In Depth

Instant Opinion: Boris Johnson should ‘learn the real lesson of his first year in office’

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Friday 24 July

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

1. Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph

on the PM’s ‘command-and-control model’

Will Boris Johnson learn the real lesson of his first year in office?

“Earlier this week, Johnson spoke to a private meeting of Tory MPs, the first proper meeting since the crisis. They left feeling inspired and invigorated, as if they finally had their boss back. At Ronald Reagan’s funeral, Margaret Thatcher saluted his ability to pursue the heaviest of causes with a lightness of spirit and to embody what she called ‘the great cause of cheering us all up’. This is the Boris speciality, precisely what the Government and the country needs – more than almost anything else – right now. When he was in intensive care that night, his colleagues were terrified – for him and for the Government. If he went, they asked, who would follow? There was no answer. There still isn’t. What’s needed is a prime minister back in the saddle, with a Cabinet he trusts, pointing to a clear way out of a big mess. That’s precisely the sort of Government he promised a year ago. It’s his best hope now.”

2. Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, in The Independent

on who is really in charge in Downing Street

Boris Johnson thinks he’s a comedian. There’s nothing funny about his lack of leadership

“A year of Boris Johnson is a difficult thing to judge. In normal times it probably wouldn’t be, but we are, in case you hadn’t noticed, in the grip of a global pandemic. It is hard to look at the situation that the country is in and see if it is better, worse or the same as a year ago, when everything has changed. I won’t try to critique the state of the economy (bad) or how things feel on the ground in the community (bad) in a Boris Britain because not even his harshest critic could blame a pandemic on him. So instead I will judge him on his performance as prime minister against things that other prime ministers had to deal with, and how well he has handled the crisis. The two are inextricably linked. I am a lively sort; I like an off-the-cuff gag. I don’t take myself too seriously and no one would describe me as spick and span, so you might think that I would like the blustering scruffy style of the prime minister. However, I find it repellent.”

3. Iain Martin in The Times

on looking on the positive side

Britain’s hand is stronger than doomsters think

“Have you heard the one about Britain’s response to Covid-19 being world class? Tyler Cowen, an American economist, not a comedian, this week made the case for positivity about our performance since the pandemic struck. For daring to suggest that Britain might not be irretrievably doomed, he was greeted with incredulity and more than a little mockery on social media... [But] you don’t need to be a jingoistic proponent of daft British exceptionalism to see that he has a point. Other countries are making advances too, but Britain’s performance has clearly been remarkable. On treatment, Oxford University played a leading role in establishing that dexamethasone, a cheap corticosteroid, reduces deaths in patients most ill with Covid-19... If the progress continues, it offers the tantalising prospect of Britain being among the first countries to begin vaccinating its population.”

4. Martin Kettle in The Guardian

on threats to British democracy

The Russia report reveals that MI5 and MI6 have lost their way

“The big reveal in the Russia report is about Britain, not Russia. It’s that shortsighted British politicians have encouraged this to happen. It’s that UK intelligence agencies chose to watch from the sidelines while it went on. In the report’s three key phrases, the agencies regarded the defence of Britain’s democracy as too much of a ‘hot potato’ to intervene; they were so busy on anti-terrorist work that they ‘took their eye off the ball’; and this all happened because the government in general, not just the agencies, fostered a ‘somewhat laissez-faire policy approach’ to Russia. This failure is crucial. First, because it says the UK’s intelligence agencies were not focused on hostile threats for which there was already clear public evidence. And, second, because it suggests uncertainty within government about the agencies’ proper purposes, which in the end prevented them from doing their job.”

5. Michelle Cottle in The New York Times

on who has the ear of the Democratic candidate

The Battle for Joe Biden

“Looking to get a sense of how Mr. Biden’s governing vision is shaping up, I spent several weeks talking with his advisers, his allies, his critics and other party players. I wanted to know how the rolling crises have, for instance, impacted his search for the perfect running mate - the big reveal of which is expected any day now! - as well as how various policy proposals are being revised and expanded. It was clear that, fundamentally, Joe is gonna be Joe. But he recognizes the need to respond to all the turbulence - and if there’s one thing Team Biden has a surfeit of, it’s people looking to influence how he does that... With Mr. Biden having spent the last half-century collecting friends, aides and advisers, not to mention this campaign’s fast-growing official staff, the org chart for Team Biden can be hard to decipher. His inner circle is defined differently depending on whom you ask, and even reasonably senior staffers aren’t always clear about who does what. But whether you think in terms of concentric circles or Venn diagrams or pyramids of power, there are legions of people offering counsel.”


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