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The end is nigh? But maybe in a good way !

Updated: Oct 3, 2020

Though the breathless pace of the corona drama means vital developments can get forgotten within hours, last week’s vaccine breakthrough sticks out like the Eiffel Tower next to a bunch of bungalows. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, Boris Johnson’s war is on multiple fronts.

‘Happy Birthday to You, squashed tomatoes and stew. Bread and butter in the gutter, happy Birthday to You.’

Yay! Bojo’s just celebrated the anniversary of his arrival at UK’s political pinnacle. Though north of the border the musical muse is even less respectful.

‘Happy Birthday to You, you live in a zoo. You look like a monkey, and you smell like one too.’

More of him in a moment. First, let’s dwell on us.

Yes, we now all have to look like overblown insects, or bank robbers as Johnson once memorably suggested, when we buy the groceries or order takeaways or whatever.

Yes, the cops are fretting they won’t be able to enforce the wearing of masks, forgetting fellow shoppers will do the job for them if anyone dares disobey.

And yes, half of us will be given the flu jab to help head off a potential health emergency when it gets parky later in the year.

But everyone knows the pandemic panacea is the vaccine to protect us from Covid-19. And on this front the news is good. Really good.

It could be available, on a mass scale, this year, according to the Oxford University experts who seem to be leading the field.

A phase one trial involving more than a thousand healthy volunteers produced what they describe as ‘robust immune responses’, with no serious side-effects.

The team’s leader, vaccinology professor Sarah Gilbert, told The Times: ‘The vaccine is behaving as we expected. That’s great. There’s lots more to do, but really it’s a milestone.’

Bojo’s clocked it too, saying: ‘Further trials will be necessary — but this is an important step in the right direction.’

Two other vaccine projects, one from a Chinese company and another from a partnership between an American and a German drugmaker, have also given a thumbs up.

So several solutions might turn up at once. Just like as the bus you’ve been waiting for for ages.

And the government’s already got an option to buy a million doses of an antibody treatment from AstraZeneca, the British company that’s partnering the Oxford team.

It’s also struck agreements with German, American and French firms to supply ninety million vaccine doses.

In fact there are no fewer than a hundred and fifty different outfits hunting for this holiest of holy grails, twenty-three of which are now at the human trial stage.

Meantime, Boris Johnson’s got other things to fret about. Like the inquiry, further down the line, into how well or otherwise he cracked coronavirus.

He’s getting his defence in early, admitting this week: ‘Maybe there were things we could have done differently’. Ahem, you could say that.

There’s also the ever more palpable threat of a tartan toodle-pip.

A couple of things have got the Scots’ goat. One, Holyrood is handling coronavirus more cautiously than Westminster, and is seen as making a better fist of it. And two, while the English opted for leaving the European Union, they didn’t.

Serious niggles both. The upshot being they’ve put their First Minister ninety-nine points ahead of Bojo in the approval stakes. Which is really rather a lot.

As one Scot Nat MP put it: ‘We’re aware the EU is a bigger and better offer than Mr Johnson’s and we’re appraising both on their merits, not wiff-waffly sentiment.’

And, mindful of polls in Scotland now showing a consistent majority in favour of independence, Boris has been up there splashing the cash.

His carrot and stick message: ‘You can have our money, but you can’t have another referendum.’

He doesn’t put it that bluntly, but that’s what he means. Though how long he can hold that line remains to be seen.

Donald Trump may have gone for a ‘surge’ of federal law enforcement in US cities to make people do his bidding, but we at least do trade as civilised.

Talking of trade, and the EU, time’s running out to sort a deal before we finally exit the bloc at the end of the year.

Negotiations last week ended with both sides sounding grumpy, though there are now considerably fewer areas of disagreement than there were.

Fingers crossed. With more than nine million people on furlough and the economy shrinking as much in two months as it grew in seventeen years, it doesn’t need the kick in the goolies a no-deal would bring.

As to whether it was us or the Ruskies who got us out in the first place, the one thing that stays out is the jury.

The verdict in the long, long awaited Intelligence and Security Committee report on whether the Kremlin tried to influence the Brexit vote was damning.

These high-powered folk, who oversee the work of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, witheringly concluded we’ll never really know because we never really looked.

Neither before nor after the historic vote were the security agencies instructed to check, so of course they failed to come up with anything.

Research by Swansea University and the University of California identified more than a hundred and fifty thousand Russian accounts that tweeted about Brexit ahead of the vote.

And yet when the committee asked MI5 for its take it managed just six lines of text. Amazing it was as much as that, considering it simply didn’t gone there.

Yet it’s been obvious for years that the ex-KGB boot boy running the Kremlin is on a mission to destabilise western institutions.

Which is why the committee accused the government of ‘taking its eye off the ball’.

Left the pitch and gone down the pub, more like.

Leaving large numbers of rich Russians with close links to Vladimir Putin free to worm their way into UK business and social life, thus creating ‘The new normal in Londongrad’.

That, adds the report, is how they recycle ill-gotten gains, through what’s become the ‘London laundromat’. Obvious channels including PR firms and political interests.

Turns out no fewer than fourteen ministers have accepted donations linked to Russia, likewise even a couple of Tory MP’s on the intelligence committee.

And, surprise surprise, the government had its eight-point rebuttal loaded and cocked, ready to fire the moment the report came out.

Interesting, given that Number Ten’s usual drill with this non-partisan and uniquely responsible group is to work with rather than against it.

That said, Bojo has absolutely no desire to unpick Brexit, since it’s what he stood on at the election, and nor does the Labour leader, now that he’s no longer Mr Remain.

Meaning the report can just moulder in the grass, ready to poison anyone who goes near it, but otherwise pretty inert.

International affairs were ever a tricky business, though for some more so than others.

A suggestion to a parliamentary committee from epidemiologist Professor Dame Anne Johnson that we replace handshakes with Japanese greetings to prevent infection jogged one Tory politician’s memory.

Having been told by fellow MP’s a nice way to greet folk in Tokyo was to say ‘chin chin’, he used the formula on everyone he met.

Only later did he discover the word ‘chin’ is Japanese for, ahem, a man’s naughty-thingy.

Some memory, that. Gives an extra zing to the word ‘flashback’.

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.


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