It’s never a good sign when a government relaunches itself. Look what happened at the end of Theresa May’s time in power — there was a relaunch almost every other week, each one with diminishing effect. But although it has been over-hyped, Boris Johnson’s attempt to start again isn’t a mere re--branding exercise. It is not just about rehashing policy proposals but about trying to tackle the dysfunction at the heart of the state.
The invocation of Franklin D. Roosevelt by Boris Johnson is welcome, but the conditions that greeted Roosevelt when he was inaugurated US president in 1933 and those in the UK today are very distinguishable. Roosevelt inherited a collapsed financial system; the stock and commodity exchanges and almost all of the banks in the country had been closed for up to two weeks. Almost a third of the country was unemployed (the states compiled the figures and they were not entirely reliable), and there was no direct relief for the jobless.
America is not in the middle of a revolution — it is a reactionary putsch. About four years ago, the sort of people who had acquired position and influence as a result of globalisation were turfed out of power for the first time in decades. They watched in horror as voters across the world chose Brexit, Donald Trump and other populist and conservative--nationalist options.
This deposition explains the storm of unrest battering American cities from coast to coast and making waves in Europe as well.
In October, a panel of 21 experts from across the world gathered for the first of what promised to be a series of reports assessing readiness for pandemics. ‘Infectious diseases know no borders,’ warned the Global Health Security Index. ‘So all countries must prioritise and exercise the capabilities required to prevent, detect and rapidly respond to public health emergencies.’ Every country was called to be transparent about its capabilities ‘to assure neighbours it can stop an outbreak from becoming an international catastrophe’.
The Battle of Britain, which began 80 years ago this week, occupies a unique place in our island story. Its epic moral quality, representing the triumph of freedom over tyranny, continues to resonate to this day. The RAF’s victory marked a crucial turning point in the war; it was the first time the Nazi machine had suffered a defeat. If the Luftwaffe had gained the mastery of the skies over southern England in September 1940, the Germans might well have been able to launch a vast, seaborne invasion across the Channel.
Every day I thank God for the British Empire. Without it I wouldn’t exist. My Gold Coast-born mother would never have met my English father. She herself is the descendant of a Scottish merchant called Bruce. Now she lives happily in rural Perthshire. She’s the only black in the village.
Growing up in the 1990s, I faintly remember debate over whether non-whites could be British. Certainly the question had receded by the time Monty Panesar made his England cricket debut midway through the following decade.
From the balcony where I take my daily exercise there is a view of the commercial centre of London that is so susceptible to changes of the light you feel you are in a different city every day. When the dying sun is reflected in its glass towers, the city looks like Las Vegas burning. Under a dark sky it could be Pittsburgh. The other day was so louring that I saw Moscow. ‘I’m looking at the Kremlin,’ I shouted in to my wife.
How have you been filling these listless homebound hours we’ve been given by the government? I’ve been frittering them away playing online chess, and it seems I’m not alone. The Economist reports that traffic on chess.com, the leading chess website, has more than doubled during lockdown. Log on at any time and you’ll find tens of thousands of games in progress.
Once upon a time, in that lost age before the world wide web, chess players had to get dressed and leave the house to feed their habit.