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Parallel Universes

In one, the world’s holding its breath, aghast at the carnage in the Middle East and fearful of a regional conflict spiralling out of control. The other finds a Labour party daring to hope last week’s by-election victories really might herald a 1997-style landslide sweeping them into power. But as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, nothing is ever that simple.

The hectic round of shuttle diplomacy following the October 7th glorified suicide attack on Israel, ostensibly in the Palestinian cause, has left one notable takeaway.

Yes, the Jewish people have an absolute right to defend themselves, all western leaders agree on that. But no, they mustn’t exact a terrible revenge.

The US President cited his country’s reaction to the 9/11 Twin Towers atrocity as he cautioned against murderous hate-fuelled responses.

Estimates vary, but it appears something like twice as many lives have already been lost in the Gaza Strip than on Israeli soil.

And if those hideous statistics ratchet up, and the burgeoning humanitarian disaster gets desperately worse, then support for Israel may wane.

Also, other actors on this blood-soaked stage might weigh in, either directly or through their brutal and undisciplined proxies.

There’s no disputing that Hamas, the militant group/terrorist outfit behind the initial attack in Israel, has close links to the Iranian regime. Which in turn is hand in glove with the Kremlin.

And, as usual, when Vladimir Putin says he wants peace, he means the opposite.

It suits his ugly purpose to ferment chaos, thus, he hopes, enhancing his influence in the area as well as dividing western nations. And deflecting attention from his savagery in Ukraine.

Without question the long sought-after so-called two state solution, in which Israelis and Palestinians live harmoniously side by side, is further from fruition than it’s ever been.

Worth pointing out that any visitor to the beautiful, walled medieval city of Jerusalem can’t fail to be struck by the fact that it’s not bounded by suburbs.

Where it ends, scrubland and desert begin. Which brings into sharp relief just how elusive is the goal of trading land for peace.

In its place the simmering religious and ethnic tensions that now threaten to spill over everywhere, including here at home.

Even as the Labour leader basks in the glory of his party’s striking wins in two hitherto rock-solid Tory seats he’s facing widespread loss of Muslim support in parts of Britain.

His unequivocal support for the Israelis has triggered threats of walkouts by councillors, notably in Leicester, and there could be more where that came from.

But that needs to be kept in proportion, as the significance of massive swings away from the Tories in the Mid Bedfordshire and Tamworth by-elections cannot be overstated.

It’s certainly true that the departing Conservative MPs, Nadine Dorries and Chris Pincher, had well and truly blotted their copybooks.

It’s also true that punters don’t always vote in general elections the way they do in the local equivalents.

But, try as they might to spin their way out of the hole they’re in, the Tories well know portents like these likely spell disaster when Sunak finally goes to the country.

And, lest there be any room for doubt, there’s one more by-election looming in yet another of their supposedly safe seats.

The veteran Conservative MP Peter Bone denies charges of serial bullying and an act of sexual misconduct. But he is nonetheless on the slippery slope out.

Given that Mr Pincher was also ousted for funny business, in his case touching up chaps in London’s true-blue Carlton club, the stench of sleaze can be added to the anti-Tory charge sheet.

All of which factors in to comparisons being drawn between the Conservatives’ latest electoral setbacks and the dying days of the Major administration.

The so-called Grey Man’s back-to-basics rallying call came back to bite him as more and more members of his parliamentary party succumbed to, er, basic instincts.

David Mellor? Toe-sucking? Probably the most toe-curling instance of naughty-naughtiness from the period. Certainly the most memorable.

That sense of terminal decay can only get worse as morale in Tory ranks plunges down, and the faction fighting ratchets up.

There’s been plenty of evidence, both at the conference and elsewhere, of serious attempts to tug the party rightwards both before and after the election.

And here lies one more sinkhole the Conservatives are in danger of falling into.

Keir Starmer has, in his boringly efficient way, dragged his party away from the unelectable territory of left-wing extremism and back to the much safer centre ground.

If Rishi Sunak or his perceived successor succumbs to the lure of every bit as electorally unappetising territory of right-wing extremism then goodnight Vienna beckons.

As this potential trend gradually becomes visible to the British electorate the possibility of a Tony Blair-style landslide next year gains a degree of credibility.

Not that that scenario goes all that much further than the next general election. For two reasons.

One, for all his innovative ideas of a fun night in, David Mellor wasn’t a bad bloke. And was, like a fair few of his peers, quite an effective minister.

And, two, John Major was as smart as the fiscally hypercautious king Henry 7th. Meaning, just as Henry 8th got the top job with loads of dosh to play with, so did Blair.

Bit of a miserable contrast to the baton Keir Starmer’s likely to pick up. Any money in the kitty? Diddley-squat.

In case anyone’s deluded into dreaming of green shoots of recovery, top economics thinktank the Institute for Fiscal Studies is on hand to put them straight.

High debt, low growth and high borrowing are to condemn Britain to high taxes and tight spending for the foreseeable future, they tell us.

All of which they add, soberingly, equates to a ‘horrible fiscal bind’.

The song ‘Things can only get better’ helped Tony Blair get in, and the cash he had to splash helped keep him in, as he dramatically upped spending on schools and hospitals.

No such luck in prospect for Starmer, however much he might try to spin a winning narrative.

At the same time Sunak will do his damndest to say: ‘Thirteen years of Tory misrule? Nothing to do with me, guv. I’m the change candidate.’

Still, one bit of Britain’s crumbling infrastructure that is getting sorted is London’s Millennium Bridge, currently closed for cleaning and restoration.

And passers-by who’ve spotted something rather odd going on can be assured their eyes are not deceiving them. There really is a bale of straw hanging underneath it.

That’s thanks to an ancient by-law that says it’s needed – to warn river traffic that there’s less headroom than usual.

Surprising how many of these quirky rules and regulations are still kicking around.

Section Sixty of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, for example, prohibits the beating of any rug or carpet in the road. Except doormats, but that’s only before eight in the morning.

And there’s worse. You can’t ‘fly any kite or play at any game’ that annoys other people.

What? No kite flying? Where does that leave politicians? Best lock ’em up then. And throw away the key …

Watch Peter’s report HERE


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