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Whither the Tories?

Whither the Tories?

The palace of westminster from westminster bridge

No one disputes that after the turbulence of the Johnson/Truss era Rishi Sunak has calmed things down. And Sir Keir Starmer doesn’t seem to have tickled the nation’s sweet spot. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, there are mounting signs that the Conservatives have lost the will to govern.

A straw wafted across the wind early last week, when the former Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab announced he’s standing down at the next election.

Love ’im or hate ’im, the guy’s no fool.

And, to adapt Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in want of a job is more likely to find one if he’s in possession of good fortune.

Put simply, a serving MP is more attractive to potential employers than some bloke on the scrapheap.

The point being that all the polls, combined with the local election results, show his once true-blue constituency is no longer anything like a safe seat.

In fact, there’s no such thing in great swathes of what were once Tory heartlands. Aye, to adapt Shakespeare this time, there’s the Raab.

Little wonder our Dom’s the thirty-second Conservative MP (so far) to announce he’s quitting while he’s still just about ahead.

All this travels in tandem with a telling insight into Tory morale provided by a trove of WhatsApp messages leaked to Sky News last week.

Forget what’s said in public, these shared sentiments tell us what they’re really thinking on the Conservative back benches.

That the party could well turn into a ‘skip fire’ and could even ‘die’. One even reprised a notorious Sun headline from 1992.

The paper screamed: ‘If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights.’

Next day, when John Major gained his surprise victory, the headline crowed: ‘It’s The Sun Wot Won It.’

Having read the current runes, one Conservative parliamentarian WhatsApped: ‘Would the last Tory MP to leave the building please turn off the lights.’

Rishi Sunak does his best to sustain a smile no matter how often the peasants on his own side show signs of revolting.

But his stiff upper public school lip almost pulled back to a snarl when he was trying to showcase his geopolitical mastery in Japan earlier this month.

Instead of enabling him to highlight how brilliantly he’d performed at the world leaders’ summit, the Beeb hack asked him about a little local difficulty.

The Home Secretary Suella Braverman being done for speeding.

Instead of going to naughty school like everyone else, it appeared she’d tried to get special treatment to stop people finding out what she’d done.

In the event, she’s off the hook on that one. But she’s got an awful lot of form on disloyalty to the brand. And on her day job.

First she made a speech to a dissident Tory gathering in which she disputed official policy on immigration.

And when the figures came out last week, failures in her own department, notably over small boat arrivals, were writ large.

Housing asylum seekers while their claims are being processed is devilishly expensive, and the subject of much disquiet wherever they’re put.

But the blame for the problem lies squarely on Braverman’s shoulders. As the huge backlog’s down to her department not getting on with the job.

On the far bigger issue of the record number of folk coming in with the blessing of the Home Office, there’s a huge political dilemma.

Voters were told that Brexit would slash the tally overnight, thanks to the ending of free movement of people from the continent.

Of course it’s done no such thing, as the Europeans have simply been replaced by incomers from across the globe.

In reality, if promises to crack down on immigration had been kept, the economy would have taken a hefty hit and the health service would have imploded.

A waste of breath to claim, as Braverman did in her off-piste speech, that we can just train our own people to fill yawning gaps in the jobs market.

It takes at least five years to learn to be a doctor, for example. And the nation desperately needs more of them. Now.

As for overseas students, who made up the largest chunk of this year’s well over half a million migrants, they’re a lifeline for cash-strapped unis.

With fees capped thirteen years ago at little over nine thousand a year, inflation’s taken a near-terminal toll on them.

Or, rather, would have done if it weren’t for Americans, Nigerians, or whatever, happily shelling out nearly four times as much for the same courses.

That’s not to say there isn’t a problem with numbers. The latest figure does after all represent a jump roughly equivalent to the population of Glasgow.

Though the average migrant age suggests a relatively limited extra pressure on schools and hospitals, they still need somewhere to live.

Which might give Sunak and his chums pause for serious thought.

Instead of banging on about unrealistic and self-harming targets on migration figures, they could do worse than quietly addressing housing shortages.

Starmer’s already stolen a march on them there, announcing that nimbies can swivel as he builds more homes on the green belt.

If the Conservatives take that baton and run with it, it won’t be a first. Not as if Labour hasn’t taken plenty of leaves out of their book either.

One Tory territory at least Starmer’s stalwarts have managed to steer well clear of is the ongoing rumblings over Covid lockdown-breaking knees ups.

That is and will ever remain Boris Johnson’s star turn.

And the latest kerfuffle over stuff in his diary about yet more possible partygate infringements will only keep the story going longer.

Arguably, he accidentally handed himself in by giving the entries to the Covid inquiry, via the Cabinet Office, that passed them on to Knacker of the Yard.

There’s a theory that this will mean the commons Privileges Committee inquiry into whether he lied to parliament, will take even longer to decide.

The upshot being the Westminster hacks can’t decide if this is a ripping yarn, or a bit of a yawn.

Little doubt about it, it’s got Sunak rolling his eyes in a mixture of exasperation and sheer ennui.

And on that subject, an interesting fact’s just come to light about the behaviour of elephants in zoos.

Boffins at Nottingham Trent and Harper Adams unis have been checking out research papers into their responses to human visitors.

It seems they’re more like to socialise with one another, and to forage and to generally keep themselves busy when they’ve got an audience.

Conversely, when left to themselves they tend to settle for repetitive activities,
which, the experts contend, shows they’re bored.

Apparently, similar patterns can be detected in penguins, jaguars, grizzly bears, polar bears, cheetahs, servals, banteng, cockatoos and black-tailed prairie dogs.

If the same applies to water buffaloes, a herd of them living on a farm near Colchester in Essex knew exactly what to do about it last week.

They did a quick runner to a nearby home that boasted a nice new swimming pool and did what comes naturally.

The CCTV camera caught the moment when they solved the problem of the cover over their natural habitat by trashing it.

Whereupon a good time was had by all. Apart from the the insurance company, obvs.

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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