The by election in Southend West to choose a successor to the murdered David Amess takes place next Thursday, 3 February. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens have decided good manners decree that they should not put up candidates. Pecksniff disagrees. When there is an election, it is for the benefit of the voters, not in order to comply with parliamentary mores. It is for the voters to decide who they wish to represent them, and that is through an election. There is no disrespect in putting forward a candidate. On the contrary, it shows respect for the democratic process. To withdraw three prominent candidates just to avoid awkward stares in the Commons bars or contemptuous headlines in the Daily Mail does not show respect to the late MP. It is in itself showing disrespect to democracy.
As it is, we might wonder whether the choices left facing the electorate cover the whole political spectrum. One candidate is a Tory, three stand on anti-vaccination, two on anti-immigration, one wishes she hadn’t decided to stand, one seems to have disappeared altogether and another thinks everything would be fine if only we all got stoned. Pecksniff leaves it to his readers to decide which is the least deluded.
Choosing one candidate at random, the Tory is Anna Firth, who is naturally provided with a Central Office minder and dutifully spouts whatever he tells her is the line to take. The one theme which seems to be her own is to demand more face-to-face GP appointments, an issue Pecksniff feels she would do better by taking it up either with the virus or with her own Health Secretary.
One unkind observer describes the Southend scenario as “when a Jilly Cooper novel set in a suburban lower middle class hellscape collides with the village idiot”.
Unfair and ridiculous, of course. The very idea of Jilly Cooper writing a novel about the suburban lower middle classes…
But as Pecksniff carefully blots the vellum before handing it to his man to take to the palatial Bylines offices, Boris Johnson is still prime minister. Will he be still by next Thursday? If not, on what will the voters of Southend be basing their choices? And what will the uncertainty do to the turn-out? Perhaps we should look for something in the low hundreds… Anybody might win, almost in error. This is all very difficult,and has the makings of a farce. It seems the missing candidate has taken refuge in the fastnesses of North Down in Northern Ireland, so it may not be a surprise if the parliamentary authorities have to begin their search there for the new MP.
“This is off-the-scale madness!” declares Tom Hunt MP (Conservative, Ipswich) on Twitter, of New Zealand’s decision to impose a 25-day lockdown on those testing positive for Omnicron. The tweet gathered more than 600 replies. Having nothing better to do while maintaining order at the Muckrakers, Pecksniff read through them. Everyone seemed to oppose his view, which makes one wonder for whose benefit such observations are made. Can it really be that the likes of Mr Hunt seriously believe the nation has been champing at the bit to be rid of all Covid restrictions, come what may?
It is always fun to prick the pompous. Likewise, it is a pleasure to recognise those hacks who agree. So, this week’s gold star and a pint of Old Unprintable goes to Paul Winspear, editor of the Stortford Independent, which no doubt admirably serves Bishop Stortford. The local MP is Julie Marson (Conservative, Hertford and Stortford), and as is customary Ms Marson is granted a regular column in the newspaper. She naturally sees this as her ticket to writing whatever gormless nonsense tickles her fancy, (rather like Pecksniff – Ed).
But not so. Mr Winspear requested the MP write about a specific subject, as is an editor’s right: Partygate. She objected, and instead sent in her column about train services, which the whips thought sounded fairly safe. So our man Winspear ‘empty chaired’ her: the column wasn’t published. He explained why in an editorial, adding:
“We are grateful to her for highlighting the fact that the first time she would not be directed on addressing a burning issue related to her voting against feeding hungry schoolchildren in holidays.”
Last week we pondered on Bim Ofolami MP (Conservative, Harpenden), and here he is again – another Tory MP of whom apparently the local newspaper has had quite enough. Or to be more accurate, not nearly enough. The Herts Advertiser complains this week that he is in the habit of ignoring them when they seek his views for their readers (and his voters). Has been for years. But the good men and women of the Herts Ad have had enough.
“Staying silent”, runs the headline, “the tight-lipped MP who refuses to answer controversial questions from the media”. The newspaper goes on:
“In light of his ongoing silence on any issue which might paint the Tories in a bad light, the Herts Ad is publicly calling him to account for his party, his prime minister and his government”.
Tales of village life. In his regular column in the Lynn News, James Wild MP (Conservative, North West Norfolk) mentions giving a talk at Thornham village hall. There then follows an astonishingly dull article in which Mr Wild sets out issues sent to him by the party whips with which to bore their constituents. He then gets to the ‘line to take’ on Partygate.
“Of course, there were also questions on events in Downing Street. Throughout Covid people across North West Norfolk have been asked to make huge sacrifices. Everyone who has done so is rightly angry at the behaviour that has been reported – and I share that anger and I have relayed the views that constituents are expressing.
“The Prime Minister has apologised and recognised that he should have acted differently. The report setting out the facts around events is expected soon and the Prime Minister will then come to Parliament to respond to its findings.”
