We begin the diary this week with a rueful confrontation with the truth from Conservative Home, the website for Tory members. They declare:
“To vote Tory again would be like asking the cowboy builder who screwed up your house extension back to carry out your loft conversion, it might go well but I doubt it.”
One would really think that, when your own members tell the world they would be mad to vote Tory again, their government might begin to realise the game may be up.
Hardly was the ink dry on Pecksniff’s revelations on the factions trying to dislodge Rishi Sunak last week than the internecine warfare broke out into the open. First, his opponents dumped on Nadhim Zahawi with a nudge about his tax affairs. Then they spilled the beans on Suella Braverman and child refugees in this country being abducted by sex traffickers.
(Poor timing though: the tax dodging kept the child trafficking out of the headlines.)
In response, Mr Sunak’s people leaked information on Richard Sharp acting as guarantor of an £800,000 loan to Boris Johnson while he was still prime minister, shortly before Johnson appointed him chair of the BBC only weeks later. (In fact, the deal appears to have been done over lunch at Chequers, which seems to have been illegal, since in November 2021 the country had just been placed in lockdown.)
But as pointed out by Pecksniff, there is a second group trying to unseat the prime minister. This group of wannabe assassins are those supporting the economicide Liz Truss (still in name at least, MP for South West Norfolk), with her batsh*t ideas and her galaxy-sized ego. We pointed out that Ms Truss’s plans to embrace her constituency were not going down well with her voters. A glance at the letters column of her local paper would have told her that.
But those same lunatic ideas are perfectly mainstream with Republicans across The Pond. There, Ms Truss has been welcomed as a hero. So now she has a much better idea. She has seen what Boris Johnson is paid for his rambling speeches there, and in a flash of illumination she sees a new course. Dump the mud and the turnips of Norfolk and, instead, embrace the bilk-and-money opportunities in the US.
Where this will leave her parliamentary supporters one can only guess. I don’t suppose she cares. Chloe Smith (Norwich North) may have been prepared to sacrifice what’s left of her career for Ms Truss, but since she intends to stand down at the next election she may not be that bothered either.
The only people who might care about any of this, it seems, are the poor voters, who are not even considered as an afterthought. In these final days of ‘the natural party of government’ it’s just a question of how much they can grab to take with them before the house burns down.
There will come a time when it becomes no longer necessary to write about Matt Hancock (West Suffolk). But we are not there yet. It appears that, having said his purpose in joining I’m a Celebrity was to raise money for charity and to show what politicians are really like, Mr Hancock gave just 3% of his £320,000 TV fee to charity. But at least he succeeded in his second aim, in showing what Tory MPs are really like.
He is even harangued on the tube these days, and that will hurt his sense of self esteem. He still thinks of himself as a heroic Bond-like figure.
Increasingly, what we do hear about Matt Hancock is likely to be the endless fall-out from his time as health secretary in charge of the Covid response and the excruciating waste of public money trousered by his Tory mates.
And here’s a bit more. It emerges that, at the height of the pandemic, Mr Hancock was preparing to hand over sensitive NHS patient data to US technology giant Palantir. The company was set up by Peter Thiel, a major donor to Donald Trump.
The move came to nothing when both the NHS and Public Health England stood in the way of the plans. But Palantir are now bidding for a £480m contract from the NHS.
Pecksniff would like to make it perfectly clear however, especially to the cynics among the readership, that there is no suggestion that either Thiel or Palantir have at any point given money to the Tory party, or to any of its ministers.
Still on the Covid response, we have a new old name to conjure with as being embroiled in the notorious VIP lane PPE contracts scandal. Brooks Newmark was the Tory MP for Braintree until he resigned in 2015. He had been disgraced by allegations regarding “inappropriate” pictures of himself sent to an undercover reporter purporting to be a political campaigner.
This week the Good Law Project revealed that Mr Newmark joined Zoe Ley, a former dog food seller, in hustling for the company they represented, Hong Kong based Worldlink Resources, to win contracts worth £178m. Ley’s own company was set up in Bedfordshire, apparently for this purpose, and made a profit of £17.8m from the deal. The lobbying was facilitated by Lord Agnew of Oulton, who takes his title from the Norfolk town.
Lord Agnew also set up the Inspiration Trust, which runs 14 schools across East Anglia.
