Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a roomful of Leicestershire school pupils it is politically acceptable to sing Rule Britannia and ruled that Harry Potter is not sexist, but it was the choice of books behind the top speaker that caught the eye of super-attentive internet wags.
Many of them appeared to feature rather pointed titles, with the moment, netizens assumed, being used by an inventive librarian to troll the prime minister.
Lining the bookshelf were Ronald Dahl's The Twits, Philip Pullman's The Subtle Knife, and Betrayed by PC Cast and Kristin Cast, just to name a few.
Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 - a dystopian novel about a would-be American society where books are altogether banned - stood out behind the PM's shoulder, as he spoke at length about the importance of schoolchildren's return to classrooms in September.
Rachel Caine's vampire novel Glass Houses was placed second from the right, with some suggesting it could be a reference to the proverb “those who live in glass houses should not throw stones” - a comment on the PM's criticism of Ofqual's recent move.
And Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist - famous for its line “Please, sir, I want some more" was placed to the left of Johnson, as if to remind people of the government’s U-turn on free school meals earlier this year.
Along the bookshelf, there could also be seen Julie Bertagna's Exodus, which tells the story about dispossessed migrants who escape their island due to global warming-induced rising sea levels. No less in view was “Guards! Guards!” by Terry Pratchett, a novel about a secret brotherhood’s plot to overthrow a corrupt patrician and install a puppet king instead.
“It has been noted that the Subtle Knife, Glass Houses, The Toll (about a monstrous dictator), and Guards Guards (about a shady villain installing a puppet king) are all there too. It looks like it's been carefully curated!", one posted.
"Boris Johnson gave a speech in a school and by an incredible coincidence.... the books spelled out a message", another commented.
A third pointed to "some top trolling by the school librarian", while one account posted a tip: "Never mess with a librarian".
“Whichever librarian managed to get not just the 'The Twits' but also 'Betrayed', 'Resistance', and 'Fahrenheit 451' in the shot behind Johnson has my admiration", one social media user said.
"If the librarian had also managed to find space for The Plague, and Paradise Lost, it would have been a full house", another quipped, with many more praising the purported librarian's job:
Somebody was sending Boris Johnson a message. To whoever put those books there, I salute you! pic.twitter.com/QgNQPY0o5Z— MizLNìcTeàrlach (@MizLiot) August 27, 2020
Johnson suggested the children would remember their school years forwever – "they really really will", he stressed, continuing to ramble about school memories:
"And when you have been struggling with something in the classroom or whatever, some concept that you cannot get, like the supine stem of confetti or nuclear fusion or is Harry Potter sexist? Answer: no, by the way. Is it politically acceptable to sing Rule Britannia? Yes ..."
He went on to thank the pupils for their efforts to curb the spread of the highly infectious disease, which had earlier sent the country and the world into an almost three-month lockdown. "No previous generation of pupils has ever done anything like this", Johnson pointed out.
Now, he said "the risk to health is not from COVID proper", as "statistically speaking, your chances of suffering from that disease are very, very low", the PM remarked, depicting being out of school as “the greatest risk you face.”
The PM also expectedly touched upon the recent exam debacle stressing:
"I'm afraid your grades were almost derailed by a mutant algorithm. I know how stressful that must have been for pupils up and down the country. I'm very, very glad that it has finally been sorted out". However, critics immediately weighed in on the subject, expressing their fury over the prime minister allegedly trying to underestimate the ado around the A-level and GCSE results.
"It is brazen of the prime minister to idly shrug away a disaster that his own Ggvernment created. Parents, students, teachers, and heads will be horrified to see the leader of this country treat his own exams fiasco like some minor passing fad", shared Kevin Courtney, as cited by the Daily Mail. He believes the "emotional rollercoaster of this year's results season" will not be easily discharged and will obviously put a dent in Whitehall's reputation.
Public Exams Dead End
The UK government and, specifically, the education secretary, have of late been under scrutiny for their response to the grading scandal, with many disappointed students, parents, and teachers calling for the resignation of Education Secretary Gavin Williamson after a U-turn on the use of an algorithm behind A-level exams had disproportionately downgraded students at "disadvantaged" schools.
Right after his about-face, announced on 17 August, Williamson responded to criticism over his perceived slow response, despite a similar situation having previously caused a backlash in Scotland, by claiming he had become aware of the problem just prior to the decision.
The Times reported on 20 August, citing a senior source at the Department for Education, that Gavin Williamson and the UK grading watchdog Ofqual had been warned that the A-level and GCSE grading algorithms might backfire, resulting in lower grades for hundreds of thousands of students, who would subsequently lack an opportunity to enter the university they prefer.
However, Williamson is said to have proceeded to endorse the algorithm, which downgraded the results of students, who had been previously assessed by their teachers due to their inability to sit their A-level or GCSE public exams because of the coronavirus quarantine.