John Street’s Diary

Written By: John Street
Published: July 29, 2017 Last modified: July 29, 2017

Long road to ruin
What a merry band is the Tory Cabinet. Ministers were ordered by Theresa May to keep mum about ministerial discussions. Following several leaks and rival briefings, she “reminded” her top team of their responsibilities. She might just as well have asked Donald Trump to stop tweeting. Chancellor Philip Hammond suggested colleagues opposed to his approach to Brexit had been briefing against him, and his spin doctors denied he had ever made inflammatory comments about public sector pay. Others whispered loudly that he was hell-bent on slowing down the Brexit process. An insider said: “With the PM’s authority so reduced it’s like the teacher has left the classroom and the teenagers have started a big rumble – and they are partly scrapping with each other because several of them fancy taking the controls themselves.” Transport Secretary Chris Grayling attempted to play down suggestions of cabinet splits and criticised those who have been briefing about its meetings. Tory backbencher Nadine Dorries tweeted that she’d rather see ministers sacked than another leadership contest. Let’s see whether such efforts to paper over cracks below the water line on the Tory Titanic last the summer.

Miss the misery
Outgoing Lib Dem leader Tim Farron revealed, in an interview on BBC 5 Live, that he made the decision to stand down as leader two weeks into the general election campaign, but did not announce his decision publicly. He said he didn’t want to “become the story”, after he faced intense questioning over his Christian faith. “I kind of thought, right you’ve got to put that into a drawer, don’t talk to anybody else about it, get on and do as good a job as you can during the election.” So much for his party’s claims, over decades, to be in favour of “transparency” in all things.

Let’s, for once, hear it for decent MPs within the “Westminster bubble”. Liverpool Riverside’s Louise Ellman was forced by Parliamentary rules to stand down as chair of the cross-party transport select committee after serving for over nine years, longer than the normal limit. This was nothing to do with plots, or question marks over competence. During her time she and the committee played a crucial role in exposing the VW car emissions scandal, pressed for better links from major airports to regions, exposed the failures of rail franchise operators, supported the bill to save and improve local bus services, highlighted the dangers of schemes for all-lane motorways without hard shoulders, and reduced the impact of coastguard closures. Over numerous inquiries, she has grilled government ministers, senior civil servants, transport chiefs and company bosses. Not a bad record. Incidentally, Mrs Ellman was re-elected as MP in the recent general election with the highest swing to Labour in England. Carpers, please note.

Politics have always been a rough game – witness the 19th century election riots which saw people killed and troops brought in to rotten boroughs to add to the bloody mayhem. Vile racist, sexist and homophobic abuse is disgusting from whatever source in whatever party or faction. However, the 1970s and 1980s – not a period known for political harmony – saw a gentler form of election dirty tricks. The late Harold Walker, a former employment minister, used to recall how he went election leafleting in Doncaster: “The Tories had someone ahead of us who was inexperienced and hadn’t pushed their leaflets fully through the letter boxes. At every one, I pulled out the Tory leaflets, stuffed them in my pocket and replaced them with Labour ones. I then came to an end-of-terrace with the door at the side. I walked across the yard and was about to deliver my leaflet when I felt my shoes were sticky. I looked behind and saw my footprints across the newly-laid concrete. Quick as a flash, I pushed through a Tory leaflet. I don’t know whether I got their vote, but I’m pretty sure the Tories didn’t.”

In the clear
During the same period, the late Eric Heffer was canvassing in Liverpool Walton. He approached one house and saw a large black Labrador sitting in the front garden. “I carefully skirted the beast and was welcomed in by a lovely lady who promised me her vote and offered a cup of tea. The dog followed us in. As I was served tea and biscuits, the dog went beserk, tore up the furniture and urinated on the sofa. The woman didn’t bat an eyelid and I thought that she really should keep it under control better. As I left, she said: ‘Aren’t you going to take your dog with you, Mr Heffer?’”

Stranger things have happened
Our comrade Kevin Maguire writes: “Best wishes to Scottish Labour leader Kezla Dugdale and Scot Nat MSP Jenny Gilruth after the pair revealed that they’re stepping out. Rows about who puts out the bins have nothing on breakfast tiffs about breaking up Britain.”

My hero
Kevin also pointed out that the millionaire banker Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who harbours “dangerously hard-right views behind the double-breasted pyjamas”, would spend £926,550 if he gets all five sons into Eton. But his wife got £7.6 million from the taxpayer to do up her ancestral home, Wentworth Woodhouse in Yorkshire. As Kevin wrote: “Austerity for the many, not the Moggies.”

Times like these
The times they are a’changing – but when are they ever not? Professor Mohammed Abdel-Haq, chair of the Centre for Opposition Studies at the University of Bolton, blogged on ConservativeHome that to win the next election the Tories need to learn from … Jeremy Corbyn. He wrote: “What some of the early polling analysis actually seems to show is that Labour did very well amongst voters right up to the age of 45, whilst the Conservatives led amongst older voters. A higher turnout in the first group and a dip in the latter is a likely explanation for the shock result. Whilst it may not have been the students alone who swung it, it would be wrong to dismiss the significance of their enthusiasm for Corbyn. These are forward-looking, well-educated people who are by definition career-minded, inquiring, and cosmopolitan in outlook. Those are characteristics shared by a much wider demographic, and we should ask what it is they found so appealing in the Labour leader’s message. A large part of it could simply be the attraction of insurgency. Anti-establishment movements are always appealing to those who feel that things are not right with the world, and who want to register their disquiet with those in power. Politics is often a matter of tone as much as substance, and at the election, Jeremy Corbyn projected himself as offering a fair, reasonable and compassionate alternative to an extreme, uncaring and out-of-touch government. Far from being put off by his angry denunciations of the status quo, many saw it as a sign of a conviction politician who cared passionately about the things and people they cared about. In seeking to counter the Corbyn insurgency, Conservatives need to learn that lesson, and adopt a more compassionate approach in their tone and actions.”

Something from nothing
Robert Halfon, the former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, urged the creation of a Tory version of Momentum to “build a younger right-of-centre support base. Such a fantasy project, indicative of current Tory post-election panic, must be “something a little different, something exciting and not bound by party collective responsibility.” In your dreams, Bob.

About John Street

John Street is Tribune's diary columnist.