In Depth

Instant Opinion: Dominic Cummings’s critics ‘simply deluded’

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Friday 1 May

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

1. Philip Collins in The Times

on unfair attacks on the PM’s closest advisor

Dominic Cummings’s critics are simply deluded

“The government and its critics have colluded in the deceptively simple idea that political decisions and scientific advice are different things. Ministers insist they are following the science; critics counter that they are not. Any hope that lockdown would usher in a more civilised political debate has vanished as the critics of austerity replay all their old tunes. Slowly, the Brexit tribes are regrouping to expend their residual anger on a government they claim is pursuing cod-Darwinian population control or, at best, mere quackery... Indeed, the presence of Mr Cummings on Sage contradicts the simplistic view of his critics because it shows that politics and science mesh right at the top. In fact, they mesh all the way down. Scientists, like politicians, approach their experiments with preconceived ideas. ‘There is no such thing as philosophy-free science,’ says Daniel Dennett in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.”

2. Andy Beckett in The Guardian

on the contemporary echoes of Harold Macmillan

A cavalier Tory leader and a botched pandemic response? It must be 1957

“For Johnson’s critics, the fate of Macmillan’s government in the aftermath of the 1957 pandemic is not a reassuring precedent. During the later months of the crisis – not a point the government has reached yet – the Tories’ poll ratings did fall sharply. But by the time the next general election came, in 1959, the pandemic had receded. The Labour manifesto didn’t even raise the government’s handling of it. The Conservatives talked up their economic record instead, and won easily, increasing their Commons majority to 100. In Britain, it remains disconcertingly easy – and a sign of how lopsided our democracy is – for Tory governments responsible for disasters to change the subject. The rightwing bias of the press, worse now than in the 1950s, as there are fewer left-leaning papers, is the obvious villain. But equally important is a reluctance from voters to face up to the sheer scale of what the Conservatives have sometimes got wrong.”

3. Tim Hartford in the Financial Times

on the link between coronavirus-control and climate change

Saving the planet demands sacrifices just as Covid-19 does

“The virus has taught us that our way of life is more vulnerable than we might hope. It has taught us the importance of making sacrifices now to prepare for predictable risks in the future. It may even have reminded us that driving to work, or flying half way around the world for a meeting, are not always necessary, and of the joys of walking or cycling through quiet streets. These lessons may help us deal with the threat of climate change that still looms over us. But my friends in the environmental movement should take one more lesson to heart: if degrowth is the only solution we can find to our problems, perhaps we haven’t looked hard enough.”

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4. Ian Hamilton, associate professor of addiction at York University, in The Independent

on the fast dissipation of goodwill 

Goodbye big society - already we are seeing a return to looking out for number one

“Seductive as it is to believe that Covid-19 is the great leveller, it is not. The pandemic has in effect widened another rift that was alive and well pre-pandemic: that of class and inequality. Low-paid shopworkers, porters, cleaners and so on all have maximum exposure to the virus and the least state support in return for that risk. The middle class stay shielded, spending their time learning a new language or some other form of self-improvement that must be despairing to hear about if you don’t have equal economic, social or psychological capacity and you’re struggling to survive... Predictions about how life would be radically different after Covid-19 – that we would be more cohesive as a society – are beginning to look overly optimistic. Indeed, we are already returning to our old ways of looking out for number one.”

5. Gavin Mortimer in The Spectator

on simmering discontent across the Channel 

Emmanuel Macron is experiencing the calm before the storm

“All in all, I reckon I’ve had a good ‘war’, as have in general the French, a point made last week by Christophe Castaner, the interior minister, who praised the country’s discipline [during lockdown]. I can’t help thinking, however, that president Macron’s problems will really start post confinement. France has plunged into recession as its GDP contracted by 5.8 per cent in the first three months of 2020, the worst contraction since the second war. With such a grim outlook it’s probably just as well the police have had their feet up these past seven weeks because also making the most of the unseasonably good weather have been the anarchists, extremists, unionists, opportunists and yellow vests.”

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