We begin, as so often, with the wit and wisdom of Liz Truss (South West Norfolk). Three years ago, using all the diplomatic skill which she was shortly to bring to her role as foreign secretary and which is being used to good effect in the present Ireland imbroglio, Ms Truss reassured a US audience that Brexit would not have any serious effect on Ireland. It would merely “affect a few farmers with turnips in the back of their trucks”.
Meanwhile this week, La Truss leapt to the aid of a colleague, Rachel McLean, who in a Sky interview had advised those presently unable to afford to live, either to work longer hours or get another job. In a following interview, Ms Truss dismissed the interpretation of what her colleague had said. Her words had been “mischaracterised”, apparently, and she knew this even though she admitted she had not seen the interview.
Now I ask, dear readers, that you spare a moment to think of your correspondent. Every week Pecksniff sits here at his escritoire, confronting the latest absurdities from La Truss, or more often these days, driven to the bar at the Muckrakers at the prospect. It may be time to ask for a transfer to the sports desk. [Not on your life – Ed.]
Naturally Nadine Dorries MP (Mid Beds) was in the news again this week, as she is every week. And as in every week she showed her usual ignorance, incompetence and contempt for democracy. This time it was about Channel 4. If readers would like to view the collapse of every hope of decency and moral compass in public life, given over instead to a narrow and proudly bigoted self-interest, you will need to look it up for yourselves. Pecksniff is losing the will to live having to explain this stuff in every diary.
Recently, Pecksniff showed an interview with one Richard Harrington, former MP for Watford and now Lord Harrington, the government’s refugees minister. It showed him blithely denying that asylum seekers would be sent to Rwanda, at the very moment his government was ignoring him and, er, planning to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. He didn’t have the backbone or the integrity to resign over that humiliation, but it’s clear he still bears a grudge. (That must cause Boris Johnson sleepless nights…) It seems that, presumably in a fit of pique, he is refusing to endorse his own government’s plans.
It is difficult to see how either party can allow this to continue. The government has a minister who won’t endorse their own policy. The minister is in a position where clearly his amour propre is treated with little more relevance than that of the cleaners, so he refuses to accept the policy he is specifically required to promote.
Anthony Browne, MP for South West Cambridgeshire has been educating his fellow Conservatives in ConservativeHome on the Liberal Democrats. It seems (according to Mr Browne) that: “The main reason that people become activists for the Lib Dems is simple: they are asked. Lots of Lib Dem activists admit privately they are actually instinctively Conservatives, but got drawn into Lib Dem campaigning.”
In a revelation which isn’t perhaps quite the dénouement Mr Browne was intending, he reveals: “Astonishingly, national Tory strategists have discovered that some of those people who deliver Lib Dem leaflets are actually Conservative Party members”.
Astonishing indeed. It would be interesting to know the reaction of these Tory strategists on finding large numbers of their membership working for the opposition.
But ConservativeHome readers will hardly credit quite how low the Liberal Democrats will stoop. Their cunning plan is: “Establish your name” in your local community. Actually do things for people! But it gets worse. These stop-at-nothing LibDems then “Rely on their almost limitless ground troops (presumably those disaffected Tories again) to fight house to house. It is (get this) bottom up, rather than top down”.
“Bottom up, not top down”! You read it here first. Tory worthies will feel the tectonic plates shift beneath their feet at the prospect. The whole basis of democracy as understood by the Tory membership is under threat.
To put this into context, Mr Browne is expected by most commentators to lose his seat at the next general election. To the Liberal Democrats.
Over the coming months, EAB and in particular Pecksniff are likely to focus a great deal on the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, perhaps mostly because of what has happened there in the past and whose effects are still being played out. Forget the telly. The drama and the bloodletting here are likely to prove almost Shakespearean. With an insight into the likely events within the CPCA, the bard could have added an entire new act to The Duchess of Malfi. [He could have if John Webster hadn’t written it. -Ed.]
My dears, if your taste is for the transpontine, then the CPCA is the only place to look. A Tory coup against new Labour mayor Dr Nik Johnson has failed. But of course it’s said that, when you come for the king, you’d better not miss. They missed. And the mayor clearly believes revenge is a dish served piping hot. He has taken immediate retribution by sacking his deputy, Tory Wayne Fitzgerald, the leader of Peterborough City Council.
“It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood.”
Councillor Fitzgerald gave a radio interview this week, after his sacking, in which he was keen to stress his integrity and his empathy. An example of his empathy can be found in an interview he gave last year on the subject of poverty: “Families should take responsibility for themselves,” he said. “How many children they have, what they do with their cash, what jobs they have.”
Still on blood, there remains bad blood in North Norfolk between Duncan Baker MP and LibDem council leader Tim Adams. This week Councillor Adams offered to meet Mr Baker to thrash out their differences. One does not have to be overly cynical to assume that Councillor Adams was looking to demonstrate he held the moral high ground, something which those who actually hold the moral high ground don’t usually find the need to do. It does rather negate the claim, after all.
But Mr Baker chose to show his cards. He would see the councillor’s moral high ground, and raise it a disputed £30,000 council contract.
“I welcome Cllr Adam’s change of heart in now finally agreeing to meet with me to discuss the important issues which matter to north Norfolk residents,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to work with him when he refused to meet me.”
He then went on to bring up the contract dispute, which has already been cleared by auditors. But Mr Baker is not a man to let mud lie unchucked when there is a chance it may stick to something, especially when he begins to fear his seat may be in jeopardy.
The good people of North Norfolk may feel that Councillor Adams was a little smug in his letter, and that in his reply Mr Baker may have been torn between the important issues which matter to north Norfolk residents, and those that matter rather more to him. In any case, “He started it!” as an argument by either party seems more suited to the school playground than public office.
