Stock rally, rate-cut forecasts face test from Powell testimony and jobs report

A four-month-long U.S. stock market rally, partly fueled by investors’ expectations for interest rate cuts in 2024 by the Federal Reserve, faces a test posed by pair of big events in the week ahead.

The first is Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s semiannual testimony to Congress on Wednesday and Thursday, followed by Friday’s official jobs report for February.

Of the two, the nonfarm payrolls data has the potential to move markets more, given what it could signal about the risk that inflation may keep running hot if job gains come in above the 190,000 consensus expectation, according to analysts and investors.

“Inflation has bottomed out, but is still above the Fed’s objective and it seems like more labor-market weakness is going to be needed,” said John Luke Tyner, a portfolio manager at Alabama-based Aptus Capital Advisors, which manages $5.5 billion in assets. “The headlines we’ve been seeing on technology-related layoffs are missing the mark because there’s a resurgence of employment and wage growth in Middle America.”

January’s data proves the point. The month of February began with the release of January nonfarm payrolls, which showed 353,000 jobs created and a sharp 0.6% rise in average hourly earnings for all employees, despite the highest interest rates in more than two decades.

Then came a round of inflation data. Consumer- and producer-price readings were both above expectations for January, followed by last Thursday’s release of the Fed’s preferred inflation measure, known as the PCE, which showed the monthly pace of underlying price gains rising at the fastest pace in almost a year. Meanwhile, personal income grew at a monthly rate of 1% in January.

Fed-funds futures traders have since pared back their expectations for as many as six or seven quarter-percentage point rate cuts by December, and moved closer in line with the three reductions that the Fed signaled would likely be appropriate. However, this has still been enough to hand the Dow Jones Industrial Average
and S&P 500
their best start to a year since 2019, and fueled a four-month rally in all three major indexes. For the week, the S&P 500 rose 1% and the Nasdaq Composite gained 1.7%, but the Dow Jones slipped 0.1%, based on FactSet data.

Broadly speaking, Powell is expected to stick to his script by emphasizing the need for greater confidence that inflation is falling toward the Fed’s 2% objective, before policymakers can cut the fed-funds rate target from its current range of 5.25% to 5.5%, analysts said. He’s seen as loath to say anything just yet that could move markets or rate expectations.

“Powell needs to avoid doing what he did in November and December, which was to juice the market with a very bullish message suggesting that policymakers might be done with hiking rates and that the next moves would be rate cuts,” Tyner said via phone. “The Fed needs to remain unified about the need to be patient, with no rush to cut rates, and about being data dependent, with the current data pointing toward not cutting until later this year.”

Read: No Fed rate cuts in 2024, Wall Street economist warns investors

Aptus Capital’s strategies rely on the use of options overlays to improve results, and the firm is “well-positioned” to capture both upside and downside moves in the market because of a “disciplined approach on hedges in both directions,” the portfolio manager said.

Others see some possibility that Powell’s testimony to the House Financial Services Committee and Senate Banking Committee produces one of two non-base-case results: He could either push back on expectations around the timing or extent of Fed rate cuts this year, or, on the flip side, hint at the need for maintenance rate cuts because of prospects for softer inflation and economic readings going forward.

The rates market is the mechanism by which financial markets would likely react one way or another to Powell’s testimony and Friday’s nonfarm payrolls report — specifically with trading in fed-funds futures and Secured Overnight Financing Rate futures. Any reaction in the futures market would simultaneously impact longer-term Treasurys and risk assets, according to Mike Sanders, head of fixed income at Wisconsin-based Madison Investments, which manages $23 billion in assets.

Fed officials are not likely to have enough confidence that they’ve won the battle against inflation by June, raising the question of whether markets are overestimating policymakers’ ability to start cutting rates by that month, Sanders said via phone.

“Fed officials are more or less committed to cutting rates when appropriate, but are concerned that if they cut too soon they’ll have sticky inflation,” he said.

“The services side continues to be higher than the Fed wants, with much of the disinflation coming from the goods side,” Sanders said. Inflation dynamics are “still not in balance from the Fed’s perspective, and the services side has to be concerning to policymakers, especially in the face of the personal-income growth we’ve seen. It’s going to be status quo until the Fed knows whether the higher inflation prints seen in January were a one-off or if this continues.’’

