There was a certain Panglossian feel to the Government's announcement yesterday that the backlog of older asylum claims had finally been cleared. With 99,000 applications still waiting to be processed, the system is hardly working as it should.
Yet despite the derision of Labour and the BBC (difficult to tell apart these days), there's no doubt progress has been made.
As Home Secretary James Cleverly said, more than 112,000 claims were dealt with last year, including all those made before June 2022, save 4,500 ‘complex' cases still being considered.
There were quibbles over the exact numbers but the Home Office has clearly upped its game. The trouble is, as soon as they clear one backlog, another builds up.
More than 75,000 migrants have entered Britain on small boats alone since the start of 2022. The annual total fell last year thanks to a return agreement with Albania, better liaison with the French and more arrests of traffickers. But at almost 30,000, it remains much too high.
Despite the derision of Labour and the BBC World News Today, there's no doubt progress has been made on asylum claims (File Image)
The annual total of migrants fell last year thanks to a return agreement with Albania, better liaison with the French and more arrests of traffickers, but at almost 30,000, it remains much too high
As well as streamlining the processing system, cross-Channel migrants and the gangs who exploit them must be deterred from embarking on these perilous journeys.
The Albania deal shows deterrence can work. If Rishi Sunak can now force his Rwanda scheme through Parliament and the courts, there is a real chance of slashing the number of crossings.
He will be fought every step of the way by the forces of the liberal Left, but public opinion is on his side. This is a battle he must win – and be seen to win before the General Election.
Last year ended well for Mr Sunak, with a dramatic fall in inflation likely to herald interest cuts in the coming months. Small boat numbers are down and UK growth, though still sluggish, has returned to pre-pandemic levels and compares favourably with other developed countries.
With energy prices also easing (for now at least), the green shoots of recovery seem to be peeping through the economic tundra. If he can get migration – both legal and illegal – under control, too, a miraculous election victory is not yet out of the question.
As David Davis wrote in this paper yesterday, the Tories were in similarly unpromising positions running up to the 1987 and 1992 elections but pulled together to defy the odds and win.
Importance of Ofsted
The suicide of head teacher Ruth Perry, which a coroner concluded had been contributed to by an unfavourable Ofsted report on her school, was a tragedy.
As heart-rending as Ruth Perry's (pictured) story is, it must not be used to end external quality control in schools
So chief inspector of education Sir Martyn Oliver was right to suspend routine inspections pending a full inquiry and the instigation of new training to make the service ‘far more empathetic'.
But heart-rending as Ms Perry's story is, it must not be used to end external quality control in schools. Teacher unions may say Ofsted has become ‘a harmful presence' but its ratings remain the best indicator parents have of school performance.
The inspectors, all experienced professionals, have a job to do. Yes, they must do that job with compassion and respect for the teachers on whom they are passing judgment. But if standards are to be maintained, they must also do it without fear or favour.
So begins the longest strike in the history of the NHS, as junior doctors abandon their wards for 144 consecutive hours.
Hospitals are already at their most stretched and the strikers have been warned that lives may be at risk.
Yet in pursuit of a ludicrous 35 per cent pay claim, they are prepared to use patients as bargaining chips. This is as cynical as it is immoral.
James CleverlyBBCOfstedLabourRishi Sunak