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New World Disorder

Everywhere you look it’s the same. Donald Trump stands accused of trying to overturn his election defeat by staging a coup. Vladimir Putin is accusing himself of being a violent megalomaniac bent on turning his tanks even further than Ukraine. And, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the Tory party’s stuffed full of tinpot leaders all determined on running the country.

Sounds overblown? Not when you look at the fine mess Boris Johnson’s in now.

He was chuffed at seeing off his foes in last week’s confidence vote. But so was King Harold in 1066, after smashing invaders at Stamford Bridge.

Barely three weeks later, at Hastings, things didn’t end so well.

Johnson too could get one in the eye at any moment. In theory he’s safe now for a year. But, as he of all people knows, ahem, rules are made to be broken.

For a start, the guy who has the final say on such matters has already hinted the convention about a twelve-month gap between challenges may have to go.

And the high-powered group of MP’s looking into whether Johnson lied about lockdown-breaking parties could conclude he jolly well did.

Then there are the by-elections coming up later this month. If, as is widely predicted, the Tories lose both, the peasants will be revolting big time.

As it is, getting on for half of them, Tory backbenchers that is, have already voted to give the boss the boot.

Which is why as soon as this week they’re likely to start making life hard for him.

He wants to overcome Unionist objections to restoring government in Northern Ireland by ripping up the trade agreement he signed with the EU.

A risk that enough of his own MP’s may simply prevent him from taking. And that’s just for starters.

There are all manner of potential roadblocks in the way of his neo-Thatcherite plan to enable housing association tenants buy the places they’re renting.

It’s not lost on centrist Conservative minds that while the blessed Margaret’s right-to-buy wheeze earned her lots of votes it exacerbated housing shortages.

And there’s a mass of other pressures on the government from what ministers might end up dubbing the enemy within.

Given that internationally respected experts predict zero growth in UK next year, it’s all too safe to assume the cost of living crisis will get worse.

Which begs questions. Should the Chancellor cut taxes? Or shell out more to help the needy? If so what with? Surely it’s one or the other?

Not necessarily. The government won round objectors to ending the slave trade in the nineteenth century by compensating them. Owners, natch, not slaves.

The bill, in today’s terms, came to seventeen billion quid. Such a biggie the loan didn’t finally get paid back until, believe it or not, 2015.

Puts the post-pandemic problem in perspective, however. The furlough scheme cost not seventeen but seventy billion pounds.

The alternative would have been to let folk to starve to death, like a million Irish people – British subjects at the time – during the potato famine of the 1840’s.

This is not about settling old scores, simply pointing up the scale of the problem.

Last week Johnson insisted improvements to British people’s lifestyles would be ‘unimaginable’ to their grandparents and great-grandparents.

An echo of former Tory Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s optimism about impoverished Britain in 1957: ‘Most of our people have never had it so good.’

Now, as then, times is ’ard. Just ask anyone on low and inflation-flattened incomes how they’re going to pay for the food shop and keep warm this winter.

The slightly better off too are getting a rude shock when they refuel the motor.

Not like there aren’t any answers. The problem being for Boris there are far too many of them, coming from his own backbenchers.

Emboldened by the bloody nose they’ve given him they’re likely to vote against any number of solutions he comes up with, if they think they know better.

Which calls to mind another striking quote from yesteryear, this from the resignation speech of one-time Conservative Chancellor Norman Lamont.

‘We give the impression of being in office but not in power.’

He might have made a fair few enemies along the way, but he did have a gift for the snappy phrase. Here’s another one, also about his own side.

'No one will vote for a party that loathes itself and wants to cut its heroes and heroines down to size.'

Trouble is, the Tories are caught every which way at present.

After the leadership contest result was announced, Johnson’s deputy, Dominic Raab, suggested now was the time to: ‘Draw a line in the sand.’

He couldn’t have put it worse. When the Brits and the French did just that in 1916 the result was decades of as yet unresolved strife in the Middle East.

Much the same as the Tory party right now. Another unpropitious augury for Johnson is that though our system looks presidential it isn’t.

Which is how come four of our last six Prime Ministers got the boot not from the punters but their own parliamentary parties.

Sometimes, however, voters’ words do have a bearing on MP’s deeds. If they calculate their own seats are at risk, they tend to act accordingly.

And they won’t have liked the findings last week of the former Downing Street pollster James Johnson.

Of the line-up he assembled of Tory backers at the last election, not a single one had a good word to say about the Prime Minister.

Their verdict: ‘He's a joke .. he shouldn't be leader .. untrustworthy .. a puppet.’ Even: ‘If I saw him in the street I’d probably punch him.’

Not that the Labour leader did much better. One described him as a ‘slippery slimeball.’

Perhaps more tellingly, another said: ‘I would like to buy that man a dictionary and highlight the word opposition.’

What the hell then? Give Sir Humphrey a go? Civil servants managed it in Italy for years when the politicians couldn’t get their act together.

The tragedy being, with the world so menaced by Putin’s Hitlerite exploits, the need for decisive and united leadership has rarely been greater.

Champagne corks were popped at least in Kiev at Johnson’s survival. Say what you like about the man, he has been a good friend to Ukraine.

And with that besieged nation now running low on ammo and in desperate need of more artillery a friend in need really is a friend indeed.

President Zelensky may also have good reason to be grateful last year’s storming of the Capitol didn’t deprive Joe Biden of the US presidency.

The covert links between Donald Trump’s and Vladimir Putin’s consiglieres are well corroborated.

Claims from former top British spy Christopher Steele, that Putin helped get Trump elected in the first place, are harder to prove, however.

But Mr Steele does still have an ear to the ground, and what he’s been hearing suggests regime change in Moscow is only a matter of months away.

If, as he believes, Putin’s health is failing so badly that he’ll soon be out, bells will be ringing in not just in Kiev but the world over.

Possibly even, given the damage his war has done to his own country, in the Kremlin itself.

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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