It took EAB last week to expose the Tories’ scam of having postal vote applications returned to them by pre-paid envelope, rather than to the electoral registration officer.
First the Tories denied it was improper, then so did the Electoral Commission. “Within the guidelines” was their interpretation. Yet what possible purpose could it serve other than to provide electoral advantage? All those lovely postal vote applications delivered by the sack full to local Tory HQ instead of the council offices: what could possibly go wrong?
But though the Commission couldn’t see the problem, the voters made clear they could. And perhaps that’s what caused the Commission to change its mind. The i newspaper reports that “Doubts over whether postal vote applications being sent to thousands of homes across the country by the Conservatives are being handled legally have been raised by the Electoral Commission”.
So let us follow this trajectory. The electoral advantage would lie in finding some way – we won’t go into details – by which the Tories would emerge with more postal votes than their opponents. However this is achieved, we are way beyond what the guidelines might say; we are in the realm of a serious criminal offence under the Representation of the People Act.
It would be worthwhile pointing out to any Tory canvasser, dear reader, that wittingly or otherwise, they may be involved in a serious criminal conspiracy which might lead to somebody ending up in jail.
In fact, as a follow-up to our story on the postal vote applications scandal, a reader in Hitchin writes:
“I rang them (the Conservatives) to complain, and was told the letters had been sent in error. Mine addressed me by name! They said an apology would be sent out. I am still waiting. Sadly, it is not illegal although I don’t understand why not. It is definitely immoral. Twisty, nasty behaviour.”
So now it seems we are to understand that all these thousands of letters across the country have been sent out in error, a ‘fact’ not mentioned by the Electoral Commission, who seemed at least to think the whole thing is kosher. This must surely be an acute embarrassment to them, since it seems they are embarrassingly ill-informed. What sort of error was made is not made clear, all the more odd since the letters are individually addressed to the voter. And this error is apparently so significant that all those thousands of voters are to receive letters of apology,
plus offers of a lucrative government contract via the VIP lane next time one comes up. Another ‘fact’ of which it seems the Commission knows nothing.
There is talk of a Tory renaissance, though with little evidence. It’s true that in Rishi Sunak they have a leader who is neither a pathological liar nor certifiably insane; but it’s also true they would have been hoping for more to show for it by now. His own personal standing in the polls is dreadful, though not as appalling as his predecessor, which counts as progress. His government’s competence in delivering his policies could hardly be lower – approval ratings in single figures in some cases – and when Mr Sunak was joined by Suella Braverman for a walkabout in Chelmsford city centre this week they were heckled, (though it was edited out of the BBC report).
But everything still hangs on Tory unpopularity. Labour makes little progress. Your diarist has advised a head of state, a prime minister and several ambassadors on being accepted by the electorate. The first rule is you have to be visible: you have to say stuff. The voters have to know you exist, even if they don’t agree with your every word. So the first stage isn’t to be loved: it’s to be known, and to have opinions which you uphold. With boldness comes public interest.
Incidentally, one of the ways in which Rishi Sunak might build better relations with his voters is to build better relations with the EU. There was a time when such a suggestion would have incurred the wrath of the all-powerful Tory ERG, but no more. The ERG is all but disbanded, its members are jumping ship, and remaining Brexiters turn a blind eye to such suggestions. They know their time has gone.
The British political class and the whole of the British media however are squeamish about mentioning this to the British public. We are not to be told. So we miss what the rest of the world’s press is discussing openly. Take this for instance from the Japan Times: “Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has privately asked senior ministers and officials to draw up plans for rebuilding the U.K.’s relations with the European Union after years of acrimony since Brexit.”
The rest of the world knows it’s over, but our own politicians can’t bring themselves to tell us. The question is: why? At least one answer would be shocking and would go some way to explaining why we are such misfits in the world.
There is news of an embarrassing loss of face for James Cleverly (Braintree), whose star has seemed in the ascendant under Rishi Sunak. Pecksniff has reported previously that Mr Cleverly was opposed to a former RAF base in his constituency, Wethersfield, being used to house refugees. He was not alone in seeing an isolated rural location with no services or transport to reach them as being wholly unsuitable.
But not as unsuitable, it appears, as putting refugees up in hotels in urban situations, where they are much more visible and an ongoing annoyance to those voters the Tories are so relying on in the forthcoming elections. So all refugees are to be uprooted and transported to something resembling a concentration camp, where they can be left to moulder, abandoned.
In this scenario, Wethersfield becomes a prime site. So Mr Cleverly loses, and on Sunday chose not to attend the local community meeting about it – an absence which predictably didn’t go down well with his constituency. Confronted with his angry voters, his only recourse would have been to back them and confront his government instead.
What to do about Tom Hunt (Ipswich)? It would be possible to write a diary entirely about him every week, but it would also be extremely unpleasant. Pecksniff is of a delicate disposition, and the prospect of squelching into the kind of unpleasantness and among the kind of disagreeable people with whom he surrounds himself, is enough to drive your diarist to drink. So for the time being we shall paddle around the murky edges, and see what next week brings.
