Appointing a cabinet of demonstrable idiots comes with consequences

Whoever would have thought? Whoever could have known? Well, absolutely everyone of course, but we’ll get into the details on that in due course

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Monday 17 August 2020 19:06
Ofqual chairman Roger Taylor says exam regulator took the "wrong road" on A-level and GCSE grading

So it turns out that when you appoint a cabinet of demonstrable idiots, things go wrong.

Whoever would have thought? Whoever could have known? Well, absolutely everyone of course, but we’ll get into the details on that in due course.

In the meantime, the greatest self-inflicted fiasco of modern times has reached a kind of ending, in the form of the most predictable U-turn quite possibly in living memory.

Is it really only three days ago that the un-resigned education secretary Gavin Williamson said, live on air, “This is it. No U-turn, no change”?

As if it wasn’t blatantly obvious, even then, that a government that cannot go three minutes without claiming it is “levelling up” the country, was not really going to be able to get away with handing out A-Level results to half a million 18-year-olds on the basis of an algorithm that punished them if they had the temerity to come from a disadvantaged background.

That it has now decided to switch off the algorithm is so overwhelmingly inevitable it is barely even worth noting. Not when there is so much else to get through anyway.

Can it really be the work of real life, and not a lazily written sitcom, that last month Dominic Cummings really did hold an away day for all the government’s special advisers for which they were all required to have read two books on high performance management and “superforecasting”? And yet, here they were, somehow unable to catch sight of the runaway freight train that had already run them over, because they were too busy not quite managing to find their backsides with both hands?

The whole episode does yet again illuminate the inherent contradictions of this, the most talentless government ever assembled, in light so bright as to be unsafe to even gaze upon.

That if you go around, briefing about the “hard rain” that’s about to fall on everyone but you, and at the same time assemble a government of loyal fools, you will come to look very stupid, and very quickly indeed.

There are still many millions of people, not merely in this country, but all around the world, who still cannot get over the clear and certain fact that the UK government had weeks to watch the unfolding coronavirus horror show in Italy and elsewhere, and take the obvious steps to prevent it happening here, but declined to do so for reasons that even a public inquiry might not be able to fathom.

And yet, here we are, a very short while later. Two weeks ago, the Scottish government published its exam results for 18-year-olds, calculated by a dysfunctional computer system that corrected pupils’ predicted grades based on the past performance of their school. It was immediately obvious it was a disaster. Nicola Sturgeon apologised. The results were scrapped.

And now, with a week’s notice, the same has happened here. Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised. When the Scottish chief medical officer was caught breaking her own lockdown rules, she resigned. When Dominic Cummings did the same, instead of quitting he went on live television and told a very long series of very blatant lies.

Of course, it is important to acknowledge that no government in decades has faced challenges on this scale, which does make it difficult to evaluate precisely how useless it is. Making Gavin Williamson try to sort out the impossible mess of exam-less A Level results is like trying to gauge the cognitive power of a chimpanzee by teaching it quantum mechanics instead of the two times table.

This is always how it would pan out, in the end. And while grading-by-letter is on everyone’s mind, perhaps it is worth recalling one of the oldest business management maxims around; “As hire As. Bs hire Cs.”

What grades should you be awarded then, if you hired Gavin Williamson? You hardly need an algorithm to work that one out.

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