Hang on a second. We've got an inquiry into the Iraq War, a review of all public bodies, an inquiry into press behaviour, a review of defence spending, and an inquiry into the deaths of two police dogs (that's just in the past few weeks). Soon, there will be an inquiry into the number of inquiries prompted by a review of all the inquiries and a commission set up to oversee it all.No wonder everything's in a bit of a mess.
We spend so much time trying to figure out what went wrong that nobody's actually doing anything at all. I suggest we stop. Just for a few days, I think it would be really good if nothing happened. It's as if the British Establishment were an eight-year-old child in a maths lesson on a Friday afternoon just before the summer holidays. It's gone a bit loopy and started tearing up the textbooks. Now it needs to be sat down in a cool, dark room and told to think about what it's done.
In the meantime, all the inquiries should be abolished and replaced with one Super Inquiry, chaired by Vince Cable, obviously, and called the Inquiry to Sort It All Out. He should have people like David Attenborough and Judi Dench on board. Maybe Alan Bennett could be consulted. Imagine if our world was reconstructed in the image of Cable and Attenborough. We'd all be so much nicer; people would stop doing daft things like phone-tapping and short-selling; we wouldn't go to war in the first place. The recommendations would probably be quite severe: start again with parliament, get rid of most of the media, shut down the City. But Vince would put his sensible hat on, keeping things like supermarkets and the NHS. And ultimately everything would get a lot better. So come on, Vince and your merry band of genial and not particularly self-serving commissioners. I reckon you could get most things sorted by the end of the year, and then we can all look forward to 2010, when we might even feel a bit nostalgic about the complete chaos of 2009.
The way things are going with all these inquiries, it will probably be announced next week that Matthew Robson is charged with leading a global inquiry into all technology on behalf of the G20. Robson, aged 15 and seven months, wrote a report for Morgan Stanley on how teenagers engage with the media. The people there thought it was so good ("one of the clearest and most thought-provoking insights we have seen") that they published it and apparently had "dozens and dozens of fund managers and several CEOs" on the phone in response. Poor Robson. There he was, innocently on work experience, waiting to go on holiday and sick up some beer with his friends, when he gets landed with a report to write. It's all right, the report. He helpfully points out that most teenagers use Google, and that when adverts come on TV they usually change the channel. But I can only assume that these fund managers and CEOs (a) were never children themselves, (b) don't have any children of their own, (c) ignore the children they do have, or (d) have somehow existed in a world hermetically sealed from anyone under the age of 18.You can imagine the CEO yelling through to his PA: "Get me Robson on the phone, now. Apparently the kids are using this thing called Bookface and they like music! Who knew!" Robson ends his report with a brief guide on "What is hot?". The answer? "Really big tellies."
Maybe the Robson saga explains the problem. We spend so much time in offices writing reports and announcing inquiries that we have no idea what's going on in real life at all. Offices start to become weird places containing people you're pretty sure have never been outside.
Take the case of a friend of mine who got stung by a wasp at her desk the other day. It all started normally: she yelped, and felt the typical rush of humiliation of someone hurt by a creature the size of their fingernail. But then in came the Risk Officer. I actually quite like the idea of a Risk Officer in these situations. It's like Alice Through the Looking Glass, when it all goes topsy-turvy and Alice cuts her finger but puts on a plaster first. There they are, assessing the risk of someone being stung by a wasp, just after someone has been stung by a wasp. Too late, Risk Officer! Five minutes earlier, and you might have been useful for once in your risk-assessing life. And what do they do once they've identified the risk (which must be rather overwhelming if it's not the rare threat of a terrorist attack, but the extremely common threat of the winged insect)? I have an image of my friend sitting in a beekeeper's outfit as she taps away at her computer, covered by a mosquito net, guarded by a pair of zookeepers armed with giant spray cans of Wasp Killer™. And the Risk Officer looking on, clipboard in hand, a beatific smile suggesting a risk utterly conquered.
A final thought for Sarah Palin. Perhaps it should be less of a thought and more of an epitaph, but I am trying to ignore the sense of total collapse in Palin's career that the past two weeks have inspired. Palin's resignation from her role as governor of Alaska has foxed everyone - apart from Fox, that is, which probably wants her to become news anchor, chief fisherwoman and all-round patron saint. The rest of us are bewildered. What is the woman playing at? Is it part of an elaborate corruption cover-up, or the first step in one of the most misconceived presidential campaigns in history? Either way, the main worry is that we might lose Palin from the public stage altogether. This would be a catastrophe; the woman is a comic genius. Following her on Twitter is like being attached to an intravenous drip of hilarity. We need people like her to brighten these dark days. So, the message to SP is clear: stay with us! Have a bash at 2012 - why not? Make some more speeches! Tweet away! You're way too much fun.
Sophie Elmhirst is a contributing writer at the New Statesman
Peter Wilby returns next week