Analysts said they are particularly worried about supercore inflation, a measure of core services that excludes housing, which is still running at levels which suggest that the services side of the U.S. economy is firing on all cylinders.

No major U.S. data is scheduled for release on Monday. Tuesday brings January factory orders and ISM service sector activity figures for February.

On Wednesday, data releases include ADP’s private-sector employment report, January readings on wholesale inventories and job openings, and the Fed’s Beige Book report. San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly is also set to speak that day.

Thursday’s data batch includes weekly initial jobless benefit claims, a revision on fourth-quarter productivity, the U.S. trade balance, and consumer-credit figures. Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester is also scheduled to make an appearance. Friday brings an appearance by New York Fed President John Williams and final consumer-sentiment data for February.

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Would reparations lead to irresponsible spending? Studies on other cash windfalls suggest not, new report says.

The perception that people often succumb to misfortune and bad decision-making after suddenly receiving large amounts of cash isn’t based in fact, researchers said in a report published Thursday by the Roosevelt Institute, a progressive think tank.

That means potential reparations payouts to Black Americans are unlikely to result in reckless spending, financial ruin and reduced labor productivity, the report’s authors wrote after undertaking a review of prior research concerning consumer behavior after lottery windfalls and inheritances, as well as more minor cash transfers through tax refunds and guaranteed-income programs. 

“There’s what we really describe as kind of an urban myth … that people who receive lottery winnings squander the money very quickly,” reparations scholar William “Sandy” Darity, a Duke University professor of public policy and economist who co-authored the report, said in an interview. “The best available evidence indicates that that’s not the case.”

Whether Black residents and descendants of enslaved people in the U.S. are owed reparative payments has been debated for centuries. But as the country has grown more economically unequal while a stubborn racial wealth gap persists, the reparations movement has picked up traction.

In California, a first-of-its-kind state task force on reparations approved a slate of recommendations for lawmakers this month that, if implemented through legislation, would potentially provide hundreds of billions of dollars in reparative monetary payments to Black Californians to address harms caused by factors including racial health disparities, housing discrimination and mass incarceration. San Francisco, which has its own reparations task force, is also considering one-time reparative payments of $5 million for eligible people.

Read more: California task force approves sweeping reparations potentially worth billions of dollars

Still, detractors say that granting reparations to Black Americans — as was done for Japanese Americans incarcerated in internment camps during World War II and, on a state level, for survivors who owned property in the town of Rosewood, Fla., before a race massacre destroyed it — is unwise.

Some argue that giving people reparative payments without requiring certain parameters or personal-finance courses could result in irresponsible spending behavior, or that reparations proposals are themselves racist in suggesting that Black people need “handouts.”

‘One of the important things that lottery winners do with the money is that they frequently set up trust accounts or the equivalent for their children or their grandchildren.’

— William ‘Sandy’ Darity, a leading reparations scholar

The authors of the Roosevelt Institute report, for their part, said the assumption that Black Americans would be unable to handle sudden windfalls is rooted in racism — noting the racial wealth gap wasn’t created through “defective” spending habits but through policies that pumped money into white households, including unequal land distribution and subsidies for homebuyers.

“Widely held, inaccurate, and racist beliefs about dysfunctional financial behavior of Black Americans as the foundation for racial economic inequality leads to a conclusion that monetary reparations will be ineffective in eliminating the gap,” they wrote. “According to this perspective, if eligible Black Americans do not change their financial mindset and behavior after receiving financial reparations, the act of restitution will be empty.”

How people spend lottery winnings and inheritances

Even so, there’s not really “any carefully drawn-out study of what has happened to folks who have received reparations payments,” Darity said. It’s “impossible to understand” the impacts of such programs, because there haven’t historically been “systems in place that give money directly to individuals” — allowing “anecdotal cynicism and urban mythology” to drive the narrative, the report’s authors wrote.

“The best that we could do is try to think about other types of instances in which people have received windfalls where there has been some follow-up on what the consequences have been,” Darity said.

