Collapsed ceiling in an abandoned building

The roof is falling in

Schools are not the only thing in danger of collapsing

Artillery Row Sketch

Each government has its own tone. David Cameron’s had vast carelessness. Theresa May’s had desperation. Boris Johnson’s had chaos and Liz Truss’s was a death cult. Rishi’s Sunak’s, it is becoming clear, is defined by a simmering resentment of the ungrateful bastards who make up the electorate.

The prime minister is sick of all your bloody questions and complaints. He could be sitting by the pool in Santa Monica, founding the next Tesla, or at least running the next Twitter into the ground. Instead, he has graciously agreed to be our leader, and all we do is whine about not being able to see doctors and not being able to afford food, as though it was his fault that we haven’t had the good sense to be rich.

Our latest whinge is the announcement, days before the new term was due to start, that the roofs of a significant number of schools were in danger of falling in. 

“There are around 22,000 schools in England,” Sunak reassured us on Monday. “The important thing to know is that we expect that 95 percent of those schools won’t be impacted by this.” The implication was that around a thousand schools would be affected, and that we were all getting worked up about nothing, because a thousand isn’t that many. This rather depends on whether your child attends one of them.

The prime minister was asked, impertinently, about comments from a former education official that 300 schools a year needed to be rebuilt, and that in his previous job at the Treasury Sunak had provided enough funding to rebuild only 50 a year. 

“That is completely and utterly wrong,” he fumed. A vile calumny. Why, one of his first acts as chancellor had been “to announce a new 10-year rebuilding programme for 500 schools.” Perhaps he was hoping that national maths standards are so bad that viewers won’t be able to divide 500 by 10. If enough schools fall down, we may get there.

And how dare people suggest Sunak didn’t care about school funding? Why, he’d personally given £100,000 to Winchester College. Its new sports centre is coming on nicely — two extra squash courts and another lane on the shooting range — and its roof, at least, was finished months ago.

As with the prime minister, so with the Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan. Over the weekend, as parents panicked that their school might not reopen, or that it might be dangerous to send children in, she had avoided questions, instead releasing a video to assure us all that everything was fine. For reasons that are not fully clear, a dance music track had been added in the background. “Most schools will be unaffected,” she told the camera. “Oooo-oooh, ooh, ooh yeah,” added her backing vocalists. The effect was somewhere between a marketing film and an online spin class. 

Somehow, this failed to completely satisfy parents anxious to know whether a chunk of concrete was going to fall on their six-year-old’s head. By Monday morning, it was clear that more would be needed. Keegan was sent out to meet the press. This may, in retrospect, have been a mistake. 

She told Sky News that it wasn’t the government’s job to stop schools collapsing. I will concede that voters make a lot of unfair demands of their leaders, but I’m not persuaded that this is one of them. But Keegan had the bit between her teeth now. Irritated by questions from ITV, she waited until the interview was over, and then turned to an aide. “Does anyone ever say,” she inquired, unaware that the camera was still filming, “‘You know what, you’ve done a fucking good job, because you know what, everyone else has sat on their arse and done nothing’? No signs of that? No?”

It is not completely clear who it was that Keegan felt had been sitting on their arse doing nothing

It is not completely clear who it was that Keegan felt had been sitting on their arse doing nothing. But we know who she thinks has been doing a great job. And where is the thanks?  Where are the parents sending flowers into the Department for Education because their school has been suddenly closed? Perhaps they were all too busy ringing round childminders to get onto Interflora.

If the assessment that Keegan was doing a good job had been shared by Sunak’s office at the start of the day, it was clearly revised at lunchtime when ITV released the clip. In the middle of the afternoon, perhaps having been told that she’d let the government down but — worse — she’d let herself down, Keegan addressed the cameras again. 

“I’d like to apologise for my choice of language,” she said. But it was clear this was all she was going to be apologising for. “The interviewer was making out it was all my fault,” she complained. Many political statements of contrition are, when read closely, closer to unapologies — statements of bland regret that admit nothing. This one was more like the opening of a second front. 

When she addressed the House of Commons later, Conservative MPs were anxious to express their agreement that she’d been doing very well, falling over each other in admiration for the work of her department. Perhaps they really think that, or perhaps they had detected a note of menace in another of her lines to ITV: “A school can collapse for many reasons.” This government is sick of your complaining, and if you don’t shut up soon, you’ll have bigger problems than some dodgy concrete.

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