In Depth

Instant Opinion: is Boris Johnson ‘afraid of parliamentary scrutiny’?

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Tuesday 19 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. Donald Macintyre in The Independent

on the PM returning to the old days of government patronage

Boris Johnson appears to be afraid of parliamentary scrutiny – but will his party let him get away with it?

“Since 2010, cross-party Commons select committees have considerably increased their reach. They have created a new career route for intelligent politicians who recognise that chairing an important committee can be more productive than being a mere front bench spear carrier. Instead of the cosy old system in which the whips appointed their favourites, the chairs have been elected by all MPs in a secret ballot, increasing their calibre as a result... Now the government plans to break with all recent precedent by appointing its own chosen Liaison Committee chairman, the Tory MP and staunch Johnson ally, Sir Bernard Jenkin... Johnson is returning to the bad old days of government patronage, rewarding MPs for their loyalty if they had not been appointed as ministers. Disappointing as that motive is, it may not be the whole story. For making your own person chairman of the one committee able to hold the centre of government to account sits rather easily with the disdain for — or perhaps fear of — serious parliamentary scrutiny already shown by team Johnson.”

2. Tom Harwood in The Daily Telegraph

on how parliament’s poor tech is hindering proper scrutiny

Virtual Parliament is a shambolic insult to British democracy

“There is a reason why Jacob Rees-Mogg’s passionate defence of in-person parliamentary democracy went viral last week. ‘Simply a series of prepared statements made one after another. That’s not the House of Commons doing its proper duty its proper role of scrutiny of the Government.’ The proper democratic system of this country has been fundamentally diluted. This is not just a case of messed up votes and stilted speeches. Parliament must lead by example. It would be a cowardly House of Commons that sends children back to school and manual labourers back to work while maintaining the unfettered degree of at-home working it has enjoyed since the start of this crisis. A socially distanced Parliament is one thing, a remote, lazy, hazard prone voting system is another. Every vote an MP makes changes the very constitution of this country. The process of voting in Parliament is a weighty thing. Laws matter. Legislation has the burdensome power to change people’s lives, and alter the fabric of this country.”

3. Melanie Phillips in The Times

on the recklessness of calling for an immediate end to lockdown

Lockdown libertarians take road to tyranny

“While Boris Johnson struggles to persuade a nervous public that it’s safe to take even ‘baby’ steps out of lockdown, a motley band of naysayers who think such restrictions were always unnecessary has acclaimed a stellar champion. Lord Sumption, a former justice of the Supreme Court, has said lockdown should be voluntary and the damage it has done to the economy isn’t justified by its ‘not very impressive’ results. Those who believe the pandemic has been exaggerated as part of a government plot to bring the economy to its knees and deprive the British people of their liberties have hailed Sumption as a hero. So what were his pearls of wisdom? The virus mortality rate, he told BBC News, ranked very low in the list of pandemics since 1918. He failed to acknowledge that the number of deaths — currently standing globally at 316,000 over less than four months — had been reduced by restrictions imposed across the world.”

4. Ewan McGauhey in The Guardian

on the danger of Covid-19’s economic impact

How do we stop an unemployment pandemic?

“Unemployment isn’t natural. It’s a legal and social choice. In Germany, workers in companies with more than 20 staff can elect a work council that may veto or delay dismissals and get compensation to internalise the social costs. In companies with more than 2,000 workers, staff can elect half of the supervisory board of directors. The system was restored post-second world war, after Hitler abolished all labour rights. It restarted with a law that the UK and US helped to draft, but we’ve failed to follow it ourselves. In Denmark, workers in companies with more than 35 staff have the right to organise cooperation committees and workers elect up to one third of the board of directors... The unemployment pandemic is by far the worst in the US, because it has the worst labour rights in the free world. Despite a $2.2tn bailout, 36 million people have been fired. This probably means more than 25% unemployment, a crisis worse than the Great Depression. Americans have no self-standing job security rights, except to get 60 days’ warning before mass layoffs. An arbitrary, incompetent or venal boss can say “you’re fired” for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all. This is the Donald Trump system of job security. It’s creating a ‘you’re fired’ depression.”

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5. Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times

on right wing identity and public health defiance

The Phony Coronavirus Class War

“Across America there’s been a surge in labor activism as people made to work in unsafe conditions stage strikes, walkouts and sickouts. ‘It sounds corny, but we’re moving towards a worker rebellion,’ Ron Herrera, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, told The Los Angeles Times. Meanwhile, financial elites are eager for everyone else to resume powering the economy. “‘People Will Die. People Do Die.’ Wall Street Has Had Enough of the Lockdown,” was the headline on a recent Vanity Fair article. It cited a banker calling for ‘broad legal indemnification for employers against claims related to the virus’ so that employees can’t sue if their workplace exposes them to illness. Here we see the real coronavirus class divide... But when it comes to the coronavirus, willingness to ignore public health authorities isn’t a sign of flinty working-class realism. Often it’s the ultimate mark of privilege.”


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