It looks like another period of direct rule is pending for NI

Chris Moncrieff
Chris Moncrieff

Amid everything else going on, let us not forget the impasse, logjam, call it what you will, in Northern Ireland.

The original deadline for the principal parties to reach agreement on the form of devolved government is now so long ago that it is lost in the mists of time. And the latest signs are that Sinn Fein and the DUP will never reach any kind of compromise agreement on the way forward.

It is hardly surprising, I suppose, given that these two parties are like chalk and cheese. It now looks inevitable that another period of direct rule is impending. What else? You can’t force people to agree.

• Full marks to Penny Mordaunt, the relatively new International Development Secetary, for taking such a tough line over public cash for Oxfam, whose reputation is now rightly in tatters following the use of prostitutes by some of their staff - while they were supposed to be engaged in urgent relief work for earthquake victims in Haiti.

It is especially commendable on her part for not allowing herself to be fobbed off by Oxfam’s chief executive Mark Goldring’s misguided claim that the whole issue has been overplayed by the media and implying the events were not so grave, by a long chalk, as they have been depicted.

Oh yes, they are. Goldring is ludicrously asking the rhetorical question: ‘Did we murder babies in their cots?’

Goldring changed his tune in a later statement, expressing some contrition and apologies. A bit late for that now, Mr G. Some people have even been ‘joking’ - ‘There goes a knighthood!’

The fact is that Oxfam, which has received many millions of pounds of both public and private money over the years, was evasive, to say the least, when there were rumbles in 2011 about the conduct of some of their employees out in Haiti.

Oxfam admitted some staff had been sacked or had resigned without specifying why. It does seem strange, I admit, that those in charge of the purse strings did not probe further at the time. And somehow Oxfam got away with it at the time. But now the bubble has burst, and their future must now be uncertain to say the least.

There is already a groundswell of opinion which says that Goldring should go. A thorough clean-out of the Augean stables is desperately needed. If there is one good thing that can emerge from this mess, it’s that generous people will now be far more inclined to give their money to small charities, rather than these overweening international monoliths. That means small groups of dedicated unpaid volunteers who help out hospitals, hospices and the like up and down the country will benefit from this sorry affair. At least people will know where their money is going and that it’s being properly and worthily used.

• Is it curtains now for that tattered army, the United Kingdom Independence Party? The party’s decision to boot Henry Bolton out of the leadership, largely because his girlfriend made some unpleasant remarks about Meghan Markle, Prince Harry’s fiancee, must mark yet another unwanted watershed in the party’s fortunes - or rather misfortunes.

Since the Brexit referendum, Ukip has been in a perpetual state of shambles, instability and, quite frankly, uselessness. They will now be looking among their serried ranks for a fifth leader in 18 months - scarcely a good advertisement for efficiency. I used to think David Cameron was out of order in describing Ukip, among other things, as a party of fruitcakes. Now I am beginning to think he had understated the case.

People are even beginning to feel that a vote for the Monster Raving Loony Party would be a better proposition than supporting Ukip, which in any event could well be a thing of the past by then. Bolton clung on to the leadership as long as he could, but his abrupt ousting was inevitable. Nigel Farage, the former leader, did not have much time for him but nevertheless felt his removal would be more damaging than letting him stay. But no one - or very few - listened.

Ukip may have served a purpose during the referendum campaign but now, especially with it in such a catastrophic state, there seems to be little purpose in its continued existence. Can’t it simply curl up and quietly die? But then, no organisation with Farage at, or near, the helm will be capable of doing anything quietly.

• Would Theresa May please lighten up a little? She was, aptly I think, during the recent general election campaign described by a journalist as ‘a glumbucket’ - entirely merited.

Whereas, for instance, David Cameron gave every evidence of enjoying himself at Commons question time, and relishing the banter, May is dogged but dull. What with that and Jeremy Corbyn’s own wishy-washy contribution, Prime Minister’s question time, once the rowdy highlight of the parliamentary week, is now so dreary that they can’t even fill the green benches for it. She should perhaps study that great ham actor Lord Olivier to put some oomph into her performance.

I believe she is doing as good a job as possible in the Bexit negotiations, given the stubborn and punishment-seeking Brussels opponents. But a bit more ‘Thatcherian handbag diplomacy’ and table-banging would certainly help the UK’s case.