Intentionally blank

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 4 February 2022

After weeks of waiting, a heavily abridged report into Downing Street’s party culture was finally published on Monday.

The investigation was meant to determine whether UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his staff broke their own Government’s lockdown rules.

That said, the highlights of the 12-page Cabinet Office document were pages 2 and 12.

Page 2 says, “This page [is left, sic] intentionally blank”. Technically, that is not true since it contains that statement.

Meanwhile, page 12 is actually blank (except for the page number), but there is no such statement. Which probably means the page was left unintentionally blank.

The rest of the report is neither blank nor clear. It was prepared by senior civil servant Sue Gray, but one is not supposed to have fun with names.

Still, one cannot help but wonder why an unprinted and unbound document, released as a PDF, should even contain blank pages. It is not as if the blank pages were needed to allow printing, folding or binding. Because that would have created a 16-page document, presumably with six blank pages.

Thus, there must be a different reason for the opacity of the investigation. What is the message hidden in the white pages?

The author might have signalled her constraints in what she could write, not least because of the simultaneous Scotland Yard investigation.

Perhaps it was meant as a placeholder for a dedication to Dominic Cummings?

Or maybe the latest Covid rules required some social distancing between the cover page and the contents?

Whatever it is, perhaps Sue Gray’s report sets a precedent for future government publications. Let blank pages do the talking, here in New Zealand too.

An inquiry into KiwiBuild could consist entirely of white pages and perfectly sum up the policy and its results.

A report into the new Auckland light rail scheme would consist of many blank pages, but at least they would be on recycled paper from the last term.

The Government could also document its actions into getting Rapid Antigen Tests into the country with plenty of empty pages, only to have the conclusion boast of millions of such tests consolidated and secured.

Blank pages could also be used in manifestos and coalition agreements. Instead of using weasel words to hide disagreements, just leave the contents to voters’ imagination.

The world needs more courage to draw a blank. Intentionally.

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