Monday, March 1

Covid has exposed how incompetent the British state is, from top to bottom | Coronavirus


COn doomsday, who is blamed? No one could call the reopening of England’s local schools this week more than a disaster. The first Minister has declared that all elementary schools are “safe … very, very important to emphasize that” and must remain open. That seems not to apply where they remain closed, like in London and possibly Manchester, Newcastle, Slough, Brighton… and perhaps elsewhere as the week progresses.

The appearance is of a besieged man in Downing Street, totally disconnected from the country he governs. Millions of people suffer inconvenience, cost and stress, and Boris Johnson apparently only cares about his daily press conferenc No

No government in Europe has had an easy road in the last nine months, but none has had a worse than Britain’s. The indecision about thlock downwn was followed by chaotic supplies of PPE, the confusion of tests and tracking ofwouldld pass”, confusion in school exams and now the multiform bureaucratic deterrence potentiavaccinationsrs.

British politics like to keep guilt simpl No Politicians are entitled to the pleasure of success and the pain of failur No When things go wrong, we blame the person in charge, be it Johnson, Matt Hancock, Michael Gove or Gavin Williamson. Damn the incompetent, damn all. That feels better.

Certainly, Johnson’s lack of understanding of his government is troubling to watch. He fired many of his best colleagues from Theresa May’s team and replaced them with nonexistent ones. The nation is paying a high price for a prime minister who puts blind loyalty before ability.

But the current incompetence of the British government is not just due to poor ministers. The PPE contract scandal exposed a deep-seated cronyism in public procurement. The transfer of sick elderly people from hospitals to nursing homes showed the NHS ‘institutional disregard for private car No Last year’s test algorithm debacle was the result of the ruling party’s obsession with quantification. The multi-billion pound test-and-trace fiasco was the result of Whitehall’s dislike of local government.

The coronavirus has revealed a country so poorly governed that current politicians cannot be blamed for everything. The traditional model holds that ministers decide the general direction of policy and officials interpret and implement it. This balance of roles has eroded at least since the turn of the century, largely because of a ministerial lust for headlines that led to a daily confusion of central initiatives, interventions and vain projects. Officials are expected not to challenge but to obey.

This has clearly affected the caliber and morale of the civil service, with high-profile exits from Downing Street, the Home Office and the Foreign Offic No Johnson also placed too much importance on scientists, hoping to blame them if things went wrong, and then found himself in perpetual conflict with them. This, in turn, allowed Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland to appear blessed with decisive and lucid leadership in contrast.

With the inevitable investigation into the events of the past year coming, it is not just politicians who must carry the can. All components of British government, central and local, must be tested; the constitution as a whole must be examined.

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www.theguardian.com

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