July 2021


26 July 2021

Nuclear Rearmament

Tom Stevenson

The decision to expand the UK’s nuclear weapons stockpile by 40 per cent was slipped onto page 76 of the government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy in March. The only reason to announce a major strategic decision in such a quiet way is to avoid attention, which is exactly what happened. The UK is now committed to maintaining a larger stock of nuclear warheads than China (according to US estimates) and there has been too little scrutiny of the policy.

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23 July 2021

Hochwasser

Chloë Daniel

The full devastation wreaked by Germany’s cataclysmic floods has emerged slowly. As the waters subside, survivors have cautiously waded back through the mud and rubble to salvage what is left of their communities. Last week an unusual zone of low pressure trapped between two areas of high pressure meant that two months’ rain fell in 48 hours. The Ahr, Erft, Swist, Trierbach and Volme, usually less than a metre deep as they wind through small towns and villages on their way to the Rhine, were transformed into fierce and destructive torrents.

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22 July 2021

Who does he think he is?

Jude Wanga

In his interview with Laura Kuenssberg on Tuesday evening, Dominic Cummings described a battle for control over Boris Johnson between himself and Carrie Symonds, now the prime minister’s wife. He lost. We know he lost because to the victor the spoils and to the loser a 7 p.m. interview on BBC2.

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21 July 2021

One-Sided

Daniel Finn

The British government has faced strong criticism in recent years for its unseemly partisanship in dealing with Northern Ireland’s political actors, as manifested in the confidence-and-supply agreement between Theresa May and the Democratic Unionist Party after the 2017 election. But Boris Johnson and his Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, have now united all of the region’s main parties, from Sinn Féin to the DUP, in opposition to their amnesty plan for Troubles-related killings.

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20 July 2021

Messi’s Triumph

Andrew Downie

The moment Lionel Messi lifted the trophy after Argentina beat Brazil in the final of the Copa América on 10 July was a landmark in football history, almost as significant as Pelé’s breaking all records to win his third World Cup with Brazil in 1970.

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19 July 2021

Against Common Sense

Samuel Earle

On 11 May 2020, as Britain reeled from the first wave of the pandemic, Boris Johnson urged the public to use ‘good, solid British common sense’ to navigate the risks posed by Covid-19. One year and 120,000 deaths later, the prime minister’s advice to the nation was the same. ‘It’s about basic common sense,’ he said on 11 May 2021. Now, as Britain lifts all Covid restrictions while recording nearly as many cases as the entire European Union, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, who tested positive at the weekend, has told the Commons it is time to ‘start a new chapter based on the foundations of personal responsibility and common sense’.

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16 July 2021

The Price of Bread

Layli Foroudi

In Tunisia in the early 1980s a standard loaf of white bread cost 80 millimes (0.08 dinars). But the price was set to more than double in 1984: the government had decided to cut wheat subsidies to meet loan conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund. The town of Douz on the edge of the Sahara was the first to rise up against the decision in late December 1983, in what would become a national revolt. ‘It was a big difference!’ Mohamed Fekih Chedly told me. ‘We acted impulsively, we didn’t have twenty millimes and they were going to make the bread 170.’ 

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15 July 2021

Seeing Red

Forrest Hylton

In Salvador, the protest march on 19 June snaked in a wave of red T-shirts and banners from Campo Grande through Vitória and Graça to Porto da Barra in the south of the city, and from there to the white lighthouse of Farol da Barra, surrounded by the deep blue of the Baía de Todos os Santos. The march on 3 July took a different route, down Avenida Centenario and past the Morro de Cristo, to the same destination. Both were reasonably large, loud, diverse, young and festive, with several left-wing political parties and movements, as well as competing PA systems and drummers with chants, rants, music and dancing. Afro-Brazilians of all ages were well represented. There were no robocop riot police: hardly any police at all, in fact, except to direct traffic. Some older residents unfurled red PT flags from their windows. As the event headed towards closing, people sat on the hillside to watch the sun set in a marbled sky.

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14 July 2021

Information Sovereignty

Peter Pomerantsev

‘Traditional Russian spiritual-moral and cultural-historical values are under active attack from the USA and its allies, as well as from transnational corporations and foreign NGOs,’ according to the Kremlin’s new National Security Strategy, published this month. It defines ‘Russian values’ as ‘life, dignity, rights, freedoms’ as well as ‘high ethical ideals, a strong family, prioritising the spiritual over the material, humanism, kindness, justice, collectivism and patriotism’.

