This week two new groups have been launched within the Conservative Party, each presenting an open attack on its present prime minister, Rishi Sunak. One, the Conservative Democratic Organisation is headed by Priti Patel (Witham) and Hertfordshire’s major moneybags Lord Peter Cruddas. The other, seemingly nameless, is an attempt to fight back for traditional Tory values on taxes.
But they have one thing in common. Both vehemently disagree with the direction their own government is taking. It has always seemed unlikely that this government will survive to full term, yet difficult to see how – with a majority of nearly 80 – it may fall. But as Pecksniff has observed before, the question only arises if you see the government as being a traditional one under the control of its leadership. But it isn’t. In effect it is a coalition of warring factions, uneasily held together by the demands of being in power.
As the visceral disputes between the party’s internal factions gradually become more important than seeing off Labour (who are veterans of this kind of chaos), a co-ordinated party gives way to a coalition of competing interests, so the majority no longer exists.
Of the two new groups, the Conservative Democratic Organisation (CDO) looks by far the most interesting. Only a few weeks ago, following her demise in the Truss bloodbath, Pecksniff was wondering what Priti Patel was up to. Sitting tight like a good little constituency MP is not her style. She needs people to shout at and she has a high maintenance ego to support – and you can’t do that from Witham.
After her mismanagement of immigration cost her any chance in the leadership race, she needed new backs to stab and new avenues through which to vent her spleen. She needs to win back membership support, and attacking Rishi Sunak is an easy hit. After all, he’s only there under sufferance.
But note too her fellow conspirator, Lord Peter Cruddas. He is Boris Johnson’s faithful poodle, so we may be sure that the CDO is a cover for reinstalling the king over the water. (The water in this case being the Caribbean, where BJ appears to spend his time bludging luxury villas from the likes of his lordship.) So, does his lordship’s objectives coincide with those of Ms Patel? Does she intend to spend the rest of her career dedicated to restoring Boris Johnson to Downing Street?
Dear reader, in answering this question, your correspondent begs you to set aside any intervention of cynicism as to her real motives.
Nadim Zahawi, the Tory chairman, writes to Pecksniff with a new approach to the strikes: trying to drive a wedge between the striking public sector workers and their unions.
In a letter headed optimistically “Labour’s nightmare before Christmas”, he says: “We all rely on our public services and the people who keep them running. The train drivers who get us to work. The nurses who keep our NHS going. The postal workers who deliver our presents in time for the big day. But when union leaders try to grind the country to a halt, it’s our job to stand up for hardworking people.”
To have any chance of working, however, this would require all those thousands of strikers on our TV screens to be holding placards proclaiming: ‘Solidarity with Sunak!’ or ‘Money for PPE frauds, not nurses!’. Until that happens, it does seem as though Mr Zahawi – never a man with the common touch – is not helping his cause.
And in the matter of the NHS, Pecksniff learns from a senior source in the NHS that this week there were no intensive care beds available anywhere in East Anglia, because of a flu outbreak. Do tell, Mr Zahawi, can we blame this on the unions too?
The Matt Hancock book is out, and as expected it seems to be a litany of all the things he got stupendously right and how everybody else let him down. But credit goes to The Spectator for spotting an amusing conflict. It seems Mr Hancock suggests in the book, that his hands were tied by both incompetence and by delays by the National Archives in publishing Covid legislation. (It does seem odd to make excuses for, apparently, getting everything right.)
But as one wag notes, if anyone keeps the receipts it’s going to be the National Archives. They point out that “new Statutory Instruments come into effect when signed by the appropriate minister, not when they are sent to Kew to be registered and published”.
So not only is he either wrong or deliberately not telling the truth, there is also a letter kindly produced by the NA, from Mr Hancock himself, thanking them for working 24/7: “You have risen to the challenge as part of the national effort… Not once have the team failed to deliver excellent level of service.”
Pecksniff has written previously about what on earth successive prime ministers see in Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal). They value her implacable inactivity and willingness to be an aunt sally for any TV interview or select committee inquisition.
The latest example occurred this week. It concerned a supposed independent inquiry into what is causing mass deaths of shellfish and other marine life off the Tyne estuary. The government says it’s due to naturally occurring algal blooms. Independent research by scientists at Newcastle, Durham, Hull and York universities say it’s much more likely to be due to industrial toxins.
