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Sleazy Does It?

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It’s not like he isn’t already half drowning in a sea of troubles. With the public giving the Conservative party a thorough thumbs down over its record in just about everything else, the last thing Rishi Sunak needed was a sex scandal. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, that is exactly what’s taking shape now.

The grubby little William Wragg tale is, if nothing else, indicative of collapsed morale within Tory ranks.

A senior party member and currently vice-chairman of the Conservatives’ powerful 1922 committee, Wragg has already joined the growing number of colleagues announcing they’re not even going to bother fighting the election.

And maybe his careless behaviour – sharing naughty-naughty pictures of himself with a man he met on a dating app – is a sign of demob happiness.

But where it gets awkward is his having been spooked by this guy into passing on the phone numbers of thirteen other men, including a serving minister. Plus other MPs, members of their staff and a political journalist.

Word is that a couple of them were naïve enough to fall for the same honeytrap scam. It’s said they too shared pix of themselves that they wouldn’t want their mums to see. Or maybe their partners.

Oscar Wilde once saucily suggested that women spot everything except the obvious. But stories like this suggest it’s men who’re the real silly-billies.

And who knows? Have any of the others blabbed? But, unlike Wragg, kept schtum about it? The Old Bill are on the case, but how far their ‘malicious communications’ investigation will go is anyone’s guess.

Meantime, Wragg’s retribution could come swiftly. If there are complaints to the Tory enforcers they could well chuck him out of the party, forcing him to don a dunce’s cap and eke out his MP’s time as an independent.

That would be pretty cruel, given his very obvious and public remorse. But the Victorian punishment of ostracism, that wasted Wilde’s morale, is a concept that’s all too alive and well in the social media age.

At the same time, deeply dug in as we are to the digital age, the vulnerability of our political class is writ large in a string of cyber attacks last month on a group of senior parliamentarians.

Because all have adopted hardline positions on the potential threat posed by China, it’s assumed that the moves were an attempt by that country to undermine our democracy.

Problem is these days, as the technology gets more and more sophisticated, it’s all too easy. Not only to do the entrapping, but to fall for it.

Maybe the Wragg ragging story will just peter out. Or maybe it’ll fit into the same hostile actors scenario. If so, it’ll grow not at all comely legs and generate yet more hostile headlines.

Either way, what’s happened feels like an eerie echo of the dying days of John Major’s administration, as Tony Blair was limbering up for his 1997 landslide.

Those with long memories will recall his, ahem, unfortunate campaign entitled: ‘Back to basics.’

It was a well-intended attempt at resetting his government and the public’s perception of it. But the string of Tory sex scandals that followed in short order exposed the words as singularly ill-chosen.

Apologies here to Jane Austen, but: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a prime minister in possession of a good majority, must STILL be in want of luck.’

While Major’s majority was pretty slender by the end, Sunak’s still looks reasonably healthy, on paper at least. But he has been spectacularly unlucky from the word go.

He picked up the baggage of thirteen years of Tory government’s widespread shortcomings, compounded by its choosing the wrong leaders, and a party at daggers drawn with itself.

With the town hall elections only three weeks away and polls confidently predicting a massacre, Tony Blair’s one-time slogan warrants putting in reverse. Things can only get worse.

The right-wing vultures circling round Rishi could choose catastrophic results to attempt to call time on him. Assuming they fail he’ll still be left with what’s left of his authority that bit more shredded.

Alternatively, if they were to succeed, most observers predict that the electorate really would write them off as a basket case.

A sixth standard-bearer, in little over a decade? To borrow from often gloriously apposite Cockney-speak: ‘You ’aving a laugh, me old china?’

However, cynical commentators might endorse the logic of yet another pop at changing leader, on the grounds that the challengers need to get a wiggle on.

After all, the last two mega polls, which divvy out the results on a constituency-by-constituency basis, suggest that many of the pretenders to the Tory throne will be chucked out in the election anyway.

They also note that Sunak himself could well lose his seat. This, the really unkind school of thought goes, would at least spare him the humiliation of being defenestrated by his own chums.

Meantime, as if the poor man hasn’t got enough on his plate already, internal disagreements over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that have dogged the Labour party for months have now spilled over to his side.

The killing of, among others, three British aid workers has led to a significant downturn in Western support for Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach to the war.

With Palestinian deaths now outnumbering those slaughtered in the initial Hamas attack by some thirty to one, the tipping point was already fast approaching.

But now the US President has significantly shifted his position, finally telling Netanyahu enough is enough. And here in UK there are growing calls for an end to arms shipments to Israel. We don’t send many, but the symbolism counts.

Two Tory peers and several Conservative MPs have joined in the clamour, defying the government’s insistence that no policy change is needed.

At the same time, former Tory minister Alan Duncan has ruffled feathers and enraged former Home Secretary Suella Braverman by accusing some of his colleagues of being pro-Israeli extremists.

Not a happy ship then. Makes you wonder whether the Tories ought to take civility and reconciliation lessons from the animal kingdom.

The Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal, who passed away last month, left an extraordinary and groundbreaking legacy of findings about how much better behaved apes can be than humans.

Apart from discovering that chimps can count and learn both sign and computer language, and indeed teach this stuff to one another, he also found some of them are really big on empathy.

For example, he spotted a dear little bonobo monkey picking up an injured starling, climbing a tree and spreading its wings, thus enabling it to fly.

He also spent years watching how a colony of chimps would, after having a dust-up, actually kiss and make up.

So impressed was he that he wrote a book about them called Chimpanzee Politics.

And so impressed was one-time US Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich that he declared the work required reading for new Republican congress members.

Probably too late for the current crop of Tory MPs. But, you never know, might be worth a try. Couldn’t make matters much worse.

PS: Here's a thought, on telly, about Israel's political difficulties:


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