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13 July 2021

Compulsory Smiling

Lorna Finlayson

Katharine Birbalsingh, the head of the Michaela Community School in Wembley, is said to have been shortlisted for the role of chair of the government’s Social Mobility Commission (or ‘Social Mobility Tsar’). The job pays £350 a day for up to six days’ work a month. Birbalsingh delighted the Conservative Party Conference in 2010 with a speech that emphasised ‘discipline’ and ‘personal responsibility’ and included some snide remarks about grade inflation and political correctness, interspersed with clips of her students playing the steelpans. Music to the Tories’ ears.

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12 July 2021

The kids are all right

Natasha Chahal

If someone were to ask me how I spent my summers, the books I read, the fashions I liked (or didn’t) with each passing year, I would have little to no recollection. If you asked me where I was (and who I was) during a football tournament, I think I could tell you with a great degree of accuracy. There is something melancholic about the end of a large tournament, maybe to do with measuring life in trophies and seasons, or the way it signals that the end of summer is approaching. I look back on tournaments with the nostalgia non-football fans might feel for – I don’t know – royal weddings, general elections or solar eclipses.

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9 July 2021

The Other Shore

Arianne Shahvisi

As ever, government policy dovetails with the tabloid press. Last week, the Daily Mail complained that ‘it is clear that the Royal National Lifeboat Institution – the registered charity so many of us help fund through donations, garden fetes and collection boxes – is regularly sending its vessels into French waters to bring in migrants.’ In response, the RNLI issued a patient statement reminding Britons that a lifeboat institution really does have to save people from drowning.

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8 July 2021

Good Omens

Natasha Chahal

Something strange happens to fans when they watch football. Even more so when watching the national team. For many, as their team progresses through a tournament, superstition takes over. They have to wear the same shirt (unwashed) as last time, or be in the same place to watch the game. The weather’s the same – an omen surely? Is the match on the BBC or ITV? In the 1998 World Cup, England even had their own faith healer. But Eileen Drewery couldn’t stop them losing to Argentina on penalties in the second round and was among the reasons Glenn Hoddle got sacked as manager the following year.

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7 July 2021

On Centre Court

William Skidelsky

‘Will this be the last time I see him?’ I wondered as I trod the familiar route down Wimbledon Park Road on Monday. I was off to see Roger Federer – a month away from his fortieth birthday – taking on Lorenzo Sonego in the fourth round. There were two other matches scheduled on Centre Court – Novak Djokovic against Cristian Garin, and 17-year-old Coco Gauff against the former number one Angelique Kerber – but both felt almost beside the point. That’s the danger with extreme partisanship: it can suck the excitement out of everything else. When I watch other players, I judge them by Federer’s standards. And no one measures up. 

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6 July 2021

On Kenneth Kaunda

Percy Zvomuya

On 11 November 1965, the Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith announced a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from imperial Britain. Smith’s decision was designed to head off majority rule. One of his fiercest opponents was Kenneth Kaunda, the president of neighbouring Zambia, which had won independence in 1964. Kaunda, who died of pneumonia last month at the age of 97, stood up for almost thirty years to a formidable alliance of diehard colonial neighbours – the Portuguese in Angola and Mozambique, the British in Rhodesia and the apartheid regime in South Africa – exposing his own country to harsh reprisals from white minority rule. He left office in 1991.

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2 July 2021

At the Maracanã

Andrew Downie

One of my happiest memories of Brazilian football comes from about fifteen years ago, when Botafogo were playing Fluminense at the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro. For reasons that were unclear even then, officials had opened only part of the ground, leaving thousands of fans milling around outside in search of tickets. My friend managed to get two from a tout but as we lined up to push through the turnstiles there was a commotion to our left. A crowd was running towards the massive iron gates. Within seconds they had forced them open and were stampeding through. As the security guards scattered, I nudged my friend and we ran, joining the throng that charged into the half empty ground. When we sat down my friend asked: ‘What was all that for? We had tickets.’ ‘We’ll always remember this,’ I replied. ‘The day we stormed the gates of the Maracanã.’

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