On Sunday, George Eustice (former environment secretary) admitted that we need more European workers and suggested a limited scheme of free movement for those under 35.
In the unlikely event his government pursues the idea, that would place Labour as holding by far the most extreme Brexit position of the main parties, since the leadership have been unequivocal in declaring there can be no return to free movement. But at least Mr Eustice said it, whether or not the government pursue it. Nobody on the Labour front bench dare even mention Brexit.
There was a time when Labour voters as a matter of tradition would slag off their leaders and mock their policies. Not any more. Last week Pecksniff approached three prospective Labour parliamentary candidates with a likelihood of being elected, to ask them about criticisms of Keir Starmer and his front bench for being so cautious. Anything they said would be kept anonymous.
It may be purely coincidence, but once the subject of our discussion was explained, all three found they were too busy to talk last week. Please, dear reader, if you intend to vote Labour at the next general election, make it clear to canvassers you do so grudgingly. And you will withdraw your support if the party doesn’t grow some cojones.
With a once-in-a-generation opportunity to grasp the public mood and introduce real change, Labour naturally opts for safety first. Or what a died-in-the-wool coterie of traditional Labour MPs and advisers believe to be safe. There is talk that “those close to the leader” believe Labour’s way forward lies with Keir Starmer’s “laser-like focus” on the economy, with the belief that environmental crises are an annoying middle class side issue. It is also said that environment groups and NGOs are being snubbed by the leadership.
Leaving aside the idea that it’s possible to divorce economic prosperity from the world being burnt to a crisp, this policy sounds depressingly possible. Labour has seemed in thrall to the ossified instincts of Lisa Nandy and Rachel Reeves since Brexit, and the rumours suggest they and the party believe all they have to do is back the whippets and coal in the bath image of the Red Wall and all will be well. For them, economic prosperity means building cars, bashing metal and going down t’pit.
Ed Miliband, probably the worst leader the party has had (until Jeremy Corbyn) seems a voice alone in standing up for our environment, a voice of reason.
An interesting answer as to why Nadine Dorries has yet to resign involves her daughters. She employs them both: one as her secretary on £40,000, the other as her constituency case worker on £45,000. (How grateful the Dorries constituents must feel to know that while they struggle with lack of GPs and lack of housing, the Misses Dorries at least are doing nicely.) It is not clear whether they both still hold those positions, though it would be unlike the Dorries family to turn up moolah when it’s offered. But if they are, then their mother’s departure would mean of course that both would be out of a job.
The astonishing arrogance of Tory MPs never ceases to amaze, or their complacent assumption that public service is there for their further personal enrichment. We learn that about 40 of them hold shares in blind trusts without disclosing the fact. This has led to incidents of MPs becoming involved in debates on the companies whose shares they hold.
Two of our MPs are involved: Shailesh Vara (NW Cambs) and Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon). One can imagine the outrage of all these MPs at being brought to book over this. Conflict of interest? Nonsense, there is no conflict whatever. The aim is to make money, and any rules or so-called safeguards are an impertinence.
Mr Djanogly’s holdings seem particularly egregious. He holds shares worth nearly £500,000 in blind trusts. But he is no stranger to appalling personal publicity after the scandalous revelations earlier this year over the way he treats his domestic staff. He has announced that he intends to stand down as an MP at the next election. But till then…
It’s their fault. Pecksniff told them. At the by-election following the murder of Southend MP Sir David Amess, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats stepped down, so the Tory candidate Anna Firth was effectively given a clear run – except for one candidate who insisted we were all being controlled by radio waves from the Planet Tharg (which actually would explain a lot), and some bloke who believed the world is made of drinking straws (which probably explains the rest).
Your diarist was exasperated at the decision of the two parties, pointing out it is for the electors to decide who they want to represent them, not the parties. Rather than (as the woolly argument had it) this standing aside being a defence of democracy, it was actually undermining it.
