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The Spectator March 2, 2019

Every week The Spectator is packed with opinion, comment and analysis about politics, arts and books. We lead the way on the great issues of the day, from political scandals to social trends. What you read in The Spectator today becomes news elsewhere in the weeks to come. We have the best columnists on Fleet Street, from Charles Moore, Rod Liddle, Matthew Parris and Alexander Chancellor to James Forsyth, the best-con

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read all about it

The announcement this week that Capital, Heart and Smooth radio are cutting back their local news shows might not in itself seem important — they have loyal audiences keen to know what’s happening outside London — but it’s part of a worrying trend. Over the past two decades, important powers have been devolved to regions and local areas, a process that began with Tony Blair’s regional assemblies and picked up with David Cameron’s ‘localism’ agenda. We now have several elected mayors, while local authorities have more responsibility over the NHS. The decisions that affect our lives are more likely to be taken locally than nationally. And yet at the same time the local media that once held local government to account has atrophied. While councillors and local officials make ever-more important…

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Alan Johnson is a former Home Secretary. Before becoming MP, he was the only major union leader to support scrapping Clause IV. His diary is on p9. Matt Ridley has written books on evolution, genetics and society. His books have sold more than a million copies and been translated into 30 languages. He debunks ‘science’ scare stories on p14. Lynn Barber writes about showbiz and espionage on p41. She’s the author of several books including An Education and A Curious Career. Andrew Motion is a former Poet Laureate and founder of the Poetry Archive. He reviews Max Porter’s second novel on p41. David Cairns was The Spectator’s music critic from 1958-62. On p46 he explains how we learned to love Berlioz. His biography of the composer won the Samuel Johnson prize in 2000.…

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portrait of the week

Home Theresa May said in the Commons that if MPs voted on 12 March against her draft withdrawal agreement with the EU, they would be able to vote on 13 March on whether to leave the EU on 29 March without a deal and, if that was not supported, could then vote on whether to ask the EU to agree to an extension of negotiations under Article 50. Three cabinet ministers, Greg Clark, Amber Rudd and David Gauke, had earlier said they would defy government policy in order to vote for a delay; they were called ‘kamikaze cabinet ministers’ during a heated cabinet meeting. Mrs May had returned from an EU-Arab League summit at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, had said that ‘an extension…

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The separation between ‘members’ and ‘strangers’ always struck me as being one of the most archaic aspects of the House of Commons. When Natasha Barley, the brilliant director of the Children’s University in Hull, asked me (as the charity’s patron) to arrange a meeting with the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, I felt obliged to accompany her on my first journey back since retiring as an MP in 2017. Damian graciously agreed to meet us in his Commons office so I led Natasha to the 1 Parliament Street entrance that I’d used for 20 years and showed my ex-MP’s pass to the uniformed officer on duty. ‘I’ve told you before,’ she barked (inaccurately), ‘you can’t use this entrance and you’re not entitled to bring in visitors.’ Natasha stood behind me, horrified…

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the spectator’s notes

Jeremy Corbyn never ceases to attack Mrs May for trying to run down the clock. She has certainly done that, but she is also quite capable of running up the clock. This she is now doing with her threat of an extension of Article 50. She is like the mouse in the nursery rhyme, with its order reversed. As has been true at least since her disastrous general election of 2017, she will do absolutely anything to avoid a clean break with the EU and keep us in some approximation to the Customs Union. Hickory, dickory, dock: that’s the policy. One could smell a rat — or rather, that mouse — in the fact that so many ministers have recently been allowed publicly to break with government policy and condemn ‘no…

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may’s breaking point

The only certainty in the Brexit process is that there is no certainty. Brexiteers had long sought solace in the fact that, by law, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union on 29 March with or without a deal. But it’s now clear that this is not necessarily the case — or even likely. As we have seen this week, Theresa May is not in control of her party any more than Jeremy Corbyn is in control of his. Corbyn has been forced to move towards the idea of another ‘public vote’ on Brexit, though he has no enthusiasm for one, because he fears that if he doesn’t, MPs would leave his party and join the new Independent Group. Fear of ministerial resignations drove May to say that MPs will…