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16 Apr, 2020 19:44

Dear Government officials, Please don’t publicly advertise you own ineptitude on social media – Yours Sincerely, Britain

Dear Government officials, Please don’t publicly advertise you own ineptitude on social media – Yours Sincerely, Britain

A Cabinet Office bureaucrat’s tweet requesting advice on what the UK’s stategy to recover from the Covid-19 lockdown should be, isn’t reassuringly modern, it’s worryingly incompetent.

A civil servant has taken to Twitter to ask the world for advice on how to do his job. James Arthur Cattell, who works in the Cabinet Office, posed a question to his followers, and indeed anyone else who happened across it, asking for tips on how the government should help the UK recover from the coronavirus outbreak.

The Cabinet Office “Delivery Manager” (whatever that means), reached out to the internet, telling us he works “in a central government team that's helping build a strategy for the United Kingdom's renewal after we've recovered from #coronavirus.”

Before imploring people to share his tweet Mr Cattell asks the internet three questions: “Who should we be listening to? What questions should we be asking? Where has this approach (not) worked well before?”

One can tell from the tone, and indeed from his responses to the replies to his tweet, that Mr Cattell was very earnest in his approach and was genuinely asking for help. Not trolling or taking the mickey, sadly: he really wanted the people of Twitter to aid him in his quest to help Britain cope with the fallout from this current madness. All of which can only lead to one conclusion: we’re in a deeper mess than we thought we were, with people like this in charge of our national recovery.

I don’t have the greatest amount of faith that governments, in Britain or anywhere else, really know what they are doing in these unprecedented times, but asking Twitter’s opinion really is a bridge too far. For starters, Twitter is, broadly, a horrendous place. It is disproportionately populated by loudmouth, narcissistic politicos and journalists who love the sound of their own voices, engaging in petty point-scoring exercises so that people pay attention to them.

Secondly, it is impossible to have a sensible discussion on the platform; 280 characters is good for a joke or a hot take, but it is beyond the wit of most to distil anything complicated or useful in such a succinct statement.

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Thirdly, it is no way to build up faith among the public that you – the government, for goodness sake, the people supposed to be in charge – have the faintest idea of what you’re doing if you are asking for sophisticated solutions to complex problems in the same way reality tv stars ask their fans what they should have for dinner.

On a more serious note, it would be concerning if the bureaucrat in question genuinely thought he was opening himself up to a large cross-section of opinion by asking his followers for advice. Most people on Twitter tend to follow people they broadly agree with. It is one of the biggest flaws in the medium: it tends to become a perfect echo-chamber.

This is most obviously shown when something that isn’t in tune with the echo slips through the soundproofing. It is from those occurrences we see the pitchfork mobs forming, when the sonorous harmony of their woke environment is shattered by the clang of an opinion from someone who doesn’t have a Guardian subscription.

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A scroll through the replies Mr Cattell has received shows that they are mostly from people one could describe as the metropolitan left. A huge number of people who work in a variety of public sector jobs, environmental pressure groups like Extinction Rebellion, and a healthy amount of people with #FBPE (follow back, pro-EU) in their twitter names and bios. The fact that this is the makeup of his Twitter following is not surprising; the platform skews left anyway, as does the Civil Service, regardless of their protestations of neutrality.

This could well be dismissed as an irrelevance. So what, some civil servant is being patronising and simultaneously publicly incompetent?  And when I spoke to the Cabinet Office about Mr Cattell’s tweet, they were at pains to stress he’d done it all in a personal capacity and it “was not an official government request.”

But I fear it is illustrative of a broader problem. Each question on its own is pretty bad, but all three together point to complete ineptitude. One would hope that the Cabinet Office would already have at least a vague idea of who they should be asking for advice on the post-virus recovery strategy, but the fact that they apparently wouldn’t know what to ask them, whoever they might be, is really quite astonishing.

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If Mr Cattell’s post was in any way designed to help put the public’s mind at rest, it wildly missed the mark. I’d be interested to hear what his political boss, Michael Gove, the minister for the cabinet office, makes of one his employees turning to his Twitter friends “in a personal capacity” to ask for help with vital government business. Perhaps I’ll send him a tweet and ask for his advice on the matter.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.