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Normal Service Resumed ...?

So that’s that then. In the anything but beautiful Great Game the score was Taliban won. NATO nil. Moving swiftly on, with schools reopening what about the jab for kids? Not to mention boosters for older folk. And where’s the money coming from to fix inflamed pressures on health, education and social care? As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, Boris Johnson’s in-tray is brimming, and he may have to break one set of promises to keep another.

But first, Afghanistan. There’s a widespread sense at Westminster it represents the biggest cock-up since Suez.

And the analogy holds good, as the Americans now, as then, pulled the rug from under our feet.

Joe Biden’s made it plain he has no appetite for further foreign adventures. The subtext reads: ‘Devil take the hindmost.’

Worth remembering that while our colonial cousins obligingly won World Wars One and Two for us, they took a lot of persuading to get involved at all.

Right now, however, realpolitik kicks in.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has stated, in terms, that the Taliban is now in charge, whether we like it or not.

So all efforts to get those of our people left behind in the frantic evacuation will have to be conducted, via whatever middle men, through the new set of warlords.

As to whether they’ll be as relatively moderate and pragmatic as they say they’re going to be, we can but hope. Nothing else we can do.

At this end, it looks like Raab will just about weather the storm, in spite of his ill-timed getaway to the sun, from which he admits he should have returned sooner.

Intelligence failings will, nonetheless, haunt him. And the Prime Minister.

A leaked Foreign Office risk assessment, dated three weeks before Kabul fell, warned the Taliban might win any time as the existing army was close to collapse.

And what about the thousands of Afghans who made it out? Most UK councils don’t want to help resettle them, so there are clearly tricky times ahead.

A line from Shakespeare’s play Troilus and Cressida springs to mind.

‘Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back, wherein he puts alms for oblivion. A great-sized monster of ingratitudes.’

Tricky times ahead too for the government as ministers fight among themselves about which departments get what when money’s divvied out in coming months.

A lot more will be needed, as the Health Service has been groaning under the weight of pandemic pressures, and waiting lists grow for everything else.

Schools too are up against a grade-A catchup operation after severe disruption to kids’ education.

Then there’s social care, regularly in the spotlight as Covid crashed through all barriers, leaving the elderly all too often fatally exposed.

A thorough overhaul’s been kicked around, time and again into the long grass, but now Johnson insists he’s finally going to get it done. Like Brexit, er, sort of.

Problem being he vowed in his manifesto not to jack up National Insurance to pay for it.

Bare-knuckled fights are going on between Number Ten and Treasury, because it will cost loadsermoney.

And Tory backbench natives will be revolting too, as, besides National Insurance, Johnson pledged not to tamper with Vat or income tax.

That won’t stop it getting through, mind, as Labour’s really not fussed about Bojo’s broken promises. The announcement could come in days.

At some point too, ministers will finally make up their minds about giving kids the jab. The NHS has already begun preparing schools to inoculate twelve to fifteen-year-olds.

New evidence across The Pond shows it’s less risky than was previously thought, but here again, there’s a bunfight going on as to whether to go ahead.

The science boffins who advise on vaccines are agin, but ministers are said to be in favour. Likewise, apparently, England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty.

So, at the time of writing, it was looking like a runner. If so, it’ll start in days. Also, booster injections for millions of over-fifties are very much on the cards.

But that’s not the same as saying it’s done and dusted. So the Mirror asks: ‘What’s the hold-up?’

The Sun puts it more bluntly, with the headline: ‘More jabbing, less jabber!’

Meantime, the protection programme for sixteen and seventeen-year-olds is already well underway.

Johnson says UK needs to ‘go faster’, even though in England and Scotland half the youngsters within that age group have have now had their first dose.

Against that, it’s estimated a third of eighteen to twenty-nine-year-olds in England still haven't even had that.

Could be they think they know better, probably thanks to rubbish they’re reading on the internet. There’s all too much of it around. And a lot of nastiness.

Seventeen-year-old Maisy Evans from Newport went onto social media to urge her peers to get injected after she got a dangerous dose of the disease.

For her pains, she said: ‘I've been called a liar, an actress paid by the government to push certain agendas, Satan, a Nazi, evil, and so many more things.’

Very likely Caleb Wallace from San Angelo in Texas would have weighed in, if he’d had the chance, as he’s led vigorous campaigns against vaccination.

He argued it’s a form of tyranny, and told local officials: ‘I care about freedom more than I do your personal health.’

Or about his own, in the event. The disease defied his self-medication measures, aspirin, vitamin C and animal deworming medicine, and took him out last week.

Fellow anti-vaxxers might take note. Or might not. And maybe, likewise, pay the ultimate price of their convictions.

On a cheerier note, the technology used in the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid jab has been deployed to design a vaccine that could help treat cancer.

The use of a harmless virus that prompts the body to make the type of protein that the immune system targets and fights has the potential to work for both diseases.

And a clinical trial will take place in people with non-small cell lung cancer later this year.

Professor Benoit Van den Eynde at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, says the proteins in question are present on a wide range of tumour types.

‘This broadens the potential benefit of this approach to people with many different types of cancer,’ he adds.

And the director of the Jenner vaccine research Institute, Prof Adrian Hill, goes further, saying it: ‘Has the potential to revolutionise cancer treatment.’

Alas, nothing can now save Geronimo the Alpaca, put down by Whitehall decree last week in defiance of widespread and agonised protests.

The creature’s death sentence followed two positive tests for bovine tuberculosis.

His supporters argued there’s a more accurate way of diagnosing that disease than was used, and the Environment Department’s promised posthumous checks.

Officials, who say they will announce the outcome, have their fingers crossed the result’s the same.

If not there could be wider implications, as animal welfare campaigners believe the government’s entire strategy for controlling the disease could be at risk.

Nothing can bring poor Geronimo back, but techno-wizards do seem to have discovered the elixir of eternal youth.

Step forward Abba – getting it together again after forty years, complete with digital avatars showing them as they were back in the day.

If science could only do the same for everyone, and make it the real thing, there’d be only one thing to say.

Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!

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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