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Bloody Hell

Bloody Hell

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Literally, grotesquely, in Plymouth last week. And in Afghanistan for the foreseeable, with the Taliban brutally dragging the country into the dark ages. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, Boris Johnson’s in tray is suddenly crammed with things he can’t possibly control.

A crazed gunman taking lives at random. Stuff of the American nightmare, not what we associate with a provincial English city.

The same day, a woman in Florida was fatally shot by a toddler with a pistol lying around, safety catch off.

US gun laws foster a certain inevitability about random killings.

Different here. Beyond the anguish at Thursday’s atrocity, questions pour in. How come he had a firearms licence? Did no one spot warning signs?

A tricky comparison, but the unfolding tragedy in Afghanistan looks set to claim millions of victims.

The Taliban, redolent of Oliver Cromwell’s puritans, but utterly backward-looking, are likely to retake the country in weeks if not days.

Hence the scrambling of US and British forces to rescue nationals while there’s still time.

An eerie echo of the fall of Saigon nearly half a century ago, when people had to be airlifted from the roof of a CIA building.

According to the White House there are no regrets about pulling out, but the Senate’s minority leader Mitch McConnell has a different take.

‘President Biden is finding that the quickest way to end a war is to lose it.’

The western operation in Afghanistan, that began twenty years ago, sought to prevent a repeat of the twin towers attack.

And there are real fears that if the Taliban gets its way now there’ll be more of the same.

What was it Karl Marx said? ‘History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.’

Except it’s anything but funny. And horrifyingly real and immediate for Afghan women and girls.

They’ll likely lose tentative freedoms they’ve enjoyed for the last couple of decades. And get flogged or stoned for breaking taboos.

At least we’re managing to dance round the Covid crisis back home, in a slow slow quick quick slow sort of way.

Exceedingly slow, in the case of the record number of people waiting for routine hospital treatments.

By June the total had already reached almost five-and-a-half million.

Though maybe, if their problem’s not that serious, they’re better off out of it, judging by a report from the medical journal the Lancet.

It found more than nine thousand patients treated in hospital for Covid during the first wave only caught it after being admitted.

While those healthy and lucky enough to make it to the sun have been well stung by the cost of being tested for it.

MP’s discovered you can get return flights to Barcelona or Alicante for as little as £18. While a typical approved PCR test came in at £93.

That’s five times as much.

Ministers have now hastily lowered the price tag, and unleashed the competition watchdog, to investigate how much people have been paying.

Meantime, the signs are others are spending freely enough, on things they actually want.

The Office for National Statistics has calculated the UK economy grew by nearly five per cent in the second quarter of this year.

Seems shops and pubs reopening made a big difference.

Also the effects of the so-called ‘pingdemic’ weren’t as severe as many had predicted.

A hopeful sign for the future, as the worst of it looks to be behind us with the August 16th lifting of isolation restrictions.

From then on, double-jabbed people in England longer have to self-isolate if they come in contact with someone who’s got the disease.

That should unblock a lot of logjams, as the old rules led to fourteen million folk ordered to stay home.

And the vaccination programme continues apace. With three quarters of UK adults now fully sorted.

That said, nearly a third of under-thirties in England still haven’t had a jab, according to NHS England estimates.

Problem being many of them get their news outside the mainstream media. And there’s loads of dodgy stuff around.

Facebook’s doing its bit, removing hundreds of accounts linked to a disinformation network operating out of Russia.

It had been busily spreading nonsense, including the claim one vaccine would turn a person into a chimpanzee.

For god’s sake. Really?

And yet anti-vaxxers won’t let go, some even setting up online dating sites for members of what they term ‘freedom communities’.

To which former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has one simple and passionate response.

‘No, screw your freedom.’

The actor compares Covid constraints to the rules of the road, pointing out traffic lights aren’t there to curb freedoms but to save lives.

And stories abound of people, and their relatives, who’ve had good reason to endorse that message.

American right-wing TV and radio host Dick Farrel was endlessly telling people not to get vaccinated, until he got the disease.

He died of it earlier this month.

So did Cambridge-trained lawyer Leslie Lawrenson, equally convinced the jab was dangerous.

His grieving family’s now trying to persuade people to go for it.

Likewise Francis Goncalves from Cardiff, whose mother, father and brother all refused the jab and paid the ultimate price.

Again, all down to online conspiracy theories.

‘A lot of information passed through the internet,’ he said. ‘You can call it misinformation. Disinformation is probably more appropriate.’

At least, though there’s a way to go yet, young folk seem to be getting the message.

According to the government’s number crunchers, vaccine hesitancy among eighteen to twenty-one-year-olds has almost halved.

It’s also dropped, though not by as much, among those just above their age. And below it.

Of course these guys have been a bit busy lately celebrating their exam results. Which turned out to be totally brilliant for so many.

More A and A* grades at A-level than ever before. Similar picture at GCSE level.

A lot of it to do with cancelled exams replaced by teacher assessments and coursework. And a lot of grumbling about grade inflation.

But, hang on a minute, says Doctor Philip Wright, who heads the Joint Council for Qualifications. Teachers did use professional judgement.

‘I would like to congratulate all students receiving their results,’ he added. ‘Their resilience is to be applauded.’

Another striking outcome is how much better than ever before the girls did than the boys.

Much debate on that. Some say they’re more suited to assessments, while others maintain lockdowns didn’t hit them as hard.

But Professor Alan Smithers, author of a report from Buckingham Uni, reaches a more straightforward conclusion.

‘The tendency has been to explain away their superior performance … why can’t we just accept that they are cleverer?’

Only one thing for it, male Malestrom readers. Get used to it.

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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