Tag Archives: foot shooting

Foot shooting

Grumpy’s father had a litany of expressions with which he would precede some view of life or the world. One favourite started “what I don’t understand, and never will”… This expression came to mind recently when Grumpy was contemplating the tendency of government ministers to make pronouncements that were self-evidently hostages to (inevitable) fortune. The part that Grumpy doesn’t understand and never will is that any possible benefit from the proclamation was totally opaque; there was no rational reason to having taken the risk.

Grumpy got more than halfway through his rather mundane career before he learned the value of ‘shutting up’ in a business environment. People generally don’t like silence and they feel a strong compulsion to fill it by saying – well, something.

This is greatly amplified in politicians. Firstly, they tend to like to be the one talking and not listening (see Trump here as a perfect example); messages need to be got across. Secondly, they try to generate ‘soundbite’ or two, simple enough for even readers of the Daily Mail. Thirdly, they fear (quite wrongly) minimalism in communication will be equated with a vacancy of ideas by the electorate and press.

The issue is that normally they fall in to the trap of seeking to quantify the unquantifiable; of using numbers in their statements about outcomes when there is in fact not only huge uncertainty about same, but where they are mostly outwith their control.

David Cameron once made the rash statement that immigration would be limited to the “tens of thousands”. No doubt he had in his mind that 99,000 was within that limit and he had some leeway (wrong), but the opposition was no doubt sharpening their knives for anything remotely approaching that (‘tens’ is not ‘almost 100’). Although at least it should have been technically in his control, two factors did for him, namely the EU and lack of competent management.

However, Matt Hancock had absolutely no good reason for forecasting how many COVID tests would be done by what date ,or how many gowns would be delivered by when. There was a perfectly good and defensible “Sir Humphrey” statement that “an adequate number of tests / gowns would be available to prevent any shortages”. Instead he kept on quantifying that over which he had no control and each iteration of unknowable numbers was yet another target on his chest

Worse, it hard to imagine what drove Boris to declare all would be normal by Christmas. It’s a pure case wanting to hear himself say something positive, filling a silent gap, and looking for a soundbite.

The outcome is pretty near inevitable. It is extremely likely that things will not only not be back to normal at Christmas, they may be worse than the current state by virtue of winter flu. He must surely realise that this adds up to bad headlines and a ‘PM’s Question Time’ thrashing.

Why do they do it ? The impulse to shoot oneself in the foot like this is something that Grumpy doesn’t understand and never will.