‘A lesson for Johnson: if you pick fights, you can get hurt’

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

Boris Johnson
Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

1. Foreign aid cuts, racism and austerity – are the Tories the ‘nasty party’ again?

Andrew Grice in The Independent

on old reputations

The Conservatives are playing with fire,” writes Andrew Grice in The Independent. “As they begin to cut spending and wage a divisive culture war on race, they risk looking to some voters like the ‘nasty party’ again.” Indeed, thanks to some “fancy footwork”, Rishi Sunak headed off a backbench Tory rebellion that endangered the government’s £4bn cut to overseas aid. While cuts to foreign aid may be the only “popular spending cut”, when “combined with unpalatable austerity measures and the self-made culture war, it sends a signal that the Tories are relaxed about losing the support of liberal-minded voters”. But their defeat in the Chesham and Amersham by-election should remind the party they “still need such voters in their blue wall in the south”. “The ‘same old Tories’ label didn’t stick when Labour tried it in May’s elections. But that could change now”, writes Grice. “The lesson for Johnson: if you pick fights, you can get hurt.”

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2. When will the hygiene theatre obsession end?

Jonathon Kitson on UnHerd

on useless practices

“Handwashing – and sanitisation – have been an overbearing feature of the response to Covid,” writes Jonathon Kitson on UnHerd. “Prime Minister Boris Johnson was recently filmed rigorously wiping down a chair (see below) at a vaccine centre, achieving nothing other than making the extreme germaphobe feel at ease.” The clip, says Kitson, is “yet another example of the pervasive hygiene theatre that we have seen during this pandemic.” That is, “practices that look like they are keeping us safe but have a negligible impact – while ignoring the most important strategies to prevent infection, hospitalisation, and death.” Kitson continues: “We have known for some time that Covid rarely travels via surfaces,” and indeed, it “is an arduous process to get people to accept information that implies they were wrong in the past.” But now, there is “no excuse for those at the top of the NHS, PHE and HSE – not to mention Downing Street – to continue pushing this nonsense”, Kitson writes. “Mistakes are normal in the midst of a pandemic, but failing to learn from them will continue to cost lives.”

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3. In Priti Patel vs Tyrone Mings there’s only one winner

Daniel Finkelstein in The Times

on taking the knee

“Some of my friends on the right seem to have got it into their heads that taking the knee is an endorsement of the programme of a small group of Black Lives Matter activists,” writes Daniel Finkelstein in The Times. “That taking the knee is a call for the abolition of capitalism and the advancement of the theories of Marx. How likely is it, do you think, that Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling are hoping to incite spectators to overthrow capitalism just before kick-off? Or that the idea came to the England players after debating the policy ideas on a BLM website?” Finkelstein asks. “And if you think it plausible that the gesture originates in a dressing-room debate about Das Kapital, you could always try asking the England team and listening to the answer. For the players have been perfectly clear why they are taking the knee,” he writes. “It is as a protest against the racism they encounter.”

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4. Mental illness is a reality – so why does ‘mental health’ get all the attention?

Rebecca Lawrence in The Guardian

on being ill

“We talk a lot about ‘mental health’ these days, and references to mental illness are becoming rarer,” writes Rebecca Lawrence in The Guardian. It can be difficult to distinguish between a “combination of stress and eroded mental health, which can be unpleasant and exhausting, and mental illness, which can be something else altogether”, Lawrence writes. And it can feel that “mental illness remains rather unacceptable, with some diagnoses more so than others.” Meanwhile, “‘Mental health’ is not only less unpleasant, it actually feels quite wholesome, implying a healthy mind and healthy living”. Indeed, “‘I must look after my mental health’ sounds far better than ‘I fear becoming mentally ill,’” she writes. We should “embrace mental health by all means, but don’t forget that people get ill as well”, writes Lawrence, and we should be free to use the word “illness” if that is “indeed what best describes it”.

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5. A suggestion for Olympic athletes: protest the grandees of the IOC

David Von Drehle in The Washington Post

on moral corruption

“It’s always the task of the young and magnificent, who seek only the chance to test and prove the wonderful things they can do, to purify the ugliness of their grasping elders,” writes David Von Drehle in The Washington Post. While “athletes can be banned for taking a toke in their free time” the “portly grandees of the IOC [International Olympic Committee] pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars, cuddle dictators and saddle their venues with unpayable debts – all without consequence, thanks to the athletes,” writes Von Drehle. “The world forgives everything for the chance to see them in their glory.” But as the IOC seeks to force Japan to go ahead with the Olympics during a pandemic, it has become clear this year’s Games are about “money and money only”. Therefore, “I have a modest proposal for the athletes this year”, writes Von Drehle: “Protest the IOC.” “Now is the time for the world’s athletes to rise up – as the United States’ college athletes have done – to demand an Olympic movement that puts them first: their interests, their dignity, their safety, their values. Without them, the Olympics is worse than nothing at all.”

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