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Rishi Sunak made quite a splash with the suggestion that musicians should retrain. Did the chancellor really say that? It was a little bit more circuitous, but close enough to justify an outpouring of rage. The rumour is that Sunak will be the leader next time the Conservatives present themselves to the country (having first cycled through Michael Gove, after Boris Johnson decides he has had enough). Sunak and his party should reflect on the fact that his moments of modest popularity are only when he is hosing money at people like a broken cash machine.
Musicians, meanwhile, were full of new career ideas: they would retrain as someone with rich parents; they would retrain as large outsourcing companies with no expertise in the arena of public health, and 10m quid would surely follow, which, hey, a few of them could share. On Tuesday, 400 of them made a heartrending point about their predicament by playing Holst’s Mars in Parliament Square. It was peerlessly beautiful. I could have cycled to see it live in 10 minutes, but, instead, I watched it on Twitter, and the realisation that I don’t deserve them made me love musicians even more.
Anyway, a large number of people – perhaps they were musicians, or maybe they were benighted employees of the hospitality industry, or they could have been mischief-makers – were driven to the government’s own careers advice service. Oh, my. You thought things were bad when you were a teenager, and the careers adviser told you to become a florist or a vet. You haven’t seen anything.
After a number of asinine questions, mainly roundabout ways of asking whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, your answers flash up. I have a ton of options; almost all of them involve a rapid response to something, so I definitely missed or failed honestly to answer the question: “What are you like in a rapid response situation?” I have an anti-evolutionary panic reflex that makes me close my eyes. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been in A&E, explaining why I didn’t see whichever bone it was getting broken, because I chose that moment to block all light getting in to my face, while screaming: “No!” Training to be a paramedic would probably not be the right career choice for me, and besides, judging by the number of other people to whom it was also suggested, I think it will be somewhat oversubscribed. Apparently, I would also be perfect for the armed forces, though you have to wonder what they would want with a middle-aged pacifist.
The only suggestion that wasn’t public sector was “field worker for an aid agency”, and of all the hurdles my mind instantly erected (wait, I can’t go to Haiti: I’m the only person in the house who knows which pants are whose), the most compelling was: who is going to take an aid agent from the UK? We’re hopelessly Covid-infected and on the brink of our own societal breakdown; it would be like importing sparklers to a bush fire.
It is only funny when you are not looking for a job. When you are, it is insulting. One minute they are suggesting you retrain for an industry that is itself on its knees (hospitality), the next that you might be able to skill yourself up to be an engineer. The underpinning assumptions are all so wild: that you can live without an income for four years, or have enough savings for a second degree, or you can move a limitless number of miles. But underneath all these suggestions, which are so banal at the level of the individual – ah well, you’re in fashion, nobody’s buying anything; have you thought of retraining as a prison officer? – there is this generalised, catastrophic lack of seriousness. Is that the plan, for all those industries made impossible by the virus, that the people working in them just drift away and take their chances? How does that sit with a V-shaped recovery? How does it sit with an any-letter shaped recovery?
Whenever a government tells you to “upskill”, it usually feels like the bit at the end of the evening, when you’ve been made redundant and your friend is trying to cheer you up with suggestions, and they are all stupid because she is drunk, but at least she means well, and you’re getting to talk about yourself. Yet right now, with this hectoring, pompous percussion, one is left with the impression of a government that sees its people as so many meat-units, who can be parcelled from one sector to another, and when that doesn’t work for some glaringly obvious reason that never occurred to ministers, oh well, what’s a free market for, if not to make everyone’s job their own responsibility?
They never suggest “become an MP”, you’ll notice. It ought to be because they have concluded it is not a real job, having done it so badly. More likely, it is because they don’t want to go head to head at the next election against a musician; we would vote ourselves an orchestra.
Source: The Guardian
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