Despite the violent past and toxic present, Britain and Ireland cannot escape the ties that bind | Fintan O’Toole

The fiftieth anniversary of Bloody Sunday reminds us that history and geography mean that now, as then, the fates of the two countries are entwined

Almost 50 years ago, in the early hours of 2 February 1972, the British embassy in Dublin was gutted by fire. This was not an accident. A huge crowd had gathered in protest outside the lovely Georgian terrace in Merrion Square all through the previous day. They cheered as young men climbed across the balconies and smashed a window. They threw in some petrol and lit it. A fusillade of petrol bombs was unleashed from the crowd. People chanted the slogan they had learned from the Watts riots in Los Angeles in 1965: burn, baby, burn. The police did nothing to stop the attack.

I was 14 at the time, so I wasn’t there. But some of my older friends were and I wished I had been with them. The assault was organised by the IRA, but most ordinary, peaceful Irish people approved of it. It seemed like the right thing to do, a reasonable response to the massacre the previous weekend in Derry of 13 unarmed civilians by the first battalion of the British army’s Parachute Regiment. A woman waiting for a bus in Dublin told the Irish Times: “I felt outraged that the British should do this and I felt that whatever the rights and wrongs, they would know how we felt when we burned down their embassy.”

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Tories beware. There’s nothing a desperate Boris Johnson won’t do to try to save his skin | Andrew Rawnsley

The longer Conservative MPs prevaricate about removing him, the more they become complicit in this scandal

The magic number is 54. This is how many Tory MPs have to write a secret letter to the chairman of their 1922 Committee in order to trigger a vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson. There are easily more than 54 Conservative MPs who think their leader is a busted flush, who appreciate the risk his attempts to hang on to the premiership will inflict lasting reputational damage on their party and who understand that Britain won’t return to anything resembling seemly and orderly government until he is gone. One senior Tory ended a conversation with me by quoting François Rabelais: “Bring down the curtain, the farce is over.”

Quite a lot share the public revulsion with the lockdown-busting of the prime minister and his staff. Some agree that he lied to MPs and that it is critical to the integrity of our politics that deliberately misleading parliament is always treated as a resignation offence. More are agitated about what leaving Mr Johnson in place means for their electoral prospects. All can read the opinion polls. His personal ratings have plunged to depths not even plumbed by Theresa May at her lowest point. This strongly suggests we are witnessing the implosion of the Cult of Johnson that I wrote about at the time of the last Tory party conference. And yet Sir Graham Brady, the man who keeps count of the letters, has not announced that the magic number has been reached. Tory MPs scheme, gossip, brief, speculate and plot. With a few exceptions, what they have not done is act.

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The hounding of author Kate Clanchy has been a witch-hunt without mercy | Sonia Sodha

Publishers and other institutions are turning cowardly and brittle when faced with social media frenzies

A few years ago, when I was still getting to grips with the vagaries of Twitter, I inadvertently took part in a social media pile-on. Someone well known said something stupid and I enjoyed tweeting to that effect. But when she shared how upsetting she found the onslaught, I was forced to confront my unwitting bit-part in a collective act of bullying. There was nothing wrong with my tweet by itself, but hundreds of people shouting at you feels like abuse in a way that a single critique does not and the virtual nature of social media makes it harder to know when you are complicit in a form of mob justice.

Things have got worse since then and I find myself returning to this idea of proportionality often, most recently in the case of the author Kate Clanchy. Last week, it was announced that she and her publisher, Pan Macmillan, had parted company “by mutual consent” and that it will “revert the rights” and cease distribution of all her work.

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Poor people face a perfect storm. Let no one tell you it’s their own fault | Kenan Malik

As the cost of living rises, all the figures tell us that poverty in the UK is about opportunity denied, not moral weakness

Terry Pratchett understood why most social policies fail. In his book Men At Arms, one of the characters, Samuel Vines, put forward his “‘boots’ theory of socio-economic unfairness”. “The reason that the rich were so rich,” Vines observed, “was because they managed to spend less money.” A really good pair of leather boots might be serviceable for years but cost more than Vines earned in a month. The boots he could afford would last but a year or two and continually need replacing. So, a rich man had “a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time”, while “a poor man who could only afford cheap boots” would have spent twice as much money and “still have wet feet”.

There are likely to be many wet feet in the coming months, because few policy-makers see the world through Pratchett’s eyes. Instead, much social policy is rooted in the idea that the rich can afford good boots because of their hard work, while if the poor have wet feet, it’s the result of their own indolence.

