A freedom of information request has revealed that, in March 2019, Matt Hancock, MP for West Suffolk and at that time Secretary of State for Health, stayed overnight at the country estate of Peter Fitzgerald, founder of Randox. Earlier he had officially visited Randox, an event arranged by the disgraced former MP Owen Paterson, who was being paid £100,000 a year by the company as a lobbyist. It was Paterson’s connections with Randox which eventually led to his resignation as an MP.
Hancock did not declare the dinner or overnight stay, as government regulations require him to do. But a spokesman for Hancock claims it was not necessary since the visit was not official, even though the visit to Northern Ireland and the earlier visits had been.
The following year, as the nation confronted the full terror of the Covid pandemic and the government were in full panic mode, Randox won government PPE contracts worth £500 million.
Over eight years Randox has donated £160,000 to the Conservative Party.
This week the High Court found that the government’s policy of failing to isolate people discharged from hospital into care homes during the pandemic was unlawful. The court went on to describe it as: “one of the most egregious and devastating policy failures of recent times”. There was no evidence that Matt Hancock, who was health secretary at the time, addressed the issue of asymptomatic transmission and its risk to care home residents.
Dr Kathy Gardner, who brought the legal case, said that “government claims a ‘protective ring’ had been thrown around residents at the beginning of the pandemic were “a lie”.
As a result, many thousands of people died who should otherwise have lived.
But in a statement, a spokesman for Mr Hancock said: “This court case comprehensively clears ministers of any wrongdoing”.
In fact a nurse points out that, not only were patients discharged into care homes untested, but were threatened with having funding stopped if they refused to accept them.
There is a great deal of unpleasantness in North Norfolk politics at the moment. Tory MP Duncan Baker has been picking a fight with Liberal Democrat council leader Tim Adams, with implications of financial impropriety regarding a council contract. Last month, a review by auditors Ernst and Young concluded that the involvement of two members of the council in the contract was “inappropriate”. Mr Adams has denied any impropriety, and in fact investigations by both police and auditors found no corruption or illegal activity.
The Eastern Daily Press have come in for heavy criticism on social media over their reporting of the story, with allegations of party bias towards the Tories. That is possible, of course, but it seems more likely that the newspaper missed an earlier letter in the fracas, and so had to include it later in a way which confused the story. (Your average hack never wants to give the impression he is off the pace.)
There is a further issue, involving an associate of Mr Baker’s, a certain Mr Payne who handles – or used to handle – Mr Baker’s public relations, and who is accused of insulting a female colleague of Mr Adams on the council. On social media he declared: “Another (swear words removed) party political stunt from this stupid woman and her cronies.”
There are accusations of bullying and voters darkly bringing up Mr Baker’s past sympathies for UKIP. But Mr Payne does not deny using those words. Mr Baker is now threatening legal action, though it is unclear what about. Pecksniff has a natural inclination to poke around in the dirt and find whatever is to be found, but mention of m’learned friends and Pecksniff in the same sentence prompts the immediate attention of the EAB editor-in-chief. [Quite right. -Ed.]
However, this is a week in which the abusive Mail on Sunday story about Angela Rayner has brought outrage from both the public and all sides of the political spectrum. It hardly seems good timing to be exposed as having any kind of professional relationship with a man who uses misogynist swear words so casually. One might have thought Mr Baker’s PR man (or possibly former PR man, depending on who you believe) would have seen that coming. Isn’t that what PR men are employed to avoid?
It is likely that narrow politics lies behind this. The local elections are coming up, and a Tory trouncing would play badly with Mr Baker’s chances of keeping his parliamentary seat when the general election comes around. His predecessor was Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb, and the last thing Mr Baker wants is a Liberal Democrat resurgence. Best jump on them quick, then.
Meanwhile, Pecksniff will be spending the weekend in Mr Baker’s North Norfolk constituency. What fun if we were to bump into each other…
And still on Duncan Baker, he just fails to win our ‘Reek of the Week’ award for the most hours of raw sewage pumped into rivers in his constituency. A creditable performance of 6,136 hours, but the clear winner is James Wild MP (NW Norfolk) with an astonishing 7,110 hours! That’s the equivalent of a constant spillage over 26 days! Congratulations, gentlemen, and keep on voting for even more raw sewage in the waterways. Your competition still has a long way to go yet – and whatever you do, don’t forget those hard pressed shareholders…
Though this is hardly any longer worth mentioning, dear readers, Oliver Dowden MP (Hertsmere) has made a prat of himself again. In a particularly oleaginous attempt to court approval with whoever Mr Dowden currently has nightmares about offending, he chose to commemorate St George’s Day and Shakespeare’s birthday on Twitter.
We will overlook the fact – as Mr Dowden certainly did – that George (as he was known to his friends) was probably Turkish with a background of killing people, and wouldn’t be let into the country these days, let alone venerated.
With all the confidence of a former culture secretary, our Ollie used the occasion to quote the famous speech from Shakespeare’s Richard II: “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.” Sadly, his grasp of Shakespeare goes little further than Noddy Goes to Elsinore, so he was in ignorance of what follows. Unhappily for him, Shakespearian actor Samuel West knows it off by heart. As he points out, it goes on: “That England, that was wont to conquer others, Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.”
