Martha Kearney, the Today presenter distinguished by an intellect flatter than a flood plain, tried this morning to get her teeth into the Dominic Cummings childcare affair. The result was painful, like listening to a toothless hag chewing a margarine sandwich. The general drift so far as one could be discerned was towards one rule for the government and its advisors, another for the rest of us, messages undermined, etc. As time wore on, the interview slowed down; sounds interspersed with Kearney trademark pauses, like a washing machine on the wool cycle. Outside the window, the grass was growing faster in the May sunshine than the interview on the radio was proceeding, as it drifted away through time and space, like a distant barely perceptible meteor. Back on earth, the Today programme as usual completely missed the point. This story isn’t about the PM and his advisor and resignations, it is about SAGE, and credibility.
Only a Ministry of Information could name a government scientific advisory committee SAGE, with its overtones of wise counsel. The reality is more a collection of goons and chancers, with the former ready to do as they are bid, while the latter keep an eye on the main chance. Despite the dubious provenances, the members of SAGE produce the nudge and numerology based advice that, depending on who is trying to use who as a human shield, either leads or guides the government’s decision making.
One might be forgiven for hoping that, despite the reservations the common man might have about the sagacity of nudge science and numerology, that the members of SAGE do at the least carry the courage of their convictions, and believe in their own advice. In a sane world, that surely is not to much to expect. Yet the fact is that not one, but at least two — and there may be more — members of SAGE have wantonly broken their own guidance. Each, once exposed, has used special pleading, but each remains caught awkwardly, like a parachutist dangling by his straps in a tree.
At least John Gummer, when he pre-loaded his four year old daughter with a juicy hamburger, and Edwina Currie when she put a large crack in the British egg industry, were both making statements consistent with their convictions, be those convictions right or wrong. This time round, for Ferguson and Cummings, it is quite the opposite. SAGE advice is clear: no unnecessary travel, and especially no mingling of households. Yet both Ferguson and Cummings were both party to these very actions.
The low octane Today narrative has it that this is just another example of one rule for government and its advisors, another for the rest of us, do as I say, not do as I do, much like the expenses scandal — in other words, a hypocrisy story. But the far higher octane story is about credibility. Here we have evidence that at least two members of SAGE do not believe SAGE advice, in so far as they feel no need to follow SAGE advice. This begs the question: if two members of SAGE demonstrably do not believe the advice, then how many other members of SAGE also do not believe the advice? Could it be — Heaven forbid — that whole chunks of the SAGE advice are just so much old baloney?