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It is still only a few months since Boris Johnson’s former senior adviser Dominic Cummings declared to a select committee that the still prime minister had been responsible for the deaths of “tens of thousands of people who didn’t need to die”. This happened because he had ignored scientific advice and wrongly delayed lockdowns. Just to repeat that central claim again, that’s tens of thousands of people, dying needlessly.
So it should be within this context that we approach Wednesday afternoon’s cabinet reshuffle, and Johnson’s own assessment of who in his cabinet has been doing a bad job.
Dominic Raab’s been sacked, or rather demoted, to deputy prime minister. The charge sheet against him appears to be taking too long to get on a flight home from Greece which, for all the sound and fury, made precious little difference to anything.
In fact, the only truly outrageous aspect of that never-ending saga was the fact that both he, who was de facto deputy prime minister and Johnson, the actual prime minister, were both on holiday at the same time, the kind of holiday rota abomination that would not be sanctioned in a vaguely well-run sandwich shop.
So Raab’s been sacked for that. For the crime, chiefly, of being on holiday at the same time as his boss who told him he could go. So, if you’re keeping you own failure index, how high you choose to mark that one up, next to the tens of thousands of people who died needlessly is very much a matter of personal choice.
Gavin Williamson has also been sacked as education secretary. This one is harder to quantify. Williamson has been sacked, principally, for being a rolling thermonuclear s***show, but there are vaguely mitigating circumstances.
He’s been sacked for being useless at everything, but the main thing he was useless at was the exam results atrocity of last summer and partially this summer.
Williamson made an appalling mess of it, but it was also one of the hardest problems any minister has ever faced – how to justly award exam grades with no exams.
And for the most part, Gavin Williamson has just been Gavin Williamson. Who is to blame, exactly, when you appoint someone to the cabinet who’s only just been sacked from the cabinet for endangering national security (something Williamson denies) – and is widely regarded as the nation’s leading cretin, who then turns out to be a cretin?
Could it possibly, possibly, be the guy who appointed him in the first place? Still, a few thousand 18-year-olds got overly inflated exam grades? No job for Williamson. Tens of thousands of people needlessly dead? You carry on.
The justice secretary, Robert Buckland, has also been sacked. There are few people involved in the world of the judiciary who think he deserved it. But reshuffles are a bit like those sliding tile puzzles children used to do. If you haven’t got a spare hole you can’t shuffle anything about. So somebody has to prised out of the picture, and as Buckland is probably the only person in the cabinet there on the basis of general competence and being vaguely normal, as opposed to scheming and plotting and threatening and power-base building, he was the least stressful tile to pull out, so that the great turd mosaic could be rearranged.
Priti Patel’s kept her job. So’s Rishi Sunak. So’s Sajid Javid. How could you cope without “The Saj” – who happened to play first violin in the reshuffle day overture, by going around the broadcast studios on Wednesday morning to explain that it’s fine for Tories not to bother wearing masks in the cabinet room or in the commons, because they all know each other. You only have to wear masks in crowded spaces “with strangers.”
So there you have it then. It sounds stupid at first – which is obviously because it is stupid, utterly brain-meltingly stupid – but maybe there’s a logic there. This nation has been divided long enough, and this new policy, of only giving Covid-19 to friends, could be just what’s required. Come October, when everybody’s got it again, because the prime minister has again decided not to do anything about it until it’s too late, it will be proof that, actually, we are one happy nation after all. That we’re all friends really. It’s time for Covid to bring the people together.
All of which gives us precious little time to report on the big promotion of the day and that’s new foreign secretary Liz Truss. She will, it has been announced, be keeping her previous briefs as women and equalities minister, which is nothing if not fitting, given the very first job she will have to do is start sorting out relations with the Taliban.
And that, more or less, is that. This new government, Johnson announced, will focus “on uniting and levelling up the whole country”.
Which it no doubt will, just as soon as someone – anyone – has a clue what that little phrase actually means.