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‘Britain has a potentate in place of a prime minister’

Your digest of analysis and commentary from the British and international press


Rafael Behr in The Guardian

In the court of King Boris, only one thing is certain: this will all end badly

on Johnsonism

“Instead of a cabinet, Britain has courtiers. In place of a prime minister, there is a potentate,” writes Rafael Behr in The Guardian. “The traditional structures still exist, but as tributes to an obsolescent way of governing.” There are still secretaries of state, but they now have “little bearing on real power, which swirls in an unstable vortex of advisers and officials vying for proximity to Boris Johnson’s throne”. “The product of this arrangement is the acrid stew of scandal leaking out of Downing Street,” brought upon the country, in part, due to Johnson’s character; a man who “approaches truth the way a toddler handles broccoli. He understands the idea that it contains some goodness, but it will touch his lips only if a higher authority compels it there.” Behr continues that “having such a personality at the heart of government makes a nonsense of unwritten protocol” that governs British politics. “It was never rigorous. All manner of hypocrisies flourish when a self-selecting elite chooses the boundaries of legitimate behaviour. But there were boundaries. Johnsonism has none.”


Roger Boyes in The Times

Modi’s posturing hides India’s real Covid death toll

on India's Covid crisis

“India’s populist and vainglorious prime minister Narendra Modi should stop counting votes and count the bodies instead,” writes Roger Boyes in The Times. “Modi presides over what’s known as the world’s biggest democracy and is so proud of his country’s medicine production that he calls it the world’s biggest pharmacy. Now he has hit another global record: the world’s highest daily number of Covid cases,” says Boyes. “The surging virus” has “ambushed many leaders” and the prime minister is “not the only one to have prematurely declared victory”. His declaration that the pandemic had been beaten at an unmasked rally of thousands earlier this year, now seems like an “act of hubris”. “What might finish him off politically is not so much his over-promising demagoguery, which has never hurt his standing in the polls, but the masking of the true death toll.”


Allison Pearson in The Telegraph

The Oscars - so where did the fun go?

on the joyless Oscars

“There’s nothing like a glamorous, star-studded event full of escapist entertainment to cheer people up and give a lift to an industry that’s had a terrible year,” writes Allison Pearson in The Telegraph. “The 93rd Academy Awards was nothing like that.” The TV audience for the Oscars has “plummeted from almost 45 million in 2000 to Daniel Kaluuya’s mum and a few hundred insomniacs in 2021”, writes Pearson. “Things were great as long as the stars remembered people loved them because a/they look fabulous and b/they’re in showbusiness.” Now, however, the stars “think they’re in the show-and-tell business. Every award, every excruciating utterance, indicates that the speaker is a green, social justice warrior instead of a pampered Beverly Hills princeling whose agent negotiates furiously for the biggest, gas-guzzling trailer.”


Katy Balls in the i newspaper

If you think Dominic Cummings has come out swinging for Johnson, wait until his inquiry appearance in May

on a chatty aide 

When the prime minister’s former aide, Dominic Cummings, is due to appear before an inquiry into the government’s Covid response next month, “don’t expect the former No. 10 aide to be in a hurry or to grumble about being summoned there”, writes Katy Balls in the i newspaper. “This time, Cummings has something he wants to say.” The question is, will the evidence he gives “make an impact on voters?” asks Balls. “After all, he’s hardly a popular figure across the country since the Barnard Castle row. Johnson is the more popular of the two”, she writes. The real problem for Johnson is “that he has more to lose than Cummings. The longer this drags on, the more damage it will do”, she writes, “and it is hard to see what Cummings’s incentive to wind down this fight is.”


Andrew McQuillan in The Spectator

Is this the end for Arlene Foster?

On unionism's next leader

“The end of Arlene Foster’s spell as leader of the Democratic Unionist party appears to be in sight,” writes Andrew McQuillan in The Spectator, after three-quarters of the DUP’s Northern Ireland Assembly members signed a letter calling for her departure. “When looking at the charge sheet, however, the fact Foster has lasted so long is remarkable given the state unionism has ended up in under her leadership. It is not unkind to say that this day was a long time coming”, McQuillan writes. A “fraught balancing act – of steadying the horses while also appealing to a broader spectrum of the electorate – awaits Foster’s successor”, however, given “Foster’s apparent moderation is a reason for her potential departure, the likelihood is that a hardliner, both constitutionally and socially, will replace her.” “Whoever it is, their inheritance is not a good one, and blame for that rests solely with Foster and those around her,” he concludes.


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