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A Rock And A Hard Place …

Updated: Jan 19




Autre jour, même merde. The Gallic shrug says it all. Just as during its Brexit wars, the Tory party is once again about as functional as a three-legged spider. The worst of it being that the Prime Minister didn’t have to make such a fuss about illegal immigration in the first place. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, he’s now well and truly stuck.


The Greek hero Odysseus must have wished he’d chosen another route when confronted with a whirlpool that’d sink his ship, and a monster that’d eat half his crew.


Same applies to Rishi Sunak, who could perfectly easily have lopped small-boat Channel crossings off the list of priorities he’s always banging on about.


Once again, it’s the old hacks’ axiom. News is not what happens but what gets reported.


Yes, folk appearing uninvited on our shores create pinch points on services in specific areas. And their hotel bills, while their asylum claims are being processed, cost taxpayers dear.


But do these things impact on every one of us like the burgeoning cost of living, or the worry about getting the right healthcare if we’re poorly? Of course not.


And why are these people holed up and economically inactive, often for a year or more, when their right to stay or otherwise can be sorted in a matter of weeks?


That’s easy to answer. Because the Home Office can’t get its act together. Not enough staff, training, or facilities to get on with the job.


Hey presto, Sunak decided, the very idea of jetting them off to Rwanda on a one-way ticket will solve the problem overnight. Because they simply won’t bother.


Yay! Result! Well worth the hundred-and-fifty-million pounds we’ve shelled out to the African state, a figure that could yet double, so these guys are ready to receive them.


This begs two further questions. First, how many extra bods could the Home Office have hired with that sort of dosh, to clear the backlog, and thus solve the problem themselves?


Second, will we ever get our money back if, as many predict, the scheme never gets up and running anyway?


Here, Sunak’s dilemma heaves horribly into view.


Of course, what with the polls consistently pointing to a landslide Labour victory at the next election, he’s got a weather eye on PM-In-Waiting Keir Starmer.


But right now he also needs to watch out for three-hundred-and-fifty other wannabe PMs-In-Waiting. That’s to say his entire parliamentary party.


Alongside his arguably ill-chosen ‘stop the boats’ refrain he’s got another plea that’s falling on every bit as deaf ears: ‘Unite or die.’


Around a hundred moderate-minded Tory MPs are deeply worried about the reputational, legal and humanitarian implications of his Rwanda wheeze.


But they’re pitted against something like the same number of hardline right-wingers who say just do it, and devil take the hindmost.


So how this’ll play when the legislation designed to make Rwanda feasible comes before the commons this week is, frankly, anyone’s guess.


While it’s far from clear what, if anything, an incoming Labour government would do about illegal migration, there’s no doubt whatever it wouldn’t go for Rwanda.


And it’d only take twenty-nine Tory MPs to take their rebellion as far as the voting lobbies and the government would have a defeat on its hands.


It wouldn’t be the first. But it would be far, far, far and away the most serious. Calling into immediate question Sunak’s leadership of the party.


Worth adding the rider here that the Tory whips, whose job it is to make MPs do as they’re told, are mostly newbies these days. Not really up to heavy-duty arm twisting.


No surprise whatever that Starmer’s lot are licking their lips while pretending all they care about is the nation’s welfare.


More to the point, the entire top Tory team is wringing its hands and contemplating the old saying ‘when you’re in a hole, stop digging'.


They’re also sadly reflecting on the rider to that axiom: ‘Even when you stop digging you’re still in a hole.’


The argument centres on the nation’s top silks ruling that Rwanda can’t be trusted not to mistreat asylum seekers, versus Sunak’s proposed law stating that they’ve got that wrong.


Talk about panto season. Safe, you say? Oh no it isn’t, oh yes it is.


There’s also total Tory disagreement on whether we give two hoots about international agreements we’re signed up to, and our own existing human rights legislation.


More panto: Oh yes we do, oh no we don’t.


Naturally enough, top Tories are pooh-poohing any talk of leadership challenges or a dash to the polls.


But here the fragrant Mandy Rice-Davies spring to mind: ‘Well, they would, wouldn’t they?’ Plus yet another famous saying: ‘Nothing is ever true until it’s officially denied.’


There is, however, a theory gaining a degree of traction. That the Conservatives actually are contemplating holding the general election in May next year.


Starmer’s thought police point to the Chancellor’s rushing through his National Insurance cut, leading to a feelgood factor in the new year.


They also say if the date’s already set before the town hall elections, which will probably be terrible for the Tories, it’ll be too late for them to boot Sunak out.


As to the likely outcome, the astonishing findings of a couple of surveys last week will have come as a shock to both main parties.


It appears the Conservatives are haemorrhaging pretty well as much support to the hard right Reform UK party as they are to Labour.


Though our voting system means the insurgents’ backing won’t translate into parliamentary seats, the finding might explain why Sunak’s been spooked into his Rwanda mania.


These guys aren’t in the same league as the English Defence League. But they really aren’t keen on Johnny Foreigner. Some of them, doubtless, iffy on the Scots and Welsh too.


Bits of this might also lie behind Starmer’s being rather nice lately about that pariah to the left, Margaret Thatcher. A nod to the right? Every little helps.


Without question it points to the volatility and polarisation of the British electorate. Anything but music to the ears of those aspiring to office.


Pianist Paul Barton, meanwhile, has a different take on what well-chosen beats and bars can do for audiences.


That is at least, if the listeners happen to be elephants.


After moving to Thailand decades ago he’s taken to performing at a sanctuary where his wife makes sculptures of the huge animals.


As soon as he started playing one elephant, who was blind, stopped eating and paid rapt attention.


Another would walk away if he played Schubert, but stayed for hours if he switched to Beethoven.


And, when he was tickling the ivories, a particularly moody male of dodgy disposition curled up his trunk towards his mouth.


‘He looked like a baby sucking its thumb,’ Paul mused.


‘Being from Yorkshire, I never would have thought I’d fall in love with an elephant, but I have done many times. They feel like family.’


Now how’s that for sweet?

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