On this week’s podcast we discuss the royal flush that Theresa May has been dealt, debate Sadiq Khan’s progress, half a year into his tenure as London Mayor, and pose the seasonal question of whether advent is better than Christmas.
First, James Forsyth‘s cover story this week charts the remarkable fortune of Theresa May, as the weaknesses of Labour and the Eurozone (not to mention her Trump card) give her a strong hand heading into the Brexit negotiations. Speaking to the podcast, James says that:
“I think you could say that, look, the EU27 are being remarkably united at the moment. They clearly do not want to suggest that you can leave the EU and have all the benefits of membership without any of the so-called costs. But I think the point in a way is this: the Eurozone crisis, and the Trump thing, are now permanent features of the system, and that does strengthen her hand.”
He’s joined in the discussion by Isabel Hardman who identifies Labour’s weakness in the Commons as one of May’s best cards:
“She’s definitely got a pack of aces in Parliament, because Labour is so weak. She has a commanding 28-point lead over Jeremy Corbyn on the question of who would make a better Prime Minister. Labour is particularly weak on the question of Europe because of Jeremy Corbyn’s own ambivalence on the issue. He often uses statements in the Commons, not to scrutinise the Prime Minister on her negotiating position or prowess, but actually to have a moan about the things about Europe that he doesn’t like.”
Next, we take a moment to consider Sadiq Khan’s progress as London Mayor, six months into his tenure. One of his detractors, Andrew Gilligan, writes in this week’s magazine that Khan has ‘alienated’ key allies in City Hall. On the podcast, he says that:
“His PR and positioning has been brilliant. My long-term concern, and my medium concern, about him is that there’s not much substance there yet. A lot of press releases, a lot of announcements, a certain amount of slagging off his predecessor, which is inevitable I suppose. But on actual policy changes, on actual substance of powers that he can actually exercise, we haven’t seen very much and people are starting to notice.”
Presenting the case for the defence, Richard Watts tells us that:
“He’s handled some incredibly difficult situations, and, given what was said about him during a really unpleasant mayoral election campaign, actually I think he’s done a really good job in holding our city together through incredibly turbulent times. That’s actually one of the first jobs of the Mayor and shouldn’t be underestimated.”
And finally, with the last weekend of November just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about Advent. Ysenda Maxtone Graham joins us on the podcast to discuss this, picking up on her piece in this week’s magazine where she extols the virtues of Advent as a mixture of bitter and sweet, the perfect antidote to saccharine Christmas festivities. She writes that:
French children are taught that Advent is ‘le petit Carême’, ‘little Lent’: a time for sober reflection in preparation for both the birth of Christ and the Second Coming. I like that. Westminster Abbey’s Advent service this year is going to kick off with a plainsong setting of the Dies Irae. That’s the spirit! Give us wrath and gloom. Don’t let us get our hopes up too quickly. Make us earn ‘Lo! he comes with clouds descending’. And even that hymn, if you examine it closely rather than just belting it out, warns us that we’ll probably be wailing when the Second Coming happens.