It’s a variation on the old philosophical conundrum: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” If the prime minister makes a speech in Enfield and no one is there to hear it, has he actually made a speech?
The resets, relaunches – call them what you like – come thick and fast these days. Scarcely a week goes by without the government making some new announcement. Usually one that demands total amnesia of anything that might have been announced previously. Because it’s odds on to be contradictory. But every day is now a potential year zero. A day when time can start again. When Rishi Sunak can be adored as he deserves to be.
Only the opinion polls remain stubbornly static. Whatever Sunak says, people don’t believe him. He and the Tories have exhausted the country’s patience. But the government only has one mode. Rather than surrendering gracefully, all that Rish! can do is blunder on. We’ve now reached the point where what he says is effectively obsolete hours before he’s actually said it.
We’re in a time slip. One where the country is being punished for the Tories’ incompetence. Sunak knows it. And we know it. Which is why there were only a handful of people in north London on Monday morning to hear the prime minister make what was trailed as an “important” speech on the economy.
Important as in instantly forgettable. Because those that had made the wasted journey were quite happy to flatline throughout the event. Disconnect the synapses and chill out. Let Rish! talk to himself. Not even the broadcasters could be bothered to run it on the main news channels.
Sunak continued regardless. He’s no stranger to futility. He’d been meaning to tell everyone that he had personally halved inflation last week, but everything had gone tits up with the supreme court’s Rwanda ruling. So now was his chance. Before anything else went wrong.
It was all bollocks of course. He’d had nothing to do with inflation falling. That had all been global energy prices. But he was happy to take the credit and declare he was now ready to lower taxes. Even though his chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, had said that it would be irresponsible to cut taxes just two months ago. Again we were in a brave new world of no consequences. There was no admission that it had been the Tories who had wrecked the economy and imposed more than 20 tax rises.
“Er, is that it?” said the audience, when Sunak paused for breath. “Can we go home now? We’re not even wholly sure why we’re here.” Rishi looked desperate. Out came the old, familiar tetchy prime minister. The one who can’t quite understand why nobody can see the sacrifices he has made to run the country. Hell, a little gratitude from the little people would be a start.
So, no, he hadn’t finished. He wanted to make a new announcement. Remember those five promises he had made at the beginning of the year. The promises where he had only kept one. Well, forget them. He was going to make five long-term promises that he would also definitely not keep. Partly because that would be off-brand. But mainly because he was in no position to keep them as he would be out of a job in a year. He wasn’t quite sure what these promises were. Something about reducing taxes and improving education. Definitely nothing about small boats and hospitals. Once bitten etc. Cue a dash for the exits.
Meanwhile in the Lords, one man was fulfilling his destiny. It was written in the stars that David Cameron would become Lord Big Dave and now that time had come. It’s Chipping Norton I mostly feel sorry for. The village has a bad enough rep as the epicentre for twats and now Lord Big Dave has annexed it for his title. Chipping Norton will never recover. The shame.
But Lord Big Dave looked perfectly at home in his new surroundings. Puffed up and plump in ermine. Just another perfectly normal day. When a former prime minister who had put the country through austerity and had carelessly inflicted the trauma of Brexit before running off to cash in with some dodgy lobbying was rewarded with a peerage.
Honoured for dishonour. Unbelievably, he is now our foreign secretary. Is there really no one better? Even without resorting to Grant Shapps. I guess there isn’t. We’re just back in a looking-glass world where incompetence is reconfigured as competence. There was no sign of Sam Cam in the visitors’ gallery. She must think a life peerage is a bit nouveau riche. Quite right too. Lord Big Dave has lowered the tone.
Over at the Covid inquiry, Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser during the pandemic, was giving evidence all day. All the more damning for being downbeat and prosaic. No frills, no flounces. Just the considered recollections of a man who was often the only serious person inside No 10.
Take the prime minister. Boris Johnson. AKA a total halfwit. Someone who would change his mind several times a day. Was unable to understand a simple graph. Who was unfit to be in charge. Weak. Couldn’t make a decision. Thought that old people were better off being left to die in the streets.
Then there was the chancellor. Now our dear leader, Rish!. He may try to be the touchy feely guy now who understands the mood of the country. But back then he really didn’t give a toss whether people lived or died. Actually, that’s not quite fair. He did care. He would rather people had died. Far better for the economy than letting them rack up costs on an overstretched NHS.
To complete the unholy trinity, we had Matt Hancock. The fantasist who was unable to tell the truth. Who would drip feed Tiggerish drivel. And somehow Vallance had to negotiate a path through this incompetence, disingenuity and dissimulation. Hold the government to a higher truth. The longer the inquiry goes on, the more you think it’s a miracle that more people didn’t die.
John Crace’s book Depraved New World (Guardian Faber, £16.99) is out now. To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy and save 18% at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply