At first, it seems fanciful. A backbench MP, Nick Boles, proposes to take power away from the government and place it in the hands of MPs, to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
Can one backbencher usurp power in this way? It’s ambitious. But under the British system, government reports to parliament, not the other way around. Usually the distinction is moot, because government can control the Commons. But when that control collapses, every kind of mischief becomes possible.
Washington is supposed to be recession-proof: when times are bad, the government just hires more. But the city isn’t shutdown-proof. There are more than 360,000 federal employees in the DC area, and many are among the 800,000 across America who last week received a salary bank transfer that said zero dollars and zero cents.
A number of foodbanks have opened here, offering free meals to anyone with federal identification.
Straight after the government’s epic defeat in the House of Commons on Tuesday night, the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Brexit Secretary, Steve Barclay, held a conference call with business leaders to try to reassure them. The principal worry was about ‘no deal’. The Chancellor’s message of comfort was revealing of where power has shifted to. He emphasised how backbenchers are manoeuvring to stop no deal.
On turning 50, I realised I’d never own my own home. What bank would agree to give a mortgage to someone with no regular source of income? Even if I did somehow hold down a job, I would have just 15 years until retirement age.
For a while, I was depressed. Owning your own home is the British dream. Why else would all those property shows I drool over be so popular? I won’t have anything to hand down to my kids.
Brian Austin, a fisherman from the small village of Cedros in Trinidad, is struggling to describe the men who robbed him out at sea last year. ‘They had guns, they wore T-shirts and hoods.’ Then he brightens: ‘Have you ever seen Somali pirates? They looked just like that.’
I have indeed seen Somali pirates, as it happens, and rather closer up than I’d have liked. Ten years ago, a bunch of them kidnapped me for six weeks while I was out reporting.
I’m an American man affected by the disability autism. As a child, I went to special education schools for eight years and I do a self-stimulatory behaviour during the day which prevents me from getting much done. I’ve never had a girlfriend. I have bad motor coordination problems which greatly impair my ability to handwrite and do other tasks. I also have social skills problems, and I sometimes say and do inappropriate things that cause offence.
You can tell something about national character from the way a country clears its cupboards. In the States they have the yard sale. The American dream remains a detached house with a front and a back yard, all enclosed by a white picket fence. Daughter selling lemonade, son playing catch, consumer goods spread on the lawn. The French have the vide grenier — the emptying of the attic. The Frenchman in his romantic soul still imagines he is a poet or a painter starving for love and art in a bare, unfurnished room.
If you mention the word ‘Booths’ anywhere south of Knutsford, you will usually be met with a blank expression, followed by someone wondering if you are mispronouncing the name of a nearby pharmacy. But in the north-west the name is associated with a store native to Lancashire, which, uncharacteristically for a supermarket chain, holds a fond place in many people’s hearts.
For those not aware of the Booths chain, it is often called the north’s answer to Waitrose.