Hard-line Brexiters in the Tory party are looking for traitors to help explain away the catastrophe they have visited on the country, and Rishi Sunak will do nicely. They have never liked him. Then, he is the candidate they rejected and who has returned, as it were, to bite them in the bum. And here he is smugly picking up the pieces left after the few weeks of insanity when their chosen champion Liz Truss (South West Norfolk) was in charge.
And in truth, it’s not looking good for the boy Rishi over Northern Ireland. As this is written, he seems to have two choices. He can reach an agreement, which will infuriate the DUP and the ERG. He may only get it through the Commons with Labour’s help, and so turn much of his party against him, possibly triggering a split. Or he can step back from agreement, show the world he, like his predecessors, is in hock to his headbangers, and so prolong the disastrous protocol and earn the contempt of the voters.
In his scholarly piece last week in EAB on the requirements of the EU before they take Britain seriously again, the estimable Simon Pease pointed out they must be assured that we are acting in good faith – beginning with the Northern Ireland Protocol. So it was depressing if hardly surprising to hear Rishi Sunak at PMQs talking about continuing to “fight” for Britain, and warning about how Keir Starmer would “surrender” to the EU.
Dear reader, they still don’t get it. Behaving with good manners and looking for a positive outcome does not equate to selling out. There is still not the faintest indication among any Conservatives that they have deviated in any way from the 18th century notion of martial force being the only bargaining weapon. It’s not even as though we have any.
This week Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and N Essex) spoke up on the Northern Ireland Agreement. “The border is in the wrong place,” he declares, having voted for it to be just where it is. “It deeply offends the Unionist community that this was imposed upon them,” he adds, having … (checks notes) voted for it to be imposed upon them.
It is amusing these days when confronted by one or those Tory MPs previously considered so depressingly ineradicable, to check the present likelihood of his holding on to his seat. Electoral Calculus suggests a swing to Labour of more than 20%, and curtains for Mr Jenkin.
A contact who has worked with Liz Truss describes her as being “uniquely dangerous”. Pecksniff has written recently of the rivalry between her and Boris Johnson to overthrow Rishi Sunak, neither having learned anything from their own defenestration. While Mr Johnson shamelessly swaggers in the limelight, Ms Truss looks for ways to out-do him.
Mr Johnson has the backing of the Conservative Democratic Organisation, on which Pecksniff has reported before, a new cover organisation set up to return Boris Johnson to No.10. They are believed to be behind the rejection this week of the long serving Tory MP Damian Green for the candidate at the new constituency of the Weald of Kent. They claim that “MPs allegedly associated with bringing down Boris are being directly held to account and punished by members,” and they are the sworn enemies of Rishi Sunak.
Meanwhile – and readers will have noticed there is always a ‘meanwhile’ when the name of Liz Truss crops up – she faced her local party’s reselection as a parliamentary candidate this week.
Some weeks ago EAB reported on the views of some of her local members, who weren’t at all happy with her performance, nor of the authoritarian way their party is run. And that was before her scarcely believable tenure as PM.
Her local membership are strongly supportive of Boris Johnson, so how would they react to their own MP replacing him at No.10? Imagine the scene: the faithful sitting pale and blank-faced and unwilling to speak up, like the characters in one of those medieval triptychs watching the disembowelling of some unfortunate saint but unwilling to show discomfort.
Ms Truss was of course re-selected, though it was a little much for her supporters to announce that she would “continue to champion South West Norfolk”, when she has demonstrably ignored it so as not to make waves and so further her political career. The picture of the event shows her surrounded by 14 people, none of whom appears to be her husband, which seems odd on her big night. But does that mean only 14 members showed up to vote? Or that these were the only 14 who voted for her?
Liz Truss once famously and contemptuously dismissed her local party as the ‘Turnip Taliban’, after they took exception to news she was having an affair with a married MP. But this week of course, her avowed bestie Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) has flown in the face of such mockery and attempted to make the turnip the tout ce qu’il y a de chic. Will there be a falling out among the chums? Will Dr Coffey be the first cabinet minister to be sacked over a root vegetable?
