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’.
‘La République, c’est moi!’ Jean-Luc Mélenchon shouted, face-to-face with a police officer blocking the entrance to his office as it was being raided last month. ‘Kick down the door, comrades!’ he declared. The raids – on Mélenchon’s and his associates’ homes as well as the headquarters of his party, La France insoumise – were part of an investigation into the finances of his 2017 presidential campaign.
On Monday, 21 May, Michael Gove and Ruth Davidson launched a new Conservative think-tank, Onward. Its aim, in the words of its director, Will Tanner, a former aide to Theresa May, is to ‘reach out to millennials in their twenties and early thirties – my generation – who overwhelmingly voted Labour in 2017’. The inspiration behind the name is Emmanuel Macron’s presidential campaign, En Marche! The irony of invoking Macron to boost popular support – for all the media buzz, he won on the lowest election turnout in the history of the French republic – seems to have been lost on its organisers. With Onward, Nick Timothy writes, ‘the future of the Conservative Party is about to be revealed.’
‘Any critic of yours online gets absolutely lambasted by your followers,’ Cathy Newman told Jordan Peterson on Channel 4 News in January. After the interview, Newman received such torrents of online abuse that Channel 4 had to call in security specialists. Peterson, a clinical psychologist at Toronto University, was on the show to discuss the gender pay gap and to promote his new book, Twelve Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. The gender pay gap, he insists, is not a result of discrimination: he believes that women are by their nature more inclined to take jobs which, it so happens, are less well paid. Peterson sympathised with his supporters’ contempt for Newman’s style of questioning, but distanced himself from the abuse. ‘If you're threatening her, stop,’ he told his 300,000 Twitter followers (now more than half a million). But ‘the dark part of me thought,’ he said later, that ‘if I wanted to sick my internet trolls on Channel 4, then there would be nothing but broken windows and riots. And then there's a little part of me that thinks – wouldn't that be fun?’
The French presidential election has seen countless ‘firsts’: an incumbent president not standing for a second term; his party’s candidate getting only 6 per cent of the vote; a final round that includes neither of the two main parties; a likely winner with no party at all; a losing candidate who delivered speeches via hologram.
On 9 April, the left’s late-runner for the French presidency, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, held a rally in Marseille. He called for the formation of a Sixth Republic while his supporters – 70,000 of them, according to his campaign team – roared ‘Résistance! Résistance!’ Five years earlier, almost to the day, he stood in the same place, for the same purpose, sharing the same message at a very similar time: weeks before the first round of the presidential election, with his campaign enjoying a sudden late surge in support. Mélenchon hasn’t changed much since then, but the political atmosphere around him has transformed.
On 2 February, Théo Luhaka, a 22-year-old black youth worker, was stopped by police in the northern Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois, where he lives. Most of the media reported that the four officers were carrying out an identity check on him, but Théo says he confronted them first, when he saw one of them slap a young person whose ID they were checking. In either case, Luhaka was doing nothing wrong. And however the encounter began, there’s no doubt how it ended: twelve days later, Luhaka is still in hospital.