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Westminster in Shock

Westminster in Shock

Palace of Westminster at dusk

Horrible things happen. All the time. But when it’s one of their own, MP’s are bound to take it personally. Friday’s fatal attack on Sir David Amess could have happened to any of them, as he himself had acknowledged. And, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, they’re now asking themselves how they can safely address the concerns of the rest of us.

Interlaced with the heartfelt tributes to the man himself, stabbed to death at a regular constituency surgery, was the thought this was an attack on democracy.

How, MP’s are wondering, are they supposed to do their job?

But alongside calls in coming days for tighter security there’ll be more cautionary words about the need not to insulate politicians from those they should be serving.

The debate was every bit as agonised five years ago when the Labour MP Jo Cox was shot and stabbed to death by a white supremacist.

But now as then the underlying problem will almost certainly not be solved.

The outcry feels like an echo of that which followed the rape and murder of Sarah Everard. In that the pain and the passion have yet to produce meaningful solutions.

A reality jarringly underlined by the arrest on Thursday of a man impersonating a police officer so he could kidnap a fourteen-year-old girl.

She was unharmed, but the point is made.

We seem to be living in an increasingly unsettled and muddled world. On all manner of fronts.

Setting aside the travails of politicians, there’s the matter of a potential winter of discontent. Like when everything went wrong in 1979.

The problems with getting hold of a wide range of essential and non-essential goods, even kids’ Christmas presents, begs the question whose fault is that?

At this stage the jury is very much out. Though you wouldn’t think it from the polls.

A YouGov survey for the Times last week put the Tories ten points ahead of Labour, that’s actually up one on the previous week.

Odd, given the relentless stories about supply chain chaos and soaring energy prices.

But, apologies for using the ‘B’ word, those asked were not so sure Boris Johnson made such a good fist of getting Brexit done.

Twice as many of them believed he’d done it badly as thought the opposite.

Also, almost half reckoned leaving the European Union was a mistake, while only thirty-eight per cent were still up for it.

How those figures will shift depends on the extent to which the difficulty of getting hold of things is seen as down to Brexit, as opposed to the pandemic.

At this stage it’s impossible to quantify.

Ministers were busily saying Brexit? Balderdash! Until Johnson helpfully took the opposite tack at his party conference.

Low-wage immigrant workers, i.e. all those eastern Europeans we’re now well rid of, will give way to much better paid home-grown jobs, Bojo boasted.

But, as bosses bristled, economists warned we’ll all pick up the tab and evidence mounted that nothing’s going to get fixed any time soon, Boris bounced off.

And in his chum’s luxury villa in Marbella he channelled Churchill. If Winnie chilled at the easel so could he, he decided.

Pix of him delicately daubing away could have given rise to another Sun headline like the one that did for Jim Callaghan all those years back. ‘Crisis, what crisis?’

Hardly that paper’s style, though, to knock seven bells out of a Tory Prime Minister. Cf a Labour man, who’s fair game.

But the commentariat hasn’t always reverted to type in the last few days. Confused? You’re not alone. Even those whose job it is to make sense of it all are struggling.

No great surprise that the right-ish leaning Times newspaper should carry a piece, from columnist Clare Foges, suggesting the Boris bravado will protect him.

We sceptred islanders, she argued, rather get off on having our backs to the wall. Gives us a chance to show our Brit grit.

And even those who hate him most admit Johnson has the Churchillian flair for weaponizing the English language.

Never more vividly displayed than by Winnie’s jokey aside to colleagues following his commons pep talk about the Dunkirk retreat heralding possible invasion.

Having said we’d fight them on the beaches etc, he muttered: ‘And we’ll fight them with the butt ends of broken beer bottles because that’s bloody well all we’ve got!’

The story’s never been conclusively substantiated, but it has the ring of truth about it. And there’s no question ex-hack Winston could talk the talk. Same as Boris.

That, however, led John Harris of the definitely left-leaning Guardian to reluctantly agree the Times may have a point.

He cited the American psychologist and political consultant Drew Westen, who argued: ‘When reason and emotion collide, emotion invariably wins.

‘The stories our leaders tell us matter, probably almost as much as the stories our parents tell us as children.’

Meaning, Harris admitted, the Labour leader’s grumbles that Johnson’s a mere ‘showman’ won’t necessarily do the trick.

Then again, they just might, according to Lucy Burton, the Banking Editor of the indubitably right-leaning Daily Telegraph (aka Torygraph). She wrote:

‘Businesses which were sold a Brexit fairy tale may now feel like they’re in the middle of a dystopian novel. Even a shortage of underwear is on the cards.

‘It is clear that the sell-by-date for Johnson’s wishy-washy messaging is about to be hit. Clear answers are needed urgently.’

Actually what’s clear is that nothing at this stage is clear. Anticipation grips the nation.

But, never mind Brexit and opinionated hacks, MPs’ verdict on the government’s initial response to the Covid crisis was explicit. Boris did bad.

As Britain’s fatality record is the second worst in Europe, topped only by Russia, it’s blindingly obvious hideous errors were made.

Or, as the report from two parliamentary committees says, Britain’s handling of Covid in the early days ‘was one of the worst public health failures in UK history’.

Quite apart from waiting too long to introduce the first lockdown, ministers’ giving up on testing in the community early on was a mistake that ‘cost many lives’.

In addition, discharging people from hospitals into care homes ‘led to many thousands of deaths’.

The list of blunders was long and gruesome, and the papers piled in, though the Sun conceded the then Health Secretary’s betting on a vaccination strategy paid off.

Its Covid verdict: ‘From bad job to good jab.’

But then Matt Hancock had to resign, after getting caught on camera breaking his own social distancing rules by cuddling an aide.

And the government’s rehabilitation over its appalling Covid record is going to take a while too.

Bereaved families are calling for the promised full public inquiry to get its skates on, though they’ll face fierce resistance.

Bear in mind it took several days for a minister, in this case the new Health Secretary Sajid Javid, to even say outright he was sorry about what had gone wrong.

But, praise be to boffins, more help in the war against the virus could be on its way.

An antibody scientists say has a ‘potent’ neutralising effect on loads of nasty Covid variants has been found.

They spotted it in a forty-five-year-old man who’d recovered from the disease, identified it as 54042-4 and want to develop it to protect others.

We can but hope.

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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