“All political lives […] end in failure,” once said Enoch Powell.
He lived in different times, of course (the Windrush generation had not long arrived back then, instead of later being deported by accident.)
Now, political careers begin in failure, and thus they cannot be stopped.
Is Gavin Williamson going to resign? He was asked that question three times on BBC Breakfast, on each occasion the words of the interviewer seeming to be little more than a mild irritation in his own private one-player game of Mallet’s Mallet, a random word association game of meaningless drivel.
“I am going to be delivering the world’s best education system. That’s what my focus is on.”
How do we describe that sentence? It can hardly be called a lie, because nobody could ever say in good faith that they were really meant to believe it was true.
An infinite number of chimpanzees with an infinite number of typewriters would type out the complete works of Shakespeare an infinite number of times. And it is, therefore, theoretically possible that left alone in a cave, Williamson might smear one of Hamlet’s soliloquies on the wall with his own excrement, and thus it is equally theoretically possible that he will indeed deliver the world’s best education system. But it is not a claim that anyone, not even Williamson himself, is surely meant to believe. They are just words, sounds, noises he is obliged, by convention, to make from time to time on television before going back to his easy life as a failure so stratospheric as to be rendered untouchable.
It would have made little difference if Williamson had dispensed with the language entirely. Asked if he was going to resign, he might just as well have emitted a series of strangulated growls and barks, a kind of political Papa Lazarou, a deranged wielder of power drawn from no one quite knows where.
It was interesting to note that Williamson admitted he became aware of the jaw-dropping scale of his own uselessness “on Saturday”. It was “on Saturday” that it became clear to him that the A-Level results system wasn’t fit for purpose. It just so happens that in early July, he was sent an Education Committee report that warned him precisely of what would happen.
But can Williamson really be blamed for not reading that? You can surely only be blamed for not doing what is expected of you? And what is expected of Williamson is to cock up absolutely everything he touches, so why should he resign?
Should Boris Johnson sack him? That would surely be grounds for unfair dismissal. As it happens, while Williamson spoke, Marks and Spencer announced it was cutting 7,000 jobs. That’s a whole small town out of work, through precisely zero fault of its own.
In November 2017, when the safest pair of hands in Theresa May’s government turned out to be not so much safe as wandering, Williamson recommended the owner of those mitts, Michael Fallon, be sacked. His advice was followed. He then recommended, as his replacement as defence secretary, none other than himself.
A year and a half later, he was sacked for leaking information from the National Security Council, thus rendering him a danger to national security. Williamson strenuously denied that the leak had come from him, even “swearing on his children’s life” (oh, the dignity), but May did not consider these denials sufficient to overturn the very large amount of very overwhelming evidence that it had definitely been him.
So why should he quit now? For being incompetent? For not having a clue what he’s doing? How can you sack him for that? It would be like sacking a mouse for eating cheese.
Naturally, the blame has already been shifted onto the top civil servant at the Department for Education, Jonathan Slater. At this point, one doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to wonder at the strategy.
He would be the third permanent secretary to be forced out in a matter of months, as well as the head of the entire civil service, Sir Mark Sedwill.
It is a kind of genius, really. You appoint the most useless cabinet that has ever been assembled, and one by one you purge all of the departments of their top administrators as they are conned into carrying the can for the staggering fiascos that, entirely coincidentally, have only happened once the Cabinet of None of The Talents showed up.
On they all go, the Carnival of the Clueless, burning down all before them. From sixth form colleges to care homes, cradle quite literally to the grave, they’re coming for you.
When they find you and strip away either your life chances or your life itself, the important thing to remember is that it will always all be somebody else’s fault.