Now we have proof. Ms Firth stands up in the Commons and proves herself an oaf. In the whole panoply of Tory stupidity, surely none can out-stupid the Firth woman. She told the House of her pride at the UK “taking in 550 million refugees since 2015”.
That’s 550 million. Eight times the entire population of the country. We get this buffoon representing Southend and insulting the rest of us because of the pomposity of the major parties, putting their amour propre before the interests of the voters. As usual.
The Ipswich Star carries a story on near-catastrophic results on local business activity as reported by the Ipswich Chamber of Commerce. “Activity and sentiment plummeting as export worries take their toll,” apparently. “Manufacturers reported a massive 48% fall in export sales.” “The Suffolk service sector’s export sales balances have now been in negative territory for 15 of the last 20 quarters.”
Ooh, now let’s see, what event could possibly have had such a disastrous effect on export business…?
Neither the Star’s business writer nor the chamber’s head of public affairs could think of a thing. Brexit wasn’t mentioned. (You’d almost think they were both members of the Labour Party.) The idea that the chamber is a doughty defender of its members’ interests is ludicrous, of course. It daren’t mention Brexit, just as the journalist daren’t, just as its members daren’t. Having been too cowed to stand up against it, they now all keep their heads down and hope the bogeyman doesn’t get them.
Now it so happens that Pecksniff had occasion to walk through Ipswich town centre last week. During the stroll there and back from the car park, your correspondent counted 18 empty shops. The main shopping street was taken over by mobile phones, their accessories or vape shops.
Many years ago, Councillor Pecksniff cut quite a Disraeli figure in Ipswich civic affairs, but earned little popularity for complaining about the town even then. What should have been one of the historic architectural gems of the region was already ruined, but only a few of the bleating middle classes ever mentioned it. The borough council are more earnest than inspired, and unless things have changed the chamber of commerce aren’t entirely happy working with socialism. Meanwhile the town and its people become shabbier and more sour, but keep up the pretence.
More criticism of Ipswich comes from the town’s Conservatives. (The council is Labour controlled.) The execrable Councillor Ian Fisher is joined in his sneering by their MP Tom Hunt. Mr Hunt complains at “no-go areas” in the town. It behoves him ill to express concern at the kind of people who lurk around the town centre after dark, when he has seemed to encourage neo-nazis and the worst of the knuckle-dragging racist bigots to visit the town and make the kind of headlines he seems to deplore.
Anyway, enough of Ipswich, for the sake of good taste. Let us pick on somebody else. Does anybody have anything against Ramsey, say? How is the green bins collection row brewing up? Or Chatteris? What about those 250,000 new houses being built just down the road?
And it’s all going off at Catfield Parish Council in Norfolk, where Councillor Dr Keith Bacon, a churchwarden, demanded of a certain Mr Snelling: “You ought to keep your f*cking mother under control!”.
How absorbing! Sadly, it is not certain quite what the unfortunate Mrs Snelling senior had been doing, other than talking a lot. But whatever the dispute, it has apparently been going on for two years, since a meeting of the council which according to the records included “head-butting”.
How exciting! It is not clear who was involved in this example of what one understands is known as ‘the Glasgow kiss’, though one hopes it was not Mrs Snelling, who this diarist is quite sure is not that kind of woman. Though it is not clear whether she is Scottish. There was a complaint about somebody “with grey hair and a foreign accent”, and my dears what could possibly sound more foreign to a blameless churchwarden than a Weedgie accent?
Anyway, there were ructions. And to quote the estimable PG Wodehouse: “It is rarely difficult to spot the difference between a ray of sunshine and a Scotsman with a grievance”.
This week we heard of the death of Caroline Page – Cro to everybody – a genuine original. Cro was a passionate and combative county and town councillor for her home of Woodbridge. She was a Liberal Democrat but no tribal warrior, and respected by all for her tireless work for local people. She loved them and she loved her area, and has recently been prominent in giving Anglian Water serious grief over their sewage failings.
She will be missed by all, but her work and her passion for Woodbridge and the beauty of its local area will continue to resonate.