Boris Johnson knows the pain of a disappointing exam result. At Oxford university he thirsted for a first-class degree, but had to settle for a second. He retained a jocularly disguised bitterness for his political rival David Cameron, who did get a first, labelling him a “girly swot”.
In England, many school-leavers, unable to take their final exams because of the pandemic, were algorithmically awarded lower grades than their teachers predicted.
Scotland’s government inflicted similar unfairness on its school-leavers, before first minister Nicola Sturgeon reversed course.
Mr Johnson was absent, and then he went on holiday. His education secretary Gavin Williamson was initially defiant, until he accepted on Monday afternoon that students could keep their teacher-predicted grades.
We are fast seeing the limits of Mr Johnson’s governing style. He sees himself as a chairman-leader, who directs and inspires while others orbit him happily. Yet this is inconsistent with the quality of his cabinet appointments. Mr Williamson is education secretary because of his role in Mr Johnson’s leadership campaign, despite having been found wanting as defence secretary.
The prime minister has already resisted calls for resignations, even in seemingly clear-cut cases, such as his adviser Dominic Cummings’ avant-garde interpretation of lockdown rules, housing secretary Robert Jenrick’s ill-advised closeness with a property developer, and home secretary Priti Patel’s alleged bullying of civil servants.
Instead, his team are experts at offering up other scapegoats, especially in officialdom. Witness the suggestion that Public Health England, the body involved in the pandemic’s response, will be replaced. But there are only so many times you can claim officials ate your homework.