Simon Clarke has been lambasted by fellow Conservative MPs and mocked by the media for his outburst on Tuesday against Rishi Sunak. “What did he think he was doing?” seems the incredulous question most often posed by his colleagues.
Well, it’s quite possible that what he thought he was doing was playing a part in yet another plot to bring down his leader, as part of a much wider action. The reason why this might have been his motivation is because there was gossip early on Tuesday morning among hacks and No 10 apparatchiks about an expected co-ordinated attack that very day. Except in the end, only Mr Clarke was muggins enough to stick his head above the parapet. The others, if there were others, realised it was their day for washing their hair.
After the humiliation of last week’s bill, when yet again the much vaunted major right wing rebellion fizzled away into nothing, wouldn’t this be yet another fatuous hissy-fit from the headbangers? But let’s not be misled: it’s all froth and bluster. There is no cunning plan for a resurgence of the party’s fortunes in the polls. It’s a sign of nothing more than their panic.
Sadiq Khan has been winding up the Labour leadership over Brexit again.
And let’s not assume that this is by chance. Besides the mayor’s personal enthusiasm for EU membership, he has an election to win and London fully shares that enthusiasm. Keir Starmer’s team know Mr Khan puts them in a difficult position. He knows his electorate support him.
If the time comes when Messrs Starmer and Khan are at open loggerheads, it could be argued that Mr Khan will be in much the stronger position of the two. He has London behind him, and the polls show he has a majority of the broader electorate too, as well as logic and Labour’s whole culture and history as an internationalist party.
What does Keir Starmer have? Jacob Rees-Mogg and the Telegraph.
Quite apart from all of the specific arguments over Brexit, since when did Labour see itself as being distrustful of foreigners, and what right does Keir Starmer have to make that its new position without debate? Pecksniff has pointed out before, this has the smell of fear about it: the political classes dreading the idea of returning to their worst and most abject failure in modern history.
On Sunday, Andrew Rawnsley wrote an interesting piece in the Observer about the need for Keir Starmer’s imminent government to begin work on their briefs now. As he points out, being the minister with responsibility is a world away from sitting on the sidelines and telling the present incumbent what he should be doing.
Reality is likely to prove a shock, and all previous assumptions will be tested. One wonders just how long it will take before one of those assumptions comes under desperate scrutiny. We refer of course to the blithe assumption that we must “make Brexit work”.
“Think about power now”, is the advice. The lack of money. The failures in trade, in staffing the public sector, in international co-operation. Could this possibly have anything to do with Brexit? How long will the wilfully obtuse “make Brexit work” seem like a good and unchallengeable position?
“Set priorities”, Mr Rawnsley’s interviewees suggest. Without even consideration of how Brexit is affecting them? Would this be counted as serious and responsible government?
“Be radical”. Without even looking at how the world would change if we rejected Brexit? “Setting direction”. Without even considering Europe? Or Brexit?
Then we have ministers facing their departments and simply trying to make them work, whilst being hamstrung. And civil servants: will they always bend their advice to avoid mention of Brexit?
But before all that, what on earth kind of opening King’s Speech would it be if it didn’t mention the EU, even if not Brexit?
A colleague, Becky Turner, wrote about Spain’s arguments with Catalonia last week, and alluded to Brexit. Becky explains there is an explicit agreement in Spain not to mention the civil war and the Franco years, called the pacto del olvido. The idea is to avoid opening old wounds.
It made this diarist wonder whether there is any similarity – explicit or implicit – with the determined unwillingness among our political classes to challenge Brexit. In fact, preferably not even to mention it.
But there is a difference, of course. Franco, who died in 1975, is now confined to history. Whatever his crimes, they are in the past. Whereas the viciousness, the lies and the wilful self-harm of Brexit are still with us.
The British do so love the status quo, of course, but this one would commit us to moral, cultural and economic penury for ever more. Far from forgetting it and letting bygones be bygones, your diarist hopes all that raw anger at what the Brexit thieves have done to our country will be transmuted into a new nationwide movement dedicated to exposing and punishing the leaders of this outrage for their part in our downfall.
Anyway, enough of Brexit (for the moment at least). Over a rather good lunch this week, rumours began to emerge of discontent within the membership of the Labour Party. The cause is the swivel-eyed control freakery exhibited by Labour HQ in the selection of prospective election candidates. The mutterings come from within three local parties in Suffolk and another in Norfolk. We may be only three months away from an announcement of the general election, yet many constituency parties have not been permitted to choose their candidates.
Labour has always been the party of petty bureaucracy which determines the order in which parties are permitted to choose. It is understandable of course that the party should want its most promising candidates to stand in winnable seats; but my dears, they have had four years to deal with this. As a result, perhaps the majority of seats in East Anglia still don’t have a Labour candidate.
This has another unhelpful effect. Take Suffolk Coastal, which in a ‘normal’ year would be seen as unlikely territory for Labour. Once that decision is made, there is little incentive for the local party even to try – even when the polls and the appalling record of Thérèse Coffey might presently give an outside chance.
