The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted a serious flaw at the very top of government. Through no fault of his own, a Prime Minister, who was elected “to get Brexit done”, has found that he is expected to lead the fight against COVID-19. For the Brexit task, his qualifications and experience have been subject to the scrutiny of the electorate, who have deemed him capable of fulfilling an essentially political role.
The fight against COVID-19 requires completely different skills. It is a project to be clearly defined and completed decisively. Whilst there may be some peripheral political aspects, a political approach has badly muddied the waters. A job description for the person to lead this might involve qualities that include strong quantitative skills, problem solving and experience of leading complex organisations. It would also include a willingness to work with and listen to those at the grassroots. For such an important job, the electorate has had no say and certainly would not have selected the Prime Minister, or any politician, to undertake this role. Indeed, it is sad to see the serious loss of respect for a potentially able Prime Minister who has floundered out of his depth.
The challenge that I pose is therefore “How does government ensure that national projects requiring specific skills are run by the best individuals the country can find and how are they kept free from political interference?”
Footnote: COVID is by no means the only such project encountered by government. Development of large computer systems, fighting wars, certain management of education policy all require substantial experience of the processes involved in order to be properly directed.