In Depth

Instant Opinion: ‘Tories nervous’ about changed Boris Johnson

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Wednesday 13 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. Rafael Behr in The Guardian

on the the prime minister’s off-brand levels of caution

Coronavirus has changed Boris Johnson, and that makes Tories nervous

“Some Tories who wish their leader had taken a bolder leap blame his sobering sojourn in intensive care. There is a feeling that this cautious prime minister, creeping out of quarantine in deference to doctors, is not the maverick daredevil they hired last year. This is not the ‘Boris’ brand spirit that was advertised so often in the Daily Telegraph. They whisper that he has lost his bottle. It is true that Johnson’s manner is altered and that serious illness leaves psychological scars. But there is a simple political equation being studied in Downing Street. Johnson’s reputation in the early stages of the crisis was protected by fair-minded public recognition that the disease was to blame for killing people, not the politicians trying to stop the disease. That could change in a second spike where infections can be linked back to premature easing of quarantine restrictions.”

2. James Dowling, former Treasury official, in The Daily Telegraph

on the daily damage being inflicted on the state coffers

Coronavirus has ruined our public finances, leaving further austerity a necessity

“Former Chancellor George Osborne has been vindicated - it is only because the post-2010 Governments did fix the roof while the sun was shining that the situation is not even worse. But if the austerity Osborne instituted has enabled the Government to intervene as it has during the past few months, it has also left very little fat to be cut in trying to repair the fiscal damage. In many cases, the state is already pared back to the bone... But when the Prime Minister says that he does not want further austerity, he is making a virtue of a necessity. There is almost no money to be reclaimed from the public sector (barring potentially a public sector pay freeze, although it must be questionable whether freezing NHS workers pay right now is politically deliverable). If you cannot reduce the state’s outgoings to any great extent, you therefore need to increase the inward flow. As the leaked Treasury documents show, it is not sustainable not to take any action in response. In extremis, the UK risks a full-blown sovereign debt crisis - taxes will have to go up.”

3. Daniel Finkelstein in The Times

on the legacy of the “king and queen of rock ’n’ roll”

How Little Richard changed the world

“The reaction of teenagers like John Lennon and Paul McCartney when they first heard Little Richard was typical. They knew they had heard something that was true and that there was no going back. Mark Lewisohn, a Beatles historian, explains that for Lennon, in particular, it seemed that everything in his life to that point had been a contrivance. This was reality. Its immediacy, its energy, was life itself. The adult world thought rock was a fad that would pass. For a brief period they thought it would be eclipsed by calypso. They didn’t understand that rock was a way of looking at the world; that it presented an argument. What mattered was feel and spontaneity, that rules could be broken, that social barriers were artificial. The idols of rock might rise and fall but the spirit of rock would never go away.”

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4. David Goodhart in the Spectator

on how Covid-19 offers a chance to reshape the economy

Let’s use this crisis to tackle Britain’s woeful skills shortage

“Training. What a turn-off. The very word casts a shadow over the page. That is partly because it has become such a specialised field, awash in hundreds of different programmes producing less and less of what we need as a society. Most policy makers don’t understand it, let alone citizens. The Covid-19 crisis is a chance to change this. The economy is on the point of a great reshaping and if the state can pay the wages of millions it can support the retraining of millions. Too much of our education and training spend now goes on 18 and 19-year-olds in higher education doing full-time residential three or four year courses. This means we over-produce then grade-inflate too many bachelor degrees. One third of graduates are not in graduate jobs, while we suffer debilitating shortages in skilled trades, construction and middle-skill technician jobs (including the vital lab staff we see on our TVs). We talk endlessly about lifelong learning yet adult education and re-education are in freefall and the apprenticeship system is not working for school leavers.”

5. Thomas B. Edsall in The New York Times

on the US president’s fantasy-based election strategy

Trump Is Staking Out His Own Universe of ‘Alternative Facts’

“It is difficult to calculate the vulnerabilities of Trump’s digital casino strategy: the number of voters willing to abandon their critical faculties is limited, even if it’s in the tens of millions. The majority of American voters may not yet be ready to take a second step into this nether world. Still, the Covid-19 pandemic has created an aura of chaos; a certain amount of fear is pervasive; naturally there is a hunger for safety and shelter. In this climate, does Trump’s self-referential, illusory, confected, digital-marketing universe offer a solution to those hungry, anxious, angry voters predisposed to believe in a savior like Trump? Incredible as it may seem, it is an all-too-vivid possibility.”

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