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Square pegs, round holes and government

I used to have a woodwork teacher known among students for a colourful turn of phrase when motivating a class.

In one instance, I remember being fixed by his stare over half-moon glasses while he observed, “Bailey, if brains were dynamite then you wouldn’t have enough to blow your hat off”.

It’s an expression that comes to mind nowadays whenever I watch a UK government minister (or shadow equivalent) during interviews. As far as they’re concerned, the key is to avoid answering questions in any sort of detail while loudly talking over the interviewer and never drawing breath.

Most politicians, and their press advisors, know that time is precious in live television and that the journalist will soon give up and move on to another subject.

Whilst I fully understand the tactic, it’s sad to see how it’s become practically the only one in town.

Yet the motive is not duplicity. The real problem, according to the lobbying crowd, is that it’s nigh impossible to find anyone at senior cabinet level with anything approaching a meaningful grasp of what they’re supposed to be doing.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate that you don’t suddenly assume super-human qualities the moment your ministerial backside lands on the seat behind the big Whitehall desk. Just like any new job, it takes a while to get a grip on things.

However, constant distractions over Brexit, parliamentary showdowns and a possible election – plus the usual shifting sands at Downing Street – makes for a deeply confused situation. It’s even worse for civil servants charged with supporting hapless politicians suffering from delusions of adequacy.

So no surprises then, as one political observer commented this week, that the recent Queens Speech seemed to relate to an alternative universe. Credibility issues aside, could such a nondescript cabinet made up of ‘retreads’ like Home Secretary Priti Patel actually deliver a fraction of what is promised?

Let’s not forget however that there are very few with government experience on Labour’s benches following the 2016 exodus.

Modern-day politics tends to be about leadership but a good part of that involves having the right people in place in government. At present, no-one looks particularly spoilt for choice.


It’s not big and it’s not clever

One of the more unattractive things I’ve seen on social media lately is the spectacle of grown men and women having a pop online at teenagers who want to help save the planet.

Somehow it has become clever to suggest that kids take a lead by giving up their phones and iPads. Yet for all these smug dismissals and trite nostalgia about milk bottles on the doorstep, no amount of waffle can hide that successive generations have built a world of non-recyclable plastic where just the act of breathing is becoming harder.

Is it the message or the messenger that upsets these so-called adults? Perhaps it’s easier to deny the phenomenon of global warming – and its causes – when someone young like Greta Thunberg gets up on a podium.

Youth protest is nothing new and is seldom respected by the older generation. As a youngster still in school I marched to protest against apartheid and the war in Vietnam. We had a lot worse than harsh words thrown at us.

Instead of vilifying our young people for being environmentally aware, maybe we should be asking why it has taken successive court actions to force the UK to comply with its own greenhouse gas emission targets. Or is that not clever enough?

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