Your correspondent was determined not to mention Thérèse Coffey this week, (as every week). But as always, that proves impossible. On Thursday, Pecksniff enjoyed the almost transpontine pleasures of Saxmundham on a drizzly lunchtime. The attraction was a demonstration by a lusty choir of 30, representing the Dirty Water Campaign against sewage in the rivers. Saxmundham was an apposite location since Dr Coffey is not only environment secretary but lives there as the local MP.
The group also attached a blue plaque to the bridge over the river Fromus, which dawdles through the town. The event had been organised by Kirsty Logan, a formidable woman. So it is unlikely this is the last Dr Coffey hears of this particular irritant. Pecksniff looks forward to the fracas to come.
Unfortunately, weather and location restricted the audience to a few people waiting for a bus, but your diarist was at pains to engage them in banter. They needed little encouragement to talk when the event was explained. One gentleman had an encyclopaedic recall of Dr Coffey’s transgressions, but as always when the public is invited to speak these days, the subject turned to Partygate.
It never goes away and never will, whatever the fervent wishes of Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Next we turn to our popular weekly serial, “Matt Hancock Makes a Total Arse of Himself”. This week Matt is in hot water for apparently breaking the law, and Jolyon threatens to call in the police! Matt seems to have lost his glamorous racing friends when he was no longer their tame cabinet minister, and of course there’s no point looking to Boris! Liz is no longer his best friend after he told the world through a mouthful of worms that her career was over. So Matt sees his best bet to stay ahead of the mob is to make powerful new friends in the media, though he didn’t find any in the jungle. His book plummeted immediately on publication and after a week wasn’t in the top 1000 sales.
Are the rumours true that his agent is currently trying to book him in pantomime next Christmas? His fans wait agog to discover which character he might be chosen to play.
In prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, Rishi Sunak was asked about the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Kings Lynn – that’s the one which is being held up with thousands of props and which has been declared a danger to life.
Mr Sunak declared grudgingly that it has already received £50 million, without going on to explain that the £50 million has actually been spent on reinforcing the building temporarily to stop it falling down. But Mr Sunak gives the impression that he feels local protesters are a bunch of ingrates and they should feel themselves fortunate that they are not receiving their medical treatment in a pile of rubble. Mr Sunak tells us dismissively the answer to the hospital’s problems will come “in due course”.
A whole series of health secretaries – readers will recall there were about a dozen last year – swore that a decision would be made before the end of last December. But of course, there came no word. Now local people can only conjecture on what ‘in due course’ might mean in politics. Off-hand, Pecksniff would suggest it doesn’t sound like during this parliament.
The local elections are upon us, and unlike in some parts of the news media we at EAB love them. We are always delighted to receive feedback from the party workers and others on the ground. (A private direct message to @PecksniffsDiary on Twitter on an email to the editor will find us. Dobbings-in, the sneakier the better, are a speciality.) In the run up to May 4 we hope to report on electoral races across our region.
One interesting district council is North Herts, which following last year’s results has no overall control, being run by a coalition of Labour and Liberal Democrats. So far, though no doubt each party will be striving for a majority, there seems to be goodwill between them and the impression given by voters on the doorstep is that they approve of the new arrangement.
News from North Norfolk too, where it’s apparent that MP Duncan Baker is feeling the heavy breathing of the LibDems down his neck.
He’s at pains to be seen to be going out and doing things, rather than pompously trying to defend his government. Self-preservation is the name of the game for many Tory MPs these days. Electoral Calculus still gives Mr Baker to hold his seat, in spite of a predicted fall in the Tory vote of 20%. This appears to be because the tsunami of revulsion at the government has sent many disenchanted Tory voters past the LibDem challengers and straight to Labour. They have little chance of winning even though their predicted vote share has risen by 12%. Whereas the LibDem vote share remains almost static.
