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Stop Digging?




Surely the oldest trick in the book. When an argument is clearly being lost, best change the subject. Pronto. Cue the PM’s long-awaited and long overdue overhaul of the health service. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, it’s as good a way as any of drawing the fire from the government’s illegal immigration failure.


The one-time Labour Chancellor Denis Healey – he of the eagle wingspan eyebrows – once uttered a warning that subsequent politicians ignore at their peril.


‘Follow the rule of holes. If you are in one, stop digging.’


Ruefully, Rishi Sunak seems to have taken the hint. Announcing with a flourish of trumpets the NHS lifeline that he first mooted, er, six months ago.


Of course he’s not unmindful of the second law of holes, that even when you stop digging you’re still in a hole.


Nonetheless, the supermarket slogan still stacks up. Every little helps.


And the reality is his promise to stop the small boats is holed, pun intended, close to the waterline.


Yes, he’s huffing and puffing and promising, or maybe just praying, that he’ll emerge victorious from the War of the Wigs. Eventually.


But last week’s court ruling, that dumping asylum seekers in Rwanda is a no-no, does put the kibosh on the idea. For the time being, if not forever.


And it came in tandem with votes in the House of Lords to rip chunks out of the new law intended to ensure the small boat people are simply locked up and chucked out.


There will be a ping-pong ding-dong between the two chambers of parliament, with the Home Secretary Suella Braverman hissing and spitting as only she knows how.


But the underlying truth is that the huge backlog of unprocessed pleas for asylum is all down to her.


She’s the one who’s failed to recruit and train anything remotely like enough staff in her department to get the job done. And she knows it.


Meaning the massive sum the nation has to fork out for housing and feeding these folk, who have after all risked their lives to get here, is all down to her. No one else.


It’s certainly the case that to a slice of the British population, notably swing voters in the so-called ‘red wall’, asylum seekers are as a red rag to a bull.


But potentially far larger numbers of people in the so-called ‘blue wall’ get the blues at the perceived inhumanity of the government’s approach.


And, while an accumulation of incomers in specific areas does create pinch points, straining local services, the vast majority of us has never even seen any of these people.


Meaning what’s been perhaps lazily termed the migrant ‘crisis’ has in fact passed most of us by completely.


That said, there’s still the old hacks’ adage. That news is not what happens but what is reported.


However, it could be Sunak’s seen the light. And recognised that there’s another factor at play that might just trump the best efforts of right-wing tabloid rags.


We’re all prisoners of our bodies. Meaning healthcare matters. And the NHS is, not to put to fine a point on it, in a sorry state. There, surely, is a crisis. A real one.


So … Hey presto! The plan!


A doubling of the number of medical school places, and training cut from five years to four.


Plus the Treasury will shell out two-and-a-half billion pounds over the next half decade to recruit tens of thousands of new staff.


Whether those new medics stick with the NHS is another matter. As one top doc put it, there’s a risk ministers will turn the taps on without putting the plug in.


In more pressing terms, the scheme will do nothing to help Sunak keep to his word about cutting waiting lists this side of the election.


That’s another one down the tubes then, along with his promise to halve inflation. That really did look in the bag anyway, until the economy swerved in the wrong direction.


Even the right-leaning Telegraph (aka Torygraph) has declared that his five pledges, that seemed so easy, have now become his albatross.


No great surprise then that while the Labour leader might not exactly set the nation afire with excitement, his party’s poll lead remains up there in the twenties.


No great surprise either that Tory MPs aren’t exactly jumping for joy. One spoke for many with the following deliciously desperate observation:


‘We just have to hope that something unidentified turns up, like an alien invasion. It’s not a great strategy but that’s where we are now.’


Sunak’s one last hope is that voters will at least give him credit for refloating the ship after the Bozza/Truss turbulence that so nearly sank it.


If only. Last week’s whacking by the committee that judged Johnson a serial liar over lockdown-busting beanos in Downing Street put paid to that.


Loyal followers of the Boris brand got so hot under the collar about this, ahem, Tory dominated group that they snarled it was a ‘kangaroo court’ conducting a ‘witch hunt’.


In addition they got hundreds of people to email its members telling them to butt out.


Hence the committee’s enraged second report, this one accusing its accusers of falling foul of parliamentary rules.


Among those in the firing line were three former cabinet members, and one serving minister. Who’s now flounced out of the government.


The new sitrep’s due to be debated in the commons in a week or so, just as the parties are gearing up for three by-elections triggered by Bozza’s bye-bye.


As any military strategist will point out, morale is key. And, as is plain for all to see, the Tory troops aren’t so much happy bunnies as cats in a sack.


So much for Sunak’s opening gambit when he took over at Number Ten. The one about standing united or falling divided.


Meanwhile, he continues to sound serene and confident, even as the noises off scream out the opposite.


But maybe there’s nothing new in this.


Boffins at Warwick university, who’ve been checking out orangutans’ vocal abilities, have discovered they can make two entirely different sounds at the same time.


The females, rather endearingly, can produce kiss squeak impressions while also making rolling calls.


And their hairy bloke equivalents manage simultaneously a sort of chomping sound alongside a good old-fashioned grumble.


Hmm, says the uni’s Doctor Adriano Lameira: ‘Now that we know this vocal ability is part of the great ape repertoire, we can’t ignore the evolutionary links.’


Note his use of language here. Orangutans are great apes, not their smaller furry friends.


Nonetheless, it seems safe to say the current Conservative clan is making a monkey … of itself.




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