In Depth

Instant Opinion: ‘prattling about the Proms’ does nothing for Black Lives Matter

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Friday 28 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. Trevor Phillips in The Times

on arguing over trivia

Prattling about the Proms does nothing for black lives

“The Education Policy Institute, a think tank led by the former Liberal Democrat MP David Laws, this week released a telling piece of research that dwarfs all the anxieties about who sings what. The EPI team has analysed the attainment of pupils in England and Wales over the past ten years. When tested for attainment in English and maths, Caribbean heritage children reach the end of compulsory schooling on average a full school year - 10.9 months - behind their white peers, two and half years behind Indian heritage children, and over three years behind the Chinese. They lag poorer Bangladeshis by about a year and a half, and black children who have come more recently direct from Africa, some with little English on arrival, by more than ten months... Anyone who really thinks Black Lives Matter should put down their placards and pick up the EPI report, read it thoroughly and ask themselves ‘what can I do to help?’. You could start with a donation to those groups who are already working on the problem.”

2. Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian

on damaged public trust

Lurching from crisis to crisis, Johnson will soon run out of people to blame

“The real problem with constantly shifting the blame is that while it fixes tomorrow’s headlines it doesn’t solve the underlying problem, which is why the government seems to keep on getting things wrong. What one former No 10 staffer calls a “macho inflexibility” at the heart of government – which hates giving its critics the satisfaction of admitting it’s wrong and so digs its heels in when it shouldn’t – is clearly part of the problem. But it cannot be the whole of it. Is Boris Johnson really so uniquely ill-served by a machine that may have its faults but doesn’t seem to have failed previous governments anything like so frequently? Or could there be something wrong with the collective political judgment of a cabinet where commitment to the Brexit project is prized over competence?.. If it can’t confront its own mistakes honestly, then it has no hope of learning from them. And sooner or later, it’s going to run out of other people to blame.”

3. Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph

on the PM’s old optimism

A dose of classic Boris boosterism is key to Britain’s national recovery

“It’s not unkind to say that Boris Johnson stands for boosterism: a belief that you can talk things into being, that words can shape events. His recent biography of Winston Churchill was obsessed with this. ‘He had the gift of language to put heart into people,’... For most of this month the Prime Minister has been fretting about moving too early and ending up with a resurgence, like Donald Trump. But even American cases are now declining. Britain’s experience with the virus has been very similar to that of Sweden, with both countries now at the end of an epidemic curve. Hospital data, increasingly seen as more reliable than testing data, suggests no serious resurgence. So there is plenty of room for cautious optimism – and for leadership, which has been rather lacking in the past few weeks. Optimism has always been the Prime Minister’s stock-in-trade: it would be odd for him to abandon it, at a time when it’s needed most.”

4. David Ignatius in The Washington Post

on the smoldering center of the Republicans

The rage that fuels Trumpism still burns

“This year’s election, as both sides keep telling us, may be the most important of our lifetimes. But the reason is rarely expressed directly — because it’s such an admission of national failure. America is coming apart in the summer of 2020. The bonds of social cohesion have frayed to the point that armed gangs, from left and right, have taken the streets... The challenge of American democracy has always been that we prize independence so much that our collective life is strained. Alexis de Tocqueville, the Frenchman who studied us in the 1830s, wrote that America’s cult of individualism was perilously close to raw selfishness - the ‘me first’ instinct we often see today. ‘Individualism, at first, only saps the virtue of public life, but, in the long run, it attacks and destroys all others, and is at length absorbed in downright selfishness’ - a strait that he warned ‘blights the germ of all virtue.’ A freewheeling democracy that prizes individualism is our great American gift. But it’s also why we need good leaders so badly - to hold together and avoid the abyss of social disintegration.”

5. Oren Cass, author The Once and Future Worker, in The New York Times

on living standards vs. quality of life

The Elite Needs to Give Up Its G.D.P. Fetish

“What good does G.D.P. do, if people we love are falling seriously ill and dying in unprecedented numbers; if the rhythms of daily life vital to our happiness have gone haywire and our social connections have atrophied? Typically shielded from such problems, the country’s professional class now finds itself experiencing a taste of the insecurity and anxiety that the working class has felt for decades: The dissolution of community; the suddenly prohibitive distances separating friends and family; the anger at experts selling ineffective, poorly planned schooling as adequate to their children’s needs. The calamity we’re now all living through offers the professional class an opportunity to reconsider assessments of the national condition issued so confidently pre-pandemic: Economists focus on material living standards partly for ease of quantification, but also because that is what free markets most reliably produce. And for many on the right-of-center especially, a rise in living standards equals success, which conveniently supports the conclusion that the economy has been delivering well.”

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