In Depth

Instant Opinion: it is time for powerful political advisers to ‘come out of the shadows’

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Wednesday 27 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. Daniel Finkelstein in The Times

on casting some light on the power behind the throne

Top advisers should come out of the shadows

“Who advises the prime minister is one of the most consequential choices the occupant of No 10 ever makes. Probably the biggest change in the policy and outlook of any modern administration came about when Theresa May’s chiefs of staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, were replaced by the more liberal Gavin Barwell. And making Dominic Cummings his senior adviser was one of Boris Johnson’s biggest calls... Appearing in his own press conference was probably against the adviser’s code. And by convention senior advisers are not called by select committees. In America senior presidential advisers can appear on the media, speak on the record and appear before congressional committees. They have real power and that power can be scrutinised. We should have that here. There should be limits but it is absurd that the first chance most people got to take the measure of one of the most powerful people in the government was in a press conference answering questions about when his son needed to go to the toilet.”

2. George Monbiot in The Guardian

on the slow sell-off behind the pandemic planning

Tory privatisation is at the heart of the UK’s disastrous coronavirus response

“Amid the smog of lies and contradictions, there is one question we should never stop asking: why has the government of the United Kingdom so spectacularly failed to defend people’s lives? Why has ‘this fortress built by Nature for herself against infection’, as Shakespeare described our islands, succumbed to a greater extent than any other European nation to a foreseeable and containable pandemic? Part of the answer is that the government knowingly and deliberately stood down crucial parts of its emergency response system. Another part is that, when it did at last seek to mobilise the system, crucial bits of the machine immediately fell off. There is a consistent reason for the multiple, systemic failures the pandemic has exposed: the intrusion of corporate power into public policy. Privatisation, commercialisation, outsourcing and offshoring have severely compromised the UK’s ability to respond to a crisis.”

3. John Longworth, former Brexit Party MEP, in The Daily Telegraph

on the question of why the UK locked-down at all

How can lockdown be justified in the first place?

“The government has delivered a socialist-style spending programme that they said would have bankrupted the country under a Corbyn administration, coupled with a curtailment of liberty that the fascist government from whence this virus originated would be proud. A country incidentally who are now seemingly being punished for coronavirus through the further limiting of the role Huawei in our 5G Network, not because they are a dangerous dictatorship, for whom the economy is an arm of the military and who don’t play by the rules. Topsy-turvy. The government have boosted idleness, squeezed the private sector and promoted the state, even when the state was plainly failing in its centralised control, for example track and trace, modelling the risk, laboratory testing and predicting hospital capacity. While Scandinavian countries have exhibited the grit and phlegm for which our British and Commonwealth VE generation were famous, our 21st Century government, the health and safety first authorities and the woke media have scared the country witless into avoiding economic activity.”

4. Steve Jeffels, doctorate of business administration at The University of Manchester, on HuffPost

on offering a lifeline to those worst hit by the pandemic slump

Universal Basic Income Is The Way Forward

“Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s policies – notably the furlough scheme – are set to be eye-wateringly expensive. Latest estimates suggest that the number of people being paid by the government is about half the workforce. Inevitably, Universal Credit applications have soared. However, there are many gaps and more problems to come. Those who are only recently self-employed do not qualify, nor those on higher salaries or those who are remunerated in other ways. The chancellor is yet to announce his changes to the furlough scheme but they are likely to involve a requirement for employers to bear more of the cost which in turn is likely to lead to more redundancies. The number of hardship cases will increase. Perhaps this is the tipping point that UBI has been waiting for. The rules of the game that dictate government social security policy have changed as a result of Covid-19, creating the opportunity to conduct a comprehensive but time-limited experiment.”

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5. Hartosh Singh Bal, political editor of New Dehli-based magazine The Caravan, in The New York Times

on the fatal shortcomings of the Indian government’s coronavirus strategy

How Modi Failed the Pandemic Test

“The starkest failure of Mr. Modi’s coronavirus strategy has been the devastation and misery it imposed on India’s informal sector workers, mostly people from impoverished villages, who work in Indian cities, without a safety net. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers were left without wages after the lockdown imposed with a four-hour notice closed factories and businesses. They couldn’t pay rent; they didn’t have enough to eat. They looked toward their villages, where they could find shelter and food by relying on extended family. With the public transport suspended, the workers set out on foot, walking hundreds of miles in temperatures as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In May alone more than 150 migrant workers walking back home have been killed in road or train accidents. As the lockdown is being partially eased, the migrant workers are now making the same journey they could have made two months ago when the cases in India numbered fewer than 1,000. Since some of the workers are serving as unwitting carriers of the virus to areas of low prevalence, they are greeted with alarm and apprehension in their villages.”

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