Richard North, 12/08/2020  

If only I hadn't already written multiple pieces about contact tracing, it might just be worth commenting on this. But, having written so many times about it, there is little more that I can add. If the government had listened to me from the start, it would have saved millions.

But there is one observation worth making: apparently, the man at the top running everything is Dominic Cummings, supposedly a genius in his own lunchtime. But if he really is so clever, how come he didn't pick up the inadequacies in the current system, and push for something more effective?

However, that begs a more fundamental question: when government systems go off the rails, how do we overcome the deficiencies and get it running effectively, so that it can deliver the necessary functions?

Sadly, though, we already have an answer to that question: we don't. There are very little in the way of corrective mechanisms which can be used to turn round the great juggernaut of state when it goes wrong. Largely, it is impervious to correction and it will most often carry on regardless, irrespective of what people think or say.

The contract tracing debacle is an excellent example of this, where the level of inefficiency is indistinguishable from corruption. There have been endless articles on the failure of the system – and not just in The Guardian. Any number of experts have spoken out, and some have even run their own systems to illustrate the deficiencies of the state system, and the government has been entirely unresponsive.

Since nothing has had any effect – until now, and then only marginally so – it is appropriate to ask how we deal with a government which seems to prize inefficiency and expense (and even corruption) to quiet competence and economy.

And where we have a situation where the answer is genuinely not known should not preclude the question from being asked. It is certainly more productive than fantasising about hiding out on a roof overlooking a government building with a sniper's rifle, and picking off the offenders as they emerge from a day's sloth.

In fact, the fantasy approach rarely works, otherwise more people might try it, but since nothing at all seems to work, the most productive option might seem to be nothing. Doing nothing at least has the merit of conserving energy – a mechanism for getting no result for the least effort.

On the other hand, only a few days after the Beirut explosion, determined street protests have forced the government to resign. The odd thing here in the UK is that we have had a government which has killed through neglect far more people than the government of Lebanon, yet there hasn't been a murmur of protest.

One might think, on the other hand, when we scan the front pages of the national print media, and the obsession with the royal soap opera, that we get what we deserve. Except, of course, that reading newspapers is a minority sport and what we see in the headlines does not reflect popular opinion – if indeed there is such a thing.

Speaking personally, I have to believe that writing books is a way of influencing people and making things happen. I am sure that those that Booker and I wrote – and especially The Great Deception had some effect on the referendum. I am hopeful that the revision will have some long-term effect on the way people look at Brexit, enough to shape events.

Similarly, that has to be the rationale for writing this blog, and investing in Turbulent Times. That's certainly more productive than poncing about in fancy dress for photo-opportunities, which seems to be the main preoccupation of the idiot prime minister. One might almost think that he had a hard hat and hi-viz jacket fetish. It really is bizarre how many times we see him in that garb.

When we then see that there have been a million jobs lost through the course of this pandemic, in the UK alone – with many more to come, there is a possibility that we are, unwittingly, building an army of discontent, which may then end up being the catalyst for change.

While the pessimist might suggest nothing might happen, it is at times of great uncertainty and personal hardship that political change is most likely to occur. Many of the demagogues of the past might have had little impact if they had been born in different times.

I've always felt that we're too comfortable and have been too secure to want political revolution – but that may change as our governments increasingly lose touch with reality. The difficulty, compared with days of old is that we have too many things to entertain us.

The urge to stand on a cold, windy hillside in the company of thousands more, listening to political speeches, isn't as powerful as it once was, not when we can stay in a warm home and watch any number of screen entertainments.

Perhaps we'll never see change until we succumb to a series of major and prolonged power cuts, which deprive people of home entertainment and drive them out onto the streets. And even then, if we take Hong Kong as a model for well-motivated and continued street activism, the book is still open as to whether it will be effective.

But as long as we're not doing what we're not doing – and are content with more of the same – not a lot is going to change. We will continue to get bad government as long as we are prepared to tolerate bad government. And that, currently, seems to be the status quo ante. We may not get what we deserve, but we deserve what we get.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

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