Instant Opinion

‘Dominic Cummings revealed the awesome power of WhatsApp in Whitehall’

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


Sebastian Payne in the Financial Times

WhatsApp is where real political power lies in Britain

on a small green icon 

“During the pandemic, all human life has been found on WhatsApp,” writes Sebastian Payne in the Financial Times. “A small green icon became our portal to the outside world.” But in particular “the social network’s prevalence has spread to those running the country,” he says. This was brought sharply to light when Dominic Cummings leaked private WhatsApps from Boris Johnson. In doing so, the prime minister’s former adviser “revealed the awesome power that WhatsApp holds in Whitehall” as “the political communication method of choice”. “Power flows through the thousands of one-to-one exchanges and informal groups that have replaced emails and formal meetings when it comes to decision-making.” Of course, “no one in Whitehall is certain of how official these discussions are, or whether they are secure”, and have rightly begun to worry “about backdoor access”. Although when it comes to political journalism, “WhatsApp is a godsend for transparency”, Payne adds. Westminister should ask itself, “when is too much WhatsApp?”, but as we struggle through the pandemic, it’ll remain as the platform “where the real power lies”.


James Forsyth in The Times

Boris Johnson wants to jolt commuters back to work

on cultural long Covid

“Boris Johnson wants to see busy, bustling cities again,” writes James Forsyth in The Times. “He has been talking about ‘Johnson’s law’: the more people see each other on Zoom during lockdown, the more they’ll want to meet up when life resumes”. But others are not so sure. “If months from now the streets are still almost deserted, the country will have developed a form of long Covid. How to prevent this is one of the big debates in Whitehall.” But “[e]ven once all the legal restrictions have gone, the government is braced for cultural changes brought about by the virus to linger”, Forsyth adds. “Bosses will be far less likely to thank coughing and spluttering staff for struggling in now than they were before. And, perhaps, less likely to pay for expensive city office space to accommodate them all.” 


Tom Harris in The Telegraph

It is Keir Starmer, not Boris Johnson, who should be more worried by the Buckinghamshire uprising

on a surprise victory

“There’s no denying it was a remarkable by-election victory for the Liberal Democrats – a swing of 25% against a government in power for more than a decade,” writes Tom Harris in The Telegraph. Although, in some ways, it “feels almost like a return to normality: in the 1980s and 90s the Lib Dems were renowned for their by-election campaigns, particularly against the Conservatives”. But the significance of this win is not that it raises a threat to the Conservatives, but rather to Labour. “If the Lib Dems can win in ‘safe’ Tory seats, then the prospect of Labour not even being able to hold on to one of its own secure seats is truly ominous for Keir Starmer,” Harris adds. “Who will lead the opposition to the government in such circumstances: the party that can beat the Tories in their heartlands, or the party that can’t even hang on to constituencies it managed to win in the dark days of December 2019?”


Polly Toynbee in The Guardian

Compulsory care-home staff jabs may sound sensible but would create a catastrophe

on learning our lessons 

“It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? Of course every care and NHS worker should be vaccinated against Covid and anything else that puts them and their patients at risk,” writes Polly Toynbee in The Guardian on the news that Covid vaccinations are set to become mandatory for care home staff. “Facts, scientific facts, that’s the dose the vaccine-refusers need. Or so every good rationalist believes. But why do we never learn our lessons?” Toynbee asks. “Humans don’t live by reason alone – maybe scarcely at all,” and the fact is “if all unvaccinated care workers were sacked, in some parts of the country care homes would cease to function at all. They would be closed overnight as unsafe, leaving nowhere to send the frail but into hospital beds,” she adds. “There are already 112,000 care-worker vacancies, so compulsion, the ‘rational’ thing to do, risks turning a crisis into a catastrophe.”


Kevin Young in The New York Times

Juneteenth is a national holiday now. Can it still be Black?

on commemorating freedom

“We might count Juneteenth among those things Black people have long enjoyed that white folks don’t know about – like Frankie Beverly and Maze,” writes Kevin Young in The New York Times. “What Juneteenth and other Emancipation days commemorate is both the promise of freedom and its delay,” he says. “For June 19, 1865, doesn’t mark the day enslaved African Americans were set free in the United States but the day the news of Emancipation reached them in Texas [the last rebel state], two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. It is a holiday ringed, like a good brisket, though not in smoke but irony. Out of such ironies Black people have made the blues, made lemonade, made good,” writes Young. President Biden has declared Juneteenth a federal holiday, but “will it still remain Black?” asks Young. “Can it be both serious and playful, and recognize, as the poet Toi Derricotte reminds us, that ‘joy is an act of resistance’? Can we cook and laugh while we remember, remaining rooted in tradition while telling the full story of America and Black life in it?”


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