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It’s Make Your Mind up Time!

It’s Make Your Mind up Time!

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Back to school? Back to the office? Or, maybe, back to the drawing board? The government’s drive to get young and old out of their homes is hitting snags just about everywhere. And, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, Boris Johnson’s starting to look like his own worst enemy.

Headline writers are not pulling their punches.

‘Facemasks in schools: Head teachers demand clear guidance.’ That, in The Times, says it all.

Likewise this telling paragraph from the same paper.

‘Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, opened a cabinet rift yesterday by saying that he cares more about how effectively officials in his department are working than whether they come into the office.’

The rift stems from Hancock’s words being at odds with the official campaign to get people off their fat arses.

Ok, that is a slight paraphrase. But it chimes with the implication they’re more likely to get the sack if they carry on home-working.

Of course there are concerns about the life being drained out of life-support systems in inner cities. Pret A Manger, for instance, has just laid off nearly three thousand employees.

Plus, transport networks like the London Underground are less crowded these days. Not everyone’s complaining about that, mind.

And there’s lots of evidence that bosses are well up for the smaller business rates stemming from pared down offices. Also, judging workers by what they produce rather than just looking frightfully busy all the time? That’ll do nicely, sir.

Little wonder the law firm Linklaters has announced its five-thousand-plus employees can from now on do up to half their work from home indefinitely.

Fifty of the biggest UK employers questioned by the BBC have said they have no plans to return all staff to the office full-time in the near future.

And a study by the phone folk Huawei revealed that eight in ten desk-based staff wanted to go on working from home.

Apparently people rather like saving a few bob. The Office for National Statistics says the average person saved nearly five-hundred quid a month in lockdown.

Surveys suggest the younger ones do like the buzz of city life, after-work socialising and the possibility, ahem, of one thing leading to another later.

But those already spoken for seem to have no problem swopping the daily commute on crowded, unreliable trains or clogged up motorways for family time.

In short, the majority message to Bojo is looking like… go swivel.

Not that a fair few senior civil servants need to be worrying where they’re earning their crust for the moment. On account of not have a job at all.

The head of the exam regulator Ofqual, Sally Collier, got lucky last week. Though she stood down after what some euphemistically term the A-level ‘fiasco’, she’ll get another, comparable, post.

But the same might not apply to Jonathan Slater, the Education Department’s Sir Humphrey.

After what many refer to as the A-level clusterf**k, someone had to go. Though one Tory MP, asked how the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson managed to sack his Permanent Secretary but not himself, had a simple answer. ‘God knows.’

And the head of the mandarins’ union Dave Penman was equally direct. ‘Slater has been thrown under a bus.’ Not very nice.

Still, he’s in good company. No fewer than four other people of Slater’s rank have departed abruptly in recent months. But then again what’s a buck for? Passing, surely.

After all, Bojo knows best. The algorithm that skewed results and skewered so many youngsters was, the Prime Minister maintains, a ‘mutant’. Tut tut.

Strangely though, the day the results came out, he robustly insisted the system was, er, ‘robust’.

The number cruncher Stian Westlake, who heads the Royal Statistical Society, accepts ministers were surprised by what happened, but insists they shouldn’t have been.

This because the aim of reducing grade inflation had been factored into the algorithm. Meaning the cockup was, to use his expression ‘predictable’.

‘The fact that this could have produced a lot of inaccuracy, which translates into unfair grades for individuals, that was known,’ he said.

Still, who says people in power can’t change their minds when the facts change? Take the wearing of facemasks in schools.

One waspish commentator summed up the process thus:

‘Scotland adopts a policy loudly and proudly. Tory ministers dismiss the need to do so in England. They insist they’re in the business of following the evidence. Then they wobble.

‘The evidence points in the same direction. Briefings suggests a U-turn is in the offing. Labour calls for the government to adopt the same policy. Tory MPs lose their heads. Ministers deny they’re going to U-turn. Then they U-turn anyway.’

And yet, and yet… the latest YouGov survey for the Times shows the government has extended its lead over Labour. A shift one pollster describes as ‘f***ing bonkers’.

Seems government classroom fashion guidance is driving head teachers the same way. Which is why they’re demanding, ahem, consistent guidelines.

Whitehall’s line, at the time of writing, is that pupils and staff at secondary schools in lockdown areas should cover up. But elsewhere it’s down to heads to decide.

This, some of them say, has put them in everyone’s line of fire as pro and anti parents slug it out between themselves.

However, the biggest study to date has shown not a single child who wasn’t already very seriously ill has died of Covid-19 in Britain.

And a survey by the Head Teachers’ union suggests almost all primary schools in England and Wales are likely to open, even though a third have no extra handwashing provision and no personal protective equipment for staff.

Fingers crossed, everyone. Both on that, and on getting the vaccine that’ll hopefully make everything all right.

You never know, it could even help Donald Trump get re-elected in November.

Reports suggest he’s spotted the potential connection between his flagging poll rating and America’s soaring Covid-19 death rate, and reckons fast-tracking approval for Oxford University and AstraZeneca’s jab might solve his problem.

However, the company’s boffins have indicated they will not take short cuts in safety trials to help The Donald or anyone else. Which seems pretty unsporting of them.

And it’s not as if the world’s lost its a sense humour. At least not all of it.

The people running one particular hospital in Serbia have proved in these troubled times the right tipple can tip the balance.

Which is why they’re using rakija to disinfect their Covid-19 wards.

For the benefit of the boring, rakija is a traditional plum brandy. And these guys have got ten thousand bottles of the stuff lined up and ready to rock.

The technology works, after all. They proved it earlier on with a third of a million bottles of wine.

Across in France, meanwhile, they’re more focussed in certain quarters on women and song. Or in the case of les belles dames, the blokes.

As a result, tourists at that country’s best-known naturist and partner-swapping resort are getting rather a lot of coronavirus infection.

So punters at the apparently famous Cap d’Agde so-called ‘family’ resort are being strongly advised to faire attention.

Trouble is, fun-loving Frenchmen and women are saying, that’s a bit tricky in the sex clubs.

‘In the evening we’re all jammed together, one against the other.’ After all, this same person added, ‘we don’t come to play cards.’

No. Suppose not…

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.

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