What he does not touch upon is that those “rightly angry” brought their feelings into the hall. Voices were raised, according to those present. The good people of Thornham too had had enough. Mr Wild’s reassurances that the forthcoming Gray report would exonerate the prime minister were judged proof that he had lost the room.
Richard Bacon MP (Conservative, South Norfolk) has joined so many of his colleagues in apparently misleading the House of Commons. In an all too predictable attempt at saving Johnson by besmirching others, he told the Commons:
“Compared with being interviewed under caution for flogging peerages, as Tony Blair was… eating a piece of birthday cake is a relatively minor offence.”
But Blair wasn’t interviewed under caution. Blair himself said at the time that, had this been the case, he would have had to resign. So this was untrue and requires Mr Bacon to make an apology to the House. We must wonder when this may be forthcoming, especially since then his meretricious attempt at attacking Blair has rather backfired. Not only had Blair not been cautioned, but Johnson it seems might well be.
In any case, it seems unlikely that Johnson will thank him for bringing up the ticklish subject of flogging peerages.
Pecksniff notices that the rebels in Richard Bacon’s constituency were out and about again last week, hardly a stone’s throw from his house. It is hardly necessary to wonder at their response. Their contributions to social media were both immediate and unrepeatable.
Those protestors had as their main theme once more the ongoing gushing of raw human sewage into the river. Pecksniff understands Anglian Water have denied responsibility, though since the report in EAB the protestors have been back to the sewage outfall, where they report the stink is worse than ever. They also have new pictures which rather pointedly suggest its cause.
Nearby is a plant nursery, and the owner tells them his customers have been complaining about the smell for years. Clearly, Mr Bacon believes this is a problem that will go away and which he can ignore as he does most of his constituents’ problems. But it does appear that the MP’s political judgements here may prove to be seriously awry.
Supporters of a progressive alliance were always misled in their assumptions that it could happen by dint of some great charter of agreement between party leaders. That would probably be poor politics – it would certainly be impractical. If such an alliance is to happen it will occur piecemeal, on the ground where the politics is real and often red in tooth and claw.
So we look to a little noticed by election in Thurston in Suffolk on 17 February, for a vacant seat on Mid Suffolk Council. The incumbent was a Green, but resigned because she was moving from the district. At that time the Greens held 12 seats and the Liberal Democrats 5. Those 17 seats were exactly matched by 16 Tories and one independent, who formed an administration via the casting vote of the chairman, a Tory.
The Greens are desperate to hold the seat, but the Liberal Democrats are also putting up a candidate. However, a little bird, of which there are any number in Thurston, suggests that there will be few Liberal Democrat canvassers noticeable, if any. Also possibly a complete absence of their leaflets pushed through doors. And the candidate doesn’t live locally and so is unknown. As far as Pecksniff is aware, there has been no discussion about an alliance between the two parties, but is it possible that conclusions may be drawn?
Pecksniff hears of bad blood in Bury St Edmunds, where Tory MP Jo Churchill complains to colleagues of punters hissing “Tory sleaze” at her in the street.
There is some puzzlement as to what is happening at Breckland Council in Norfolk and their investment in Barnham Broom golf club. The council bought it amid controversy in 2006 for £7 million, then spent another £3 million on refurbishing it and other matters. But in 2018, perhaps because the number of golf-playing councillors had diminished, the council tried to sell it to the tenants for £6.5 million.
For whatever reason, the sale failed to proceed and, four years later, the council is about to sell the property for £2 million, to the same tenants. (Ah! So perhaps that might be the reason…) This represents a fall in value of 80% and £8 million in about 12 years, and a fall of more than two thirds of that in the last four. For some reason the council seem reluctant to discuss the matter, and in fact become rather huffy when the subject is broached.
Pecksniff is quite certain there is a straightforward explanation, which a simple phone call will quickly discover.
Pecksniff has little to add to this montage of Liz Truss (Conservative, South West Norfolk), except to add thanks to the Norfolk Progressive Alliance for its use. The spaffing of half a million quid of British taxpayers’ money seems to have failed to impress Australia though. Commentators there described Ms Truss as being both “demented” and “deluded”.
But also my dears, what has she done to herself? Commentator Ian Dunt accurately describes her as looking in TV interviews as though “she is wearing a mask of her own face”. Something has happened to her eyebrows since this picture, which give her a perpetual look of disbelief (as well they might). That look is bound to come in handy in the weeks ahead.
One of their Lordships’ House made his mark this week, Lord Agnew of Oulton, in Norfolk. He resigned from his position as a Treasury minister in what was describes as “a study in barely concealed rage”. The reason for his ire was the £29 billion his own government had lost in fraud, through what he described as “a combination of arrogance, indolence and ignorance”.
As Sean O’Grady commented in the Independent, “Snapping his red folder shut, he bid their noble lordships goodbye and walked out, briskly, shoulders high and with the air of a man who has just got his conscience back from the dry cleaners”.