Few people would choose to celebrate their birthday by listening to Philip Hammond speak, but that is the pleasure that awaits Theresa May on Monday. On Tuesday she must suffer in silence as Boris Johnson derails Tory party conference with an appeal to ‘chuck Chequers’.
It’s hard not to pity the Prime Minister. She is now horribly isolated. Both in her own cabinet and in Europe, she has few allies.
David Lidington is the most powerful minister you’ve never heard of. He is Theresa May’s de facto deputy, tasked with both supervising the domestic agenda and solving the trickiest Brexit conundrums. Much of government business is, nowadays, done through committees of cabinet members: he chairs seven such committees and sits on another 20. ‘I am the man who stands on the stage spinning plates on the top of poles,’ he says cheerfully.
Supermarkets have always moved with the times. After the recession we wanted affordable luxury, so we got M&S’s ‘Dine in for two’ and its various imitators. These promised us a restaurant-quality meal and a nice bottle of sauvignon blanc for a tenner.
Well, now the times they are a-Brexit, and retail giants are adapting accordingly. Last week Tesco opened Jack’s. Partly it’s a response to the explosive growth of German rivals Aldi and Lidl.
Next month the Islamist preacher Anjem Choudary will be released from prison, having served just half of his five-and-a-half-year sentence. He was jailed for his role in encouraging Muslims to join Islamic State. At the time of his sentencing in 2016, the judge described the hate preacher as ‘calculating’ and ‘dangerous’.
The Justice Secretary, Rory Stewart, echoed that verdict earlier this month, calling Choudary ‘deeply pernicious’ and a ‘destabilising influence’.
The comedy of Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov, the two glum Russian ‘tourists’ who denied on television that they were involved in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, seems set to run and run. The Moscow press tells us that Russia’s ‘Golden Brand’ has offered them a brand name for a company specialising in tourism, women’s clothing, and chemicals for the scent industry.
The two tried to persuade the world that they had come to Britain simply to admire Salisbury cathedral, its 123 metre-high steeple and its ancient clock.
‘What the hell is going on?’ That anxious wail of economic incomprehension has been heard ever since President Trump decided last January to impose tens of billions of dollars of tariffs on China and other countries, including Canada, Mexico and the member states of the EU.
The wail went up another octave last week as the White House announced a further $200 billion in tariffs. Among the politicians and think tanks of Washington DC, where I have spent the past few days, there is talk of little else; talk rendered more feverish by the prospect of midterm elections in November.
Bernard Ingham once told a story about a reporter from the Financial Times who went to cover an election in Ingham’s hometown of Hebden Bridge. The reporter went into a café and ordered a cappuccino. ‘Nay lad,’ said the waitress. ‘You’ll have to go to Leeds for that.’
Ingham told that story to illustrate the no-nonsense attitudes of the rugged town he grew up in — attitudes that shaped the man who became Margaret Thatcher’s muscular press secretary.