Tees Valley mayor, Ben Houchen, was clearly looking forward to the appearance of Liz Truss on BBC Radio Tees this morning and went to the effort of plugging the show on Twitter yesterday. His tweet was accompanied by a photo of himself and Truss enjoying lunch together. Lunch, as could clearly be seen from Truss’s plate, consisted of parmo, chips and salad. Above the image, that most pressing of questions, “Who makes the best parmo?”
Some people, it has to be said, have been a little upset by what they see as the flippancy of the messaging, coming, as it does, at a time when we may be on the verge of a government-induced economic meltdown.
But Houchen clearly wanted to be seen to be matey with the person he didn’t back for PM. Hence the relaxed shot of him and Liz, having a laugh, and enjoying the regional speciality (the choice of ‘speciality’ rather than ‘delicacy’ is deliberate here. Any reader who has experience of the parmo will know that delicate is the last thing it is).
He may be regretting his choice today. Truss did her live phone-in on Radio Tees and tanked. As she did (allegedly) in other interviews she undertook this morning. But, in The Guardian at least, it is the Radio Tees interview that gets special mention. Hardy surprising.
You would think that when she plans to do phone-ins on local radio, she would expect to be asked about local issues, and have her advisers prepare her some answers to the most predictable questions. Or even Ben Houchen over lunch. Well not, as it turns out.
Radio Tees presenter, Amy Oakden, asked her about the ongoing marine die-off in Tees Bay:
“We’ve had lots of questions in about the sea-life deaths along the North East coast. Are you committed to another investigation and really sorting that problem?”
“ Erm, I’d have to look into that issue, to be honest”.
“Right. You haven’t already, then?”
“No, no I haven’t …”
But to be fair to Truss’s advisers in Downing Street, if they are relying on the national press for information on current issues in and around Teesside, they could be forgiven for never having heard of the crisis in Tees Bay. Let’s face it, the media can hardly claim to have been all over this particular unresolved environmental catastrophe.
The hapless Houchen
But where does all of this leave the hapless Houchen? Just consider the narrative behind the tweet. Put out a photo in the media and people think it’s current. So many of those looking at this photo as it was posted yesterday might have mistakenly believed that Truss had turned up on Teesside ahead of her interview on BBC Radio Tees, was welcomed by Houchen, been taken to the works canteen for a parmo (notice the plastic bottle of water on the table. This is no restaurant) and a friendly chat.
When she fell flat on her face, it was all over the papers that she never left London. The interview was conducted by live link from Millbank (as reported in the Politico London Playbook this morning). So that parmo was photographed on some other day (presumably before Houchen came out as a Sunak supporter and got his name on the bad list).
As some commentators on Twitter have been quick to point out, Houchen has nearly finished his parmo, while Truss has barely started, if at all. So what does that tell us about Truss? That she’s on a diet, perhaps? Or perhaps that she cares no more for parmo than she does for the North East’s most pressing environmental issues. Her two years as environment secretary (2014 – 2016) seem to have earned her little admiration, as Politico reported recently.
And Houchen? He backed the wrong horse in the Conservative Party Leadership election, used a tweet to mislead the new prime minister about what might be the key question in her Radio Tees interview, and, to cap it all, ate the lettuce with his parmo.
No serious lover of the parmo ever eats the lettuce.