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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 domestic and global politics.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

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

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