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Christmas Truce?

Christmas Truce?

30/11/2023. London, United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Akshata Murty have switched on the festive lights to No10 Downing Street as they host the 2023 festive showcase. Picture by Rory Arnold / No 10 Downing Street

With MPs on the point of wending their weary way off home for Crimble, we can all join them in a collective sigh of relief. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the new year is guaranteed to bring fresh bouts of blue on blue beastliness.

Illegal immigration? Sorted? Don’t think so.

Back in the nineteen-thirties the legendary journalist Claud Cockburn once won the nightly competition on The Times’ sub-editors’ desk for the dullest possible headline.

It read: ‘Small Earthquake in Chile. Not many dead.’

That could have read after last week’s Tory right-wing Rwanda revolt: ‘Small rebellion in Westminster. Not many dared.’

No question. Having said ‘we’ll huff and we’ll puff and blow your house down’, settling for ‘we’ll huff and we’ll puff and, er, we’ll come back to you on that’ was a bit limp.

Worth bearing in mind two standout facts from the First World War.

One, masses of young men rushed to the front because they didn’t want to miss out on the fun, which would all be over by Christmas.

And two, when it turned out it wasn’t, the chaps did manage a truce for a day or so. But minutes after it ended it was back to mutual slaughter.

Now scroll forward to the here and now.

After all the bloodcurdling threats from the Tories’ five hardline groupings about how they’d smash the government, not a single one of them actually voted against the Rwanda bill.

So the flagship policy of jetting illegal immigrants off on a strictly one-way ticket to the African state lives to fight another day.

But, and it’s a really big but, last week’s vote was only the beginning of a long and tortuous parliamentary process.

As to exactly how Sunak managed to save his skin, it looks like he’s laid his own elephant traps.

He bought off the hundred or so grouping of moderate Tory MPs by promising not to make the legislation any tougher.

At the same time, however, he dropped hints to the right-wing factions about possible tweaks that’ll be more to their liking.

Feels like an echo of the endlessly debated chat that Tony Blair had with Gordon Brown all those years ago, in an Islington restaurant called Granita.

To this day there are two versions of what became known as ‘The Granita Pact’.

One, Blair agreed to hand over the Labour leadership to Brown at some point later on. And two, he didn’t. Either way, it didn’t end well.

Cue the Rwanda ruckus, back in the commons, then the lords, next year. The Tories will be at daggers drawn with one another again. And again. And again.

So their very own Christmas truce, which saw key figures from either side hugging one another at festive gatherings, looks like an echo of Tommies and Jerrys playing footie in 1914.

Feed into that toxic mix the news that Sunak looks set to face not one but two by-elections quite soon.

One will be to replace Peter Bone, found guilty of multiple acts of bullying and one of sexual misconduct against a member of his staff.

Though he was elected with a majority of eighteen-and-a-half thousand, the seat’s still vulnerable, given the opposition’s consistent poll lead.

But the other, on far more marginal turf oop north where Labour voters switched sides on the promise to get Brexit done, is more significant, given the Tories’ consistent bad blood.

In an effort to stave off an utterly humiliating defeat, Sunak may feel tempted to offer the voters there a bit of catnip, in the form of a little tightening of the Rwanda bill.

Unlikely to have much of an effect, mind, given that the outgoing Tory MP Scott Benton was caught red-handed in a lobbying sting operation.

Apparently corrupt MPs tend not to tickle the punters’ sweet spot, or to do much for their party brand.

And, try as Sunak might to cheer them up a bit by being a bit harder on Johnny Foreigner, any moves in that direction are guaranteed to make the Tories’ moderate wing even grumpier.

Meanwhile, Friday’s news of a migrant boat sinking in The Channel, resulting in at least one death, has brought the debate into even sharper focus.

Crocodile tears from the right came with the inevitable implication that it’s somehow humane to put people off even trying the crossing, by threatening to send them to Africa.

Equally inevitable is the plea from kindlier quarters to remember that these people are actually people. The majority of them risking their lives to escape persecution.

A lot to be said for a bit more compassion these days, given that it’s in such short supply in the current warzones.

Vladimir Putin last week made it clear in a news conference he’s got no intention if he can possibly help it of giving the Ukrainians any kind of break.

And, while Palestinian civilian deaths outnumber victims of the October 7th atrocity by nearly fifteen to one, the Israeli Prime Minister has said no to any meaningful peace settlement.

In rejecting the notion of a Palestinian state one day living in amity with his own, he’s eroded international sympathy as well as stiffening the resolve of his enemies.

The old song ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ springs to mind. Sadly.

At the same time, in this neck of the woods, the seasonal chill has led to pleas for a bit more warm-heartedness towards people living in the streets.

While the former Home Secretary Suella Braverman dismissed their plight as a ‘lifestyle choice’, it was a death sentence for two of them when it got so much colder earlier this month.

And the Shadow Homelessness Minister Mike Amesbury has said he fears all too many more will follow this winter.

Which made the act of a McDonald’s security guard, filmed last week deliberately soaking a homeless guy and making his bedding unusable, all the crueller.

At least the company immediately sacked the bloke, and replaced the bedding belonging to the victim, twenty-five-year-old Aaron McCarthy.

He later told the BBC: ‘Most people think we’re just all drug addicts; no, I don’t choose to be out here, I don’t want to be out here.’

Not a lifestyle choice then after all. Silly Suella.

Another Tory MP, former Brexit Minister David Davis, also takes issue with her attitude, judging by his response last week to a second bit of beastliness towards a homeless person.

When a couple of ghastly yobboes took against the man, one of them kicking him in the head, hard, Davis swung into action.

As he put it: ‘I had to get between them, be very aggressive, one of them took a couple of swings at me and I had to deal with that, slightly manhandle him.’

Given that Davis used to be an SAS reservist, you wonder quite what he meant by ‘slightly manhandle’. Suffice it to say, he won, and the thugs scarpered.

Not that the story ends there. Seeing that the victim, named Gareth, was in a right state, Davis let him sleep on his sofa that night. Then, next morning, took him to hospital to be checked out.

Compassion? Actually, just a bit of human decency. And respect.

Watch Peter’s report HERE

Peter’s column will return on 7th January, 2024.

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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