“So what’s happening with the Liz Truss renaissance?” I hear you cry. “How’s that coming on?” Well, these things are not to be rushed. After all, it took her 12 years of assiduously ignoring her constituency to hone her reputation of being one of the most brain-dead yet solipsistic prime ministers ever to take the voters for mugs. But at least she is now paid £100,000+ of our money every year to finance her self promotion.
Her parliamentary attempts at ingratiating herself are showing more progress than persuading her voters, it’s true. There is now an action group of MPs dedicated to her batsh*t theories that sunk the economy called – no, don’t laugh – the Conservative Growth Group. If you need to know its credentials, well Chloe Smith (Norwich North) is one of the supporters.
But among the punters of South West Norfolk, things seem yet to take off. Public doubts are best summed up by a letter in the Eastern Daily Press this week from a reader in Denver:
“Since the debacle of her embarrassingly short tenure in Downing Street and her declaration that she would be ‘returning’ to her constituency business, we’ve still not seen hide nor hair of the woman anywhere.”
After making endless complaints about Nadine Dorries (Mid Beds), Pecksniff can’t quite welcome her return from the outer darkness. But here she is nevertheless, on a familiar theme.
‘That fat ponce’ Boris Johnson was cruelly served by his courtiers, apparently, and their redemption will only come on repentance and recognition of the one true king. Here is Nads explaining to her fellow Tory MPs why they are doomed unless they repent.
“There is nothing so ex as an ex MP.”
Last week Pecksniff mentioned the appalling Andrew Bridgen, the MP for somewhere in the midlands. He was in trouble over his mad anti-vax views, for which the Tory party has suspended him. But this week we mention him again, in the intriguing context of suing that man Matt Hancock, who though an absentee MP for West Suffolk still takes the money. It seems they are not the best of chums. Mr Hancock has demanded that the prime minister intervene on the vaccination views, after Mr Bridgen declared: “As one consultant cardiologist said to me, this is the biggest crime against humanity since the holocaust.”
Mr Hancock chose to interpret this as being antisemitic. Now Mr Bridgen is threatening him with legal action over the accusation. There is no telling what will happen next, but it would be an unwise punter who would bet that Nadine Dorries wouldn’t make an appearance somewhere.
Monday saw an unusually passionate refusal to follow his government’s line by Stephen McPartland (Stevenage). We have seen occasional kicking over the traces by our region’s Tory MPs, though frankly very few. What makes this one stand out is the passion with which Mr McPartland denounces government policy.
The issue was the government’s plan to try to curtail strikes. “Shameful, shameful, shameful to target individual workers & order them to walk past their mates on picket line or be sacked,” says Mr McParland. “By all means fine the Unions, make them agree to minimum service levels, but don’t sack individual NHS staff, teachers & workers!!!”
These are difficult times for Tory MPs, and deservedly so. It is hardly surprising then that some interpreted this as a way of Mr McPartland’s cosying back into his voters’ favours, or even that he may be about to cross the floor to join Labour. That latter seems unlikely, though the local Labour Party are keeping shtum. But let us not be ruled by cynicism. Here is an MP declaring openly that his government’s actions are shameful. Let’s see what repercussions this has, and keep an eye on Mr McPartland.
James Wild (North West Norfolk) has apparently decided on which side his bread is buttered, and it’s not the side in which he demanded that every public building should fly the flag and the BBC should include a union jack in its every publication. No, with realisation that his seat may depend on showing some concern for the voters, he has not surprisingly decided that uppermost in their minds might be the state of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn.
Unfortunately, he has not yet realised that insulting his voters’ intelligence is unlikely to get them to put the cross in the right place. He has ignored the plight of the hospital for years while it literally falls down about patients’ ears. But now his seat depends on it, he implicitly attacks those who have campaigned for the hospital throughout that time and have tried fruitlessly to engage him in the crisis: “The strength of the campaign is that it is backed by people regardless of their political views and it is disappointing to see efforts to weaken that,” he says.
That is an increasingly frequent whinge from a Tory who realises the game’s up but wants to drag his opponents into the ordure of his own making.