He protested against protestors inconveniencing the good people of Ipswich and wonders why the police don’t step in.
“The powers are there,” says Mr Hunt, “but clearly additional steps are needed to ensure there is a firmer steer.” It would probably come as a shock to Mr Hunt to learn that we do not have politically controlled police in this country, and it is not for the government to dictate police policy.
It seems Tom Hunt is fast becoming Billy No-Mates. He is driven to attacking his own local press for what he considers bias, for a report that local (Tory) MPs won’t return phone calls from journalists. Then in a desperate search for opportunities in which he can appear to be doing something, he has been writing to schools offering to make an appearance among them, rather like Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition one imagines. But Pecksniff hears this is by no means a general cause of high fives among teachers, who would much rather avoid the embarrassment and, of course, the prospect of giving him free publicity.
This weekly piecemeal reporting of Mr Hunt’s idiocies must cease. We shall see what we shall see.
Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) is the environment secretary, and hardly a day goes by without her being mocked or traduced. But ça glisse comme l’eau sur l’aile d’un canard as we say at the Muckrakers. This week there was another in that apparently interminable series of appearances before a Commons select committee, in which a gormless Dr Coffey squats in front of angry MPs like the mayor of Thebes confronting Alexander the Great and his ravening army and telling them if they’ve come for the market it’s not till Tuesday.
This time she was being quizzed by Barry Gardiner about whether she felt supermarket profits could have increased by 97% since the lockdown legitimately.
Dr Coffey could apparently see no conceivable reason why she was being asked these questions. What on earth had it to do with her? Free lunches she understands, but Tesco?
Mr Gardiner gave every impression of a man driven to the edge of unparliamentary language, and for once it was possible to sympathise with him. Best for Britain observes: “We’ve all had colleagues like Thérèse Coffey, who seems to pour three times the energy It would take to do her job, not doing it.”
Somebody has also sent Pecksniff a film of Therese Coffey appearing before another select committee, in which she calls criticism of her lack of interest in keeping the nation fed “pathetic”.
Now bear in mind if you will that the select committee is there to scrutinise the policies of the government – that is its purpose – yet Dr Coffey openly defies it and calls it “pathetic”. A select committee has quasi-judicial powers. Surely it should be possible to request Dr Coffey to go out and come in again, and in a more conciliatory frame of mind. Or just shout at her – shouting would be good. Anything to convey the rage which Dr Coffey induces in the British public.
Everybody’s favourite Pollyanna Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds) poses with representatives of Anglia Water and the minister responsible for letting them foul our rivers with raw sewage. Then with the wisdom of Cato the Elder, she announces sweetly: “Water is essential for people, nature and the economy”!
My dears, it is presumably for these oracular insights that the good people of Bury St Edmunds elected Ms Churchill to represent them. One does have to worry whether universal suffrage really was such a good idea after all.
Word from the front line. Pecksniff’s spies from among the region’s army of party canvassers and those who scrutinise them send back their carrier pigeons bearing messages on the story so far. It seems there are several points of interest.
There is almost complete ignorance of the government’s new vote-rigging legislation requiring voters provide proof of identity. That suggests on election day there will be anger and chaos at polling stations up and down the country.
Another almost constant is the rejection of the Conservatives by their usual voters. There is some transfer to other parties, though not so many direct to Labour, but the disaffection with the Tories among their core vote seems visceral.
Refugees and their boats does not often crop up, but when it does the anger expressed is concentrated on the government and its incompetence at dealing with the situation.
And of course, there is always pot holes.
Rumours of Tory panic in not having enough candidates for the local elections seem born out. In East Suffolk they have only found one candidate for Woodbridge, meaning they will not contest the other seat. There are also rumours of several existing councillors standing down. In North Herts, the party has circulated its voters in its search for candidates, even being prepared to accept those who aren’t party members. In East Cambs one prominent councillor stood down at the 11th hour, leaving no time to find a replacement. (The overall result is likely to be very close between Tories and LibDems, so this could be critical.) In Huntingdon, Breckland and North Norfolk too they are said to be scratching around for people prepared to act as an aunt sally.
Councillor Steve Count, who is leader of the Conservative group on Cambridgeshire County Council, suggests they need a “higher calibre of political candidate”, which has caused some mirth, coming from him. But chance would be a fine thing. In practice they are too often happy to accept the dross.
Which brings us to neatly to our next diary entry. “Sorry” is still the hardest word for many Tories. Today my excellent colleague J J Jackson wrote “Just say sorry and go!”, about the inability of those who have wrecked the country over these past 13 years to accept any kind of responsibility.
This week we have another example. Councillor Sian Dawson is a Tory member of Babergh District Council in Suffolk. Last year Cllr Dawson was found to have committed three breaches of the Suffolk councillors code of conduct by making untrue claims in a report to Hadleigh town council.
