We get the political leaders we deserve

🤖 Robotaxi | 🐀 Fragrant philanderers | 👑 Queen’s cartoon

In the headlines

Marine Le Pen says the National Rally has “practically wiped out” Emmanuel Macron after her party won 33% of votes in the first round of France’s parliamentary elections. Macron’s Together coalition came in third place, receiving only 20% of votes, and looks set to lose its majority at Sunday’s final round. Joe Biden’s family is “urging him to stay in the race and keep fighting”, says The New York Times, despite last week’s disastrous debate performance. A new survey found 72% of registered US voters think Biden should not be running for president. Identical twins separated at birth grow up to have matching IQ scores, according to new research. A study of 15 sets of twins who were raised apart noted their IQ scores were highly correlated and became more so as they got older – weakening the argument that nurture trumps nature.


Modern voters are demanding the impossible. Adrian Dennis/Getty

We get the political leaders we deserve

The real problem facing the West isn’t “hopeless leaders, Russian bots, high taxes, low taxes or being members of the wrong trading bloc”, says Matthew Syed in The Sunday Times. The problem is western electorates. “Us.” All our major societal failures – the mountains of debt, the inability to build infrastructure, the uncontrolled immigration – come from the fact that we refuse to give up short term entitlements for long term gain. If we want a future where migration is under control, say, we will have to pay workers more in the here and now, raising prices. But because voters are “spoilt”, we end up with useless retail politicians who are merely “regurgitating different versions of the fantasy that voters wish to hear”.

I blame lockdown, says Daniel Hannan in The Sunday Telegraph. It “squats like a poisonous toad” in the middle of every policy discussion. We pretend it isn’t there, but there it is. In education, the number of students “persistently absent” since lockdown has rocketed. In the economy, growth remains sluggish in part because so many have not returned to work. Tax? “We dropped the better part of half a trillion pounds on lockdown.” The NHS? Lockdown caused the waiting lists. The cost-of-living crisis? To pay for lockdown, we printed money “like Robert Mugabe on speed”. And who wanted all this? We did. Some 93% of people backed the first lockdown, 85% the second, and a sizeable majority opposed the eventual lifting of restrictions in 2021. We talk as if our troubles were “wantonly inflicted on us by malicious ministers” because it’s easier than accepting the truth: “a policy we ourselves demanded” is at the root of Britain’s problems.

The great escape

Google Maps

The longest walkable route on earth stretches all the way from Cape Town in South Africa to Vladivostok in the very far east of Russia. The 13,000-mile trail across 17 countries could in theory be covered entirely on foot in 4,672 hours of solid walking (just over a year of tramping 12 hours a day), says the online magazine Good. Yet despite many attempts, “no man has completed this route by walking”. One reason is the weather – from the scorching heat of the Sahara Desert to the icy wastes of the Siberian tundra. And as one Reddit user points out: “it's like genocide alley. It goes through Rwanda, Sudan, Syria, Armenia and Russia.”

Election watch

🗳️ 3 days to go…
Will things improve after Thursday’s election? Not if you believe The Daily Telegraph’s comment pages. Here are five headlines from the last few weeks:

“Britain is about to pass the point of no return”

“Britain is about to be pushed over the edge”

“Starmer’s sinister plan for Britain will end the country as we know it”

“There are just 1,000 hours to save Britain”

“Armageddon is upon us, and Britain will never be the same again”

Tomorrow’s World

Footage from a Waymo demonstration video

Waymo is opening its robotaxi service to anyone in San Francisco, says The Verge. Previously, those interested in taking a ride in one of the company’s driverless cars needed to join a months-long waiting list to become a “trusted tester”, many of whom were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements. Now, the firm’s driverless service will be available to anyone who downloads their app. Waymo has been operating a public robotaxi service in the flatter, more grid-like city of Phoenix since 2020.

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LBJ making his shock announcement in 1968

Joe Biden should follow LBJ’s example

President Biden has repeatedly “and rightfully” described the stakes in this November’s presidential election as “nothing less than the future of American democracy”, says The New York Times. So why is he still running? The idea that he’s the best person to stave off the “threat of tyranny” posed by Donald Trump evaporated on the debate stage last week, when the president struggled not only to rebut Trump’s points, but often to make it to the end of a sentence. In polls and interviews, voters say they are desperate for “fresh voices to take on Trump”. And there is still time to rally behind a different candidate. Americans might spend more than a year selecting a leader, plenty of other countries do it in a matter of weeks.

History shows there’s a lot to be gained, says David Von Drehle in The Washington Post. In 1968, Lyndon Johnson’s approval ratings had tanked because of the Vietnam war and the inflation that accompanied it. After his own “embarrassing wake-up call” in the form of a dismal New Hampshire primary, Johnson “surprised the nation” by standing down. Like Biden, he “lived for the competition” and quitting did not come naturally to him. But the decision to “honour the public mood and take himself off the ballot” was hugely popular. It gave Americans “an event to applaud and a leader to approve of”. As his speechwriter Horace Busby observed, quitting gave Johnson “the happiest week of his presidency and possibly of his public career”. His successor ultimately lost to law-and-order Richard Nixon after a spate of riots and political assassinations. But that was nothing to do with Johnson’s abdication and should not deter Biden. He can still lift his party to victory, through a final act of “self-awareness and courage”.

Love etc

Jude Law applying aftershave in the 2004 film Alfie

You can tell an unfaithful man by his scent. In a recent survey of 2,000 women who had been cheated on, 25% of love rats wore Dior Sauvage; 17% spritzed themselves with Chanel’s Allure Homme; and 12% honked of Versace Eros.

Quirk of history

Ethiopians celebrate the end of one year and the start of another on what most of the world calls 11 September, says CNN. And when that happens in a few months time, the year will be 2017. The reason is that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has stuck with the original date given for the birth of Jesus, while most of the rest of Christendom adjusted its calendars in line with a recalculation made in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, which is why we call it the Gregorian calendar. The Ethiopian year is also made up of 13 months, with 12 of them lasting 30 days, and one lasting just 5 (or six on a leap year).


Snapshot answer

It’s a drawing by a teenage Victoria in the years prior to her becoming Queen, says The Times. This pen-and-ink princess is one of a collection of the monarch’s drawings up for auction, along with a sketch of a knight, a veiled woman on horseback and a young lady wearing a sash and a crown similar to the one she would wear herself. The sketches are going under the hammer at Roseberys on 9 July and are expected to fetch up to £2,500. Have a bid here.


“A nation is born stoic and dies epicurean.”
Historian William Durant

That’s it. You’re done.