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Politics

No ditch deep enough

As the UK pulls into position as a world-leader in COVID deaths, as the NHS, the legal system and the economy fall into chaos, as the Home Office scrabbles around trying to retrieve the latest batch of lost files, our PR-dependent government works day and night to keep all media voices and spaces filled with news of the one thing they are keeping pace with – vaccination centres. Twinned with their current obsession with trying to convince us that anything that goes wrong goes wrong because some people aren’t following the ever-changing government guidance, this suggests a desperate need to direct attention away from something…

I am really hoping that means it is still possible for ministers to make such a bad job of something that they get kicked out of their jobs.

Yes, Minister?

It used to be a subject for comedy, the way government ministers are constantly shunted into jobs heading departments they knew nothing about – but it was a joke back then. We knew that really, a minister does not have to be an expert in the subject area. They are supposed to be good at listening, rallying and directing, tuning their departments into the direction they’ve been elected to take them, leaving the subject-management and delivery- based decisions to those out-of-fashion types – experts in the field

No more.

Gavin Williamson

I acknowledge that focusing on one person may be a little unfair. Gavin Williamson is no more than a prize specimen of an era of government-by-guesswork. I am regarding him as a test case – are Conservative government ministers EVER bad enough at their actual job to sack? Yes, we’ve seen cheating, lying and general malpractice leading to ministers having to step down (eventually) but what about actually being so bad at your actual job, what if a minister has dug himself into a ditch so deep that no-one anywhere could mistake what he was doing for effective leadership?

In the run up to Christmas, when experts in virus control were saying schools were potentially a major spreader, the government threatened legal action against schools that wanted to close a few days early to make the Christmas holiday a more effective circuit-breaker. Williamson’s department did not tell schools what was expected of them after Christmas until halfway through the last day of term.

The aborted return

Then, when it had become patently obvious to just about everyone that schools shouldn’t kick off as normal after Christmas, Williamson decided that they should. And as the whole of education world tuned in to hear the announcement of return dates – that’s all they wanted, return dates – so they could actually start organising, in an extraordinary display of obliviousness, Williamson treated his infuriated audience to what felt like hours of flah about how education was a good thing and the government was good at it before announcing his seemingly random decisions about which schools would or would not be opening on the 5th January.

That moment must have seen the biggest simultaneous switch-off ever, as parents, teachers and school staff everywhere leapt into action to try and do three weeks work in one evening.

One day, we were back – one day, just enough to get the virus running round a horde of new little hosts, and then Williamson was finally forced to listen to the growing tide of teachers, doctors and trade unionists backing up the voices of the virus experts, and schools were closed again. Even those few who had wanted to take the risk and open all the schools were now infuriated by all the work the about-turn generated.

The sound and the fury were muted for a couple of weeks, as parents and teachers occupied every waking hour trying to sort out all the late-started plans the government last-minuteism had forced on them, but it’s back with extra flame now.

Pooled experience, blended learning

What expert timing true awfulness has! Having spent a lunchtime in a meeting where teachers discussed what they’ve learned and what they need to do now, and prepared a timetable with a good blend of live and recorded lessons and independent learning tasks, I spent the early evening in a huge, nationwide zoom where teachers everywhere were pooling ideas based on the same discoveries – that many kids thrive on some live learning but that very few kids benefit from dawn-to-dusk live instruction.

I emerged from that session full of ideas about using short online sessions to kick off good-quality independent work, and/or live lessons pointing to dip-in-and-out recorded materials, only to hear that Gavin Williamson, basing his idea on no known evidence whatsoever, had just announced that live learning was best and therefore the aim was to do it all the time.

Fuses blew. I ask now – is there any ditch deep enough that an expert-spurning, self-absorbed, arrogant, clueless, destruction-wreaking minister cannot be sacked for digging himself and his country into?

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On Trying Gently to Explain

Speaking across the generations can be challenging to say the least. At 18, I found most over 40s clueless, condescending and often downright rude. Having just passed 60, I am beginning to notice for the first time that most under 40s are…

Well, let’s not perpetuate the mirage. I saw this meme today you see, about trying to explain to the parents that the under 40s are feeling pretty bad…

Like most of the people I know of my age, I feel deeply worried about what the up-coming generations are going through. Have you noticed how many grey heads there are amongst the socialist and environmentalist activists? You’d have to look on zoom now – marches and camps sadly are… Anyway – we do that because we’re deeply worried about what up-coming generations are going through, and how on earth their children…

Trouble is, many of them seem to be judging us because we haven’t given up and sometimes, we even have the audacity to be cheerful, and make like victory is in sight.

That’s the spirit…

Okay yes, there are some people who have no patience, no staying power – look at the numbers who gave up on the Corbyn thing when we lost the election – but you know, lots didn’t. They’re still looking for a way.

Okay yes, there are some people who don’t realise the gravity of the environmental situation, the austerity situation, or even the virus situation – though I should think the queues of ambulances and hearing of the deaths of actual friends and acquaintances must be catching up with most of them by now – but there are also masses of people – unimaginable numbers of people – who in their own way, know we are hanging by a thread, know the chances of the generation after next are a million to one – but who are still seeking answers, and still have an annoying habit of being cheerful sometimes.

Thank the gods! Thank the extraordinary human spirit and its ever-seeking survival skills!

A million to one chance

The point is, we knew. My generation lived through the Cold War Era. We saw the nuclear attack drills, and we saw what a hopeless, helpless fudge they were. We saw the mad, mad, impossible over-kill of the nuclear weapons build up – we thought it pretty unlikely we’d survive to our 30s, let alone old age.

We’d read the Silent Spring. We knew about leper ships. We engaged. Many of us. Millions of us. And we’re engaged still and we’re sometimes cheerful still because you see, if that million to one chance comes up, it won’t just drop a happy ending in our laps – it’ll be a chink of light. Yes, imagine, you’re 50 metres under and that chink of light is impossibly small, impossibly far-off. If you are going to make anything of it, you’ll need a horde of lively minds, able bodies and yes – cheerful people – to fight your way through.

We knew. We don’t give up. We have cheerful days. Don’t knock it.

2008

Midnight Oil 

1974

Hudson Ford

1965

Barry McGuire 

1959

Tom Lehrer 

The Struggle goes on. Don’t knock it. Notice the good things that happen. Good things happened even in the trenches you know. Be a shame to miss ’em, just in case we don’t come through.

Sandy Denny

I think I’ll dedicate this to Mick Brooks, one of the 80 000 + who died too soon. A life dedicated to The Struggle.