Civil servants in the Home Office, even the senior ones, always felt a little nervous when walking towards Theresa May’s office. It wasn’t so much the meeting with the Home Secretary that they dreaded as the characters who lurked in the room directly outside hers. One senior official describes a typical scene: Fiona Hill, one of May’s special advisers, ‘sitting back, getting ready to go out with her stockinged feet on the desk, giving a civil servant an absolute rollicking’.
One name leapt off the text of Theresa May’s Birmingham speech, which began as the launch of her leadership campaign but morphed instantly into a programme for her government this week. It was that of Joseph Chamberlain, who was listed by the new Tory leader in her apostolic succession of great conservatives.
It became clear as May developed the themes of her new Conservatism, moreover, that Chamberlain senior wasn’t being praised just because she happened to be speaking in Birmingham — the city he made into a worldwide symbol of great municipal government.
As Tory MPs gathered at St Stephen’s entrance in Parliament to await their new leader on Monday afternoon, a choir in Westminster Hall began to sing. The hosannas spoke to the sense of relief among Tory MPs: they had been spared a long and divisive nine-week leadership contest. A period of political blood-letting brutal even by Tory standards was coming to an end. The United Kingdom would have a new Prime Minister.
If Christian Britain is fading away, what will survive of it? One answer seems to be pilgrimage. In the past decade, 30 pilgrimage routes have been created or rediscovered; holy places have seen a 14 per cent growth in visitor numbers since 2013. These figures are recorded by a new organisation, the British Pilgrimage Trust, which wants to ‘revive the British pilgrimage tradition of making journeys on foot to holy places’.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
‘Welcome to hell’ was printed on a banner written in English at Rio de Janeiro’s international airport recently. ‘Police and firefighters don’t get paid. Whoever comes to Rio will not be safe,’ the message concluded. It’s fair to say not everyone is feeling the Olympic spirit ahead of the Games that start here next month.
Bad news abounds. The city’s mayor made headlines by declaring the security situation ‘horrible’, and body parts were reported to have washed up near the Olympic beach volleyball venue.
Considering how heavily its citizens are armed with pistols, hunting rifles, shotguns, military semi-automatics, crossbows and nunchucks, considering how ethnically diverse and historically divided the place is, and considering that it is home to a third of a billion more or less rootless people, it is surprising Americans don’t kill each other more. The United States is well policed, even if it has been hard to say so lately.
Holidays are a welcome chance to lose ourselves between the covers of a book, especially for those of us who struggle to find time to read amid the assorted tyrannies of daily life. So the book that ends up in your suitcase had better be a worthy companion.
The disorganised need not fear: you could do worse than grabbing a paperback at the airport. A holiday is a great time to read an easy new bestseller, not least because your friends are likely to have read it, so you can all discuss it over the third bottle of rosé during a long lunch.