The New York Times gets Britain wrong (again)

The New York Times gets Britain wrong (again)
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BREAKING: Britain is plunging into autocracy. Well, according to the New York Times at least. Steerpike has grown used to the witterings from America's least reliable news source in recent years, as it seeks to portray the UK as a plague-riddled, rain-drenched fascistic hell-hole on the verge of democratic collapse but where the trains don't run on time and swamp-dwelling locals feast on legs of mutton. As a pastiche of foreign news coverage, it's up there among the best – like Scoop without the fiction disclaimer.

The latest dispatch from Perfidious Albion is an opinion column published by a little-known left-wing hack, splashed across the front page of the paper's international edition. According to Moya Lothian-McLean Boris Johnson is comparable to Erdogan or Putin, a brutal despot who seeks to 'transcend the constraints of democracy' by 'effectively banning protest in England and Wales.' Her evidence for this appears to be various pieces of legislation currently edging their way through hours of scrutiny as part of the parliamentary process – just as they do in Lukashenko's Belarus, no doubt.

There are doubtless criticisms to be made of legislation like the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which aims to curtail the professional irritants of Extinction Rebellion. But Lothian-McLean somewhat spoils her reasoning with hysterical claims that England will 'sleepwalk into tyranny' as 'for decades it has possessed all the necessary ingredients: ever more spiteful nationalism, press fealty sold to the highest bidder and a fervent, misplaced belief that authoritarianism could never set up shop here, because we simply wouldn’t let it.' 

A quick glance at this morning's front pages would suggest that 'press fealty' towards the Johnson regime is in something of short supply. It's curious too how such 'spiteful nationalism' is regarded as a uniquely English phenomena – given the rhetoric and actions of the explicitly nationalist SNP regime at Holyrood. Such attacks too might carry more weight if they weren't printed in the papers of a newspaper so obviously hostile to Brexit since 2016. Lothian-McLean's polemic is unlikely to be balanced out with any coverage, for instance, of the UK government's decision to offer up to three million Hong Kongers residence in the UK. Or indeed, a piece on Britain's vaccines success – despite the NYT's prophecies of doom.

Mr S just wonders how anyone can look at the shambling mess of Boris Johnson's government and think it's on the verge of plunging this country into a totalitarian dictatorship. Farce maybe, but hardly fascism. Here's a man who can't even establish an alibi – let alone an autocracy. Except perhaps, in the fevered imagination of the New York Times and its contributors.

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to or message @MrSteerpike

Topics in this articlePoliticsnew york times