Another extraordinary week in Westminster on top of an equally extraordinary time in Washington. Has some divine string puller in the Cosmos suddenly awakened and decided to sort a few gremlins out here on this rogue planet, one might wonder ?
There is little doubt that the appearance of Covid upon our political, health and social scenes has caused an unprecedented amount of 'headless-chicken' syndrome. Responses at every level have been driven by perceptions over truths and false beliefs throughout, yet one supposes that if any challenge suddenly materialises that has never been seen within living memory before the chances that your risk analysis has all the answers neatly prescribed with perfect mitigation measures ready to launch is a bit of an imagination stretch. One doubts whether there is anywhere in the world where the responses have been even marginally better than here in the UK, except China. Yet there is little in China or about China that inspires belief in anything they say.
Yet this pandemic has defined our governance for most of 2020. It has distracted leadership from the other big issues of the day like Brexit and has opened up the very core of government to the influence of that breed known as 'advisers'. Whilst the political leadership has been almost overwhelmed by the task of tackling the Covid pandemic, behind them there has arisen a layer of political 'advisers' who have, partly be default and partly by design, adopted the position of being the policy makers and strategists for the ongoing processes of government - almost like a subtle usurping of authority whilst the real incumbents of government face the barrage of Covid. Maybe this was a natural or at least inevitable outcome given the extraordinary circumstances. Yet now, almost on the eve of the final Brexit push, this layer of very clever - but possibly too clever - advisers have been purged from Downing Street. We shouldn't overlook the fact that the breed existed long before Covid and operated with varying degrees of political success but it was Covid that swung the doors wide open to allow them to expand their influence and style upon the decision making machinery of Whitehall. The departure of a handful of their leadership - suddenly and incisively -is almost a visceral realisation by our political leadership that democratic governance is, for better or worse, a politically led dynamic rather than an autocratically led one. Hasn't history ever shown this to be thus when autocrats, dictators and despots try to dominate the roost ? As to who brought this visceral realisation about is largely academic - in the case of the Prime Ministers partner, such gossip is hardly new or that meaningful. One can doubt whether there has ever been a political leadership that wasn't in some way influenced by wives, husbands or partners - to a degree, a healthy counter-balance to the rigid doctrines of Whitehall. We need to move beyond the salacious gossipers and focus on that which really matters.
Downing Street will be a better place with a less ambitious core of advisers. It will not be an easy transition and there will no doubt be further fallout to occur - but it will be the better position to be in if the new breed of adviser is more carefully selected and appointed.
Biden's success in the US elections will also occupy many minds. As to what this represents across American society is not absolutely clear as both he and Trump polled very healthy numbers of votes. The Reds and the Blues of America are still much divided and not settled yet into any acceptance of the political shift in Washington. There also we are likely to see an upsurge of social pressure to shape the domestic agenda for politicians to grapple with as the partnership between citizen and government nudges ever closer. In both our countries, we have seen an expansion of public interest in the political status quo - or perhaps we should redefine ' status quo' into 'status transformare', the shift from permanence to transformative change - as social issues begin to dominate much of the political agenda setting as we move forward. It is happening elsewhere within the Western democracies also as the isolationism of governance is increasingly held to account by the public interest. And for all this we have the media to thank - that ever expanding balloon of information, disclosure and immediacy that most of us are obliged to be drawn into. One could imagine we have briefly emerged from one dark pit of covert governance and are now on the cusp of jumping into another dark pit characterised by a misinformed populace. One wonders what the Cosmic string-pullers think of that...