In Depth

Instant Opinion: Fatherhood ‘unlikely to make Boris a new man’

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Thursday 30 April

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

1. John Rentoul in The Independent

on fatherhood

Boris Johnson’s baby and brush with coronavirus aren’t going to magically make him a new man

“Having a baby, that does change people, a fact it is particularly important for men to acknowledge. But it is not as if Johnson hasn’t had children before, and to assume that either of his significant personal events has transformed wild Prince Hal into a wise and noble national leader is a bit much. If anything, Johnson is King Lear: ‘They told me I was everything. ’Tis a lie, I am not ague-proof.’ He thought he was all-powerful, but even he wasn’t immune to the plague. If Johnson is changed by anything, it will be having dealt with the coronavirus pandemic at a national level. We can call his recent personal experiences life-changing, and they are, but they are unlikely to transform him into a different kind of leader.”

2. The Times leader

on the birth of Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds’ son

Life Goes On

“It may not seem as if being born in the midst of a global pandemic that almost killed his father is a very auspicious start in life, but on the longer view, Britain in 2020 is an excellent place and time to enter the world. Today’s babies can reasonably be expected to live long into the 22nd century. Even those who attain only the 2019 average life expectancy at birth, of just under 80 years for males, should just about see in the 2100s. When the younger Johnson’s father was born in 1964, life expectancy at birth for men in Britain was a full decade lower. Back in those days, homosexuality was illegal. Divorce was difficult and stigmatised. Racism and sexism were so rife that they weren’t considered as “isms” at all, but perfectly acceptable behaviour. Social and class divisions were similarly assumed to be part of the natural order of things. Today, while progress is still required, such prejudices have been placed beyond the bounds of civilised society.”

3. Anne McElvoy in the London Evening Standard

on lifting the lockdown

Scientists can only advise, it’s Boris Johnson who must make the decisions

“Now that Johnson is tentatively back, the balance between science and politics will be recalibrated as the crucial decisions about how to organise an exit strategy loom. A simplistic formula of letting “the science” decide for us is a fantasy. For one thing, there is no unitary science but a spread of hypotheses, views and analysis of risk. A simplistic formula of letting ‘the science’ decide for us is a fantasy. There is no unitary science but a spread of views. Some might suit our existing bias better than others. Left-of-centre folk seem broadly keener on perpetuating the lockdown and more comfortable with the accompanying collectivism than the brisk sorts on the Right, insisting we should toughen up, accept the risk and head back to the production line to keep UK Plc afloat. There is no easy middle way. We all have to face the policy choices which will haunt us — keeping schools off for much longer is likely to widen divides in opportunity. A deflated economy will, in the end, hit those most dependent on public services. And while we can water the magic money tree for a while in the circumstances, there are always downsides to high borrowing without end and propping up businesses which simply will not make it.”

4. Sherelle Jacobs in The Daily Telegraph

on governing

A mass breakdown over the limits of science has plunged us into post-Orwellian nightmare

“The fascinating question is not why an inexperienced Government, still shell-shocked by its landslide, should be too crippled by opinion polls to show an ounce of authentic leadership. The question rather answers itself. Instead, we should ask why so many people lean instinctively towards scorched earth lockdown. The answer may be found in popular scientific culture. Man 2.0 is in denial about where he comes on the civilisational timeline; drowning in gadgetry, and doped up on anti-depressants, he falsely views science is a sort of black magic – a force that can solve all problems and, ultimately, save him even from the terror of his own death. This, coupled with the rise of managerialism in politics, has created an unhealthy feedback loop, with a public that expects to be shielded from all risks, and a political class that justifies its existence based on the myth that it can manage such dangers.”

5. Cass Mudde in The Guardian

on US Democrat’s catch-22 moment

Has Trump's coronavirus response sunk him? Don't bet on it

“The Democrats are caught in a classic catch-22. Faced with a misinformation campaign from the White House and conservative media, they might be tempted to overemphasize the Covid-19 threat in an attempt to ensure that even reluctant Americans follow public health guidelines. Yet Democrats have to be careful not to raise the bar too high, and thereby give Trump an opening to trumpet his “Reopen America” policy despite severe casualties. After all, populists don’t need to be correct. They just need mainstream politicians to not be correct either.”

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