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Another brave head above the covid parapet – what Graham Stringer told the House


YESTERDAY we published key extracts from Andrew Bridgen’s opening speech in the debate on excess deaths that he secured in Parliament last Thursday. The benches were shockingly empty but he was not without some support. The most interesting and significant was from the Labour MP Graham Stringer, the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on pandemic response and recovery. This role, he said, had allowed him to view a whole body of expert opinion from medics, lawyers and experts in childcare, a range of very different views on what the right response to covid should have been, and on the law and the science. 

His experience on the APPG, and of climate change or global warming debates, he said, was that science and politics make very uneasy bedfellows.

Edited extracts follow below. The full speech can be found here and can be watched here

Graham Stringer began by talking about the disease itself:

‘People have different views about the damage done by covid. Some people think it is harmless and just another flu, whereas some treat it as though it were the plague. It is neither. It was a nasty disease for some people who got it, but its major characteristic was the profile of people who were killed or made ill by it. It affected older people much more severely. I think the median age of those who died was 82 for men and 84 for women, so it was a disease of the elderly. Those below 50 were relatively safe – some died, but not many. That was known at the beginning of the epidemic.

‘This comes back to the point about politics, and the protection of Government politicians being more important than looking at the science. A rational response to a disease with the profile of Covid-19 would have been to put a cordon sanitaire around those people who were vulnerable because of their age or because they had other diseases, such as lung diseases, and to let the rest of us go about our business and take the risk, as we do every year with seasonal flu, but the Government did the opposite. They locked everybody up and sent untested people back from hospital into care homes, where they infected other people, which led to a spike in deaths.

‘At the same time, the Government were telling us that they were “following the science”. I have a scientific background – it is not in biology, but I have a degree in chemistry – and I believe in following the science and finding out exactly what is going on. The science was not followed, and not only because the response did not follow the natural profile of the disease. In their early statements, people from the NHS, and both Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, said that masks were a complete waste of time and that lockdowns were ineffective because there would be a peak six months later that would probably be worse than if we had not locked down. That advice changed very quickly, I believe under political pressure. Again, I think that was a mistake.

‘One country that did follow the science, Sweden, made mistakes – it made the same mistake that we made by sending infected people back into care homes – but it did not lock down and it did not restrict people’s freedom, or it did so in only a moderate way. It came out as about the best of comparable countries in Europe in terms of deaths.

‘Another consequence, which we see in every debate in this House, is that there is no money left. We spent £400billion on covid, a lot of it wasted. We can read National Audit Office reports on the Test and Trace system, which was money almost totally wasted. There is also the money given to people who could quite easily have gone about their jobs. The businesses needed the money, given the decisions that the Government had taken, but the Government should not have taken those decisions . . .

‘There was a panic to go into lockdown, which was understandable while people were seeing what was going on, but very soon after that people did know. What I think was, and is, indefensible was to carry on with policies that we knew were damaging the economy and were not protecting people. I therefore voted against my own party, which supported the Government and more on this issue. I went through the lobby with a small number of colleagues from my party and the hon. Gentleman’s party to say that what was happening was wrong, and that the damage being done by the policies was probably worse than covid. It might be hindsight for March and April 2020, but not for the rest of the time and the second lockdown.

‘Once we knew the profile of the disease, we knew that we were damaging children. I go into schools and meet eight- and nine-year-olds who were locked down when it was known that children were not at risk. A very small number of children died and, as far as I know, they all had comorbidities – I stand to be corrected – so covid was essentially safe for children. We have damaged both their mental health and their ability to learn. I go into schools from time to time, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman does, and teachers tell me that it is very difficult to catch up. I am still annoyed about the response, and I do not think it is hindsight.

‘I went through the lobby with a minority of colleagues. One of the two failures of our democracy’s normal checks and balances was that this place was not functioning, as the Easter holiday was extended. Surely the most important thing in a crisis is for our democratic institutions to function properly. We could not ask proper questions and there were no follow-ups. We kept our Select Committee going but, with the best will in the world, it was a pale imitation of what had gone before. There was a complete failure to insist on more accountability from the Government while the economy was shut down. Some of us, although we were not very many, came here to try to keep it going.

‘Our democracy’s second important check and balance is the fourth estate. These publications are not normally my politics but, with the exception of the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator, and the Daily Mail to a certain extent, the rest of the media, led by the BBC, were quite uncritical of what was happening. People say that BBC reporters were told not to criticise and not to ask difficult questions, and political journalists – not specialist health journalists who might have asked more pertinent questions – were sent to the press conferences. It was a political question, but it was also a science and health question. We were really let down by the BBC primarily, and by other parts of the media.

