More urgently than ever we need an answer to the question posed by the late Mick Moran in The Political Quarterly nearly two decades ago: ‘if government now invests huge resources in trying to be smart why does it often act so dumb?’. We reﬂect on this question in the context of governmental responses to Covid-19 in four steps. First, we argue that blunders occur because of systemic weaknesses that stimulate poor policy choices. Second, we review and assess the performance of governments on Covid-19 across a range of advanced democracies. Third, in the light of these comparisons we argue that the UK system of governance has proved itself vulnerable to failure at the time when its citizens most needed it. Finally, we outline an agenda of reform that seeks to rectify structural weaknesses of that governance capacity.