10 September 2020
View from the Cotswolds
“He did his best”: a damning indictment
By Paul Branch
Our world is replete with glorious failures, those who snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, or those who promise the earth and deliver a dog’s dinner. Britain’s sporting prowess lies in earning medals in such deeds. Our footballers are seemingly forever on the brink of achieving something magical that will enrich our memories way beyond just the Boys of ’66, but inevitably the performance when it really counts just doesn’t quite make it. Tennis, rugby, golf, darts …. nothing of recent note. The cricketers defied all the odds last year to actually win a major international trophy, but they came Oh so close to throwing it all away in the final … but they won in the end, so they are forgiven albeit not without causing deep scars on my blood pressure readings. Lewis Hamilton and Ronnie O’Sullivan are good blokes who get the job done, no problem, but they are pretty exceptional.
On the wider international stage the likes of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini promised much to their respective downtrodden and impoverished nations: an opportunity to create a new world-dominating Reich with the Fuhrer at the helm, the chance to return to the glories of Rome led by Il Duce. Just what their audiences wanted to hear, albeit with some discomfort at what might befall others in order to achieve these objectives, but by and large they went along with it if only to see what would happen. And things looked really good when the Axis acquired a new chum in the shape of the might of Japan with Emperor Hirohito proclaiming his godlike right to engage in such deeds. And look how well all that turned out in the end – failure, destruction, deathly gloom and economic ruin all round which no one told the expectant populations might just be a possible outcome, despite giving it their best shot.
I have to admit that, were it not for Adolf and Benito with their wild schemes, I wouldn’t be here writing this stuff. My father was with the British Army in Italy where he met my mother, and would have been shipped off to the Far East after VE day had it not been for the quick succession of VJ day. And to continue the fascinating circle of life one of our daughters is married to an Italian lad and we have a son married to a Japanese girl.
As usual I digress and maybe this comes across as an inappropriate introduction to what follows, but it’s quite dangerous having the wrong people in charge of important stuff that impacts on everyone’s present and future. Which of course brings us to the completely inexplicable but not entirely unexpected shambles we’ve been experiencing at the hands of our leaders during the summer. Health and Education in turmoil, two great pillars of our civilisation, essential to our collective wellbeing and prosperity, and where you’d hope those in charge knew something of the inner workings of the respective ministries and had at least a little experience in making them work for our benefit. Take Gavin Williamson for example. Active in student politics, former senior manager in a production company, MP and Chief Whip. As far as I can make out, his dealings in education are several but not necessarily stellar: he went to school, he’s married to a teacher, he has children of school age, and he has been a school governor. Now it so happens that my CV in that area is exactly the same, but I doubt very much that would get me very far in applying for the post of Education Secretary.
Matt Hancock is an economist by trade, and a politician. He’s married, has children, no doubt his family have all been unwell at some stage and we know he’s had a dose of Covid from which thankfully he seems to have recovered. But again that seems to be the extent of his awareness of the NHS, let alone the Social Care side of his job as Health Minister.
The morning after the Great Algorithm Catastrophe unravelled, hundreds of thousands of kids and their parents were in shock and/or tears, Gavin and Boris were maintaining how rigorous and fair the grading system had been (having taken advice from experts etc etc), until the penny dropped and another screeching U-turn was executed. Then came the support for Gavin from within the cabinet, followed by a refusal to even contemplate resignation, and ultimately the blame being taken by a couple of senior civil servants in Ofqual and the department for education. A by now familiar pattern with this government which was repeated in quick succession with the dissolution of Public Health England.
Matt Hancock’s support for Gavin was possibly the most endearing: “He did his best” …. And perhaps that says it all. Doing One’s Best is the minimum requirement for any job one would think. Recognising one’s own limitations, not delegating areas you know nothing about, constantly questioning and probing with the help of other experts, and consulting along the way with those groups who will be impacted by critical decisions … these are the other essential ingredients for maximising the chances of success and minimising the possibility of failing one’s constituents. And when despite your really best efforts it does all go belly up, accept the responsibility and accountability that goes with the job, rather than seek out those below you in rank to blame and punish for your failure. Part of that also involves taking a good hard look at yourself to determine whether, as may be likely, you’re not really cut out for this job after all.
The vast majority I believe would be happy to put aside political differences (until the next election) and support the government in doing what they were elected and are paid to do – a good outcome on health, education and the economy will help us all, a bad outcome is just that … bad news for everyone. But there comes a point where realisation dawns that the likelihood of success is diminishing because those we have elected really aren’t up to the job, probably not through any intent on their part but more because they lack the competence and skills to do it properly. There are many other areas where we seem to be drowning in ineptitude: health and social carers’ pay, social injustice and racism, the social conscience to distinguish between asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, trade agreements, climate change … and let’s not even mention Brexit. Every government needs to be held to account, this one probably more than most, and putting up with whatever they choose to decide to do for us and how they do it isn’t necessarily the best solution. We’ve had enough failures, glorious or otherwise. Johnson & Cummings would do better treading the boards as a comedy act, but nowhere near as good as Morecambe and Wise. Oh to have Eric & Ernie in charge to bring us all the sunshine we deserve.