Boris Johnson has gone, and without his fat narcissism it seems likely that much of the malevolence in public life may perhaps go with him, given time. But in his wake, there will remain turbulence for probably months to come.
The immediate headlines will probably be most concerned with Partygate and his resignation honours list. There have already been endless speculations about both, of course, and in particular concerned with the astonishing arrogance and solipsism of those he wants to ennoble. The one theme appears to be a pay-off to cronies and the most extraordinary act of nepotism since Caligula made his horse a consul. Also, almost every living relation appears to have been promoted to ermine.
As far as we know, in spite of some very curious coincidences in name and birth date, that does not apply to his mysterious 29 year-old adviser, an ingenue called Charlotte Owen. She appeared from nowhere with no defined responsibilities and apparently with no obvious qualifications for anything, and seems to have spent her time in No.10 as a junior, providing maternity cover. So who is she?
No more is known about her family background than what she was doing at No.10. And for those inclined to say she is entitled to her privacy, we might point out that she has just been nominated as a member of a legislative house governing this country. We have every right to know more about her.
The original version of this entry has been amended, because of a possible error discovered in the source of some of the content.
In the immediate fervour following the Commons Privileges Committee report on Boris Johnson, many Tory MPs suggested that any who voted for the report might be in danger of de-selection by their local parties. (Though imagine, if you can, the public reaction if they voted it down. That would surely sound the death knell of the party.)
Two members of the committee are from this region: Charles Walker (Broxbourne) and Bernard Jenkin (Harwich). So how will their local parties react? The honourable Mr Walker made clear some time ago that he is fed up with the whole mess and is retiring. Mr Jenkin has so far not made his position known, from which we might assume he intends to soldier on. But Harwich is not known as a constituency from wherein springs sympathy for anything much. In fact, it is something of a home for the more unscrupulous of right-wing politics. That may have suited Mr Jenkin while he was championing Brexit, but what now?
The smears and the thirst for vengeance began immediately after the privileges committee report was published, with the name of Bernard Jenkin prominent in the teeth gnashing. One of the more idiotic claims was that this was the Remainers’ revenge. But your diarist once shared a Brexit conversation in a lift with Mr Jenkin, as tight-lipped and unforgiving a Brexit supporter as any. In fact, one might have called him the leading Brexit figure at that time. That is until Boris Johnson strolled to the front of the queue and took over. Perhaps that was the basis of the animosity between them.
Meanwhile, Anthony Browne (S Cambs) seems the only Tory MP in our region to have come out unambiguously in favour of the committee’s findings. He is usually mentioned in far less salubrious circumstances, so it’s as well to mention him here. He told Twitter: “I will vote in support of the Privilege Committee’s recommendations on the former PM on Monday. This Conservative majority committee has done a serious investigation. We need to stand up in support of our democratic institutions and in support of high standards in public life.”
Paul Bristow (Peterborough) is one of those MPs who has come out against the report, which should surprise no-one. Mr Bristow is one of those MPs who feels they are entitled to get away with what they can, politically, and whinge when they find out they can’t.
“In years to come, people will look back on this whole episode in amazement,” he says. Indeed they will.
In last week’s diary, your correspondent reported the hilarious capers of Nadine Dorries (Mid Beds) during the on-off debacle of her supposed ennoblement. None of it was about Ms Dorries of course, but all about whatever she was hearing from Boris Johnson. That naturally varied according to who he had to lie to at that moment.
Pecksniff remarked that he had realised the game was up, but naturally facing the music has never been Mr Johnson’s style. Not when he has willing acolytes to do it for him. (He invariably has.) Ms Dorries is a leading handmaiden in the temple of the great priapic god Boris, so since he had no intention of doing it himself, she it was who fell on his sword.
(No sniggering at the back, there.)
Since then we have had the full sordid account of negotiations, courtesy of the Sunday Times, as Ms Dorries heard one thing and then another, waiting by the phone to see whether at last her dream of ermine would come true. She has called any decision to prevent her ennoblement “cruel”. It seems she is yet another victim, just like her hero.
It is not recorded what her abandoned constituents and those she has maligned over her atrocious years besmirching our politics have to say.
But there still remains doubt as to whether Nadine Dorries will actually resign, determined to go on humiliating herself and our political system till the last.
But let us assume La Dorries does the decent thing – unlikely admittedly. Last time she had a huge majority of 25,000 over Labour in second, but that was then. Not only has Ms Dorries been missing from her constituency, but (as previously reported here) her entire party seems to have packed up and run away to join the circus.
Electoral Calculus still predicts a Tory win, though there are too many imponderables to make a realistic calculation. Would the party’s chance of holding it be improved or worsened if Ms Dorries stays put? Will Labour and the LibDems decide to fight each other rather than the Tories? It seems they already are, with both parties already bussing in activists to knock on doors. So this promises to be perhaps a frustrating by election, if ever it takes place. Labour can claim they are in pole position to win, but the LibDems won’t hear of it. (They never will.) Even so, they may have a better chance than Labour, who are usually much slower and more bureaucratic.
So will there be a fight to the death between them, leaving the Tories to hold on? Quite possibly. But bizarrely, since Ms Dorries has yet to resign, there is still officially no contest. We have the baffling spectacle of the Tories fighting a by-election which doesn’t yet exist and without even knowing who their candidate will be.
Your diarist tries to avoid the word ‘lie’ where possible, since apart from making the editor nervous it rather soils the content of the diary. But there are some politicians who have taken the green light from Boris Johnson and, like him, feel free to make assertions which they know have absolutely no basis in fact. For one of them, this has become a way of life, and though this could apply to many, here I am naturally talking about Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield).
