In Depth

Instant Opinion: who is ‘the best prime minister we never had’?

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Wednesday 2 September

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

1. Daniel Finkelstein in The Times

on the nearly men and women of British politics

My vote for the best PM we never had

“Over the weekend my colleague Matt Chorley incautiously organised a Twitter poll in advance of discussing on Times Radio who should actually be considered, in the modern era, the best prime minister we never had (BPMWNH). [Rab] Butler or any number of rivals? Thousands of supporters of Jeremy Corbyn piled in, voting their man the winner. Rather sweetly, they were so jubilant about their triumph — the victorious Mr Corbyn (I promise I’m not making this up) broadcast an acceptance speech — that Matt was forced to remind his followers that it had only been a bit of fun. But of course it’s only fun because there is a serious edge. It’s about considering the characteristics of a successful prime minister and reviewing the reputations of historical figures. Let’s consider the basics. In order to be a successful prime minister, you’ve got to be able to win elections... So we shouldn’t consider any party leader who had the chance to be prime minister but was rejected by the voters. Either they weren’t right for the job and couldn’t take people with them, or they weren’t running at the right time.”

2. Robin Bevan in The Guardian

on political leadership ignoring overworked staff

Education in Britain is in turmoil, yet the government is still ignoring headteachers

“In a crisis or otherwise, the ideal route for any major education policy change should be: consult, prepare advice, brief leaders, and make a clear public announcement. Instead, during the pandemic we have seen the government ignore the advice of experts, then make a hurried announcement, then dither; and it all culminating with school and college leaders being left to mop up the ensuing problems. The impact has been even more pronounced given the scale of government U-turns in recent months. Meanwhile, most school and college leaders do not have any contractual entitlement to holiday leave – it is down to the discretion of the governing bodies of specific schools. They are used to taking time off as and when the pressures of the job allow. They understand that their summer holiday barely extends into August. The preparation and distribution of results at this time is a key responsibility alongside all the staffing, premises management, and financial and timetable planning over the summer. And yet, this year more than any other, there has been total disregard of the need for school and college leaders to be afforded adequate restorative time off.”

3. Ben Habib in The Daily Telegraph

on a lack of vision in Downing Street

This is not the people’s government, but one obsessed with being all things to all people

“There is a propensity for government to shirk responsibility and find others at whom to point the finger of blame. For years the EU offered itself up as a punch bag but still the Conservative-led government had to be dragged into Brexit, kicking and screaming – the job has still to be properly completed. More recently, it has been the turn of quangos and the civil service who have been in the crosshairs of political blame; and notwithstanding the government’s significant majority it has thus far failed to effect any meaningful reforms. Its failure is not born out of the difficulties associated with getting these things done. Its failure is born out of its own structural problems. In its pursuit of power, the Conservative Party has sought to please the broadest possible cross section of the electorate... Consequently it has lost any form of purpose, vision or ideology.”

4. Shappi Khorsandi in The Independent

on the culture war within Broadcasting House

Relax, the BBC has a long history of right-wing comedy. I should know, I’ve been on the receiving end of it

“Tim Davie, the box-fresh director of the BBC, wants an overhaul of comedy shows which are deemed to have too much left-wing bias. Good news because, dammit, pro-government comedy has been stifled for too long. Where are all the jokes about how annoying it is tripping up over homeless people when you’re on your way to Soho House? And my goodness I cannot wait for a comedy show which really tells it like it is about refugees paddling over and living in Windsor Castle with the Queen, forcing her and Philip to camp under the gazebo. What’s that? Such comedians don’t exist? What tosh! We had that nice Jim Davidson with his hilarious Paki jokes, do you remember? Only he got ‘cancelled’ because we all went too far to the left, political correctness went mad and we weren’t allowed to point at LGBTQ+ people and laugh anymore. Bernard Manning should be given his own prime-time show. The left bang on about ‘prejudice’, yet for years they banned Manning from having his own show merely because he is dead.”

5. Susan E. Rice, former national security adviser, in The New York Times

on the need for laws to control the executive

Trump Isn’t Here to Serve the People

“Across the executive branch, Mr. Trump and his appointees have flouted long-honored norms and violated laws with relative impunity. They have succeeded largely because Senate Republicans have sacrificed oversight and accountability on the altar of subservience to this president so long as it preserves their majority control. Under Donald Trump, the abuses have touched almost every corner of government, suggesting the president views democracy itself as his opponent. Throughout the Republican National Convention, the president and senior officials blatantly violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits government officials from engaging in political activities on the job. From holding the event on White House grounds with cheering uniformed federal law enforcement officers in attendance, and staging a naturalization ceremony as a campaign event with participants used as unwitting political props, to his secretary of state violating departmental rules by delivering a campaign speech from Jerusalem, Mr. Trump has defiled the presidency for political gain.”

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