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by Yuan Yi Zhu
Wednesday, 7
September 2022

Forget her speech — Liz Truss is good at politics

Success in the job is about a lot more than oratory

Politics is the ultimate spectator sport. Very few truly partake but almost everyone watches it, willingly or not. Naturally, many come to form strong opinions about the players and their performance. We speak of politicians’ appearances at the despatch box and on television programmes as though it were a football match, and abuse them accordingly. Not coincidentally, sporting metaphors abound in political journalism.

Familiarity breeds contempt, but also a loss of perspective. Politics is supremely difficult: for every stuttering third-rate frontbencher you have never heard of, there are a hundred would-be MPs who never got close to entering the House of Commons. By definition, almost anyone who is in Parliament is better at politics than almost anyone who is reading this piece. ...  Continue reading

by Yuan Yi Zhu
Friday, 2
September 2022

Britain’s Greens aren’t funny any more

Their policy proposals could have serious consequences

Governing is hard. In Michael Oakeshott’s unforgettable nautical metaphor, it consists of navigating “a boundless and bottomless sea” with “neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination. The enterprise is to keep afloat on an even keel”.

Luckily for them, governing is an activity which the Green Party of England and Wales will never have to engage in. This means that they are free to shout from the sidelines, like the old Italian men who go to construction sites loudly offering unsolicited advice to the workers.

But the consequences of the Green Party’s dilettantism are rather more serious. In the middle of an energy crisis in which the poor will freeze and the country wither, it continues to do everything in its power to oppose any constructive solution which does not involve shouting slogans and committing minor acts of public vandalism. But their most successful tactic consists of appealing to the English people’s worst instinct, that nothing should be built that did not exist when they bought their house. And judging by what gets built and what doesn’t, it is working. ...  Continue reading

by Yuan Yi Zhu
Monday, 22
August 2022

Matt Hancock is wrong about euthanasia

Assisted dying policies are beset by moral hazards

British politics has many charming uncodified institutions, from Black Rod’s door-knocking to the many polite fictions which pepper the constitution. A less charming one is the Assisted Dying Bill, which has been introduced, in one form or another, seven times over the last nine years. Its supporters, who seek to legalise euthanasia, are convinced that they are destined for victory — and they seem to have public opinion on their side.

Now they have added to their ranks Matt Hancock, the disgraced former Health Secretary, who supports it “as a freedom-loving Conservative”, as if he were discussing cutting up some regulatory red-tape. He compares it to the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the legalisation of gay marriage: merely the latest progressive struggle which is bound to succeed, for the arc of history is long, and bends toward justice. ...  Continue reading

by Yuan Yi Zhu
Monday, 1
August 2022

Conservatives don’t know how to handle China

Hawkish rhetoric will only get Sunak and Truss so far

The occasional Opium War aside, China has seldom occupied a very prominent place in British political discourse, even when Britain was literally in China. It thus comes as something of a novelty to find the country turned into one of the key issues of the Conservative Party’s leadership race, as both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss accuse the other of being soft on China.

The Conservative mood shift over China has come at a furious pace. As recently as 2015, Xi Jinping could truthfully say, between toasts to the Queen at Buckingham Palace, that Sino-British relations were entering a new golden age. This was in part thanks to the Cameron-Osborne duo, who were desperately attracted to the prospects of the seemingly unlimited Chinese market. There were dreams of selling China everything from the Downton Abbey lifestyle to British nuclear power plants. But theirs was an attitude shared across the Conservative coalition; even Vote Leave used the prospect of a trade deal with China as one of the reasons to back Brexit. ...  Continue reading

by Yuan Yi Zhu
Wednesday, 20
July 2022

Why Conservatives are blind to race

The Tory leadership race has settled one argument beyond doubt

In the 1990s and 2000s, the paucity of ethnic minority Members of Parliament was sometimes explained through the theory of “imputed racism”. According to this theory, party selectorates — the anonymous busybodies who sit on constituency associations, in this case — would reject ethnic minority candidates not because they were themselves racist, but because they thought the local voters were racist and therefore would not vote for them. High-profile defeats in supposedly safe seats, such as that of the Conservative candidate John Taylor (who later became an expense-fiddling peer) in Cheltenham in 1992, reinforced the belief among many. ...  Continue reading

by Yuan Yi Zhu
Wednesday, 6
July 2022

Why Nadhim Zahawi said yes

The new Chancellor is not the first figure in history to accept a likely temporary job

Much surprise has been expressed at Nadhim Zahawi’s acceptance of the Chancellorship of the Exchequer at a time when the Johnson government’s prospects are generally judged to be dismal. Zahawi has a chance of becoming Prime Minster one day, the thinking goes, so why would he accept high office right now, thus risking his personal reputation, instead of waiting it out?

Of course, there are many reasons why Zahawi might have thought it was a good time to accept further preferment. He might not believe that the government is going to collapse any time soon, or he might have calculated that a spell in No. 11 would enhance his profile, and hence his chances of becoming Prime Minister. Or perhaps he remembered the old adage that the Tories dislike disloyalty above all else (a somewhat dubious dictum in light of the present happenings, but nevertheless). ...  Continue reading

by Yuan Yi Zhu
Friday, 3
June 2022

The mystical power of the monarchy

The Queen is an integral part of the nation's subconscious

Only four times in recorded history has a monarch achieved seven decades of continuous reign, and barring some extraordinary sequence of events, Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee will be the last platinum jubilee any of us will ever witness. In five years, Her Majesty will be 101 years old, an actuarially unforgiving age, and her longevity on the throne will be so beyond our lived experience and vocabulary that the resulting jubilee — if there is one — will be called a diamond jubilee once again. None of her heirs and successors is likely to be as young as she was on their accession, nor will any of them reign for as long as she has. ...  Continue reading

by Yuan Yi Zhu
Wednesday, 13
April 2022

The real-world victims of Partygate

The political fallout means an amnesty for lockdown convictions won't happen
Boris Johnson with a birthday cake during lockdown

A few days ago, a 19-year-old from Bexley was convicted of breaking the Covid lockdown last January. A Co-Op employee (a ‘key worker’ in the national unity parlance) and understandably fed up with the ‘stress and misery’ of his work, he had been found by the local constabulary in a car with three friends in the dastardly act of ‘going for a Nando’s and chilling’.

A grovelling apology (‘filled with shame and apology for my actions’) did not save him from a criminal conviction, which will blight his life’s prospects when it has barely begun.

His story will never get any airtime, unlike the latest circus in Downing Street. But it should. For more than two years, we have accepted sweeping restrictions on our fundamental freedoms with little complaint. The litany of horrors — thousands dying alone in hospitals, cancers left untreated, socially-distanced funerals, not to mention the wholesale destruction of personal contact, the very basis of human societies — barely bears repetition even now. ...  Continue reading