Hancock’s Half Page

RISK OF WORLD WAR THREE.

GREAT DANGER.

We have reached the nightmare scenario. A deranged world leader, Vladimir Putin, in control of nuclear weapons. A deluded country that generally seems to be supporting his ghastly atrocities, and opponents who are racing to accommodate themselves to the new world order.

I don’t want to be alarmist, but we really are on the brink of a dangerous escalation in the Ukraine crisis.

For how long are we prepared to stand by while the heroic Ukrainian people see more and more of their territory occupied by the marauding Russian Army? In a horrible way our supplying of arms is prolonging the agony. It certainly gives rise to the accusation that we are letting Ukrainians die for our interest.

The escalation can come in a number of ways. What if a stray Russian missile lands on Polish territory? It could be an accident. Lviv is only a few miles from the Polish border, and it is very possible that an incompetent Russian soldier could put inaccurate guidance information into the targeting mechanism.

How would we know if it was an accident or yet another effort by Putin to test our resolve? Would we accept Russian assurances it was an accident? I hope not because that would make a mockery of our warnings to Putin not to attack an inch of NATO territory.

So, a military response would be necessary. It is likely we would conduct one attack on Russia in the Donbas. Then the world must hold its breath and hope Putin takes his “punishment.”

If not, I can see the conflict rapidly escalating beyond Ukraine’s borders. In a conventional war I believe NATO will prevail. China will not get involved and we would knock out Russia’s air force and liberate Ukraine.

However, it is highly unlikely Putin would not resort to chemical, biological and ultimately nuclear weapons to prevent such a humiliation.

Another trigger for war could be an incident in the Baltic Sea as Putin attempts to dissuade, or protest against, Finland and Sweden, joining NATO. And finally, we may just be shamed into taking action if Russia conquers the Donbas and then attempts to take the rest of Ukraine.

ARE WE READY?

One has no sense that people in the West are prepared for war with Russia. Most people seem to think, awful as it is, it will be contained in the Donbas. Well, I hope I have shown this could be wrong thinking.

NATO has shown considerable resolve since the invasion but there are questions over two key allies France and Germany. As Frank McKenna explains in his blog this week, an unlikely victory for Marie Le Pen in France this weekend would confuse things mightily. And Germany which should be at the forefront in this crisis is compromised by dependence on Russian energy and on underspending on its armed forces.

Despite these concerns, I still maintain that NATO, with the United States fully engaged, can prevail.

However, we need to get mentally prepared for what a full-scale war means.

OTHER SCENARIOS.

I hope desperately I am wrong and other scenarios will play out.

It may be that Putin will take the Donbas and stop. A low-key war of attrition may go on for years, but he will have succeeded in taking land by force. In those circumstances we must maintain full sanctions. We don’t want the spectacle of nations and business slowly returning to business as usual.

Sanctions must be maintained and increased until surely the army, oligarchs or the people of Russia depose Putin and decide against all the traditions of their history that the West is not an enemy and wants to embrace the ordinary Russian people in the international family.

THERE’S NOBODY ELSE TO LEAD!

WHERE’S THE ELECTION WINNER ?

It is a comment on the state of our politics that many Tory MPs are not calling for Boris Johnson’s resignation because there is no credible alternative.

The Prime Minister should be gone, partly for breaking Covid rules, but mainly for flagrantly misleading parliament with his assurances that there were no parties, and no rules were broken. No sophistry about blaming civil servants for not informing him will do. The rules about not misleading parliament don’t include get out get out of jail provisions relating to poor advice received.

Crude politics is in play. The spectacular decline in the fortunes of the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has left the Conservatives short of credible candidates to take over with Johnson’s brand of being a certain election winner.

The Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is the bookies favourite. I would back Preston’s Ben Wallace who has enhanced his reputation with his arms support for Ukraine. He is a reasonable centrist Tory but has a low national profile. Johnson’s challenger in 2019 for the Tory leadership, Jeremy Hunt, is mentioned by many commentators. He is a fairly vanilla figure and certainly lacks any claim to be an obvious vote winner. A complete outsider is Tom Tugendhat. As Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, he was calling for the West to take a much tougher stand on Ukraine before Russia’s invasion.

But all this speculation about runners and riders is otiose at the moment because Johnson is determined to carry on. If the local elections are a disaster and the cost-of-living crisis continues to mount, things might change. I was struck by a panel of experienced political commentators who this week all thought Johnson would lead the party into the next election.

FALLING STANDARDS.

The Prime Minister’s ability to brush off his fine is partly linked to the public’s lowered expectation of the behaviour of those in public and private office.

We have two MPs convicted of serious offences still in the Commons. We have had a series of scandals where individuals in charge have not been made fully accountable. Hillsborough, the contaminated blood scandal, sub post masters, maternity care at Shrewsbury and Morecambe Bay and cladding. The list goes on and on.

I can recall politicians in the past who have resigned from public office when, it turned out, there was no reason for them to do so. They did it because they felt, on balance, it was the honourable thing to do.

Now all the effort is put into finding some way to wriggle off the hook, find a form of words that will do or blame other people.

It might save their miserable careers in the short term but let’s hope the public rouse themselves from cynical lethargy to ensure we are once again led by people we can respect.

