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The lockdown diaries: taking back control


Ivory Tower: more journal entries from the great and the grating

Boris Johnson, prime minister and super forecaster

Whoop whoop, I’ve been allowed out to travel to Scotland. Where I am campaigning in advance of the Holyrood elections, sorry, I mean inspecting coronavirus testing facilities in marginal constituencies.

Some people have said that I wouldn’t be welcome in Scotland, but everyone has been very hospitable. At the test site, with my mask on, someone mistook me for a vaccine delivery man and asked, “Is this the prick from Oxford or the prick from the EU?”

I said I was definitely backing British science although both jabs had been approved by our great regulators.

I’m also pleased to say that schools and universities will definitely, maybe, possibly be opening again on 8 March. Of course it all depends on which way the data are heading at that point. If we are still polling behind Labour, we’ll definitely open the schools.

Michael Barber, chair of the Office for Students

These are exciting times to be in delivery. I’ve cleared my desk at the Office for Students and sent the boxes over to Downing St where I’ll be conducting a review of government efficiency.

Unfortunately, due to the state of the postal service in London, the boxes are expected to arrive around May, two months after the review is concluded. I’m told by Boris that “delivering for people” isn’t just a slogan. I’ve told Royal Mail that it would be a good idea, though.

Gavin Williamson, ex-fireplace salesman of the year and secretary of state for education

As I said last year, without exams the danger is that youngsters will be overpromoted into jobs beyond their competence. But, that’s clearly something I’ve made my own—fixing exams, I mean.

Well, I say fixing, what I really mean is cancelling for the second year in a row. But let me be clear, no youngster will ever be overpromoted as long as I am education secretary. They’ll be lucky to have jobs in the first place, have you seen the state of the economy?

I’m very pleased to see that the prime minister has made the firm commitment to definitely, maybe, possibly open schools and universities on 8 March. I asked him to choose a date, and I’ve looked into this thoroughly, and can say with certainty that 8 March is definitely a date.

Michelle Donelan, universities minister

There has been a lot of talk about the poor quality of rapid testing in universities. That’s why the OfS is consulting on standards, my preference is to bring back honours papers with four-hour exams for each topic.

In the meanwhile, we’ve got £1 billion worth of really top drawer lateral flow tests to get rid of. I wonder if I could just take them down the charity shop and leave them outside on a Sunday night?

Amanda Solloway, science minister

These are great times to be a minister, my anniversary is coming up. It’s been nearly a whole month since Dominic Cummings left government and I got my hands on the science brief properly.

Let me just say for the record that I am appalled by the idea of cuts to London Weighting—it is a truly terrible idea. How else could I afford a flat in Westminster on an MP’s salary? And have you seen the prices in the pubs round here? If it wasn’t for the Commons subsidised bar, I’d have to drink tea.

Nicola Sturgeon, first minister for Scotland

As if a’ve no got enough to do without that bam Boris Johnson turning up. It’s bad enough trying to get everyone to stay at home without the arrival of that super spreader. Last time he was here, I told him to close his legs and sit up straight like a normal human being.

I said to him, “Boris, what do you think of independence?” He said, it was good not to be married anymore but that he is very committed to his partner. I said, “speaking of Michael Gove, tell him we want his student grant back”.

Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser and Saga catalogue model

100,000 is certainly a bad outcome, I said to the man from the Cabinet Office. The chief scientific adviser should be paid way more than that. How else are you going to attract people from big pharma to tell the government what to do?

I’m hearing that there has been a bit of bother with the EU wanting to get its hands on our vaccines. So, I’ve contacted the commission to say that I’ve got a couple of litres of Oxford for personal use and would gladly swap them a fortnight skiing in Val d’Isère.

Chris Whitty, chief medical officer and PowerPoint ambassador

I’m very pleased with the way the roll out is going. The best thing about lockdown is all the baking I’m doing: puff pastries, short crust pastries, breads…

God, I’m so bored. I’ve even started volunteering for Boris’s press conference again just to get out of the house. Things are so bad, I’m thinking of standing on Dover beach, looking for people smugglers, to ask if they’ll take me with them on the way back.

Priti Patel, home secretary

Let me be very clear because we have been very clear on this. There is clearly a case for closing the borders to prevent the spread of new variants of coronavirus. That is very clear.

This has been clear for some time so let me clear up what we are being clear about. The borders are clear, and you are clear to come through the borders if you have been cleared and the same go goes for borders.

Borders are at the frontier of our thinking and that is clear. Borders are also at the frontier of the nation and the same goes for borders. If you are an international student wondering if you are clear to cross the border let me be clear that if you are clear you may clear the border, and the same goes for borders. Clear?

Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union

This week we have been surveying staff about what sort of strike action they would be willing to take. The responses are very interesting.

Twenty per cent of respondents said, “you have got to be kidding me,” and 15 per cent said, “not another one, what’s wrong with you people, do you really have nothing better to do?” But 30 per cent of members said that they would be willing to not get out of bed at all that day and would steadfastly refuse to wash until lunch time.

A further 25 per cent said they were prepared to stand at their kitchen door handing out leaflets to their children asking them to respect the ongoing industrial action at their end of the table. Five per cent said they were willing to take action short of a strike by telling the kids to get their own orange juice out of the fridge, while shouting “what do you think this is a hotel? And how many times do I need to tell you, close that bleeding door? Were you born in a byre?”

As general secretary I am committed to visiting each and every one of our picket lines, just as soon as I’m allowed to travel beyond the shops and back.

Mark Drakeford, first minister for Wales

I keep telling the bloke on the phone from Cardiff University that it’s just not going to happen no matter how much pleading they do. They can’t use my first minister’s press conferences in their REF return.

I told him that I left in 2013 so I can’t be counted this time round. He keeps going on about impact. So, I tell him that I really don’t think my advice on coronavirus has had that much impact, has he seen the figures?

Bill Galvin, chief executive Universities Superannuation Scheme

I’ve been thinking a lot about pensions recently. Nothing to do with the dumpster fire of the USS fund. No my own pension and whether it was time to get out while the going is still good.

Just think, I would be able to sit at home all day, in front of screens and drinking tea in my dressing gown. It would be completely different from now, I usually drink coffee.

Terms of use: this is a free email for fun on a Friday, it should be shared among friends like bitchy WhatsApp messages when you are on a departmental Zoom call. Want to take delivery of a couple of million lateral flow tests? Want to say hello? Email ivorytower@researchresearch.com