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Glass half full? Half a mo ....

After a week in which stuff didn’t happen, a panoply of possibilities loom. We aren’t, after all, under collective house arrest. And the queen hasn’t had to box Bojo’s ears for breaking international law. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, Conservative MP’s are limbering up to give him a bloody nose instead. Hardly anyone disputes there’s a second wave of coronavirus. Scientists have been urging a new national lockdown. But Boris bottled it. Instead he settled for tweaks to existing guidelines. Time, gentlemen, please, (and ladies, excuse me) strictly ten o’clock. Work from home. Obligatory facemasks. And hefty fines for refuseniks. A lightning YouGov poll suggested three-quarters of us are up for it. But nearly half believe it doesn’t go far enough. However, increasing numbers of Tory backbenchers are moving towards an ‘up with this we’ll not put’ posture. Some are grumbling about shares held by the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, in a vaccine-developing company. Conflict of interest, surely? More importantly, they’re threatening to force a vote demanding parliament has a say in new restrictions. Whatever they are. More than enough are are signed up to overturn the government’s eighty-strong majority. In theory, at least. One rebel’s already reprised Sylvester Stallone in the punch-up movies. ‘Rocky fights. Rocky wins. Dull then, dull now.’ Anyone who’s been anywhere near parliament in the last thousand years or so will confirm it slows the process of government. And right now nimble footwork is key. Or should be. In fact, even with the freedom to trash traditional methods, Number Ten’s often been spectacularly clumsy. The, ahem, ‘world-beating’ track and trace system springs to mind. Or, rather, drags itself slowly and painfully off the mat. Six months down the line the essential app has been launched. But the accompanying hiccups are looking more like severe case of projectile vomiting. It uses Bluetooth to keep track of who’s been in contact with whom. But, as it relies on people finding out if they’ve got Covid-19, it’s a bit shafted by the huge problems in the national testing system. Not least of which is that fewer than one in three people who get checked receive their result within twenty-four hours. Then there’s the matter of what phone you have. If it’s more than five years old the app won’t work. And poor old granny? She may still have one of those relics meant for just talking to people instead of guiding spaceships to the moon. Loony times. Remember how this time last week you were reading about the constitutional crisis over the Brexit withdrawal bill? Screaming headlines everywhere. Where did that go then? Simples. Bojo bought off most of the rebels with a compromise and batted the whole thing into the long grass. Proves you should never believe what you read in the papers. The old saying in the trade being ‘make it fast, make it tight, make it up’. A joke, of course. (Up to a point, Lord Copper.) But hacks have to respond to what’s happened, not what was expected. They can’t be blamed for the U-turns of history. Mental malleability is a key qualification. But writing a column is not like running a country. Which brings us back to Bojo. He’s spent far more time – and earned far more money – churning out copy than producing policies. And it’s a vicious challenge piloting a pandemic no one would wish on anyone. Still, it’s an open question. Whether he’s the right man in the right place right now. Cue Labour leader Keir Starmer, who told his party’s virtual conference last week Boris Johnson is ‘just not up to the job’. He proclaimed the crisis management of care homes a ‘national scandal’. Adding a second lockdown would be a ‘government failure, not an act of God’. Sir Keir contrasted his own record as a top silk with Bojo’s as a ‘flippant’ newspaperman. At the same time, he subtly nudged his own party further from its Corbyn-led posture to something more in his own image. As one Labour adviser discreetly if colourfully put it: ‘the only way to f**king move is right.’ You read it here first. Almost. Another quote you might have spotted elsewhere comes from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. ‘I cannot save every business, I cannot save every job.’ Scary thought for scary times, given that research suggests the average Brit is just two pay cheques away from homelessness. Sunak’s junked the normal budget, unveiling instead a new jobs protection scheme in place of the soon-to-wind-up furlough. From then on folk must work at least a third of normal hours. But three-quarters of the wage shortfall will be made up by the boss and the government. Also, he’s extended income support for the self-employed, with a lump sum worth up to a fifth of average monthly profits. But is he still Dishi Rishi? Plenty of people, as he himself admits, will fall through the net. There is, however, a tiny nag about who pays, and when. The Office for National Statistics has done its job. That’s to say its sums. And revealed the national debt now tops two trillion pounds. A baffling figure, really. But sounds like an awful lot. And it sounds like there’s going to be an awful lot of lorries parked in Kent in the new year. As many as seven thousand of them, probably, grappling with any new post-Brexit customs arrangements. And ministers are so concerned at the prospect they’re working on a kind of passport that truckers will need to get into the county. Never mind potential loss of Scotland and Northern Ireland on the back of the split with Europe, losing Kent really does look a bit thick. Funny thing is, this actually isn’t a joke. Shadow Cabinet Office minister spokesperson Rachel Reeves is fuming. ‘It is incredible that ministers are only now admitting to their plans to arrest British truckers for entering Kent without new travel passports.’ Which sounds like a paraphrase of the last words probably not uttered by King George the Fifth. ‘Bugger Brexit.’ No such words would ever escape the lips of ex UKIP man Nigel Farage. Who, incidentally has been named by Ladbrokes as favourite to seize the presidency of an independent Kent. Never let it be said bookies have no sense of humour. They’re also pricing up odds of Meghan Markle running for president in 2024. Stranger things have happened. And continue to do so. Rats have, perhaps unfairly, had a bad press ever since that earlier little pandemic, the Black Death. But they’re getting rave reviews in Cambodia nowadays. Because they’re really good at sniffing out landmines. One in particular, a giant African pouched creature named Magawa, has turned up thirty-nine of the deadly traps, and a load more lumps of lethal nastiness. His reward? The animal equivalent of the George Cross, for ‘lifesaving bravery and devotion to duty’. Also extra watermelons and bananas, which probably interest him more. Though you can never tell. Of a piece, however, with news emerging from corona vaccine runners and riders. As American drugs firm Novavax starts clinical trials in Britain, a rival US outfit is developing a jab based on, of all things, tobacco. A Canadian company’s working on similar lines. While another from that country has opted for cannabis plants. Toke, anyone? 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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