In Depth

Instant Opinion: Boris Johnson hiring a ‘£100,000-a-year shield for his own incompetence’

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Wednesday 29 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. Sean O’Grady in The Independent

on Downing Street’s search for a spokesperson

Boris Johnson is hiring a £100,000-a-year shield for his own incompetence

“So, Number 10 is looking for ‘an experienced and confident media operator’ to front daily televised press briefings. Isn’t one of Boris Johnson’s few qualifications for his present job that he is ‘an experienced and confident media operator’? Apparently the daily coronavirus press briefings were so successful that the government wants to emulate their reach, even though Downing Street scrapped them and the prime minister wasn’t involved in most of them anyway. It is a mad idea and the media should boycott the press conferences. They will be an utter waste of time. Could it be that the tiresome business of facing the media is yet another chore that Johnson finds irksome and he’d really rather that someone else got on with that while he finds some other way to idle the days away?”

2. David Hunter, professor of epidemiology at the University of Oxford, and Neil Pearce, professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in The Guardian

on the government’s Spain U-turn

If Britain ditches overseas travel, we can eliminate coronavirus

“With every arriving overseas visitor or returning holidaymaker, the risk of bringing Covid-19 into the country increases. The government has so far justified allowing this travel because it believes community transmission of the virus in the UK is inevitable until a vaccine arrives. It is not. Great Britain and the island of Ireland are just that – islands. Other islands, such as New Zealand and Taiwan, have shown that the Covid-19 virus can be eliminated like the first Sars virus. In these countries, life is going on largely as usual with families gathering, full stands at sporting events, and internal economies almost back to normal. Shakespeare called England: ‘This fortress built by nature for herself against infection.’ And now the Independent Sage committee (which shadows Britain’s official science advisory group) and other experts have called for a goal of zero coronavirus – elimination of the virus – rather than settling for suppression.”

3. Jonathan Saxty in The Daily Telegraph

on the death of the office

Are we ready for the consequences of the working from home revolution?

“Two immediate problems can be foreseen given how skewed the economy is towards London, the scale of urbanisation (which could reverse) and the unwinding of the government’s furlough scheme. The first is the exposure of professional services to sectors which their WFH staff could be inadvertently destroying. The second is that proximity will no longer be the advantage for professionals it once was. Changes eased in and managed well can benefit us all. But without leadership, chaos will ensue. How many financiers, lawyers, accountants and consultants are exposed to leisure, hospitality, aviation, tourism and property? If the lack of commuter traffic into London and other big cities becomes permanent, there is potential for the losses inflicted on the aforementioned sectors to smack financiers, lawyers and accountants back in the face. Given how many such professionals work in sectors like hospitality, newly-redundant professionals could find they have created even more competition for themselves when they are looking for new jobs.”

4. Roger Boyes in The Times

on coronavirus misrule in Belarus

Europe’s last tyrant is fighting for survival

“[Alexander] Lukashenko’s case for long-term survival was that only he had the statesmanlike talent to steer Belarus between Vladimir Putin’s Russia and an intrusive European Union. But both Putin and the EU have become impatient with the president: the EU because he hasn’t attempted to improve his human rights record; Putin because Lukashenko resists the idea of a union between Russia and Belarus. Remarkably, instead of his usual complaint of furtive western support for the opposition, he now accuses the Kremlin of meddling. When and if Lukashenko wins the election on August 9 he will thus have limited options. He won’t be able to count on Putin’s goodwill and may even be hoping the Russian leader leaves the Kremlin sooner than expected. He can’t count on the EU, which should increase its support for the new opposition as it takes shape. It may be that Lukashenko is betting on China.”

5. Jennifer Weiner in The New York Times

on the radicalisation of American mothers

Trump Is Dog-Whistling. Are ‘Suburban Housewives’ Listening?

“In 1968, a resident of nearby Vernon was applauded after she told the school board: ‘Vernon is a nice, wonderful, middle-class town, and I do not wish to share this with anyone from Hartford. What we have, we have earned and want to keep. What is mine is mine.’ Mr. Trump’s re-election depends, at least in part, on white suburban women still feeling that way. But if recent protests and nonfiction best-seller lists are any indication, at least some “housewives” have arrived at a more nuanced understanding of racial dynamics and have harnessed the potent, symbolic power of white motherhood to advocate for change... The moms are organizing protests and reading groups, posting links to bail funds, discussing antidotes for tear gas. They’re starting groups in their kids’ schools to talk about white privilege and how to continue the fight once the current wave of protests is done. Many feature some version of the sign ‘When George Floyd Called for His Mama, He Summoned All the Mamas.’”

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