IF IT AIN’T BROKE.

CHANNEL FOR ALL

The government’s decision to privatise Channel Four is driven by ideology and could damage the media economy in the North.

With the BBC’s reputation soaring for its coverage of the Ukraine conflict, the Culture Secretary has had to tone down her war of words with the Corporation. So, to throw some red meat to her right-wing backbenchers, Nadine Dorries has opened another front with Channel Four privatisation.

The claim is that the publicly owned channel is constrained in its borrowing powers by public ownership and put at a disadvantage against the new streaming giants.

The government is expected to pledge the sale’s proceeds will be put into a creative pot to train young creative talent. This is completely unnecessary. Channel Four is already doing this. Last year two thirds of its programmes were commissioned outside London from a range of independent companies. It has established its new national headquarters in Leeds with the result that there is a strong media industry presence on both sides of the Pennines.

The future is now uncertain as private companies eye up the billion-pound prize. Will commitments to independent production and public service broadcasting be maintained by managers interested in profits?

Will Channel Four news survive? It has certainly been a thorn in the government’s side, and on occasions has lacked balance in my opinion. If this is the real motivation for privatization it is a disgrace, and a big parliamentary battle awaits.

TORY TURNING POINTS.

40 years ago, the Falklands War transformed the Premiership of Margaret Thatcher. After three years of her efforts to effect major change in industrial policy, she was very unpopular. Some even feared defeat at the polls in 1983/84. It would have maintained the pattern of one term governments that had prevailed since the mid-sixties.

But the reconquest of a remote group of islands in the South Atlantic had an almost irrational impact on the morale of the country.

Mrs Thatcher had an anxious wait for victory. I remember, as a reporter, being summoned to Downing Street for an important announcement at the end of April. An even more obscure British possession, South Georgia, had been liberated. When I pointed out to the PM that the Falklands were the real target, I was abruptly told to “Rejoice at that news!”

By mid-June there was widespread rejoicing at the Argentinian surrender and Mrs Thatcher was able to go the polls the next year, embedding the Conservatives in power.

However, by this time of year, thirty years ago the picture looked rather different. By April 1992, Mrs Thatcher was gone and her replacement, John Major, was being run close by Labour leader Neil Kinnock in the General Election. But not close enough, the Conservatives won a fourth term but with a much-reduced majority.

If ever there was an election a party should have lost, it was the Tories in 1992. Within months of them winning, their reputation for sound economic management was shredded on Black Wednesday with our forced withdrawal from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. The rest of the parliament was dominated by splits over Europe and sleaze and New Labour won a landslide in 1997.

Two turning points in the history of the Conservative Party. Does another one loom?

JUST JIM 491.

BURNHAM AND NEVILLE: THE DREAM TEAM.

Sir Keir Starmer was back in Greater Manchester on Thursday, less than a week after Gary Neville told him to show his face a lot more up north.

The advice was given by the footballer turned businessman at a dinner attended by seven hundred people. It had the feel of the New Labour days in the mid nineties as the party prepared for its landslide in 1997.Party members mingled with business people who once again feel comfortable at Labour do’s after the Corbyn years.

However, I feel excessive confidence in Labour’s prospects and Starmer’s leadership would be misplaced. For one thing the Labour leader did a double header chat with Gary Neville. Starmer did gags about football whilst Neville showed a real grasp of politics which he should use to become mayor of Greater Manchester.

Then there was Angela Rayner, a striking presence in a long red dress more suited to an Oscars ceremony than a Labour dinner. But she worked the room well and is good for party morale. Neville and Rayner outshone Starmer, but to be fair Clement Attlee was a complete stranger to charisma.

Starmer is a man of integrity, and it is to be hoped that voters will support him as a change from the current incumbent of No 10 who may shortly face a fine from the police. But it is unlikely to be enough to overcome the huge Tory majority especially as the Scots show little sign of weaning themselves off the Scottish Nationalists.

The current mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, was absent from the dinner through sickness we were told. But a pathway has now opened up for a return to parliament and a possible leadership bid by Burnham. The Urmston MP Kate Green is to stand down at the next election.

The Labour leader was in Bury to launch the party’s local election campaign. The party is hoping to capitalise on the cost-of-living crisis that will be biting hard by May. The opportunity for big gains is limited as Labour are in power in most areas being contested, which is unfortunate for Starmer who needs some great election results and striking policy ideas to shake off the perception that he is a nice guy that can’t cut through.

FROM NUMBER 11 TO NUMBER 10.

There have been twenty-four Chancellors since the war and only four of them have become Prime Minister.

I did this bit of research as the shine started to come off Rishi Sunak as the Spring Statement was subjected to closer scrutiny.

There are various reasons why Chancellors don’t get the top job. Pro-European views prevented Roy Jenkins and Ken Clarke becoming leaders of their parties but more often it has been the age-old problem of Prime Ministers really wanting to do both jobs; announcing the big policies and the money to pay for it.

Having someone in No 11 saying no did for Geoffrey Howe, Nigel Lawson and Sajid Javid.

Could Mr Sunak go the same way at a time when the tensions between him and Boris Johnson will only increase as the cost-of-living crisis deepens?