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16 September 2022

What the Queen’s death has revealed about news

As coverage focuses on the Queen’s funeral, events in Whitehall and Ukraine are determining Britain’s future.

By Harry Lambert

The past week has revealed a number of things. The British harbour a quiet enthusiasm for monarchy. They have an extraordinary tolerance for shuffling along an embankment in a striking feat of delayed gratification. And all news is relative.

In the moments before the Queen’s death, this country was still gripped by a cost-of-living crisis. Inflation was eroding the pay of millions, fuel prices were becoming unpayable and Britain had a new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, about whom many knew very little. Those stories have all been put on pause – for those who make the news, if not for those who suffer it – until the Queen’s funeral on Monday 19 September. The news that mattered a week ago, and will matter again in a week’s time, is currently stuck in a queue that starts in Southwark Park.

Senior figures at the BBC have grown concerned over the past week at the ceaseless coverage of the Queen’s death – but it will only intensify this weekend as Joe Biden and other heads of state descend on London for what may be the capital’s last great funeral.

When those rites end, the news will begin again, with attention turning to Kwasi Kwarteng’s first fiscal statement to the House, due next Friday. He will prepare that statement without the aid of Tom Scholar, the long-serving Treasury civil servant chief whom Kwarteng fired on his first day as Chancellor last week (the sacking was unexpected, and this week I took a look at why Kwarteng did it). Kwarteng’s half-briefed policies thus far – scrapping a corporation tax rise, eschewing greater windfall taxes on energy giants and lifting the cap on bankers’ bonuses – seem to be designed to alienate the average voter. But Kwarteng believes they will deliver growth, ultimately winning votes.

His measures are also likely to be expensive, but Kwarteng is planning to avoid having them costed, breaking a precedent that’s been in place since the creation of the Office for Budget Responsibility in 2010.

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Yet perhaps the most neglected news of the week, and the story that may develop most consequentially in the coming days, is the triumph of Ukrainian forces in the fight against Russia. Military experts who have proved prophetic in their analysis of the Ukraine war are increasingly convinced that Ukraine, having begun critical counter-offensives in Kherson and Kharkiv, is preparing for a move on Melitopol. A victory there would split Russia’s troops in the south and put Ukraine in ever closer artillery range of the Kerch bridge, threatening Putin’s supply line into Crimea. In the early days of the war, defeatism reigned in much of London and across the world. Now Ukraine may, remarkably, be approaching the battle that could decide the conflict.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe here.

[See also: Civil service sackings set a dangerous precedent]

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