How much longer can this collective madness of government go on I wonder. As I have been saying for months, this incredibly destructive period of institutionalised idleness is the fault of overpraised Chancellor Sunak, who should never have been allowed to extend the ruinously expensive, and horribly abused, furlough scheme until the end of October.
Ultimately, though, the entire disaster is down to Bunter J. Even allowing for the fact that he was ill and nearly died – or so we are told – our ‘revered leader’ has failed to provide the kind of firm leadership that we are all entitled to expect.
I have never been a Johnson follower as such and have often wondered if he is a genuine person or just an over privileged buffoon, but I was impressed with his firm handling of the Brexit problem and that was reflected by the results of the last general election when voters gave him an overwhelming mandate to govern the country. I had my doubts but gave the man time to prove himself. I thought he could not be as bad as Theresa Maybe or the pompously useless Cameron.
Yet although he might not be worse, he is proving himself just as ineffectual. He certainly does not look like a man who is enjoying the job he’s spent his adult life trying to get. That claim from Svengali Cummings’s father-in-law last week that Bunter is on his way out in six months certainly has the ring of truth about it. There is still time to retrieve the situation, but the clock is ticking fast.
Johnson needs to show initiative now. He must call all those private sector bosses together and start bashing heads, ensuring that they to get back to business as usual before it is too late for this country. They might not want to listen but he must use his not inconsiderable powers of persuasion to ensure that they do.
He must also insist that civil servants, who after all are government employees return to work immediately. Having chickened out of a confrontation with the teachers’ unions, Bunter must not cower again when dealing with the civil service lot, who are already bleating that no more than thirty per cent of their members will be going back any time soon.
It is time to read the riot act damnit. Give them a deadline and promise that any civil servant not back at work by the due date without a doctor’s note, will be sacked immediately. With four million unemployed in the pipeline already, there will be no shortage of willing folk ready to retrain and take their place.
When financial disaster hit the taxi drivers, the sandwich makers, shop assistants, publicans and dry cleaners, Bunter J did nothing. Unless he acts now to get Britain back to work, it will be his turn next.
Yet it is amazing that whatever happens with this government, it is never their fault. Disasters crop up with ever increasing regularity but the defining characteristic of the cabinet members is a cast iron refusal to accept responsibility for any of them. Sometimes a deputy head will roll, but in general the buck doesn’t get anywhere near the top of the pile.
Take education secretary Gavin Williamson for example. He has lurched from disaster to idiotic disaster since schools closed six months ago yet he remains at his desk while the bodies of his civil servants pile up around him.
Last week it was Sally Collier who ran the examination regulator Ofqual. She resigned amid a barrage of recrimination over the A and O level result fiasco. A day later the departments most senior civil servant, Jonathan Slater was forced to clear his desk as news emerged of yet another last minute government U turn – this time over wearing muzzles in schools.
Something has to be very wrong when headteachers are better off following their own instincts about what might happen next than relying on what ministers say. Yet Williamson sails blissfully on while Slater goes. That surely cannot be right. The buck is supposed to stop at the very top, not half way up the ladder.
It would be worrying enough if this culture of power without responsibility were confined to the Department for Education, but Slater is the fifth senior mandarin ousted in a few short months, following the permanent secretaries of the Foreign Office, Home Office and Ministry of Justice, plus the cabinet secretary, Mark Sedwill. Either this government has had the worst luck in the world – coming to power just as the civil service produced a crop of uniquely hopeless leaders – or what the Tory grandee Nicholas Soames called the ‘worst cabinet in my thirty six years in parliament’ may have found an alarming way of covering up its own inadequacies.
I don’t often agree with Mr Soames – I once met his Father and it was not pleasant – but in this instance, I fear he is very correct. Alarm bells should be ringing. This is not some dusty constitutional question or political game, but a form of rough justice with real consequences for all our lives.
The education select committee hasn’t even started its inquiry into the exam grading fiasco, yet we’re already being invited to find Collier and Slater guilty. We could be years from a public inquiry into what went wrong in the early stages of the pandemic, but that has not stopped the health secretary abolishing Public Health England – the quango responsible for controlling infectious disease outbreaks. The clear message is that mistakes may have been made, but the guilty party has been safely taken out and shot – really, why bother with a trial?
While neither Ofqual nor PHE have covered themselves with glory this year and any inquiry might well find reasons to criticise both, for now all we are getting is one suspiciously flattering side of the story and I am afraid I have my doubts about most of it..
Is Bunter J really so uniquely ill-served by an organisation that may have its faults but doesn’t seem to have failed previous governments anything like so frequently? Or could there be something wrong with the collective political judgment of a cabinet where commitment and obedience to the Prime Minister is prized over competence?
Not all the advice ministers receive is good, and scientific advice in the middle of a new pandemic will not always be conclusive; sometimes following the science will lead to good decisions but sometimes it will be the wrong way to go.
But it is a minister’s job to stand back and see the wider picture; to ask the right questions, exercise his or her best judgment wherever doubt and uncertainty remains, and then have the guts to stand behind it.
An education secretary who never stops talking about what his Scarborough comprehensive did for him should not have missed the admission – buried in Ofqual’s own published notes on its algorithm – that it might disadvantage unusually bright students in poorer schools. A leader who prioritised rigour in the exam system above everything else and originally insisted that exam grades in this crazy and confused summer could not rise higher than last year, should stop blustering about ‘mutant algorithms’ and own up to the consequences of his own decisions.
If our ‘revered leader’ cannot confront his own mistakes honestly, then he has no hope of learning from them and sooner or later, he is going to run out of other people to blame.