Pecksniff has been greatly heartened this week by reports that British holidaymakers in Greece have been greeting the appearance among them of Boris Johnson with shouts of “Get back to work, you fat ponce!”
How wonderful to imagine that among them were no doubt sturdy voices from East Anglia. There is still no news on whether he will be parachuted into Mid Beds to try and replace Nadine Dorries if he sends her to the Lords – though possibly it would need not a parachute but a barrage balloon to do the job. But although La Dorries has a majority of 24,000 and given the public’s rage, not even that seems likely to keep him in the Commons.
One of the most tedious chores of the week for Pecksniff has been the posturings of Liz Truss. But as prime minister her delusion is likely to increase dramatically. For the sake of your correspondent’s sanity, Pecksniff has decided to report her doings mostly not on the Westminster stage but closer to home, in South West Norfolk among her voters.
So you will thrill to the political dramas enveloping Swaffham, Thetford, Downham Market, Blo Norton and Three Holes. (It’s true, my dears, honest. Google is even kind enough to give guidance on ‘Best things to do and days out in Three Holes’.)
Already, Pecksniff’s spies have overheard unrest with their MP on social media platforms in Thetford, and fury among staff at a Tesco over cost of living, and empty shelves left unfilled because of Brexit. Care workers are worried about jobs because of the increase in energy bills for the homes, and there is fury about ambulance times at the furthest edges of the constituency. We shall return to these in detail next week.
One would ideally like to put these issues to Ms Truss. But of course, as you will already have guessed, one of the major complaints about her is she never makes herself available and never answers constituents’ emails.
The Eastern Daily Press this week diligently asked all Norfolk MPs about the cost of living crisis. The results were instructive, though not surprising. Five of them didn’t respond: Richard Bacon (S Norfolk), Brandon Lewis (Gt Yarmouth), Jerome Mayhew (Broadland), James Wild (NW Norfolk) and Liz Truss (SW Norfolk).
Mr Mayhew claimed to be on holiday. Quite plausible, but if he knew his local paper was canvassing his views on the likely destitution of many of his constituents, one might have thought he would have put down his pina colada and spared the odd five minutes. The others are to be expected. Not even a pretence of interest either in the welfare of those who elected them, or in even pretending an interest. That, dear reader, is the extent of the complacency and arrogance of those who govern us.
George Freeman did reply but avoided the question. Chloe Smith (Norwich N) merely referred the paper to her website. But there were long replies from Peter Aldous (Waveney), strictly speaking in Suffolk, who gave a fulsome response suggesting inactivity as the best policy, while Duncan Baker (N Norfolk) rather waffled but came to no conclusion. Clive Lewis (Norwich S) had an open goal of course, being a Labour MP, and supported nationalisation of the energy industry.
In a league table of repulsively cynical and unprincipled Tory ministers, Smirking James Cleverly (Braintree) is on a run and climbing rapidly.
A BBC journalist is abused in Scotland. The Scottish leader, Nicola Sturgeon, condemns it. Mr Cleverly calls this “a huge failure of leadership”, trying to suggest that reprimanding those who abused the hack was effectively giving carte blanche to abuse everybody else.
It is noticeable that anger about Tom Hunt (Ipswich) is coming increasingly from other than frustrated Labour voters. In fact it is often from malcontents with burnished right wing credentials. The reason is, as so often with his colleagues, his failure to respond to constituents. Emails are ignored. In fact there seems doubt as to whether Mr Hunt even has an office in the constituency any more. Nobody seems to know. Does he still have a house there either?
The impression is that the people of Ipswich have been taken for a ride. Their purpose was only ever to provide him with a seat in parliament, from where he can forget Ipswich and its people and pursue his career.
It is now clear that the idea used by Tom Hunt and highlighted by Pecksniff last week, of sending out a helpful leaflet on everything he has done for Ipswich (and at public expense), was part of a wider scam dreamt up by Tory central office. Their MPs across the country have used the same idea, often with much the same wording, and they were all printed in Yorkshire. So Mr Hunt couldn’t even be arsed to think that up for himself. Almost the only attempt to be in touch with his voters since he was elected, and he left it to Tory HQ to organise it.
And with your forbearance, dear reader, even more on Tom Hunt, though this time in the company of two Tory councillors, Nadia Cenci and Steve Flood. Ms Cenci has considerable form for her climate denial and inflammatory views, telling Grenfell Tower survivors they were ungrateful and at least they escaped with their lives, and after one outburst was required by Ipswich Borough Council to undergo equality training. Mr Flood, her husband, has a history of supporting anti-Muslim and extreme right-wing views.
This seems a regular part of the discourse among Ipswich Tories, but when it is picked up by the press then, in embarrassment, they have to appear to take it seriously. (They did the same with Councillor Wayne Pooley, who was suspended by the Ipswich party for some disreputable right-wing views and for cheering on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.)
Mr Hunt and his advisers clearly felt he should also add his name to the criticism, though he himself has been publicly upbraided by community leaders for his antagonistic language and apparently racially provocative statements in the past.
“It’s completely wrong for hate towards any religious group to be amplified and shared on social media,” declares Mr Hunt. But then, one might have thought there were more direct ways of making the point. After all, Mr Flood and Ms Cenci are among his bestest chums and he is said to be a regular dinner guest of theirs.
South Norfolk and Broadland Councils continue their uneasy alliance, and reasons for that uneasiness begin to emerge. It is whispered by more than one source that there may be scandals ahead, at the moment hidden away by the ruling Tory groups. But Pecksniff’s moles are burrowing even as the copperplate adorns the page…
It has become clear that there are scandals in West Norfolk, North Norfolk, Norfolk County, Breckland, Broadland and South Norfolk. Have we missed anybody? One would so hate to leave anybody out. Three or four of these involve ongoing police investigations – perhaps if one were cynical, ‘ongoing’ might mean until with luck the punters forget all about them. The rest involve blatant attempts by councils to obfuscate what may be their incompetence or worse, and remove any means of transparency by which they may be held to account.
Pecksniff has loosed the hounds on them all. And if, dear reader, you would care to join the pack, then please get in touch.
Councillor Elaine McManus has been suspended from the Conservative group on West Suffolk Council following her conviction on two charges of bribery, involving members of staff at the nursery where she worked. But she remains a member of the council, where she represents Haverhill North, and is due for re-election next May.
This is probably tragic news for East Anglia, but Suffolk and Norfolk readers will not find it prominently reported in their local press.
Earlier this year Archant, publisher of the Eastern Daily Press, the East Anglian Daily Times and the Ipswich Evening Star among others, were taken over by American giant Newsquest.
The inevitable ‘rationalisation’ followed within days. Local readers can no longer browse through their Cambs Times, Diss Mercury, Thetford and Brandon Times, Wisbech Standard, West Suffolk Mercury or Felixstowe Extra. They are to cease publication. Now comes news that East Anglian editor Brad Jones is to leave his post, and one has to fear for future moves.
The reason why this matters and is of concern to local politics is that, traditionally, this was meat and drink to the local rag. Often it was the only way voters had, of having any idea what was going on in their local council. EAB has sometimes been critical of how far the Archant titles have fallen, but with every closed local newspaper, the incompetents and the rogues in local government – and there are many of them – can hide more safely from public scrutiny.
And in an amusing irony, it seems Mr Jones will in future find employment at Babergh and Mid Suffolk Councils. Gamekeeper turned poacher, perhaps.
Special thanks go to @GivingCuppa.