There is something afoot with the number 108.
The Government’s preparations for a no-deal Brexit and a contract awarded to Seaborne Freight at Dover? Worth £108m.
The coronavirus contact-tracing contract awarded to Serco? Valued at £108m.
The PPE contract awarded to Pestfix? Yup, £108m.
Somebody even made an Freedom of Information request to the Department of Work and pensions to understand how much money had been spent on staffing resources for PIP and ESA benefit appeals, and yes, the response confirmed that since October 2015 the figure had been – you’ve guessed it – £108m.
So, what is it with 108? Well, let’s not dismiss the possibility that this is a subtly precise number, plucked out because it implies a sense of realism (unlike £50m or £100m). Cut-and-paste it in to every press release when a contractual situation arises, and the job’s a good ‘un. After all, the published price is never the final price, but at least a pseudo-precise figure implies some sort of due diligence has taken place (which almost certainly has not). The clanger here would be that nobody had realised that its repetition would detract from its singular precision.
They might equally be having a larf. They have after all just appointed a person to chair the new equality commission who had already gone on the record to state that institutional racism was a myth. And to boot, the PM stated that he hoped the commission would uncover why young, white males underperform in the classroom. That’s a vigorous two fingers up to the current protest movement.
Anyway, these are the fruits of a whopping Commons majority and a woefully dismal, arguably non-existent opposition. Even Premier League footballers have more clout than the Labour Party at present.
Of course, you can also see this repeated number triggering other voices of discontent who will burn themselves out investigating red herrings. We know this only too well as a modus operandi. Why else was the PM’s new jet paintjob was announced on the day the track-and-trace technology boffins u-turned?
For a PM who has so far out-hackered Jim Hacker, it is quite something that he has not yet expelled 76 Russian Diplomats.
Unless of course £109m is the threshold for some procurement audit procedure that needs to be circumvented. You never know…
But in order to not get sucked in to plain old bureaucratic skulduggery and scheming, let’s keep it more Blofeldian. I am personally praying that there is an anonymous, but diabolical scheming mind within the heart of the Cummings operation who is planting these delicious amuse-bouches for our delectation.
And it’s a lot less harmful than hijacking nuclear warheads in space. It’s probably the same wag who spiked Dominic Rabb with the gem that ‘taking the knee’ originated in Game of Thrones. They’ll be dining out on that one for years. And he never even blinked when he coughed it up.
So, back to the number 108 itself. Its prevalence in culture, science and religion is quite astonishing. It is considered a sacred number in Hinduism, Buddhism, and yogic traditions and both Tantric and Tibetan rosaries are composed of 108 beads. If No 10 has gone transcendental on us, you can bet that Boris’s got a tug or two during Q2.
And I am sure that the beads were manhandled, too.
Of course, no current political discussion is complete without a nod to monumental disasters or disastrous monuments, so it falls to me to confirm that the prehistoric monument Stonehenge (the Sarsen Circle) is 108 feet in diameter. Don’t tell protest groups that, because if they align it to Tory strategic planning, four guy ropes and a couple of hefty yanks would never be enough to that baby dislodged. Avon & Somerset Police could comfortably remain at the sidelines for that gig, perhaps intervening only to apply Calamine lotion to rope-burned, anaemic hippies. Now, those Stonehenge cats knew their mathematics, and 108 is indeed a natural division of the circle (108 = 36 + 72=9 x 12).
Furthermore, 108 seems to have a special cosmic spatial relevance. The distance between the Earth and Moon is 108 times the diameter of the Moon. The distance between the Earth and Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Sun. The diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth.
Perhaps Douglas Adams got it wrong and the meaning of life is not 42 after all?
108 is moreover a Harshad Number, which the inveterate mathematicians among us will recognise as an integer divisible by the sum of its digits. Now, Harshad is a Sanskrit term meaning ‘giver of joy’. Well, what could be more inappropriate to describe the Government’s current credential son the handling of Brexit and the Coronavirus, but a masterstroke in irony.
So, given the mathematical relevance of 108 to the world, it is eminently possible that we have a lurker within the depths of the Civil Service undertaking an exercise in top trolling, either for their own entertainment or to facilitate a subtle sarcastic dig at their political masters.
Most significantly though, 108 degrees Fahrenheit is the internal temperature at which the vital organs in the human body start to overheat and die.
And that’s the one that probably resonates the most, right now.