In Depth

Instant Opinion: ‘government confusion aggravates Covid despair’

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Monday 17 August

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

1. Libby Purves in The Times

on the unravelling of Britain’s lockdown

Government confusion aggravates Covid despair

“The government’s practical mismanagement has been eloquently anatomised in these pages, so lay that aside. Equally dismaying is its failure to convey hope, resolve, strength and a sense of proportion. No wonder mournful voices pointlessly say that they yearn for New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern. Leaders in troubled times — ask any veteran — need to convey intelligence, good faith, consistency and calm. Ours rarely manage one. Early press conferences were OK, with scientists and the promise to ‘put an arm around’ us. Lockdown was too prolonged but had brief mood-raisers with the Queen’s speech and VE Day. But the unlocking is psychologically chaotic. Mr Johnson’s ‘over for Christmas’ speech was unhelpful, especially accompanied by silence or nervous throat-clearing from scientists. His unique selling point is bullish, flag-waving, Olympic-spirit zip wire merriment; that doesn’t work when we can see the wire sagging and him in a helpless dangle. Travel advice was mad: instead of fantasising about air bridges why not say ‘foreign holidays remain risky. You could suddenly get locked down there, or face isolation here. It could get expensive. Your risk.’”

2. Dr Alexis Paton, lecturer at Aston University and chair of the Committee on Ethical Issues in Medicine at the Royal College of Physicians, in The Independent

on threats to the health body

After Matt Hancock’s snap decision to axe Public Health England, this is everything we could lose

“That the government has chosen to axe Public Health England just after announcing a national initiative to fight obesity shows how little it understands the important role that Public Health England plays in maintaining our overall health and wellbeing... Public Health England holds a wealth of information and research on keeping people healthy and safe in their home and work environments, promoting and contributing to safety initiatives in all sectors. These three examples are only the tip of the public health iceberg. In the UK, we have had a tradition of public health that has almost nothing to do with pandemics and everything to do with improving the health of the whole nation for the long term... Public Health England currently has close to 60 targeted programmes in place to improve health and wellbeing across the whole population. Here are just the highlights. Are we willing to lose them so our government can save global face on their poor response to the pandemic? For me, the loss of any of these services is much too high a cost.”

3. John Harris in The Guardian

on the death of British community

No news, no shared space, no voice – the Tories are creating a cookie-cutter Britain

“The fact that whole swathes of basic administration are best handled at the local level is a banal insight that has eluded British governments for decades, and so it has proved again. For all that we are encouraged to think of the pandemic as a national issue, all outbreaks are essentially local – and like extreme weather events, they demand effective on-the-ground action and communication, and the kind of strong institutions that affirm people’s sense of place and solidarity. After a decade of cuts to local services, Covid-19 has cruelly highlighted the importance – and lack – of both. It has crystallised a question that goes beyond matters of politics and government into some of the most basic ways that places function: if the coronavirus has proved that doing things from the grassroots up is so crucial, why are so many aspects of our everyday lives being pushed in the opposite direction?”

4. Tim Stanley in The Daily Telegraph

on travelling abroad mid-pandemic

We are living with the consequences of other people’s terror

“I’m not on a mini-break. This is a mini-breakdown. I hate lockdown Britain and not just for the deaths we are trying to prevent but the paranoia and despair. I thought we cared about mental health? I suspect we were just trying to sound nice. When push came to shove, we told people to get on with being miserable – just as we told them to stuff their jobs and shove their schooling – and the consequence of not being able to imagine a future is utterly devastating. We will be living in this spiritually impoverished state for two years at least, because the moment there is a spike – and there will be a spike – they will shut everything down again. That’s what bureaucrats do and that’s what the public wants, even though a rise in localised outbreaks has not resulted in a rise in hospitalisations. You and I are living with the consequences of other people’s terror, and it’s as frightening as the disease itself. I shall get hate mail just for having the nerve to go abroad. ‘Is this an essential journey?’ a friend asked angrily. I said: ‘Well, it’s not quite the Bahamas, but it’ll do.’”

5. Elizabeth Bruenig in The New York Times

on how the US left stands a fighting chance

Despite Everything, Bernie Sanders Still Believes

“Mr. Sanders cited recent primary victories by some of the most progressive members of the House, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar as examples of left endurance, despite the machinations of powerful, moneyed opponents. There were new primary victories for the left as well: In New York, Jamaal Bowman took out Eliot Engel in a hard-fought race, while Cori Bush pulled off a surprise upset against William Lacy Clay in Missouri. Mr. Sanders pointed out that, down the ballot - sometimes way down the ballot - state and local governments are quietly welcoming new members from the Democratic Socialists of America, a major left organizing group that proudly backed Mr. Sanders. There are a few shoots coming up through the snow, and Mr. Sanders has no intention of giving up on these tender blooms his movement has nurtured.”

 

Recommended

Covid-19: everything you need to know about coronavirus
coronavirus.jpg
Coronavirus

Covid-19: everything you need to know about coronavirus

Instant Opinion: ‘Bigotry entrenched in British society’
A march against racism in London
In Depth

Instant Opinion: ‘Bigotry entrenched in British society’

Indian Wells tennis cancelled - is Wimbledon in danger?
Novak Djokovic kisses the winner’s trophy after beating Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final
In Brief

Indian Wells tennis cancelled - is Wimbledon in danger?

Instant Opinion: Government’s ‘pantomime authoritarianism’
priti_patel.jpg
In Depth

Instant Opinion: Government’s ‘pantomime authoritarianism’

Popular articles

Stalin-themed kebab shop closes after one day
Tall Tales

Stalin-themed kebab shop closes after one day

How scientists developed a Covid-19 vaccine in record time
A nurse prepares a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine
In Focus

How scientists developed a Covid-19 vaccine in record time

Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 19 Jan 2021
10 Downing Street
Daily Briefing

Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 19 Jan 2021

Free 6 issue trial then continue to