Since members of the public are now invited to ask questions at the government’s daily briefing (a democratic idea fiercely resisted by ministers rostered to front the briefings), many thousands of questions have arrived at Downing Street.  A sub-committee has been tasked to decide which questions will be asked.  The sub-committee is chaired by Sir Vincent, a trusted senior civil servant, and two assistants, Laura and Dominic (no relation to the Dominic).

Sir V (looking askance at the piles of questions that have been dutifully printed out).  ‘How the hell are we supposed to sort this lot?’

Laura.  ‘I suggest we work out some standard answers and then put the questions into plies depending on the most appropriate answer.’

Sir V (looking doubtful). ‘Standard answers?  What might they be?’

Laura. ‘Oh you know, answers like ‘rest assured, testing will be increased to 100,000 a day.’

Dominic. ‘And ‘we’re flying in millions of items of PPE from Turkey.’

Sir V (still looking doubtful). ‘Might it be simpler to choose some questions at random and have done with it?’

Dominic. ‘Could be dodgy.  We could finish up with some really awkward questions that no one will be able to answer.’

Sir V (looking pensive). ‘So what’s new?’

Laura.  ‘Well, let’s experiment and try sorting the questions by standard answers and see if it works.’

Sir V (grudgingly).  ‘Go on then, what would the answers be?’

Dominic.  ‘I think there are only three.  1.  Thank you for that question.  I can assure you we are following the science every step of the way.  2.  Thank you.  That’s an excellent question. As you know, everyone, the government, front line staff in the NHS and care homes, the armed forces etc. are working round the clock, going the extra mile, putting their shoulders to the wheel, and keeping their feet on the pedal.  3.  Thank you so much for your question. I obviously can’t  pre-empt what the Prime Minister will say on Sunday.’

Laura.  ‘Three answers will surely suffice.  Let’s try some questions and see if it works.’

Dominic (choosing a question at random).  ‘Here’s one from Mavis in Scarborough.  ‘ When will I be able to hug my grandchildren again?’

Laura.  ‘Answer 3.’

Dominic (rummaging and pulling another question out of the vast pile). ‘This one is from Bill in the Isle of Wight. ‘I’d like to download the App but I don’t have a Smartphone.  Will the government provide me with one?’

Laura.  ‘Answer 3.’

Dominic (choosing another question). ‘Here is a question from Dick in Richmond. ‘Why didn’t that randy professor get fined and why aren’t people who fly in from abroad tested at airports?’

Sir V (warming to the task).  ‘Definitely answer 3.’

Dominic.  ‘Here’s another one from Elaine in Barnes. ‘I have relatives in New Zealand where they locked down before they had a single death.  Why didn’t we do that?’

Laura.  ‘Surely another 3?’

Sir V.  ‘Well, I think that has been a great success.  It clearly doesn’t matter which questions we select, the answer is always the same.  Thank you for your help.  I’ll report our findings to the minister.’

Laura (looking thoughtful). ‘So my suggestion of using standard answers didn’t really help did it?’

Sir V. ‘Don’t fret my dear.  It’s not your fault that the answer is always the same.  I’ll be able to say we applied an evidence based approach.  We’ll definitely get brownie points for that.’


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