The plague

Standpoint goes to press as the pandemic rages. So too does the search for blame and the political fall-out

Manchester Square

Standpoint  goes to press as the pandemic rages. So too does the search for blame and the political fall-out. The Chinese leadership has seized the initiative, explicitly accusing the United States of being the source of the virus, highlighting Western failures, and trumpeting its own success. All this obscures the deceit and bullying by the Beijing authorities that surrounded the start of the pandemic—for which the whole world is now paying the price.

The Chinese approach has echoes of the Soviet (and now Russian) way with history: deny your own mistakes and demand gratitude from everyone else. The Chinese Communist Party, like the Kremlin, is unrepentant about the terror and destitution it inflicted on its subjects in the disastrous experiments of the last century. But China has more clout than the Kremlin. Our cover story this month highlights the creeping constraints the Chinese leadership imposes on the supposedly free societies of the West. A striking example is the captive nations of the People’s Republic—notably the Mongolians, Tibetans and Uighurs. They are not only silenced inside Xi Jinping’s empire, but abroad. We are glad to offer them space in Standpoint and to highlight the plight of the “other China”—the democratic, law-governed republic of Taiwan. We also applaud the courage and determination of the citizens of Hong Kong, and of course the Chinese themselves, whose hunger for freedom is met by censorship and intimidation.

These people should inspire us. Instead, we ignore them. By sacrificing our values when it comes to others, we make ourselves weaker too, as the alarming growth of Chinese interference in Western countries illustrates. Our dispatch from Australia highlights the Chinese pressure being brought to bear there. And here in Britain, as Charles Parton points out, we lack a strategy for dealing with China, even though China has a strategy for dealing with us. The display of cowardice and hypocrisy demands the pen of someone like the late Robert Conquest, whose new collected poems, edited by his wife Elizabeth, we celebrate. In his absence, we must do our best.

The army officer who writes for us as Tacitus explores “reflexive control”, when an adversary uses our weaknesses against us. Elisabeth Braw highlights the true cost of social fragmentation: the loneliness epidemic makes us not only miserable, but more vulnerable. The coronavirus pandemic will aggravate isolation in one sense, but gives us opportunities for solidarity in others. Shroud-waving sensationalists and grandstanding politicians are not helping. Samir Shah takes aim at them.

The government is splurging money on flood prevention, roads and buildings. But the social infrastructure of the country is crumbling too. A mini-manifesto from the Centre for Social Justice provides a to-do list. There is much talk about character-building in education, but few specifics. James Arthur tries to fill that gap; we also warn (page 28) against bringing introspection to the classroom: if you repeatedly ask children how they are feeling, they will end up dwelling unhealthily on their woes. We unpick the messy failings of the teacher-training industry. At one end of the system head teachers do not get the leadership skills they need. At the other, new entrants are ill-prepared for classrooms (and often pitched into the most demanding ones), so they burn out or up sticks. The waste and misery is stunning.

We continue to champion another unfashionable cause: women’s rights. In our “Spare Rib” column, Louise Perry asks how female prisoners will fare in an era of self-identification for trans people. In similar vein Nick Cohen lambasts the Left for a predilection for rigidity and self-righteousness that easily spills over into censorship and witch-hunting. If a neurotic combination of arrogance and dread mean that you do not argue with your opponents, you stand little chance of beating them. John Laurenson uncovers the unsavoury consequences of left-wing intellectual arrogance in France, where the sexual abuse of children was treated as an amusing foible until shockingly recently. John Mills, a Labour-supporting tycoon, argues (page 10) that the party must rethink its approach to economics if it is ever to win back its working-class base.

Civilisation is not under threat. But its public manifestations may be. Mark Lawson laments the closure of our theatres. As galleries pull down their shutters, Cindy Polemis gives us a taste of what we are missing. Amid so much doom and gloom it is good to cast our minds far afield. We visit (page 36) the tenacious Mountain Jews of Dagestan, living in what was once a civilisational crossroads, but is now an isolated backwater. Our music columnist Jonathan Gaisman reports from a festival of Sufi music in India: unfamiliar to a Western ear, but also a reminder of the much-neglected riches of that part of the Muslim tradition.

Standpoint is not directly affected by the pandemic but we extend our sympathy to those who are. If your movements are constrained, we hope the pages that follow will comfort, entertain, inform and provoke you. When you have finished this issue, all our previous 118 editions are available to our electronic subscribers, and our website has no paywall.