To see how people really react when they’re granted new amounts of money, the authors examined outcomes both from people who had received “major” windfalls — ones that immediately and majorly change a person’s wealth status, like winning the lottery — and “minor” windfalls, or those that affect a person’s income but don’t meaningfully shift their wealth status, like the stimulus checks doled out earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Darity, who directs Duke University’s Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity, worked alongside the report’s lead author, Katherine Rodgers, a former research assistant at the Cook Center who currently works as a senior associate at the consulting firm Kroll, as well as Sydney A. Grissom, an analyst for BlackRock. Lucas Hubbard, an associate in research at the Cook Center, was also an author of the report. 

They found that while a person’s behavior can vary based on the windfall amount and how it’s framed to the recipient, as well as their previous economic status, their reactions tend to buck stereotypes. 

For example, only 11% of lottery winners quit their job in the findings of one 1987 study that examined 576 lottery winners across 12 states — and none of the people who got less than $50,000 left work, according to the Roosevelt Institute report. However, people were more likely to quit their jobs if they won a sum worth $1 million, had less education, were making under $100,000 a year, and hadn’t been in their job for more than four years.

Studies of lottery winners in other countries have found similarly muted labor responses, the report said. A separate U.S. study from 1993 of the labor effects on people who had received inheritances ranging from $25,000 to $150,000 or more also found that only a “small but statistically significant percentage of heirs left their jobs after receiving their inheritance,” with workers most likely to leave their jobs if they got a big payout. 

But it’s still “less than what the stereotype would say,” Hubbard said in an interview: 4.6% of individuals quit their jobs after receiving a small inheritance of less than $25,000, compared to 18.2% of workers who got an inheritance of more than $150,000, he noted.

Instead, studies have shown that people who get windfalls may be more likely to become self-employed, participate in financial markets, save, and spend money on necessary goods like housing and transportation, the report’s authors wrote. 

“One of the important things that lottery winners do with the money,” Darity said, “is that they frequently set up trust accounts or the equivalent for their children or their grandchildren.”

Small windfalls, including those offered through monthly checks from guaranteed-income pilot programs, have also been shown to be used for essentials like food and utilities without negative effects on employment. The framing of the money received can also have an effect on how it’s spent, the authors said: People who get a payout from bequests or life insurance tend to have more negative emotions about the money and will use it for more “utilitarian” purposes, according to one 2009 study

From the archives (March 2021): Employment rose among those in California universal-income experiment, study finds

Reparations wouldn’t unleash ‘flagrant spending,’ researchers say

Despite their findings, “windfalls are not magical panaceas for all financial woes,” the authors emphasized.

For example, a 2011 study cited in the report found that among people who were already in precarious financial positions, lottery winnings delayed, rather than prevented, an eventual bankruptcy filing. Another report from 2006 found that “large inheritances led to disproportionately less saving,” the researchers noted in the Roosevelt Institute report.

“Research over the past two decades has demonstrated that their bounties are not limitless, and, crucially, that informed stewardship of received assets is still necessary (albeit, not always sufficient) to achieve and maximize long-term financial success,” the authors wrote.

But they added that reparations, particularly if “framed not as handouts but rather as reparative payments” to Black Americans, would not unleash “flagrant spending on nonessential goods” based on studies on windfalls, and could instead improve recipients’ emotional well-being and financial stability. 

“Of course, the merits of making such payments should not be assessed solely on the basis of the anticipated economic effects,” the authors said. “Moreover, using the absence of evidence of this type as a justification for delaying reparative payments, such as those to Black descendants of American slavery, is inconsistent with the fact that other groups previously have received similar payments in the wake of atrocities and tragedies.”

From the archives (January 2023): How to pay for reparations in California? ‘Swollen’ wealth could replace ‘stolen’ wealth through taxes.

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World’s workers rally to mark May Day as France sees fresh pension protests

People squeezed by inflation and demanding economic justice took to streets across Asia, Europe and the Americas on Monday to mark May Day, in an outpouring of worker discontent not seen since before the worldwide COVID-19 lockdowns.

French police charged at radical protesters and troublemakers smashing bank and shop windows and setting fires as unions pushed the president to scrap a higher retirement age. South Koreans pleaded for higher wages as did others around Latin America. Spanish lawyers demanded the right to take days off. Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon marched in a country plunged into economic crisis.

