Jenni Russell

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, right, leaving Downing Street with Dominic Cummings, his most senior aide. Credit Daniel Leal-Olivas/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Anyone else would have been sacked for it.

Twelve days ago Britain’s media and social media erupted in indignation and incredulity. Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s most senior aide, had been exposed for breaking the strict lockdown rules he helped to write, and which everyone else had endured for the previous two months.

“Stay at home and save lives,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the country. It was an incantation, an instruction not a request, backed up by the law and the police.

Britain shut down. Police patrols issued instant fines, sending second-home owners, day trippers and park sunbathers back home.…  Seguir leyendo »

Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain on his first day back at work in London last month after contracting the coronavirus. Credit Frank Augstein/Associated Press

On the day a paler, thinner, notably less boisterous Boris Johnson returned to work after his near-death coronavirus experience, a Tory member of Parliament tweeted a GIF of a magnificent lion perched on a mountaintop, his mane blowing in the wind. “Good to see @BorisJohnson back at the helm!” he wrote.

This fawning sycophancy is not the norm in British politics. We haven’t, on the whole, run Trumpian courts, or implied that our prime ministers are kings among men. And yet, unusual and unwelcome as the adulation was, the tweeter had a point.

Mr. Johnson’s cabinet is so markedly weak, with so few politicians of intellect and experience, that the prime minister’s absence for nearly a month left an alarming void.…  Seguir leyendo »

Boris Johnson has spent decades preparing for his lead role, honing his adopted character, perfecting his mannerisms, gauging the reactions to his performance and adjusting it for maximum effect. Now he has the national stage and the rapt audience he always craved. His speech this week announcing a lockdown drew the biggest television audience in Britain in this century.

The problem is that he has been preparing for the wrong part. The man came to power playing Falstaff, a double-dealing, comically entertaining, shameless rogue; now he is suddenly onstage as Henry V, the wartime king whose solemn judgment, intense focus, charisma and conviction must lead his nation in a time of crisis.…  Seguir leyendo »

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at a campaign event on Wednesday. Credit Hannah Mckay/Reuters

This is the dejection election. Not in my lifetime has Britain faced such a miserable choice. Two vain, incompetent, mediocre charlatans are competing to become prime minister. For the Conservatives, we have the blustering, lying, oafish puffball Boris Johnson. In the Labour corner is the querulous, wooden, sanctimonious Jeremy Corbyn.

The two candidates are so alarming that, in an unprecedented intervention, former prime ministers from each of their parties have pleaded with voters to block them. Tony Blair and John Major have urged tactical votes against Mr. Corbyn and Mr. Johnson. Everywhere, exhausted, disillusioned, skeptical voters debate who is worse. British politics has never known anything like it.…  Seguir leyendo »

Customers at the Red Lion pub near Parliament watching Prime Minister Theresa May speaking on Tuesday after her Brexit agreement was voted down. Credit Tolga Akmen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

This week, as an anxious Britain prepared to witness Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan crashing to defeat, Nicholas Soames, Winston Churchill’s grandson, tweeted out one of his grandfather’s solemn warnings from the 1930s.

Mr. Soames, a Conservative politician, repeated lines from a poem, by Edwin J. Milliken, that his grandfather had quoted to express his despair at Britain’s political paralysis in the face of the Nazi threat: “Who is in charge of the clattering train? The axles creak, and the couplings strain. For the pace is hot and the points are near, and Sleep hath deadened the driver’s ear, and signals flash through the night in vain.…  Seguir leyendo »

The pro-Brexit, Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg speaking to the media outside the Houses of Parliament on Thursday. Credit Matt Dunham/Associated Press

I am scared. The markets are scared. The politicians I have been talking to are scared, or livid.

A few days ago, Prime Minister Theresa May unveiled her deal with the European Union. Within 48 hours, Britain’s government spun into crisis. Mrs. May’s survival is threatened as furious prominent Brexiteers go public with their intention to unseat her. Four ministers have resigned, more resignations may follow and nobody believes that she has the votes to get her deal through Parliament. What happens after that is a conundrum.

