A Damascene conversion in an unexpected quarter

image by the author

“The most inept and incompetent administration in my lifetime.”

“Incoherent and indecisive.”

“Authoritarian and arrogant.”

So began a cracking speech by Sir Christopher Chope, MP for Christchurch, in the House of Commons, as he read out snippets from letters from his constituents.

Sir Christopher Chope? Really? The MP who is infamous for blocking private members’ bills (PMBs) – on the grounds of insufficient scrutiny, he alleges — although that doesn’t appear to apply to his pals’ PMBs, or indeed to his own. Wasn’t he the chap who blocked PMBs on up-skirting and female genital mutilation, to the general frustration of even his own party? The very same.

Last week he had the courage to stand up in Parliament and speak truth to power: this government is incompetent. It just goes to show that in the topsy-turvy political quagmire that we now inhabit, you can find yourself agreeing with politicians you might normally consider to be about as far away from your position as it’s possible to get and still be living on the same planet. OK, there were parts of the speech I didn’t agree with, like no further extensions of the evictions ban, but the general tenor of it felt right.

Sir Christopher was taking exception with the government over its failure to carry out impact assessments of new regulations. Well, blow me down with a white feather! Where was such wisdom when David Davis was doing the hokey-cokey with his Schrödinger Brexit impact assessments? Still, even belated conversion to the need for some sort of rational and rigorous evaluation of  action and consequence is preferable to allowing this hapless government continue on its making-it-up-as-they-go-along error-strewn way.

Paul Scully, in the government’s corner, countered that Parliament had been inveigled into granting the government emergency powers for two years to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, so was excused from the inconvenience of impact assessments. David Davis must be pickled in envy. He never had the luxury of such an excuse. The irrational positivist even had to squirm in front of a committee considering bringing contempt proceedings for his “dog-ate-my-homework” approach.

Granting almost dictatorial powers to the government for two years, when other countries did it for two months at a time, is now looking decidedly foolish. Sir Christopher was less than amused by the number of U-turns, which were making government look inconsistent and, well, incompetent. Yet, arguably, the absence of impact assessments is only half the problem. The other half lies with the Tory Party having tossed the keys to the UK’s clown-car into the swingers’ ash-tray in the hope they’d be fished out by a muscular statesman, only for them to fall into the hands of Dominic Cummings.

Perhaps Cummings is the cause of Sir Christopher’s disquiet. Tories were initially charmed by the genius-in-his-own-living-room, despite him despising the Tory Party and Tory MPs (except for Michael Gove, of course). Once ensconced in Number 10, Cummings invited a band of weirdos, misfits and super-forecasters to camp in the conservatory. Super-forecasters are geeks who dynamically adjust the probabilities of their predictions as variables change. In other words, people who change their minds. A lot. How can they make so many mistakes when they focus-group everything to death? Possibly because they’re not preparing policies so much as PR strategies.

The biggest recession in our history, coronavirus: the sequel, an expected flu epidemic, seasonal floods and the doom of no-deal Brexit lie on the wintry horizon. Government-by-slogan has been an “interesting” experiment but, nine months on, it’s time to bring the gaslit revels to an end and turn our attention to saving ourselves from ruin. If Sir Christopher Chope is finding this government’s actions increasingly difficult to defend, there will be many more feeling the same way. Dominic Cummings and his hangers-on have outstayed their welcome. Time for a new broom to sweep incompetence out of Number 10.