In Depth

Instant Opinion: Britain faces a ‘catastrophic economic doom loop’

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Thursday 20 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. Allister Heath in The Daily Telegraph

on a vicious circle of higher taxes

Britain is about to be sucked into a catastrophic economic doom loop

“For the first time in years, I’m turning bearish on Britain. Our economy, trashed by Covid and the lockdown, is about to be sucked into a catastrophic doom loop, with no escape hatch. Forget about a V-shaped recovery: the future is a truncated square root, with years of stagnant growth to follow a partial rebound next year. We are leaving the EU, but are set for Eurozone-style semi-stagnation. It’s a tragedy. Why such negativity? Savage tax increases of a kind ordinarily associated with Left-wing governments now seem almost inevitable, and I fear that one entire plank of what should have been the Johnsonian renewal agenda – supply-side, pro-growth tax relief – will never materialise. Remember how Boris Johnson talked about raising the threshold for the higher income tax rate to £80,000 during his leadership campaign (though it was omitted from his manifesto)? Or the inspirational way in which he cited Ibn Khaldun, the true father of supply-side economics?.. All of this now sounds like ancient history, pledges from a world that has disappeared forever.”

2. Ellie Mae O’Hagan in The Guardian

on a rudderless government

This summer of U-turns has exposed the Tories’ lack of direction

“The current Conservative government seems to have hoisted itself by its own petard. It has defined itself as majoritarian and populist in order to win power, and is now imprisoned by the whims of the British public and obliged to drop anything that voters take against. The Tories haven’t represented places such as Blyth Valley or Ashfield for decades (if ever), and they seem to find their new voting coalition somewhat bewildering. In attempting to understand this new terrain while coping with an ideological vacuum, the party has become susceptible to backtracking when the going gets tough. Many of these current U-turns have been preceded by brand new Tory MPs in red-wall seats warning that constituents are getting angry. These are unchartered waters for the Conservatives, and an opportunity for campaigners... Perhaps the lesson from this summer’s many U-turns is that the usual progressive strategy of waiting for a Labour government can be abandoned. With the right circumstances and the right strategy, even this reactionary government can be forced to acquiesce to progressive demands.”

3. Andrew Grice in The Independent

on Britain’s arms-length prime minister

Boris Johnson cannot hide behind experts forever – this shameful blame game has to stop

“Ministers rightly admit that easing the lockdown involves fine political judgements that scientists cannot make. Scapegoating advisers might work for a while but with diminishing returns. Many people will barely have heard of Ofqual or PHE until this week; they might judge that the buck stops with the government. The exam grades fiasco is a real world story that has touched millions, advertising the incompetence of the government, not its advisers. Johnson’s team might think it is good at the blame game. True, it can grab a good headline from its cheerleaders in the press (though Williamson has few friends left, even there). This shouldn’t mask the abject failure of ministers to stand up to their experts, even more important in an unprecedented crisis that would have tested any administration to the limit.”

4. The editorial board of The New York Times

on a plot against American democracy

The Trump Campaign Accepted Russian Help to Win in 2016. Case Closed.

“Mr. Trump and his allies will parse and prevaricate forever. Ignore them. If it wasn’t already overwhelmingly clear what was going on, it is now. As the Democrats on the committee put it in an appendix to the report: ‘This is what collusion looks like.’ Alas, the Republicans refused to join in on this straightforward assessment, stating in their own appendix that ‘we can now say with no doubt, there was no collusion.’ That is to insist that up is down. But call it whatever you like: The Intelligence Committee report shows clear coordination between Russians and the Trump campaign, though there is no evidence of an explicit agreement. The evidence the report lays out suggests Mr. Trump knew this at the time. Whether or not it can be proved that he ordered this interference or violated the law in doing so, the fact remains that neither he nor anyone else in his campaign alerted federal law-enforcement authorities, as any loyal American should have.”

5. James Marriott in The Times

on making education unbearable

Our exam obsession is a blight on society

“The social fissures caused by exam meritocracy are visible everywhere. In Britain and the US, your level of education is a key predictor of how you will vote and education itself is a political issue. The association between a successful education and wealthy liberalism drove many working-class Brexit voters to reject the authority of experts and educated elites. Meanwhile, wealthy metropolitan Remainers are prone to confusing their good educations with intellectual and even moral superiority. An A or an E on an official-looking piece of paper from a government-sponsored exam board offers a misleading sense of certainty. For most of us it is one of the few times in our lives that anyone will make an official judgment on our personality... An exam result, which is a measure of a particular aspect of intelligence on a particular day, comes to seem a judgment on our whole intellectual character or even our worth as a person.”

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