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Why did Theresa May scramble to comment on the National Trust Easter Egg row?

The Prime Minister was quick to comment on this, but slow to respond to the "Muslim Ban". Was personal antipathy involved?

Theresa May has been accused of acting out of “revenge” after she condemned the National Trust and Cadbury for dropping the word “Easter” from this year’s Easter Egg Hunt.

May described the move as “absolutely ridiculous”, and an affront to a “very important festival” for Christians worldwide. But neither Cadbury nor the National Trust have dropped the word “Easter” from the Easter Egg Hunt.

Cadbury’s website promoting the occasion features the word Easter 14 times and their press release announcing this year’s quest for chocolate features the E-word seven times. They even have a website promoting it with the word “Easter” in the address. As for the National Trust, their announcement of the hunt features the word Easter a further seven times.

May’s rushed statement is in contrast to her usual methodical approach, which is to marshal the facts and then deliver a statement. May took more than 24 hours to comment on Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, and denied journalists a response three times at her press conference. But she commented in a little over an hour on the Cadbury affair.

Civil servants and former special advisers believe that May’s swift response is due to her longstanding antipathy to Helen Ghosh, the National Trust's director-general, with whom she clashed when Ghosh was permanent secretary at the Home Office and May was Home Secretary. (Ghosh left the Home Office in 2012 to take up her current role running the National Trust.)

Civil servants also believe that another Helen, Helen Bower-Easton - who was Downing Street’s official spokesperson under David Cameron and May - was ostracised by May's team due to her perceived closeness to Cameron. (Bower-Easton has since left to head up communications at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.)

One well-placed source complained that Cameron-era permanent officials had “the mark of Cain” on them in the eyes of the new administration. Another former special adviser said that May was “obsessed with revenge”. A senior figure described the new Downing Street set-up as “thin-skinned”. “The fact is she hates Helen, which is why this has happened,” another Whitehall insider claims.

Downing Street has been asked to comment. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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Daniel Hannan harks back to the days of empire - the Angevin Empire

Did the benign rule of some 12th century English kings make western France vote Macron over Le Pen?

I know a fair amount about British politics; I know a passable amount about American politics, too. But, as with so many of my fellow Britons, in the world beyond that, I’m lost.

So how are we, the monolingual Anglophone opinionators of the world, meant to interpret a presidential election in a country where everyone is rude enough to conduct all their politics in French?

Luckily, here’s Daniel Hannan to help us:

I suppose we always knew Dan still got a bit misty eyed at the notion of the empire. I just always thought it was the British Empire, not the Angevin one, that tugged his heartstrings so.

So what exactly are we to make of this po-faced, historically illiterate, geographically illiterate, quite fantastically stupid, most Hannan-y Hannan tweet of all time?

One possibility is that this was meant as a serious observation. Dan is genuinely saying that the parts of western France ruled by Henry II and sons in the 12th century – Brittany, Normandy, Anjou, Poitou, Aquitaine – remain more moderate than those to the east, which were never graced with the touch of English greatness. This, he is suggesting, is why they generally voted for Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen.

There are a number of problems with this theory. The first is that it’s bollocks. Western France was never part of England – it remained, indeed, a part of a weakened kingdom of France. In some ways it would be more accurate to say that what really happened in 1154 was that some mid-ranking French nobles happened to inherit the English Crown.

Even if you buy the idea that England is the source of all ancient liberties (no), western France is unlikely to share its political culture, because it was never a part of the same polity: the two lands just happened to share a landlord for a while.

As it happens, they didn’t even share it for very long. By 1215, Henry’s youngest son John had done a pretty good job of losing all his territories in France, so that was the end of the Angevins. The English crown reconquered  various bits of France over the next couple of centuries, but, as you may have noticed, it hasn’t been much of a force there for some time now.

At any rate: while I know very little of French politics, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the similarities between yesterday's electoral map and the Angevin Empire were a coincidence. I'm fairly confident that there have been other factors which have probably done more to shape the French political map than a personal empire that survived for the length of one not particularly long human life time 800 years ago. Some wars. Industrialisation. The odd revolution. You know the sort of thing.

If Daniel Hannan sucks at history, though, he also sucks at geography, since chunks of territory which owed fealty to the English crown actually voted Le Pen. These include western Normandy; they also include Calais, which remained English territory for much longer than any other part of France. This seems rather to knacker Hannan’s thesis.

So: that’s one possibility, that all this was an attempt to make serious point; but, Hannan being Hannan, it just happened to be a quite fantastically stupid one.

The other possibility is that he’s taking the piss. It’s genuinely difficult to know.

Either way, he instantly deleted the tweet. Because he realised we didn’t get the joke? Because he got two words the wrong way round? Because he realised he didn’t know where Calais was?

We’ll never know for sure. I’d ask him but, y’know, blocked.

UPDATE: Breaking news from the frontline of the internet: 

It. Was. A. Joke.

My god. He jokes. He makes light. He has a sense of fun.

This changes everything. I need to rethink my entire world view. What if... what if I've been wrong, all this time? What if Daniel Hannan is in fact one of the great, unappreciated comic voices of our time? What if I'm simply not in on the joke?

What if... what if Brexit is actually... good?

Daniel, if you're reading this – and let's be honest, you are definitely reading this – I am so sorry. I've been misunderstanding you all this time.

I owe you a pint (568.26 millilitres).

Serious offer, by the way.

 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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