The Tories seem to be clinging to the Uxbridge result as offering the way out of the disaster awaiting them. Without engaging in the argument over the merits of the low emission zone, it seems fair to assume that the intended charge provided enough of a fright for otherwise disenchanted Tory voters to forget their doubts. “Always hang on tight to nurse, for fear of finding something worse”.
So as Pecksniff assumed last week, the party is now putting all of its eggs into the carbon fuels basket (or perhaps tank), in the fond hope that punters will embrace a fiery Armageddon rather than suffer ten bob extra on the fuel bill to Tesco’s. There is of course no evidence for this hope whatever, as Opinium pointed out in their latest poll, and quoted by one of their own, Alok Sharma, president of COP26. But for some time now the government has pursued evidence-free policies, so an evidence-free election strategy is only to be expected.
This ULEZ theme is picked up by foreign secretary James Cleverly (Braintree), who quite clearly attempts to mislead the public about what is going on.
“It looks like Sadiq Khan will now ram through his £12.50 a day ULEZ charge into outer London…” he sneers. “He’s not on your side.” Only the introduction of ULEZ is a statutory requirement for Transport for London, as insisted upon by none other than Mr Cleverly’s colleague, Grant ‘many names’ Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield).
The government appears to have no way of differentiating between their own and the country’s interests. This is presumably why they find it so difficult not to award huge sums of money and unearned honours to their friends and wealthy donors: if the donors bung money to the Tories, or the government enriches their friends, surely that means they’re really giving it to the country?
But this failure in judgement is likely to find new avenues. It seems Rishi Sunak is keen to extend the ‘Prevent’ deradicalisation scheme for potential terrorists to include “people who vilify the country”. It will be a short step for any number of Tory backbenchers to claim the government’s critics fall into this category, especially journalists, and should be locked up. One hardly needs to point out this would certainly include contributors to EAB, let alone Mr Pecksniff’s Diary.
The idea will never be put into practice, of course, because it could never work, and the courts wouldn’t hear of it. Against a defence of ‘I love my country as a humane, fair and prosperous place’, what are the government to say? So just another desperate attempt to try to influence the headlines for a day.
A poll this week tells us that Keir Starmer’s approval rating in the Red Wall has fallen to +0. This in itself is no cause for criticism, (Rishi Sunak’s is -20.) It is what the party does about it which may prove a cause for concern. The Starmer team has been criticised for their caution – not least by this writer. So, what does a group of cautious advisers do when they feel their man is under attack? Are they suddenly emboldened? Do they throw caution to the wind? Or as seems likely, do they become even more cautious?
In which case Starmer will appear even weaker, more anonymous, further enfeebled by the fear of his team that saying anything at all may offend somebody, somewhere.
During a general election campaign, somebody in the crowd threw an egg at John Prescott at a time when he was deputy prime minister. He responded by trying to hit the miscreant. They grappled together before being dragged apart.
When Tony Blair was told, he laughed. That’s John for you. He wasn’t worried and he was right not to be, because the voters weren’t either. In spite of the faux outrage of the Tories, they laughed too.
Is this a salutary tale? Perhaps not, but it does suggest that our present crop of politicians are somewhat more anally retentive. Or, as the wise men at the Muckraker’s might say, they have their heads up their arse.
One thinks of that very senior Labour figure who sighed to your correspondent during another election campaign which was proving tedious: “What we want is more fighting in the pubs!”
“Diarist in Shock Violence Plea to Voters Horror.” Please yourself.
There are many voters who believe that the reason behind our present chaotic politics is the first-past-the-post voting-system. Labour has traditionally opposed any change, for several reasons. The voters aren’t interested, any change would be a procedural nightmare and so on. That may have been true, (though the voters are much more engaged now). Historically too, the party has seen each general election as a kind of Ragnarok: a battle to the death between the gods and the giants, Labour against the Tories. Of course, the change might mean we have no more Tory-only governments, but it would also mean the same for Labour.
The party has shifted its views too, and a majority of members now want the change. The unions opposed it, but many have now changed their minds. That only leaves the leadership… and Keir Starmer opposes it.
Now, Labour’s National Policy Forum has backed the change for the first time. That means it will be included in Labour’s policy making process for the next election. But in the euphoria, other reports on the decision have not made it clear that it won’t necessarily be accepted, and thus become part of the manifesto. So, there is no guarantee it will become party policy, but it’s another step.
Somebody used the phrase ‘rage farming’ this week, to describe what he expected to be the Tories’ next election strategy. He could be right, though polls show the voters aren’t very interested in culture wars. It may excite the backbenchers, but it annoys the punters.
That’s not to say the Tories won’t try. Which brings us back to what in retrospect seems a golden age: when there were honest Conservatives. Step forward Lord Deben, formerly Thatcher cabinet member John Selwyn Gummer. He retired as chair of the Climate Change Committee earlier this month.
His lordship expresses himself appalled this week at attempts to smear Labour over climate change, in which the Tories accused Labour of being “the political wing” of Just Stop Oil. He says this is “a much worse position [than hypocrisy]. We still get things like the absolutely unacceptable statement by Suella Braverman attacking the Labour party and talking about their very proper decision about not further expanding exploitation and extraction from the North Sea, and branding it as being outrageous and disgraceful.
