From top to bottom, Covid has revealed how inept the British state is


Who gets the blame when the day of reckoning comes? No one might call this week’s reopening of local schools in England something more but a shambles. The Prime Minister announced that all elementary schools are “safe … very, very important to stress that” and that they must remain open. Where they remain closed, that does not appear to apply, as in London and probably Manchester, Newcastle, Slough, Brighton… The appearance is that of a man trapped in Downing Street, out of touch with the country he rules, and maybe elsewhere later this week.

Millions are inflicted with discomfort, cost and tension though Boris Johnson seems to think only about his daily press conference. UK coronavirus live: PM to address the nation at 8 pm with more measures to tackle Covid; Scotland to lock down at midnightRead moreIn the last nine months, no government in Europe has had it simple, but none has had it as hard as the UK.

Chaotic PSA deliveries, the “world-beating” test-and-trace mess, uncertainty about school exams and now the multifarious bureaucratic deterrent to future vaccinators is accompanied by indecision on lockdown. British politics likes to hold the blame easy. It is the joy of success and the agony of failure that leaders are entitled to. We blame the person responsible when something goes wrong – be it Johnson, Matt Hancock, Michael Gove or Gavin Williamson.

Damn every incompetent guy, damn all that bunch. Certainly, it is appalling to see Johnson’s lack of knowledge of his administration. Many of his best colleagues were dismissed from Theresa May’s team and replaced by inept ones. For a prime minister who places blind allegiance above capacity, the nation is paying a heavy price…. But the British government’s current incompetence is not just due to poor ministers. Deep-seated cronyism in government procurement was highlighted by the PPE contracts scandal. The removal from hospitals to nursing homes of sick elderly people demonstrated the NHS’s bureaucratic disdain for private treatment.

The fiasco over last year’s research algorithm was the consequence of the fascination of officialdom with quantification. The test-and-trace debacle of a billion dollars was the product of Whitehall’s hatred of local government.

Our front line against Covid is the doctors. The battle against its deniers is now also being led | Gaby HinsliffContinue readingThe coronavirus has exposed a nation so poorly run that it is not possible to blame existing leaders for anything. The conventional model is that the general course of policy is determined by ministers and is interpreted and enforced by civil servants. Since at least the turn of the century, this separation of roles has been undermined, primarily by a ministerial lust for headlines that has led to a constant bombardment of central programs, actions, and vanity projects. This, with high-profile exits at Downing Street, the Home Office, and the Foreign Office, has clearly affected the caliber and morale of the civil service. Johnson often gave scientists too much importance, planning to blame them when things went wrong, and then found himself in continuous conflict with them. In essence, this left Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland blessed with decisive and clear-headed leadership. Come the inevitable investigation into the events of the past year, the fall will not only have to be taken by politicians.

The constitution as a whole should be put to the test of all aspects of the British government, whether central or local. Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist.


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