‘All too often those who follow Boris Johnson’s lead get burned’

Your digest of analysis from the British and international press

Boris Johnson
(Image credit: Adrian Dennis-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

1. Tories, look in the mirror: hasn’t the price of being humiliated by Johnson become too high?

Gaby Hinsliff for The Guardian

on a culture of contradictions

If you’re thinking of throwing a boozy office party “then knock yourself out, is the official advice from a government only too willing to open a celebratory bottle itself”, says Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian. “Just don’t, whatever you do, enter the office to actually do some work.” Omicron has “prodded” the prime minister into falling back on his Covid Plan B, but its rules are “contradictory, rushed and shrouded in murky allegations”. Now, Tory backbenchers are threatening to “rebel en masse”, as members of his own party are “publicly accusing him of playing games with public health to distract attention from the now notorious Christmas party allegedly held in Downing Street during last year’s lockdown”, says Hinsliff. The prime minister is accused of “creating a louche and reckless culture in which seemingly anything goes but all too often those who follow his lead get burned”. Johnson’s position is no longer dependent only on voters’ support, but whether MPs towing his party’s line “can look themselves in the mirror”.

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2. Finally, Britain’s anger threatens to boil over but it’s not the government who will be scalded

Moya Lothian McLean for Gal-dem

on public rage

“The British public are pissed off,” says Moya Lothian McLean on Gal-dem. Revelations about No. 10’s alleged lockdown festivities have “led to an explosion of outrage”, and “even Tory-supporting media are on the warpath”. This scandal “is the cherry on top of almost two years of deadly Tory incompetence, corruption and negligence”, and the public is angry. But we’ve seen before that “anger without action curdles all too easily into violence against the least powerful”. Johnson “rode to victories in the 2016 Brexit referendum and 2019 general election by harnessing the resentments of the general public” and targeting them at immigrants, she says. And “not just any immigrant either”, but “the disempowered and poorest, the seasonal farm worker or Deliveroo rider”. These individuals bore the brunt of a “xenophobic storm” that was whipped up at the time. Tory culture wars have since “further pitted the public against each other”, and “Britain’s broiling anger” is now being directed “against those who shout loudest for change or represent the need for it”. And it will be, until the public organises and directs it at the powerful.

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3. Ghislaine Maxwell and what research tells us about women accused of sexual abuse

Poco Kernsmith for The Independent

on female perpetrators

The trial of Ghislaine Maxwell raises questions about “the nature and prevalence of female sexual abusers”, says Professor Poco Kernsmith in The Independent. Crime statistics show that rates of female perpetration are six to ten times higher than reports to law enforcement indicate. This is down to the fact that “those who have been assaulted by a woman are less likely to report the abuse, and when abuse is reported, women are less likely to be arrested and convicted”. When women are accused, it’s often of participating in abuse with a male offender, as with the case of Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein. Maxwell’s defence had claimed “vicitimsation by the system and society”, alluding to speculation that “the charges against Maxwell are being pursued as a proxy for Jeffrey Epstein”. This may be true, writes Kernsmith. But assuming so “denies any harm or impact of Maxwell’s alleged actions”. The survivors who accuse Maxwell have had their trust and feelings of safety eroded. “The cases do not end just because the alleged ringleader cannot be convicted.”

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4. New Zealand’s smoking ban: No butts

The Times Editorial board

on questionable policies

Once parliament passes the necessary legislation, no one under the age of 14 will ever be able to buy tobacco in New Zealand. The legal smoking age will also rise, raising the prospect that “by the middle of the century, middle-aged smokers will loiter outside tobacconists asking their marginally older compatriots if they wouldn’t mind buying them a packet of fags”, says The Times. “It will be interesting to see how the New Zealand experiment plays out.” The country’s smoking rate is already low at around 11%, and that could fall even lower “as consumers literally die out” as the measure kicks in. Perhaps “a refusenik hardcore” will turn to the black market. Most states, if they were afforded the chance to start “from a clean state”, would probably outlaw tobacco. But “in the real world, a balance must be struck”. Anti-smoking initiatives, including “an advertising crackdown” and a ban in public spaces, are “slowly” winning Britain’s “war on tobacco”.

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5. Why the right is obsessed with masculinity

Jessa Crispin on Unherd

on not finding a route forward

“Men are slipping, by just about every marker of measurement,” says Jessa Crispin on Unherd. “Deaths of despair are on the rise, suicide and homicide rates are up, and more men are delaying marriage and the establishment of a family.” US Senator Josh Hawley said last month that bad things are happening to men because bad things have happened to masculinity. He blames the problems on the fact that nobody respects manliness any more. “It’s the feminism, stupid,” says Crispin. The senator “mystifies” and “misdirects men” on the roots of the issues, and what to do about it. According to his version of the past, women “were radicalised by feminist thinkers” urging them to seek professional fulfilment and economic independence. But “feminism was the result of this change, not its cause”. The political right blames “progressivism for men’s problems”, “but it won’t do much good”. We can’t go backwards, says Crispin, but those on the right of the political spectrum have failed to find a way forward. Rather than “fixating on turning men into some patriarchal stereotype”, they would be better off helping men to gain employment and quit drugs.

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