Fighting the French. Saving the planet. Winning the next election. No doubt about it, Boris Johnson’s got a lot on his plate. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the man’s in a spin, in more ways than one.
Let’s get real here. The international climate emergency summit in Glasgow is the big one.
As voters everywhere gradually wake up to the fact that the world may not be all that much longer for, er, this world, much hinges on the talks.
By just about every reckoning, temperatures are rising faster than was previously thought, and the potential nemesis is looking closer.
Her Madge is excused boots, as she hasn’t been well lately, but without the leaders of China and Russia – both huge polluters – prospects are dented.
Also, even though we’re hosting the do, and supposedly showcasing what a fine example we’re setting, it’s said we’re doing anything but.
Buried deep in last week’s budget were measures that’ll make it cheaper to take internal flights and drive non-electric cars.
Halving duty on plane journeys within UK and maintaining the freeze on fuel duty was an easy sell, short-term.
But the moves haven’t gone down well with environmentalists. Friends of the Earth say they’re ‘astonishing’ and ‘retrograde’.
And there’s no doubt they won’t jolly along Johnson’s attempts at branding Britain as gleaming green and squeaky-clean.
At least there isn’t such a stink over drink duty. Not surprising as we’re looking at three pee off a pint in the pub.
Part of a three-billion-pound tax giveaway, though the wholesale reform will mean the stiffer the tipple the more we’ll pay.
But on the broader domestic economic picture, the whole thing’s gone the same way as it always does.
The Chancellor flashes the cash and the fans are wowed. On day one.
Come day two, however, when the number crunchers have had a chance to to do the sums the smiles get wiped off.
Rishi Sunak was out of the traps early, with a promise last weekend to up spending by nearly twenty-six billion pounds.
All sounded like Christmas had come early for everyone. Except those Tory MP’s who think theirs is the low-spend party, obvs.
But it didn’t take long for the penny to drop. Or, rather, the pound in everybody’s pocket.
Sunak did have added wriggle room stemming from the pandemic-ravaged economy performing better than expected.
But the lion’s share of the money won’t go on cash-starved public services like education and the justice system.
Instead it’ll be soaked up in the increased costs associated with people living longer these days. That’s to say healthcare and pensions.
Longevity might even be extended further, btw, with moves afoot to allow doctors to prescribe e-cigarettes for people trying to kick baccy.
But for now the focus remains on how much richer Rishi probably hasn’t made us.
By Friday, just forty-eight hours after the big speech, the warnings were piling in about tax rises, runaway inflation and increased interest rates.
The city suits are convinced the Bank of England will jack them up in days.
And the Resolution Foundation, the think tank that bats for low and middle-income families, has a particularly gloomy prediction.
Thanks to the Chancellor’s package of tax hikes, it claims, the average family will end up three grand light.
No surprise, as we’re coughing up more than at any point in the last seventy years, though bosses and the best-heeled are getting off lightest.
How does that old song end? Oh yes: ‘Ain’t it all a bleedin’ shame?’
And this ain’t a lefty wafty rant, whatever it might sound like.
City A.M., London’s business newspaper, ahem, ran a pastiche pic on Friday picking up on an old Tory poster warning of ‘Labour’s double whammy’.
The original, back in the 1990’s, warned of more taxes and higher prices if those dastardly socialists got in.
This week, instead of scary looking red boxing gloves punching home the message, it was blue ones. Worn by Boris Johnson.
Ouch? And the rest.
Funny how times change. A Westminster bubble footnote to the budget story concerns the commons speaker speaking harshly.
He implied Sunak should resign for giving the media the outlines of his package days before he told parliament.
Not a chance.
But one Chancellor actually did fall on his sword for giving the game away before his dispatch box gig.
The man in question, Hugh Dalton, breezed the headlines to a mate who worked for a London evening paper, on his way into the chamber.
Safe to assume, he assumed, long before the scoop got to print he’d have made the speech.
But, thanks to some procedural something-or-other, it got put back. And the rest is history. Same as him, as it turned out.
All this was back in 1947, when things were so different. In those days parliament was an exclusive (and almost exclusively) gentlemen’s club.
Yes, MP’s were representing their constituents. But no, they shouldn’t be allowed a look in.
Redolent of the attitude of top doctors who opposed setting up the NHS. Though they’d heal the sick, the proles must remember their place.
Living standards may be flatlining, if not actually declining, but in other ways fings ain’t as bad as they were in those days.
Time was when we fell out with the French, which we were always doing, we’d give them the blood spurt artery treatment. Unless they got there first.
This time, rather than actually shooting our king in the eye, they’ve settled for capturing our fishing boats. And we’ve settled for getting ever so cross.
Papers that generally think all foreigners are rotters, especially French ones, suggest it’s a ‘kick in the scallops’ because they’re being ‘shellfish’.
The dispute’s been going on ever since Brexit muddied the waters, excuse pun. And dovetails into generally soured relations dating from that time.
Also it vaguely feeds into bad feeling over the trading arrangements in Northern Ireland, which don’t look like getting sorted any time soon.
Oh well, bumps in the road and all that. A logical sequel to 1066 and all that.
But upheavals of yesteryear will spring to the minds at least of history buffs in coming days.
Remember, remember, the fifth of November?
Downing Street does, which is why it’s issued new guidance on how to stay safe while having fun.
Now, as then, when Guy Fawkes dodged the dagger by jumping off the scaffold and breaking his neck, there’s a plague problem.
Not as bad these days, but you can’t be too careful.
Hence the poster campaign: ‘Meeting friend or family on Bonfire Night? Meeting outdoors is safer. If you meet indoors, let fresh air in.’
Which seems to miss the rather obvious point it’s always best to burn things outdoors, unless you really want to set fire to your home.
Oh how they laughed, on Twitter at least.
Actress and TV personality Denise Welch joked: ‘Bummer!! I was so looking forward to my kitchen bonfire party!!!!’
Loads of others piled in, inevitably, though probably the best tweet was the simplest: ‘Where do we start with this one….?’
Answers, please, on a (preferably non-combustible) postcard.
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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