In Depth

Instant Opinion: ‘incompetence a built-in feature’ of Boris Johnson’s government

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Wednesday 17 June

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 a cabinet founded on ‘loyalty to bad ideas’

Incompetence is a built-in feature, not a bug in Boris Johnson’s government

“Instead of performing non-essential surgery on an exhausted government machine, the prime minister might more usefully bolster the UK’s international reputation by competently handling a public health emergency and incipient economic crisis. But Johnson did not go into politics for the love of managerial capability, nor was that the basis on which he appointed his cabinet... Johnson recruited from a pool of people who either believed in wanton national vandalism under the banner of ideological delusion, or were happy to countenance it to advance their careers. It is not a coincidence that such a team has struggled with the complex challenges raised by a pandemic. There might be clever, able individuals among them but those qualities have to battle the wilful stupefaction that was their entry fee to cabinet. It is a collective flaw that no rebadging or abolition of ministries can fix. When the qualification for joining the government is loyalty to bad ideas, it is no surprise that Britain is badly governed.”

2. Ben Walker in the New Statesman

on the challenge facing Keir Starmer

Labour is closing in on the Conservatives but it still faces an electoral Everest

“In May and June, Opinium asked voters whether they’d associate Johnson and Starmer with certain phrases and traits. The figures are notable – the changes in the space of a month even more so. On every measure, be it trustworthiness, likeability, strength, or perceived willingness to stand up for the country, Starmer has seen substantial improvements. The same cannot be said of the Prime Minister, who on every measure over the last month has averaged a fall of 11 points. Nonetheless, Johnson still leads the Labour leader on measures such as bravery, being able to take big decisions, and then get said decisions done... Starmer has had a successful few months - undoubtedly the most successful of any opposition Labour leader since Tony Blair. Unlike in the situation Blair inherited, however, Starmer’s party trails the Tories and has ten years’ worth of public perceptions to overturn. Politics might be in flux, votes might be more fluid than ever, but there is no way to describe Labour’s challenge as anything other than an electoral Everest.”

3. Roger Boyes in The Times

on surveillance tech in the age of coronavirus

This snooping epidemic will outlive Covid-19

“Fear of the coronavirus is institutionalising state surveillance. It is turning privacy intrusion into a social virtue, making public health heroes out of tech innovators who know very well that the tools being used to track the virus can also be used against citizens when the current emergency passes. The result: liberal democracies, corrupted by the new levers of control on offer, will grow more and more like the autocratic societies we supposedly despise. No one blinked an eyelid this week when China announced it was declaring “war” on the latest Covid-19 outbreak in a Beijing food market. The regime, fearful that dozens of new infections could signal the start of a second wave, is throwing everything at the problem... The current mantra, intended to guide the UK safely out of lockdown - track, trace, test, isolate - thus sounds like an echo of what China is up to, very People’s Congress. The difference lies in the thoroughness of the tracing technology, the range of the data and the actual implementation.”

4. Andrew Feinberg in The Independent

on concerns the president is the sick man of America

I spoke to doctors and people close to Trump this week. We’re right to worry about his health

“Trump’s physical condition has been a subject for speculation since he announced his quest for the GOP nomination in 2016, and that speculation has been fed by a series of hyperbolic, often nonsensical pronouncements by his own doctors... The June 13 video was just the latest in a multitude of appearances during which Trump’s presentation has raised questions. On multiple occasions he has slurred his words, appeared sedated, or both, in addition to his frequent loud sniffing during public appearances, and occasions in which he has appeared to forget words or confuse one word for a similar-sounding one (e.g. ‘oranges’ for ’origins’). And to the extent the physicians who have been responsible for his care since he assumed the presidency have tried to put it to rest, their efforts have often raised done more harm than good to the president’s cause — and in some cases, their own reputations.”

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5. Nick Clegg, former leader of the Liberal Democrats and current head of global affairs and communications at Facebook, in The Daily Telegraph

on changes at the social media giant after 2006’s Russian interference 

Facebook is preparing for an election like no other

“What Facebook does during this election is not only about the integrity of American elections, it is relevant to the rest of the world too. Elections have changed - and so has Facebook. As a company, it has looked hard at what went wrong with Russian interference in the 2016 elections and made some big changes. There are now three times as many people working on safety and security issues, more than 35,000 in total, and we work closely with government and law enforcement. Facebook has helped fight interference in more than 200 elections since 2017 and reduced fake news on its platform - by more than 50pc according to independent studies. Facebook also prevents millions of fake accounts from being created every day and takes down coordinated networks of malicious accounts... This provides a level of transparency far greater than anything which existed in the last US election or the Brexit referendum – and exceeds the transparency of political ads in print or broadcast media.”

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