Instant Opinion

‘Few things make the heart sink more at Christmas than worthy receivers’

Your digest of analysis from the British and international press


Jane Shilling for The Telegraph

Worthy friends are a present-buyer’s worst nightmare

on the art of gift receiving 

“The business of choosing Christmas presents tends to focus on the giver, but an under-recognised aspect of the transaction is that it is just as important to receive graciously as it is to give generously,” writes Jane Shilling in The Telegraph. “Few things make the heart sink more leadenly at this time of year than the words, ‘Don’t buy anything for me: there’s nothing I really want.’” Shilling also bemoans “the £10 gift limit, the home-made gifts initiative, the practical gift (a tea-towel! How lovely!) and the donation instead of presents (as though you wouldn’t be giving to charity anyway).” She concludes that “the most rewarding people to buy for are the ones with clear but manageable expectations (no tiaras, no iguanas), a taste for small frivolities and a capacity for delight, whatever their age”.


William Hague for The Times

How Boris Johnson can survive his MPs’ cold anger

on a crisis of leadership 

“Political leaders need advisers who are completely frank and totally loyal,” writes William Hague in The Times. “Whatever relationship Boris [Johnson] has with his chief whip, Mark Spencer, it looks very much as if they need a new relationship, or he needs a new chief whip,” writes the former Tory Party leader. From the revolt of 99 of his own backbench MPs on a matter of government policy to a “disastrous” by-election result in North Shropshire, “it does not take a top political analyst to work out that the necessary combination of frankness, loyalty and well-judged deliberation is missing from No 10,” he says. Hague recalls “every leadership crisis of the past three decades or so, including the overthrow of Margaret Thatcher” and says MPs “have always moved slowly… torn by inner conflict and uncertainty about what to do”. But this time, “I detect cold anger, shorn of much of the agonising, as they begin to set their own private deadlines for the narrative of chaos to end. They are not yet reaching for the assassins’ knives but they are checking, with business-like efficiency, that they know where they left them.”


Nell Frizzell for The Guardian

My family Christmas has got a lot better since we stopped giving presents

on a stress-free December

“There is no greater gift than never again having to walk into an overheated, Wham-blasting shopping centre full of animatronic reindeer and the smell of damp hair, to spend £20 on a pot plant that nobody has asked for nor, in all probability, wants,” writes Nell Frizzell in The Guardian. “Which is why, in my immediate family, we do not swap presents at Christmas. My mother, my sister, my father, my partner and my child: none of us get each other Christmas presents,” she writes. But “we may not buy things, wrap things, put things under a tree or push anything but a hairy toe into a stocking on Christmas Eve but that’s not to say we don’t give gifts,” says Frizzell. “Instead we bestow upon each other the treats of time, saving money, the weekends in the run-up to Christmas at home, sanity, and evenings not clogged with sticky tape and phone calls and online checkouts,” she says. “You may think these are rambling attempts at optimism from a Scrooge but I really believe that, by taking presents out of the equation, I have given my family back almost the whole of December to spend as they wish.”


Kristina Murkett for UnHerd

The trouble with Nadhim Zahawi’s ex-teacher army

on a mission impossible

“Most teachers and students should now be celebrating the start of the Christmas holidays, but instead are anxiously awaiting the ‘tidal wave’ of Omicron that is predicted to hit schools in January,” writes Kristina Murkett for UnHerd. With disruptions expected until Easter, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has called upon retired teaching staff to “come forward and join the national mission” to keep schools open in the spring. “It’s a nice idea in theory: a garrison of grey-haired grandparents valiantly returning to the schools they once loved to help join the war effort against Omicron,” she writes. “Except in reality, of course, it will be nothing like that. Former teachers left for a reason, and retired teachers (who are probably much older) are unlikely to want to put themselves in an environment where Covid is rife, ventilation is poor, and social distancing is impossible.” 


The Independent editorial

The government has agreed to allow the biggest superspreader event of the year to go ahead as usual

on a no-plan Christmas

“As a response to the rise of the Omicron variant, ‘keeping the data under constant review’ is not exactly a call to arms”, says today’s leader in The Independent. After a lengthy emergency cabinet meeting to discuss whether new measures should be introduced, the prime minister and his cabinet “emerged with nothing”. “The usual press conference didn’t take place, because there was nothing to announce. Parliament won’t be recalled. Putting things crudely, Boris Johnson asked his cabinet to consider additional restrictions, and they told him to get lost. It is a tragedy for the country,” says The Independent. Among Johnson’s cabinet, “Libertarianism – unthinking, brutally simplistic, punk libertarianism – is in vogue,” says the paper, “and every senior Tory on the make is flaunting their defiance of Covid, as if it were Jeremy Corbyn. Except, of course, that in a fight between the Omicron variant and the 1922 Committee, the virus will probably prevail.”


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