Pecksniff has at last caught up with the latest proposals from the Boundary Commission and their excellent analysis on EAB by my colleague Stephen ‘Numbers’ McNair. For political nerds across the East, that has to constitute the news of the week.
The figures as interpreted by Electoral Calculus (with the usual caveats) show some astonishing changes across the board, from blue to red.
Among those results most likely to have champagne corks popping are those in Great Yarmouth (where Brandon Lewis would lose his seat), Suffolk Coastal (ditto Therese Coffey), Ipswich (Tom Hunt), West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch) and South Norfolk (Richard Bacon).
Among others also likely to go Labour are Central Suffolk, Colchester, Chelmsford, Watford, Lowestoft, Hitchin and both Southend seats.
We can be sure that these extraordinary results aren’t polling error, since every poll shows a huge Labour lead. The question is whether the mood of the voters changes. To judge that, we have to ask what chance there is of the government having a dramatically successful few months ahead?
There seems a general acceptance now that the Tories’ time is done and that Labour will form the next government. That is implicit even in BBC reports. In an upbeat assessment of Keir Starmer’s speech to the CBI conference, the BBC reporter declared that, perhaps unusually for a Labour leader, his party is largely behind him.
Unfortunately this seems another example of a hack not bothering to look below the surface. A chat with local activists around the country would show dramatic differences on multiple fronts, including proportional representation, the EU, immigration and an apparent acceptance of the Tories’ economic model. The difference now is that the complaints don’t come from the swivel-eyed fantasists who still support Corbyn. It is interesting too that even many Labour members would prefer a small majority to a landslide, to make the party more susceptible to demands from smaller parties for PR.
Labour’s leadership is naturally keen that none of this should be discussed, but it is not the BBC’s job to conspire with them as – it has to be said – they have been only too willing to do with the Tories.
One who has already taken the hint is Chloe Smith (Norwich North), who on Tuesday declared she would not stand again as an MP.
Her majority of 4,738 is under threat from both demographic and boundary changes. Young families are moving out of the chic but congested Norwich Golden Triangle into Ms Smith’s next door seat. Meanwhile, boundary changes mean the seat will now include left-leaning wards from the safe Norwich South seat of Clive Lewis. Either could sink her chances, without the huge swing to Labour against her suggested by the polls.
She is likely to be the first of many to jump before they are pushed. (Two have already followed her.) But it is fair to accept her given reasons for leaving, and to record the classy response of her Labour opponent, Alice Macdonald, who told Pecksniff: “I wish Chloe and her family all the best for the future after her years as MP here”.
Given the interest in that scamp Tom Hunt (Ipswich), Pecksniff has been asking around among the Hunt cognoscenti, who make it their business to know what he is up to.
He hasn’t been seen knocking on doors since May. He takes a lot of photos, but has a reputation for not putting in the work. He takes up an issue, then loses interest. Fire-resistant cladding and special educational needs are two issues in point, where relations between him and campaigners have soured. As one of his opponents remarked: “He makes a song and dance about certain issues, but a lot of it is performative.”
There is also his failure to back the Ipswich bid for city status. The Ipswich Star holds him responsible for its failure: “Ipswich’s bid was scrapped in June 2021 after the application did not receive the backing of Mr Hunt.”
Mr Hunt doubts the town would welcome city status, and he may be right. Ipswich people are notoriously suspicious of the town getting above itself.
Does he even have a house in the town? He bought a flat in his old stamping ground around Ely, which if for his own use doesn’t sound as though he is confident of keeping his Ipswich seat.
One of the worst examples of Tory arrogance and cover-up is at Breckland Council. The governing Tory group bought a golf and country club some years ago under curious circumstances, without even telling the rest of the council what they were buying. They then spent a lot of money on it – reputedly £10 million all told – and then caused a hoo-ha by planning to sell it off at a fraction of what they have spent.
