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The Dogs of War

Maybe it was all part of the plan. Though the Islamist group Hamas knew it was hopelessly outgunned, it probably factored in the consequences of Israel’s bloody response to its October atrocity that are now unfolding. And, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, their war has suddenly become our war.

Given the simmering and historic hatreds spanning the Middle East, responsible neighbouring governments have resisted getting sucked into what threatened to be a regional conflict.

But with the US and UK hitting back hard at incursions by the anti-Israeli Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, the situation now risks escalating out of control.

And, here at home, it’s completely skewed the political dialogue, wiping the nation’s outrage at the appalling treatment of hundreds of innocent postmasters and mistresses off the front pages.

Not that that diminishes the scale of the massive injustice that’s trashed the lives of so many.

Half a century ago Tory Prime Minister Ted Heath described a financial scandal of the day as: ‘The unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism.’

Which surely sums up what we’re looking at now.

The public outrage that greeted the TV series exposing the iniquity of it all has at least finally galvanised the government into decisive action.

A new law exonerating the victims, combined with setting aside a billion pounds to compensate them within months should wipe the slate reasonably clean.

But it’s been obvious for years that something strange had been going on. A sudden and sustained deluge of dishonesty by decent, ordinary folk should have raised questions.

The payoff line in Henrik Ibsen’s play Hedda Gabler springs to mind: ‘People don’t do such things!’

And yet the response by the Post Office was simply to offer bonuses for convictions to investigators doing the hounding.

The problems started over twenty years ago when the decision was taken to go digital. The equipment offered by Fujitsu was the least fit for purpose, but the cheapest.

And, as night follows day, it kept coming up with erroneous conclusions. Time and again exposing non-existent shortfalls in the accounts of local offices.

This was Little Britain, ‘computer says no’, on an industrial and iniquitous scale.

Little wonder, in its efforts to recoup its losses, the government now has in its sights the Japanese company responsible for this rubbish kit.

However, there remains the matter of who in the management, and Whitehall, knew what and when. And why exactly they didn’t see fit to ask the right questions.

Over the period in question there’ve been no fewer than seventeen ministers of all stripes supposedly responsible for overseeing the work of the Post Office. So no party is blameless.

But the buck most decisively stops with the Tories, given that they’ve been in power for the last fourteen years, albeit part of that time in coalition with the Lib Dems.

Rishi Sunak can but hope he’s lanced the boil with his remedial action, given how much else he’s got on his plate just now.

Leaving aside the immediate and terrifying danger of the country being dragged into a war that’s none of its making, there’s the inevitability of Rwanda ructions in coming days.

The seeds were sown even before the Christmas truce, when Sunak tried his best to appease both wings of his hopelessly divided party.

In theory, the so-called ‘flagship’ policy of jetting all asylum seekers off on a one-way ticket to Africa was going to put off any more people from even trying to make it across the channel.

But in practice, getting on for half the parliamentary Conservative party was deeply uneasy about the idea, while large numbers of others thought the legislation didn’t go far enough.

So, in his talks with the rival factions, Sunak deployed the different inflexions technique of buying them off.

To the moderates he said: ‘This is the bill, and I REALLY don’t want to make it any tougher.’

But to the hardliners, he said: ‘This is the bill, and I really don’t WANT to make it any tougher.’

You getting the vibe here? Same words, different meaning. Absolutely zero surprise then that the rightwing rebels feel emboldened to try and sharpen the legislation.

Their aim is to cut off pretty much all legal routes by which asylum seekers can challenge their deportation.

And if they don’t get their way it would only take twenty-nine of them to vote against the bill and that’s it. Finito.

Except that they probably won’t have the nerve. Same as when it first came in front of the commons and they bottled it.

Not that that protects any of them from the miles of column inches of what if speculation in the meantime.

And the party wonders why it’s so lamentably behind in the polls?

In the end it’s reasonable to assume that in the public’s mind it boils down not even to what they’re squabbling about but simply that they’re squabbling at all.

Little wonder Sunak regularly says the party must unite or die. Fat lot of good it’s ever done him, mind.

Maybe some time next year, when ex PM Sunak is sunning himself on a beach in California, he’ll reflect on what a shame it is he didn’t just ditch the silly idea in the first place.

After all, thanks to his quietly competent outreach to the authorities in France and Albania, crossing were down last year by a third. Which is a result.

Also, without the endless Rwanda chatter getting in the way, he’d have had more scope to talk to people about what really matters to them. The state of the economy.

Here again, he has got a success story to tell. Not only has it grown in recent months more than economists expected, but also inflation is in a gloriously welcome tailspin.

With several leading forecasters now predicting it’ll be down to just two per cent by April, the Bank of England may have to bring forward its first interest rate cut.

Music to the ears of a weary electorate? Would be, if it ever managed to biff Tory infighting off the front pages.

Be so nice to tidy things up a bit, Sunak must be thinking. Though even that might arouse suspicions.

Seventy-five-year-old Rodney Holbrook, who lives in Powys, has been fascinated of late to find stuff in his shed has been mysteriously put away at night.

One minute he’d got plenty of nuts for the birds in a little box, but the next he found some missing, and in their place was stuff that’d been lying around.

To find out exactly what was going on, he set up a camera, and was astonished at the videos it recorded.

There, night after night, was a dear little mouse diligently putting everything away. But when he spotted a couple more pottering about the penny dropped.

‘He will eat the odd one or two nuts … then pile things on top. To hide them from other mice that might want to get to his stash.’

A bit cynical? Or just realistic?’ If even mice are up against scrutiny like that the politicos don’t stand a chance.


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