The A level results fiasco is a disgrace. Yet it’s merely the latest manifestation of this government’s universal ineptness. Reflecting the PM’s fondness for three-word mantras, Bernard Trafford’s devised a new slogan for Boris Johnson’s regime: incompetence, complacency, crapness.
Government had five months warning that A level results would go wrong: they didn’t act, then panicked at the last minute – and are still trying to assure us that the appeals procedure will be “fair and robust” (Schools Minister Nick Gibb on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions yesterday). Government has proved itself woefully incompetent in its lack of oversight: lazily complacent in claiming even now that wronged candidates will receive justice; and so prone to mishaps that I now suspect no conspiracy, no joined-up plan with a hidden purpose, not even the suggestion emanating from some quarters that the grading algorithm was designed to boost the well-off at the expense of the most disadvantaged.
It’s just a catalogue of incompetent blunders.
Incompetence or just bad luck?
You wouldn’t wish a pandemic on any administration: you might say it’s just bad luck that it came along this year. But it’s government’s job to tackle such things. Some appear to have done really well. Others, like the USA and Brazil, are in denial. Westminster, it seems, has tried to get away with muddling through. Just as government ignored the warnings of exam meltdown, it also ignored the results of a 2016 exercise designed to test the nation’s readiness for a pandemic. We were unprepared.
Take as evidence the failure to get enough PPE into places where it was needed: hesitation before announcing lockdown; lack of clarity and U-turns on its gradual ending; lack of effective test-track-trace strategies. All of a piece with the A level shambles.
This isn’t bad luck: it stems from incompetence, as demonstrated by one minister after another: this week it was Gavin Williamson, but it comes from the top down.
Complacency or corruption?
Too many ministers, from Boris down, get too close to the rich and the powerful, especially high-profile Brexiters: witness the PM’s list of new peers. It appears that lucrative contracts stimulated by the Covid crisis have gone to cronies of the PM and/or his advisers, corners being cut on proper tendering (“Don’t you know there’s a crisis on?”), and bizarre choices of contractors with no or dodgy track-records.
Is there real corruption at the heart of government? Actually, I don’t think so. But this regime is so complacent that it doesn’t stop to think how something will look. Incapable of taking a long, hard, honest look at itself, it blunders on, repeating self-justifying claptrap. The stench of sleaze grows.
The PM counters criticism from the Leader of the Opposition by complaining that he should support, not carp (“Doesn’t he know there’s a crisis on?”). There’s spectacularly crass self-justification when the PM’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings breaks lockdown rules and goes to test his eyes in Barnard Castle. These guys are so complacent, and think they’re so vital, that taking the honourable course (resigning) never crosses their minds.
What else but blind complacency could induce a Schools Minister to declare on live radio the rightness of sacrificing the life-chances of individuals on the altar of a “fair and robust” algorithm to avoid grade inflation?
The same smug complacency makes painfully believable Twitter reports of a Zoom meeting with leading figures in the performing arts (currently in meltdown), among them Sam Mendes, at which Cummings is alleged to have said, “Your f***ing ballerinas can go to the back of the queue”. I await corroboration.
There isn’t an or. This is just crapness. Pure and unadulterated, universal, cumulative crapness, a cocktail which, with incompetence and complacency, costs people their health, their livelihoods, even their lives.
Don’t they know this is a crisis?