In despair, and in what will prove a timeless comment on our present political farce, Mr West declares: “It’s government by fridge magnet.”
What, my dears, can our region possibly have done in a previous life to deserve Nadine Dorries? Readers will have no idea of the gloom that settles upon the shoulders of your correspondent each Friday when he reads her name. This week she is explaining how well Channel 5 have been doing ever since they were privatised. But as you know, dear readers, and Ms Dorries apparently doesn’t, Channel 5 has never had cause to be privatised because it has always been private. It was set up as a private company and it has always been a private company.
One can only assume that she takes her briefings from her predecessor, Oliver Dowden.
Now meet Councillor Steve Flood, who represents Sprites ward on Ipswich Borough Council for the Conservatives. If Councillor Flood were to appear on Mastermind, his specialist subject would be ‘the milk of human kindness’. Pecksniff has no way of knowing how accurately these views reflect those of his constituents, but any who are feeling the pinch a bit at the moment yet continue to smoke, eat or watch TV, may wish to reconsider where they put their cross this coming Thursday.
EAB appreciates its readers, whoever they are, and we are particularly pleased to learn that Ipswich Conservatives are among that number.
In a blog addressing the local election campaign, one Tory blogger writes:
“According to East Anglia Bylines blog here Ipswich Conservatives are only targeting two wards when in fact their target is taking control of the council. It also makes the claim that the Conservative vote is soft and this is also not true. From my experience the Conservative vote has never been so solid. and people are switching from Labour to the Conservatives.”
The blog to which he refers is a list of jottings from around the region, picked up by our spies, from murmured snatches of pillow talk, overheard in pubs or left in secret letter boxes. They are reports from those involved in the local elections next week. The particular note to which the gentleman takes exception reads: “In Ipswich too, Labour thinks the Tories have put their strength into two key wards, representing MP Tom Hunt’s core support. Labour is still not looking to make major inroads into the Tory vote, but believe by holding it at bay here they can threaten Hunt’s position in a general election.”
It seems this gentleman missed the phrase “Labour thinks” which should give a clue that this is – How can we put it? – what Labour thinks.
Pecksniff has had harsh words for Ipswich Tories in the past, but all of us at Bylines Towers look forward to civil relations once the government ceases being xenophobic, racist, anti-muslim, anti-masker, anti-democratic flat earthers.
We could hardly write of Ipswich Conservatives without mentioning that young scamp, Tom Hunt MP. A reader has drawn this exchange to Pecksniff’s attention, taken from the proceedings of the House of Commons Education Select Committee last month. The hearing included a session with children and young people.
Chair: “Would anybody else like to ask anything?”
Young person D: “Just before I begin, are we disturbing you, Tom, with your phone?”
Tom Hunt: “Sorry.”
However did Bim Afolami MP (Hitchin and Harpenden) achieve a reputation as a rising star? The astonishing ignorance of Tory MPs disclosed every week is enough to drive a strong man to drink, and after all Pecksniff is not the man he was. Perhaps people who should have known better just saw Afolami is an old Etonian and jumped to conclusions.
This week’s embarrassment involves a coruscating attack he launched against the Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition which runs North Hertfordshire District Council, on their failures to invest in public transport. Presumably this was his contribution to his hard-pressed district council colleagues.
But, my dears, it didn’t turn out as he would have hoped. To the hideous embarrassment of those colleagues, they know what obviously Mr Afolami doesn’t, that public transport is a county council matter. The county council is run by the Tories. Mr Afolami had launched a blistering attack on his own side.
It is perhaps no wonder then that, at the height of the election battle, Mr Afolami is missing. Either of his own accord or because they have packed him off, he will be spending a couple of days in Chesham and Amersham, talking to Young Conservatives. So presumably young Tories there aren’t out working the doorsteps either. In view of the recent by-election result, perhaps they have just given up.
Bim Afolami is one of the many Tory MPs in the region who have proudly announced they have been sanctioned by Russia. For some it may be the proudest moment of their life – somebody has actually taken them seriously! Imagine if you’re a Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds) or a Shailesh Vara (NW Cambs), for example, or Mr Afolami himself. You languish on the back benches for years, while your peers are sitting in ministerial limousines and being invited to Chequers for the weekend. And all you get asked to do is wipe down the spittle after Priti Patel has just stormed out of the office again.
Then suddenly, oh joy! Vladimir Putin thinks you are the enemy. Somewhere in the Kremlin someone has written your name on a list. How thrilling! It might almost have been arranged by the Tory whips to cheer you up. And of course, it’s important that you let your voters know what a dangerous enemy the Kremlin thinks you are. “Bim Afolami – licensed to shill”.
We couldn’t get Priti Patel (Witham) in person this week. She was busy pulling the wings off flies, so we have to make do with one of her creatures. Ms Patel was apparently invited to a James Bond film premiere, but overlooked to declare it in her register of interests. Perhaps in view of the last entry it was to sharpen up her skills for any future adventure behind the Russian lines. In any case, her creature was indiscreetly asked what James Bond had to do with her role as home secretary. He could hardly declare the plan was for La Patel to assassinate Putin, so he made the best of it. Apparently, it was because the film was all about “executive functions”. Which actually sounds rather as though it belongs in the entry about sewage overspills.
A voter in Hertfordshire makes her views known: