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Ho ho hopping mad !!

Everyone’s got the grumps. MP’s, because nearly all of us are pretty much still in lockdown. The chancellor, because the economy’s pretty messed up. And scientists, because the planned Christmas truce could be a moment of truth for oldies. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, Boris Johnson could be forgiven for wishing someone else was Prime Minister. ‘Cannon to right of them, cannon to left of them, cannon behind them volleyed and thundered; stormed at with shot and shell, while horse and hero fell.’ Not for the first time Bojo must be wondering what possessed him to reference Lord Tennyson’s best known poem in the run-up to Brexit. The charge didn’t end well for the Light Brigade. And the charge sheet the government’s staring at is long and daunting. Howls of outrage greeted its announcement of harsh post lockdown restrictions facing everyone, except those lucky enough to live in Cornwall, the Scillies or the Isle of Wight. A year ago Johnson swept to office on a wave of screw Europe enthusiasm. But that’s rapidly churning into a screw you mood on his own disaffected side. To say Tory MP’s were unhappy when they got the details is like saying god didn’t giggle when Eve got the apple munchies. They’re spitting stories of areas hardly touched by coronavirus that’ve nonetheless been jacked up to a higher tier. And of business folk wringing their hands as they watch the life draining out of their enterprises. All, arguably, the inevitable consequence of the sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut approach that the government feels it has little choice but to adopt. In normal times measures that would be months or even years in the making are being rolled out overnight. Makes for rough justice. Or, in the view of many, blatant injustice. Which is why the Tory rebellion threatens to be so massive, when the post-lockdown almost-lockdown gets voted on in the commons. Could be the government will need Labour backing to get it through. And that support, at the time of writing, is well short of a given. Ok, the pandemic’s not a problem of the government’s making. But last week’s mini-budget suggested it should have been making a better fist of solving it. It’s officially forecast we’re facing the worst recession since the jumped up mayor of Hanover became King George the first of England, three hundred years ago. On Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s admission: ‘Our health emergency is not yet over, and our economic emergency has only just begun.’ His answer, basically, was to borrow his way out. And freeze public sector pay for most, while allowing little rises for frontline NHS staff and the low paid. As Times columnist Quentin Letts put it: ‘Sunak speeches are warm, relaxed, a bubble bath with Schubert on the wireless.’ But the Financial Times isn’t so nice about it. Calling the speech: ‘An implicit indictment of the government’s handling of the pandemic.’ It tartly points out that though UK’s been one of the biggest spenders on the virus it hasn’t delivered better outcomes than other European countries. Oh, and one other thing. No fewer than five former Prime Ministers joined forces to condemn Meany Rishi’s cut to Britain’s foreign aid target. A rare show of unanimity from a bunch of people who made a career of not even agreeing with one another how many toes you’ll find on a three-toed sloth. A Foreign Office minister quit in protest, and a significant slice of Tory MP’s are threatening rebellion. One of them, former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, warned the reduction would cause a hundred thousand preventable deaths, mainly among kids. But a snap poll by Savanta ComRes showed getting on for two-thirds of us support the move. Times is ’ard? Charity begins at home? Discuss. That bit aside, Sunak’s approach gels with the thought that British, German and American virus vaccines really are riding to the rescue. Meaning he’s reprising Lance Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army. ‘Don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring.’ This in spite of a hiccup with the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab. Regulators want a double-check on the finding that with two separate doses it works in nearly all cases. But the chances are their result will be confirmed. And, another cheery health story, medics will next year be trialling a blood test that may spot more than fifty cancers, way before there are any symptoms. Early diagnosis can make all the difference between life and death. Little wonder the NHS chief executive thinks it could be ‘a gamechanger’. On the downside, Bojo’s kiss under the mistletoe for all of us could be the kiss of death for elderly rellies, according to much of the scientific community. The five-day relaxation of rules will allow people to travel freely around Britain and to meet two other households in a ‘Christmas bubble’. Go on, spoil yourselves. Have a hug. Well, up to a point. In the spirit of mystical intuition Bojo’s realised the virus doesn’t know it’s Christmas. And he’s not the only one. An eight-year-old boy named Monti wrote to him to share his concern. ‘I was wondering if you and the government had thought about Santa coming this Christmas,’ his letter reads. ‘If we leave hand sanitiser by the cookies can he come? Or will he wash his hands? I understand you are very busy but can you and the scientists please talk about this.’ Bojo replied he’d ‘put in a call to the North Pole’ and confirmed St Nick was ‘raring to go.’ But he added a health warning, excuse the pun. ‘The chief medical officer has asked me to tell you that, provided Father Christmas behaves in his usual responsible way and works quickly and safely, there are no risks.’ Many boffins go a great deal further, however, than the official advice simply to be careful and try to avoid infecting vulnerable relatives. Their warning is stark. The relaxation will cost lives and risk a third lockdown in January. Hospital chiefs too say it’s premature. Donald Trump, meanwhile, has been anything but premature in admitting he lost the election. Though last week he did finally get round to it. Sort of. Grumpily. Before he goes he’s likely to dish out pardons to a slew of consiglieri who’ve broken the law in his service. Starting with Michael Flynn, who lied to the FBI for him about chats he’d been having with the Russians. A sweet gesture on The Donald’s part? Adam Schiff, the (admittedly Democratic) chair of the House intelligence committee doesn’t see it that way: ‘Donald Trump has repeatedly abused the pardon power to reward friends and protect those who covered up for him .. Crooked to the end.’ Perhaps the outgoing president hopes letting people off is catching, like corona. Could come in handy, that, bearing in mind his own soon-to-end immunity from prosecution. Of course, the massed allegations of sexual misbehaviour and tax evasion could come to nothing. Same as his lawsuits aimed at overturning the election. But it happens Nicolas Sarkozy, once nicknamed the ‘bling-bling’ president on account of his showy-off lifestyle, is facing charges of corruption and influence-peddling. It’s a first in modern times, having an ex-president in the dock. In France at least. Could catch on, though. You never know. 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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