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Terminal Turmoil?

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They’re all at it this week. Pushing, jostling and shoving, desperate to be first in the ‘I snatch the headline’ queue. But behind it all, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, there’s clearly no let-up for our beleaguered Prime Minister.

Rishi Sunak has managed to grab a fair few column inches with his call to end the sick note culture. With the number of folk off work long term now nudging a record three million, you can see his point.

However, the idea of transferring the decision whether to lay people off from GPs to specialist teams does sound more like a sound byte than a policy.

Where exactly will he find these, presumably, medically trained specialists? And with NHS waiting lists also at a record high, don’t they have enough to be getting on with as it is?

The fact that this story is unlikely to run and run points to a much bigger problem facing the Conservative party.

It’s so utterly beset with internal strife that actually making anything happen is proving increasingly problematic. Even Sunak’s hoped-for legacy issue of eventually phasing out smoking is indicative of precisely that.

Yes, he did get it through parliament last week, but no, not without a significant protest vote from right-wing laissez faire rebels who’re gagging to get him out.

And all the time the unpalatable dish of sleaze stories is sizzling away, ripping chunks off what’s left of Tory credibility.

Since the last election they’ve had to chuck out ten of their male mates because of lurid tales of sexual naughty-naughtiness.

And now we have the totally weird set of allegations levelled at the MP Mark Menzies. The Defence Secretary has had to admit he is ‘potentially somebody who is quite troubled’. A glorious understatement if ever there was one.

Calling an elderly colleague in the middle of the night? Demanding money, because he’s been taken prisoner? Cue Lewis Carroll:

‘Curiouser and curiouser!’ Cried Alice, so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English.

The bottom line is, though, that the man stands accused of nicking fourteen grand out of party coffers to spend on his own medical expenses.

And this scandal’s erupted less than a fortnight before the town hall elections, in which the Tories are expected to get an absolute thrashing. Losing hundreds of councillors, and, very possibly, a couple of metro mayors.

On top of that, the poll coincides with a by-election in Blackpool, close to Menzies’ patch, to replace former Conservative MP Scott Benton. He was ousted for trying to lobby ministers for cash.

You really couldn’t make it up.

Not like the Tories aren’t doing their damndest, mind, to get one back – by claiming the scalp of Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner.

They’ve managed to persuade the Old Bill to have another look at allegations of historic and highly contestable alleged infringements of electoral and tax laws regarding her living arrangements before she became an MP.

Right-leaning newspapers are gleefully jumping on the bandwagon, but it’s debatable how much cut-through this has with voters, given how impenetrable the rules are concerning such matters.

Basically, it’s small fry and a bit boring.

If, and it’s a huge if, if the cops do eventually pin something on her she will resign, and they’ll be popping champagne corks in Conservative Campaign Headquarters. But best not hold your breath on that one.

Meantime, Rishi Sunak definitely is gearing up for a little cheer when his Rwanda bill finally makes its way onto the statute book next week.

He might even wish to reprise one of John Major’s wittier lines from his troubled premiership. After he’d seen off yet another Tory rebellion over Europe he told a friend a ‘full gloat’ was merited.

Has to be noted in passing that the the often rather unfairly derided so-called Grey Man’s efforts at keeping Britain solidly within the European Union were not in the end crowned with success.

And Sunak’s victory over pesky peers who’ve kept objecting to his plan to deport asylum seekers to Africa may, likewise, turn out to be tactical rather than strategic.

That’s because even when, or if, the planes do finally start revving up for take-off there’s still the likelihood of legal challenges via the European Court of Human Rights.

Sunak has hinted he’s ready to give these guys the bird, but it’s no secret that the cabinet is split down the middle over the idea.

The government’s also struggling to find any commercial airline willing to get involved. Even the Rwandan national operator won’t go near it, for fear of looking bad.

So it now seems ministers are hoping to use the RAF, even though they’re a bit busy these days, what with the real fears of wider conflict in the Middle East.

It’s worth noting in passing what the final sticking parliamentary points actually are.

One, the lords want an independent committee to decide whether Rwanda really is a safe country. Given that the UK’s highest court has ruled that it isn’t, this suggestion doesn’t on the face of it sound so very unreasonable.

The upper house also wants an exemption from deportation for Afghans who risked their lives helping British troops during the war in their country. And who now risk their lives by staying there under the baleful eye of the Taliban.

Again, there might be many voters, including moderate-minded Tories, who’d think letting them come here is the very least we can do by way of a thank you.

On top of that there’s the eye-watering cost. Half a billion, and counting. On something that may not make any difference to illegal immigrant numbers, even if it does finally get under way.

Taken together, it’s no great surprise that there’s an increasingly audible murmuring within Tory circles that yet again Sunak’s savvy, that’s to say lack of it, is the root of their problem.

Just as he should have spotted months ago that the oddball Mark Menzies needed the heave-ho pronto, he could also have spared the party a lot of grief just by writing off Rwanda when he first took office.

The howls of right-wing rage wouldn’t have lasted anything like as long as the internecine squabbles that’ve gone on ever since. Plus he could have taken much of the sting out of the issue via two simple measures.

One, he could have used money saved to enable the Home Office to process asylum applications much faster. And, two, he could have bigged up his success, in using diplomatic outreach, to cut arrival numbers.

But there it is, he didn’t, though there’s no law against dreaming.

Case in point, Count Binface, who’ll be standing against Sadiq Khan in the London mayoral contest on May the second.

The count, also known as writer and comedian Jon Harvey, describes himself as an intergalactic space warrior and leader of the Recyclons.

He’s hoping his pledge to ban shops from selling croissants for more than one pound ten pence, and building ‘at least one’ affordable house will seal the deal with the electorate.

Plus, he reckons his promise to make Thames Water bosses take a dip in the Thames to ‘see how they like it’, and tying government ministers’ pay to nurses’ for the next hundred years will have widespread appeal.

Daresay he’s onto something there.

(Also this week – my telly take on police problems with protest marches:


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