The cause of this paralysis is the hard-line Brexiteers, a frighteningly powerful cohort within Mrs.…  Seguir leyendo »

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May outside 10 Downing Street in London last month. Credit Daniel Leal-Olivas/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain is a woman widely scorned. For 17 months, ever since she lost her Conservative Party its majority in an unnecessary, vainglorious election, the news media has been speculating daily on how long this private, dutiful, diffident leader can last and when the bid to topple her will begin. As the national disaster that is Brexit looms frighteningly close, the woman in charge has appeared hopelessly buffeted by events, trapped between the implacable European Union and her own party’s venomous Euroskeptics.

The Brexit talks have been apparently paralyzed for weeks; half of Britain is aghast at the very real threat that we might crash out of the European Union with no deal, wrecking the economy and our relationships with our closest neighbors.…  Seguir leyendo »

Boris Johnson speaking to the media in May. Mr. Johnson resigned his post as foreign secretary in protest against the latest plans for Brexit. John Thys/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

For the second time in three years, Boris Johnson, a politician whose ambition and superficial charm far outstrip his ability, judgment or principles, is destabilizing the British government and threatening the country’s future.

On Monday, Mr. Johnson, in protest against Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans for Brexit, resigned from his post as foreign secretary. Now Mrs. May’s authority, longevity and ability to deliver a Brexit without causing an economic crisis are in question. But further political paralysis seems certain.

Britain is in this mess principally because the Brexiteers — led largely by Mr. Johnson — sold the country a series of lies in the lead up to the June 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union.…  Seguir leyendo »

Women’s rights demonstrators in London on Sunday. Credit Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

In the post-Harvey Weinstein era, every institution and public company in Britain has been piously claiming to be concerned with how women are viewed, heard, treated and paid. And yet last week, 360 rich and powerful men in Britain were happy to pay £2,000 a head (about $2,800) to attend an evening fund-raiser hosted by the Presidents Club Charitable Trust, during which their female peers and partners were excluded, and the only women in the room were there as miniskirted sex objects whose explicit duty was to serve — and stroke the egos of — the men.

You didn’t need to see or expect the harassment that followed to find this arrangement deeply suspect.…  Seguir leyendo »

Michael Fallon leaving 10 Downing Street last week. He stepped down as defense secretary on Wednesday. Credit Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto, via Getty Images

It is the butterfly-effect theory of politics made instantly visible. Dogged reporters uncover a story of Hollywood sexual assault, and across the globe one British cabinet minister resigns; another fights frantically to keep his job; a weak prime minister, Theresa May, finds the murmurs of discontent within her party swelling to an ominous chant; and suddenly the survival of her government and her ability to deliver a successful Brexit have all been thrown into question.

“We’ve had enough of this generation,” one furious young Conservative member of Parliament told me. “They’re frankly embarrassing. What have they ever given us? Brexit, austerity, Theresa May, the threat of Boris Johnson, and now sex and sleaze.…  Seguir leyendo »

Floral tributes in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, after her death in August 1997. Credit Bernard Bisson/Sygma, via Getty Images

Twenty years ago, the death of Britain’s glittering, delicate, troubled global superstar, Princess Diana, shook the British monarchy and revealed a dangerous chasm between the palace and the people. In the wake of her death in a car crash in Paris on Aug. 31, 1997, the royal family was in danger of losing much loyalty and trust over its shabby treatment of “the people’s princess.” Today, though, two decades on, the monarchy is perhaps the most popular institution in British public life — a remarkable restoration that, more than anything, is the lasting legacy of Diana herself.

At first, the royal family was no more capable of dealing with Diana in death than it had been in life.…  Seguir leyendo »

Vintage cars in Wadebridge, Cornwall, England, last year. Credit Adam Ferguson for The New York Times

How I wish that Christopher Nolan’s new film, “Dunkirk,” had not been released at this moment in history. The reviewers have been near unanimous in their praise: searing, complex, uncompromising about the savagery of war and death. Yet the essential message of the film, with its narrative of heroic retreat in order to fight another day, cannot help but feed the national pride in Britain’s capacity to triumph eventually, no matter what the odds.

Nothing could be less helpful to our collective psyche as the country blunders toward Brexit. We hear much about American exceptionalism, but Britain feels it, too. We are the nation of empire, whose ancestors once controlled a quarter of the globe; we are the mother of parliaments; we stood alone against Hitler; we have not been conquered for a thousand years.…  Seguir leyendo »