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Shifting Sands?

Shifting Sands?

Challenger II Tank on a flatbed

They’re everywhere. Noticeably in Russia, but also here in UK, where ministers are subtly softening their stance on the current wave of strikes. As our Westminster correspondent Peter Spencer reports, they’re all learning the hard way that politics was ever the art of the possible.

All bets are off for the longer term, as our government mulls tougher laws to keep unions in check, and the Russian leader could be replaced by someone even nastier.

But here, and now, hints are emerging from Whitehall that with both health and rail workers some kind of accommodation must be reached.

The question of staffing cutbacks on trains now appears to be up for grabs, likewise the matter of how much wages may be allowed to rise.

And, regarding the NHS, ministers are letting it be known that they may be open to some degree of compromise.

They’re also being forced to address the obvious. That after years of underfunding our health service really is in crisis.

The figures are there for all to see.

Until a decade ago we were keeping up with countries like Austria, Germany and France, gradually upping spending each year.

But thereafter we fell behind, precipitously.

No surprise then that average ambulance response times in England last month were the longest on record, and that was before staff walked out.

Also, half the patients at major Accident and Emergency centres had to wait longer than the target time of four hours.

Factor in the endless testimonies of people comparing what they found to military field hospitals after serious reverses, and the problem’s writ large.

The government’s various short-term remedies, such as popping portacabins into hospital car parks to deal with the overflow, are seen as sticking plaster.

Hence the debate the nation will have to have with itself, about whether taxes must go up to foot the burgeoning bill, or whether patients should chip in for treatment.

At the same time, there’s a debate very obviously going on in the Kremlin about the shambles into which Russia’s brutal landgrab in Ukraine has descended.

Reading the runes is like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube while blindfolded, but Putin’s successive reshuffles of his top brass can only mean one thing.

However much he won’t admit it, his grotesquely misnamed ‘special military operation’ is turning into an egregious military cockup.

And, savage psychopath that he is, Putin’s as well aware as anyone of the lessons of history.

The last Russian Tsar’s dire handling of his country’s war effort a century ago cost him and his family their lives, at the hands of a Bolshevik death squad.

Vlad the Vile is nowhere near there yet, but the voice of dissent is growing louder and more explicit by the day.

Prominent military blogger Igor Girkin last week heavily and publicly implied he’d support getting Putin out.

‘If my criticism becomes suicidal for me, but is noticed and causes at least some correct reaction,’ he added, stoically, ‘I will consider my duty fulfilled.’

Alongside this, several hundred Russian doctors have signed an open letter telling Putin to ‘stop abusing’ the high-profile Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

They protest that the jailed de facto opposition leader, who’s just been placed in solitary confinement for the tenth time, is being ‘deliberately harmed’.

Signs are also emerging that Putin’s chief chums in Beijing may be finally giving up on him.

A number of officials there have privately told the Financial Times that ‘China shouldn’t simply follow Russia’ on the issue of Ukraine.

One went so far as to say, quite simply: ‘Putin is crazy.’

Another added his country now expects that: ‘Russia will fail to prevail against Ukraine and emerge from the conflict a minor power.’

That sense is becoming increasingly widespread, as the West continues to pump in more heavy weaponry to bolster the defenders’ war effort.

It’s significant that the British government will be sending them a batch of our main battle tanks, the Challenger Two.

Not as many as President Zelensky would like, but a clear signal that if we can so can other nations.

Indeed, Poland and Sweden are poised to do so, and Germany may yet follow suit.

This kind of serious firepower will do its bit to turn the tide of war, and help dig Putin’s grave. Politically, if not necessarily literally.

But at least our own dynastic leaders look to emerge bloodied but unbowed by the latest onslaughts from across The Pond.

Prince Harry’s memoir ‘Spare’ may be flying off the shelves, to delight readers with an orgy of voyeuristic wonderment, but that’s probably about it.

There’ve been so many Tory leaders of late that it’s hard to keep up. But one among their number, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, may have spoken for many with this limerick:

‘Harry’s fratricidal attack on his genus/looks mean-spirited and overzealous. It’s not credible to claim reconciling’s your aim/when you sound so bitter and jealous.’

In defence of all royals it’s worth pointing out that, lovely though their palaces are, they’re pretty much banged up in them from birth.

Far from being encouraged to expand into life they’re compressed into roles.

Also worth remembering how emotionally damaged so many of them are.

Our king bears the scars of his schooldays, as his altogether less fragile father made him suffer the rigours of Gordonstoun, instead of the far gentler and more local Eton.

As for Harry and Wills, the hideous circumstances of their mother’s death speak for themselves.

The old media maxim reads: ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’ But pull back the veil behind the vale of despond, and you’ll find good news stories as well.

Wouldn’t it be nice, we all think, if someone came up with a cure for cancer.

Well, the government has just signed up to a deal with a firm behind one of the major Covid vaccinations that may have the answer.

And patients in England will get access, as soon as this September, to a miracle therapy that really might work.

In place of the crude blunderbuss approach of chemotherapy, which doesn’t distinguish between healthy and unhealthy cells, this is a precision weapon.

So-called MRNA treatments are tailor-made for the individual, providing immune systems with genetic code from the specific cancer. And zapping it.

It’s early days, only at the trial and testing stage. But breakthroughs do happen.

Take tuberculosis, a slow and miserable death sentence until the 1940s. Suddenly, when doctors tried the kill-or-cure wonderdrug Streptomycin, it wasn’t any more.

Fingers crossed, everyone.

Meanwhile, for all the bad press America gets, thanks to the stranglehold the gun lobby has over government, there are also tales of pure kindness to be found.

Vincent Dashukewich from Plainville, Connecticut, did not reach for a rifle when he found outside his home a potentially menacing guest.

An enormous black bear (not Russian, btw).

‘As soon as we saw each other he didn’t move, he didn’t react,’ said Vincent. ‘He’s definitely super comfortable.’

So, instead of trying to move his visitor on, Vincent opened an Instagram account about him, that quickly garnered thousands of followers.

The profile reads: ‘Hey I’m Marty the bear, I live in Plainville under my family’s deck. Currently I am hibernating until I’m ready for hot bear summer.’

‘I think they are very cool animals,’ Vincent added. ‘Just to prove it, Marty hasn’t bothered us even in the slightest bit.’

Everybody happy then.

Watch Peter’s report HERE

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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