Pecksniff’s Diary

In which Mr Pecksniff lays before his readers for their approval certain observations and speculations reflecting on the political life.

22 October 2021

We return to Matt Hancock MP (Conservative, West Suffolk) and this time his abortive attempt at becoming the UN’s special envoy to its Economic Commission for Africa. 

Matt Hancock UN Envoy offer letter
Matt Hancock UN Envoy offer letter

The job was offered, accepted, and then withdrawn within a couple of days

The withdrawal was just too late to save Hancock from the embarrassment of declaring his appointment on Twitter, or of several erstwhile cabinet colleagues applauding the appointment.

Matt Hancock UN Envoy Twitter announcement / Matt Hancock UN Envoy LinkedIn profile

Hancock’s excuse for the humiliation of having the offer withdrawn was that it was over a ‘technicality’. He couldn’t accept the position, he claimed, because it precluded his continuing to serve as an MP. 

This is clearly untrue.  Gordon Brown held a similar position whilst still serving as an MP in 2012.

Perhaps the real reason, hinted at by the UN, was the manner of his appointment – some question of ‘not going through the proper procedures’.  According to Hancock, “I was honoured to be approached by the UN and appointed as special representative to the Economic Commission for Africa”.  But what in practice that seems to mean is that, rather than the UN approaching him, it was the other way round.  

He was introduced to Vera Songwe of the commission when she attended the recent Tory conference in Manchester. The introduction was through Nimco Ali, a Tory activist presently embroiled in accusations of covid lockdown breaches with the prime minister and his wife last Christmas.

News of his appointment came only a few days after the conference – on the face of it a swift decision given the usual checks likely to be needed.  But then, Mr Hancock is probably not cognisant of the usual checks for handing out jobs and contracts, having conducted his tenure as health secretary without apparently having recourse to them once.

So he initially gained the position because of who he knew.  UN sources suggested that rules on conflicts of interest had been a factor in the decision of secretary general António Guterres to withdraw the offer.  But leaked documents showing that Britain and the U.S. blocked attempts by poorer countries to manufacture their own vaccines can’t have helped.

Nor can the unfortunate timing of the excoriating Commons report on his record of handing Covid as Health Secretary, released that week.

So Matt Hancock’s attempt to rehabilitate himself has ended with oeuf sur le visage.  It was one of those occasions when having friends in the Jockey Club wouldn’t pull the right strings.

There are strong rumours that Richard Bacon MP (Conservative, South Norfolk) may not stand again at the next election, and that this may not be his own idea.

‘White English people at the back of council house queues…’ ‘Immigration needs to stop and we need a good clear out of the wheat from the chaff…’  ‘Christians who now fear for their lives…’  ‘An armada of invading immigrants…’ ‘Send all the economic migrants back…’ ‘We have enough in Ipswich…’ ‘We soon be taken over buy foreigns no more please…’ ‘Stand your ground Tom we have enough in Ipswich…’

Where could these comments possibly be found?  Well, on the Facebook page of Tom Hunt MP (Conservative, Ipswich).  One might have assumed that he goes through the comments periodically, removing those which he deems unhelpful.  But then, perhaps he does.

Suffolk people may be understandably angry and disappointed to learn that Suffolk County Council no longer oppose the building of Sizewell C nuclear power station.  The council claim their position has changed because circumstances have changed.  Recently the Tory-run council has lost two or three high profile seats to the Greens, and cynics might consider that the most important circumstances to have changed for the Tories is that the county council elections are now safely over.

So what news do you have, dear reader, to pass on?  Pecksniff waits…

The stories in this edition of Pecksniff’s Diary all feature Tory MPs or Tory councillors.  One reason is because most of the MPs and councils in this region are Tories or run by Tories.  There may be those who consider that another reason might be the culture of the Tory party, which at the moment means it is rather more prone to talking out of its backside than others.

But any kind of absurdity or skulduggery among the political classes, of any party, is fair game.  So please send Pecksniff your stories care of:

Can you help us reach more readers?

