Instant Opinion

‘Father Christmases are struggling’

Your digest of analysis from the British and international press

1

Alec Powell in The Guardian

Plastic penguins, grotty grottos and grumpy elves: it’s not easy being a Santa impersonator

on a hard job

Alec Powell has been a Father Christmas impersonator for 18 years and it has not always been a magical experience. “One year, I worked in a grotto that was actually more ‘grotty’,” he writes in The Guardian. And, “as with any close contact with children, you need to make sure your reflexes are quick to save your beard. Unless you are a ‘real-beard Santa’ – then it just hurts.” The pandemic, says Powell, “has taken a toll on the festive season, and now many of my fellow Father Christmases are struggling”. While we read a lot about the West End theatres suffering, there is “little about the individual artistes who are at the really sharp end”, many of whom did not qualify for government assistance, he says. “Fortunately for the UK government, Father Christmas has not got a vote: I feel his message of goodwill would be strained to the limit seeing officials partying as normal last December, while families sat at different dinner tables, divided, while loved ones died alone in isolation.” Powell says he has been one of the “lucky” ones, but “many of my fellow Santas have been hit very hard”.

2

Iain Martin in The Times

What the Tories need in their next leader

on filling Boris’s boots

The “dastardly deal” the Tory tribe did when it made Boris Johnson leader is “unravelling” and a leadership race is “gearing up”, says Iain Martin in The Times. The participants will deny it, but the PM will “need a miracle” to avoid a contest, which is highly likely to take place next year. “Wiser Tories know they have to take better care this time when choosing,” says Martin. Rishi Sunak is the “establishment choice” but he will need to prove to low-tax Tories he is on their side, while Liz Truss is the favourite of the activists but she will need to show critics she is not “an ersatz Iron Lady, a Margaret Thatcher tribute act” who might “frighten floating voters and some Tories”. Jeremy Hunt should not be written off, adds Martin, and others are expected to run. Ultimately the “Tories are trying to work out who stands the best shot at earning public forgiveness and taking Britain beyond Boris”.

3

Esther Walker for The i

With the help of Armando Iannucci’s new satire, 2022 could be the year the tide turns on social media

on logging off

Esther Walker believes we will one day “look back on unfettered use of social media with the same horror that we look back on unfettered smoking”. Aside from the odd video “showing me how to disable the child lock on the back doors of my Kia Picanto” and using a local Facebook group “only to find my peripatetic cat”, everything else “has been, at worst, truly rotten or at best not worth the downsides”, writes Walker for the i. She admits that, as a former “heavy user” of social media, she is now “evangelical about the benefits of being out the other side” and hopes that a new project from The Thick of It creator Armando Iannucci will offer a “chink of light in the dark”. Walker wonders if he will cover “the career-ending slip-ups, the dragging, the shaming, the grooming, the conspiracy theorists, the fragile people nudged towards anorexia and self-harm content”. And she asks: “Will 2022 be the year we log off? Fingers crossed.”

4

Susanne Mundschenk in The Spectator

Europe’s emerging energy crisis

on the next battleground

After the pandemic, Susanne Mundschenk wonders if energy will be the next European crisis. “Gas prices have hit new records,” she writes in The Spectator, “driven by news that Russia has diverged gas flows from its main European pipeline to one that is going east via Poland”. Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised more gas but it is still not coming, and the prospect of an invasion of Ukraine “just adds more uncertainty and pressure on the market”. With Europe dependent on his gas, there are lots of questions and no clear answers, says Mundschenk. “Will there be hoarding and other beggar-my-neighbour tactics in times of shortages? Will this trigger a common procurement procedure similar to the vaccines? Will Europe divide over energy?” The severity of the crisis will depend on Moscow’s next move and how harsh the winter will be. “Just a couple of degrees make a huge difference. January and February are the two months to watch out for.”

5

Richard B. McKenzie in The Wall Street Journal

At my orphanage, a merry Christmas that would astonish Dickens

on a real-life orphan story

Readers of the “magnificent” works of Charles Dickens might think that Christmas was “particularly dreary” for orphanages in the 19th and even 20th centuries, says Richard B. McKenzie in The Wall Street Journal. But he assures readers that his experience in an orphanage near Statesville, North Carolina, where he lived from the age of ten to 18 in the 1950s, “wasn’t at all like that”. “With a star-topped tree, carols, feasts and presents, my buddies and I didn’t miss out on anything,” says McKenzie, who is now an emeritus professor of economics at the University of California. There was “Christmas magic in the air” as the children ate supper and then decorated the 12-foot cedar, and on the big day the orphanage’s rec room was “knee-deep in wrapping paper”. “Mr. Dickens,” says McKenzie, “life as an orphan wasn’t a piteous lot. Christmas in my orphanage, and many others, was a magical time. I have the memories to prove it.”

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