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17 June 2018

Week Ahead #3: Theresa May’s Déjà Vu, Trouble for Leadsom, and Burning Underpants

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By Stephen Bush

This time last week, Theresa May was gearing up for a stand-off with pro-European Conservatives over the EU Withdrawal Bill. The most important part? The so-called meaningful vote amendment. The government has already had to commit to holding a vote regardless of the deal May ends up striking with the European Union, but they still retain the right to set the terms of that vote. Conservative rebels wanted to amend the bill to make the meaningful vote genuinely meaningful, with parliament in control not only of that vote but what happens afterwards. But May bought them off with the promise of concessions, promises that she has now gone back on.

So she starts this week just as she did the last one: in a stand-off with pro-European Conservatives, with no one entirely sure who will blink first. Form suggests that it will be pro-European Tories who fold, but you never know for sure.

Out this week 

Coming to cinemas near you: Hereditary stars Toni Colette and Alex Wolff in a horror film about members of a family haunted by malevolent spirits after the death of their grandmother. Critics are talking about it in the same breadth as The Exorcist.

If you, like me, tend to get jumpy at anything more scary than a 12A, why not instead check out Oscar Wilde biopic The Happy Prince, in which Rupert Everett dons a fatsuit to play the writer. Ryan Gilbey gave it a cautious thumbs down in this week’s NS.

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Ocean’s 8, the all female reboot of the George Clooney remake of the Rat Pack original Ocean’s 11, also hits screens. An all-star cast of Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter and Awkwafina attempt to pull of an audacious heist. Anna Leskiewicz was at the premiere.

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Before I worked in journalism, I spent a long time in the book trade and my favourite part of the week was when the new books arrived. Hitting shelves this week: Ken Besinger’s Red Card: Fifa and the Fall of the Most Powerful Men in Sport explores the murky practices of Fifa’s top brass and tells the inside story of the FBI probe into corruption at the organisation. Boy Erased, by Garrard Conley, harrowingly recounts the author’s life growing up as the son of a Baptist preacher in Arkansas, and his experiences of gay conversion therapy. 24 Stories of Hope for Survivors of the Grenfell Tower Fire, edited by comedian Kathy Burke, features new short stories from Irvine Welsh, Meera Syal, A.L. Kennedy, Nina Stibbe and others on the themes of optimism and community. French wunderkind Edouard Louis’s long-awaited second novel, History of Violence, is also out this week, and explores the aftermath of a violent rape by a French Algerian on Christmas Eve.

Office politics 

One of the joys of the World Cup is, of course, beating your colleagues in the office sweepstake. The Westminster press pack is no different: the Huffington Post’s Paul Waugh runs a league, with participants invited to pick ten teams, with points awarded from games won and goals scored. I don’t expect to win but my hope is that I will, at least, defeat my colleagues on the NS politics desk. So far it’s not going well. Patrick Maguire is 22 points ahead of me. He has 22 points.

To comfort me, our deputy editor and my podcast co-host Helen Lewis gave me a new recipe book: Zaitoun: The Palestinian Kitchen. I haven’t cooked anything from it yet but it has a very beautiful cover.

To my horror, the reason Helen gave me the book is that she dislikes couscous as she “cannot see the point of it”. More controversial opinions about food were quick to follow: our arts editor Kate Mossman thinks pasta is pointless, while CityMetric editor Jonn Elledge cannot stand cheese and our digital sub-editor Indra Warnes, who effortlessly combs this email for typos and grammatical howlers, dislikes eggs.

But I think Patrick takes the cake: he dislikes baked beans so much that he cannot bear to watch someone else eat them.

I’ll be writing a proper review of Zaitoun soon as part of a new blog in which I write about food, exclusively for NS subscribers.

Lend us your ears 

Last Saturday, I was at a lovely wedding. As a result, I wrote my column to Toto’s Africa. I’ve added that, and the rest of what I listened to this week, to my column playlist, which you can listen to here.

Helen is back from holiday, and has largely been listening to NOFX and Outkast. Patrick has been getting into the World Cup spirit by listening to Three Lions on repeat.  You can listen to what the rest of the NS listens to here

If you prefer podcasts, don’t forget that digital subscribers can get all of the New Statesman podcasts before everyone else and without any adverts: start the week with Anna and Caroline on pop culture on TuesdaysHelen and I on politics on Wednesdays, and end it with Tom and Kate on the arts on Thursdays

Westminster whispers 

George Eaton hears that Downing Street is growing increasingly irritated at Gavin Williamson’s habit of briefing the press as a “Conservative source”. He thinks that Number Ten haven’t worked out it’s him. He’s wrong. The big winner from Williamson’s indiscretions: Sajid Javid, who Tory MPs are increasingly talking of as a future leader.

Chris Chope, the paleoconservative MP for Christchurch, is under fire after blocking the passage of a bill to outlaw upskirting – the practice of taking illicit photographs up women’s skirts. Conservatives in government tell Patrick Maguire they are worried that this won’t be the last time that Chope blocks a progressive measure. He is one of the Tory “dinosaurs” who see Andrea Leadsom’s attempts to tackle harassment and bullying at Westminster as unwanted meddling. One of their number is said to have complained at a recent meeting of Conservative backbenchers that MPs, as the “officer class” should be treated with a little more respect. 

On a lighter note 

Czech president Milos Zeman stunned reporters after inviting them to a press conference and burning a pair of red underpants in front of them. The underpants were hung on the presidential palace in 2015 as a protest against Zeman’s close ties to Vladimir Putin. Zeman apologised to journalists for having made them “look like little idiots”.