First Thoughts: Best friend Biden, infected students, and Murdochs left and right

Boris Johnson and his ministers would prefer a Donald Trump victory, but they are belatedly love-bombing Joe Biden just in case. 

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Whoever occupies the White House, it is axiomatic in Whitehall that a British government needs to get on the right side of him (or, one distant day, perhaps her). According to the Sunday Times, Downing Street is now love-bombing the US Democrats having belatedly recognised that Joe Biden may win next month’s election. But Boris Johnson and his ministers would much prefer a Donald Trump victory. The president is, after all, a Brexit supporter who believes in breaking rules and smashing established institutions. Unlike Biden, he won’t fuss about the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland or throw a hissy-fit if Britain proposes to break international law.

The PM thinks Trump is his friend. He should read what the president says about friends in his book Think Big. “They want your job, they want your house, they want your money, they want your wife, and they even want your dog.”

Degrees of infection

I caught measles as a child in the early 1950s but I don’t recall other neighbourhood children being invited to a “measles party” so that they too could be infected. In those pre-vaccine days, however, they were quite common, the popular wisdom being that such infectious diseases were best “got over and done with” because their effects would be much worse if caught in later life. Could something equivalent be accidentally happening now in universities where hundreds of students have tested positive for coronavirus? Here are more than two million young people, removed from social contact with parents, grandparents and other members of older generations, who can contract Covid-19 without, in the overwhelming majority of cases, ill-effects. Provided they are isolated for a few weeks in their flats and halls, and kept away from university staff, they surely provide an accelerated route to limited herd immunity. Shouldn’t they be encouraged to hold “coronavirus parties”?

Yes, I know that’s a bonkers idea, but I hope some scientists – perhaps those who signed the Great Barrington Declaration, advocating a goal of herd immunity in preference to repeated mass lockdowns – will track the effect of what happens in universities. If nothing else, the result could help in future pandemics.

The right qualifications

You claim to be an enemy of the metropolitan elite and wish to impress Red Wall voters in the English north with your understanding of their worries and aspirations. You have a vacancy for a press secretary to front televised press conferences. Would you consider this CV? Born Chiswick, west London. Educated at the fee-charging Latymer Upper School, and at Cambridge University. Former journalist for BBC Two’s Newsnight, ITN, the Guardian, Independent, Times and New Statesman. Now lives in Islington, north London. Married to James Forsyth, Spectator political editor who attended Winchester public school and Cambridge University. Best man at wedding: Rishi Sunak, also Winchester. Knowledge of England north of Watford Gap: zero at best.

That CV belongs to Allegra Stratton, just chosen for the job by Boris Johnson.

Media mission

In an interview with the New York Times, James Murdoch, son of Rupert, says: “A contest of ideas shouldn’t be used to legitimise disinformation… at great news organisations, the mission really should be to introduce fact… not… to obscure fact…” Since young Murdoch (well, youngish; he’s 47 now) habitually speaks as though English were not his mother tongue, it is hard to extract meaning, but it seems he is talking about his father’s pro-Trump Fox News and other toxic Murdoch media properties. James, who once seemed to be heir apparent, resigned from the family empire in the summer, leaving it to his more right-wing elder brother Lachlan and the 89-year-old Rupert. He’s long been the liberal, green Murdoch. Now, to the tune of $1.23m, he’s a donor to the Biden presidential campaign.

He hasn’t been disinherited, however, and still has shares in Murdoch companies. Forgive an old cynic, but do I detect the Murdochs hedging their bets lest the next decade belongs to the left? 

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article appears in the 16 October 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Can Joe Biden save America?

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