In Depth

Instant Opinion: Government pursuing ‘pantomime authoritarianism’

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Tuesday 18 February

The Week’s daily round-up highlights the five best opinion pieces from across the British and international media, with excerpts from each.

1. Daniel Trilling in The Guardian

on going left and right

For Boris Johnson’s pantomime authoritarians, overt cruelty is a winning hand“It has become received wisdom among Westminster pundits that the new winning formula in politics is to ‘move left on economics and right on culture’. Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle looks like an attempt to put this lesson into practice: forcing Sajid Javid, an advocate of strict spending limits, out of the Treasury suggests that the prime minister wants to strategically splash money around – however superficial this moving ‘left’ might prove to be. At the same time, Johnson’s government has sent a series of clear signals to the right – on immigration, on perceived liberal bias at the BBC, on the ‘free-speech crisis’ in universities – the latest of which is the appointment of Suella Braverman as attorney general. This suggests that the government intends to pursue the pantomime authoritarianism displayed by the home secretary, Priti Patel, at last year’s party conference: an ostentatious cruelty, directed at people who supposedly threaten public safety, and waved like a taunt to the liberal elite that stands in the government’s way.”

2. Rachel Sylvester in The Times

on the PM’s chief adviser

Cummings is the Marxist of Downing Street“This is more about power than policy. Mr Javid was the latest victim of Mr Cummings’s ‘long march through the institutions’ on the road to a revolution that he hopes will reshape the state and tackle what he sees as the liberal bias of the British establishment. The BBC, the CBI, the civil service, the courts, the military, the universities and parliament are all on his hit list... When he was running Vote Leave in 2016 he turned his attention to the faceless bureaucrats in Brussels. Now he wants to ‘whack’ the BBC and ‘get the judges sorted’ as if media freedom and judicial independence were trivial details. He has dismissed the permanent civil service as ‘an idea for the history books’ and attempted to divide up political journalists, with special briefings offered to a chosen few.”

3. Stephen Bush in the New Statesman

on the distance between the UK and EU

Why the threat of a no-deal exit by the UK from EU rules remains“If Johnson believes [David Frost] is right, then the most likely endpoint of these negotiations is a no-deal Brexit on 31 December. But on the EU side, the consensus is, largely, that the British government’s position is a bluff. They look at a government which has not yet matched its rhetorical ambition on divergence after Brexit with policy ambition as far as the necessary infrastructure at British ports are concerned, and they conclude, rightly or wrongly, that the UK is bluffing and therefore the EU can behave in the way that the bigger trade bloc almost always does in trade talks, which is to enforce its will on the smaller partner.”

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4. Alfie Pearce-Higgins in The Spectator

on long-distance running

The rise of the ultra marathon: why 26.2 miles is no longer enough“Runners often cite their love of nature and their desire to escape. But these explanations don’t always stack up. After ten hours of exercise one is rarely able to admire the scenery and training, planning, self-discipline and will power required can seem more like a replica than a contrast of the pressures of modern life. That ultrarunners tend to be affluent suggests that the novelty of physical struggle plays a part. Put simply, comfortable people like uncomfortable hobbies. There certainly aren’t many people heading out for voluntary 50 mile runs in my home country of Uganda.”

5. Laurel Miller in The New York Times

on the Afghan peace process

Will the US-Taliban deal end the war?“If the Taliban do reduce violence as promised, an agreement between the United States and the Taliban would be signed later this month. It will be a major milestone - the first of such significance in ten years of on-and-off efforts to launch a peace process. Important as that will be, the expected agreement is not actually a peace deal. It is a chance to get one. The agreement will break the logjam of the Taliban’s longstanding unwillingness to sit in talks with the Afghan government and other Afghan power brokers without first achieving an American commitment to withdraw forces.”

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