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Is Britain Ungovernable?



You could be forgiven for wondering, as the nation flounders into a new winter of discontent, and the people supposed to be sorting it squabble among themselves. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, this suggests they at least have given up the fight.

The verdict from two seasoned operators is damning.

‘While the Tories were still in a strong position just a few months ago, they now have almost no hope of winning the next election,’ said the first.

‘It’s not just that they are incapable of taking charge: it increasingly feels as if they no longer even want to,’ said the second.

This is not the rantings of leftie loonies. It’s the considered view, respectively, of former Tory Chancellor George Osborne – and the editor of the Sunday Telegraph.

Last week’s by-election in Chester, at which the Conservatives got their worst result for nearly two centuries, is just another straw in the wind.

But if the outcome really does indicate that voters are blaming them directly for the cost of living crisis, then they almost certainly are doomed.

In theory, those MPs who aren’t even going to try at the next election are supposed to say so now. In practice most of the expected eighty or so simply won’t bother. Yet.

But the announcement by former Chancellor Sajid Javid that he’ll definitely quit when the time comes is a telling sign of the shape of things to come.

Cue the old military acronym FUBAR. Fouled Up Beyond All Repair. The other ranks generally go for a saltier F-word. Which doesn’t take a lot of working out.

Rishi Sunak did get a little poll bounce when he made it to Number Ten. Doubtless a sigh of relief that at least we didn’t have a weirdo try to run the country.

But it didn’t last, as all subsequent surveys have confirmed Labour is still on course for a landslide victory.

And, to rub salt in the Tories’ already gaping wound, there’s also been a four-point uptick in support for Nigel Farage’s now rebranded right-wing grouping.

It was the threat from his Brexit party that forced David Cameron to promise the referendum. Which he lost, along with his career, six years ago.

Further surveys show buckets of buyers’ remorse on that front, as data compiled by the London School of Economics suggests leaving the EU has cost consumers dear.

In total, almost six billion pounds in weekly shopping bills over two years. Hitting the poorest hardest, as they spend the greatest proportion of their money on food.

Sunak is no fool, any more than the man now widely seen as the Prime Minister-in-waiting, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Which is why the two of them are pussyfooting round the question of exactly how they plan to soften the Brexit blow by easing the terms of our departure.

They both know it’s necessary, and inevitable in time. But they both fear losing the chunk of the electorate that clings onto the original take-back-control credo.

Meantime, Sunak’s opening gambit when he got into office was a heartfelt and desperate plea for party unity – without which no one can run anything.

His problem being his lot wasn’t listening.

And another sign of disintegrating morale on the Tory backbenches is the implosion of discipline.

Instead of having a grumble about this or that but in the end towing the party line, dissidents have come out fighting on a range of issues.

Everything from online safety, through not one but two nimby-related topics, and even Britain’s stance towards China, are up for a punch-up.

Sunak is clever, sensible, polite and pragmatic, but he’s got his work cut out trying to make the naughty children behave themselves.

Or, as the Times Whitehall Editor puts it: ‘Giving in to rebels always risks looking weak, but not knowing which group of rebels to give in to risks looking absurd.’

It’s also jolly tricky trying to dissuade disgruntled trade union bosses from downing tools.

Definitely not Sunak’s style just telling them to do one, but reconciling the demands to the doable seems bordering on the impossible.

Wage stagnation, and in many cases real-terms cuts over the last decade, mean catching up with our current soaring inflation would necessitate rises of some fifteen per cent.

And with ministers insisting three per cent is top whack we’re in for a long and difficult winter.

Industrial action’s planned for pretty much every day until Christmas, with walkouts by everyone from rail workers and nurses to driving examiners and teachers.

Always a problem for the Labour party, as the public gets cross about the inconvenience. But also awkward for the government, as so much of the public is actually taking part.

But, face it, our problems are nothing next to what Ukrainians have in store as the freezing temperatures bite.

Given the shoddy, ill-trained and poorly equipped state of his ground forces, Putin’s bent on taking a leaf out of his monstrous predecessor Stalin’s book.

Back in the 1930’s, Uncle Joe, as the genocidal old brute enjoyed being styled, caused the death by starvation of millions of Ukrainians.

Seems Putin has something similar in mind, blowing up enough of the nation’s power infrastructure to freeze the people to death.

Not that he’s likely to succeed, as the defenders’ determination to get stuff going again is matched by what’s now being widely described as their blitz spirit.

The Russian President is also facing a danger within, as even he’s up against adverse opinion polls.

An independent investigative website has got hold of a survey by Putin’s henchmen, that shows a dramatic fall in public support for his illegal war.

Only one in four Russians are now in favour of carrying on with it – down from more than half back in the summer.

The drop in support follows the mobilisation of tens of thousands of men to be used as cannon fodder on the battlefield.

And an insight into how not special many of the participants in the still preposterously termed ‘special military operation’ are feeling comes via a new Ukrainian hotline.

The service is titled ‘I want to live’. And it offers advice, to the hundreds of desperate enemy servicemen who’ve been ringing in, on how best to give up the fight.

According to the BBC, one soldier asked if he should ‘drop to his knees’. Because, he explained, he did not ‘understand exactly’ how to surrender.

Another option of course is to just drop down dead. The huge numbers who’ve already been killed suggests Vlad the vicious doesn’t give two hoots either way.

Some say the man’s demented. Though that word does cue up what is without question the genuinely good news story of the week.

A monumental medical breakthrough promises hope for the millions of people the world over who’re threatened with, or actually suffering from, dementia.

The wonderdrug lecanemab has taken boffins by storm, because it’s been shown to slow – so might in time help reverse – the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Rob Howard, professor of old age psychiatry at University College London, described the development as ‘momentous and historic’.

And these people really really do not do hyperbole.


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