London Diary: Britain’s global influence and PM Johnson’s poll ratings going downhill

Boris Johnson has hired a celebrity personal trainer to whip him into shape amid intense speculation about his health as he continues to struggle with the lingering effects of Coronavirus

 London Diary: Britain’s global influence and PM Johnson’s poll ratings going downhill
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Hasan Suroor

Boris blues

Boris Johnson has hired a celebrity personal trainer to whip him into shape amid intense speculation about his health as he continues to struggle with the lingering effects of his near-death brush with Coronavirus. There have been reports —officially denied—that he could be gone in six months.

Confronted with pictures of the prime minister running with Harry Jameson, who describes himself as an “elite performance coach” (whatever that might mean), Downing Street confirmed it with the spin that it showed “he is really serious about getting fit, as anyone who has seen him knows”.

This was as good an official admission as there could be that he was not completely “fit”. People close to him are reported saying that he looks “exhausted”, and is struggling to cope with the physical and mental pressures of his office at a time when he needs to be at the height of his game.

Apart from the ongoing Covid crisis amid fears of an imminent second wave the Brexit deadline is looming and there is no sign yet of the two sides —Britain and the European Union—reaching an agreement on a post-Brexit deal. Johnson’s grip over decision-making —never great at the best of times—has become shakier resulting in a series of embarrassing u-turns in recent weeks. The confusion and chaos at the top of decision-making is compounded by Downing Street’s fraught relations with MPs on the one hand, and the senior civil service on the other.

Johnson’s poll ratings are collapsing and it may not be long before knives, flashing in the background, come out in the open. Suddenly, Christmas looks a long way away.

Going downhill

Britain’s global influence has long been waning, and nobody is more acutely conscious of it than the Brits themselves even if they often behave as if they still ruled the waves.

But there are still some areas such as higher education where the “Great” in Great Britain continues to be fully deserved. Its elite universities are consistently rated best in the world attracting well over 700,000 students from around the globe. But it now risks losing ground even in the only sphere where it’s still respected.

It used to be famously claimed that Britain educated the largest number of world leaders from Jawaharlal Nehru down : it was the most sought after nursery for future political leaders. But no more. Their numbers have been falling for the past four years with America steadily stealing a march over UK, according to a report by the Higher Education Policy Institute. This year, the comparative figures are 57 (UK), and 62 (US).

“There’s a clear and consistent pattern: relative to the US, the UK’s position has deteriorated each year,” it says. One reason is said to be Britain’s increasingly strict and arbitrary student visa rules. To stop the slide, it must start prospective students feel wanted and stop treating them as mere cash cows, experts say. And this is what’s happening to another of Britain’s great “soft power” exports:

“Dwindling ratings, stretched finances, a hostile government, and a suspicious public”, according to The Times. Whither Britannia?

Culture wars

As racial and cultural sensitivities go, this one could have you choking on your your bacon. Meet Ms Kusi Kimani who was so offended by the sight of a brown-colour women’s dress labelled “Tobacco” at a Marks and Spencer store that she promptly fired off an angry complaint accusing M&S of hurting her and her community’s sentiments. She also told the media how “hurtful” M&S’s behaviour had been.

“Tobacco is referred to in society as unhealthy, and highly likely to kill - ‘smoking kills’. If a young girl who is already uncomfortable with the colour of her skin (sees it) she will be feeling even more alienated. To see that 'tobacco' is for their skin tone will make them feel unwanted by society while fabrics of lighter tone are named after sweet treats such as ‘fudge’ and ‘cinnamon’.

I was shocked when I saw it.” M&S apologised but clarified: “The names we use are taken from those on a colour palette and were never designed to match to a skin tone.” Who cares?

“Sitar” royalty

Anoushka Shankar recently performed a sitar concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall to mark the birth centenary of her father Ravi Shankar. Which prompted some to recall his performance at the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh at the same venue. As he sat down “plinking and plonking” (The Times recalled) at his sitar at the start of his piece, he was loudly cheered. “Thank you,” he told his fans when the wild cheering died down. “If you appreciate the tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more.”

And, lastly, here’s a new word: “Bikelash” to describe motorists’ backlash against unruly cyclists.

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