Instant Opinion: England is ‘powerless, rudderless and adrift’

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Monday 6 July

Boris Johnson
(Image credit: John Nguyen/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The Week’s daily round-up highlights the five best opinion pieces from across the British and international media, with excerpts from each.

1. John Harris in The Guardian

on exclusion and abandonment in Brexit and coronavirus

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Powerless, rudderless and adrift: Covid-19 has crystallised how England feels

“Mix together condescension, vagueness and government by edict, and one thing will spread faster than any virus: the same feeling of local powerlessness that has gripped England for well over 10 years. It is now as central to our experience of the Covid-19 crisis as it was to how millions of people voted in the Brexit referendum, and it has manifested in the strange, slightly hysterical national mood that seems to be defining the summer. Beyond exhortations to go to the pub and shop for Britain, no one in Westminster and Whitehall seems to know where we might be heading. Whenever I speak to members of the public, there is a strong sense that they feel as if they are being left to drift, with no direction from anyone at the top. We seem to have arrived in the worst of all words: local decision-makers being all but ignored, while power at the centre is proved to be not just distant, but useless.”

2. Nick Timothy in The Daily Telegraph

on sleaze and corruption in British politics

Britain’s cosy establishment is the product of a dysfunctional political system

“Senior officials retire from unelected and unaccountable executive power, only to gain unelected and unaccountable legislating power. Senior business figures mark one another’s homework thanks to slack corporate governance. Some take the shilling of foreign businesses whose interests they must know clash with those of our country. Some manage to buy political access and influence, and even titles and political positions of their own. And some politicians succumb to pressure and temptation while reassuring themselves that they are serving a higher purpose. We should not be surprised that members of this privileged class scratch one another’s backs, but that does not mean we should meekly and passively accept it. The cosiness of our establishment is related to the state of our state, with its informality and amateurishness. For reasons of probity as much as efficiency, it all needs to change.”

3. Stephen Bush in The Times

on Boris Johnson’s dangerous Downing Street neighbour

Tories’ rising star is now PM’s biggest threat

“Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer don’t have much in common but they share a nemesis: Rishi Sunak... What unites Johnson and Starmer is that Sunak represents their biggest threat to remaining or becoming prime minister after the next election. Starmer’s main political project, thus far, has been to play down the ideological divisions between himself and Johnson, particularly over hot-button culture war issues, in order to focus on advancing the case that he is more competent than the prime minister... Labour’s big message at the moment is that what the country really needs is to replace Boris Johnson with a hard-working, well-qualified man with great hair: a description that applies equally well to the current chancellor as it does to the former director of public prosecutions.”

4. Sean O’Grady in The Independent

on the dis-united kingdom

Brexit didn’t break the UK - but, thanks to Boris Johnson, coronavirus will finally kill off the union

“It is hardly a surprise after these past couple of years that the majority of Scottish people believe they can order things better than the clowns in London, who treat Scotland, at best, as a troublesome afterthought. No wonder the Scots want independence - just the same as the British (though, of course, not the Scots) wanted their ‘independence’ from an unaccountable EU in 2016. They are still being governed by Conservatives in London that few of them voted for. It’s becoming intolerable. The Scots would rather like to take back control... The democratic world’s most successful but now most unhappy marriage will just get even more sour and acrimonious. It cannot go on like this with no sustainable basis, no sense of ‘Britishness’ holding it together, no shared national endeavour, as building an empire once was (and even that historic mission is now derided). Divorce is often bitter and invariably it makes couples much the poorer. But it can be a happy release all the same.”

5. Erin Aubry Kaplan in The New York Times

on what real racial progress might look like

Everyone’s an Antiracist. Now What?

“White people previously oblivious to the worst kind of racial oppression had their obviousness shattered by the images of a police officer killing George Floyd. The dam burst, reality rushed in, and a critical mass of whites and others finally saw - and heard, and felt - Black people as they never had before. Suddenly everyone is paying attention, loudly declaring their support and commitment to anti-racism, almost as if to make up for all the time they’d been in denial or silent... Recognizing that Black people matter as much as all other Americans is only acknowledging what’s always been true. Embracing Blackness as a something of value and dignity is a baseline for progress, not progress; it is moving into position at the starting line, but it is not the race. Going from the current enthusiasm to doing the million things that need to be done - simultaneously - to start correcting systemic racism (whoever thought that phrase would trend on social media?) will be daunting, not least because it is unprecedented.”

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