Last week, EAB visited Liz Truss’s constituency of SW Norfolk, to find out what her voters think of her.
Of those who had met her, it was clear they think her really not very bright. Further confirmation of this view appears this week with news that city traders are now calling our new prime minister “Daggers”, being short for Dagenham, which is two stops past Barking.
Another name, in homage to the 70s pop group is ‘Thick Lizzie’. Regular readers of this column and of EAB over the past months – particularly the recent coverage of what the voters of South West Norfolk feel about her – will know this is the impression we have often had occasion to point out. Future incredulous historians will grow rich trying to explain how it was that a woman so staggeringly ill-equipped to be a serious politician was so enthusiastically ushered into the top job.
Remember that to Liz Truss politics has always been a game. Pecksniff explained her values system in this diary two weeks ago. Not for her the long slow grind of trying to get things right. In her political career to date she has achieved almost nothing and attempted very little more, (too much like hard work) except photo-ops in increasingly bizarre poses. What she wants is acclaim and excitement. (She got acclaim from the ERG, and she is getting all the excitement she could want from the money markets.) She has no interest in detail, or – as she showed in those calamitous local radio interviews – in the public she is supposed to serve.
Somebody has dug up an old Liberal Democrat newsletter from Oxford University, from 1995, which you can read here. Describing the infuriating tendencies of one Liz Truss. “Liz has mad ideas,” it explains. “Liz shirks work.” It claims she has said the newsletter is too boring for her to read and perhaps she should write it all in future.
Readers will have read the astonishing polls this week, all giving Labour vertiginous leads of from 17% to, in the case of YouGov, 33%. Veteran Tory MP Charles Walker (Broxbourne) observes that if this lead were repeated at a general election, The Tories would “cease to exist as a political party”.
To give our region an example, EAB’s numbers man Stephen McNair tells us that 49 seats would change hands. The only Tory survivors from the whole blue-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see East Anglian landscape would be Eleanor Lang (Epping Forest), Priti Patel (Witham) and, ironically, Cassandra himself, Charles Walker.
One interesting development though is that, with such a strong momentum towards Labour, Liberal Democrat hopes are swept away with the Tories. The Liberal Democrats would lose St Albans to Labour.
But Ms Truss would lose her seat in South West Norfolk along with everyone else.
According to historian Simon Schama: “Truss’s Oxford tutor commented on her obstinate refusal to concede she might be wrong even when confronted by evidence that she was”. This fits a pattern. Ms Truss and her chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng – who are said to be very close – both seem to believe that things can only go wrong if somebody breaks the spell. So the emperor only has no clothes if there is a small boy in the crowd to point it out. This seems to be asserted by the immediate sacking of Tom Scholar, head civil servant at the Treasury, as Mr Kwarteng’s first action on his appointment as chancellor. Mr Scholar is no small boy, true, but the wise old head who would have pointed out that their plans were madness. So he had to go.
“Treasury orthodoxies” is what Ms Truss and Mr Kwarteng called the outmoded ideas Mr Scholar represented. Others call it reality.
One of the noticeable traits of Liz Truss has always been her willingness to splash out public money for her own comfort and enhanced sense of self-esteem: luxury private catering, wellness and beauty treatments, expensive wines and hugely expensive lunches at the most fashionable (and most expensive, natch) restaurants. And we’re not talking about the Downham Market Tandoori here.
But here is a curiosity: an unexplained expenditure by the Foreign Office during her time as foreign secretary of £1840 at the online shop of Norwich City. The money was spent in two payments. One was for £523.50, which might be a season ticket, though surely not in a good enough seat for La Truss. The other was for £1318. Was somebody – and we’re looking at you, Liz – buying a whole set of kit?
The thing is, prime minister, if you’re going to be pictured wearing the team’s colours, other supporters would rather think that you were at the match at your own expense rather than just trying to bludge favourability from the fans by fiddling your expenses.
EAB and then the Sunday Times reported that the new Liz Truss chief of staff, Mark Fullbrook, was actually not employed by the government but only seconded from his public affairs lobbying company. This caused a great deal of consternation, and as a result we are told by No.10 that Mr Fullbrook is now properly employed by the government. Which leads us to ponder all those areas where there will have been a blatant conflict of interest and just how much security clearance was he – as a commercial lobbyist – given.
Kemi Badenoch (Saffron Walden) has been traced at last, but she has left the country. With supreme timing, as trade secretary she is apparently in New York on the HMS Queen Elizabeth in order to deliver a keynote speech to an audience of US investors on “why the UK is the best place in the world to invest”.
Ironically it seems, according to the Financial Times, that first in the queue for what the paper calls “the UK’s rummage sale” will be French companies.
According to the polls, Ms Badenoch will lose her seat at the next election.
Bim Afolami (Hitching and Harpenden) wrote a wholly vacuous and self-serving piece for the I newspaper immediately following Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget last Friday, in which he proclaims that he is “reassured by Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s fiscal announcement”. In retrospect, he might well have wished that he hadn’t written it till he had seen its immediate effects on the markets.
But Mr Afolami will be a goner after the next election.
