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Cummings’s Bootprints

James Butler

14 February 2020

Cummings’s triumph over Javid illuminates the government’s likely trajectory. Burke Trend – a career civil servant in the Treasury before he became cabinet secretary in 1963 – once remarked that whatever the prevailing economic theory, the general ethos of the Treasury was fixed: ‘Spending money, like eating people, is wrong.’ This entrenched conservatism has occasionally been praised – Keynes thought it a bulwark against madcap governmental wickedness – but has more often frustrated politicians of both left and right intent on reshaping the economy. Bringing its political wing under his influence suggests Cummings is eager to break the Treasury’s taboo, and serious about realising the Conservatives’ so far vague spending pledges, to firm up their potentially volatile electoral coalition. If he is serious about Whitehall reform, he also underestimates its complexity and intractability. The Treasury’s inertia is not caused by a few indolent spads at the top, easily replaced.

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In Quarantine

Erin Maglaque

Inthe cold autumn of 1629, the plague came to Italy. It arrived with the German mercenaries (and their fleas) who marched through the Piedmont countryside. The epidemic raged through the north, only slowing when it reached the natural barrier of the Apennines. On the other side of the mountains, Florence braced itself. The officials of the Sanità, the city’s health board, wrote...

LRB Reading

Fiction and the Age of Lies

Colin Burrow

The age of lies​ is probably as old as time. When I was young there was a comedian who did a Bristolian version of the Fall of Man. In the Garden of Eden, God says to Adam: ‘Adam, you bin eating them apples?’ ‘I neverrr,’ Adam replies. God says: ‘What are all them bloody apple cores doing on the ground then?’

‘I neverrr’ is the original lie,...

 

Après Brexit

Ferdinand Mount

So far, in the first few days of actual Brexit, the Johnson government has ganged up with the EU on the three hottest issues of the day. And there is plenty more to come. It’s hard to see how Johnson can avoid ‘betraying’ Britain’s fishermen all over again by letting EU boats continue to trawl in UK waters as they have for centuries. These spats are conducted by all sides in Trumpish style: fortissimo, strutting, the protagonists always talking back to their domestic audience. Quiet diplomacy is for wimps. Meanwhile, the great corpus of European law continues to squat on our statute book, and the £30 billion committed to future European projects under the withdrawal agreement still has to be paid. For Brexiteers, the EU is a visitor who long outstayed her welcome and has now left her luggage blocking the hall. 

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Diary

The Deborah Orr I Knew

Jenny Turner

When​ Deborah Orr died, in October, I hadn’t seen her for more than 16 years. We’d run into each other in 2003 at a book party, when I was pregnant with my son, and she’d tearfully told my then partner, now husband, that he’d better look after me, or else: a bit rich, I remember thinking, given how vile she’d been when we were falling out. A few months later,...

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‘American Dirt’

Christian Lorentzen

Jeanine Cummins’s​ American Dirt (Tinder, £14.99) begins with a massacre. Fourteen people are killed at a birthday barbecue: the family – husband, mother, cousins etc – of Lydia Pérez and her eight-year-old son, Luca, who are hiding in the bathroom. One of the three assailants uses the toilet, unaware that mother and son, the actual targets of the...

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Meetings with their Gods

Claire Hall

Theexiled tyrant Pisistratus, planning his return to Athens in the early sixth century bc, hired an unusually tall woman named Phye to ride beside him in his chariot. She was to pretend to be the manifestation of the goddess Athena, the patron of Athens. Herodotus gives her height as some four cubits – around 5’11", more than a foot taller than the average woman at the time...

 

Rereading Bowen

Tessa Hadley

Ata certain point in my reading life, aged 12 or 13, I promoted myself to the adult section of my local library, climbing up three wide steps covered in yellow linoleum. There, not knowing how to choose, I gravitated to Elizabeth Bowen – along with others, including Compton Mackenzie and Hugh Walpole, of whose writing I can’t now recall even the faintest flavour. I’d...

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LRB Collections numbers 1 to 7

LRB Books: Collections and Selections

Rediscover classic pieces, recurring themes, and the dash the London Review of Books has cut through the history of ideas, for the past 40 years, with LRB Collections and now LRB Selections: two new series of collectible books.

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Jon McNaught illustration of person looking at phone on a bus

What’s new?

‘The London Review of Books is something new,’ the LRB’s founding editor Karl Miller wrote in our first ever issue, 40 years ago. ‘This, for the first time, is it.’ Now, for the first time in a decade, the same can be said of our website.

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