I THINK we have just witnessed the death of the government machine.
It looked pretty ropey under Mrs May, with its strange inability (or reluctance) to make any progress on Brexit or even apply a sticking plaster to the ongoing disaster of our porous borders. Part of Team BoJo’s allure in the election was that they were going to take the opportunity of Brexit to recast the machine. Of course, things haven’t panned out that way. Firstly, Covid revealed how woefully incompetent the entire management of the health service is, and moved on to demonstrate the innumeracy of politicians, their advisers (that’s you, Sir Humphrey) and the media.
But the diet of the death toll (inflated and miscalculated, it now turns out) and lurid clips on social media created a cowed nation that decided that the entire staff of the NHS were heroes (and some, in the front line, were). Of course, the government and PM got away with it. Not least because no one else wanted the job (and Dominic Raab demonstrated that he was not up to it anyway).
Rather than end the lockdown, an allegedly libertarian, free-market government decided to splurge cash it didn’t have to part-nationalise the economy that it had broken – to be paid for by future taxpayers.
And then the master stroke. Those future taxpayers had their exams (and thus income potential) ruined. Needlessly.
From the moment schools were shut in March it was obvious that there would be an impact on exams. The potential solutions (other than ending or suspending the lockdown) were to move them online (which at least some universities managed), find lots of space for socially distanced exams (not hard given the availability of closed sports halls, government buildings, exhibition centres – plus of course the option of tents/marquees) or derive an exam result from previous work and teachers’ predictions. They went for the latter, which required developing a computer program to work it out. Yup, another government software solution – what could possibly go wrong?
I have some sympathy with the people trying to produce an algorithm. Presumably for A-level they had sight of the candidates’ GCSE results, the teacher-predicted grades and the complete history of teacher and school predictions compared with actual results. Given that, it should not have been difficult to build the public’s acceptance for the methodology. Had they had this discussion in April, if the public resisted there would have been time to implement one of the other options. And of course they could have made the point that the reason universities offer more places on the basis of predicted grades than they actually have is that many candidates don’t achieve their predictions (which rather implies that the predictions aren’t so hot).
But no. The government fell into the trap of believing that the man in Whitehall knows best. Now, through its ineptitude in communicating messages any more complicated than (the absurd) ‘Save the NHS’, it is on the receiving end of a blast from the generation whose future it has blighted – cheered on by the usual suspects in the BBC, the unions and the more sensible parts of the opposition. (And of course wee Nicola, but that’s another story.)
What’s the solution? Sackings all round? Perhaps, but finding a credible replacement for the hapless Williamson is unlikely. Fixing quangos seems to fall routinely into the purview of Dido Harding (one-time CEO of Talk Talk, current cure for Public Health England and prior to that the non-deliverer of Track and Trace).
We the voters have brought this on ourselves by consistently electing people whom we would not employ and then being surprised when they fail to transform soundbites into sound policy. The Prime Minister must realise that none of the school-leavers of 2020 is going to vote for him, nor are many of their parents or grandparents, unless this gets turned round before schools are due to open.
Harold Wilson said a week is a long time in politics. BoJo is about to demonstrate that five months is all it takes to go from hero to zero.