19 June 2020 22:34
There are few politicians on whose words it is harder to concentrate than Gavin Williamson. There are many reasons for this, though chief among them might be that, given the fundamental impossibility of intelligent thought ever entering Gavin Williamson, it is an equal impossibility that any should exit it. To watch Gavin Williamson is to feel like you are watching the moment the Toy Story franchise went too far, with Gavin Williamson cast as the come-to-life forgotten radio left switched on in the corner of the room. Words come out of it. But that's all they are.
Just sounds, just air made into noise. The Secretary of State for Education never looks unlike a deluded student actor, going through a toe-curling audition for the part of the Secretary of State for Education in a play written by a friend from down the hall. Download the new Independent Premium app Sharing the full story, not just the headlines Probably it was only coincidence that I had spirited away the three minutes before Gavin Williamson's arrival purchasing a baby paddling pool on Amazon that is just over eight inches deep. And probably it is unfair on Gavin Williamson to note that I spent much of the sixteen minutes of which he spoke pondering whether it would be safe for Gavin Williamson to swim in it. This was him on his very best statesman impression duty. He paused, occasionally; he stared straight ahead. But all the studied seriousness lent to the occasion was the sense that this was a man who has to concentrate very hard indeed just to get his mouth to form the correct shapes to say the words written down in front of him. What he was announcing was that schools would reopen, in full, for all years, in September. They were the words anyway. They could just as easily have been the words from the Baywatch theme tune for all that they meant to the man saying them, as we would find out minutes later. Reopening schools is not easy. If it were as easy as just reopening them, then they'd have never been closed in the first place. Every teacher in the country knows that you can't reopen schools without changing the rules on social distancing. They also know you can't, for example, create specific, designated bubbles of pupils when they're all studying different choices of subjects, and so on, and so on. The only way, in fact, that you can reopen schools in September is if you send out Gavin Williamson to just say that he's going to reopen schools in September, and when he's asked how he's going to solve all of the many problems involved, he'll just say again that he's going to reopen schools in September and that's that. Does this mean he'll be relaxing social distancing? Will he be increasing class sizes from the current 15 to 30? "We are committed to reopening all schools, for all years, in full, in September." "In September. All schools, all years, in full." This is, of course, a measure that no government can take without its scientific advisors confirming it is safe to do so, which would be just one of the reasons no such advisors were there — just Gavin Williamson, armed with a single piece of information, impregnable to all attempts at interrogation. The scientists are not seen so much these days; partly, we are told, because they don't want to be seen anywhere near various imminent government plans, like the reduction of the two-metre rule. In what turned out to be very much his second most embarrassing moment of the week, Dominic Raab explained that we weren't seeing the scientists much anymore because "they're very busy." And yet, at the start and the peak of the pandemic, they were there every day. It has long since stopped being clear whether Raab or anyone else actually expects us to believe a word they say. It is even less clear whether or not they care. There are enough examples of this exceptionally curious, over-promise-and-under-deliver tactic now for it to appear almost like a strategy, though that is to undermine the word. Schools were going to reopen on June 1, then they didn't. There was going to be a "world-beating" track and trace system in place by the end of May, the app was going to launch not long after that. Now the app may or may not be ready by "the winter", and the "world-beating" thing is world-beating in the sense that no other country has attempted to create a "world-beating" track and trace system by just saying they will do it, and leaving it at that. There probably are quite a few people out there who really do believe, for example, that we have a "world-beating" test and trace system. Boris Johnson has said it so many times that the fact it doesn't exist is not really all that important. And no doubt there will now be plenty of people who believe that schools will reopen, in full, for all years, in September. How's it going to happen exactly? Well, don't you worry about that. Gavin's got all summer to think about it. And if it doesn't happen, well, there'll be a whole new range of empty promises to take their place by then.