When your child scrambles onto your lap and asks: “Daddy, what did our MP do in the great Privileges Committee report debate?”, you can tell him: “He was in the lavatory”. The Commons Privileges Committee condemns Boris Johnson as a liar who misled the House, and a bully for trying to intimidate committee members to drop the accusations against him. Yet the response of 289 Tory MPs was to flunk the debate. They were busy washing their hair, or suffering from that subsidised House of Commons curry, or bullying their staff.
They were being asked to vote on whether a man condemned by his fellow MPs for lying to them should face sanction or not. But for many Tory MPs, the decision was too intellectually challenging, too nuanced. Whether to disapprove of a leader who scoffed at those dead and dying in their tens of thousands during Covid, partied on, then lied about it? If you’re a Tory MP, that’s a tough call…
Even Nadine Dorries (Mid Beds) was missing. The high priestess of the Johnson cult was seemingly occupied elsewhere. A slightly rambling late night tweet from her hinted vaguely at retribution for her arch enemy Rishi Sunak.
But Ms Dorries was too busy also telling untruths about a hearing involving herself. She had complained to the parliamentary standards commissioner about the behaviour of ScotNat MP John Nicholson. She lost. But claimed she had won. Then people pointed out she had lost, so she claimed she would have won if that too hadn’t been a fix.
One of those missing from the Commons vote was Tom Hunt (Ipswich) who, spies report, spent the weekend in Mid Beds – probably the last place Nadine Dorries was to be found.
But what on earth can he have been doing there? It’s been suggested he was canvassing, and that would mean presumably for Festus Akinbusoye, who has just been announced as the new Tory candidate for the constituency. He is presently the Bedfordshire police and crime commissioner. But reports suggest Mr Hunt hasn’t been seen canvassing on his own behalf in Ipswich for weeks. Has he given up already?
But of course, the rather embarrassing problem for the Tories is that there is no vacancy in Mid Beds at the moment. Nadine Dorries announced dramatically that she was resigning as MP with immediate effect, only she has yet to do so. The allure of that £84,000 salary and £25,000 expenses is seemingly difficult to ignore.
So when Tom Hunt knocks on the doors of Mid Beds, who does he and all those other canvassers say they are representing?
But surely Nadine Dorries owes a duty to her constituents, and her local party, to reveal whether she intends to sit tight till the next election – and even fight it: who knows? – or (as she had promised) resign immediately. The good burghers of Mid Beds are growing weary at her antics, and the most common remark heard by canvassers of every party is: “We never see anything of her!” And that extends back years.
There is some doubt as to whether her local Tory party even exists as such. Its offices in Shefford were closed some time ago, and nobody has any idea if she holds surgeries, or where. She recently broadcast an interview from her house in the Cotswolds and tried to persuade the broadcaster to announce it was from London, but they refused.
The LibDem candidate in Mid Beds is Emma Holland-Lindsay, who according to her publicity is something of a rising star. Labour’s man is Alistair Strathern, and he and his comrades are already busy. Will they split the vote? Well neither will give way, but your diarist’s guess is that momentum is all, and once one party or the other looks as though they have the wind in their sails, that’s where the votes will go. It’s a matter of who blinks first.
And here yet again is Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds), witlessly standing on the sidelines of another event, watching the world go by. This time it was a flag raising ceremony at the beginning of Armed Forces Week. Ms Churchill believes that it she stands next to people who are Doing Good, a little of their perceived virtue might brush off on her – especially if she tilts her head in that precocious way she practises in the mirror every morning.
She has been in post since 2015, but though she presently holds the grand title of Vice Chamberlain of His Majesty’s Household, that hasn’t meant anything since Henry VIII.
A browse through her political career reveals no record of her ever actually doing anything, not even on her official Tory page. TheyWorkForYou tells us she has consistently voted for reducing local government funding, introducing the Brexit referendum and increasing VAT; and against further EU integration and increasing disability benefits. (This latter has got her into trouble before.)
