Last week, Pecksniff commented on how it was the job of Oliver Dowden (Hertsmere) as Conservative Party chairman, to make up silly wheezes. But it seems the silliest wheeze may have been supporting Boris Johnson in the no-confidence vote. Because after the Tories’ two catastrophic by-election defeats this week, our Ollie has resigned from government.
But his resignation letter was rather pointed. He says he shares the distress and disappointment of party members at recent events, then goes on to say: “We cannot carry on with business as usual. Somebody has to take responsibility…” (Pecksniff’s italics.) In other words, ‘Since you’re not going to carry the can, I suppose I’ll have to’.
Pecksniff read of the by-elections from far away in the south of France, at the Café des Arts in Pezenas. For some years, the memsahib has been convinced that the waiter here is Johnny Depp, presumably getting into character for a new part. Now it seems, the customer at the next table sipping her jus d’orange might be ‘that woman from Borgen’.
But dubious theatricals aside, Pezenas, deep in the Languedoc, is Molière’s town, where they like to think they keep a jaundiced eye on political matters. On a Sunday morning, the wise men gather at the Café des Arts to drink pastis and talk about politics. Last Sunday the talk was all about Jean-Luc Mélanchon, who after a firebrand career as leader of the left has stepped down as a deputy and so hasn’t played a part in this week’s National Assembly elections.
But the wise men were having none of it. Mélanchon was still the hot topic. Mélanchon was up to something. Then by Monday is seemed they were right. He came up with the idea of a reworking of the entire French left which outraged every party and appears to have shattered whatever fragile agreement the left might have had in place. The French left have a reputation of fratricidal ineptitude not seen since Waldensians and Dominicans came to blows in the 12th century over whether it was heretical to wear sandals. (Though fair do’s, Jeremy Corbyn and his acolytes came close.)
But by Tuesday, as the last details of the National Assembly elections had fallen into place, there were other issues to think about. Macron’s centre didn’t do as well as expected, nor did the left. The moderate right Republicans did better, and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally did better still. So, the left have 170 seat altogether, Macron’s centre have 228 and the combined right have 167. An impasse, leading Midi Libre to ask in its front-page splash: “And now what?”
“Is France ungovernable?” the newspaper demands. “An electoral slap that threatens to paralyse France.” All very amusing, but Pecksniff was hoping to learn from the French press their latest take on the idiocies of Brexit, a subject of which they are usually inordinately fond. But it seems they may have other things on their mind.
The Commons work and pensions committee has written to Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) as work and pensions secretary, to ask her why she has refused to release nine separate potentially embarrassing reports on her department’s performance. The DWP claims that making embarrassing information public would prevent civil servants giving “honest views” in their work.
It is for this reason that they have been refusing to respond to legitimate freedom of information questions from Disability News Service. ‘The public might find out stuff!’ It goes without saying that it’s this failure of transparency which initiated the freedom of information act in the first place.
Dr Coffey squats in front of our TV screens like a particularly complacent Buddha, except that the Buddha taught freedom from ignorance, craving and suffering, and those seem the very issues she is in post to promote.
“The economy has been rebuilt on the bodies of the dead people who are no longer with us because they have been failed by the Department of Work and Pensions.” Southend’s Jack Monroe sticks it to them again. Now let’s see a debate between her and Dr Coffey.
Things you don’t see in Britain No. 17. There have been heatwaves across France. Paris was becoming unbearable, with dangerous levels of pollution. So, the city’s immediate response was to offer same-day special cut-price travel by public transport, to persuade motorists to leave their cars at home.
It is difficult to know quite what attitude to take about our police. ‘One or two bad apples’, the Met says, to excuse the continually repellent and occasionally murderous behaviour of its officers. Police forces in the east have often had their problems too, and rarely seem to know what to do about misbehaviour by their officers or to understand fully the public outrage it causes.
The latest force to become embroiled in appalling behaviour is Hertfordshire, where it is revealed three officers have left the force after sharing numerous WhatsApp messages involving racism, misogyny, homophobia and on one occasion a pornographic image of bestiality. One of the officers charged agreed graciously that this amounted to misconduct but protested that is was surely not gross misconduct. One text message joked: “I was out raping”.
It is reported that the case was heard at an ‘accelerated misconduct hearing’, though that text was sent more than three years ago. In a similarly draconian response presumably intended to reflect all the savage fury felt by the public, Chief Constable Charlie Hall declared that his officers’ conduct had been – checks notes – “damaging” to public confidence in the force…
In a radio interview, a cabinet minister boasts about how she knows little about the ministerial code and it doesn’t matter anyway, because only the elite care about standards in public life. That cabinet minister is of course Nadine Dorries (Mid Beds), but Pecksniff has no intention of offering a link to this obscenity in public life. Readers will have to find it for themselves.
