top of page

Taking back control? Or losing it ?!?!

Echoes are emerging everywhere of this time last year. Nation and ruling party split on the big issue of the day. Head scratching, backbiting and venom. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the Prime Minister’s facing fury at home and abroad as he fights on two fronts. Weird way to spell the word here, but Westminster’s become a maelstrom. Tories sorely troubled, including at cabinet level, about Bojo’s bullish new coronavirus crackdown. And this week the mother of all parliamentary backlashes after he gave international law the bird. His backbenchers have a new WhatsApp group entitled, ‘What the f*** is going on?’ This is true, btw. No surprise though, as he himself signed the European Union withdrawal treaty – of which he’s now bent on binning bits. The government’s cheerfully pleaded guilty as charged, on the grounds it’s only tying up loose ends. Yerright, said a Times commentator. ‘Like when I text friends “I’m nearly there” when I haven’t even dried my hair or ordered an Uber yet.’ The I newspaper wins best headline award. ‘Britannia waives the rules.’ Former British diplomats say it makes us a rogue state. Three ex-Tory leaders have spat nails. And the government’s top silk has quit in protest. Sorry, everyone, boring Brexity detail follows. Johnson wants to junk the delicate balancing act concerning goods moving to and from Northern Ireland. Ulster, on its way out of the European Union, is joined to the Irish Republic, which is staying put. So if an overall deal isn’t sorted between London and Brussels there’ll be forms to fill in because of different tariff regimes. And, given the bloody history of ‘The ‘Troubles’, checkpoints could become a terror target. Turning the relatively fragile Good Friday agreement bad. Hence last year’s insurance policy. If push came to shove Northern Ireland’s EU/UK status could be slightly blurred. Ergo no hard border. That was then. Now Bojo wants a bit more of his cake to eat, which, clearly, a a fair slice of his own backbenchers won’t stomach. There’s also unease about the other bit he wants to gobble up. His promise not to give British companies an unfair trading advantage with state aid. Again, it’s about rules is rules. Though it’s not the principle of the thing that troubles UK industry leaders, it’s the money. What Johnson’s proposing dramatically ramps up the risk of Britain quitting the EU with no deal. And Josh Hardie, deputy director general of the employers’ organisation the CBI, puts it bluntly. ‘Amid all the noise and negotiations, businesses in the UK and EU remain clear: a good deal is essential.’ Punters agree. The latest YouGov poll found three times as many folk favoured a favourable outcome as didn’t. There’s more. In a rare accord stateside, both Democrats and Republicans say if the Brits put the kibosh on calm in Northern Ireland they’d do the same to free trade with the US of A. Just at a time when we’d be needing it most. Okay, we have cobbled something together with the Japanese, but it’s peanuts next to the Yanks. And if EU talks go belly up, alarm bells start ringing in the corona corner. In the starkest warning yet from the sawbones squad, doctors’ leaders, hospital managers and drug companies have said non agreement would damage the nation’s health. Because it could lead to shortages of medicines as well as virus testing capacity, as ingredients get held up by the new checks. All this as the official boffins body SAGE reveals infections are up where they were in March, and millions face new restrictions. Beginning in Brum. First it was the elderly, now numbers are rising in the uni student category. Just as the places are reopening. Hence the government’s suggestion that killing granny isn’t a nice thing to do. And gramps? Seems he’s fair game. Then there’s the new Rule of Six. Gatherings no bigger than that, thank you very much. Enforceable by law, and open-ended. Crimble grumbles abound, hardly surprisingly. But it’s not just kids. Almost the entire the Cabinet coronavirus strategy committee was against the idea. Cue yet more harrumphing on the Tory back benches. The Sun, not big on leftie waftiness, summed up the feeling thus: ‘Save Christmas or be labelled the Grinch.’ Adding it’s a ‘needless disaster’. Conversely, former NHS regional director Gabriel Scally is scathing. Not because the government’s done too much but too little. His verdict? ‘They’ve lost control of the virus.’ That simple, that blunt. And, albeit damned if they do damned if they don’t, the government has served up some real turkeys. Not oven-ready for Christmas. Remember the promise to produce millions of reusable gowns for NHS workers? How many of the approved items have actually appeared, six months later? A big fat zero. Then there’s the so-called ‘Operation Moonshot’ plan for instant, daily home testing for everyone. Great story, the way Bojo told it. Less so seconds later when both the government’s chief medical officer and chief scientist questioned its viability. ‘Up to a point, Lord Copper?’ Not even that far, by the sound of it. That’s how others are reading it too. According to a YouGov snap survey, more than three-quarters of us favour tighter restrictions on big groups. Though there are glimmers of good news. Stats suggest we’re doing frightfully badly, but when the pandemic kicked off only hospital patients were counted. Now it’s the community. Meaning when we put the two sets of figures together we’re comparing apples with pears. Also, giving a dog a bone might repay the kindness. The Medical Detection Dogs charity in Milton Keynes reckons man’s best friend will be just that if pooches really can sniff out the virus. After a look-see last week the Duchess of Cornwall said the study could be a ‘game-changer’ if it comes up with the goods. Professor Steve Lindsay from Durham University added: ‘This could be very important to help prevent a second wave of the epidemic.’ Clever creatures, dogs. They scour the commons chamber before each sitting to check for explosives. No sign of Guy Fawkes lately. This correspondent watched the performance one day, noting how cheerful the canine bomb squad seemed to be. ‘It’s because the benches are green’ their handler announced. ‘They think they’re in fields.’ Debatable. But many mums are in clover – now that schools are back. Times columnist Helen Rumbelow has a to-do list with a twist. ‘Primarily: stare into space. Why does anyone think of having sex when this is so arousing? ‘Every five minutes the ghost of a child’s voice implores you to “watch this sick TikTok”, or says “I spilt juice on the keyboard and now Google Classroom has kind of frozen”. But those ghosts are not real. ‘Vacantly staring was forbidden when I spent my days sniping at kids to stop vacantly staring. Now I have a gaze boner.’ Boner? A doggie thing? Or something more penetrating?

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.


bottom of page