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Hopes Rose .. Hopes Fell

With little short of a general strike looming in a week or so, industrial unrest is stubbornly stuck at top of the political agenda. Which, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, is increasingly feeling like an echo of the 1970s.

It’s not so much what’s happening as the way it’s reported.

Half a century ago mighty trade unions could and did bring down governments. What we’re looking at now is nothing like on that scale.

But the massive inconvenience and very real health fears stemming from stoppages have given this story a lot of traction. As well as an almighty headache for ministers.

A week ago the mood music was optimistic. Compromise was in the air. Since then it’s turned into mutual defiance.

Hence headlines alternating now, as then, between hopes of settlements rising and hopes of deals falling.

The brusque buzzword from Whitehall is currently ‘unaffordable’. Give these guys what they’re demanding and inflation will shoot up, hitting the poorest hardest.

However, with economists and official forecasters all saying inflation’s set to plummet later this year, you wonder how long that line will last.

A crunch looms at the beginning of next month, when hundreds of thousands of train drivers, teachers and civil servants join health professionals in staging walkouts.

The problems proliferate. Leaving aside the NHS already in dire straits before anyone took action, many parents will have to stay home because the kids aren’t in class.

Embarrassingly for Number Ten, even the Mr Quelches at Rishi Sunak’s posh school will be downing mortar boards.

But there is a new year consolation for the Prime Minister, as he must have been feeling withdrawal symptoms from not having had a single backbench revolt for weeks.

His MPs have now put that right, by forcing him to change course over his new bill designed to protect children from online harm.

The idea was to fine tech bosses if they don’t prevent it, but so many on Sunak’s own side were determined they should also be banged up that he caved in to them.

Probably no bad thing, that, as voters are likely to side with the rebels.

Looks set to be a different story though about the billions being splashed around as part of the government’s so called ‘levelling up’ funding.

It’s been suggested, but hastily denied, that the very term should be dropped, as people don’t even get what it’s supposed to mean.

However, what’s struck loads of Tory MPs from oop north is that levelling up is just what it doesn’t mean, given that half the cash isn’t going to the areas most in need.

One spoke for many when he said: ‘People are apoplectic. There are some really wealthy areas on the list. It looks awful.’

Didn’t look too brilliant either that Sunak took off his car seatbelt to film an Instagram clip on the subject.

‘Oh dear oh dear, you’re nicked, sonny,’ said Mr Plod.

The fixed penalty’s not the end of the world, but does make him look a bit of a chump.

And the suggestion that Tory Chairman Nadhim Zahawi also had to pay a penalty, for taking too long to pay a tax bill, looked infinitely more serious, for a while.

Though that problem seems to have eased off, Sunak’s travails suggest two things.

One: He can be politically tin-eared. To say the least.

And two: His own people can’t seem to break the habit of having fits of the grumps.

No great surprise, given the turbulence they’ve all just lived through, as well as their dire standing in the polls.

Still, Sunak was right when he said, on getting the top job, that if his MPs don’t hang together they’ll hang separately. On the gallows of public opinion.

Talking of which, a new survey suggests support for the right-wing Reform UK party in the Tories’ hitherto comfortable constituencies has doubled in a matter of months.

These guys are the rebranded offspring of Nigel Farage’s hardline get-out-of-Europe party, that spooked David Cameron into holding his ill-fated referendum six years ago.

This is one reason why Brexit’s the issue that dare not speak its name, in spite of so much evidence of the economic damage it’s caused – and widespread buyers’ remorse.

Nonetheless, better relations with Europe are paramount in unlocking the impasse over trading arrangements with Northern Ireland.

The so-called Protocol is a running sore that’s stalled the Stormont government, and looks set to remain that way until a sensible solution is found.

With the twenty-fifth anniversary not so far off, of the Good Friday agreement that ended what amounted to a civil war, minds are being concentrated.

And here the signs are hopeful. For the moment, at least.

Also true to say solidarity with the bloc has been bolstered by the reasonably united front in response to Vladimir Putin’s barbarity in Ukraine.

State-of-the-art British tanks are on their way, and the hint’s been taken in other European capitals. The ever cautious Germans are still wary, but that might change.

Plus, in spite of Republican reservations, President Biden’s just gifted Kiev the biggest package of Yankee weaponry since the war started.

We Brits too have just promised six hundred Brimstone ground or air-launched attack missiles. Ouch, they’ll hurt, and it’ll serve ’em right.

Closer to home, however, the British government’s picked a fight with the folk north of the border over gender recognition.

Nicola Sturgeon has opted for a system of self-identification, but Downing Street says that could mean blokes might just wander into women-only spaces and threaten them.

You can argue that both ways, but what can’t be disputed is that this is the first time in the quarter-century since devolution that Westminster’s vetoed a Scottish bill.

How that’ll play in the ongoing independence debate is anyone’s guess. But, as the issue heads to the courts, it’s a space worth watching.

Of course these things take time, and none of us have forever. But some do have more than others.

Take the late French nun Lucile Randon, who was born ten years before the outbreak of World War One, and managed to stay alive until last week.

At the grand age of a hundred-and-eighteen she was the oldest known person in the world.

As the years passed her fame grew and questions multiplied about the secret of such a long life.

Her answer was work, which she carried on well past her hundredth birthday. Also, being nice to others.

‘People should help each other and love each other instead of hating. If we shared all that, things would be a lot better,’ she told reporters last year.

But what about lifestyle?

Here Jeanne Louise Calment, who, it’s said, lived four years longer than Lucille, had some interesting answers.

Health warnings on alcohol consumption seemed to pass her by, as she never gave up her nightly glass of port.

Different matter with smoking, mind. Though she did take her time getting round to quitting.

But she got there finally. At the age of, wait for it, a hundred and seventeen.

Watch Peter’s report HERE

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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