Our web of political spin is as insidious as Trump’s – David Behrens

Americans have always been more outgoing than us. While they’re scaling the walls of the Capitol Building, we’re afraid even to leave the house in case the police accuse us of organising a picnic.

The decline and fall of Donald Trump has more than a flavour of ancient Rome about it, although even Caesar might have written off the most recent events as implausible.

Any schadenfreude we might have felt as the turmoil in Washington unfolded has been mitigated by our own self-inflicted political wounds of late. Nevertheless, it has been hard not to think that they should have seen this coming.

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It was a feeling fuelled by seeing the faces of the insurgents. Any competent despot wishing to overthrow democracy would have dispatched crack militia to do his bidding. Trump sent the Beverly Hillbillies.

Trump supporters during a protest with police at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

His ragtag bunch of cheeseburger revolutionaries did not exactly disprove Lincoln, but they did demonstrate that fooling enough of the people for enough of the time is more than sufficient.

It made events back home seem positively parochial. It was in Derbyshire that police surrounded the cars of two women who had gone for a walk with cups of hot coffee. “You can’t do that – it’s classed as a picnic,” said one officer, dispensing fines of £200 – since withdrawn – for not having obeyed the “spirit of the lockdown”.

A picnic? I’d hate to be a guest at the Derbyshire constabulary’s annual dinner if they’re telling us that a hot beverage without food constitutes a meal. It’s an edict from the same book of twisted logic that caused ministers to insist before Christmas that a Scotch egg could be classed as a substantial meal. If police and politicians are now to be our culinary arbiters, let’s get them on Celebrity Masterchef and see how long they last in front of Gregg Wallace.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson answering questions from MPs on the House of Commons Education Committee

The question of just what the Government thinks does constitute an acceptable dinner has never been more relevant in a week in which some free school meals parcels with a supposed value of £30 were found to consist of two carrots, two potatoes, a tin of baked beans and a few bits and pieces.

These were dispatched on the Government’s behalf by an outsourcing company that was supposed to make sure children do not go without food, as well as an education, in the current crisis.

It should have surprised no-one that the worth of the contents barely added up to £5, because it is absolutely typical of every transaction carried out by the public sector in the name of taxpayers. It doesn’t matter whether it’s groceries, medical supplies or an arms contract – the value never bears any relation to the cost.

This is because the execution of ministerial policy is left to their civil servants, who in turn offload it to a greedy outsourcer like the collapsed Carillion, whose only skill is in spotting a soft touch when they see one.

The roll-out of the Covid vaccine is an even more serious manifestation of this “dumb and dumber” cycle of ministers and civil servants. The past few days have seen Matt Hancock vacillating over signing up community chemists’ shops to administer the jabs when he could have bypassed Whitehall entirely and asked the Army to do it. They’d have had vaccination tents on every street corner by now.

This sort of obfuscation makes a nonsense of claims by his Cabinet colleagues to have spent an extra £100m on new laptops to help disadvantaged children study at home.

One day we will perhaps learn how much of the cash has gone on the actual hardware and how much into shoring up the profit margin of some unaccountable Carillion clone – but in the meantime I can report that it has been little seen in the disadvantaged part of the North where Behrens junior is conducting maths lessons as a trainee teacher. He is using not only his own computer but also a webcam which he had to go out and buy himself, in order for his pupils to see him. If he had told me this before he bought it, I’d have offered to outsource it myself, and added my 25 per cent to the bill.

From this insidious climate of spin and opaqueness is woven a web of small lies which together make a great big lie – one that erodes government to the point where it can no longer be taken seriously. And before you know it, it has boiled over into dissent of American proportions.

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