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  • Lawrence Bailey

So what happens when governments don’t make the grade?

Updated: Sep 20



Marx once stated: “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies”.

OK, it was Groucho and not Karl who said it, but let’s not complicate matters.

Besides, I can’t help feeling that as well as bringing the planet to its knees, this whole coronavirus thing appears hellbent on highlighting an uncomfortable truth - which is that politicians are probably the last people you want in charge during a crisis.

The latest UK-wide example to go towards confirming this theory is the abysmal handling of exam results.

When it comes to being “guided by the science”, it’s not often you see the ready adoption of the well-known computing principle of GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage out) so that it translates into a self-fulfilling prophesy.

And the worst part wasn’t the unseemly series of u-turns and rationalisations that followed as respective contrite governments played catch-up; it was that EVERYONE expected the climb down to happen.

No-one at the top looks as if they’ll be taking the rap for this particular ineptitude. That’s far from unusual these days where non-accountability is the accepted norm.

A few loyal diehards have thrown up concerns about ‘grade inflation’ where too many students with artificially high results are now chasing too few university places – as if such a thing has never happened before.

But I have to admit that I’ve been more entertained by the novel opinion on social media that it’s somehow schools who were at the root of the problem.

Apparently, some punters are willing to give hapless cabinet members the benefit of the doubt for having to blindly cope in uncertain times, yet they expect teachers to anticipate exactly how predicted exam grades will be used. Amazing.

Irrespective of this blather, the depressing episode has left its mark on all of us, even those not directly affected.

For one, it’s managed to reinforce perceptions that began with Dominic Cummings’ trek to Durham as to how fairness is a concept that’s gone missing in action from official government thinking.

People have been remarkably willing to endure all sorts of restrictions provided that measures get applied evenhandedly. This forbearance is now visibly on the decline.

Another is that the days of any prime minister resolutely stating “there is no alternative”, and meaning it, are long gone.

I mean, to put things in context, the reaction to downgrading was voluble yet fairly muted compared to the rampant outrage on the streets over tuition fees. So why the ignominious turnaround?

For all his Churchillian rhetoric, the impression to be gained – and it’s one shared by the tabloid press - is that the guy in charge has feet of clay at times when a solid stance is what’s needed.

Just as an aside, if I was an avid Brexiteer fearful that Downing Street could yet decide to engineer some quiet ‘adjustments’ to the EU exit plan just when no-one is looking, then I’d be a bit worried right now.


Maybe it’s simply that leadership isn’t what it used to be. More likely is that little has changed from when Groucho once quipped, “Those are my principles and if you don’t like them, well, I have others”.

Either way, there’s not much you can do when governments don’t make the grade.


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