Covid inquiry lawyer sums up what's wrong with modern politics – Scotsman comment

‘Lions led by structural donkeys’ remark highlights the need for leaders who can make systemic changes that benefit people’s lives rather than managing decline while spouting populist rhetoric

As former Health Secretary Matt Hancock gave evidence to the UK Covid inquiry, he admitted the government’s pandemic planning had not been good enough but praised the way that health and social care staff had risen to the challenge when the virus struck.

The inquiry’s lead counsel, Hugo Keith, summed up this response as “lions led by structural donkeys”, echoing the famous claim made about the bravery of ordinary soldiers and the incompetence of generals in the First World War. “Personally, everyone gave their all but the system was not fit for purpose, was it?” he asked Hancock, who replied: “That's absolutely right.”

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It is a phrase that sums up many of the problems affecting modern politics. Where once the state of the economy, healthcare and education were priorities, now debate is all too often dominated by populists and nationalist rhetoric. Indeed, Hancock told the inquiry that one reason why the recommendations of a 2016 pandemic exercise had not been fully implemented was that work was paused in order to prepare for a potential no-deal Brexit.

Yesterday, MSPs spent part of the afternoon debating the future constitution of an independent Scotland. Meanwhile, in the real world, new figures revealed more than three in ten cancer patients in Scotland are not starting treatment within two months – the worst performance on record – and a report by the Trussell Trust found that one in six people had been unable to get enough to eat because they couldn’t afford to buy food.

In order to fix 'structural’ problems and make changes that have a transformative effect, countries need to have leaders who are sufficiently interested in the nuts and bolts of politics that they have a chance of spotting the flaws in the current system and who are smart enough to change it for the better. If their minds are occupied elsewhere – such as on Brexit or independence – they are more likely to simply manage decline.

First World War generals did eventually learn from their mistakes. For politicians to learn from theirs, voters must be more discerning about who they choose to run the country.



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