Coming home to the news…

FOR three weeks, the news was hardly given a glance. Headlines were squinted at on the phone, but that was that. Being half a world away pushes the daily quarrel into the dismal distance.

The thing was, that every time I did look it was the usual dull choreographed ballet of Brexit and other balls-ups. One day, Mrs Maybe was making her Brexit speech in Florence. Despite the big billing, her audience mostly comprised British journalists, other European politicians having more important matters to attend to.

Her speech seemed to be a tacit admittance that quitting Europe wasn’t going to be as easy as all those Europe-haters would have us believe. But Brexit still meant Brexit, whatever that means.

Another day, another idle threat from Donald Trump to blast North Korea to smithereens.

Meanwhile in Australia, the poll on same-sex marriage was driving the news. One day, the West Australian had the headline: “Same-sex headbutt” – a blunt instrument with which to sum up an alleged assault on the abrasive former prime minister Tony Abbott.

Early reports suggested an altercation with a Yes supporter, during which Abbott banged his lip. By deadline time in Perth, this had transformed into that headbutt.

But then, our own dear Westminster is a decorous tea party in comparison to the bear-pit of Aussie politics.

Incidentally, Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, a prominent No campaigner, said that opposition to same-sex marriage was like “the successful Brexit referendum in Britain and Donald Trump’s election as US President”, again according to the West Australian.

Well, mate, that doesn’t sound very liberal to me, but then liberal in Australia translates as broadly centre-right. And if you think the Brexit vote was a success, call again in a few years to check up on us.

Back home, it is party conference season, that time of year when politicians gather, usually at the seaside, to bask in their own brilliance.

It’s Labour’s turn this week, with the party buoyed after the unexcepted success of the election, that’s if success is defined as a better than expected defeat. But with the Tories weakened and behaving badly, perhaps Jeremy Corbyn is in with a chance, should Mrs Maybe suffer a final, fatal wobble. But my advice would be to restrain the cockiness, as it’s off-putting, especially with John McDonnell giving the impression that he was in power already, the inconvenient truth of the election having been brushed under his shiny shoes.

The plan to abandon those horrendously expensive PFI contracts has appeal, as the NHS is much burdened by those enormously unwise higher-purchase deals. But life and politics are never simple: although they were a Tory idea, the public finance initiative deals were grasped enthusiastically by Labour – and with good reason, as the NHS was coming apart at the seams. As it is again now. Funny how that happens whenever the Tories are in control.

Could Labour pull that off without some other financial compromise containing hidden poison in the small print? That’s a big ask, but those deals don’t seem to do anyone much good, apart from the lucky contractors who signed no-risk contracts that pay up for 25 years.

Still with Labour, how depressing that the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, has a bodyguard at the conference, such is the virulent hostility of some Corbyn supporters to a woman who is merely trying to do her job – and a very difficult job, too.

Labour’s Diane Abbott, who knows far too much about being abused, was asked if she would call on the more extreme Corbyn supporters not to abuse the likes of Kuenssberg online. “Oh definitely. Don’t do it,” she said. “There is a positive case to make on Jeremy online, make that positive case. You don’t have to be abusing other people.”

Quite so – and it is fair to say that those who indulge in such misogyny could just repel the undecided voters Labour needs to win over.

Here, to end, is news that truly disturbs. According to Bioversity International, we are too dependent on only 12 crops and five animal species. This heavy leaning could end in global famine. Only marginally less drastically, it could also lead to the end of crisps, chocolate and coffee. Which reminds me, it’s time for breakfast.

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