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Who governs Britain ?

That Conservative rallying cry in a crisis election nearly half a century ago could be reprised any day. While regional leaders and many Tory MP’s are kicking up about new and nasty lockdown restrictions facing half of us, medics maintain ministers should go further and faster. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, Boris Johnson’s in Laurel and Hardy territory – another fine mess. In Homer’s Odyssey, the eponymous hero faced a tough call in a narrow strip of water, with a ship-sinking whirlpool on one side and a sailor-eating monster on the other. On the basis it’d be better to lose some of his men than drown the lot of them, he went for the monster. The crew members destined for the dinner plate weren’t happy. But Odysseus got in early with the Labour party slogan. ‘For the many, not the few’. Could work for Johnson too, as he tries to bat off Andy Burnham and his ilk. The Greater Manchester mayor is in a fighting frenzy over the clampdown on his city. And he’s no taker of prisoners. His tough law and order talk at the Home Office earned him the nickname ‘Flog ’em and Burnham’. And he hasn’t mellowed. Seems it’s not the principle of the thing that troubles him, but the money. A statement he co-signed with consiglieres in North Tyne and Liverpool demands more cash for folk who suddenly can’t work. The Chancellor’s revamped furlough scheme, cutting salary support to two-thirds is too little, they say. Boost it to eighty per cent and we’ll think about it. In other words, you give more carrot or we give more stick. And it’s not just them taking up the cudgels. No fewer than forty-two Tory MP’s voted against the new ten o’clock closing time this week. The government only got its way because the opposition chose not to oppose. This time. But that could change any time, now that the Labour leader’s stopped pulling his punches. In the commons he’s upped his pained headmaster bit, leaving Bojo looking less messiah than very naughty boy. To coin the phrase. His attempt to build bridges with his own MP’s misfired when he joked that the rule of six meant at least you wouldn’t have to see your in-laws at Crimble. He’s got rather a lot of them, what with one thing and other, or, rather, the other, some have been saying. Very naughty boy? Oh yes. Some say Sir Keir can be, by contrast – whisper it softly – boring. But that also implies safe. A quality that seems to appeal these days. The latest YouGov poll for The Times suggests Starmer outstrips Johnson as the better Prime Minister by a clear six points. And his call for the government to get more, not less, tough on corona is bolstered by news that the official boffins’ body SAGE also called for a short ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown nearly a month ago. In coming days all eyes will be on stats from Scotland, where they’re already giving something approaching that a go. If a clear two-nation delineation emerges then the pressure on England to follow suit will intensify. Though on this front, ironically, Starmer stamping his feet will boost Bojo’s mojo. He’ll know he can push through harsher measures, thanks to support Labour will have no choice but to give him. And it looks like voters will back him too. Polling by Ipsos Mori suggests those who think the rules are not strict enough outnumber those who believe they’re too tough by three to one. Though in Whitehall Bojo’s Brexit line ‘do or die’ still calls to mind another line from the Tennyson poem that slogan misquotes. ‘Cannon to the left .. cannon to the right.’ Enough to make him want to doctor an old Rolling Stones hit. ‘What a drag it is getting bold.’ Even worse getting killed by Covid, though. And, as it weighs up its options, the government knows it won’t be forgiven if it’s judged to be putting wealth before health. Daresay a fair few punters won’t be chuffed either if the dreaded B-word turns into B*llsup. As the talks on a future trading arrangement with the EU floundered this week the Boris bluster was wheeled out. Even if we don’t end up with a deal, he said, we should ‘embrace the alternative .. with high hearts’. As we’ll still ‘prosper mightily.’ The alternative in question being what he quaintly termed the Australian ‘solution’. Bojo-speak for b*uggerall. Yeah yeah, you’ve heard it all before. Higher costs for European goods, possible shortages of food and medicines causing civil disorder, Kent turning into a lorry park, collective crushing of company execs under mountains of new paperwork and one or two other potential setbacks. And will the US cavalry ride to the rescue? Not if Trump gets in. Nor Biden. Neither is up for a big trade deal with us unless we learn to love chlorinated chicken and hand them the health service. That’s putting matters a little crudely, but it ain’t far off. Unlike Britain’s departure date from the European Union, now only weeks away. As for which Yankee dude looks set to be not doing business with us after next month’s presidential election, those who don’t worship the ground Mr Trump walks on can take heart. The Biden lead over The Donald is now a record seventeen points, according to a new Opinium Research and Guardian poll. That’s up there with Reagan’s runaway rating just before his 1984 landslide. Proves what an ungrateful nation the USA is, given the determination that’s defined the Trump presidency. It’s so steadfast that ‘he’s willing to sacrifice anybody on the altar of that endeavour,’ according to a lady named Mary. She told Sky News: ‘By saying the things he has been saying, he has put in danger millions more Americans.’ The lady’s surname? Trump. She’s his niece. A happy family, if ever there was one. Not. While down in Latin America there’s been unhappiness too for a key ally of the Brazilian president. After being arrested by anti-corruption officers, Senator Chico Rodrigues asked if he could go to the bathroom. Then came out with a large rectangular bulge under his shorts. Two things emerged. One, getting on for five grand in banknotes. Two, he wasn’t just pleased to see them. But the light-fingered dodo of the week award must surely go to Malcolm Pike, lately of Tanfield Road, Sunderland, now a guest of Her Majesty. He made the mistake when breaking into a garage to nick some cleaning equipment of leaving behind a rucksack with his name and address in it. As Detective Sergeant Chris Raper-Smith put it: ‘Unfortunately for him, his latest offence .. saw him leave behind a number of personal items which directed officers straight to his front door.’ Not only did he get bird, the knocked off gear has been returned to its rightful owner. Hardly a steal then, in any sense. 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. Download Peter’s new novel, Pitfalls of Power: Plot on the Landscape, for free this week HERE


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