But disquiet in North Norfolk is unlikely to be stilled quickly. Misogyny is a hot topic in politics at the moment and almost weekly, Pecksniff’s spies report on just how bad it has become on the council. So you may be sure you will read more of it at EAB in the coming weeks.
There is a great deal of angry gossip in Norfolk about the proposed purchase of a former Aviva office to bring together two district councils. Broadland and South Norfolk councils have been in discussion for some time, but the concern is over what may be hidden from both opposition councillors and the public. Apparently, councillors were forbidden from discussing a number of concerns in public, though it is not clear why they chose to bow down to such an undemocratic demand. When challenged by the press, a South Norfolk Council spokesperson insisted that information should be kept confidential.
One report says several Tory councillors apparently failed to turn up to vote, perhaps a tactical absence given the controversy and the stormy seas ahead. But in spite of that and the opposition voting against, the decision was carried.
Not without casualties, however. In the process the Tories lost three of their councillors, who resigned from the party but will remain as councillors. They are Josh Worley, Michael Edney and Clayton Hudson.
There will be further coverage on this issue elsewhere on EAB. But one reason for the concerns expressed by many councillors is what role Councillor Andrew Proctor might have played in it. He is leader of Norfolk County Council and so ostensibly nothing to do with the decision. But he is a former leader of Broadland Council and is said to have grandiose ideas about knitting together Broadland and South Norfolk and perhaps even Breckland. The gossip here may be far-fetched, but it only takes mention of Councillor Proctor to fear the worst.
Still on Councillor Proctor, his ambitions for a unitary Norfolk authority are confirmed by several sources, but it seems he is not the only one with ambitions. His great rival is John Fuller, the leader of South Norfolk Council, who as you will have read above have just acrimoniously agreed the Horizon deal. It is said the two men hate each other. So it would be reasonable for the good people of South Norfolk to wonder just how much of their money these two gentlemen, of the same party, are prepared to spend to outbid each other when their judgement may, shall we say, be clouded by other considerations.
The furore over the Wensum link road in Norwich has been going on for years, but curiously it doesn’t seem to have spread much beyond the city. Pecksniff hesitates to criticise those opposing it, since no doubt they have invested all their energies into it. But one wonders whether on social media one might have read more about it than that the road would endanger a colony of bats. However, chiropterically-inclined the public and planners might be, it does seem overly optimistic to assume that blundering Norfolk County Council led by the increasingly Doctor Strangelove-like Councillor Andrew Proctor would be put off their plans by a tree full of small squeaking creatures.
But Clive Lewis MP (Norwich South) expresses what’s at stake as well as anybody has…
Following the local elections earlier this month, several councils in our region have changed hands. One more notable is Colchester Borough Council, where this week the progressive parties agreed a coalition. They take over from the Tories, who lost their leader in the elections. The Tories remain the largest party with 19 seats, but between them the Liberal Democrats, Labour and Greens have 26.
The probable leader is Councillor David King (Liberal Democrat). The coalition seems likely to make its priorities trying to alleviate the cost-of-living crisis, the environment, and (close to the hearts of all at EAB) restoring trust in politics.
As far as is known, Andrew Proctor plays no part in Colchester politics. Yet.
Pecksniff understands Councillor Shayne Pooley returned to the embrace of his fellow Tories on Ipswich Borough Council this week, and was received like a long lost brother. Councillor Pooley, readers may recall, was recruited to the Tories from UKIP, and was recently suspended from the party for his pro-Putin sympathies, vigorously expressed. In practice, there has been no evidence that Councillor Pooley’s suspension meant anything other than having to sit on his own at council meetings, like a dunce in the corner. Though it seems he avoided that ignominy by simply not turning up to meetings at all.
It is increasingly noticeable how close the Tories are growing to the Alt-Right, and views such as those held by Councillor Pooley. Pecksniff was enjoying a pint at the Muckrakers with a fellow veteran political hack only a few days ago, and the subject of the genus Tory cropped up. We agreed that Tory politicians really are different. Is it the case, we ask ourselves, that today’s Tory party has been the victim of far right entryism of the European Research Group mode? Or is it simply that they have always held the same arrogant and seemingly sociopathic views, but Johnson’s ascendancy has made those views respectable?
And finally, good news on the long-running saga of the single mother and her appeal to Suffolk County Council over cancelling her son’s free school bus, because she had the temerity to move from one end of the village to the other.
The council have agreed to change their decision and reinstate boy wonder’s right to travel to school without paying through the nose for the privilege. Readers will recall that the woman approached both her MP, Dan Poulter, and her county councillor Elaine Bryce. After two weeks without a response she approached Pecksniff, knowing that during licensing hours he can be reliably found discoursing on Life, the Universe and Everything from the corner of the bar at the Muckrakers Arms. So Pecksniff also approached both politicians and was similarly ignored.
However, and by coincidence or otherwise, days after the mother’s plight appeared in this column, Dr Dan apologised to her for not being in touch, and said he would speak to the council and report back to her on the outcome. Whether or not he did speak to the council is unknown, because she has heard nothing more from him. There has still been no word whatever from Councillor Bryce. So, as the mother points out: “The success of the appeal clearly had nothing to do with her. If she couldn’t be bothered to contact me after I’d explained the urgency of it, I can’t see her bothering to ring the council.”
One charming side story was that a generous reader, moved by the family’s plight, offered to pay the £250 necessary for bus fares for a school term. That generosity can now be focused elsewhere.
In the meantime, another reader has drawn attention to an organisation to help other parents in a similar plight: ‘Suffolk parents against school transport policy’, who have a Facebook page.
Pecksniff’s particular thanks this week go to Steve Skinner.