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More is Less

No question – the more we read about some things, the less we learn. That’s assuming we cared in the first place, which is often not the case. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, tectonic plates are shifting, but it isn’t always obvious.

Pity the poor Speaker of the House of Commons, trying to divvy out each day’s business to disguise how little is really going on there.

And pity the poor hacks (if you want to), trying to turn the froth into serious copy that’s worth reading.

Take the scrape Boris Johnson’s in over the parliamentary inquiry into whether he played Pinocchio over lockdown-busting parties at Number Ten.

Now that it’s finally getting underway, this could mean curtains for his career in politics. But until a lot more flesh gets put on the bones we’re still in wait-and-see mode.

Same applies to the bit of, as yet unfinished, business that does really matter – Northern Ireland’s trading arrangements.

Hardline Unionists in Belfast are grumpily huffing and puffing about Rishi Sunak’s grandly titled Windsor Framework, because that’s what they do.

And dear old Bojo’s swaying in the breeze, unsure whether or not to side with Tory Brexit fundamentalists in opposing it.

Golly, gosh, gush newspaper columnists, which way’s he going to jump? Assuming, of course, that he doesn’t get pushed anyway.

Interestingly, even the majority of folk at the sharp end aren’t as fussed as the psychodrama queens, aka their elected representatives, would have us believe.

According to a poll carried out last month for Queen’s University in Belfast, most voters in Northern Ireland do not put the existing framework at the top of their concerns.

Nearly half were more interested in the state of the health service, and a third cared more about the economy.

What those figures mask, however, is that both these things would be in with a better chance if the Northern Ireland Assembly were up and running again.

It isn’t at the moment, because those selfsame hardline Unionists got in such a strop last year about the present setup, that they walked out.

They’ve had their pay docked since then for not doing their jobs, poor things.

Sunak’s plan, to bin nearly all checks on stuff exported from mainland Britain only to the province but not into the Irish Republic, which is in the EU, is surely a no-brainer.

To make matters easier, Brussels has agreed to drastically scale back the application of European law in how it all works.

Brexit purists, however, are wailing that any involvement of any kind is little short of another Norman invasion.

But there are fewer of them these days, which suggests Sunak will in the end see them off.

He’ll also in the process establish his credentials as a polite, diligent and quietly sensible operator who knows how to oil the wheels.

His personal chemistry with the EU boss Ursula von der Leyen has been palpable in all their recent appearances together.

And his patient diplomacy contrasts vividly with the up-yours ya-boo-sucks-to-you approach of both his last two predecessors at Number Ten.

Not that this cuts it with those Unionist politicians who feel threatened by so much as a sliver of dilution of Northern Ireland’s status within the United Kingdom.

To most English people this might seem baffling, but the problem goes all the way back to King Henry The Eighth’s codpiece.

Yes, you did read that right.

He was so determined to get his leg over with Anne Boleyn that he was prepared to break with the Church of Rome to get his divorce from wife number one.

The reformation did not end well for Catholics in Ireland, to the extent that later monarchs pursued a policy of ethnic cleansing, notably in the north of the country.

Though that phrase had yet to be coined, it does describe the kicking out of many Catholic locals and replacing them with mostly Protestants from England and Scotland.

And until only a few decades ago their descendants were still getting a better deal than Catholics, over jobs and housing.

Hence the euphemistically termed ‘Troubles’, the struggles to achieve at least a fragile peace and some Unionists’ determination to hang on to their relative ascendancy.

They’d doubtless pooh-pooh much of this potted history, but the simmering tensions in Northern Ireland are real – and they didn’t come from nowhere.

Which is why if Sunak manages to pull off his coup he’ll have done the nation, as well as himself, such a great service.

An added bonus could come in the shape of a transatlantic trade deal. President Biden, who bigs up big time his Irish roots, has already hinted as much.

Gold star for Sunak then, and his enhanced standing just might just make next year’s general election less of a shoo-in for Labour than polls suggest.

That said, Sir Keir Starmer’s also been quietly beefing up his credentials as a serious operator.

Same as the Prime Minister, he’s not much of an orator. But also, same as Sunak, he’s quite good at quietly getting things done.

Which is why his speech on the economy early last week might have more significance than subsequent headlines suggest.

For one thing, his blueprint for growth received widespread plaudits from Britain’s bosses.

The chairman of Tesco and Barratt Developments, for example, said simply: ‘Many businesses will welcome Labour’s commitment.’

They also noted Starmer’s statement that, on current trends, families in Britain would in a few years be poorer than their counterparts in Poland.

Much of this has been subsequently subsumed in the smorgasbord of glorified gossip that laughingly describes itself as political reportage.

An obvious case in point has to be all the hoo-ha over – what shall we call it now? Hancock-and-bull story? Oakeshott-gate?

The bald facts are that the Covid crisis, comparable to the Spanish flu pandemic, left British government ministers like rabbits caught in the headlights.

Same applies to ministers everywhere else. All made mistakes, some glaring, and often deeply distressing to those who lost loved ones.

But the details are now being slowly picked over by the ongoing independent inquiry.

Meantime, ex Health Secretary Matt Hancock got journalist Isabel Oakeshott to ghost his book, sharing masses of WhatsApp messages on the promise they’d go no further.

Was he setting out to illuminate the world on how well the government handled things, or just trying to get rich?

And was she setting out to jigger up the inquiry into how badly the government handled things, or just trying to get rich?

Ploughing through the acres of copy churned out on this subject may or may not take readers much further.

One wouldn’t so rude to one’s colleagues as to suggest it’s a tale told by an idiot. But The Bard’s next line might sum up the story.

‘Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’

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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