But fortunately, the government have the right person to look into this. An independent inquiry? Dr Coffey says any further investigation will be carried out by her department. But independent? She has told an employee to ask one of his mates.
She makes clear she is only prepared to countenance independence just short of the point where it might be discovered the universities are right. To conclude, she makes appropriately crab-like grabbing gestures, which independent experts consulted by Pecksniff interpret as semaphore for spelling ‘cover up’. Dr Coffey shuffles together her papers and sets her lips. The matter is closed.
Since Boris Johnson first brought up the figure of 40 new hospitals, ministers have spent three years trying vainly to find one, rather like the Hunting of the Snark.
Stanley is a gentleman toper at the Muckrakers and fellow browser though the dustbins of political discourse. He is also a champion of the more arcane backwaters of the English language, and the 40 new hospitals idea is what he would call “All my eye and Betty Martin”. You, dear readers, would have a somewhat more brisk description.
But then along came Steve Barclay (North East Cambs), a man not known for thinking on his feet (or any other part of his anatomy, though you could be forgiven for assuming so). Mr Barclay refers not to “building” 40 new hospitals but of “investing” in them. This could of course mean renewing their stock of toilet paper, kindly supplied by some recently ennobled Tory donor.
But as a sleight of hand it is hardly likely to go unnoticed by the hacks, and must have been one of the issues he was most dreading when reappointed to the post after only a few weeks’ absence. Another snark hunt.
Only for Mr Barclay, the snark was a boojum, you see.
Will Quince (Colchester) may feel he has troubles enough with his new ministerial portfolio, but they may have just grown worse.
The EAB editor has begun referring to him as “Quincey Boy”.
Now, from her, levity is usually a warning klaxon. It frequently precedes that state described by Bertie Wooster as ‘breathing flame quietly through her nostrils”. Quincey Boy should know he is now in range of she who must be obeyed.
The story which she brought to the attention of Pecksniff was that of Mr Quince declaring how “it is important that both sides respect that independent [pay review] body…”. Except of course in years 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2021.
And this year’s recommendations which Mr Quince is so keen to apply were based on wildly outdated assumptions of inflation rates.
Most of our MPs have given up making complete arses of themselves for the festive season and are preoccupied instead with free lunches and writing letters to Santa. (“Dear Father Christmas, please send me a nice PPE contract…”)
However, we must be grateful for those still prepared to bring the names of Tory politicians into disrepute. Step forward into the limelight that shy and retiring creature, almost ignored by Pecksniff until now, Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock).
It seems The Bureau, an investigations organisation, approached her for comment on how Tory-controlled Thurrock Council has managed to incur a catastrophic £500 million deficit. She replied that she never comments on leaks.
There is probably a very good reason why she is reluctant to comment, though it’s not the one she gave. Because this isn’t a leak but a public report, available on the council’s own website.
On the other hand, what Ms Doyle-Price failed to mention (though readers may wish to draw their own conclusions as to its relevance) is that her partner, Mark Coxshall, is the leader of Thurrock Council.
Let us not leave Thurrock before we look again at the council. This week the chief executive, Lyn Carpenter, resigned over that matter of the £500 million deficit. Ms Carpenter has been on extended leave since September when that astonishing hole in the finances was first announced and the government sent in the heavies.
On Monday Mark Coxshall told councillors tersely that he accepted her resignation “with immediate effect”. A replacement will be recruited in the new year. But hold on a moment, sunshine. No chief executive can hide losing half a billion quid from her council leader. It’s not as though it was mislaid down the back of the sofa.
At what point was this catastrophic investment first broached with Councillor Coxshall? Or was it his idea? Over four years the council – Mr Coxshall’s council – has repeatedly rebuffed attempts to find out what was happening with what have been called “secret deals”.
So Ms Carpenter carries the can and Councillor Coxshall and his colleagues brush themselves down, tsk tsk a bit and go on to tell their voters they can’t have any services any more because the council is going bust. But they’ll still have to cough up to try and make up some of the losses and to save the council’s bacon.
Should Ms Carpenter feel like spilling a few beans to Pecksniff, in confidence of course, your correspondent will be all ears. In the meantime, the council might like to take advice from its own website under the heading: “Some basic rules for dealing with debt problems”. The first important point is apparently; “Don’t disregard debt problems”.
You nudge open the door, just ajar, and see what else you find? Yes, let’s hear it for Jackie Doyle-Price and Thurrock again.