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What luck for the royals that next to the Tory party they look like paragons of virtue | Catherine Bennett

The House of Windsor is getting off lightly thanks to the antics of the incumbent at No 10

Whatever the damage to his party, his country and dependent relations – should the crowdfunding start now? – the premiership of Boris Johnson increasingly looks, for the royal family, like an unprecedented blessing.

Imagine that you are continually reviled for being democratically illegitimate, lazy, greedy, philistine, pointless, absurd, spongeing, hypocritical, creepy, unprincipled and racist – when, as if to put the above in perspective, along comes an actual elected world king who is endowed with all these defects plus others unusual in UK monarchs since Charles II’s children almost doubled the size of the aristocracy. Better still, for the royals, the continuing insights into Johnson’s character coincide with a campaign for a new debate on the monarchy, “a broken institution” as Republic calls it, before Charles gets his hands on the crown.

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The Observer view on US-Russia talks and tensions in Ukraine | Observer editorial

Diplomatic talks calm tensions for now but Europe is left looking feeble and irrelevant

Talks about the Ukraine crisis between senior US and Russian diplomats, held in Geneva at the end of last week, appear to have calmed tensions, at least for now. The situation on Ukraine’s land and sea borders, where Moscow has amassed troops and powerful military assets, remains grave. But alarmist predictions of imminent, large-scale conflict have proved wide of the mark.

The dogged insistence of Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, on pursuing diplomatic means to address Russia’s security concerns clearly made an impression on his notoriously intransigent opposite number, Sergei Lavrov. Russia’s foreign minister said the talks had been “constructive and useful” and agreed to continue them this week.

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Putin, a ‘rogue male’ on the rampage, threatens to start a war no one wants | Simon Tisdall

No western leader wants to lock horns over Ukraine – but they need to declare the Russian leader a pariah

The term “rogue male”, denoting a rampaging bull elephant, is also used figuratively to describe a dangerously out-of-control, cold-hearted loner. It may be that Vladimir Putin has a cuddly side. If so, it’s well-hidden. Russia’s president fits the rogue male profile to a T – unscrupulous, vicious, cunning, and ever ready to trample on other people and countries.

Much recent effort has been expended trying to understand and explain Putin’s motives in threatening a wider war in Ukraine. Does he hope to restore past Soviet glories or crush Kyiv’s pro-western trajectory? Is it about his historical legacy or his need for a repeat electoral “Crimea bounce”? Such theories carry weight, but they all miss the essential point.

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The Observer view on the use of dirty tactics to bolster Boris Johnson | Observer editorial

This corrupt government risks damaging public trust in democratic institutions

Are there no tactics to which a disgraced and unpopular prime minister will not sink in his desperate attempt to cling on against the odds? For Boris Johnson, it would seem not. In the last week, there have been further revelations about the underhand tactics his whips have deployed to keep MPs loyal: threats of placing hostile stories about their private lives in the press or of withdrawing planned funding to the detriment of their constituents. Meanwhile, the government has pushed out story after story to try to distract from critical headlines; policymaking has become no more than an instrument to try to save Johnson’s skin, regardless of the consequences.

Just over a decade ago, the parliamentary expenses scandal exposed the gulf between what MPs thought was acceptable and what the public was willing to accept. Too many parliamentarians saw the manipulation of expenses loopholes as compensation for their public office; voters saw it as greed and corruption. The row that has erupted over the parliamentary whipping exposes a similar dynamic. Allies of the prime minister and Westminster stalwarts argue putting pressure on MPs to express support or vote with the government is just part of the rough and tumble of politics. But voters quite rightly do not expect a government to extract loyalty from its backbenchers by threatening constituency funding or warning that if they rebel there will be nasty stories in the press.

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No one is safe from the rich elite’s abuse of British law. Just ask Charlotte Leslie | Nick Cohen

The Conservative Middle East Council director knows the cost of oligarchal power

Charlotte Leslie has been hit with threats that would have broken a lesser woman. The former Conservative MP for Bristol North West crossed a Tory donor, Mohamed Amersi. Now she has learned what journalists and whistleblowers already know: when you challenge the moneyed elite, oligarchical Britain’s legal system will throw you into “a world of pain”.

“We both know you’re in a great deal of trouble,” Carl Hunter OBE, a party fixer and adviser to Tory ministers told her in February 2020. “I think you need to consider your position, as in being able to walk the dog at night, being able to sleep well at night.”

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