In Depth

Instant Opinion: Britain ‘needs a strong chancellor, not a popular one’

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Monday 23 November

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

1. Rosa Prince in The Daily Telegraph

on Rishi’s conundrum

It’s crunch time for Sunak – Britain needs a strong chancellor, not a popular one

“Last week’s announcement that defence would receive funding at levels beyond that promised in the Tory manifesto was classic Mr Johnson; how he must have enjoyed sending his somewhat side-lined Defence Secretary Ben Wallace out to face the media with a spring in his step. Nice, too, to brief that NHS workers who saved his life in April would be spared from a public sector wage freeze, as it was for Mr Sunak to airily declare there would be no return to austerity. And when baby Wilfred goes to school, will the PM suddenly appreciate the crisis in teacher retention? Or if his parents must be treated in the inadequate social care system, will this Cinderella service finally, finally receive the attention it deserves? If so, does he really have the gumption to break Tory MPs’ hearts by racking up tax rises?”

2. Pat Cox, former president of the European Parliament, on Politico

on healing new wounds

Biden’s Europe challenge: Repair tattered transatlantic ties

“It’s clear, then, that Trump’s departure won’t erase divergences on trade, technology and taxation that have caused friction between the EU and the U.S. over the past four years. And yet, on both sides of the Atlantic, there is an overwhelming sense that now is a moment of opportunity — to rediscover the value of what we have in common, to fashion change through design and not dissonance, to accelerate and elevate the target of saving our fragile planet and to revitalize and reform the multilateral system. It may be the last such chance. The status quo ante has passed. The extent to which evident domestic political and judicial constraints in the U.S. will limit Biden’s policy horizon and execution remains to be seen, but both sides need to get back to the future, stronger together than apart.”

3. Nesrine Malik in The Guardian

on pandemic lifestyle changes

There are some lessons of lockdown I’d like to hang on to

“Now that vaccines bring hope the pandemic may soon be behind us, the next few weeks and months seem like a countdown to ‘normal’. That normal plays out on vivid reels in my mind. It is different things on different days. Sometimes it’s a loud scene – a crowded room of friends. Sometimes it’s a more prosaic moment – catching the bus, standing on a busy platform as a train pulls in, eating a quick lunch on a step or a bench in the middle of the city. Among all the things I have missed from pre-lockdown life, those are the ones that wind me when I think of them. The connective tissue of life, stretched across the day: they now feel, in hindsight, like luxuries, aspects of an existence cushioned by reassuring predictability.”

4. Lisa Feldman Barrett in The New York Times

on human evolution

Your brain is not for thinking

“Over millions of years, both predators and prey evolved more complex bodies that could sense and move more effectively to catch or elude other creatures. Eventually, some creatures evolved a command center to run those complex bodies. We call it a brain. This story of how brains evolved, while admittedly just a sketch, draws attention to a key insight about human beings that is too often overlooked. Your brain’s most important job isn’t thinking; it’s running the systems of your body to keep you alive and well. According to recent findings in neuroscience, even when your brain does produce conscious thoughts and feelings, they are more in service to the needs of managing your body than you realize.”

5. John Hulsman in City A.M.

on shifting foreign policy

Love him or hate him, Trump is right to wind down America’s endless wars

“After peremptorily firing defence secretary Mike Esper, a bitter-ender who wants to keep American troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq indefinitely, Trump has announced plans to cut troop sizes in both to merely 2,500 by January 15, 2021 — this is down from the 4,500 soldiers presently stationed in Afghanistan and the 3,000 in Iraq — just five days before the inauguration of Joe Biden. What on its surface amounts to a minor troop withdrawal has caused a frenzy of denunciation from the foreign policy elite, which is itself operationally very odd. During the Obama administration, America had almost 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, yet still could not manage to defeat the Taliban. What does it matter now if the US has 4,500 troops there or 2,500?”

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