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Don’t Panic!

Don’t Panic!

Out of use signs on petrol pumps

Problem is, whenever the government uses the ‘P’ word the nation disobeys. Meaning while there is enough to go round, sort of, suddenly there isn’t. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, blindsided Boris is in a bind.

And yet, and yet, Friday’s YouGov poll for The Times suggests voters are saying the hell with the energy crisis, food and fuel shortages, benefits cuts and tax rises.

The Tories have extended their lead over Labour, sticking at thirty-nine per cent, while the opposition are down three, now seven points behind.

Bizarre, when you think how many things are not going to plan. And how many millions might be caught in the crossfire.

First, the problem at the pumps.

Apart from telling motorists not to manically fill their tanks, many of whom will of course do just that, ministers are busy insisting it’s nothing to do with Brexit.

They would say that, wouldn’t they? Having gone to so much trouble to, ahem, get Brexit done.

Of course Theresa May’s mantra ‘Brexit means Brexit’ was as big a nonsense as the battle bus porky about the extra £350 million a week we’d have for the NHS.

The reality is we didn’t have to drive droves of lorry drivers back where they came from, thus leaving ourselves woefully short of them.

It’s certainly true the pandemic has exacerbated the problem, as it’s made getting the HGV tests a lot trickier.

But it’s estimated around half the huge drop in driver numbers is down to hauliers from the European Union.

Little wonder oil companies have been begging ministers to relax restrictions. Equally unsurprising is (a) they’d got no choice, and (b) they hate to admit it.

As recently as Thursday Number Ten insisted there were no fuel shortages and drivers should continue buying as normal. Yerright …

No real food shortages either? Anyone who’s been shopping anywhere will have noticed stuff not there like it normally is.

Hence the pleas from supermarket chains not to panic buy. Hence also the likely upcoming spate of just that.

Jean-Paul Sartre was surely onto something when he wrote: ‘L’enfer, c’est les autres.’

Hell is other people? Been a bit of a week for strangulated Franglais, all down to Monsieur (père de six, we now learn) Boris.

The French President’s reaction to the news that he’d been included out of a UK/US/OZ deal to buy new submarines was tu m’emmerde. Words to that effect.

And Johnson’s response to Macron’s pretty understandable snit was ‘donnez-moi un break’, and ‘prenez un grip’.

He got serious though in his speech about climate change to the United Nations General Assembly.

With Britain hosting a huge international summit on the subject in a few weeks, Johnson said it was: ‘Time to blow out the candles of a world on fire.’

He also insisted Kermit the Frog was ‘wrong’ to say it is not easy being green.

One assumes he was referring to a species of animal, not our traditional enemies. Unwoke to suggest otherwise, pardonnez moi.

Certainly seems essential to find ways of keeping ourselves warm and fed without destroying the planet.

But in the meantime it’d be nice to be able to do so without having to pay through the nose for it.

That’s looking increasingly and unwelcomely likely, however, thanks to the energy crisis that seems to have come from nowhere.

Not a lot of us noticed that suppliers were forking out massively more for the gas they were pumping into our homes.

But the figures are stark. They were shelling out two-and-a-half times as much for it as they were only last year.

And because they didn’t see that coming, and are not allowed by law just to pass on the additional cost to customers, lots of them have gone under.

There’s a system in place that ensures people get automatically transferred to another provider, but very often at a higher tariff.

The government is looking at all manner of options to keep supplies coming, but all will involve a hit to people’s pockets. One way or another.

Especially bad news for anyone reliant on state benefits, as the £20-a-week Universal Credit uplift is scheduled to end in a week or so.

Could that shift? Ministers are weighing up options. As well as the opposition, they’re also under pressure from senior folk on their own side.

Damian Green, a former cabinet minister, warned we’re looking at: ‘Very, very difficult times ahead for hundreds of thousands of people in this country.’

As to why this has come about, there’s a whole raft of explanations and theories.

One is that the pesky Ruskies have deliberately jacked up prices to sow discontent and disorder in the west.

Also, and this ties in with the climate change emergency, the wind farms that usually supply almost a fifth of our lecky have been letting us down big time.

The reason being a freak anticyclone over Western Europe since mid-August, which has caused calmer weather.

Then there was the fire in Kent earlier this month that closed the main subsea electricity cable with France until March, again pushing up gas prices.

The list is long, some pointing to a short-term spike, others suggesting this problem ain’t going away.

Covid’s taking its time too, as if we didn’t already know. But on this front at least there are a few hopeful straws in the wind.

The top person behind the Oxford vaccine, Dame Sarah Gilbert, believes deadlier variants are unlikely, because there: ‘ Aren’t many places for the virus to go.’

This means, she says, it’ll eventually become like other seasonal coronaviruses which cause things like the common cold. Still very catching, but not deadly.

The key, adds Professor Sharon Peacock, who runs the Covid-19 UK Genomics Consortium, is mass immunisation, as it cuts the virus’s room for manoeuvre.

‘So vaccination of the world is not only the morally right thing to do, but the strategically right thing to do if we are going to protect the world.’

Hence the consolidation in UK, with boosters being offered to over-fifties, and schoolchildren receiving their injections.

Meantime, the official public health body and Cambridge Uni calculate inoculations have saved more than a hundred and twenty thousand lives in England.

Also, they say almost twenty-four million infections have been prevented.

Not that this has stopped anti-vaxxers abusing and in some cases threatening schoolteachers who’ve been giving kids the jab.

Obviously with a few hours’ research under their belts these guys know more than so-called ‘experts’ who’ve only been at it a few decades.

Er, discuss?

But here’s something few are likely to argue with. New research that may yield far better treatment and prevention of Covid than anyone thought possible.

Step forward Fifi the llama.

Like all camelids, her immune system produces tiny antibodies called nanobodies. And these sock it to invading pathogens much better than the human sort.

So boffins at the Oxfordshire-based Rosalind Franklin Institute injected her with the coronavirus spike protein and she did not get sick.

Instead, her body obligingly pumped out loads of nanobodies that the scientists took off her hands by means of blood samples.

Next, they produced them en masse in the laboratory and tried them out on other animals, with dramatically improved outcomes.

Prof Miles Carroll, a leading scientist at Public Health England, said: ‘These are among the most effective Sars-CoV-2 neutralising agents we have ever tested.’

On top of that, Prof Ray Owens from the team working on the project says instead of having to be injected, nanobodies can just be snorted.

Sounds fun, actually. Calls to mind Bill Nighy’s immortal line from the movie Love Actually.

‘Hey, kids, don’t buy drugs… Become a rock star and they give you them for free.’

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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