Writing about Tory MPs is often like stepping into something unpleasant: you just can’t get if off your shoe. So we stay with James Wild and his newspaper column. Still on the hospital, he trails that well-worn whopper about 40 new hospitals, when even the health secretary Steve Barclay (North East Cambs) appears to accept the figure was a figment of the psychopathically deranged mind of a former prime minister who was more concerned about who was going to buy him lunch.
Now the Queen Elizabeth Hospital is being held up by thousands of props, surgery is sometimes cancelled when the operating theatre is considered too dangerous, and patients are scared to go there. So if that figure of 40 new hospitals were really to be believed, yet the Queen Elizabeth still doesn’t qualify, Tory NHS policy stands condemned. It would mean there must be at least 40 hospitals across the country in a worse state than that.
There are many astute and hardworking local politicians across East Anglia, with many of whom Pecksniff shares the occasional confidential chat. But it is also true that many local political parties are catastrophically inept. If they needed some instruction in campaigning – and if they are Labour they will probably be affronted at the very idea – then they could do worse than follow the Queen Elizabeth Hospital campaign.
They have the government and all local MPs on the run, haplessly trying to defend the indefensible. Local people have been promised a decision on a new hospital for an eternity, with an absolute assurance by Steve Barclay that it would be made by the end of last year.
Naturally it wasn’t. So campaigners’ latest wheeze is a march in which they will noisily kick cans down the road. They will be wearing distinctive red and white striped tops and Steve Barclay masks as part of their successful ‘Where’s Wally?’ theme.
Still in that part of the world but just over the border, Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) hardly qualifies as one of those MPs obviously on the make, and one particular contribution to his coffers is no doubt perfectly innocent. It is curious all the same. Why has Mr Baker received £6,150 from LibDem-run North Norfolk District Council?
Another source of money for Mr Baker is Stalbury Trustees, who gave £3,000. This is a rather mysterious organisation, set up apparently to “support Conservative values”. They gave the same amount to Tom Hunt (Ipswich), Chloe Smith (Norwich North) and Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock). One would have thought Ms Doyle-Price has had enough of investigations at the moment, her partner being Mark Coxshall, the leader of Thurrock Council who during his watch have lost half a billion quid down the back of the sofa. (See Pecksniff 16 December and other stories on EAB.)
Stalbury Trustees have been accused of being part of the sources of ‘dark money’ which backed Brexit. But just in case you may feel, dear reader, that more is being made of just how mysterious this organisation is, we need only note that it is run by the Cecil family, fixers and spymasters to Elizabeth I.
We don’t seem to have come very far, do we?
But we shouldn’t leave that rascal Tom Hunt without looking a little further at who else contributes to Mr Hunt’s coffers. Since December 2019, in all, 16 financial interests have donated over £40,000 total to his cause – whatever that may be. The largest donations come from the Ipswich and Suffolk Business Club, who have given £15,000. The United and Cecil Club (see Cecil above) gave £2,500. So it looks as though both these organisations and Stalbury Holdings exist to channel money to Tory MPs who are implicitly in electoral trouble.
The Ipswich and Suffolk Business Club claims its aims are to provide “exclusive opportunities to listen and engage with a range of acclaimed and relevant speakers”. Needless to say, those speakers are invariably prominent Conservatives.
Sadly, records show no information on just how Mr Hunt spent the money, or even if it’s saved up in a rainy day account somewhere.
Pecksniff’s spies whisper that it would be well worth while taking a peek into donations made to Brandon Lewis (Gt Yarmouth) too. One for next week, perhaps.
Julie Marson is the Tory MP for Hertford and Stortford.
We mention her constituency since there seems every reason nobody there knows who she is. But Ms Marson is trying to change that. Realising that her voters find her a miserable failure as a constituency MP, she is planning to improve her image by spending £7,000 of their money on media advice.
That should do it.
But were Ms Marson to pass money across the bar at the Muckrakers, Pecksniff would be prepared to offer his own sage (but rather cheaper) advice. Try not to avoid your local press and, now and again, reply to constituents’ correspondence.
There is no end of a to-do in Norfolk Tory politics. Pecksniff has already reported in the past on the in-fighting between members in South West Norfolk, and their falling out with North West Norfolk; the clash of egos between prominent members of the now amalgamated Broadland and South Norfolk councils, and others. Norfolk County Council has been a rat’s nest for some time, but that towering ego of Councillor Andrew Proctor has now brought things into the open.
