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Too Many Fireworks?



If everything feels out of control at present that’s because it is. As the Israeli war machine grinds ahead faster than expected the risk of regional conflict is daily growing. Then again Artificial Intelligence could spell the end of life as we know it anyway. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the one damp squib in prospect is this week’s King’s Speech.


Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s terrifying 1979 movie, depicting the horrors and heartbreak of the Vietnam War, deserves another innings.


Not least because it spells out in graphic detail the sheer futility of fighting.


But though historic rivalries and ingrained hatreds define the current Middle-Eastern crisis, history also holds another, potentially more positive, portent.


After the four occasions in the last half century when these tensions exploded into violence there were serious efforts to find paths to long-term peace.


None succeeded. But it’s possible, when this bout of bloodletting finally comes to an end, there’ll be another attempt. It could even work this time. Eventually.


In the meantime, the ferocity of the Israelis’ response to the October 7th massacre may yet erode the international support they’ve enjoyed up to now.


It’s certainly created big problems for the Labour leader here in Britain.


Keir Starmer’s steadfast refusal to yield to widespread calls at all levels in his party for a ceasefire has put his authority uncomfortably on the line.


Particularly galling for him, as up until now the evident unity within his ranks has stood in stark and damning contrast to the Tories’ chaotic indiscipline.


But if these guys appear out of control that’s nothing to what boffins behind advances in Artificial Intelligence seem to be up to.


Of course the new technology can enable wonderful breakthroughs that might benefit every one of us.


Just a shame about the perceived threat that it could also, one day, wipe us out.


Having studied at uni in California, Rishi Sunak is a bit of tech bro, and certainly got on well last week with tech big bro Elon Musk, who’s even richer than he is.


The Tesla/X boss agreed wholeheartedly that an international approach to governments keeping an eye on new innovation is the way forward.


This was exactly what Sunak was aiming for in convening what he claims was the first ever AI safety conference, at Bletchley Park last week.


While Musk maintained robots might end up so clever that we won’t even have to work for a living, others pointed out they might also destroy us.


The problem that didn’t get quite so bigged up is that this kind of technology shoots ahead so fast that official oversight will struggle to keep up.


Nonetheless, more get-togethers on similar lines to Sunak’s are now planned, which does seem to add up to a feather in his cap.


Certainly, his efforts did quite a lot to wrench the headlines away from the week’s succession of hammer blows to his party’s reputation.


The inquiry into their handling of the Covid crisis may have centred on how well or otherwise Boris Johnson performed, but it was the Tory brand in the dock.


While rude words used by Johnson’s one-time bestie Dom Cummings got us all into oo-er missus mode, the underlying verdict was coruscating.


Yes, faced with a pandemic comparable to the Spanish flu outbreak that killed more people than the First Word War, all governments were floundering.


And yes, Britain did lead the way in its nationwide vaccination programme.


But, unreliable though some statistics are, it does seem we had the sixth biggest death toll in the world.


In addition, the partygate scandal that saw Downing Street staff putting two fingers up to restrictions they themselves were imposing has enraged many.


Indeed, to those prevented by those same rules from saying their final farewells to loved ones, this was unforgiveable.


Though the Daily Star isn’t noted for its unwavering political insight, its headline last Wednesday spoke for all the all the angry people. It read:


‘The Star may have given the impression that Boris Johnson and Co were useless, moronic, pointless and pathetic clowns who were all out for themselves.


‘It turns out they’re much much, much, much, much worse than that. We are happy to set the record straight.’


Could be there’s an element of oversimplification there, but there can be little doubt that that episode contributed to the Tories’ downward spiral in the polls.


Even Sunak’s decision, as Chancellor, to launch the furlough scheme – that got him the nickname ‘Dishi Rishi’ – hasn’t saved him from dire personal ratings.


Though it’s said he’s reasonably optimistic about his and the nation’s prospects, that puts him in a pretty small minority.


Fewer than a quarter of those asked by the pollster YouGov expect to be better off by next autumn, when it’s widely thought the general election will be held.


And little more than one in ten reckon things will be looking up for Britain as a whole.


Then again, they might be overlooking the big bag of goodies coming their way in the King’s Speech this week.


It’s a big occasion, pretty much every year, when the government unveils the tranche of new laws it plans for the benefit of all.


Every year, that is, except in all likelihood this one.


That’s because time’s running out, which diminishes the chances of getting much meaningful on the statute book before the whole lot goes in the bin.


Also, the collective grumpiness currently besetting the Conservative party has severely restricted Sunak’s room for manoeuvre.


The speech will be dissected ad nauseam on the day, as well as speculated on at length in the run-up.


But it’s unlikely to boil down to much more than a few bits and pieces designed to create battle lines with the Labour party.


Because the Tories didn’t lose the Bojo by-election in Uxbridge, where tax on higher polluting cars was going up, they’ve come over all pro-motorist.


So they’re likely to make it harder for town halls to slap up more twenty’s plenty signs.


This, in tandem with more North Sea oil and gas exploration, will be meant as a signal that voters shouldn’t be expected to shell out too much for green policies.


As for getting traffic to slow down, mind, some lovely folk in Bishop’s Waltham in Hampshire are all for it.


They’ve banded together to patrol a busy road, and regularly call everything to a halt.


Some drivers get pretty snitty about this, but that won’t stop them doing it for a while yet. And coming back. Same time next year.


That’s because the road in question splits in two a pond, whose youngest residents risk their lives getting from one side to the other.


You might think the mummies and daddies should have taught them the essentials of the Highway Code.


Then again, the details can be a bit baffling if you happen to be … a swan.



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