No doubt Tory MPs feel it’s much safer now to step out of line, when there is no much else going on. To be fair, Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk) has often seemed on the verge of doing something honourable, before settling for expediency. However, amid all the chaos over the economy, Dr Dan accused the plan brought forward by his colleague and close neighbour Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) now health secretary, of being “a mere sticking plaster”. He wants much more community-based care. His attack doesn’t mention more money, and though the response from the Department of Health does, it deliberately misleads by pretending there is new money. There isn’t.
If the polls hold good till a general election, Dr Poulter would lose his seat. So would Therese Coffey.
“With rising inflation driving up the cost of living, the highest tax burden in 70 years and forecasts of a recession, it may not feel as if there is much to celebrate at the moment.” So wrote James Cleverly (Braintree) in the Daily Express during the Tory leadership election.
His following paean of praise for Liz Truss worked though. She made him foreign secretary – one of the three great offices of state –without his ever having run any department before. (We can overlook his two-month stint as education secretary. Boris Johnson gave him the job at the beginning of the summer holidays and Truss moved him to the Foreign Office at the end of the summer holidays. It’s doubtful whether he ever walked through the door.)
So we can assume Mr Cleverly is celebrating, but one can only wonder whether he might wish to have rephrased his hearty optimism, given this week’s catastrophic events. One can be sure of one thing: whoever replaces Truss – and some are guessing in a matter of weeks – Mr Cleverly will not remain as foreign secretary.
Polls-wise, Mr Cleverly looks as though he may be for the chop as well.
A reader from France points out that, during the debate on last Friday’s ‘fiscal event’, Jerome Mayhew (Broadland) spoke vigorously in support of the hugely controversial Norwich western link, and asked Kwasi Kwarteng to confirm that he would help the project happen. Mr Kwarteng obliged, in spite of the other half of his cunning plan being to make swingeing cuts to public expenditure.
Mr Mayhew is another who would lose his seat if the polls hold good.
Last week the Bishop of Norwich, Graham Usher, claimed the Truss government is behaving recklessly towards nature and putting it in “grave danger”. He called their plans “an assault on nature” which demonstrates “a disdain for the planet”.
“The government’s rhetoric of pitting nature and climate action against investment and growth, and calling internationally agreed environmental protections ‘burdens’, needs to be challenged urgently,” he insisted. Some reporting has implied that this is just the odd church man going off on one. But those reports overlook his appointment last year by the Archbishop of Canterbury to lead the Church of England’s environment programme.
So this isn’t just that bloke up at the cathedral having a hissy fit. This is the entire establishment of the Church of England, of whose faith our new king is so keen to be the defender. Given previous pronouncements by Charles, one should not perhaps overlook this intervention lightly.
It surely takes a particular degree of political ineptitude for a government to upset both God and Mammon in the same speech.
[I take it the Bishop of Norwich, at least, is safe in his seat. -Ed]
But who is this we find coming out swinging for the government? If it’s not our old friend Richard Bacon (South Norfolk)! He says of Bishop Graham’s comments (and with a display of pomposity remarkable even for him): “It would be helpful if he would listen to what the government is saying” – sure it would, Richard, sure – “rather than these campaign groups. There is a co-ordinated attack going on by a bunch of campaign groups who have not listened to what the government has said”.
Dear readers, he is talking about you. If only you just listened to what a group of self-serving, ecologically illiterate chancers are trying to con you into accepting, all would be well.
There are many appalling MPs in the Commons, some of them even evil. Mr Bacon is not one of this latter group. He is just worthless at any attempt to pretend he represents his voters’ interests. If he ever represented anybody or anything it is no longer relevant. He openly admits to being rattled at a “co-ordinated attack”, so perhaps his voters could join the bishop in putting the fear of God up him and he can be trounced at the next election.
Readers may wish to note that Mr Bacon would be swept away as chaff if YouGov’s polling came to pass.
It seems we must return once more to the curious dealings between Brandon Lewis (Gt Yarmouth) and now justice secretary, and Ehud Sheleg, a man with what we had best call Russian connections. According to Private Eye, while Tory party chairman in 2018 Mr Lewis made Mr Sheleg co-treasurer. Mr Sheleg went on to donate £3.5 million to Tory coffers and subsequently was awarded a knighthood by Theresa May in her resignation honours list.
Whether through gratitude of for some other reason, this gentleman apparently went on to donate a further £10,000 to Mr Lewis. (If this is incorrect, no doubt Mr Lewis will tell us.) The Gt Yarmouth MP is fortunate indeed, since in all, others with similar Russian connections have donated about £50,000 to Mr Lewis or his campaigns.
It is not clear why he should be the recipient of such largesse, since Mr Lewis has been unwilling to explain. His voters might like to bring up the question and see if they have more luck.
How splendid to think that, if polling continues in its present direction, we may have to put up with one less chancer in parliament.
This week Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) took umbrage with the Environment Agency over their allowing a salt-water surge into the Broads, thus killing thousands of fish. Very worthy, and rather desperate of Mr Baker to try to curry favour with his voters, after so confidently voting to allow the water companies to kill thousands of fish by releasing into our rivers not salt water but human sewage.
Mr Baker is another Tory MP who would lose his seat if the present polls are to be believed.