He said: “I think Gordon Brown in his resignation list appointed 50 new peers – 50 new people to the House of Lords.”
In actual fact, Mr Brown didn’t issue a resignation honours list at all.
Mrs Pecksniff was reading the East Anglian Daily Times over her devilled kidneys and trying to keep mustard sauce off the society pages. “Pecksniff!” she demanded. “Have you ever seen a picture of Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk) in which he doesn’t look smug?”
It is your diarist’s policy to try not to think of Dr Poulter at all over breakfast, but the memsahib was insistent. ”Most Suffolk politicians seem glad to see the back of Boris Johnson,” ran the headline. There in the featured picture was Dr Poulter, towering over the squat toad-like figure of his erstwhile leader, and there too is that familiar expression.
Dr Poulter was an early backer of Mr Johnson to become party leader and prime minister, but still at a time when his characteristics of lying, self-interest and narcissistic petulance had become blatantly apparent. His record since has hardly seemed to give reason for smugness, as Dr Poulter’s comments seem to agree. But the good doctor is clearly keen to draw a line. “To be honest it doesn’t really affect the work I am doing here in Suffolk,” he says. Which means “I have no excuses for the government: can we please change the subject?”
And whatever you do, don’t ask why a man who hopes people will vote for his judgement again was so lacking in it he chose a charlatan like Mr Johnson to be prime minister.
In fact, Dan Poulter is having to get used to swimming in choppy seas, and is floundering a bit. Until now, politics in his patch was mostly a sea of blue, but that has all changed. His party has now lost control of East Suffolk, Mid Suffolk and Babergh councils, and for a change Dr Poulter can feel the hot breath of serious opposition breathing down his neck. So it is perhaps not surprising that his first shots at repelling the incursions are wide of the mark.
Dr Poulter has slammed the new coalition administration running East Suffolk for allowing another controversial house building scheme in Framlingham. But whoops! The new Green council leader, Caroline Topping, points out that the decision to go ahead was given by the Tories before they left office.
News emerged this week of the financial tangles of Chloe Smith, the MP for Norwich North. It seems she had her parliamentary credit card suspended 14 times in three years for breaking the rules on expenses. (Others who also broke the rules included Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn.) The news has been washing around for a while, but the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) rather put the mockers on its claim to be independent by applying for an injunction to prevent disclosure of the facts.
However, a judge in the High Court decreed that the risk of embarrassing MPs was not sufficient justification for keeping their financial irregularities secret. Ipsa then claimed this would have a “chilling” effect on its relationship with MPs and said: “Ipsa has established a clear set of rules for MPs to follow and enforced them fairly.”
But doesn’t feel the public have the right to know when they have been broken.
Chloe Smith denies any wrongdoing, blaming the paperwork.
Will Quince (Colchester) is another Tory MP – like Chloe Smith – who has announced he will stand down at the next election. He will not be missed.
Mr Quince is another here-today gone-tomorrow MP whose presence has left no imprint whatever on the town he has represented for eight years. His only mark is more of a smudge: a minor scandal involving dirty Russian money. Colchester probably feels it has deserved better, though after all the town did vote for the man. So some sympathy is due, but also reproach at inflicting him on our public life for so long. Try to do better next time. Pecksniff is watching.
There is speculation that Peter Aldous, presently MP for Waveney, may instead move over to the new Waveney Valley seat. Lowestoft, which represents a large chunk of the present Waveney constituency, is to get a seat of its own. But it has a strong Labour presence, apparently being ably championed by candidate Jess Asato. Whereas the new Waveney Valley seat would once have been seen as traditional Tory.
But perhaps no more. The Greens are a growing force there, and recently took Mid Suffolk Council. Their national party co-leader, Adrian Ramsay, is their candidate, and an analysis of voting in the local elections suggests he may have a strong chance.
Tory MPs in Norfolk have been rounded up to support a letter signed by Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) attacking the BBC’s cuts to local radio, and in particular to Radio Norfolk, which is one of the strongest performers. It’s an excellent cause, of course, but rather besmirched by the hypocrisy of those MPs.
The government (with the votes of all those MPs) refused the BBC the funding it needed in a deliberate strategy to bring it to heel. (It worked.) They want it to shrivel and die in its present form. So here it is, nearing its death throes, and an honest response from these MPs would be high fives and whoops of joy. Instead, they pretend outrage. If they are stupid enough – and it’s quite possible – they may even not have realised that effectively cutting the BBC’s budget would lead to cuts.
Imagine if you will the conversation between them when they planned this letter. Did they avoid each other’s eyes? Did none of them have the honesty to acknowledge, even among themselves, that they were attempting a tactic of monstrous hypocrisy?
Whilst all the brouhaha goes on, party canvassers continue to whisper in the Pecksniff ear regarding responses on the doorstep. It is a similar picture to that painted in last month’s local elections. Tory voters express themselves terminally exasperated at their party and claim to be certain they won’t vote for them again.
Any canvasser will tell you this is quite new. Tory voters are often disappointed with their party, but there is usually little doubt they will return to the fold. This time though it’s different. The vehemence of their rejection of the party leaves little doubt that the compact is over.
Typical of the responses carrier pigeons have brought faithfully to your diarist is this one: “I’ve been a Tory voter, but not now. I can’t bring myself to vote for this utter shower. They are behaving like school children while everything is broken. Cost of living crisis? They couldn’t care less.”
With special thanks this week to Liz Crosbie.