To most of the cabinet, it does not matter if Theresa May announces a timetable for her resignation: they can’t see her lasting until the summer and the race for her successor is now on. Coffees are being bought, dinners laid on, allies sounded out — all in expectation of a contest being called at any moment.
This time, the leading candidates hope to be ready with campaign managers, teams, manifestos and more.
The most effective political insult of modern times was delivered by Norman Lamont in 1993, when he declared that John Major’s government gave ‘the impression of being in office but not in power’. But it is truer of Theresa May than it ever was of Major.
Lamont argued that Major paid too much attention to opinion polls, meaning that the government reacted to events, rather than shaping them. But May’s position is far, far worse: she has lost control of the House of Commons.
Management books often repeat the dictum: ‘If there’s one thing worse than making mistakes, it’s not learning from them.’ So let’s apply that smug little idea to Brexit.
Before I start, a couple of housekeeping points. I voted Remain, but believe we must leave the EU and honour the referendum result. Second, as a former Brexit minister, writing this is a form of therapy for me.
Failure no. 1 — from which many other failures flow — was a lack of honesty.
In just a few weeks, the government begins its crackdown on porn. From April, all UK-based internet users will be required to prove their age before accessing adult websites. And if they can’t? As they say on the doors, it’s no ID, no entry.
Since the arrival of the internet, and then the smartphone, parents have fretted about how easy it is for children to watch porn, and the impossibility of enforcing age restrictions.
REVERSE FERRET! When he edited the Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie used to throw open his office door and bellow this at the newsroom when the paper had got a story wrong. It came from the northern endurance sport of ferret-legging: a pair of razor-toothed ferrets are put down your trousers — no underwear allowed. The Sun would call the ferrets off some hapless public figure and go into full reverse without apology or explanation.
Thumbing avidly through Heat magazine recently in a fevered search for the latest on the Cheryl/Liam/Naomi infernal triangle, I was startled to find a pull-out preview of a new true-crime magazine called Crime Monthly. It was aimed at an audience that is presumably satiated with seeing celebrities tormented and now wants to read about ordinary people being tortured. Heat magazine — once a bona fide pop-culture phenomenon — is often now found on free magazine stands, so the publishers, Bauer, are chasing the money.
Servant of the People is a hilarious Ukrainian situation comedy currently running on Netflix. It opens with a young high-school teacher launching into a foul-mouthed rant against the corruption and venality of his country’s political class. ‘Why are all the honest people fools and the clever ones are thieves?’ shouts nerdy but honest history master Vasyl Holoborodko to a colleague. ‘What kind of people are we, that we keep voting for these mother--fucking liars knowing that they are crooks?’
One of Holoborodko’s pupils secretly films the rant through a window.
They cut virgin paths through tropical forests, paddled dugout canoes over West African rapids, sailed along the Yangtze in a sampan, climbed the Rocky Mountains with a gun-toting guide, galloped across the Iraqi desert in search of sheikhs, slept under the stars and ate a lot of snake.
It’s easy to be seduced by the exploits of the Victorian women travellers. Broadcaster Mariella Frostrup pays homage to ‘their courage, curiosity and pioneering spirit’ in her new book, Wild Women and Their Amazing Adventures Over Land, Sea and Air, a collection of 50 pieces of travel writing by women.
The tale of forced Yorkshire rhubarb has the makings of a David Lean film. Frosty Slavic beginnings, wartime devotion, steam trains. Rhubarb was brought to Britain from Siberia towards the end of the 17th century, and it’s hard to imagine a more eccentrically British fruit — though technically it is of course a vegetable.
The curious method of ‘forcing’ rhubarb to make it fruit early wasn’t discovered until January 1817, when gardeners digging a trench inadvertently buried some rhubarb crowns in soil.