While May Day is marked worldwide as a celebration of labor rights, this year’s rallies tapped into broader frustrations. Climate activists spray-painted a museum in Paris, and protesters in Germany demonstrated against violence targeting women and LGBTQ+ people.

Celebrations were forced indoors in Pakistan, tinged with political tensions as in Turkey, as both countries face high-stakes elections. Russia’s war in Ukraine overshadowed scaled-back events in Moscow, where Communist-led May Day celebrations were once massive affairs.

Across the globe, this year’s May Day events unleashed pent-up frustration after three years of COVID-19 restrictions.

Across France, some 800,000 people marched, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said. They mobilized against President Emmanuel Macron’s recent move to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Organizers see pension reform as a threat to hard-fought worker rights, while Macron argues it’s economically necessary as the population ages.

While marchers were largely peaceful, violence by radicals, an ever-present reality at French marches, marred the message, notably in Paris. A Paris police officer was seriously injured by a Molotov cocktail, among 108 officers injured around France, Darmanin said. It wasn’t known how many protesters were potentially injured. Clashes also marked protests in Lyon and Nantes.

“Violence is increasingly strong in a society that is radicalizing,” the interior minister said on BFM-TV news station, blaming the ultra-left. He said some 2,000 radicals were at the Paris march.

Tear gas hung over the end point of the Paris march, Place de la Nation, where a huge black cloud lofted high above the trees after radicals set two fuel cans afire outside a building renovation site, police said.

French union members were joined by groups fighting for economic justice, or just expressing anger at what is seen as Macron’s out-of-touch, pro-business leadership. Labor activists from abroad were present, among them Hyrwon Chong of the South Korean Metal Workers’ Union.

“Today we see rising inequality throughout the world, terrible inflation,” she said, adding that Macron’s government was trying “to tear down a pillar of the social system which is the pension system.”

In Northern Macedonia’s capital Skopje, thousands of trade union members protested a recent government decision granting ministers a 78% raise. The minimum monthly wage in one of Europe’s poorest countries, is 320 euros ($350), while the hike will put ministers’ wages at around 2,300 euros ($2,530). “We are here, not only (to mark) Labor Day, but also to warn that if there is no social justice, there will be no social peace either,” said union leader Jakim Nedelkovski.

In Turkey, police prevented demonstrators from reaching Istanbul’s main square, Taksim, and detained around a dozen of them, independent television station Sozcu reported.

The square has symbolic importance for Turkey’s trade unions after unknown gunmen opened fire on a May Day celebration at Taksim in 1977, causing a stampede that killed dozens. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has declared Taksim off-limits to protests, though small groups were allowed to enter to lay wreaths at a monument.

In Pakistan, authorities banned rallies in some cities because of a tense security and political atmosphere. In Peshawar, in the restive northwest, labor organizations and trade unions held indoor events to demand better workers’ rights amid high inflation.

Sri Lanka’s opposition political parties and trade unions held workers’ day rallies protesting austerity measures and economic reforms linked to a bailout agreement with the International Monetary Fund. Protesters demanded the government halt moves to privatize state-owned and semi-government businesses. Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis in history and has suspended foreign debt repayments.

In South Korea, tens of thousands of people attended rallies in its biggest May Day gatherings since the pandemic began in early 2020.

“The price of everything has increased except for our wages. Increase our minimum wages!” an activist at a Seoul rally shouted at the podium.

In Tokyo, thousands of labor union members, opposition lawmakers and academics demanded wage increases to offset the impact of rising costs as they recover from damage from the pandemic. They criticized Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s plan to double the defense budget, saying the money should be spent on welfare, social security and improving people’s daily lives.

In Indonesia, demonstrators demanded the government repeal a job creation law they argue would only benefit business.

In Taiwan, thousands of workers protested what they call the inadequacies of the self-ruled island’s labor policies, putting pressure on the ruling party before the 2024 presidential election.

Protests in Germany kicked off with a “Take Back the Night” rally organized by feminist and queer groups on the eve of May Day to protest against violence directed at women and LGBTQ+ people. On Monday, thousands more turned out in marches organized by Germany labor unions in Berlin, Cologne and other cities, rejecting recent calls by conservative politicians for restrictions on the right to strike.