“UK MPs defend accepting ‘lavish’ Qatari gifts before World Cup,” reads a headline. As revealed by Pecksniff recently, the Qatari government spent more than £260,000 in gifts, hospitality and travel on British MPs since October last year, with John Whittingdale (Maldon) inevitably mentioned.
But who do we find defending this largesse? Why none other than our new best chum, Jackie DP. She received gifts and trips to the value of £7,374 from the Qatari government. In response she told Politico: “It is precisely to challenge them on their human rights record that we go on these trips …” (No snickering at the back, please.) “If we are going to moralise at Qatar we should be a bit more honest with ourselves about our own shortcomings.”
How very true and how perfectly in keeping with the Christmas spirit. We look forward to Ms Doyle-Price, having trousered the moolah, turning on her hosts and challenging Qatar on their human rights record. It will also be fascinating to watch her being honest with herself on the shortcomings of her government.
Oh, and Thurrock Council of course.
On Wednesday the revolting Jonathan Gullis MP introduced a bill into the Commons to send asylum seekers to Rwanda even if the move is judged to be illegal. It was defeated, but six MPs from this region backed it. They are Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford), Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex), Brandon Lewis (Gt Yarmouth), Priti Patel (Witham), Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) and John Whittingdale (Maldon).
Whatever reasons they claim, the principle remains that we do not enjoy the happy choice of obeying only those laws with which we agree. To break the law means incurring a penalty. This is what XR and Just Stop Oil protestors accept, which makes them apparently much more law abiding than the MPs, who feel they can pick and choose.
This dirty half-dozen can ignore the law because they are only chest-thumping to show off to their supporters. And even if they had their way, the penalty would not fall on them but on us, this country.
To quote Stanley Baldwin, it is “power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages”.
The National Security Bill has just completed its Commons stages and will now go to the Lords. It aims to make it illegal for organisations which are funded by a foreign government to use ‘leaked’ information which could harm the safety or interests of the UK.
“Oh yes?” I hear you mock. Horses and stable doors spring to mind.
But we may be somewhat reassured by knowing that the bill is under the scrutiny of Lord Ipswich.
He is a leading QC and a very smart fellow, as cunning as a fox who has been promoted to become the country’s head of cunning as well as anti-terror czar. In fact, David Anderson as he then was, held that very position (Well, the ‘czar’ bit anyway) for several years, during a time when we could sleep easy in our beds.
“Have you thought about stocking fillers, Seth?” asks a kindly note from the Conservative Party. “Give your loved ones a Christmas present they won’t find anywhere else.”
From cufflinks to umbrellas, hoodies to ties, unused surgical masks and gloves, unique sewage detectors for your bath, cardboard cut-out A&E departments, worst inflation figures for 40 years, a winter of misery and penury, collapsing economy and becoming the laughing stock of the world. As the letter declares: “Give your loved ones a Christmas present they won’t find anywhere else.”
As we go to press, a story emerges of reported traces of cocaine found at Chevening, which was the grace and favour mansion of Liz Truss (South West Norfolk) while she was foreign secretary. The traces were reportedly found after a party held there on the eve of Ms Truss winning leadership of the Tory party and so beginning that brief and disastrous period as prime minister.
Nobody suggests for a moment that Ms Truss was personally involved in drug taking, or that she knew that drugs were being taken – in fact snorting coke is perhaps one of the few aberrations of which critics wouldn’t accuse her. It doesn’t seem her style, not very Swaffham. But at least it would have explained the delusional economic policies with which in a couple of days she trashed the British economy for years to come. Pecksniff however has always believed that came about because solving the obvious problems were much too difficult, and Ms Truss has never been keen on detail. So it was easier just to launch off into pretend economics, aware that if it fell off a cliff – which of course it did – then at least she would know the equally deluded membership would have her back.
Regular readers of this diary, on the assumption there are any, will of course be too busy over Christmas carousing and plotting revolution to read an on-line newspaper. So Mr Pecksniff’s Diary will not appear for the next two weeks. It will return in the new year.
However, it is possible that after the second bottle of port your correspondent may fall to reminiscing on past chuckles. In which case, Mr Pecksniff’s Christmas Carol may recall some of the most absorbing of our japes over the last 12 months. In the meantime, God rest you merry, gentlemen. (And them others.)