She was held to have made “false, derogatory, disrespectful and offensive comments”, but failed to attend the hearing on her conduct. She also failed to apologise in writing, as required, and now faces legal action for defamation. And she has previous. Last year she was thrown off the planning committee for breaking its rules; and prior to being elected a councillor she was also forced to resign as a magistrate after being found to have abused her position.
My dears, where do they find them?
Our thanks go to Hadleigh Hub News for the dobbing in.
They come thick and fast now. Let Pecksniff introduce you, dear reader, to Councillor Peter Cawthron of Tendring District Council. Cllr Cawthron represents Coppins ward in Clacton. No doubt his voters will cheer his honesty in declaring last year: “In eight years I’ll have got about £46,000 money for nothing, albeit taxable. I’ll stand again next year for another £24,000 for doing nothing for four years and lots of chances to f*ck with petty authority i.e. the Council. I’m, literally, the least productive Councillor in the UK out of more than 20,000”.
Cllr Cawthron also announces “I’m a racist. And a racialist. And a Nazi,” and he has the views on Jews and on women that one might expect.
Mr Cawthron represents Ukip and is up for re-election this year.
With such a preening narcissist as Liz Truss as their MP, we might assume the good people of South West Norfolk would be in full warpaint and ready to overthrow her at the next election. But there is not a whimper. They can muster 200 to mob Thetford Town Council over an imaginary and malevolent global conspiracy called the New World Order which they claim is trying to take over; but nobody to confront a malevolent conspiracy called the Tories which already has. An apparent comedian, Joe Lycett, has placed a full-page advertisement in the Eastern Daily Press, taunting her.
Really my dears, the editor dislikes your diarist poking readers with a stick, but what is wrong with us? The somnambulant British doze while the Tories stuff their pockets with what’s left before they are tossed out on their ear; and meanwhile the French have literally set their country ablaze at the prospect of working for two years longer. What can possibly change our attitudes to our rights and our position in life?
Pecksniff has a theory that change will come when somebody somewhere decides they are not going to bow or curtsey to the royal family.
Britain seems to have sold off cheaply much of what it once owned, or had it stolen from under our noses by the government and its friends. Meanwhile, the predators gather for the rest. Cambridge is one of our success stories, but it has been sobering to read excited promotions in the Hong Kong property press about how much money can be made from investing in Cambridge residential property; i.e. charging exorbitant rents for the people who live there.
Now here is another: “A pool of overseas investors embracing territories such as Russia, Dubai, Japan and Hong Kong is injecting big money in residential and commercial property schemes in or around Cambridge UK innovation hotspots,” burbles one sales pitch.
And to provide the icing on the cake: “They are operating through London and Moscow-based real estate consultancy AZ Real estate.”
There is no law against overseas investors buying up residential property here, though perhaps there ought to be in making millions for Moscow. But it will be galling to Cambridge residents trying to get a foot on the housing ladder or afford the rent, to know that those prices are so high in order to keep disgraced Russian oligarchs and Hong Kong billionaires in the style to which they have become accustomed; and presumably the Russian economy ticking over nicely.
As the editor of Business Weekly Tony Quested explained, there is a lot of overseas interest in property schemes in or around Cambridge. He features in the list of stakeholders consulted for the business case for Cambridge&, hidden away on p 67 of GCP's June 2020 Board papers. pic.twitter.com/BYtwkoExRB— Wendy Blythe (@greenarteries) March 23, 2023
On the subject of the wilder shores of capitalism, it is pointed out by a colleague that government money for the Thames Freeport will be administered by the local authorities. But Tilbury is in Thurrock, which council (as EAB has pointed out) has just gone bust owing half a billion quid and without any good explanation of quite how that could have happened. It is possible that some might see this as a not wholly appropriate organisation with whom to entrust tens of millions more.
And on the subject of Thurrock, it is clear that at least some of its citizens have clear views on the collapse of the country and the part played in it by their MP, Jackie Doyle-Price. These photos were taken of an advertising hoarding the property of that fine upstanding organ, the Thurrock Gazette.
Now here is a curiosity… A beautiful historic building with no further immediate purpose and in an inconvenient place, which has not been demolished at dead of night while everybody is asleep.
Those responsible for this curious oversight are Ipswich Borough Council, and the building concerned is a Tudor merchant’s house on the hideous – and hideously-named – gyratory, past the town’s historic waterfront. The gyratory is designed to move cars with as much noise and inconvenience to pedestrians as possible. And in the middle of this blizzard of particulates stands this rather noble house, on which the council has very properly lavished money and care.
Its new tenants are a community care company, who we shall name simply because of their gracious sentiment: Vital Healthcare Services. They say: “It feels like it was meant to be our home. We promise to care for it as we care for our clients.”
Thanks this week go to Unani ni Conin, Jess Knopp & Karl Whiteman
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