It is generally considered improper for political parties to offer inducements to voters (though wealthy voters seem to offer inducements to the Conservative Party all the time).
But the good people of Wisbech are being offered a free breakfast. The fact that the invitation is only extended to those within the electoral boundary of Walsoken and Waterlees may be a clue that this is not entirely philanthropic.
In fact the invitation is unclear as to whether the breakfast is offered by the Tories themselves or by the venue, the Black Boar. In practice though that makes little difference, since the Black Boar is owned by Shahid Rafique, who happens to be the ambitious Tory candidate in May’s elections for (checks notes) Walsoken and Waterlees.
This week Pecksniff began looking at the financial donations to Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth). The first thing to say is there are an awful lot of them: 45 in all during the present parliament, totalling £276,300. The largest donor is Lubov Chernukhin, a former investment banker born in Russia. She famously bid £45,000 to play tennis with Boris Johnson and has reportedly given the Conservative Party £2m. Mr Lewis has taken a great deal of flak by accepting regular donations from her, and in fact her latest largesse appears to have been earlier this month.
Mr Lewis has in the past explained that Ms Chernukhin’s generosity arises from her admiration for his party, and so presumably for him as a champion exponent of whatever she sees in the Conservatives. No doubt the same is true of the other donors to Mr Lewis.
Second most generous (and most admiring) with £34,500 is Bateman Groundworks, a Norwich-based construction company. But it is not surprising perhaps that £14,000 comes from Cambria Autos, since Mr Lewis looks, acts and speaks like a used car salesman. (Though on the whole that fine body of men probably have better manners.)
Tom Hunt (Ipswich) is at it again. EAB has written before about an apparent exercise in data harvesting involving Mr Hunt. This time it’s a survey of preferred policies, heavily weighted towards his favourite topic of immigration. Mr Hunt appears to be putting all his faith in his dwindling chances of holding onto his seat in stirring up the racist vote, but it’s doubtful there are enough racists even in Ipswich to save him.
Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) is environment secretary and has made a fool of herself again, this time in front of the Lords’ Industry and Regulators Committee.
The chair, Lord Hollick, declared that ‘Defra has left consumers up shit creek’ due a lack of investment in the national sewage prevention scheme. Dr Coffey seemed put out and complained that “a lot of this wasn’t measured before”. Some have accused her of lying, but when she says it hasn’t been measured, what she probably means is that it was being measured until the coalition government removed statutory committees of the Environment Agency, cut staff and funding and generally made it toothless.
Pecksniff has already commented on the arrogance of the devolution plan put forward by Norfolk County Council, and that the Norfolk district councils are threatening to challenge it at law if necessary. Now we learn that Suffolk County Council’s more modest proposals are also in doubt, and may not survive the May local elections.
Neither plan addresses the real problem, which is that these machinations remain of no interest and seem utterly irrelevant to the electorate. (Remember them? Their interests, long ago, were supposed to be the point of having elections.) While councils remain aloof and voters are asked to place a cross next to an unknown name on a ballot paper, somebody put up by the party at the last minute, local government will remain of little interest to the people it is supposed to serve.
This is down to the stagnant state of many local parties. There are those like Labour in Ipswich, the Liberal Democrats in North West Norfolk, the Greens in Mid Suffolk, who have a vigorous membership who work hard. But others only exist in their reluctant monthly meetings and have long since forgotten any idea of actually doing anything. We deserve better.
Last week Pecksniff wrote about Hadleigh Town Council, in what it would be fair to describe as less than complimentary terms. It was pointed out that Hadleigh Town Football Club seemed to have carried out a coup in taking over the council. Now, since the council is known to be unhappy at anything less than a Trappist silence from the press on their activities, it might be expected that umbrage might be taken at the report.
In a way it was. But not a threatening letter from Messrs Carter Ruck demanding six figure damages. Just a note politely pointing out that the football club is not Hadleigh Town but Hadleigh United.
Finally, it’s always nice to be able to include a story about licensed premises if there is any kind of excuse, and there is politics of a kind in this one. It seems Lord Deben may be about to join the Licensed Victuallers Association. Yes, there is a rumour in Suffolk that the former Tory cabinet minister John Gummer is about to buy a pub.
A wag at the Muckrakers recommends: “Don’t eat the burgers”.