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Happy Days? Here Again?

Happy Days? Here Again?

'Tax Man' written in graffiti on a red brick wall

In UK media the muck and bullets of war in Afghanistan have given way to the smoke and mirrors of home-grown politics. And the reversals have been as abrupt here as there. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, Boris Johnson may be thinking it’s a nice mess he’s gotten himself into.

It seemed such a clever idea. Succeeding where leaders have failed for decades.

With an ageing population and social care costs spiralling, the nettle needed grasping. And Johnson, said to be in invincible mode, was the man to do it.

A lot of worries about breaking his other big manifesto promise, not to raise taxes, needed to be – and were – quashed.

A threatened ministerial reshuffle scared the the boys and girls on the top table into sitting up straight and eating their greens.

A mega-schmooze by lovely, jolly, Bojo got lots of the grumpy backbenchers eating them out of his hand.

Upshot, after all the dire warnings of catastrophic defeat, small earthquake in Westminster, not many killed.

Though three dozen Conservative MP’s swerved the vote, only five of them dared defy the government in person.

So the biggest tax hike in decades, bringing totals to levels not seen since we started paying for World War Two, is going to happen.

With the pandemic-induced NHS waiting lists hovering around a record six million, it could be argued this is an emergency that needs immediate fixing.

Indeed, it’s clear that’s where the vast bulk of the increased tax take will go, for the foreseeable future.

And it might have made more sense for Johnson to spin last week’s gamble as no more or less than that.

He gave it a try, at one point saying: ‘This new levy will break our manifesto commitment, but a global pandemic wasn’t in our manifesto either.’

But the hack in him lives on, he likes big, bold headlines. And the notion of a big, bold idea must have struck him as sexier than just paying the boring old bills.

Still, could well have been smarter just to come out with it, as it turns out.

Early in the week a Times/YouGov poll showed a clear majority of the public was up for a national insurance rise to pay for social care.

But days later, presumably when it had sunk in where the lion’s share of the money will actually go, the trend reversed.

An Electoral Calculus and FindOutNow poll for the Daily Telegraph suggested the Tories could lose their overall parliamentary majority at the next election.

Bit of turnaround, considering Johnson’s eighty-strong lead last time the voters had their say.

At the same time, another Times/YouGov survey suddenly had Labour nudging into the lead, for the first time since January.

But this sample suggested the PM’s weak flank is on the right. While his party’s slumped five points, the so-called Reform Party is up two, raising it to five per cent.

These guys are the rebranded Brexit Party, now standing for low tax and liberty. And, if their attitudes take hold, the Johnson junta could be in trouble.

All a bit of an irony, considering how many Brexit chickens are currently coming home to roost.

Could well turn out to be a lack of chickens, or turkeys, on Christmas dinner tables, thanks to the shortage of lorry drivers. Not to mention empty supermarket shelves.

The Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insists this is all because of Covid, and nothing whatever to do with guys going home post Brexit.

Oh really? You might say. The other one’s got bells on it.

And if you want to give anyone a bell sur le continong chances are you’ll have to pay roaming charges now we’re no longer in the EU.

Last week Three became the latest company to break its promise not to reinstate them. An annoying little extra drawback of taking back control.

There’s also a looming crisis in Northern Ireland, with the government there in danger of being collapsed over the vexed issue of border controls.

Again, all thanks to Brexit. The province is now sort of half in and half out of the European Single Market, and Unionists are not happy.

If it went further out, those on the Republican side would be up in arms, literally, potentially, in some cases.

This was always going to be a problem, and the solution remains as elusive as ever.

Of course the UK is busy seeking out fresh markets now that we’ve pulled out of the biggest trading bloc in the world.

But the path is strewn with obstacles. Take Australia, where Sky News was reporting last week on demands they’re making on us.

The broadcaster has evidence that Britain has watered down its climate change commitment to help speed up getting the Down Under deal signed.

This in the very year we’re hosting an international summit addressing the threat to the planet.

Then there’s issue of illegal cross-channel migration, and the war of words between our sweet Home Secretary and her sour French opposite number.

Priti Patel wants British Border Force boats to nudge dinghies full of men, women and children out of our waters and back towards France.

An obvious drawback, according to Conservative MP and home affairs committee member Tim Loughton, is that people would ‘inevitably’ drown.

‘These are very flimsy boats .. any boat coming up alongside at speed would capsize most of these boats anyway,’ he pointed out.

The French Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin agrees. Adding France: ‘Will not accept any practice that goes against maritime law, nor financial blackmail.’

Not a lot of room there for a cosy chat over a nice cup of tea.

Ok, Anglo-French relations were even worse in 1066, but that kind of sniffiness and lack of co-operation feels like the shape of things to come.

And the niggles ain’t going away. Likewise grievances about how the idea was sold in the first place.

Remember the £350-million a week we’d claw back from Brussels, so we could fund the NHS instead?

Handy pick-me-up for sorting today’s treatment backlog, that. Or would have been, had there been a shred of truth in the slogan.

Worth bearing in mind another saying, often bandied about back in the day in Fleet Street. ‘Never let the facts stand in the way of a good story.’

Whatevs, not the end of the world. There will be honey still for tea, and the church clock will still stand at ten to three.

Maybe time for a nice cuppa then after all. Here at least there’s useful new evidence on how best to make it.

Given it’s estimated we drink more than sixty billion cups of it each year, we owe a debt of thanks to the Zurich-based Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health.

Their boffins have homed in on the film that can form on top. Though it doesn’t do us any harm, most people agree it’s ugly and unappetising.

And the research blames compounds in tea leaves called polyphenols mixing with calcium carbonate in tap water.

There’s more of that where the water’s hard, which is most of England and Wales, particularly the eastern side of the country.

The simple solution, according to Kiran Tawadey, the expert behind Hampstead Tea, is to stick with filtered water.

Still leaves the problem of whether you put the tea or the milk in first though.

But George Orwell, every bit as quoted a scribbler as Rupert Brooke, was in no doubt tea takes precedence.

‘I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable,’ he maintained.

Him and just about every politician ever, more’s the pity.

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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