It seems the sale is now completed, still without local tax payers knowing much about what their representatives bought at such cost, or why, how bad a deal it was or how much it had lost. “Now members won’t get to debate the sale or hold a vote, with the decision solely resting with the Conservative cabinet,” Pecksniff is told by Labour group leader Terry Jermy.
Council rules preclude opposition members from making comment on the sale, while we are assured the details published by the Tory group are selective at best and in some cases rather worse.
What is happening at Breckland is just one example among several in recent months, in councils across the region, of Tory councillors deliberately disengaging from the public. This usually takes the form of changing rules to avoid scrutiny from either voters or opposing parties, like Breckland – what might almost look like a coup. But there are other signs. MPs publishing political leaflets which deliberately avoid even mentioning their party. Councillors who have always dutifully turned out to report to their parish councils but now fail to do so. Councillors who have simply given up attending meetings at all and are disbarred.
One council is set to replace its second absentee Tory, while four others in the Tory group plan to stand as independents and are trying to conspire with their opponents in the hope of doing a ‘deal’, by which they might be returned unopposed.
It seems a party unwilling to be examined or to fight for its principles, because it knows its principles are shot and that the voters know it too. So we might look at the signs and conclude that this is a party in perhaps terminal decline. But it will be a long and painful way back from the place the Tories have left us.
So how to describe that decline in Tory fortunes? After all, they run the government and many of the councils across the country. How did they get into this position? To do this question justice would properly involve what Anthony Powell called “the roving intelligentsia of the saloon bar”, and it was during such a discourse at the Muckrakers on what has happened to the Tories that a colleague (who saves badgers for a living) produced what at the time seemed like les mots justes. All that talk about hard-working families? he asked. What do they know about work? “The Tories have become the party of grifters, not grafters”.
There are complaints among Green campaigners across the region that they are being smeared as all being XR or Just Stop Oil activists, spending their time closing motorways to the fury of the general public. The complaints come particularly from Harlow. It is quite possible that some Greens are environmental activists, of course.
But then, the Greens might with as much justification accuse all Harlow Tories of being tax-dodging, lying, unprincipled, self-serving, xenophobic narcissists. Clearly that would not be any truer than that all Greens disrupt motorways. It is however clearly true that some Tories do match this description exactly. One would not like to conjecture whether it might be true of some in Harlow, of course. But if their anti-Green smears continue it might be tempting to begin investigations to find out.
Still on Harlow, it seems that here too the local Tory party may be at war with one another. Pecksniff is told recent changes on Harlow District Council represent something of a coup among the local Tory party. What was left of the one-nation group are out and “the new breed is the Boris Johnson type”, we are told. If so, they seem to have left their intervention a little late, jumping at the main chance just as that world seems to be crumbling.
James Wild (North West Norfolk), in the latest Tory propaganda sheet, Your Local Paper, goes straight to the point.
He alleges that the country’s almost destitute state is down to the Ukraine war and the pandemic. Untrue. All of Europe shares the same problems and are coping. Yet Britain’s performance post-Covid is catastrophically worse than any of our European neighbours. These may be contributory factors, but the glaring major problem is Brexit.
He then goes on to declare that Norfolk’s unemployment is at a near record low, thus trying to paint the staffing crisis in many key industries as something to be proud of. Our problem is not unemployment – not until the government’s inflation seriously kicks in this winter, anyway. It is a chronic shortage of staff. And again, the problem is Brexit.
The Brexit disaster is now recognised by almost two thirds of British voters. The Tories can’t recognise it and Labour won’t.
This week the government has been criticised for failing to insist on a fairer share-out of Premier League football prize money among lower league teams. The settlement was proposed by a fan-led review a year ago, but the government has allowed the premier league to do nothing. The figure is huge: £365 million per season, and our regional clubs who are missing out on the bonanza are Luton Town, Peterborough United, Ipswich Town, Cambridge United, Colchester United and Stevenage.
As always with this government, they back the people with the money.