The hon. Member for Christchurch and other hon. Members have talked about the Hallett Inquiry. I supported the inquiry but, having seen the way it has gone, I have given myself a good talking-to. I do not think I will ever again support an inquiry. Do we really want to spend half a billion pounds on this inquiry? I attended the previous debate on recompense, and we heard how lawyers are getting fat on all these inquiries. I do not know when the Hallett Inquiry will report, but it may well last for years and cost half a billion pounds. It certainly will not provide us with any advice on what to do if there is a pandemic next year – I suspect that advice is what we all want. By the time it reports, there may have been another government or two and it will be a historical document. Sweden is not a perfect society, but its inquiry has reported. The motion before us calls for the fourth part of the inquiry, which will be on vaccines, but is the inquiry really the technical body to do that? I do not think so.

In the first stage, the inquiry has shown an extraordinary bias towards believing in lockdowns. I would want to know a number of things from an inquiry: did the lockdowns work? Did they save lives? Have they cost lives? Where did the virus come from? The inquiry is not even looking at that and it is not dealing with any of those things, but it is taking a long time. It has made it abundantly clear that it is going to look at the impact of the virus on social divisions and poverty. I am a member of the Labour Party and I can tell the inquiry, because I know, that poor people come off worse from diseases. It can go back to look at the Black Report from 1981, I believe it was, if it wants to see that, as it talks about both regional and class disparities. We do not need to look at this issue, as we know that poor people do badly when there are epidemics – that has been true for all time . . .

‘We need serious cultural change in many of these organisations, rather than another report on something. That is an easy thing to say and a very difficult thing to achieve.

‘Let me come on to the other part of the debate, which is about excess deaths and the number of deaths. It appears that just over 200,000 people were killed in this country by, or died of, covid. I had my doubts about these figures from the beginning. On a number of occasions, right from the start of covid, the Science and Technology Committee heard from statisticians. We had Sir Ian Diamond and Professor Spiegelhalter in to talk to us about the statistics. We heard from people from what is now the UK Health Security Agency but was then a named part of the NHS. We asked them whether they had the statistics on the difference between people who died from covid and those who died with it. If someone was dying of cancer and went into hospital, there was a fair chance that they would have got covid, because there was not perfect protection within hospitals. Such a person would then be registered as having been a covid death, but clearly they were going to die of cancer. From the very beginning, that obscured the statistics . . .

‘I happen to know that in some local authorities, instructions went out to the people who were registering deaths essentially to say, “If there is a cough involved in this, we want it down as covid.” There was a different process because the health service was not working under normal – [Interruption.] I am suggesting that at that time, when it was difficult to examine people because there was a distance between clinicians and the people who had suffered death, there was a temptation and a view that covid should go on the death certificates . . .

‘I believe there is one point on which we can reach a consensus in the debate: Government Ministers said that the vaccines were 100 per cent safe – it was particularly egregious when that was said about children – but no vaccine or treatment, as right hon. and hon. Members have said, is 100 per cent safe. I think it was a mistake to say those things . . .

‘I want to move on to excess deaths over the last couple of years, since covid, and the figures during covid. One of the ways of measuring the impact of covid was looking at excess deaths during covid. They were measured against a five-year average – that was the gold standard; it is the way it has been done – and that gave quite large figures. That is interesting given what has happened when the excess 100,000 deaths per year over the past two years have been looked at. The Office for National Statistics has moved away from that basis and on to a different one, and the figures are coming down.

‘We need an anonymised account of those excess deaths – this was part of a recent Westminster Hall debate – because that will help us to understand what is going on. The pharmaceutical companies have been given that information, but Ministers just give reassuring statements that there is no evidence that excess deaths are caused by the covid vaccinations – by the mRNA vaccinations. How do they know? They do not tell us that. We need to know, first, how they have come to that conclusion and, secondly, if that is a fair, reasoned and balanced conclusion. We also need a detailed look at the anonymised statistics, so that we can ask further questions about the problems that are worrying us – that certainly worry me – and so that we can make better decisions in future.’

Tomorrow we will be publishing extracts from the contribution of Neale Hanvey (Alba, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) to the debate, and this will conclude our coverage.

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Kathy Gyngell
Kathy Gyngell
Kathy is Editor of The Conservative Woman. She is @kathygyngelltcw on GETTR and is back on Twitter.

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