There is another tale of Nadine Dorries. There always is. Earlier this month she travelled by train to Cornwall. But the train was falling behind schedule and Ms Dorries was in danger of missing her connection, so she summoned the conductor to request that her next train be held at the station until she arrived. She was told that wouldn’t be possible. So suitably piqued, she texted transport secretary Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield) requesting that he pull some strings.
Perhaps the most telling point about this gossip is that it escaped into the light of day at all. Since presumably the only one in a position to dob Ms Dorries in was Mr Shapps.
Pecksniff’s colleague Stephen McNair reports for EAB on electoral change in his story: “Goodbye, Leave and Remain”:
“Recent work by Portland Communications, published in the Daily Telegraph, has suggested a new dimension to the debate – what Gabriel Milland calls ‘purple patches’. He identifies 20 seats where the Leave vote was larger than 52% and the Conservative majority less than 10,000. If the Brexit identity remains important to people, Conservatives may hold these seats, but they are vulnerable if voters are returning to traditional identities, or are reacting against the behaviour of the present government.”
Milland nominates three seats in the east which may swing, according to his analysis: Peterborough and Stevenage, which are the usual suspects when discussing seat change, and also Waveney. And it is Waveney which perhaps calls for doubts on the values Milland identifies as perhaps bringing change. In those values terms, Waveney’s voters show they are suspicious of potential threats, which is why they voted in droves for Brexit which seemed to offer a return to old British certainties.
His idea that Waveney and others like it would go back to Labour, when (as far as one can tell) that party’s values are (or at least used to be) internationalist and progressive, seems misplaced. The recent local election results on the ground showed potential for change in the east, certainly, but mostly in Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, where the Tories have taken voters’ ignorance for granted for too long.
George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) is proud of his role as minister for science. It seems he is not so proud however of being the MP for Mid Norfolk. His recently revised Twitter biography edits out any mention whatever of who he represents.
Where have all the British gone? The dusty chaos of a French car park reveals few British number plates. A few of the regular ex-pats were gathered at their usual table at a bar in St Chinian, looking embarrassed as one of them raved into his mobile phone. But there are few in Pezenas and only one English voice heard in a Marseillan market.
As it happens it was that of eminently reasonable Daily Telegraph journalist Debora Robertson, a good leftie who writes the French Exchange column, (and who shortly has a book out, ‘Notes from a Small Kitchen Island’, as I’m sure she would want me to mention).
With 300 days of sun each year and rosé at under seven quid a half litre, the Languedoc has always been hugely popular with British ex-pats and tourists alike. Pezenas market on a Saturday morning is like a Posy Simmonds cartoon come to life. So, have they all gone home? Has Brexit meant an end to the days of wine and poseurs?
Thanks go to John Elworthy for pointing out that Jonathan Djanogly MP (Huntingdon) has been telling those constituents who enquired that he voted against Boris Johnson in the recent no confidence ballot, though he has yet to make that fact more public. (For example, to his party whips.)
One can only wonder whether the absolute defenestration of his Tory colleagues in his local council elections, where they lost control comprehensively after more than 40 years, might possibly have played any part in his claim.
Pecksniff’s colleague Jessica Walsh is writing about the apparent new popularity in joining a trade union, following the row over the rail strike, and would like to hear from anybody who is considering the idea. She can be reached by email to EAB or via direct message on Twitter at @jessniwalsh.
Things you don’t see in Britain, no.27. At the Café des Arts in Pezenas, four young women meet for breakfast. They are cool, chic and the very picture of French sophistication. A refuse truck rumbles past over the cobbles and the driver recognises one of them. He stops the truck and calls out cheerfully to her. She calls back, they wave and share a brief conversation and a joke across the tables. Her friends join in their laughter, and the truck moves on.
A group of young men slouch along the pavement, looking the sort who (one is tempted to suggest Hertfordshire) police would see as prime stop and search material. Wrong colour, wrong clothes, wrong haircuts, and why haven’t they got a job? Then the group sees an old man shuffling along with stick and shopping bag on the other side of the street. They dash over… but his shopping is quite safe. They step forward, each in turn, and reverently kiss him three times – the customary respectful greeting in the Languedoc.
Pecksniff was at first taken aback at the incongruity of the first simple exchange but had to think about why. The second was easier. Why had the youths bothered about the old man at all? But the answer to both incidents of course is respect.
There was no reason why an elegant young woman shouldn’t be on close friendly terms with a refuse truck driver or mind her friends knowing it. There was no reason why the young men should not show affection towards an elderly man for whom they had respect. But both were unlikely to be seen in our country. Because both – what actually took place and Pecksniff’s initial presumptions about it – illustrate the social gulf in Britain.
Special thanks this week go to Spike Milligan [No, not that one. -Ed.]