Go back

The return of the lockdown diaries


Ivory Tower: we check in again with the journals of the great and good

Boris Johnson, prime minister

We are following the science. We are stalking it like a hunter and when we have a clear shot, we are letting it have both barrels.

Then we are trussing it up and carrying it back to base camp, where Michael Gove roasts it over a wood fire, and Dominic Cummings turns it into some kind of delicious science stew. Although we are not having carbs with it at the moment as we are all trying not to be fatties in our fifties.

That’s science too, Carrie read about it on Gwenyth Paltrow’s website, Gloop, or is it Goop, or maybe the Co-op or something. Right, off to clap for our amazing NHS.

People will say that scrapping the NHS surcharge was a craven capitulation to the official opposition. At least, that’s what we call the cast of Gogglebox in the Cabinet Office.

Michelle Donelan, universities minister

Just finished up-dating the latest coronavirus advice to universities and students. Clear communication is vital at this moment.

In short, the advice is: teach on-line, but also don’t teach on-line; don’t refund tuition fees, but compensate students; stay away from campus, but you can now go on campus; work from home, but open all your labs; don’t travel unless absolutely necessary, but you can go back to your Halls to pick up your teddy bears and movie posters; don’t go to Wales, just don’t, why would you even want to do that; the government is right behind you, but you are not getting any money.

At this time my mantra to all university staff is testing, testing, testing. But online exams should last 24 hours and alternative forms of assessment ought to be available.

Amanda Solloway, science minister

I would just like to say how proud I am of our amazing researchers who are doing such amazing work at this time. The government would like to say thanks for all the work they are doing.

Words can barely express the bottomless depths of my admiration for researchers who are working night and day to find a cure for coronavirus. Mere language is inadequate to express my almost transcendental love for all our researchers. I want to join them on an astral plane and become one with them in eternal joy.

Now, about that extra QR funding to keep research from running out of money. Obviously, we don’t want to encourage inefficiency in autonomous institutions which are very much on their own at this time. Let’s say, we are keeping the system under constant review.

Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland

I’d just like you all to know that we are not following the dunderheid advice of Boris Johnson and his English government. We will definitely be doing our own thing.

That’s why I have announced that we will have our own slogan: “keep alert, control Covid-19, don’t die”. Wait, that’s not right, it’s “stay alive, control the NHS, save money”.

Hold on, I’ve written it down somewhere. Ah, here it is, “stay put, didnae sneeze, don’t take cans to the park.” Maybe, we’ll have to rethink that one.

How about, “stay hame, don’t be boggin’, just be grateful yer no deed”. Sorry, what’s the English one again?

Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser

A lot of my time is taken up with responding to suggestions from scientists about the next steps in coming out of lockdown. The science is divided on this point, but I try to answer every email.

I’m constantly being asked whether we should now allow people to visit their boyfriend or girlfriend who they don’t live with, as often as they like. To each email I reply, “not now Neil, that’s not helping”.

Chris Whitty, chief medical officer

I have to confess to being utterly exhausted. I was fine up to week seven of the lockdown, but it’s beginning to take its toll.

Now the advice has changed to “stay alert”, I’m up to 12 cans of Red Bull a day and my coffee intake has gone through the roof. I’m as wired as a junior doctor with the keys to the pharmaceuticals trolley.

I’m not sleeping and I’m constantly worried about testing. It is just like doing medical finals again.

Tim Bradshaw, chief executive The Russell Group

In the spirit of constructive engagement with the government we have launched a campaign to help attract international students to the UK. We really want the government to know that we’ve listened to what they said about the bailout request and that we are not just thinking about ourselves.

That’s why we are calling for a special bill to introduce the post-study work visa; scrap all visa restrictions on anyone enrolling at an approved list of 24 trusted universities; lift travel restrictions on vice-chancellors; offer a tax-break on chauffeur-driven cars; reduce membership rates at the Athenaeum Club; provide more research funding than you can shake a stick at; and give large research-intensive universities a veto over all decisions by the Department for Education.

These modest requests show that we have learned our lesson. I’m suggesting we call the bill, Nancy’s Law.

Dr Jo Grady, general secretary University and College Union

I’ve been doing a lot of media work this week about our latest report on universities. I’ve been warning about people in higher education using the pandemic as an excuse to pursue their own agendas, trying to push through decisions that would otherwise be totally unacceptable.

One of the interviewers asked me, “so, does that mean the vice-chancellors are up to no good?” I said, “no, I’m talking about members of the UCU national executive committee”.

Ottoline Leyser, chief executive elect UK Research and Innovation

Amid the congratulation on my appointment, a lot of people have asked me, “so why do Johnson and Cummings find you acceptable as head of research in the UK, when it took them so long to fill the role?” I don’t know what they mean.

I’m still trying to keep on top of my own research into large data sets for genetics. During my interview the broadband connection wasn’t great and when Dominic Cummings asked me what I specialise in, I said, “huge genetics”.

His eyes lit up and he asked me if I knew Toby Young? When I told him my PhD was on mutants, he could hardly contain himself. Don’t know why.

Mark Walport, chief executive of UK Research and Innovation

It’s been a good innings, but it is time to make way for someone else. Just a pity that the someone else is Dominic Cummings.

They say that there will definitely be a retirement party for me, but just not now, maybe in 2025. It’s a bit difficult what with everyone in government doing social distancing.

I tell them that I’ve been distanced from government for years but then for some reason the Zoom goes down, must be something about the broadband connection in Swindon.

Michael Barber, chair of the Office for Students

In front of the commons education committee this week. The chair said that the OfS were acting more like politicians than regulators. That’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.

Robert Halfon asked, what advice would you give to vice-chancellors about students during the pandemic? I said, “wash your hands”—that’s what the OfS is doing.

Dominic Cummings, chief adviser to the prime minister

This is amazing, I am watching in real-time data coming in from the NHSX pilot track and tracing app from the Isle of Wight. The results are a revelation.

I excitedly tell Boris that 90 per cent of the population stay in doors all day, only venture out to buy a copy of the Daily Mail, have an average age of 75, and no one ever comes from outside to live there. He asks, “how is that different from normal?”

I say, “isn’t it time you took that mutt for a walk?” He says, “I’ll take Dilyn out later”. I say, “I was talking to Dilyn”.

Jennifer Arcuri, businesswoman

I’m so glad Boris is not going to face charges over grants to my companies. I ring him up to let him know that I’m thinking of him, but I get someone on the line speaking Chinese—maybe that’s a thing now that Huawei run the 5G network.

The investigators say that someone had told them that my friendship with Boris was not a matter of interest. Who knew they watched Lorraine Kelly?

Terms of use: this is a free email for fun on a Friday, it should be shared widely like blame for the UK’s lockdown strategy. Want to receive the latest government advice on bongs and movie poster collection? Want to say hello? Email ivorytower@researchresearch.com