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The Spectator podcast: The age of May

The Spectator podcast: The age of May
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The Conservative party conference starts this Sunday in Birmingham. It will be the first time that Theresa May has addressed the membership at large as leader, but in the background there are rumblings of division. Are the Cameroons preparing a rebellion on grammar schools? Are any cabinet positions currently vulnerable? And how long can the honeymoon last for Theresa May? Isabel Hardman is joined in Liverpool by Fraser Nelson and Matthew Parris, and from London by James Forsyth, who says on the podcast:

"I think the intriguing thing about Theresa May is this is a politician who's been on the Tory front bench for 17 years, but everyone – from cabinet ministers to civil servants – is still trying to work out what she is going to do as Prime Minister."

but for Matthew Parris, May's start has been more uncertain. He tells the podcast:

"She's a bit of a shin-kicker. I had never thought of her as a shin-kicker. She's kicked Nicky Morgan, former Education Secretary, in the shins. She's kicked David Cameron in the shins. And in ways that will only infuriate them, and I don't know why she's done it. What's the good of poking people with a stick? They've gone, it's best to be nice about them and say 'they did a great job' and then get on with the job you're doing yourself."

Last week, Russian activists turned up at the launch of a new Jock Sturges exhibition in Moscow to protest the inclusion of photographs of nude adolescents. Sturges’ work has been controversial the world over, but in Russia it came up against a burgeoning way of illberal, anti-Western feeling, which has, in Owen Matthews words, seen Russian ‘fast becoming a very puritan place’. So, what’s behind this trend? And is Russia really as coy as it seems? According to Owen Matthews:

"It's a reaction to what happened in the 1990s, where anything went. When every tenet of decency and morality was jettisoned, along with communist morality and Russia descended into an amoral and extremely traumatic, for most Russians, period. I think the Russians themselves haven't changed that much – I think if you look at opinion polls over the years, they're a pretty unreconstructed bunch by European standards on anything from gay rights to foreigners to Jewish conspiracies. You'll find that Russians are quite conservative en masse."

No Prime Minister since Lord Salisbury has sported a beard but there’s been something of a hirsute resurgence in Downing Street this summer. Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s Chief of Staff, has facial hair that would be more at home in Shoreditch than Whitehall, bucking the trend of clean-shaven, ruddy-cheeked men at the nexus of power. In this week’s magazine Emily Hill writes how she is ‘mesmerized’ by Timothy’s beard, but that what might be catnip to a quirky artisanal barista is poison to the British electorate. To debate the issue Emily was joined by Keith Flett, founder of the Beard Liberation Front, which organises the Parliamentary Beard of the Year awards.

On the subject of Jeremy Corbyn's facial hair, Emily Hill analyses it, telling the podcast:

"It says 'I am completely unelectable, I am not Tony Blair'. Peter Mandelson shaved off his moustache and New Labour was transformed into an election winning machine. They brought in all these market researchers and showed lots of voters pictures of the bearded and non-bearded male, and they overwhelmingly preferred the beardless visage. And Tony Blair's three elections were almost guaranteed from that point."

Keith Flett, however disputes Emily's dislike of bearded men, saying:

"That's an age old prejudice – a pogonophobic idea – that you're hiding something behind the beard... I think that every stereotype has a grain of truth in it so, clearly, we could probably wander out here into the park right now and find some old guy with the remains of his lunch in his beard. But that's pretty unusual – most people these days that have beards, it's quite a trendy thing."

This podcast is sponsored by Berry Bros. & Rudd, who have long supplied wine for The Spectator. If you’ve always wanted to start a wine cellar, 2016 could be the perfect time. Whether you are looking to buy for future drinking, for investment or a little of both, Berry Bros. & Rudd’s Cellar Plan is designed to suit all tastes and budgets. A personal Account Manager will be on hand to offer advice and assistance, and enable you to benefit from three centuries’ worth of relationships with the leading wine growers. To find out more about starting a wine cellar with Berry Bros. & Rudd, visit