Day 158 – The way we live now . . .

Augustus Melmotte.
See the end paragraph,

This is today’s editorial from “The Guardian”. I think it is good because it is very plainly written without unnecessary journalistic insertions or overblown adjectives, but also because it is such an accurate summary of our present situation. It offers no solutions, and in or current constitutional position it is hard to see any legal solution available. It is in these circumstances that revolutions begin, violence happens and the innocent suffer. But then you might say, well, the innocent are suffering already.

The Guardian view on Boris Johnson’s government: an omnishambles week

Published on  Thu 20 Aug 2020 19.34 BST

Everyone knew where accountability for governmental decisions under America’s postwar president Harry Truman lay. It lay with the man at the top. The decisions could be good, bad or indifferent. But it was the president who took responsibility. Truman kept a famous sign on his Oval Office desk that spelled it out. The sign said simply: “The buck stops here.”

Where does the buck stop today in Britain’s government? As one of the most disastrous weeks in the life of Boris Johnson’s tragicomic government draws to a close, no one can answer with anything approaching Truman’s clarity. One thing, however, can be said. In Britain today, the buck never stops with ministers. Blame is always dumped on someone – anyone – else. As for the man at the very top, forget it. Mr Johnson is this government’s Macavity the cat. The sign on his desk, if there was one, would say: “Absent without leave.”

This has been the Johnson government’s own omnishambles week. Its exam and university entrance policies have been overwhelmed. When that happened, the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, clung on haplessly to an unfair and discriminatory English exam results algorithm. Then he did a spectacular U-turn and abandoned it. As the debris of a generation’s broken dreams piled up around him, he seemed to point the finger at the Ofqual quango that devised the strategy. That may be dumb politics. A company run by long-term associates of Dominic Cummings and Michael Gove worked on Ofqual’s failed approach.

In another part of Mr Johnson’s jungle, this was also the week in which the health secretary, Matt Hancock, abolished Public Health England in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century, replacing it with an entirely new quango, the National Institute for Health Protection, to be run by a Conservative peer, Lady Harding, without public health experience. There was no consultation about the axing of PHE and the new chief’s job at the NIHP was never advertised. Mr Hancock seems simply to have calculated that he was being set up as the fall guy for the multiple and continuing public health failures of the Covid-19 crises. Like the cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill in June, PHE appears to have been junked in order to deflect from the responsibility of ministers.

This is the first government in decades whose blunders are the product of deliberate systemic destructiveness. Mr Johnson and his chief adviser, Mr Cummings, are engaged in a culture war against the institutions of liberal democracy – parliament, the courts, the civil service, the media, and the checks and balances of accountability. They do not trust any of them. Their strategy is to revolutionise from the top down, to give contracts to cronies, to promote on the basis of support for Brexit and, as Mr Cummings exemplifies, to break rules and get away with it. When things go wrong what matters to Mr Cummings is the preservation of the destruction project, not the collateral damage to public health, educational opportunities or even the unity of the UK. He and Mr Johnson intend to rule by blame, fear and prejudice.

How long can Britain withstand this? A new poll shows Labour beginning to eat into what had previously been a resilient Tory public opinion lead. Much depends on Conservatives with consciences. Parliament needs to quickly rediscover its spine too. Much tougher economic conditions in the autumn should concentrate minds. Yet the lesson of this week is clear. Unless and until things start to change, Mr Johnson and his clique will go on believing, just as they do today, that they can get away with anything.

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NB. “The Way We Live Now” is a novel by Anthony Trollope in 1875. One of the main characters is Augustus Melmotte a swindler . . .

“Nevertheless a certain class of dishonesty, dishonesty magnificent in its proportions, and climbing into high places, has become at the same time so rampant and so splendid that there seems to be reason for fearing that men and women will be taught to feel that dishonesty, if it can become splendid, will cease to be abominable. If dishonesty can live in a gorgeous palace with pictures on all its walls, and gems in all its cupboards, with marble and ivory in all its corners, and can give Apician dinners, and get into Parliament, and deal in millions, then dishonesty is not disgraceful, and the man dishonest after such a fashion is not a low scoundrel. Instigated, I say, by some such reflections as these, I sat down in my new house to write The Way We Live Now.”

About The Author

Born 9 December 1933. Former Royal Air Force person. Retired Church of England Clergyman. Father. Grandfather, and now, Great Grandfather. Citizen of Europe and Fervent Remainer. Thinks that Members of Parliament and especially Ministers of the Crown, who lie to Parliament should be brought before a public tribunal where the evidence can be heard, and examined, and suitable penalties awarded.
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