But when finally she retires or is thrown out and is asked about the highlight of her career, she will proclaim it to be attending the king’s coronation – another exercise in watching the world go by. She was there of course because how can any monarch expect to be crowned without the presence of the vice chamberlain of his household? Her essential role on these occasions is to carry a white staff of office. Sadly for her, the TV cameras went instead for Penny Mordaunt and her sword.
My colleague Peter Thurlow writes in ‘So who are we? Once we decide, perhaps we’ll tell the EU’ this week of his search for optimism in EU/UK relations. But there are rumours which might suggest cautious grounds for it. Understandably, relations are worst between the two groups who went head-to-head in the negotiations, and anybody who has spent months being lied to by Boris Johnson and David Frost will naturally not be keen to repeat anything like the experience.
But there are suggestions that the hard line taken by the European Commission is not followed by some members, in particular and importantly, Germany. That isn’t to suggest Germany is disposed to want a more emollient approach, but it’s thought to imply other members are more open to good relations with Keir Starmer and his Labour Party. Though it is difficult to see how he can talk sense to the EU when he is demonstrably talking nonsense to his own voters.
“Norfolk County Council needs to plug a £42.6m budget gap,” announces the Norwich Evening News. Over forty million quid! This is after cuts of £60 million already confirmed, and brings the council’s borrowing to nearly £850 million….
But don’t panic. Norfolk’s answer to John Maynard Keynes is on the case. The council’s deputy leader and the man entrusted with the abacus is Andrew Jamieson. With the kind of blinding insight which got the council nearly a billion quid in debt in the first place, he tells us that he is keen to find ways to save the money without causing an impact on services.
Good luck with that.
There is to be a by-election in the West Depwade division of troubled South Norfolk Council, following the death of Tory councillor Barry Duffin. The present make-up of the council is Tories 54, Labour 12, Liberal Democrats 10, three Greens and three independents.
But the Greens are taking this very seriously, as is shown by their choice of candidate, ex-Green MEP Professor Catherine Rowett. This is not because they are desperate to increase their votes to four. It is because West Depwade, when it’s not being a division of South Norfolk Council, is part of the new parliamentary constituency of Waveney Valley, which is the party’s number one target seat in the country and one they have a chance of winning. So every voter they can turn is perhaps one in the bag for when the big event comes round. The party’s national leader, Adrian Ramsay, is to fight it on their behalf, and Green canvassing has been going on there for weeks. Early doorstep reaction appears to have put a spring in their step.
The other candidates in the by-election are Tony Holden (Conservatives), Pam Reekie (Labour), Ian Spratt (LibDem) and Bev Spratt (formerly Conservative, now Independent).
The Electoral Commission claims 14,000 voters were turned away during last month’s local elections for not presenting the correct form of identity. But this represents only those who were registered as having come to vote before being refused. It does not include probably the untold thousands who were turned away by council staff before they went into the polling station, and therefore who were not recorded.
East Anglia Bylines exposed East Suffolk Council for breaking the rules at the time:
“East Anglia Bylines discovered three polling stations in East Suffolk on Thursday where staff confirmed they had been briefed that, if possible, voters without voter ID were to be headed off before they entered the polling station proper, so they would not have to be recorded. The reason given by one polling clerk was that ‘it will save on the paperwork’.
“If this were true, it was clearly in contravention of the Electoral Commission’s stipulations. The commission has specified that those voters turned away because they don’t have the correct form of identification have to be registered, in order to draw up accurate data on the effects of the new legislation.”
We have entered the silly season, in which all the usual suspects run away with their bucket and spade to the seaside. They eat their ice creams and read their trashy novels, and try to forget the horrors of what, according to Private Eye, Denis Thatcher used to call Halitosis Hall.
With the help of your continued whispers and dobbings in, dear reader, this diary will continue through the summer, but even the spies take holidays too. So if you must, do try to take a room on the same floor as Bim Afolami, or a restaurant table next to Mark Francois (though please turn away while he is eating). All of which is to explain why this diary may exhibit more brevity than usual. At least the editor will be pleased.