When you're in a political hole, the best thing to do is stop digging. You collect your thoughts, then you devise a strategy to climb out of the hole. That's what Gavin Williamson should be doing now. He needs to do it quickly because that hole is about to treble in size when the GCSE results are released on Thursday. It seems that the downgrades will amount to almost half the grades that have been awarded. There are going to be tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of seriously pissed off 16 year olds, let alone their parents, who will be queueing up in front of TV cameras and microphones to air their perfectly legitimate grievances.
Politicians can talk until they are blue in the face that each year there are thousands of students who don't get their anticipated grades, and that the appeals system will sort things out, but it cuts absolutely no ice.
Ten days ago I remember saying on the radio that Gavin Williamson will be looking at what's happened in Scotland and experiencing 'squeaky bum time'. But he had plenty of time to ensure that the same thing couldn't happen in England. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, that time has been wasted. He announced a so-called Triple Lock, but failed to explain it properly and it was derided by parents and the teaching establishment alike. Ofqual issued guidance as to how it would work, and them promptly withdrew it. As I write this at 11am on Monday we're none the wiser.
I suspect the reason is that the volume of appeals which are being sent in is completely overwhelming. It's impossible, as Robert Halfon, the chairman of the Education Select Committee, has suggested, to recruit a load of new people to help Ofqual with the appeals, given they don't exist. When I pressed him on this yesterday morning on LBC he suggested there were plenty of retired teachers who could do it. This is fantasy. They have less than three weeks to process all the appeals before university application deadlines expire. Is this new army of examiners expected to learn the relevant syllabus and relate it to the existing grades and reassess them in that time period? It's just not possible.
Nicola Sturgeon had the political nouse to understand what kind of hole John Swinney had landed her in, and she took action to get herself out of it. Somehow Swinney has survived in his job. This morning Arlene Foster took the same decision and said that Teacher Assessed grades would be used. I'm pretty sure the Welsh government will quickly follow suit. The longer Boris Johnson and Gavin Williamson leave it to do the same, the more they will be damaged - and I mean both of them. Decisive action needs to be taken, and it needs to be taken this afternoon.
Today. Boris Johnson is supposed to be going on holiday to Scotland. I am the first to say that all politicians, just like the rest of us, need a break. But can he really go on holiday when this crisis is destabilising his whole government. He needs to grip it, and grip it now. Or suffer the political - and electoral - consequences.
The optics of the PM playing Monarch of the Glen while distraight teenagers cry in front of TV cameras is an awful thing to contemplate. He surely realises that.