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On The Brink …

With strikes breaking out all over, and a serial fit of the grumps on the Tory back benches, happy days are not here again. Our new Prime Minister is a dab hand at defusing tensions, but as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, he doesn’t have a magic wand.

Not long after Gentle John Major took over from Brittle Margaret Thatcher a top official in government made a telling observation.

‘For the first time in years the sound of laughter can be heard in Downing Street.’

It was a start, and Major did manage to hang on in there for a lot longer than anyone expected. In spite of the in-house storm clouds gathering over Europe.

Not fair to say the Conservative party is eccentric. But on that front it has been in a very bad mood for the last thirty years.

It’s also rather making a habit of chucking out its leaders. Not that that’s stopping them continuing to chuck their weight around.

Take Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, hooking onto the revolt over Rishi Sunak’s continued ban on onshore wind farms.

The rebels say too bad if some people think they’re an eyesore. It’s green energy, so bring it on.

Arguably, this is all about nimbyism. The same as the row about building new homes on greenfield sites.

With some fifty Tory backbenchers insisting the government doesn’t go there, ministers are engaged in dialogue with the dissidents.

Not like they’ve got any choice. By-elections and resignations have meant Johnson’s stonking majority at the last election is seriously shrunk.

To a point where it only takes thirty-five Tory MPs to dig their heels in to force a change of direction.

In normal times a government would still regard itself as comfortably off. But these times are anything but normal.

The shambles of the last year or so has left the Tories languishing miles behind the opposition in the polls, with little sign of a Sunak-generated uptick.

And while this has fed into a sense of surly defiance among backbenchers, it’s also got an unusually high number of them minded to vote with their feet.

They’ve got to decide in the next week or so whether to stand at the next election, and already a couple of big names have said they won’t.

It’s thought as many as eighty others might join them, double the usual tally.

Not particularly surprising, that. These guys are, after all, human beings, believe it or not, with bills to pay like anyone else.

The brute reality being that a working MP has much more heft on the jobs market than a Joe Bloggs on the dole who didn’t cut the mustard.

And with so many seats teetering on the brink, especially in the so-called red wall where ex Labour voters might easily flip back to the fold, anything’s possible.

But that could cut both ways.

Gordon Brown famously got into trouble for accusing a Labour supporter from oop north of being a bigot, because she dared challenge him on immigration.

So it’s no surprise that both Prime Minister and opposition leader pussyfooted round high-profile calls from business leaders last week to let more people in.

The bosses’ point being that huge gaps in the labour market need filling. The politicos’ point being it’s a highly sensitive subject and they’re taking no chances.

Particularly tricky for Sunak, as polls suggest one in ten voters are prepared to back the rebranded Brexit party, which of course wants to keep foreigners out.

His problem is compounded by the degree to which he’s in hock to the right of his party, which might explain why Suella Braverman is still Home Secretary.

She’s very much of the faction David Cameron was said to see as swivel-eyed loons. And, call them what you will, they’re still there to protect her.

Meaning she got away with a floundering performance in front of a commons committee last week, in which she admitted she’d lost her grip on our borders.

A fact confirmed the following day, with publication of figures showing a record number of incomers.

That’ll be taking back control then. Not.

But the picture gets curiouser and curiouser. While immigration was one of the Brexiteers biggest beefs, buyers’ remorse about leaving the EU is writ large.

A YouGov survey has revealed only a third of us now think it was a Good Thing, and well of half reckon it sucked.

The biggest gap yet, marking a huge swing in public opinion. Probably to do with people noticing downsides, like shortages caused by the exodus of lorry drivers.

For businesses and bankers, meanwhile, it is and always was a no-brainer.

The Office for Budget Responsibility made the point in official-number-cruncher-ese, saying Brexit has had: ‘A significant adverse impact on trade.’

It links this to the recession-hit UK now performing worse than any of the so-called G7 nations, that have comparable economies.

In short, it’s made the cost of living crisis a whole lot worse.

And, just as Sunak daren’t risk alienating his party’s right wing, he’s also got MPs on the left fretting about losing their seats to Remain-backing Liberals.

He’s on a hiding to nothing then, same as Keir Starmer.

But he’s got more to lose. Because if, as many predict, the punters put the blame for their straitened circumstances on the government, then he’s toast.

Not like he’s not an agile operator, mind.

The Downing Street diktat, that talking nicely to people is better than threatening to put their lights out, is bearing fruit.

There are glimmers of hope that the intractable problems over Northern Ireland’s trade arrangements might be overcome.

Likewise over the threatened imminent rail stoppages.

There are loads more where that came from, mind. And sweet talk won’t overcome the difficulty caused by roaring inflation and years of stagnating wages.

To catch up in real terms, employers would have to shell out at least fifteen per cent. Not a chance there, either in the private or public sector.

At least we’re not in the territory of the 1926 General Strike, which really did scare the government, with memories so fresh of the Russian revolution.

Not that things have settled down there, with Moscow’s mass murderer continuing to commit, as President Zelensky accurately put it, crimes against humanity.

Morale is key. And the Ukrainian people are echoing Britain’s blitz spirit, resolute in their determination to finally replace V-signs with the victory signal.

Meantime, the war’s ripples spread outwards. Hence Sunak’s campaign to get people to cut energy bills by making obvious and pain-free adjustments.

Thus, he says, we can stop Britain being ‘blackmailed’ by Putin. More wind farms would also help reduce our dependency on the brute, but try telling him that.

Maybe we humans could learn from the animal kingdom.

Boffins from Zurich uni have discovered dozens of supposedly non vocal species like turtles and wormlike amphibians do in fact communicate.

A series of super-sensitive audio recordings revealed some of them, in the words of lead researcher Gabriel Jorgewich-Cohen, ‘wouldn’t stop chatting’.

The little wormy thingies, he said, sounded like a frog mixed with a burp. And the snapping turtle could be mistaken for Darth Vader.

If they could just speak up a bit, they’d fit in perfectly in parliament.


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