The Prospect editorial—300 not out

The editor introduces a bumper anniversary issue to last you through the summer lull
July 20, 2021

You need a break. Sadly, going abroad has become almightily complicated and everything closer to home is booked up. But a summer of sport on the TV can help—and so can Prospect with this summer double edition, which also happens to be our 300th issue.

Journalism always involves a delicate balance between purpose in the world and simple reading pleasure. After 18 extraordinary months of fear and curfews, to say nothing of the tumultuous few political years that came before, this time we have been especially mindful of the need to fulfil the pleasure quotient.

I found myself laughing out loud at James Hawes’s subversive rewrite of English history. It’s less Our Island Story than Someone Else’s Island Story, a tale of a land that is repeatedly sliced, diced and taken over by foreigners as well as perennially divided within. It’s the perfect antidote to the flag-mania Chris Mullin explored last month, and gives real insight into how this most supposedly secure of nations has come to be gripped by an identity crisis.

For several years now, EU referendum partisans—and many of the rest of us—have come to look at everything political through the single lens of Brexit. So it’s refreshing to read arch-Remainer Andrew Adonis set it to one side as he paints a rounded portrait of the phenomenon that is our arch-Leaver prime minister, Boris Johnson. Having known “Boris” pretty well when he was mayor of London, Andrew is well placed to reveal some under-appreciated Johnson personality traits—including a “ferocious” (if highly selective) work ethic. The key to understanding this political winner turns out to be the school that helped shape him, Eton College—an institution that has supplied more than a third of the occupants ever to have dwelled at 10 Downing Street. The result is another irresistible read on England, its peculiar hierarchies and the Prime Etonian at its helm.

There is more joy to be had in marvelling at the many and varied achievements of our 2021 hall of global top thinkers, which I introduce here. They are the most diverse top 50 we have ever put together, not just in terms of demographics like race, but—more importantly—in terms of their ideas and the forms they work in. Flick through their profiles and you’ll be awed (Alexei Navalny), perhaps riled (Elon Musk) but also frequently amused, for example by how Taiwanese anarchist Audrey Tang got into the government. Do remember to vote for the top thinker of the lot on our new, improved and easier to use website.

Alongside the joy, there is plenty of bold, disruptive thought here. Ann Pettifor explains why it is no good worrying about quantitative easing, as so many left- and right-wing economists are suddenly doing, without facing up to the need to rebuild the entire global financial system. Angela Saini casts a scientific eye on the “trans wars” engulfing British feminism, and finds that the very terms in which sex is furiously debated are flawed. Twenty years after 9/11, Stephen Wertheim, a Prospect top thinker from 2020, explains how a day of trauma condemned his nation to two decades of foreign policy failures, while Jem Bartholomew tells the heartening tale of how gig economy drivers are uniting to secure a better deal.

In books, Ferdinand Mount ponders how Amartya Sen could get everything right apart from religion, and Freya Johnston finds that DH Lawrence’s new biographer emulates the great man’s flaws. Last but not least, the inimitable Cal Flyn reflects on what the collective mind of the ant colony can teach us about human consciousness. By working together ants can, like us, get through dark times, and earn the chance to live for today.

PS. If you’re a print reader who doesn’t yet enjoy our new website, now is the time. Until 13th August, our paywall holiday allows unlimited access to every article we’ve ever published with no need to sign in. Subscribers will then need nothing more than an email address to log in for permanent unrestricted access. Getting online will allow you vote for the world’s top thinker, as well as enjoy daily articles by the writers you love. And you don’t have to take my word for it. In June, our digital whizz Chris Tilbury won Best Digital Designer at the 2021 British Society of Magazine Editors Awards for having made Prospect’s website elegant and easy to use.