For readers sick of endless Covid-doom-and-gloom here’s good news. A story straight out of the pages of a best-selling spy thriller. Much sexier. It’s even got an edgy, up-to-the-minute feel to it. But as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, there is one person who won’t enjoy it much. Boris Johnson.
‘From Russia with love I fly to you. Much wiser since my good-bye to you. I’ve travelled the world to learn I must return from Russia with love.’
The theme song from the 1963 Bond movie in question has an eerie resonance today, as the cold war gets a hint of a reheat.
We’ll find out in coming days whether it’s little more than a cold crudité or a slap-up banquet, possibly washed down with the aid of a poisoned chalice. Which would make it a slap up the bum for all concerned.
The main course is the question of Russian interference in the British democratic process, though it’s garnished with suggestions their spies have also been nicking our counter-coronavirus research secrets.
Signs are big strides are being made in that longed-for direction, with stock markets worldwide cheering up enormously at breaking news of breakthroughs in vaccine development.
Of course everyone wants a slice of that big bucks action, which is why, it’s being convincingly alleged, hackers from somewhere in the vicinity of the Kremlin have been doing their damndest to get a free ride on our wagon.
The British government is bigging all this up, possibly even, some commentators have had the brazen cheek to suggest, to draw the sting from the stink the democratic interference report could generate.
Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee was tasked, a fair while back now, to assess whether the Russians meddled in the last election. And even, horror of horrors, the Brexit referendum.
It’s unlikely, but within the bounds of possibility, that that historic vote was swung by their actions.
Remember, it was pretty much on a knife edge, the four per cent majority for leaving falling within the bounds of statistical error.
And what a savage irony it would be to discover it wasn’t us taking back control, but the Ruskies.
So much for the Brexiteer mantra ‘The people have spoken’. In that case the only people doing the talking would have been the KGB.
Remember, destabilising the European Union was ever high on Vladimir Putin’s to-do list. Knocking out the bloc’s second largest economy would strike him as a knockout blow of the first order.
Ok, on balance that smoking gun will probably not be hissing away in the report, but even a hints in that direction is food for a lot of thought, not to mention fevered speculation.
Again, it’s worth remembering Bojo owed much of his eighty-strong majority last year to his bullish pledge to get Brexit done. And Corbyn’s crash was partly down to his limp-wristed ‘search me, guv’ stance.
Which brings us back to how come the spying committee’s report is coming out now. And here it’s worth a closer look at what would normally be Westminster bubble tittle-tattle.
As the chosen few charged with watching over the interface between MI5, MI6, GCHQ and Downing Street, the Intelligence and Security Committee is arguably the most important bunch of folk in Westminster.
Yet, when its potential stick of dynamite was handed in and signed off, the report found itself slipped off into the shadowy undergrowth for months. You can’t help but wonder why. The outgoing chairman certainly did, noisily and often.
Last week a new chairman was elected. Downing Street tried its best to ensure the job went to former Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, in spite of his knowing next to nothing about security. Indeed, his critics argue, he’s pretty clueless about transport too. Hence the widely used soubriquet ‘Failing Grayling’.
His two big pluses, in Bojo’s eyes at least, were his impeccably pro-Brexit credentials and his obliging nature. Meaning his chairmanship would almost certainly have consigned the Russian interference story to an even longer period of obscurity.
However, Doctor Julian Lewis – sorry about this, another name unfamiliar to most – had other ideas.
By a process of as yet not altogether clear manoeuvrings he managed to get himself elected instead. Unkind commentators say it proves what a plonker Grayling is. Couldn’t even stitch up his own stitch-up.
The upshot is twofold. The report will be published within days. And the highly independent-minded Doctor Lewis was chucked forthwith out of the Tory party. He now sits in parliament as, erm, an independent.
No matter, the pin’s now out of the Russian tirade grenade. Take cover, everyone. Yo, Bojo, that includes you!
That’s not to say our Prime Minister has no say left in anything. Take his big announcement of the week, that we’re taking a stand against another not necessarily friendly superpower – China.
Little more than six months after granting the tech giant Huawei a role in setting up the UK’s 5G network he’s pulled the plug on the deal.
This’ll increase costs by up to two billion pounds and delay the roll-out by two to three years. But apparently it’s worth it, as the company is judged to be dodgily close to the communist regime.
However, for reasons only comprehensible to fluent spook-speakers, this almighty U-turn has been precipitated by new US sanctions on Huawei. According to Bojo a ‘game changer’ regarding the impact of the firm’s technology on the UK’s national security.
Which exhumes Ted Heath’s question from 1974: ‘Who governs Britain?’ Turned out not him, then. And makes you wonder now. Boris Johnson? Vladimir Putin? Donald Trump?
Talking of whom, what with the Covid crisis suddenly making the Yankee economy look more knackered than Thomas the Tanked Engine, the Donald’s poll ratings are falling sharply.
Not as though he hasn’t got an instant and decisive solution to the problem, mind. Psst! Anyone want to become Trump Presidency Campaign Strategist? The last one just got the boot.
Much of the Donald’s problem stems from America’s soaring coronavirus rates. Largely driven, many say, by his appalling mismanagement of the crisis.
But hang on a mo. Surely the president has an unfailing ability to do the right thing by everyone, including the children?
Same as Bojo, he wants them back in school asap, though given the circs across The Pond many of his boffins are not so sure.
So? Says his press secretary. ‘I was just in the Oval talking to him about that, and when he says open, he means open in full… The science should not stand in the way of this.’
The bucks top the science? Think about it.
Still, you can’t fault the attitude towards scientific innovation adopted by Johnny McFadden, landlord of the Star Inn in St Just in Cornwall.
He’s got round the problem of people getting tiddly and forgetting about social distancing in his bar as only a leading light in an agricultural community knows how.
An electric fence. ‘Just a normal electric fence,’ he stresses, ‘That you would find in a field’.
And it works, he insists, even though the punters don’t know if it’s live. ‘People are like sheep. They know it is a fence and don’t want to touch it to find out whether it is on or not.’
Most of the folk think it’s quite funny anyway. All except Mr McFadden’s insurance broker, who rang his nephew and said ‘I hope he is not electrocuting people’.
In true buccaneering Cornish spirit, Johnny’s got an answer to that too. ‘Well come and find out if I am.’
Hic! Horror! Shock!
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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