“It has to be taken seriously and not used as a kind of cheap political barb.”
By the way, some time ago your diarist suggested his lordship is about to open a pub in Debenham, in his old Suffolk Coastal constituency, however implausible that sounds. It turns out the rumours weren’t quite true, but close. It is believed to be his daughter who will run the pub, a medieval building which was once a pub, but turned into a house. It is now to be a pub again. Even though he is not personally to be mine host, one would hope his lordship looks in occasionally to pull the odd pint. It is not yet known whether burgers will be on the menu.
At last, the peasants are revolting. Flitwick Town Council have written to their MP, Nadine Dorries, demanding to know when she will resign. (The time between her “resignation with immediate effect” which wasn’t is now greater than the time Liz Truss spent as prime minister.) She is now known as the ‘Mid Bed blocker’.
The letter is a delicate stiletto thrust between the ribs of the local Tory party, who in response have effectively disowned Ms Dorries. The letter is addressed to her, they say: their only comment. The town clerk, Stephanie Stanley, notes that Ms Dorries hasn’t spoken in the Commons for over a year and hasn’t held a local surgery since March 2020. Then, after reprimands over being more concerned with making money and abandoning the Nolan principles on standards in public life, Ms Stanley notes:
“With an estimated population of 13,800 people, Flitwick represents the largest concentration of voters in the Mid Bedfordshire constituency.” So don’t mess with us, she is saying. Then: “Flitwick Town Council has a long history of operating on a non-political basis…” But… In other words, perhaps that might just be in jeopardy in future.
Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill hold a special place in the memories of those working in Westminster politics: they were universally reviled. They were principal advisers to Theresa May during her time both as home secretary and prime minister, and were pugilistic, antagonistic, arrogant and high handed. (Hill once shouted at Philip Hammond, the chancellor of the exchequer: “Remember who put you there!”)
May was considered patient since she didn’t like to rush into decisions. But it later became clear that she took so long because she was quite incapable of making decisions at all. Those abrasive policies were down to decisions by her creatures, Timothy and Hill.
When they were finally disgraced, Hill left the public stage presumably to spend more time on her hobby of pulling the wings off flies. Timothy fought allegations over election expenses in the South Thanet election, but denied any wrongdoing. He was then paid a lot of money to write arrogant gibberish for one of the daily papers.
The reason why Mr Timothy is the subject of this diary is the news that he is on the short list of prospective parliamentary candidates for West Suffolk. Among the others are Neil Hudson, who was formerly the MP for Penrith and Border, and Richard Rout, deputy leader of Suffolk County Council.
So, from Matt Hancock to Nick Timothy? Frying pans and fires come to mind for West Suffolk, but they are not alone. Hardly had the champagne stopped fizzing as the good people of South Norfolk celebrated getting rid at last of the pompous Richard Bacon, than they learn the identity of one of those wishing to be his successor as Tory candidate and wannabe MP: David Campbell Bannerman.
He was once Nigel Farage’s deputy as leader of UKIP (and is not an admirer), and went on to be one of the party’s MEPs until we left the EU. Later he returned to the Tories and is chairman of the new Conservative Democratic Organisation (CDO), which is considered a front for the return of Boris Johnson. Ipswich MP Tom Hunt is also a leading figure.
But this involvement may put the mockers on his hopes. He and the CDO led the attacks on the Commons privileges committee in their investigation into Mr Johnson’s misleading the House. So there are many among the Tory ranks who are pushing Rishi Sunak to disbar him from standing.
Those from other parties now working with the Greens in local government are generally disposed to speak well of them, it seems. Though in perhaps most cases they are quite new to it, they make good and collaborative colleagues. However, one suggestion which has been whispered in the Pecksniff ear more than once is that they don’t always have what is delicately described as “the appropriate skillset” for their new tasks.
It is difficult to know whether this is true. Perhaps few Green councillors run businesses, for example, though that doesn’t make them as unworldly as the criticism is perhaps intended to suggest. It could just be a convenient criticism to make, since some might expect it to be true.
East Anglia Bylines celebrates its second anniversary this week, and to mark the occasion the editorial team were engaged on what one understands is called an ‘away-day’, or what used to be known as a works outing. Though how things have changed! No crates of brown ale for them, my dears! Only Winbirri Bacchus 2018 and a sumptuous luncheon on the River Yare waited upon by liveried flunkies.
The supposed purpose of this extravaganza was to give dynamic purpose and a new and imaginative direction to the team’s labours in the year ahead. It included the learned men and women you might expect, nomenclatura of their own professions and communities. Your humble diarist leaves it to you in the weeks ahead, dear reader, to make your own judgement on whether this proves successful.
Suffice to say, like all good
piss ups corporate bonding sessions, this one ended up on licensed premises. What to say? The phrase emblazoned above the editor’s desk is taken from an old music hall turn: “Risqué, but never coarse”. (She intends to have it translated into Latin, in order to try and give it more weight.) According to Pecksniff’s spies at the Muckrakers Arms that evening, she may need to have it printed on the beer mats.