It is interesting to note that, at an event this week, David Miliband was still being asked if he plans a return to British front-line politics. After how many years? For many he is still the king over the water, he still has that star quality.
For Corbynists, Tony Blair is still the Great Satan, for all that Mr Blair treated their man emolliently when leader. At the time, many wanted Mr Corbyn thrown out. But Mr Blair wouldn’t have it. Yet if Corbynists hold Keir Starmer in contempt and Tony Blair in hatred, what on earth would they think of David Miliband?
There was a passionate argument at the Muckrakers this week about the importance of charisma in a party leader. (It was getting towards closing time.) Now there is an old Fleet Street habit of referring to the cheapest beer on draught as the ‘throwing bitter’, the point being that when fighting breaks out you don’t want to throw the expensive stuff.
So it was that by the time the howdy-do over politicians and charisma turned up, the saloon bar had presciently primed itself with pints of the throwing. Your correspondent was trying to make the case that, in circumstances like those which will confront Keir Starmer after the election, though competence is certainly a prerequisite, it is important that to pull it off there will also be a need for charisma. Voters will have to find their leader simpatico.
One grande dame, most admired for baking cakes but who also seems occasionally to run small countries on her Tuesdays off, declared that she would be arsed if she would tolerate the risk of another Boris Johnson. The subsequent
melee Socratic dialogue was interrupted by George with mop and bucket, so the debate was never brought to a conclusion. But the question remains. Who would do a better job? Keir Starmer or David Miliband?
But the big political question surely is why does Rishi Sunak wear his trousers too short? The pocket-sized PM otherwise wears impeccable suits – perhaps suspiciously so. As Anthony Eden remarked of a colleague: “He is not a gentleman. He dresses too well”.
The Times has been speculating this week on whether Thérèse Coffey can hang on to her seat in east Suffolk, and the story seems based upon things being different now she is no longer a member of the government. There is the suggestion, sparked by the woman herself, that her notable absence from any part of her constituents’ lives was all down to how hard she was working for the country, latterly as environment secretary. But of course, this role was particularly inflammatory in her Suffolk Coastal constituency, because it has a long coastline and several rivers, all of which have been choked with raw sewage and all of which is to be lain at Dr Coffey’s door, metaphorically at least. Dr Coffey must hope nobody finds out where she lives, or it might become rather more literal.
Speaking of Thérèse Coffey and sewage – a name and a phrase which will undoubtedly remain synonymous – her previous chums at Anglian Water have the bright idea of introducing a sewage monitor, so we will be able to check in real time just when human waste is at that moment pouring into our rivers and coastline. Soon indeed, so we are told excitedly, wild bathers will also be able to see exactly how much!
It is just possible that Anglian Water haven’t really thought this idea through.
The initiative incidentally comes in the same week that the Guardian proclaims: “Most inland bathing spots in the UK have unsafe levels of pollution”.
James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) has declared he will stand down at the next election. He will probably be best known as Boris Johnson’s Grima Wormtongue during de Pfeffel’s failed attempt to win back the Tory leadership in October last year. After the defenestration of Liz Truss (South West Norfolk) as PM, it was Duddridge who organised the undead on the Tory benches to support their own king over the water. But the water over which Boris Johnson loitered was of course the Caribbean, where he was taking another buckshee holiday at somebody else’s expense.
Mr Johnson let it be known that he would be bothered to put down his gin sling and return to the accolades of his supporters only if Dudders could come up with the numbers – and to be fair his minion came close. So close that, in order to drag right-wing votes away from BJ, Rishi Sunak offered Suella Braverman the job at the Home Office. The ploy worked, and BJ arrived at Heathrow not to the hero’s welcome he was expecting but with the job only half done and with a certain amount of oeuf sur le visage. The putsch stalled, and we got Rishi Sunak instead.
It would seem that Norwich North Tories may have a death wish. Earlier this month, Pecksniff reported that they had endorsed Nick Rose to be their next parliamentary candidate, to succeed Chloe Smith. This diary called him a “low regulation, low tax, law ‘n’ order, climate change denier, opponent of further NHS funding, anti-benefits and anti-woke.”
But the report missed out a bit. “I think Boris Johnson is the greatest Tory leader of my adulthood,” he told the Eastern Daily Press this week. “He brought us Brexit, the Covid vaccine and defended Ukraine. I voted for Liz Truss to be his successor because I believed in her Conservative values. I’m a big fan of Braverman.”
It was what is called ‘going for broke’, and sure enough broke was what it became.
Rarely has any political career crashed and burned in less than a fortnight. But not only have Norwich North Tories been humiliated, they have been exposed. Pecksniff speculated in last week’s diary on what they must have seen in Mr Rose, and of course what they saw in him was what they wanted to see: a mirror image of their own beliefs unfiltered by the polite requirements of potential public office.
