Flying from London to Moscow, taking a detour via Belfast, the only sustenance on offer is a less than luscious smorgasbord. Ugly actions begetting ugly consequences. And, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, Boris Johnson must be wondering what could be happening to the less than united United Kingdom.
First off, let’s look back to the future.
Crackpot Putin’s grotesque behaviour vis-à-vis Ukraine is hardly an historical first. The British government’s ethnic cleansing in Ireland wasn’t too clever either.
Brutal terminology, but it sums up Tudor and Stuart monarchs’ policy of booting out the locals, notably in Ulster, and replacing them with Scottish and English settlers.
And those ancient feuds are still playing out, albeit in a muted form.
The so-called ‘Troubles’ may have largely petered out with the Good Friday agreement in Tony Blair’s early years, but the undercurrents haven’t.
Hence the huge significance in last week’s round of elections of Sinn Fein’s first-ever victory.
Determined no longer to be seen as the political wing of the IRA, they were careful to campaign on the pound in peoples’ pockets, not Irish reunification.
But, just as a century ago the slightly hybrid and bitterly opposed Irish Free State was sold as freedom to negotiate more freedoms, the same is implicit today.
Utterly predictably, unionist politicians are being thoroughly grumpy about it, leaving governance of the place unpredictable for the time being.
The fact remains, however, the result is indicative of a zeitgeist shift within a hitherto polarised population. Bringing an all-Ireland outcome one step closer.
At the same time, buoyed by her own poll success, Nicola Sturgeon is eyeing up the possibility of a Scottish independence referendum next year, and winning it this time.
All of which puts ‘partygate’ in the shade. RIP UK really would be a legacy for Boris Johnson not to like.
Not that the Downing Street shenanigans exactly helped the Tories in last week’s town hall elections across large swathes of the mainland.
Which is why hundreds of their candidates distanced themselves from the national leadership, styling themselves instead ‘Local Conservatives’.
Fat lot of good it did them. Their hundreds and hundreds of losses put them in the scary area. And could herald the party losing its stonking majority in parliament.
But it was well short of an outright victory for Labour, which suggests their man still hasn’t cut through in the way he’d have wished.
If you’re bamboozled by the acres of analysis on offer everywhere, don’t worry, it boils down to two simple truths. Voters think Johnson’s sleazy. And Starmer’s boring.
A line from Shakespeare’s Mercutio feels apposite: ‘A plague on both your houses.’
Step forward the Liberal Democrats. Under the trustworthy leadership of Sir Whatsit Whatsisname, they were the clear winners.
Could have been worse for Labour, however, as the news had yet to break that police are looking again at whether Starmer broke lockdown laws.
True to say his possible offence was small beer (sic) next to what was clearly going on in Downing Street.
But he made such play of Johnson’s fine that he’ll be hoist on his own pétard if he gets one too.
Sad to say, however, it seems the entire nation’s on course to having to put its hand in its pocket.
The Bank of England’s one per cent hike in interest rates last week, to the highest level for well over a decade, came alongside a warning that a recession’s on its way.
For which reason seasoned experts are gloomily predicting that things can only get worse. A lot worse. Not for nothing is economics nicknamed ‘the dismal science’.
That’ll be something for Johnson to grapple with as, it’s suggested, he considers bringing forward the date of the next general election. Good luck with that, you might say.
But word is top Tory bods are already working on a manifesto for the nationwide poll in September next year, many months sooner than their term expires.
It’s their call, now that the law fixing a parliament’s lifespan has been ditched. And timing matters. In politics, as in joke-telling. If you can spot the difference sometimes.
Part of the thinking is that if they’re on an election footing it’ll make it harder to boot Johnson out if the Old Bill turns really nasty about his lawbreaking high jinks.
Also, perhaps as part of that strategy, he made a point last week of channelling Churchill, telling Ukrainians the valiant battle for survival was their ‘finest hour’.
The reference to Britain’s wartime leader, totemic to us, would have been largely lost on them. Unlike the new stash of military hardware Johnson was promising.
Not surprising they rather like us. In total, UK’s given them half a billion pounds worth of gear, making us one of the world biggest donors to the war effort.
Arguably there’s an element of enlightened self-interest in all that. The West’s anti-Russian sanctions were always going to be a double-edged sword.
Buried in that beastly Bank of England forecast was the warning that the resulting energy price crunch would hamper growth and push up unemployment.
That’s nothing, however, to what tightening the screws on the Kremlin would do to totally Russian supply-dependant countries like Hungary.
Their resistance to going further is making it harder for the European Union to strangle Putin into submission.
Nonetheless, cracks in his armour are becoming more and more visible.
Even one of his closest allies, Belarus’s leader Alexander Lukashenko, has stopped backing his war, calling instead for peace talks.
Not that the old brute’s likely to listen. Rather, it’s feared he’ll link his disastrous war with this week’s commemoration of Russia’s victory over Hitler.
Tying in his lies about ‘denazification’ of Ukraine with the real thing apropos Germany in World War Two, he might just order mass mobilisation across his country.
At his peril, say western intelligence and security experts.
Of course, from a nice safe distance it’s easy to blow the hell out of cities and frighten the life out of civilians. But the Ukrainian army is fighting back ferociously.
And in under three months it appears Putin’s lost more men than the entire Russian death toll in ten years of fighting in Afghanistan.
So far he’s managed to keep the figures more or less under wraps, and the rage of grieving mothers more or less in check. But the word’s bleeding out, pardon language.
Factor in a huge swathe of his people suddenly being told to put their lives on hold while they risk them in some weird war somewhere, and revolutionary seeds are sown.
Independent researcher and Russia expert Kamil Galeev spells out the possibility of an anti-Putin coup in stark terms.
‘In case of the mass mobilisation it’s gonna skyrocket. You’ll have tons of armed people with an immediate self-interest in overthrowing the regime.’
Meanwhile, in the face of murderously daunting odds across Ukraine, even the dogs are siding with the underdogs.
Out of the kindness of their hearts, not, Russian soldiers have been leaving little gifts in places they’ve given up on.
Hand grenades or other explosive booby-traps, in kitchen cupboards or tied to washing machines. Ideal for killing or maiming defenceless returning homeowners.
Step forward fearless Jack Russell terrier Patron – the name translates in English to Bullet – who has a nose for nasties.
So far he’s sniffed out nearly three-hundred of them. An awful lot of lives saved, or at least protected from hideous injury.
Not that Bullet’s efforts go unrewarded. Alongside his sense of smell he’s got a markedly well-honed palate. A spot of cheese goes down very well.
Also, bless him, he loves having his tummy rubbed.
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.
Click the banner to share on Facebook