For those of us fortunate enough not to have been directly affected by the sickness and death, the bereavements, and the worries about money, jobs and schooling that Covid-19 has brought with it, the main burden has probably been uncertainty. We wonder when will we get to visit family in other countries again, and when will they be able to come to visit us; when will the elective surgery we are waiting for be possible; when will we get to hug our children and grandchildren again; when will it feel safe to do something as ‘normal’ as going to the cinema again.
So it is kind of government ‘spokesmen’ (seemingly always ‘men’ even when they happen to be women) to provide a level constancy and certainty in our lives for us, what T.S.Eliot might have referred to as ‘the still point in a turning world’, even if it is the government they represent that is doing much of the U-turning. The constancy lies in the certainty that, however indefensible, they will always find a way of denying that the government department they represent has ever done anything wrong. Today’s example was comfortingly predictable. In response to people being impertinent enough to ask about the £150 million of our money recently spent by government on buying 50 million useless face-masks for the NHS, the spokesman responsible for answering silly questions responded by categorically assuring us that: “There is a robust process in place to ensure orders are of high quality and meet strict safety standards, with the necessary due diligence undertaken on all Government contracts.” Really? I am sure we were also reassured to have another element of constancy confirmed: “Throughout this global pandemic, we have been working tirelessly to deliver PPE to protect people on the front line.” Everybody in government is always working ‘tirelessly’, even Boris, and not many more than 300 NHS workers and care workers had died from Covid-19 by the end of May, who knows many of them as a direct result of a lack of adequate PPE.
It turns out that our government of all the talentless, this time via our fascistic Home Office, has been caught out in another of the ‘robust processes’ it has in place to ensure things. In this instance they were using a ‘decision-making algorithm’ to ensure that as few Africans as possible were granted visas to darken our national doorway. Anyone who might have been puzzled by the bewildering number of African academics who have been denied visas to come to UK conferences over recent years now has the answer. Visa applications from Africans have, in fact, been more than twice as likely to be rejected as similar applications from anywhere else in the world. Those of us who suspected that it was simply because there were too many racists working in the Home Office were wrong, it turns out that it was a racist computer that was at fault, not that the computer will have programmed itself. To forestall legal action against it, the Home Office has, according to the Independent, suspended the offending ‘digital streaming tool’ pending a redesign. If the original design involved the computer scanning the photographs on the applications to try to identify the friendly black people who should be welcome in UK – our influential Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s, ‘piccanninies’ with their ‘watermelon smiles’, no doubt – the designers of the new system probably need to remember that most applicants are too old to be considered piccanninies, and that nobody is allowed to smile any kind of smile in a visa photograph. True to form, the Home Office spokesman assured us that the withdrawal of the programme wasn’t an indication that it was flawed in any way, but rather, “We have been reviewing how the visa application streaming tool operates and will be redesigning our processes to make them even more streamlined and secure.’ So any uncertainty about the system can be dispelled: we can rest assured that the new system will keep an even higher proportion of African applicants away.
But it is manifestly unfair to single out individual departments of state. It is our government of all the talentless as a whole that provides us with certainty in these uncertain times. We know with absolute certainty that they won’t meet any of the targets they set and will lie about the reasons for not meeting them; their messaging will always be hopelessly confused and confusing; they will always try to centralise any action to be taken in combatting Covid-19 that should be devolved to local authorities; and by the time this pandemic is under control many more people will have died in UK than anywhere else in Europe as a direct result of their incompetence. But the certainties to be found in public life don’t compensate for the uncertainties of private life.