Boris Johnson’s latest lockdown (if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, what do you call it?) has put some of his lieutenants in a very difficult position. Untenable, This Writer would have thought.
I refer to Tory Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.
Sunak was described by one of the right-wingers on the Times Red Box Podcast as “The dog that does not bark in the night time” because he had made a big song and dance in August about the loss of 30,000 jobs, and in his autumn statement he had said that the government cannot continue borrowing indefinitely… but when Johnson announced what is in effect a new lockdown in England costing £1 billion a day, he at first had nothing to say.
Rishi Sunak appears to have gone very quiet, especially re this 3rd lockdown.
He seems a very shadowy figure just now.
Has he lost his place in the Tory sunshine?
Is he being kept on a leash ?
Or is he just keeping his head down ?
— Clare Hepworth OBE (@Hepworthclare) January 4, 2021
Sunak eventually turned up on Tuesday morning, announcing that he had shaken the Magic Money Tree and found £4.5 billion to hand out in new business support grants:
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) January 5, 2021
As usual, what he said was not nearly as important as what he ignored:
"We have an end to the ban on evictions, we have change to the mortgage support scheme"
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds says "large numbers of people and businesses" are "concerned about their future" despite the chancellor's £4.6bn package of measureshttps://t.co/Zmv51ALfnk pic.twitter.com/ITqqfqAl72
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) January 5, 2021
Even Annaliese Dodds didn’t mention everything. The Tory financial response to Covid-19 – and in particular to their own measures to fight the spread of the disease – has been a travesty best described as ill-considered; at worst it was deliberately targeted to harm people whose livelihoods were at risk.
On top of that, of course, Sunak himself foisted his now-infamous “Eat Out to Die Out” (did I get that name right?) scheme on us…
Whatever happened to that Minister who had the stupid idea of subsidising meals out and predictably spreading the virus?
— Tom London (@TomLondon6) January 4, 2021
Perhaps it isn’t surprising that he has restricted his comments to yet another announcement of insufficient financial support.
That Red Box Podcast went on to describe “absolute chaos in the education system” under Gavin Williamson, with “huge frustration for parents as well as children”.
Not only do the new measures mean a whole year of our children’s education will have been disrupted, and their exams cancelled, but it also means frustration for parents and teachers.
Primary school children were sent back to school for just one day before Johnson pulled out the rug from under the system. But Williamson is the one with egg on his face, because he did not give anybody involved in education any advance warning about what was going to happen.
The podcast pointed out that Williamson’s Education department actually took some councils to court when they threatened not to open schools in the autumn. Now he is demanding that they must all close. It’s constant mixed-messaging; utter confusion – and it’s causing huge anxiety.
Exams including GCSEs and A levels have been cancelled in acknowledgement of the unfairness of subjecting pupils to the same exams when they haven’t had the same opportunities to study for them.
But how will our youngsters’ academic achievement be assessed instead? Last year, Williamson rolled out an algorithm-led assessment system that (predictably, because he’s a Tory) gave all the best marks to kids at private schools and deliberately penalised high achievers elsewhere for attending state schools.
He was forced into a humiliating backslide but now we’re all agog to see what he’ll do instead, now that a second year’s exams have been cancelled. Sadly, it seems likely that he doesn’t know what he’ll do, either.
Libby Purves, one of the contributors, was asked if she had ever known an Education Secretary like Williamson in all her years of reporting on the subject and actually used the comparison with comedy character Frank Spencer that was coined by the public last month.
She went on to attack the testing system in schools. Is she right about it? “Shut 30 children in one room, test them and then 15 minutes later release them into another room of 30 – completely ignoring the fact that a lot of them are out on the school bus.”
She said education was being handled by people who don’t know anything about it – which, for Williamson, is damning.
Will either of these ministers lift a finger to provide a better service to the beleaguered citizens of the UK?
I should bleedin’ cocoa!
This Tory government simply isn’t interested in working out what to do for the best.
It is too busy watching the opinion polls and trying to work out what will be popular.
The trouble is, thanks to innovations – if you can call them that – like the so-called ‘nudge unit’ that tried to influence what people think, the government has stopped a large proportion of the population from having opinions of their own.
In effect, in trying to follow opinions that they have tried to shape, the Tories are chasing their own tails – and getting nowhere. Meanwhile the country collapses beneath the weight of their indecision.
Boris Johnson must see this. He’s as thick as mince but he has a strong survival instinct.
He’ll be looking for patsies, onto whom he can offload responsibility. Sunak and Williamson look like the perfect candidates.
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