Friday 15 October 2021

We begin with the views of a former Conservative Wisbech mayor, former constituency executive member of Steve Barclay MP (Conservative, North East Cambridgeshire) and failed Tory candidate for Cambridgeshire County Council, Jonathan Farmer. Mr Farmer was unfortunate enough to be held up by the traffic accident referred to, in which tragically somebody died.

His response on Twitter showed all the empathy and sensitivity to which we are becoming accustomed from some politicians: “If the police are dossing about for a day dealing with a routine road accident, then it is no wonder that crime is on the rise…  It still should not take more than 20 minutes to put a body into an ambulance and clear the road for traffic.”

It may surprise none of Pecksniff’s readers that Nadine Dorries MP (Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire) makes another appearance in this august column.  This time she is threatening to intervene in the appointment of a new head of the Charity Commission, to rebalance what she and her predecessor both consider the ‘woke agenda’.

The fact that to do so would be unlawful has not occurred to her, of course, but the Good Law Project is keen to point this out through the courts if necessary.

Therese Coffey MP (Conservative, Suffolk Coastal) apparently danced the night away at Tory conference, singing ‘Having the Time of My Life’ on the very eve of cutting the incomes of the poorest among us by £20 per week. 

One of the reasons for her high spirits might possibly be her expense bill as an MP of £201,000.

Dr Coffey is not a popular MP among the local hacks.  In fact she is scarcely on speaking terms with at least two of them.  This is a characteristic which she shares with two other Suffolk Tory MPs.  Yet she enjoys a huge majority among voters, even though it can be difficult finding any who find her an attractive candidate. 

This huge majority is a puzzle in so many constituencies, but perhaps the answer lies not with Coffey and her fellow Tories but with the abysmal performance of the opposition parties in these seats. 

Not so long ago, a Labour General Election candidate was forbidden (on pain of ruining her future political career) to canvass in her own constituency. She was instead despatched with other members as a humble door knocker in Ipswich.  So the two remaining Labour activists were left to fight an election when they didn’t even have a candidate.

Unpopularity with journalists is a trait Dr Coffey shares with our old friend Matt Hancock MP (Conservative, West Suffolk), in whom the courts are taking an increasing interest.  It is required by national security guidelines that all official correspondence should pass through official channels.  Mr Hancock and two of his erstwhile ministerial colleagues at Education were not persuaded by this and, throughout the Covid crisis and the scandal of PPE contracts, it seems they used private emails and messaging to conduct business.

The High Court however takes a more serious view of national security than apparently Mr Hancock does, and has ordered an urgent hearing into the matter on 25 October.

We turn to the correspondence style of Anthony  Browne MP (Conservative, South Cambridgeshire).  It’s always nice to get a personal letter from your MP, and instructive when instead you get a multiple choice response in which somebody in his office has forgotten to delete those choices not applicable.

A constituent wrote regarding Afghanistan.  The reply, hot from the desk of her MP, signed off with the sentence: “I do hope this answers your questions/reassures you/makes you leave us alone.”

The constituent has since received a grovelling apology, but Pecksniff senses le chat est en dehors du sac.

Lastly to the curious case of the disappearing Tories.  Though they hold a hegemony over most of East Anglian politics, they are curiously shy creatures, rarely appearing before their voters.  There have been reports recently that the party no longer puts up election posters and has difficulties finding candidates.  (In one council election recently, the candidate eventually coerced into standing didn’t even know which council it was.)

But now we find they are missing from our town councils too.  Or so it seems, judging from some curious omissions from the declarations of interest.  Three out of five Tories on Newmarket Town Council don’t admit their party membership, three out of five on Woodbridge TC don’t either.  Even though the National Association of Local Councils says they should. And there are tales of more.

How can we explain these councillors, who have always claimed to be Tory, who don’t announce the fact in their declaration of interests?  An oversight? A natural reluctance to admit what they represent? Or perhaps another reason entirely…?  Pecksniff will sharpen his quill to explore further.

