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Small Earthquake In Chile?

Rishi Sunak’s hopes that he’s finally brought his snarling party to heel appear forlorn, with fresh strife emerging over his crackdown on migrant crossings. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, at least it looks like he can cross Boris Johnson off his to-kill list.

The legendary journalist Claud Cockburn told in his memoirs of a competition between Times sub-editors for who could write the most boring headline.

He claimed the prize one night with the following: ‘Small Earthquake in Chile, Not many dead.’

Fast forward to last week, and it could read: ‘Small Earthquake in Westminster, Not many dissenters.’

Not only were Tory MPs dissing their once hero as a fibber-fox, they also gave his ill-thought-out Northern Ireland post-Brexit trading arrangements the bum’s rush.

The two elided neatly, as Johnson’s grilling over alleged partygate porkies coincided with a commons division concerning Sunak’s replacement deal for the province.

Because the grandly titled ‘Windsor Framework’ leaves in the mix just a sliver of a say for EU lawmakers, a huge backbench rebellion seemed to loom.

Certainly was a spot of bother in La Belle France. Riotous protests over a domestic dispute caused the cancellation of the King’s visit designed to put the royal stamp on it.

But fewer fireworks in parliament. Johnson led the charge, but not many followed. Because the rest thought his original scheme was rubbish? Or that he is?

The response from almost everyone polled by the Times last week to his claim not to have deliberately misled parliament was: ‘The other one’s got bells on it.’

And there is a good chance his partygate inquisitors will throw the book at him, potentially forcing a by-election on his far from safe manor.

Oddly enough, he’s been unprecedentedly assiduous in courting his constituents lately.

He of course would deny that there’s any connection between the two. But another superb line used by the late Mr Cockburn springs to mind.

‘Believe nothing until it has been officially denied.’

As for his now dead deal for Northern Ireland, the new one is an officially done deal.

This heralds largely checks-free trade between there and the British mainland for stuff that isn’t crossing the EU border into the Republic of Ireland.

The ultimate prize, getting uncompromising unionists to sign up to it and un-hobble the currently hobbled Belfast government, remains elusive.

But Downing Street had already factored in the Democratic Unionist party’s default position, waspishly described by some as: ‘Ulster says no, no matter the question.’

They might yet come round. Apart from having had their pay docked for not doing their job, they do, as politicians, quite like being in charge of things.

So it’s a space worth watching.

Sunak, meanwhile, is keeping a watchful eye on his badly-behaved backbenchers who’re squaring up for the fight over migrants trying to get here in small boats.

On the one hand, some say he’s being too soft on them, while on the other there are concerns that he’s being too hard.

The immediate flashpoint is the question of whether to ban judges from trying to protect people from deportation.

But while Sunak’s trying to bat off immigration hardliners, he’s also keenly aware of concerns on his own side that his tougher approach breaches international law.

Oh dear, he must be thinking, not another commons showdown. Or, to paraphrase King Henry the second : ‘Will no one rid me of this turbulent party?’

All this as polling suggests immigration is gradually creeping up voters’ list of concerns.

Though whether that’s to do with terror of marauding hordes rampaging round the country, or just people reading more about it in the papers, is anyone’s guess.

Hard to gainsay, however, the alarm felt by women sparked by the latest excoriating report on appalling attitudes and behaviour by all too many policemen.

And last week the Labour leader did a bit more than reheat Tony Blair’s ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ mantra.

Sir Keir Starmer’s promise to halve violence against women and girls in a decade is no more than that. A promise.

But detailed measures, including dedicated ‘rape courts’ and domestic violence experts taking 999 calls, suggests he is at least taking the issue seriously.

About time someone did, many may well be thinking.

On a less horrific level, some folk north of the border are saying it’s about time someone came up with some answers about the ScotNats’ savings.

Nicola Sturgeon’s departure may usher in a new First Minister, but doesn’t tell us what happened to more than half a million pounds raised to fight for independence.

Another space, surely, to watch.

At least we do at last know how much Sunak and Starmer have been trousering in earnings.

In the Prime Minister’s case, almost five million over the last three years. Well, stroll on, some might say, especially those struggling to make ends meet.

Oddly enough, the figure was released just as everyone’s focus was on the Bozza bonanza. Burying bad news? Surely not!

Starmer also made quite a lot, but nothing next to Rich Rishi, as nearly all his income consisted of parliamentary wages.

One tasty little top up did come in the form of a hundred grand windfall, when his sister sold a home he’d helped her buy.

But if you’ve any doubt about what a bob or two bricks and mortar can turn, check out Nancy Gifford, who’s flogging her gaff after living there for some time.

Well, a hundred-and-two years, to be precise.

A desirable property, Victorian, three-bedroomed, terraced, near Glastonbury. But a bit much for Nancy, now that she’s turned a hundred-and-four.

Anybody who thinks she’s profiteering should consider all the improvements that’ve been made.

When she first lived there, in 1921, the kitchen, toilet and washing area were open to the elements, with tin bath hanging on the wall.

So the price tag creeping up to a hundred-and-seventy thousand, from a marginally more modest two-hundred quid, is not to be wondered at.

David King from Sheerness, by contrast, found a great deal to be wondered at when he checked the oil in his car after a five-mile drive.

There, cowering deep in the engine compartment, was a ball of fluff and a pair of staring, terrified eyes.

Turned out they belonged to the neighbour’s naughty moggy Rose.

The adventurous little black cat had snuck under the bonnet for a bit of kip, and experienced a rude awakening when the journey got under way.

But all’s well that ends well. The owner, Allison Webster, was later to report: ‘Rose is back to galloping around the house as if nothing happened.’

She added nonetheless: ‘I’m pretty sure she has used up one of her nine lives.’

Which must put her on a level with Boris Johnson. Except that in his case it’s debatable how many he’s got left. If any.


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