Four district councils are threatening legal action against the county over its plans – Cllr Proctor’s plans – for devolution. South Norfolk, Broadland, Breckland and North Norfolk (which is Liberal Democrat controlled) accuse Cllr Proctor of a lack of consultation. (“Surely not!” I hear you cry.) In the matter of riding rough-shod, there isn’t an equestrian in the county who could beat him.
We shall inevitably return to this little pickle.
On Thursday came news of the government’s ‘levelling up’ awards.
In Bedfordshire, Luton were awarded £50 million but Kempston missed out on their £15m bid to regenerate the Saxon Centre. In Hertfordshire, an award of £14m goes to Broxbourne Council, to regenerate Waltham Cross town centre.
Essex is granted £50m for town centre regeneration in Colchester, Clacton and Harlow. In Norfolk there is £24m for what is called the “transformational masterplan” for Southgates in Kings Lynn, but nothing for North Norfolk. This is the constituency of Duncan Baker, who tries to divert attention from his government’s decision by claiming that there should have been a bid for a new roundabout in Sheringham, in spite of being told it wouldn’t qualify.
Cambridgeshire is granted £50 million to redevelop the station area in Peterborough, for which MP Paul Bristow and Peterborough Council leader Wayne Fitzgerald are keen to take credit. They are all over social media like a nasty rash, in spite of having had bugger all to do with the application, which was made by the Cambridgeshire Combined Authority. Such was public response to their efforts at self-aggrandisement that it was taken down.
But to suggest there is bad blood in Peterborough politics would be something of an understatement. Dear reader, it amounts to nothing less than political septicemia.
Those who have been paying attention so far would have noticed that our one county missing from the above entry is Suffolk. This is because they were awarded a big round nothing. (That sound you hear is raspberries being blown from across the border in Norfolk.) The news came as a blow to the county, though reading between the lines it sounds as though the bids may have failed because of disagreements between Labour’s Ipswich and the Tories on Suffolk County Council.
Generally, levelling up awards seem to have been granted shamelessly as ‘pork barrel’ politics by the government to back their threatened MPs. But certainly Tom Hunt is threatened in Ipswich and they still got nothing. Those with a cynical turn of mind will see this as the government writing off Mr Hunt’s chances as a lost cause.
“It’s been catastrophic.” The verdict on the effects of Brexit on the economy of Suffolk’s own Baron Rose of Monewden, perhaps better known as Stuart Rose. Lord Monewden is the former Marks and Spencer chief and now chairman of Asda. There was a time when the Tories would have seen Mr Rose, as he then was, as probably the country’s leading entrepreneur, a man whose opinions should be chiselled into stone.
But of course, that was before he began talking sense about Brexit. His former acolytes would be wary of calling him a heretic, for fear that the gods would hear, but for them he has become a non-person. Which is a pity, since he has always had a grasp on reality which began to elude the government some time ago.
It would be fun to share a cheeky half with his lordship down at the Muckrakers, which is only across a couple of fields from his country abode.
Now let us turn to Hadleigh Town Council in Suffolk, where it means there may have been something of a putsch by Hadleigh United Football Club. A councillor has been found to have breached the code of conduct, but curiously seems to believe that such codes do not apply to him. Pecksniff will not name him, since it seems unclear whether his efforts were malign or just cataclysmically incompetent.
Pecksniff has two sources for the goings-on. There are allegations of rigged interviews, cover-ups, environmental vandalism, a fantasy business plan and the aforementioned councillor not being able to tell a conflict of interest from a cheese and pickle sandwich.
But there is more! The accounts are apparently in a mess and there is a row over how much money the cemetery will bring in. (No, Pecksniff has no idea either.) The clerk is accused of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds, which brings us to the Essex and Suffolk Hunt, who appear to fit in here somewhere. (In a rare example of local police getting off their arses over hunting, there is a rather embarrassing prosecution outstanding.)
Also, you may be pleased to hear, the Tories here are in disarray too. If Netflix don’t make a worldwide best-selling series out of it first, Pecksniff will return to Hadleigh.
This week, special thanks go to James Porter and Rowland Taylor’s Ghost. This article has been updated to correct the name of Hadleigh Town Football Club to Hadleigh United Football Club.