More than 70 marches were held across Spain, and powerful unions warned of “social conflict” if low salaries compared to the EU average don’t rise in line with inflation. The Illustrious College of Lawyers of Madrid urged reforms of historic laws that require them to be on call 365 days of the year, regardless of the death of family members or medical emergencies. In recent years, lawyers have tweeted images of themselves working from hospital beds on IV drips to illustrate their plight.

Italy’s far-right premier, Giorgia Meloni, made a point of working on Monday — as her Cabinet passed measures on Labor Day that it contends demonstrates concern for workers. But opposition lawmakers and union leaders said the measures do nothing to increase salaries or combat the widespread practice of hiring workers on temporary contracts. Many young people say they can’t contemplate starting families or even move out of parents’ homes because they only get temporary contracts.

In war-ravaged Ukraine, May Day is associated with Soviet-era celebrations when the country was ruled from Moscow — an era that many want forgotten.

“It is good that we don’t celebrate this holiday like it was done during the Bolshevik times. It was something truly awful,” said Anatolii Borsiuk, a 77-year-old in Kyiv.

Alla Liapkina described the flowers and balloons of Soviet May Day gatherings, but said it’s time to move on. “We live in a new era,” she said. ‘’We don’t need to go back to such a past.”

In Venezuela, which has suffered rampant inflation for years, thousands of workers demonstrated to demand a minimum wage increase at a time when the majority cannot meet basic needs despite their last increase 14 months ago. “Decent wages and pensions now!” protesters chanted in the capital, Caracas. Many also alluded to U.S. sanctions against the socialist-led government of Nicolás Maduro, chanting, “This is not a blockade, this is looting.”

In Bolivia, leftist President Luis Arce led a Labor Day march in La Paz with a major union and announced a 5% increase in the minimum wage. Arce said his government “is strong because the unions are strong.”

In Brazil, the focus was not only on traditional labor unions but on parttime workers and those in the informal sector, with the government of new leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announcing a work group on proposals to regulate that sector after the president recently described those workers as “almost like slaves.


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How bullying became Westminster’s latest culture war

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LONDON —  Rishi Sunak’s righthand man is out of a job, after an inquiry found he mistreated civil servants. But this is Westminster, 2023 — which means the never-ending culture war just found a new target.

Dominic Raab resigned as Britain’s deputy prime minister and justice secretary Friday after a report by the barrister Adam Tolley found he acted in a way which was “intimidating” and “unreasonably and persistently aggressive” toward his officials. 

Yet despite Tolley, a respected independent figure, concluding Raab’s behavior “inevitably” caused staff to feel undermined and humiliated, the outgoing minister left government with a stinging attack on the investigation, claiming the bar for bullying had been set “dangerously low.”

Raab’s departure over matters of personal conduct — two-and-a-half years after former Home Secretary Priti Patel was allowed to keep her job in similar circumstances — marks a decisive shift in the way bullying is treated in Westminster and Whitehall, where complaints by junior staff are widespread but rarely acted upon.

The trouble is, not everyone thinks it’s a step in the right direction.

Standard procedure?

Senior figures throwing their weight around in the corridors of power is nothing new. Gordon Brown was notorious for outbursts of rage as prime minister, while his predecessor Tony Blair’s pugilistic press secretary Alistair Campbell is acknowledged as the inspiration behind Malcolm Tucker, the terrifying antihero of political sitcom The Thick of It. 

Parliamentary staffers and civil servants are likely to come across a dizzying range of behavior in their workplace, from the mildly eccentric to the downright aggressive. 

Landmark reports in 2018 found there was a “widespread” problem with bullying in Westminster, and 12 percent of Whitehall officials reported they had been subjected to bullying. 

Since then, a handful of high-profile MPs have had bullying complaints upheld against them, including Patel and the former House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow. 

Aspects of the employment structure at Westminster and Whitehall are widely seen as contributing to the conditions for such behavior to thrive and go unchecked. 

MPs’ offices are a law unto themselves, with little formal human resources oversight, meaning the people who join their offices could find themselves working for a model boss or a raging tyrant. 

“Working for an MP is an incredibly strange job and there is an understanding that things will always have to be a bit different,” as one staffer puts it, “but the kind of behavior that goes on — in any other corporation you’d be suspended.”

