it’s fitting that the obviously mythical notion of the Grim Reaper should find its entirely real, yet more lifeless form, in Gavin Williamson
After 30 years of gas-lighting by their own small-state fetishism and basic incompetence, the children who pretend to lead us are finally getting a taste of power – and like every bossy elder sibling, they’re loving it

Infinite in faculty

By Edward Pinnegar

When the mother hen flees the coop, what are the chicks to do? Edward Pinnegar evaluates the success of the government's latest new initiative to tackle COVID-19: leaderless sycophancy.

The commentariat keeps asking itself if the government’s Covid response is a zero-sum game: lives versus money. Actually, it’s more like a zero-sum lottery: 25,000 of us randomly selected by the government’s incompetence (pensioners, the disabled and medical staff to be entered thrice) in return for an eighteen month pause on the extinction of butterflies.


‘Of course the sun’s shining when we’re all locked indoors,’ your granny complains from the Zoom microphone you’ve spent the last fifteen minutes nobly resisting the temptation to mute, the only distraction from the unrepentant hideousness of your relatives being the preposterous length of their nasal hair.


But, as Nick Clegg might once have said, granny raises an interesting point. So much sunshine while this country’s horrid, incompetent government has told all its horrid, incompetent citizens to stay inside. Although mostly impervious to the three-word slogans so beloved of our razor-sharp ministers, our wildlife is beginning to get the message that we’ve taken the collective decision to obliterate it at a slightly slower pace than the previous plan called for.


If you happen to see a slightly shell-shocked looking deer, badger or even a rare bird enjoying a short holiday from ecosystem collapse in your newly quietened suburban street, you should look it squarely in the eyes and tell it to stop being so complacent. Or if you’re a police officer, you should arrest it within three to five working seconds under the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations 2020, refer it to the Prevent programme for environmental extremism, and give yourself a hearty pat on the back.


But beast and fowl aren’t the only things trying to wrap their heads around ‘life after siege mentality’. Government ministers are trying their best too. After 30 years of gas-lighting by their own small-state fetishism and basic incompetence, the children who pretend to lead us are finally getting a taste of power – and like every bossy elder sibling, they’re loving it.


They’ve told us to stay at home and they’ve grounded us from going to parties for months. And then those other children pretending to be policemen said they’ll go through people’s shopping trollies and take away all our Easter eggs! It was all really fun.


That is, until the freshly lobotomised class of 2019 were told that the Headmaster was feeling a bit squiffy, and would be having a few days off.


He was due to be saying something meaningless and probably insulting to them in Latin, and they’d been waiting outside the door for twenty minutes before anyone told them. Dominic, the head boy, didn’t know what to do, because there was nobody to tell him what to do, and the littluns bickered for ages about whether they should go home, or whether to tell everybody else that staying at home was pointless, or whether to pay tribute to the nurses by fellating them in public – the same nurses they’d spent the last ten years telling naughty jokes about behind the Cabinet Office bike-sheds. Dominic’s cavernous, empty forehead glistened in the spring sunlight.


How excusable it would all be if they were children. But instead they are real-life grown-ups – the sort the prime minister might once have called ‘supine, protoplasmic, invertebrate jellies’. One might hope that he muttered this in complaint to Jenny from New Zealand, from Invercargill, South Island, to be exact, or to any one of his doctors, a large number of them strangely called Nick. They might even have had some experience of dealing with lobotomies.


But you can be pretty certain that a man who sacks his chancellor because he won’t fire all his advisors, who boasts about shaking hands with patients in the middle of a pandemic, and who nearly got rid of his dog because it’s rather a lot of work and occasionally shits, probably didn’t complain.


At least different grown-ups give the ‘briefings’ now. Hannah Arendt observed that evil is often banal, so it’s fitting that the obviously mythical notion of the Grim Reaper should find its entirely real, yet more lifeless form, in Gavin Williamson. Although they’ve all been cagey about how bad the crisis might be, we can take comfort that they haven’t rolled out the big guns yet – we’ll only know it’s really bad when Gav, still reeling from his appointment as Year 5 pencil monitor, tells Covid to ‘shut up and go away’, before failing valiantly to defend himself in an interview with Alan Partridge in a zebra sanctuary. [This actually happened.]


For a while it seemed that these, the ministers of Her Majesty’s Government, would be the people who would save us. Noble in reason and infinite in faculty as they may have been, everyone was so relieved when Easter Sunday came. A day of resurrection and redemption. A plummy and slightly dishevelled gentleman rises, and extolls to his congregation something ‘unconquerable’, ‘powered by love’. A familiar scene which brings comfort to many – until proceedings take an unusual turn. ‘Now, I invite a few among us – you’ll know who you are – to stand to sing the closing hymn.’


The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended;

The darkness falls at Thy behest;

To Thee our morning hymns ascended,

Thy praise shall sanctify our rest.

Edward Pinnegar lives in Sussex with two dogs and three chickens. Formerly a political campaign manager, he is the author of several extremely boring books on aviation history.