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.
On Sunday afternoon I walked past an insurance booth set up near the way out of a railway station, a typical sight in Singapore. ‘Worried about suffering from a critical illness?’ the banner asked. As of today, we have 47 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus infection.
Nobody expected this outcome, least of all Sinn Féin. The party leadership thought they’d struggle to hold onto some of the seats they won in 2016. Last year’s local and European elections saw Sinn Féin lose two of its three MEPs and nearly half of its councillors. Because of its defensive strategy, which seemed prudent when the election was called, the party won’t have a seat share that matches its vote: the Irish electoral system has multi-seat constituencies, and in many places Sinn Féin could have taken a second seat if it had run more than one candidate. They won’t make that mistake again.
The gold dome of the Old Capitol Building in Iowa City is now part of the University of Iowa campus, where I work. It sits in state above the Iowa River, where bald eagles soar and dive. And there I was, running and stumbling through the snow because I was late for the Democratic caucus and had been been told repeatedly the doors would close promptly at seven o’clock. With a touch of Midwestern disdain for the tardy, a precinct volunteer told me I was ‘not going to make it’ as I pushed through the door and sprinted down the stairs. But I did make it, with time to spare. The weird mix of decorum and chaos continued through the night.
The Conservatives have been in power since 2010: if there is a flaw in the sentencing rules, it is their fault. Those rules aren’t the root problem, though. Sudesh Amman, on the government’s new proposal, would have been released a year or so later, just as eager to kill. More important is what happens after a sentence is passed, in prison and on probation.
The Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s platitudes offer no solution to the UK’s housing crisis. What does it mean to ‘ask for beauty’? The report says that ‘schemes should be turned down for being too ugly.’ But who will be the judge of that? Any volume housebuilder’s sales office will tell you that the house people want to buy is like the one they just saw, ideally the one with the best view and the one they can afford. The market favours the traditional: pitched roof over flat roof, sash window over wrap-round glazing, a tiny porch instead of a doorstep, even – if the budget allows – a chimney in which to lodge a flue pipe. Above all, keep one house away from the next, even if the gap is little wider than an Amazon parcel.
Practically speaking, very little will change at the eleventh hour, as Big Ben doesn’t strike; Boris Johnson hails the ‘dawn of a new era’ (same old clichés, though); the chancellor of the exchequer hands to the prime minister a ceremonial fifty pence piece (the Brexit dividend paid in full) over a glass of sparkling English wine; the last Brexit secretary walks away with a £17,000 golden handshake; and Steve Baker, magnanimous in victory, raises a quiet glass of champagne, ‘discreetly’, out of respect to the disappointed, disenfranchised and defeated, many of whom are not only sorrowful but fearful about what comes next.