And on one occasion when in the past this diarist was organising a general election campaign for Labour, we weren’t even allowed a candidate. We had one on paper, but the poor woman was whisked away to act as a humble canvasser in Ipswich, a target seat, (though actually it was lost). She was never allowed to ‘waste time’ talking to her voters. An insult to the local party, to the candidate, but mostly to the voters themselves, who the party decided weren’t worth taking seriously.
In 2020, the congenitally hapless Tom Hunt (Ipswich) was pleased to boast about 50 new police officers to be recruited for Suffolk, thanks to the munificence of his government.
Oh Tom, will you never learn?
Instead, last week Tim Passmore, police and crime commissioner for Suffolk, revealed that over the next four years his police force will need to make savings of £5.2 million. While it is too early to say where the axe will fall, he “hopes to avoid” job losses.
And there is more on Tom Hunt. (There always is.) A couple of weeks ago, he voted against an opposition day motion called the Dentistry Rescue Plan which might have gone some way to address the problem that, of 15 dental surgeries in Ipswich who responded to Labour’s questions, none are accepting new adult patients and only five are accepting new child patients.
The plan would offer one in five newly qualified dentists a “golden hello” of £20,000 if they agree to work in “dental deserts” such as East Anglia, where they are struggling to recruit. By accepting the payment, they would agree to commit to at least three years of service in the NHS, or return the payment.
But at PMQs on Wednesday, he said: “A source of great frustration for me and a number of constituents is that many people who train to be a dentist at university for five years and have their training heavily subsidised can immediately go private or go abroad without giving anything back to the NHS. Will the Prime Minister support the view of many of my constituents that those dentists should work in the NHS for, say, five years and give something back?”
There’s no helping him.
“Lucy is in over her head, isn’t she?” remarks one astute observer of this performance by Lucy Frazer (SE Cambs), who is culture secretary because she is one of Rishi Sunak’s mates. (He doesn’t have many, so he has to cherish them.) But as the poor woman illustrates in this unfortunate interview, she is not so much light on her feet as wearing pit boots. Her struggles to approximate her charges of bias against the BBC with her complete inability to offer any evidence whatever are quite pitiful. Fortunately, your diarist has a high threshold of embarrassment, but if you are not so fortunate, dear reader, please look away now.
Ms Frazer began her political life in some controversy. She won her candidacy in 2014 through a primary selection, an initiative of David Cameron which was quickly abandoned after it came up with the wrong candidates: those with a mind of their own. This was the last thing Mr Cameron had in mind, and it is possible that Ms Frazer was the fortunate recipient of the party’s favours after furious allegations that actually she had lost the primary, yet was still chosen as candidate. The winner was apparently Heidi Allen, but somehow 23 of Ms Allen’s votes became attributed to Ms Frazer, amid admissions that one Tory official had taken the votes home with him.
The party declared the result null and void, but gave the victory to Ms Frazer “in the interests of party unity”.
Still on the subject of BBC criticism, the Peterborough Telegraph rightly comes in for censure itself over an article it carried this week. ‘Why the BBC needs to change’ it says, but does not make clear anywhere that this is an opinion piece by a Conservative, Owen Meredith. This is considered bad form. It appears to be an impartial assessment by the newspaper, whereas it is nothing of the sort.
For the record, East Anglia Bylines is a progressive centre-left publication which supports no party, and is happy to applaud or criticise any political organisation according to its performance.
Still in Ms Frazer’s part of the world, the Conservatives have lost a third councillor to desertion in the past year. The latest is Councillor Ryan Fuller, representing St Ives North and Wyton, who will now sit as an independent. Where the previous two councillors were happy to disclose their reasons for leaving, a mystery surrounds Cllr Fuller’s motivation. Colleagues and news media have all speculated publicly, but only with great care. However, there are claims that Cllr Fuller has been virtually AWOL for the past 18 months, yet has still claimed his allowance.
This week the Joseph Rowntree Trust published a shocking report on poverty in Britain. One in five people live in poverty, in the fifth largest economy in the world. Yet the government, in its much vaunted ‘levelling up’ policy, sees as its priority providing a bit of money to fill in potholes.
In particular, Alice Macdonald, Labour candidate for Norwich North, draws our attention to Norfolk’s record. More than a third of children in apparently prosperous Norwich are living in poverty. That makes it one of the poorest cities in the country.
The latest polling and its analysis by Electoral Calculus shows a potentially dramatic shift in public opinion in one key seat. It claims that Steffane Aquarone, the LibDems’ main dude in North Norfolk, has a 65% chance of unseating ex-UKIP Tory incumbent Duncan Baker, with 38% against the Tories’ 33%. What partly gives the LibDems the advantage is Reform’s claim that they will put up a candidate here, and as elsewhere they are predicted to take 11% of the vote.
With thanks to Karl Whiteman.