Supporters of tactical voting will be tearing their hair here. Though the LibDems are the Tories’ main challengers and Steffan Aquarone could win if Labour stands down, of course they won’t. So will they just put up a ‘paper candidate’, and leave the LibDems’ way clear? That seems unlikely too. The niceties of tactical voting will probably kick in before the general election, but it may take more that for Mr Baker to be pushed out.
At a meeting of East Suffolk Council this week, several councillors asked for the minutes to reflect that they had to leave early to catch the last train home. They were refused. Councillor Tony Goldson (Halesworth and Blything) added gratuitously that you shouldn’t be a councillor if you haven’t got a car.
Of all the crass, thoughtless, ignorant and undemocratic pronouncements of Tories recently, this is the real ravioli. Cllr Goldson seems particularly intellectually challenged even among Tories. It is not generally known that professors of stupid travel from all over the world to East Suffolk to sit at the feet of the master. (Presumably they drive there.)
There is, let’s face it, not a lot of hygge among the Tories. But Cllr Goldman’s picture in his party profile suggests a man for whom life has held too many lemons, and he sees no reason why anybody else’s should be any less bitter. The curiosity is what he sees as his strengths: “I am particularly adept at strategic planning and understanding the bigger picture”.
We’ll see. Cllr Goldson is standing for re-election in May. Dear reader, what can the bigger picture possibly hold for him?
Tory candidates are said to be scarce, as explained recently by EAB. Those they frogmarch forward are not always the hottest curry from the takeaway. (I rest my case with Councillor Goldson, m’lud.) Last year a candidate known to your correspondent declared she was standing in the county elections, when in fact it turned out to be a district by election. She was not aware of the difference. She won.
We have more openly racist comments from a member of the Ipswich Tory clique, without reprimand or comment of any kind from his colleagues. A sexual assault was committed in Ipswich town centre. With no evidence whatever for his views, he goads Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate: “He may be worried that it might have been committed by one or two of his friends staying at the Novotel”, a reference of course to refugees.
Accusations of racism are regularly made against Ipswich Tories. MP Tom Hunt sends out leaflets which are accused of being openly racist. Members, and not uncommonly councillors, are occasionally suspended for a few weeks when the public stench becomes overwhelming. One can only wonder how the foetid hatred expressed by so many can conceivably be tolerated by any responsible or morally uncorrupted party.
There are continuing reports of illegal hunting from across the region. The bunny huggers at EAB become as exercised as anybody else at this, and on several occasions colleagues have tried to follow up reports from hunt saboteurs. But always to no avail. Phone calls are never returned, evidence promised doesn’t turn up.
To repeat, if hunt saboteurs have a story and have evidence we will follow it up. We will approach the hunt and the police, and we will publish the story. But we can only do that with your help.
This week of course came the horrific incident of the West Norfolk Hunt pursuing a fox into a private garden and slaughtering it in front of the horrified family. On this occasion there was a camera to record the evidence, but sabs are becoming more savvy and there must often be cameras. If you want us to follow it up, contact the editor.
Seven six foot-long wicker corgis bought by Broadland Council to celebrate the Queen’s jubilee have just been sold, not surprisingly at a loss. The sculptures cost £21,000 to buy and four were sold at auction for £500 each.
Pecksniff by no means objects to money spent on public art, but one might have considered there to have been enough oleaginous tributes heaped upon one woman without going so far as to make statues to her dead pets. For the past 70 years, almost every new public building has been named after the Queen, except public lavatories. Isn’t that enough adulation?
She can’t surely have been so solipsistic as to demand this kind of absurdity? Surely, she could have discreetly let it be known she would prefer not to have any more municipal gardens named after her? But then, she must also have had it in her power to stop other embarrassments, like curtseying or being called ‘Your Majesty’. But she didn’t. Nor, come to that, for all her supposed ‘modern’ approach, does the Princess of Wales.
The monarchy and its cringing adulation remain a mystery.
This week thanks go to Chewie, Suffolk Snowflakes, James Porter & Karl Whiteman