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Search me, guv !

The good news is we do actually have a government now, which makes a change. The bad news is it doesn’t know what it’s going to do about pretty much anything. In a week or so’s time the hints and clues will turn into hard facts. But as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, that leaves wide open the question of who is going to be hit hardest.

The answer to that, in Liz’s la-la land, was the poorest, silly. Some might say that’s a bit harsh, but they’d be in a small minority.

Now that Truss’s weird little bubble’s burst and grownups have been allowed back in the room the books have been opened and the scales have fallen from eyes.

And scale matters.

Few dispute we’re headed for the longest recession in a century and the Bank of England’s attempt to curb inflation by whacking up interest rates is just for starters.

Nor is there much argument that the whopping fifty billion pound hole in the nation’s pocket has got to be plugged somehow.

The difference between Truss’s basically devil take the hindmost and Rishi Sunak’s avowedly more kindly approach lies in who picks up the tab.

To her insistence that we can’t put up taxes comes his answer: Yes we can.

Each passing day brings clearer briefings from the Treasury. The pain will be shared equally between public service cuts and Inland Revenue hikes.

On the right, commentators are talking of tax grabs, on the left they’re bemoaning austerity cruelty.

The hope in Downing Street is that the balance will appeal to the British sense of fair play. It’s all about preparing the ground. Something Truss spectacularly didn’t get.

Has to be said, mind, Britain’s woeful economic state is far from all of her making. The twin evils of Covid and Putin have depleted coffers the world over.

Arguably, we’re in a somewhat worse state than most, thanks to the Brexit barriers put up between us and our biggest trading partners.

Arguably also, that schism is the reason the Tory party has degenerated into what many analysts of all stripes see as a loose confederation of warring tribes.

Certainly, when Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivers his budget-by-another-name on November 17th he’ll have those on the right after his blood.

His predecessor from yesteryear Ken Clarke compared this faction to an insatiable bunch of crocodiles. As he memorably once put it:

‘You can feed them buns as long as you have some, but once you run out they will eat you anyway.’

And last week Hunt ruefully admitted at a meeting of business leaders that trying to balance the books is not a bundle of laughs.

Or, to use his exact words: ‘This would be really interesting shit if I wasn’t in the middle of it.’

Maybe he was channelling his inner near namesake. You know, that less than cheery bloke from the bible, Jeremiah. Widely known as ‘the weeping prophet’.

If so he’s in good company with the Home Secretary, accused by her critics of accessing her own inner not very jolly character, from the movie 101 Dalmatians.

Suella does after all rhyme with Cruella, as in that horrid De Vil woman. And Braverman’s performances have been playing to just as unfavourable houses.

The unseasonably warm autumn weather has led to unusually large numbers of would-be migrants making it across the Channel.

But her description of the influx as an ‘invasion’ has got her into every bit as dangerously deep water.

According to one former Tory Home Office minister: ‘It just shows what a thug she is.

‘She’s facile, totally uncompassionate and insincere .. it’s only the dinosaurs left defending her now.’

Even her own Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick confessed: ‘ In my role you have to choose your terminology wisely.’

The irony being that many business’s answer to soaring inflation and crippling labour shortages is not tightening but loosening border controls.

A load of extra staff (probably, it has to be said, paid at the lower end of the wage scale) would fill gaps in everything from hospitality to agriculture.

Upshot, said almost half the companies surveyed last month, smaller cost of living increases and more money pumped into the economy.

Sunak can doubtless see the financial sense in that, but would be wary politically of those same crocodiles his Chancellor has reason to be scared of.

But, policy aside, there’s the small matter of competence.

And the seemingly endless succession of Home Office cockups in its flailing attempts to manage the migration situation brings that question into sharp relief.

All this on Braverman’s watch. Meaning while security questions linger following her ousting under Truss, plenty wonder if Sunak will end up dumping her too.

After all, confirmed government breaches of the law by keeping too many people for too long at the Manston processing centre in Kent don’t look good.

Nor do lurid tales of people being whisked off to London and just dumped there do a lot for the Prime Minister’s Mr Nice Guy credentials.

This is unquestionably a big and multidimensional dilemma, but few can fail to have been moved by the image last week of a young girl’s desperate plea for help.

The message, in a bottle she threw over Manston’s perimeter fence to journalists outside, spoke of pregnant women and sick detainees feeling imprisoned and scared.

With good reason, according to local council chiefs who’ve described the situation as ‘critical’, citing the spread of Covid, diphtheria, scabies and the superbug MRSA.

Millions will doubtless be distracted, however, by the health hazards Matt Hancock is voluntarily subjecting himself to on telly, in the Australian jungle.

Some say as a former Health Secretary himself he really should know better than to brave the bugs and creepy-crawlies in the reality show I’m a Celeb.

He claims it’ll give him a chance to big up his campaign to help people who, like him, have dyslexia. But others put a less cosy glow on it, to put it mildly.

First he was chucked out of the Parliamentary Conservative Party for abandoning his duties, then local constituency officials weighed in. Colourfully. One said:

‘I’m looking forward to him eating a kangaroo’s penis. Quote me. You can quote me on that.’

Ghastly thought. Enough to stretch to the limits Friedrich Nietzsche’s theory that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Certainly Lancashire pensioners Ann and Keith Harley had no wish to put that to the test – by trying to stay alive all winter in a freezing home.

It seemed inevitable, however, when their boiler packed up on them – as they knew they could never afford a new one.

More in despair than hope they flung themselves on the mercy of a local charity.

But the man who runs it was reduced to tears at their plight. And they were too when, within hours, an anonymous donor stumped up for a replacement.

‘I cried, my husband cried. We didn’t think it was possible for somebody to help us, it doesn’t normally happen to us,’ Mrs Hartley said.

The comfort of strangers. A lot to be said for it.

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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