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Victim, Or Assailant?

The title of a brilliant satire show of more than half a century ago could do with updating. In place of ‘That Was The Week That Was’, read: ‘That Was The Week That Wasn’t’. No one’s got round to admitting it, but the government’s strategy for the last few days disappeared virtually without trace. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, that’s because they were too busy mopping up the mess left by their previous week’s wheeze.

Another update springs to mind. The ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus suggested the first casualty of war is truth, but the boxer Mike Tyson reckoned it was the plan.

Everyone has a plan, he pointed out, until they get punched in the mouth.

Cue the Conservatives’ grand strategy for this year’s silly season. They were going to set the agenda by creating clear dividing lines between them and Labour.

Given that polls consistently suggest the next election is already lost, not least because there’ll be hardly any cash to splash, with which to buy their way to victory, this was at best a rearguard action.

But then, what seemed such a good idea at the time unravelled with unrivalled speed.

Rishi Sunak’s decision many months ago to big up the arrival in small boats full of asylum seekers and call it a migrant crisis was, arguably, a bad call, given where the problem really lies.

If the Home Office could get around to hiring, training and equipping the staff needed to process these people’s claims, the six-million-pounds a day cost of keeping them in limbo for month after month would shrivel.

But instead of making the Home Secretary get her department’s act together, the PM’s simply allowed her, and the party’s deputy chairman Lee Anderson, to verbally abuse both them and the lawyers fighting their corner.

Still, the so-called ‘grid’ had been laid out for this month, so it duly kicked off with this topic. Then fell to bits, as just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

After the barge fitted out to contain five hundred souls managed to admit a few dozen of them it then had to be emptied, because of serious health concerns about the water supply.

Next, it emerged that a number of migrants who’d been transferred to an old RAF base shouldn’t be there, so had to be moved out again.

Grand old Duke of York? Top of the hill? Down again?

Then came the discovery that the getting on for five-hundred-million pounds we’ve shelled out to get the French to intercept more small boats has produced a big fat diddly-squat.

The words ‘dismal’ and ‘disappointing’ are among the politer one used by Tory MPs about that. Another described the entire fiasco as ‘not so much small boats week as carry on up the channel’.

And former Conservative cabinet minister David Davis has gone to far as to invoke the take of a one-time Labour Home Secretary on the Home Office – that it’s not fit for purpose. Wasn’t, he said, and isn’t.

Indeed, such are the dire straits in which the current incumbent Suella Braverman finds herself that Number Ten had to make it clear to journalists that the Prime Minister is not thinking about giving her the heave-ho.

At that, cynical hacks fell back on an old adage in the business: ‘Nothing is ever true until it’s officially denied.’ Sort of a joke, but sort of not.

Little wonder then, perhaps, that this last few days’ heavily-trailed health service week hardly even got off the ground.

In place of Rishi Sunak rocking up at hospitals, being filmed in the midst of dewy-eyed nurses and patients and loads of state of the art gear, we got a couple of half-hearted press releases from the Health Secretary.

The nearest to anything that might mean anything to anyone was the announcement that if people want a Covid booster they might be able to buy one in their local chemists. At some point.

From the PM’s point of view, the worst of it is that his opening gambit when he took office, the one about the need for unity, has so clearly fallen on deaf ears.

Turns out the Conservatives are, as they’ve been for years, less of a party than a loose confederation of warring tribes.

After they scraped through in the by-election in Boris Johnson’s old seat, seemingly thanks to the Labour Mayor’s decision to tax higher polluting cars on their patch, there’ve been hints that green targets might be watered down.

To which there’ve been furious complaints by a very large grouping of Tory MPs that their punters think there should be more not fewer measures to save the planet.

Polling of potential Conservative-to-Labour switch voters suggests well over half think precisely that.

Another survey, btw, shows those naming the cost of living crisis as their chief concern outnumber those more fussed about small boat arrivals by nearly three to one.

Here at least is a crumb of comfort for Sunak, as the latest official figures suggest he may yet achieve his top priority of halving inflation by the end of the year.

But even as wage rises are finally looking set to outpace price increases, the Bank of England could well respond by upping the cost of borrowing. Bad news for many mortgage holders and renters.

At the same time, needless to say, there are right-wing Tory MPs demanding tax cuts, which can’t be delivered, as Liz Truss found out to her and the nation’s cost.

Not that that stops them yapping at Sunak’s heels. The poor fellow could be forgiven for thinking his relationship with his party is less a marriage of two minds than a divorce in the making.

But what the hell? We’re still in the throes of, to borrow from Nat King Cole, those lazy-hazy-crazy days of summer. And the warmth can still ease the passage of marriages that do look make in heaven.

Take one last week that actually could be seen from on high.

As a Loganair plane flew over the beach at Barra in the Outer Hebrides, passenger Bridget Byrne got the lovely surprise of her life as she looked out of the window to read a message etched in huge letters in the sand.

It read: ‘Bridget will you marry me?’

Of course, her partner Stephen McCann had pre-arranged it with mates on the ground, but it could still have gone wrong in two ways.

One, the oncoming tide could have washed it away, which would have diluted the gesture, so to speak. And two, Bridget could have said no.

However, much to the delight, and maybe even relief, of everyone on board she did say yes.

The plane’s captain, Daniel Tye, who watched it all from the cockpit, said: ‘It was wonderful to see her reaction as she saw the message.’

About as good as it gets, by the sound of it.


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