In the 1970s and 80s I edited local newspapers in Oxford and became familiar with the former Labour MP and publisher Robert Maxwell, in the 60s referred to as ‘The Bouncing Czech’ by prime minister Harold Wilson. Fast forward and to Peterborough in 2023 where we have the peculiar phenomenon of ‘The Flouncing Cheque’, persistently wheeled out by the Conservative MP Paul Bristow.
Ably assisted, of course, by Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, for a few weeks more at least leader of Peterborough City Council.
The ‘flouncing cheque’ first appeared in January when £48million was awarded to Peterborough to regenerate the station (forget for now the money is being offered in £5m stage payments as that’s for another day).
To gleeful acclaim Mr Bristow and Cllr Fitzgerald created one of those presentational cheques beloved of anyone who has raised money for charity and keen to display their efforts for a nearby camera.
But it didn’t take long for the ‘flouncing cheque’ to hit the buffers once it aired in a promotional video by Mr Bristow and Cllr Fitzgerald.
Red faced officials in the PR department of Peterborough City Council publicised – then pulled – the video since it prominently featured a Conservative Party logo.
A council spokesperson admitted that that failed to spot the logo on the video they released on social media – despite the word Conservatives printed right across the novelty £48m cheque.
CambsNews was the first to pick up the political gesturing by the council on behalf of its Conservative leader and the Conservative MP for Peterborough.
“We made a mistake yesterday in the video we posted with our council leader and MP about the £48m coming to Peterborough for the station quarter – we’re sorry about that,” said a statement issued soon afterwards by the city council.
Undaunted the MP and his side kick promptly re-shot the ‘photo op’ blanking out the word ‘Conservative’ and went back to promoting their success in getting the money awarded to the city.
— Richard Kendall (@richardkendall) January 20, 2023
On his Facebook page Mr Bristow, by now re-united with the Conservative logo version of the cheque, took it for a walk.
Here’s how he explained it.
“£48 million for our city. You would think Labour would be happy. But they seem more concerned about my cheque.
“But I am proud of my cheque and what a Conservative government, council and MP have achieved. So much so – I have brought it with me on my Werrington pub crawl.”
By February the cheque was on its travels again – this time a 200-mile round trip to London. For a brief photo opportunity, it could be seen at No 10.
“Peterborough is getting £48 million from this Conservative government to build a whole new station quarter – creating a new gateway into our city centre – creating jobs and investment,” said Mr Bristow.
“So today I brought my cheque to Westminster to tell the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak all about our exciting plans!”.
Did the cheque get rested? Of course not.
In April, Mr Bristow reported the visit of “the super Levelling Up Minister Dehenna Davison (who has since stood down after saying chronic migraines had made it difficult, if not impossible, for her to do the job”.
She visited Peterborough “to sign the £48 million cheque this Conservative Government has given to our city.
“She wanted to see how we will build a new station quarter in Peterborough which will act as a gateway to our city and the whole East of England -all part of our plan to transform Peterborough into a high wage high skill economy”.
And so, to this week. And the cheque once more pulled from the boot of the MP’s car.
“The Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper came to Peterborough and – with our council leader – I just had to show him the station and our plans for the £48 million Levelling Up money we secured.”
Mr Bristow added, as the cheque came back out, that “the government sees our potential, Peterborough is a city on the up”.
Whether or not Mr Harper was right to combine an official visit to the city (he opened a new £5.75m GB Railfreight maintenance hub) with what effectively was a political ‘opportunity’ is for him to square with the ministerial code of conduct.
“Ministers must not use government resources for party political purposes,” says the code.
“Where a visit is a mix of political and official engagements, it is important that the department and the party each meet a proper proportion of the actual cost.
This will mean jobs, new homes, new retail and will make Peterborough the gateway to the East of England. 😊 pic.twitter.com/HIaH6m8QRI
— Paul Bristow MP (@paulbristow79) September 26, 2023
“The Prime Minister, and any other minister for whom the security authorities exceptionally consider it essential, may use their official cars for all journeys by road, including those for private or party purposes.”
Andrew Pakes, Labour parliamentary candidate for Peterborough, described it as a “stunt at the taxpayers’ expense”. He won’t be filing a complaint, but he did feel his opponent’s behaviour to have become “increasingly erratic”.
Missing of course from all these photo opportunities has been the role played by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority who actually pulled the bid together.
Mayor Dr Nik Johnson looks to have become immune to the disingenuous comments of Mr Bristow and Cllr Fitzgerald, possibly expecting the latter to be removed shortly in a confidence vote and the former at the next general election.
Meanwhile Mr Bristow continues to believe that his way, his party, are the only game in town.
“It goes to show what can be achieved when you have a Conservative MP, a Conservative council and a Conservative government all working together for Peterborough,” he said in his regular opinion column for the Peterborough Telegraph, the latest entitled ‘Our potential is there for all to see.’
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