But when those beliefs were so ingenuously exposed to the public gaze, party members realised quite how far beyond the pale they were. Public reaction showed them to be intolerable. So Mr Rose was given the bum’s rush, but what do those Norwich North Tories do now? One way would be to find somebody else with similar beliefs, then tell him or her to lie about them. But surely they wouldn’t do that, would they?
Speaking of which, it is forgotten that – even in her pomp – Margaret Thatcher’s more militant views were never endorsed by the electorate. Polls at the time showed that Mrs Thatcher was returned to power in spite of her views, not because of them. For whatever reasons, probably going to war with somebody, the punters just liked the woman.”
She was stern and unforgiving, traits apparently much admired in this country. We are inclined to forget, as Mrs Thatcher would never have recognised, that in the immortal words of Mr Fats Waller: “We all bums when de wagon comes”.
In a similar vein perhaps, this week we learn via CambsNews that 32 Tory members of Fenland Council have written to Rishi Sunak, complaining of his sacking of Suella Braverman. One of the complaints they have is about failing to “stop the small boats”.
It is not clear how many refugee-laden small boats they have to deal with in land-locked Doddington or Whittlesey, or how often the lifeboat at March or Parson Drove is pressed into service. But Mr Sunak should “block off the Human Rights Act and all other obligations which inhibit our ability to remove those with no right to be in the UK.
“We have reached a critical point where your promise as prime minister ‘to do whatever it takes’ needs to be translated into positive action to deliver what the majority of voters want”.
Obligations and the majority. Correctly or otherwise, the people of the fens are sometimes thought of as being insular (among other things), but perhaps it’s only those they elect into office. ‘Obligations’ are defined as acts which are morally or legally binding. So the councillors want Mr Sunak to act either immorally or illegally, apparently. And the latest YouGov poll shows that voters wish to remain in the Human Rights Act by almost two to one: 51% to 28%; and the biggest share of the electorate, 39%, would prefer the government to dump the exporting of refugees policy entirely.
When Robert Jenrick first made his mark, he came across as just another banal Tory carpetbagger, the normal stuff about allegations of grossly improper distribution of public money in favour of the Tories, nothing out of the ordinary.
But then he demanded that cartoon characters on the wall of living accommodation for refugee children should be painted over. He has now intervened at Wethersfield, the former RAF base near Braintree, pressed controversially into service to house refugees. Mr Jenrick has refused permission for charities to attend the place with clothing or offering haircuts.
Let us consider Mr Jenrick lounging in his ministerial limousine, thinking up new ways of making homeless and penniless refugees more miserable, or making lonely, terrified and often orphaned children more despairing.
Now who was it who wrote about ‘the banality of evil’?
We stay with Braintree, or at least its MP James Cleverly, the new home secretary who, for the second week running, is embroiled in a slanging match over his indiscretions. Last week we revealed that he was in trouble for having called the Rwanda policy he was (in his new role) about to passionately endorse: “batshit”. He dismissed the accusation, though in seven subsequent interviews he refused to deny he had said it.
Then on Thursday, after a contre-temps in the chamber with Alex Cunningham, the MP for Stockton-on-Tees, Mr Cleverly is accused of calling the Labour man’s constituency, sotto voce, “a shit hole”. Mr Cunningham was outraged. Mr Cleverly denied he had ever said it. Audio records from the Commons microphones appeared to show he had. At which point Mr Cleverly sort of recanted, claiming that he might have used those words after all, but he was really talking about Mr Cunningham, not his constituency. (Though one doubts whether what constitutes ‘unparliamentary language’ makes that distinction.)
The usual huff between Labour and the Liberal Democrats is nowhere more rancorous than in East Cambridgeshire. Furious Labour figures have accused the LibDems of distributing deliberately untrue claims in their literature. (Those notorious bar charts again.) In fact, Pecksniff understands that the Labour agent actually went round and banged on the door of his LibDem opponent. It is also understood – and one would be pleased to hear clarification of this, in case any is needed – that the LibDem agent conceded it was a fair cop. But the same literature still keeps popping though letter boxes.
Julie Marson is the hapless MP for Hertford and Stortford, though her constituents could be forgiven for not realising it. Now that railway ticket offices are not to close wholesale, Ms Marson is at pains to stress how hard she and her local government colleagues had worked towards achieving that result. But it is pointed out that, in a proposal to oppose ticket office closures in East Herts Council in July, the Conservative group abstained.
There is fascinating research this week on the political affiliations of shoppers at the nation’s supermarkets.
It seems that all of them bar the patrons of Marks & Spencer prefer Labour to the Tories. Admittedly Waitrose is a close-run thing but thank god the forces of righteousness win by one percent or so.
It makes one think though. If all other supermarkets vote Labour, then imagine the huge crush of Tories one must unknowingly encounter at M&S among the prawn sandwiches on granary and the racks of sensible underwear.
Readers of Pecksniff will be interested to know that EAB is about to launch a rolling politics blog, snippets of all the region’s political news as they creep blinking into the daylight. Look for it this week. (The exact launch date is dependent on when we can drag the editor out of the pub.)
Thanks to James Porter and Kate Viscardi