‘I take full responsibility for everything that has happened,’ Boris Johnson told the House of Commons at the end of May, in answer to a question from the SNP leader Ian Blackford. He qualified himself in answer to Blackford’s next question: ‘I take full responsibility for everything that the government did.’ It’s a line he’s been peddling for a while. ‘As prime minister, I take full responsibility for everything that the government has done,’ he said at a press conference in January, on the day the official tally of Covid-19 fatalities in the United Kingdom passed 100,000. Since the pandemic began, there has been plenty of talk from the government about responsibility, though usually ours not theirs.
‘But now is not the time for anger.’ That’s another one, intended to defuse your rage, and you’ll hear it over and over again. First, it will be too early: what we have to do now is pull together, there will be time enough for recriminations later, you shouldn’t politicise this tragedy, the present is too dangerous for point-scoring. And then it will be too late: what we really have to do now is pull together, you should have said all of this at the time, what’s done is done, we need to look forwards not back. Anger, it seems, can never have its time.
The possibility of education, in the widest sense, is the greatest defence against the power of bad luck. And yet, as an incredibly rich society, we have put access to education into luck’s hands, too. Unless you are in possession of material wealth – the particular form of luck that we seem to value most – you won’t succeed unless nothing goes wrong between the age of four and early adulthood, and nothing much had better go wrong afterwards, either. Those are odds that even the most reckless gambler would hesitate to accept.