Karen Bradley has my sympathy — politics in Northern Ireland is as perplexing as finding a way out of Hampton Court Maze

Chris Moncrieff

I have some sympathy with Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who openly and bravely admitted she did not understand the sectarian divide in Ulster until she was given the job.

One headline cruelly screamed: “Minister for Ignorance”. But anyone who has tried to understand politics in Ireland, both north and south of the border, would quickly realise that it is about as perplexing and frustrating as trying to find your way out of the Hampton Court Maze.

Karen Bradley, secretary of state for Northern Ireland, was cruelly dubbed 'Minister for Ignorance' when she admitted she did not understand the sectarian divide in Ulster

The Irish seem to have a congenital inability to make politics simple. Once they are confronted with a problem, they seem determined to make it more complex than it actually is.

However, Mrs Bradley seems now to have a firm grip on the situation. Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government since early last year because of an ongoing, and seemingly insoluble row, which has prevented the appointment of ministers.

As a result, she has ordered that the pay of Stormont Assembly of more than £13,000 because they are not performing all their functions.

Not before time. Perhaps that will speed things up.

• Boris Johnson has rapidly morphed from being Westminster’s own in-house buffoon to becoming a dangerous political hatchet man.

If his brutal “suicide vest” attack on the Prime Minister’s Chequers proposals for Brexit, is not a barefaced attempt to oust her from power, what on earth else can it be? His comments were denounced as “disgusting” by more than one Tory MP, as the bitter civil war in the party ratcheted up a few more notches.

It is difficult to see how Johnson’s political savagery has any other purpose than to create a vacancy at 10 Downing Street, which he is yearning to fill.

However, Theresa May, outwardly at least, is showing no signs of being shaken by these attacks, or by the voracious vultures circling above her head. “I am in it for the long term,” she says calmly.

But if she is driven out, there are more wannabes than merely Boris. Waiting in the wings are Chancellor Philip Hammond, although he is not exactly a Tory pin-up, the irrepressible Liam Fox, International Trade Secretary, and even the youthful but highly accomplished Penny Mordaunt, International Development Secretary who has shown her disdain for the “political elite”.

But what about Ruth Davidson, the lively Scottish Tory leader? If a seat could be found for her at Westminster (no problem that) she would lend a freshness to the Tory Party She has the capacity, too, to grab the Tories by the scruff of the neck and sort them out.

But we shall have to see whether Theresa May is as good as her word. She is echoing what Harold Wilson famously said years ago when he discovered a back-bench plot against him: “I know what is going on. I am going on.”

Events have taken an ugly, even sinister, turn in the Labour Party, as hard-line Momentum activists start to target moderate Labour MPs with the object of replacing them with left-wing Members of their own kidney.

This has led to former Labour front-bencher Chuka Umunna to appeal to Jeremy Corbyn to “call off the dogs”. Corbyn does not seem to have responded adequately or at all, while shadow chancellor John McDonnell says there is no campaign to oust moderate MPs. As one Labour back-bencher said: “You could have fooled me.”

A Labour Party spokesman described Umunna’s comments as “incoherent”. Whatever else they were, they were certainly not incoherent.

So far, three have faced and lost confidence votes against them in their own constituency parties. They are Joan Ryan (Enfield North), Chris Leslie (Nottingham East),and Gavin Shuker (Luton South). There is also Frank Field (Birkenhead) who has resigned the party whip partly because of “intimidation” in the party.

These votes may not be binding, but they are a worrying augury of things to come. Momentum is regarded as more dangerous and ruthless than the Militant organisation, which infiltrated the party in the days of Neil Kinnock’s leadership and which he routed.

If this situation continues, then there are serious fears that more Labour MPs may defect from the party and form a splinter party to defy the Corbynites.

Refreshing to see that Theresa May, amid all her troubles, still has time for a smile and a spot of self-deprecation. Her “dancing” efforts during her Africa trip attracted much derision. But she has sent a message to Strictly Come Dancing: “Get in touch if you need any tips.”

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