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Christmas cheer choked !!!

You couldn’t make it up. Nor would you want to, what with Christmas cancelled for millions in London and the South East, and festivities shrivelled from five days to just one for the rest. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the government looks to be floundering as events spiral out of control. Saturday’s dramatic Downing Street crackdown left the nation reeling. And wiped even a hint of a smile off Boris Johnson’s face. While the medics’ megaphone diplomacy had been getting ever more strident about the idiocy of the planned Christmas truce, he’d carried on jabbering, ever more energetically, about preserving it. It’d be ‘frankly inhuman’, he kept insisting, to spoil everyone’s fun at the last minute. But the new variant virus stripped all that away. With the boffins telling him it could be up to seventy per cent more transmissible than the original, he finally threw in the towel. Uttering the words he so didn’t want to hear himself saying. ‘When the science changes, we must change our response.’ All this came, he said, with a heavy heart. And he meant it. But he, like the rest of us, are stuck with it. How surprised we should be is debatable. Though for days we’d been in Vicky Pollard territory, yeah but no but yeah but, polling evidence was already pointing to a nation getting the jitters. A YouGov survey suggested three-quarters of us weren’t going to travel anyway. And, of those who were, nearly all planned to go by car. The other quarter, however, are another matter. The same pollsters also reported they were minded to break the yule rules ‘slightly’. Meaning what? Drive to Durham, Dom-style, to test their eyesight? Check out the dogging scene on Hampstead Heath? Anyone’s guess. However, for the festive vestige still available, there’s a useful health warning from Sky’s Science and Medical Correspondent Thomas Moore. He points out that the people likeliest to bring corona home are not students back from uni, but the young ’uns still at school. The Office for National Statistics say about one in fifty secondary school kids have got it, twice as many as boring old grownups. Obviously there’s plenty of transmission in the playground. Or behind the bike sheds, depending how many risks they don’t mind taking. If they’re infected it’s generally not serious, as at their age they can pretty much shrug it off. Not so if they pass it on to granny. Or grandpa. And life already got a whole lot lonelier for many of them, when some thirty-eight million people were hoicked up mid week to the third tier. That was across UK. Northern Ireland’s lockdown looms. Wales has already shut up shop. Will the rest of us follow suit? Not even to head off a third wave of the pandemic, just to try and mitigate it? That is the fear. And, if it happens, Bojo’s mojo will be binned. ‘He did his best’ is what folk will not be saying. Did his worst, more like. As his messaging got ever more mixed, Fleet Street was sharpening its claws, with headlines like ‘The Fright before Xmas’, ‘Coward’, and ‘Madcap’. The Daily Star widened its killing zone, describing as ‘Crackers’ the World Health Organisation’s advice to wear a mask for the festive feast. Probably got a point there. How many other orifices are there, suitable for stuffing a turkey into? Best not answer that. Or even think about it. But, meandering around the paper’s broader canvas, Johnson’s delicately dexterous hand on the EU trade talks tiller hasn’t exactly borne fruit to any feast. In Brussels they’ve been sprouting bedsprings to get a bit of kip while waiting for something, anything really, to happen. Everyone’s dead bored with deadlines that come and go like snowflakes in springtime. Though parliament is ready to spring into action if anything actually does get agreed. MP’s have slipped off to their constituencies, but are resigned to/raring to getting/get back (delete where applicable) to sign off any kind of deal. Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has confirmed the entire shooting match could be ratified in a single day. Funny thought that, when you consider setting it all up was the work of almost half a century. If Albert Einstein were still with us – tricky, as he’d be nearly a hundred-and-fifty by now – but if he were, he’d love how relative time’s become. It’s not only the German BioNTech jab that’s managed to squeeze the ten-year process of developing a Covid vaccine into a ten-month timeframe. In America they’ve given the go-ahead to the Moderna version. While our very own Oxford AstraZeneca number could well be made equally available in the next week or so. That at least is a ray of glorious and much-needed sunshine. As the process of getting this one into the hands of the medics and the arms of the patients is hugely simpler. Meantime, three hundred and fifty thousand people in UK have already had their first inoculation. When they get their second, in under a month, they’ll be in the clear. And Boris Johnson predicts a ‘significant proportion’ of us will be sorted by spring, so ‘things will be radically different for our country by Easter’. Fingers crossed he’s right. Whatever the cost. The nation’s number-crunchers estimate the bill for buying and administering the stuff could top eleven-and-a-half billion pounds. Laying aside astronomical figures, astronomy is also looming large. Winter solstice this year is marked by a ‘Christmas star’, the like of which hasn’t been visible to the naked eye since Genghis Kahn was ruling the Mongols and spreading his seed. It’s all about the solar system’s two biggest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, moving so close together they look like they’ve coupled. Same as GK, with anything with a pulse. Rude man that he was. There’s plenty of speculation that it also, obligingly, gave rise to the Star of Bethlehem story. By happening the night a certain little bundle of joy popped out of mummy’s tummy. Miraculously, as she hadn’t coupled with anyone. Clue’s in the name. Virgin Mary. Anyway, be a shame to miss the light show this time, won’t happen again for sixty years. Meantime, the good people of Airth in Scotland are hoping everything going dark, as has been happening a lot lately, won’t happen again anytime soon. Because there was nothing wrong with the power lines, the techies were baffled. Until one of them noticed loads of starlings dancing on them. Weird but true. At this time of year they like going to bed together, again like Genghis Khan. Get enough of them zapping around and their little wire perches zap one another. And short-circuit the system. Once more, you couldn’t make it up. A good metaphor for twenty stinky twenty. This column will now shut down until the new year. Doubtless a relief to many. But here’s a cheery thought for 2021. Tony Blair may still be on the post-Iraq naughty step, but he was ahead of the game with his 1997 election song. D:Ream’s ‘Things can only get better.’ Think we can all agree on that … Happy (little) Christmas, everyone ! Peter’s column will return on January 10th 2021 Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.

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