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Friday 8 October 2021

In an attempt to ingratiate himself with his enraged constituents after the scandal of his resignation from the cabinet, Matt Hancock MP (West Suffolk, Conservative) announced to the world that he was to take part in the London Marathon, in aid of his local hospice.

Sponsors on the Just Giving page are allowed to leave comments, and many did, and they were far from complimentary.  It seems he may be even more unpopular than he thought.  Voters are even prepared to pay money for the opportunity to abuse him.

Meanwhile, there is more hot water for Hancock’s leading supporter and financial backer Rachel Hood, Conservative County Councillor for Exning and Newmarket.  We have previously noted (EAB issue 2: ‘Newmarket no confidence motion in ‘morally bankrupt’ Hancock) Councillor Hood’s histrionics at losing face. So one can only wonder how many cats were left unkicked in the Hood household when she found herself at the centre of the scandal over Suffolk’s deplorable failures in educating pupils with special educational needs

No doubt the parents of some of those children are her constituents, in which case they will know what to do at the next election.

There is a to-do in Alconbury Weald in Cambridgeshire over the failure of a much vaunted £10.5 million vocational training centre.  It was built in 2018 and closed in less than two years.  During that time it provided only 12 full-time jobs, at a cost to the taxpayer of £875,000 each.  It is estimated that the losses run to £8 million.

Though the centre was all glossy high-tech and there seemed a great demand for it from apprentices and businesses, nobody had considered whether it was wise to build it in the middle of nowhere.  So the official report into the collapse pointed out that it failed because the students couldn’t afford the bus fare.

Now on to Duncan Baker, MP (Conservative, North Norfolk) and his views on Universal Credit.  He writes to a constituent that he won’t be supporting the continuance of the £20 top-up because “Now, as the country unlocks, and the economy is abundant with jobs, it is only right we focus on improving prospects and supporting people back into work, particularly in sectors like tourism and hospitality where there are so many vacancies in North Norfolk”.

From which you might assume that he is trying to get these work-shy scroungers off their backsides and start filling all the gaps left when he and his government decided to give EU workers the bum’s rush, and sent them all home.

But wait…  He goes on to say: “most families are in work receiving Universal Credit. Yes, that’s generally right because whether you are in work or not, the benefit is to help people on a low income, not just the unemployed”.

So…  He knows that most people on UC are already employed, just badly paid.  Is he suggesting that they double up and take on jobs as waiters or lorry drivers as well?  Or is it possible he hasn’t even seen the letter, and it’s been copied and pasted by some junior member of staff who hasn’t actually realised that, under his editing, his boss appears to be talking horlicks?  For those interested in asking North Norfolk’s finest to explain, the very best (and quite the most public) way of approaching him would be via Twitter.  You can find him at @duncancbaker.

To the surprise of everybody, including perhaps herself, Nadine Dorries, MP (Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire) has been appointed culture secretary.  This promotion was no doubt due to her often expressed outrage at all the lefties corrupting the BBC.

Nadine Dorries nepotism
Nadine Dorries’ nepotism. Photo by Chris McAndrew via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

Hardly had La Dorries got her knees under the desk than she quickly warmed to her theme, attacking the BBC’s nepotism, and declaring that the corporation is staffed by people ‘whose mum and dad worked there’.  She might have had a point, but she was perhaps not the ideal person to make it…

It seems she had employed both her daughters at a cost of up to £80,000 of taxpayers’ money to work in her office, in spite of one of them living nearly a hundred miles away.

The stories in this edition of Pecksniff’s Diary all feature Tory MPs or Tory councillors.  One reason is because most of the MPs and councils in this region are Tories or run by Tories.  There may be those who consider that another reason might be the culture of the Tory party, which at the moment means it is rather more prone to talking out of its backside than others.

But any kind of absurdity or skulduggery among the political classes, of any party, is fair game.  So please send Pecksniff your stories care of:

Can you help us reach more readers?