The latest polling from YouGov this week should strike terror into Tory hearts. It shows a swing of three percent from Tories to Labour during the previous week, with Labour on 43% and Tories on 28%. If that were to be replicated in a general election it would have a seismic effect on East Anglia. EAB’s numbers man Stephen McNair calculates that would mean 16 seats change hands: Peterborough, Watford, Ipswich, Norwich N, Colchester, Stevenage, Welwyn Hatfield, Rochford, Hemel Hempstead, Cambs S, Cambs SE, Huntingdon, Hertford and Stortford, Southend W and Herts NE; with Harlow, Beds SW and Chelmsford too close to call.
That leads to an interesting observation. In the past few weeks, four of those constituency Labour parties have chosen their prospective candidates: Jack Abbott (Ipswich), Alice McDonald (Norwich N), Andrew Pakes (Peterborough) and Matt Turmaine (Watford). On present polling all four would be elected.
So what has caused this lurch in opinion, if that is what it is? (One poll does not a summer make.) Probably a mix of factors, including the lunacies of the Tory leadership campaign, the distant thunder of the approaching energy cost tsunami, Keir Starmer keeping his nerve to announce a popular policy that might not upset more than half a dozen voters in Wigan, and probably our old friend sewage.
According to YouGov, Labour leads strongly in London, the Midlands and the North, while the Tories maintain a small lead in the south. But EAB has been pointing out for some months how Tory support in Herts and Cambs in particular in this region has been falling away.
The Times reports the results of a focus group in Oldham, a Red Wall seat, featuring Tory voters discussing the two leadership hopefuls. They were asked which animals each candidate reminded them of.
The loser, Rishi Sunak, was a ferret. But more disappointed by far will be Liz Truss and her team. After all those carefully staged warrior-like poses with tanks and jet fighters, Ms truss still mostly reminded the voters of a budgie, or a rabbit.
The Iron Lady is one thing. The iron Budgie does not have quite the same ring.
Further confirmation of the public’s attitudes comes from a poll commissioned by right wing TV station GB News. It is possible the results were not as hoped for. It shows a Labour lead over the Tories of 14% excluding don’t knows, and perhaps most worrying for the Tories, that lead extends to both men and women and across all age groups except the over 65s. Worse, it extends to 19% when the question includes Keir Starmer as Labour leader and Liz Truss leading the Tories.
More fun comes from the accompanying word cloud, featuring those words most commonly used by respondents. All the most prominent are hugely disparaging: untrustworthy, useless, idiot, liar, and Thatcher (but not in a good way).
Most delicious of all, however, is a word which the editor, a woman determined to uphold the good name of this fine organ, has insisted on partially blurring. A pity, perhaps, but bear in mind the word to have been used frequently in order to appear in the word cloud; all the more astonishing when one learns that it begins with a ‘c’.
Meanwhile, Pecksniff’s investigations into the Liz Truss backyard begin to bear fruit. We see the Guardian has had the same idea: asking the voters of South West Norfolk. They may even have pinched it from their avid reading of Pecksniff’s Diary last week. But Pecksniff bears them no ill will. Thomas Paine, Thetford’s historical revolutionary is quoted as knowing the way things should go. The voters are not impressed by their MP, less still at the prospect of having her as prime minister.
But where the Guardian comes visiting, Pecksniff will have his troops on the ground, living in the constituency, our own fifth column. The reason this diary does not feature their opinions in more detail this week is there is already so much of it. ‘What has Liz Truss ever done for us?’ is therefore likely to be explored by a series of articles in EAB over coming weeks. But in the meantime, we feature just a few comments from the good people of Thetford.
“She laughed me out of her office. I hate her with a burning passion and how sad and embarrassed she made me feel for speaking up. She doesn’t care about this town.”
“They only give two s**** about the planet when they want to tax us and talk about restricting our freedoms.”
“This woman and all the Tory government couldn’t give a toss about anyone apart from themselves. We aren’t invited to their Christmas party, but they would like us to clear up after them.”
And what is this about a hack stopping voters in the street looking for any good word about La Truss? More in next week’s exciting new diary, possibly featuring even more rude words (though still possibly not that one…)
“You’ve done bugger all about it!” Steve Barclay (NE Cambs) and apparently our new health secretary, showing that common touch which has taken him to where he is today. He is interrupted during an interview by an angry woman, who he clearly finds common. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the man who literally holds the decision of life and death for many people this winter. Now look into his eyes as he stares at this voter, listen to his response, and decide which way he is likely to go.
