SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024


Now who would you rather spend time with, Angela Rayner or Liz Truss?

Today’s story, dear reader, is The Tale of Two Lassies and inevitably examines the best of times and the worst of times. Or to put it another way: With whom  would you rather spend a week in a locked room, Angela Rayner or Liz Truss?


Both are very much in the headlines right now; Rayner is being investigated by Manchester police over her seemingly complicated home ownership arrangements and Truss in the news with her sorry account of those 49 days as prime minister (that’s a sentence I still find it hard to write — the PM bit, not the length of her stay.) Incidentally her publisher, Biteback, clearly is not confident of big sales. Its advance for her ridiculously titled tome Ten Years to Save the West was a meagre £1,500.


Let’s look at Rayner first — and I do so without attempting to pre-judge the verdict of police enquiries. I confess to a sneaky admiration, not because I much like her fiery politics but because she’s a real person, brought up in poverty by a mother with mental health problems who still cannot read or write but is inordinately proud of her daughter. Each Sunday she and her siblings would go to their grandmother’s flat for a weekly bath and clothes wash.


The Labour deputy leader left school at 15, pregnant and, come benefits day, would walk two miles from her council flat in Stockport to Bramhall, the smart south Manchester village (Cheshire actually!), where the charity shops sold a better class of clothes for her and her baby. ‘It was like Christmas for me,’ she told Nick Robinson’s excellent Talking Politics programme.


When she was criticised for going to Glyndebourne she pointed out that it was cheaper and less muddy than Glastonbury (it is) and that she has no problem with people being wealthy ‘providing they pay their tax’. She didn’t specify paying capital gains on the sale of a second home (or was it a first?)


Compare and contrast with Truss. ‘I was born in Oxford, then briefly lived in Warsaw, then Paisley until we moved to Leeds.’ Her parents were left wing and the young Truss went on CND marches and was taught to shout Maggie Maggie Maggie, Out Out Out! But they were distinctly middle class with her father professor of pure maths at the city’s university.


They lived in Roundhay, one of the city’s best suburbs (houses currently valued at up to £1.5 million) with its beautiful 700-acre park which Truss seems to think was very downmarket. As for her school, ‘the bog standard comprehensive Roundhay School’ (her words), it is now officially rated as world class and has produced many distinguished alumni, many more so than her.


Now she blames everybody for her brief and disastrous tenure in Downing St, primarily the Establishment, the so-called Blob and the Bank of England, that well-known hotbed of Trots. She blames Boris Johnson (or at least his dog) for leaving fleas in the No10 flat and bleats about not being able to get her hair and make-up done while there. Hair care was never a problem for her predecessor.


Truss currently concentrates her activities on the far right in the US who probably think she’s sane, sharing a platform with the odious ex-jailbird, ex-Trump-worshipper, Steve Bannon. Well, her constituents in South West Norfolk are fed up with her and her long absences, so much so that a real True Blue Tory is standing against her at the general election as an independent and might, just might, overturn her 26,000 majority.


James Blagge, 71-year-old brother of a fifth baronet and himself a former army officer and barrister (you can’t get more Tory than that) is determined to unseat Truss. And according to the Sunday Times so are most of her former voters.


Blagge is not your usual independent candidate or Raving Lord Sutch figure. He has 100 dedicated volunteers, a treasurer and an agent and has so far visited 800 locals, only five of whom say they will be sticking with Truss. One exasperated constituent, a retired teacher, complained that his MP seems to ‘spend all her time in America with fascists ... she has vanished from here, not been seen for dust.’


Sadly, in one way, this strange woman has something in common with our long missed and much loved former colleague the late Tony Fowler. Most will be familiar with Fowler’s anguished cry, on being told that the stone sub had fallen down the stairs en route to the composing room and broken his arm: Why does everything happen to me?!


The Truss version, on being told Queen Elizabeth had died two days after she had been sworn in as prime minister, was ‘Oh no, why me?’


So back to the question: Who would you rather be locked in a room with?


AFTERWORD 1: Truss says that contrary to the rumours in Tory circles she and Kwasi Kwarteng were just good friends. To which the reply went up ‘She would say that, wouldn’t she?’


AFTERWORD 2: The Tories and the Mail and MoS are perfectly right to pursue Rayner, it’s politics in a general election year after all. But as the Drone points out there is the usual dollop of hypocrisy. Not helped by two of her critics, Grant Shapps and James Daly, the party deputy chairman.


Shapps has form: He was accused of faking testimonials for one of his businesses and used three pseudonyms in his non-parliamentary career, Michael Green, Sebastian Fox and the ever-lovely Corinne Stockheath!  And Daly once said that most struggling children were ‘the product of crap parents’.   


An update on former DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson. When he and his wife Eleanor appear before Newry magistrates in 10 days time he will be in the sort of company he would normally have made muscular speeches about: an alleged heroin dealer and a man alleged to have been involved in the attempted murder of DCI John Caldwell. Donaldson faces 11 historical sex offence charges, including one of rape and his wife of aiding and abetting.


That’s the problem with those magistrates’ hearings, as any of us who once covered them for our first local paper will remember. You just never know what the story will be.


It appears that Brexit has taken its toll on the au pair business. When our daughters were small we had three of them, two French (they were very attractive since you ask) and, the best of the lot, a Persian Christian girl. Mahnaz, the Iranian, arrived after we told our second French girl that we were moving to a village 10 miles away.


‘But I cannot come,’ said in a very fetching accent. ‘Why not, you will love it there?’ ‘I am very sorry but I ‘ave fallen in lurrrve with Dominique , the au pair next door.’


Sacre Bleu!


16 April 2024