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The home straight? Please god !!

With pubs, restaurants, hotels and cinemas back in business, and social distancing fast receding there’s joy in the air. But the nasty new Indian variant feels like a potentially painful Pun-jab. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, next month’s planned return to near full normality is looking more than a little iffy.

In what seems like a victory lap after their vaccine-driven election successes, the Tories have stormed fifteen points ahead of Labour.

And the degree of Sir Keir Starmer’s grief is exposed with tales of his own position as opposition leader coming under threat.

But Bojo’s bounce could yet be flattened if, as some scientists fear, he has to scale down the country’s opening up.

A maddening thought, as one day last week the total Covid-related death toll in England was officially listed as zero.

While the Health Secretary has hinted we might even be able, next month, to do away with facemasks.

Glorious prospect, that. The Fab Four were cool in their day, but the rest of us posing as overgrown beetles? Not a good look.

The Yanks have already done it. Fully vaccinated folk are now free to frolic as humans in most indoor settings, as well as outside.

However, while the signs are existing vaccines will still work against the Indian variant, it is a lot more contagious.

Cases of it have more than doubled in days, and Johnson’s admitted he’s ‘anxious’ about what it could mean for lockdown lifting.

Hence localised surge testing, many Brits having their second jab brought forward, and possible curtailment or delays to some promised freedoms.

A bit of perspective, however. The biblical Promised Land is locked in a nasty place as Israelis and Palestinians roll out the big guns.

At least in the post-Trump era the Americans are once again prepared to try and mediate. Fingers crossed for all.

Back here it’s been more a matter of finger-pointing. At our own yesterday’s man, David, Dodgy Dave to his detractors, Cameron.

He who once said the next big political scandal would be lobbying is up to his eyeballs in just that.

All thanks to his endless tapping up of top bods in government on behalf of the Australian financier Lex Greensill.

If the bloke’s business hadn’t gone belly up Dave’s garden shed would be a stately home by now.

As it was, he still made loadsamoney more than he was paid as PM, though he won’t say just how much.

He did, however, admit getting roughed up by two commons committees last week was, ahem, ‘painful’.

Also, he conceded, his motives could be ‘open to misinterpretation’, and he should have contacted ministers more formally.

Or, as one or two MP’s put it, he was a ‘con artist’ and a ‘stalker’ who ‘demeaned’ his former office.

And Guardian columnist Marina Hyde was struck by the way he blamed spellcheck for his giving out too much info.

‘I’m afraid I found it rather difficult to watch this section of the hearings and not think: can you ducking believe this aunt?’

Naughty? But nice ...

However, Boris Johnson may too have awkward public appearances to look forward to, now he’s announced an independent inquiry into Covid.

One of the less remarked on new laws trailed in last week’s Queen’s Speech was the repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

It was dreamed up by the aforementioned oopsie-daisy Dave, to make sure his hastily-cobbled coalition with the Lib Dems wouldn’t unstitch.

Good for him. Less so for Bojo, as he, like any PM wanting to hold on to office, would prefer to choose when to give it a go.

Given how lightweight his latest legislative programme is, it’s pretty obvious he has in mind sooner rather than later.

And, from his own point of view, he’d be crazy not to.

Given his whopping ballot box boost, today would be just right, if it didn’t seem a tad opportunistic.

Given that it would, he’ll hold off for a bit. But it’s a racing certainty he’ll get it out of the way long before the Covid enquiry reports back.

For heaven’s sake, it’s not even starting till next spring. And it’ll probably be years in the making.

That said, witnesses, including Johnson, will have to give evidence in public whenever they’re told to.

And, for all the all’s well that ends well vaccination incantation, Bojo ballsed up again and again at the start of the pandemic.

That speckled past might make voters wonder whether to trust him with their future.

Timing is everything, and he’ll have no say in who’s put on the rack, and when.

This matters much more than the inquiry’s final conclusion, which’ll probably be carefully nuanced, and read like a history book anyway.

It was the same with the Chilcot report into the Iraq war, that came out years later. Likewise the probe into the death of scientist David Kelly.

One contemporary commentator in particular pulled no punches.

‘Out of the crater creeps the prime minister, beaming his chipmunk grin. Nailing Blair is like trying to pin jelly to a wall.’

So, writing in the Daily Telegraph, said – wait for it – Boris Johnson.

You have to admit he’s a good writer, some would say he should have stuck with it. As he at least hit that nail squarely on the head.

His point being the public had already decided, on the basis of his public grillings, to make Blair stand in the corner for ever.

And this inquiry will be just as emotive, if not even more so. As Johnson struggles to prove his mistakes did not cost lives.

A space to watch, then.

Meantime, as Voltaire so sensibly put it, il faut cultiver notre jardin. That’s to say just get on with our own stuff.

Like hugging. Now that we can. At last.

And there’s more to that than meets the eye, as it has everything to do with our evolutionary past.

Thomas Moore, Science and Medical Correspondent at Sky News points out there are good reasons why monkeys and apes like grooming.

More than just picking out bits from their fur, they do it as a way of bonding socially.

And while we humans tend not to be quite so hairy, our skin still has a network of touch-sensitive nerves hooked up to our brain.

In return it releases endorphins, as magic as morphine but not addictive.

We’d all like them to be habit-forming, mind, as they in their turn pump out the stress-reducing and generally chilling hormone oxytocin.

A cuddle with a partner has the same effect. Or with a baby, so long as it doesn’t respond by howling at us, obvs.

And just as it was announced that animals will finally be legally recognised as sapient beings, one hack’s already shown she’s ahead of the game.

Guardian US writer Poppy Noor prefaced her invitation to readers to share lockdown low points with a frank disclosure of her own.

At one point, she confesses, she got so exasperated with her four-month-old puppy endlessly humping her that she put him seriously straight.

Not that he seemed convinced when she bellowed at him at the top of her voice: ‘I AM THE ALPHA!’

She also, in desperation, tried humping him back. But, sad to say, apparently that didn’t work either.

Whatever next …?

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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