why should they? He is only the minister responsible for refugees.
Less than a week later, the Home office announced a new policy of sending refugees to Rwanda.
Pecksniff has written before of those East Anglian Tory MPs who have received political donations from dubious Russian sources. One of them is Will Quince (Colchester). Mr Quince has never attempted to give a serious reason for this largesse, and is now in a notable hissy fit over people drawing their own conclusions.
Apparently somebody on Twitter keeps referring to the MP as a Russian agent, which is clearly a misplaced assumption. Pecksniff is known for his imagination, but I have never envisaged Mr Quince as a James Bond figure. No, he is just a small MP with little future, who has been delighted to be bunged unexpected money from a dodgy donor for reasons which may or may not be sordid or unethical. He has had countless opportunities to explain this bizarre largesse, and it is hardly surprising that, given his reluctance to do so, his constituents become exasperated. If there is a good reason for this donation then we invite Mr Quince to explain it.
So we come to this week’s entry in our popular series of Peculiar Pictures of Liz Truss. In this one, not for the first time, something seems to have happened to her hair, and not for the first time either Ms Truss wears the expression of one who hasn’t the faintest idea what is going on. (When appearing in a picture such as this, there might be some good, if unexplained, reason. But when the same expression is worn whilst meeting the foreign ministers of other countries there is probably cause for concern.)
The thing about Liz Truss is that she always seems to lack completely any self awareness. She has no idea whatever of when she is looking a complete arse, and it is tempting to wonder whether photographers have noticed that and vie with one another to pose her in ever more ludicrous situations.
Really my dears, whose idea was it to fit her out in a pair of welly boots several sizes too big? The only explanation is that, having got her to sit in front of a bit of tarpaulin and draped in a table cloth, somebody dared the snapper to see just how far she would go.
In fact Pecksniff can reveal the culprit, though the new picture hardly explains it:
Anyway, don’t laugh. Liz Truss is currently favourite to succeed Boris Johnson as prime minister.
The local elections are almost upon us, an event not usually known for rocking the very foundations. However, Pecksniff takes umbrage at this, as do the entire EAB team. These councils run much of our lives, and if – as they say at the Muckrakers – we can’t be fannied to give the bum’s rush to the crooks, charlatans and carpetbaggers who increasingly seem to infiltrate our councils, then we don’t deserve those who are trying hard on our behalf.
So this and every year it is our goal to make your council elections absorbing, dramatic, sexy, outrageous, exciting, racy, compelling and un-put-downable. Local councils seethe with intrigue and conspiracy. Imagine if you will the Norwich City Council elections scripted by John le Carre, and that tubby and innocuous little figure walking the streets of the Golden Triangle with a fist full of election leaflets is George Smiley.
Can you see the picture? Every occurrence of interest, whether reminiscent of George Smiley or more like Laurel and Hardy, will be covered by East Anglia Bylines in those exciting weeks ahead. We will report what the others won’t.
So we begin with an interesting morsel of gossip. It’s rumoured that Huntingdon council may be about to change hands, with the Tories losing their majority for the first time apparently in 49 years. That was when Edward Heath was prime minister and two years before Margaret Thatcher replaced him as prime minister. The Tories have 29 votes to the mixed opposition’s 23, so they need to lose four seats.
There are continuing murmurings about goings-on at Liberal Democrat controlled South Cambridgeshire Council, involving housing developments. One day soon Pecksniff really will have to investigate further.
Special thanks this week go to Stephen McNair, Jess Walsh and St Ives for Europe.