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No Laughing Matter …

Westminster’s worries feel parochial when so many thousands have lost their lives in the Turkey/Syria catastrophe, and so many more are in the crosshairs of Putin’s murderous minions. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the embattled worlds are interwoven.

The RAF’s swung into action, bringing vital support to victims of the devastating earthquake, and there’ll be plenty more where that came from.

Also, the Ukrainian President’s historic address to parliament is set to be rewarded with supplies of long-range British missiles.

The fighter planes that he really wants will take longer, but the balance is now tilting in his favour.

And this is where politics comes in.

Love him or hate him, Boris Johnson is an ace orator. And his abiding legacy is surely the solidarity he showed with Ukraine since the war started.

His efforts did much to concentrate wavering minds across the western world. And, arguably, continue to stiffen sinews in Downing Street.

Little wonder Volodymyr Zelensky paid him such fulsome tribute as he made his powerfully-worded plea for more armaments.

Of course Rishi Sunak maintains he’s every bit as much onside in what’s looking more and more like an existential struggle against Russian aggression.

But suspicions linger that the support he’s offering is at least in part to do with a need not to be outdone by his predecessor.

As the Tories’ plight continues to hover between desultory and disastrous, the bring-back-Boris campaign shows no sign of going away.

Apart from the obvious reality of the man himself on perpetual manoeuvres, the supportive rustling in the undergrowth is every bit as undiminished.

Former Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries bemoaned the ‘sheer stupidity’ of chucking the man out, as she announced last week that she too is for the off.

Her decision to quit at the next election brought to eighteen the number of Tory MPs throwing in the towel.

Likely there’ll be many more deciding to go before they’re pushed, given the apocalyptic findings of a survey last week.

Using the so-called MRP method, which has a highly respectable track record, it predicted little short of Shakespeare’s most memorable stage direction.

‘Exit, pursued by a bear.’

Or, in numbers, the Conservatives’ tally at the last election of three-hundred-and-sixty-five MPs would be down to a meagre forty-five at the next.

Forty-five? Yes, you did read that right.

And this wasn’t some proselytising proposition from the media’s Marxist wing. The poll was commissioned by The Telegraph (aka Torygraph).

Its findings are also not a million miles from the result at last week’s by-election in West Lancashire.

It’s a safe Labour seat, made vacant in uncontroversial circumstances, so the outcome was never in doubt.

But the details make scary reading for the Tories, given that the swing against them topped ten per cent.

Replicate that nationwide, and they’re out. Well out.

Particularly disheartening for them, given the effort they’ve been putting into shoring up support in that neck of the woods.

The latest manifestation being Sunak’s appointment as deputy party chair one Lee Anderson.

Who he? You might ask. Well, he rejoices in the nickname ‘Red Wall Rottweiler’ on account of his, shall we say, emphatic views on a number of topics.

He it was who sparked outrage by suggesting people only use food banks because they’re rubbish at budgeting.

His latest wheeze, bringing back hanging, has also failed to appeal to all.

Back in the day Tory blue-rinsers called for this every year at their conferences, and Margaret Thatcher was on their side.

Her thinking changed, however, after it emerged that all ten of the guys banged up for the IRA bombings in Guildford and Birmingham were in fact innocent.

However, proof of how easily the lessons of history can be forgotten, a YouGov poll last month showed that more than half of Britons support the rope.

This, Anderson would doubtless argue, proves his point.

‘I say something that is supposedly outrageous in Westminster.’ But back in his midlands constituency, he claims, the response is: ‘You say what I’m thinking.’

There’s no question Sunak’s on the liberal wing of his party, and his spokesperson has stressed that Anderson does not speak for the government.

But the fact remains a man who’s proud to describe himself as Britain’s most hated man has been elevated to the front bench.

And even if he does connect with some Tories on emotive issues like immigration, Brexit and the trans controversy, his attitudes will appal others.

All of which brings into sharp relief the party’s deeper problems, of factionalism, infighting and lack of cultural cohesion.

Though it’s always prided itself on being a broad church, meaning an institution embracing agreement to disagree, that seems no longer to be the case.

Of course the Labour party too has had its problems, notably over the vexed question of antisemitism, and the small matter of how best to run the economy.

But Sir Keir Starmer has managed to largely iron them out, proof that being boring isn’t all bad.

Proof also, maybe, that his lot have one overriding advantage over our present leaders. That they’re actually focused on the will to govern.

It’s perfectly understandable that the Tories are traumatised, given their recent leader-swapping escapades.

But it’s also a perfect recipe for defeat. With little sign of any let-up.

Liz Truss may be in a minority of approximately one, in thinking she might one day make a comeback. But the very fact she’s giving it a go is a threat.

The real danger, however, is and remains the Bojo brigade. The next flashpoint being the local elections in May.

If they turn out to be as bad for the Tories as appears likely, then Rishi Sunak may be headed deep into the danger zone.

There are, however, two consolations awaiting him.

One, the commons investigation into Johnson’s putative pack of partygate whoppers might yet cost him his seat in parliament.

And the other is what he’s been up to since he got chucked out of Number Ten.

While Zelensky’s been weaponising the English language, Johnson’s been busy monetising it – trousering a cool million pounds a month.

Definitely one up on his hundred-and-sixty-four thousand a year as PM. So would he really want his old job back?

After all, he once described the quarter of a million he picked up each year for his column in The Telegraph as ‘chickenfeed’.

And talk of birds calls to mind behaviour noted with astonishment by a guy in California who was tasked with tidying a house.

Suddenly, cascading from behind a bedroom wall came tens of thousands of nuts. Enough to fill eight bin bags.

Turns out they’d been stashed away there by acorn woodpeckers, dear little creatures with red feathers on their heads.

Angela Brierly, a PhD researcher at a natural history reservation in the state, describes them as ‘incredibly charming’.

That said, it’s clear from their saving for a rainy day habit that they have no idea when enough is enough. Oh, and they’re polyamorous.

Sort of a winged version then, of Boris Johnson?

You might very well think that. I couldn’t possibly comment.

Watch Peter’s report HERE Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News.


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