James Wild (NW Norfolk) has the appearance of the guileless vicar in a drawing room comedy, just before he discovers the chorus girl hidden in a cupboard. Or in this case possibly, the human excrement covering Heacham beach in his constituency. Mr Wild is another of many – one is tempted to say all – Tory MPs in this region who remain tongue tied, like the vicar, and have nothing to say on the subject of sewage. Or indeed fuel prices, or anything at all. One wonders in fact what on earth they think their job might be.
Pecksniff has been recruiting spies in Saffron Walden since their MP Kemi Badenoch so enjoyed showing off in the Punch and Judy show known as the Tory leadership contest.
But sadly, to date there has been no sign of her. This is because it turns out they have been looking in the wrong place. They have been looking in her constituency.
Given the places some MPs have to represent, why would any MP not want to spend time in delightful Saffron Walden? Tony Benn in his diaries guilelessly recounted a return visit to his Bristol constituency for the first time in three months. That length of absence is a rather impressive benchmark of arrogant indifference, but Ms Badenoch seems determined to beat it. A pint of Old Unprintable to anybody who can claim a sighting of Ms Badenoch in her constituency in the past couple of weeks.
Tales of Jerome Mayhew (Broadland). It is said by the watchers that he is genuinely engaged in opposition to the march of pylons across East Anglia.
What can this mean? Do they mean to march them through his shrubbery? If he is doing this for his constituents, then it must surely be worth a headline. ‘Tory MP in Supporting Own Voters Shock Horror!’. It seems we may yet see Mr Mayhew, be-placarded, standing in solidarity with a group of punters before being dragged away from a noisy protest by the rozzers. In this event, Pecksniff’s editor, a woman of financial largesse, has given permission to offer good money for the pictures.
One of the few irritations of setting down here the events of the week is the fear that the usual suspects will emerge from the slime (though probably sewage would be more apt these days) to declare something so absurd that it must be included. So step forward Tom Hunt (Ipswich), who in an endlessly long and self-indulgent harangue in his local newspaper column on the Tory leadership, declares (with what must be less certainty than he appears to hope): “I’m sure we could all look past the slight annoyance of this summer’s drawn-out contest.”
To quote the ironically named Tom Hunt Fan Club, who spotted it: “Good luck with that”.
And while we’re on Mr Hunt and the suffering people of Ipswich, Pecksniff will just add this reminder, in case the MP is short of stuff to occupy the hours before his defenestration at the next election.
And while we are on sewage (and indeed, these days when are we not, either on it or in it), Sky News points out that Anglian Water has the highest rate of failure of all water companies, with 49% of all its sewage discharges not measured due to faulty or no monitors installed.
Overall, the increased discharge of sewage into our rivers has risen by over 2,500 times in the last five years, since Brexit in fact. One wonders just how much of a coincidence this might be, since EU laws would have prevented it.
Still on or in sewage, there was once hope for political activism in East Anglia when a new group formed at the time of the first sewage outrage. East Angrians was inspired by the anger felt at the indifference by Tory MPs, but soon it was taken over, as so often happens, by those for whom the comfort of whingeing from what Stanley Holloway called a ‘recumbent posture’ had greater attraction than actually going out and doing something about it.
But as Twitter showed this week they are still about, and some at least retain their anger. The object of their spleen was our old friend Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk). Dr Poulter is known to Pecksniff, was on agreeable terms at one point when first elected. But the quote selected by the East Angrians illustrates just how pompous a once-agreeable companion can become after spending so much time mixing with other Tory MPs: “Measures have been brought forward by the government… (Dear, dear!) … to mandate and improve water quality standards. The government is ensuring these measures are implemented in a well-considered and thoughtful way.”
To quote my colleague Stephen McNair in his piece elsewhere on EAB: “Since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, the Crown Prosecution Service budget has been cut by a third. Government has closed half the courts in England and sold off many.”
Here is James Cartlidge (South Suffolk), a former justice minister, explaining why the collapse of the justice system is all the barristers’ fault.
Pecksniff’s chef de mission in Norwich North passes word that he has almost an embarrassment of riches among those keen to dob in their soi-disant MP Chloe Smith. (Getting on the list of dobbers-in is like getting a ticket for opening day of the Chelsea Flower Show, and only slightly less fragrant.) Our man’s problem is how to keep them all amused while they wait fruitlessly for her to break cover. Strong drink usually works, but keeping an open bar at the Muckrakers is bound to have consequences, and not only financial.
Ms Smith these days seems to fall back on what she apparently sees as the British equivalent of America’s fifth amendment, meaning “I reserve the right not to incriminate myself”. But Ms Smith’s version is “Please see my website”. One can therefore appreciate the frustrations of the watchers. The woman is never seen out of doors, as her constituents never tire of reminding us.