Before the outcome of the Tolley inquiry, Raab’s team briefed that he would make no apologies for expecting high standards of civil servants | Tolga Akmen/EPA-EFE

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA trade union, argues that the lack of clear procedure for dealing with bullying by ministers “actually encourages those extremes of behavior,” because offenders know they are unlikely to face consequences.

Current and former officials who spoke to POLITICO shared stories of being screamed at in front of colleagues, having their work screwed up and thrown in the bin, and being ordered to clean the office floor — and insisted none were isolated episodes, but part of a pattern of behavior. 

Some of these incidents have resulted in formal complaints but many more have not. Two high-ranking ministers are among those named privately as the subject of persistent bullying concerns. 

One former No. 10 adviser said there was a ‘whisper network’ around bullying, meaning the known offenders in parliament “don’t get punished — they become known as being a bully, and people just don’t apply for jobs with them.”

Meet ‘the real world’

The nettle is especially difficult to grasp because the very concept of ‘bullying’ is contested far more fiercely than other forms of misconduct, such as sexual harassment.

Claims have long been met with raised eyebrows, and the underlying suspicion that much of what is termed “bullying” is in fact an overreaction to a robust management style.

In a case of minister vs. civil servant, all the ingredients are there for a new front in Britain’s culture wars.

Before the outcome of the Tolley inquiry, Raab’s team briefed that he would make no apologies for expecting high standards of civil servants. In his resignation letter, Raab went even harder.

“Ministers must be able to give direct critical feedback on briefings and submissions to senior officials,” he wrote, adding that the bar for bullying had been set “dangerously low.” 

In other words, lily-livered civil servants — whom many Conservatives suspect of harboring anti-Tory, anti-Brexit sentiment — were simply not able to cope with the demands placed upon them. 

One Tory MP elected in 2019, Mark Jenkinson, acknowledged bullying does exist, but said some examples cited in recent newspaper reports, such as throwing small objects in anger, or telephoning staff unannounced, did not meet the bar. 

“Anybody who thinks this is bullying needs to meet the real world,” Jenkinson said. “But maybe I just think that because I’m a Northerner.”

While No. 10 officials insist that the PM did not order Dominic Raab to quit, he clearly did not offer him the same protection as Boris Johnson provided former Home Secretary Priti Patel in similar circumstances in 2020 | Neil Hall/EPA-EFE

Matthew Parris, a Times columnist who was a Tory MP in the 1970s and 1980s, said that bullying is now “much less widespread than it used to be, and at the same time people are more sensitive to it.”

He noted that in his day, “MPs would regularly blow their top and bawl somebody out,” and that “most fearsome of all were the secretaries who ran our offices.”

‘Hard process’

The counter-argument runs that bullying is no more subjective than other type of workplace dispute, and can be tested against established definitions set out by mediation service ACAS and under codes of conduct for MPs and ministers. 

And those who have been involved in a grievance process against an MP insist nobody would put themselves through such a gruelling process without good reason.

Jenny McCullough, a former clerk whose bullying complaint against ex-MP Keith Vaz was eventually upheld, said that pursuing her case had been a lengthy, alienating experience, in which he attempted to stall progress and cast doubt on her own motives. 

“The person who complains brings trouble on themselves. It’s a really hard process,” she said, adding that her confidence and feelings of self-worth had not fully recovered after events which occurred years ago. 

The FDA’s Penman added: “If you’re a civil servant and you think you’re being bullied by a minister, you know only the PM can authorize an investigation — you have no rights and you’re challenging one of the most powerful people in the country.” 

The trade union is now calling for an independent inquiry into bullying and harassment in the civil service in order to establish a new mechanism through which grievances can be lodged against ministers.

Inside the Ministry of Justice, relief at Raab’s departure was mixed with anger at his parting shot. One official said there was “disappointment but not surprise” at the tone of his resignation.

While No. 10 officials insist that the prime minister did not order Raab to quit, he clearly did not offer him the same protection as Boris Johnson provided Patel in 2020, when he ordered colleagues to “form a square around the Prittster.” 

For now, Sunak’s desire to differentiate himself from Johnson may be civil servants’ main weapon on the new frontier of the culture war.

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