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Striking a Balance

For anybody who isn’t well, or who might not be soon, now is a seriously scary time. And with nurses and ambulance drivers dug in for the long haul, the government is on a hiding to nothing. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, ministers have no one to blame but themselves.

A different matter altogether with the train strikes. They might enrage an awful lot of people, but as the saying goes in broadcasting circles – it’s only telly, no one dies.

Besides which, with the other rail union throwing in the towel, Mick Lynch’s guys may soon be having second thoughts.

The more so as his outfit, the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, does not help them out financially when they’re not getting their wages.

But Rudyard Kipling was surely onto something when he wrote: ‘The female of the species is more deadly than the male.’

And the nurses, who after all were everyone’s favourite people during the Covid crisis, are not taking no for an answer.

Yes, patients will be at risk when the walkouts mean staffing levels in wards are cut to the bone, but public sympathy for their plight remains undiminished.

A pay offer of four per cent? When inflation is in double figures? Hardly surprising then.

The official body responsible for setting their award did so many months ago, before the cost of living started to skyrocket.

Of course ministers say they really can’t interfere with the process. But they know, as do the rest of us, that they’re talking through their nether regions.

A point that’s being made, energetically, by the bloke who used to run the official body in question, as well as a growing number of former Tory ministers.

Among them is former Health Minister Steve Brine, who now chairs the influential Commons health select committee. He makes his case bluntly:

‘It seems to me there is no end game, no exit strategy for the government.’ So, he says, it’s time for them to ‘go back and ask them to look again’.

The urgency of the situation is sharply underlined by news that the NHS is bracing for one of the worst outbreaks of flu in recent years.

Already, hospital admissions have jumped more than forty per cent in a week, while rates are more than eight times higher than expected at this time of year.

All this as the service faces the biggest treatment backlog in history.

None of which should come as any surprise to ministers. A report they themselves commissioned has blamed them for what it termed ‘a decade of neglect’.

The findings of the King’s Fund think tank, published last week, painted a truly damning picture of successive Tory governments’ record.

It concluded that years of insufficient funding have left the NHS with too few staff, too little equipment and too many outdated buildings.

And, with those on the frontline suffering from exhaustion, there’s no hope of delivering key pledges on sorting impossibly long waiting lists.

Little wonder, then, that right-leaning publications like The Spectator magazine are urging Rishi Sunak to put NHS reform at the top of his new year’s priority list.

It would after all be something for voters to focus on, to prove he’s a bit more than a not terribly visible technocrat.

He’s given it a go already, threatening to clamp down on illegal immigration, which will doubtless appease closet racists in the Tory fold.

Plus it might help mitigate the threat to what’s left of his party’s fortunes from a Nigel Farage-led reborn take-back-control grouping.

But it does sit uneasily alongside the human tragedy writ large last week when four people perished in the icy waters of The Channel, and dozens more nearly died.

Ray Strachan, skipper of a fishing boat whose proximity to the scene kept the death toll from being much higher, put it in graphic and heartfelt terms:

‘It was like something out of a Second World War movie, there were people in the water everywhere, screaming.’

And Hitler’s atrocities are finding an echo in Putin’s terror tactics in his brutal and illegal attack on Ukraine.

Raining missiles down on the invaded country’s power suppliers is also taking a leaf out of Stalin’s book.

Just as the old monster did his best to starve the oppressed people to death, Vlad the Vile is trying to freeze them into submission.

Not that he’s managing it, thanks to absolute resolve of the folk he’s aiming at.

Kyiv resident Lidiya Vasilieva said it all as she headed for a bomb shelter at the railway station.

‘They want to destroy us, and make us slaves. But we will not surrender. I want the war over and soon. But I’m ready to wait as long as needed.’

News that Putin ducked out of his year-end press conference last week gives a glimmer of hope that that longed for moment of peace may not be so long in coming after all.

His refusal to answer questions suggests he’s aware that the Russia people are no longer quite so keen on his bloody war.

It’s worth noting also that George Orwell’s seminal novel 1984, which aimed to tear Stalinism to shreds, is now topping the electronic bestseller list in Russia.

The only surprise is that the authorities there haven’t banned the book, the same as their Soviet forbears did.

Maybe they’re too busy hunting around for more ammo, as, according to Britain’s armed forces chief, they’ve got a ‘critical shortage’ of artillery shells.

There’s also a glimmer of hope that the Kremlin’s strategy of weaponizing energy supplies might not work in the long term.

This thanks to a huge scientific breakthrough last week, in which boffins in California finally managed to get more power out of nuclear fusion than they put in.

Only a tiny amount, mind, and it’ll be years before the research translates into economic reality.

Nonetheless, the aim of providing near limitless clean energy by emulating the the way the Sun works has been the elusive holy grail for seventy years.

So getting anywhere at all does maybe call to mind what the first person to set foot on the moon made of it.

‘That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.’

It’s estimated those words reached a live audience of some six-hundred-and-fifty million people.

But to bring us all down to earth with a bump, something New Zealand’s Prime Minister said last week got paltry ratings by comparison.

Her words did nonetheless get heard by more people than she intended.

Sitting down after a load of parliamentary questions from a rival politician, she muttered in some exasperation that he was an ‘arrogant prick’.

Unfortunately for her, her microphone was still switched on. Meaning her, ahem, robust character assessment was broadcast on television.

Would saying sorry do the trick? Actually it did, not least because of the extra bit she added. ‘As my mum would say, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.’

No surprise that the guy took it in good part, saying: ‘She’s apologised, I wished her a merry Christmas.’

A sentiment echoed here, by your correspondent. A merry Christmas, to all my readers.


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