Instant Opinion

‘If Boris Johnson felt shame, he wouldn’t be slashing universal credit’

Your digest of analysis from the British and international press

1

Victoria Richards in The Independent

Boris Johnson knows he couldn’t live on universal credit – yet he expects others to make do

On a questionable ask

The prime minister delivered “the perfect politicians' answer" when he was asked whether he could live on a universal credit allowance of £118 a week, writes Victoria Richards at The Independent. An expression of sympathy was made, but the billions of pounds of tax needed to maintain the post-Covid economic uplift has to come out of some people’s pockets, said the PM. His blustered response swerved a definitive yes or no answer, but “we all know Boris Johnson wouldn’t (and couldn’t) live off £118 a week, and he’ll never have to,” says Richards. “Perhaps the real problem is bothering to ask the question in the first place”. After all, Johnson’s more familiar with the cost of a bottle of champagne than a pint of milk, she concludes.

2

Andy Beckett in The Guardian

The problem is bigger than Keir Starmer – Labour’s centrists have run out of ideas

On centrist stumbles

“These ought to be good times for the British centre left”, writes Andry Beckett in The Guardian. Not in the UK, with the Tories still ahead of Labour in the polls. “It’s easy to see why” the finger is being pointed to Keir Starmer, with his “limited political experience and stiff public persona”, not to mention “his failure to say clearly what he stands for”. But directing the blame at Starmer “misses a much bigger problem”, Beckett continues: “the British centre left has failed to renew itself”. Instead of “new and compelling ideas”, Labour centrists are too fixated on shaping their party, he says. And while the lengthy essay Starmer published this week “does show some awareness that the centre left needs to change”, it seems whatever Labour leaders say, “the Conservatives say them better”. Under Starmer, centrist talk “feels increasingly like depsperation”.

3

Anna Sauerbrey in The New York Times

Farewell, Angela Merkel

On changing tides

As Angela Merkel prepares to step down as Chancellor, the mood in Germany is one of “affectionate nostalgia, tinged with a drop of irony”, writes Anna Sauerbrey in The New York Times. But “as with most farewells, feelings are mixed”. The past 16 years have not been without tumult, she notes, but ultimately “under great pressure, Ms. Merkel was a conservative in the best sense”. Her leadership spanned the financial crash, the euro debt crisis, the migration crisis and the pandemic, and what Merkel achieved, Sauerbrey says, should be judged not on “what she built”, but rather “what she managed to keep”. But now, change has become an appealing prospect. While there will be times when Germany will “painfully miss” the Chancellor, ultimately, “it is time. Tschüss Mutti.”

4

John Gapper at The Financial Times

University rankings are just an educated guess

On settling school scores

There’s an awful lot riding on university rankings. St Andrew’s surpassed Oxbridge in one league table last week, and while it “generated much coverage”, the news “signifies little”, writes John Gapper in The Financial Times. The formulas used to calculate such lists are “inherently questionable”, he continues - but “in the contest to draw international students, an attractive rating is a prize currency”. The same institutions take the top spots time and time again.“Distinguished professors” attract “fine students”, the kind likely to donate funds to the university in the future, providing more resources and “improving their scores” before the cycle begins again. Students, writes Gapper, should keep a comfortable distance from the “status game”. “Visit some colleges, see which ones might suit you best”, he advises, “and try to ignore the noise”.

5

Meghan Gallacher MSP in The Scotsman

Women's rights activists deserve to be heard, not vilified

On hostile opposition

Proposed changes to Scotland’s Gender Recognition Act have divided the country. Both individuals and organisations who “have raised real concerns" about the possible implications for women's rights and protections “have been labelled by opponents as “transphobic” or “toxic””, writes Conservative MSP Meghan Gallacher in The Scotsman. “Rather than engaging with the substance of these issues”, those who are opposed to their concerns “seek to trivialise or dismiss” them, she says. The debate undermines the progress that has been achieved towards gender equality in Scotland, writes Gallacher. A “dismissive, and in some cases hostile, attitude” towards the “many women” with raising concerns around safe spaces and protections for women should be “heard not villified”, she concludes.

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