Wednesday, October 21, 2020
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Covid confusion of dotty David and the liberals

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LAST week the Times columnist and latest lockdown zealot David Aaronovitch wrote a column entitled ‘Covid libertarians are a danger to us all’ on why he believes ‘Boris Johnson is right and Lord Sumption is wrong’. 

It betrayed a man both out of touch with his own history and a type of intellectual confusion that besets modern progressive liberals for which Jonah Goldberg coined the term ‘liberal fascism’.


So exercised was Aaronovitch by Lord Sumption’s case for our freedom from the state’s Covid control, set out in in an earlier edition of the Times, that he determined to take it apart point by point – and failed miserably.

As I pointed out in a recent Lockdown Sceptics post, this attempted take-down is worth interrogating not least because of what it tells us about the minds of those who believe the Government is right to carry on suppressing the virus indefinitely:

‘Aaronovitch starts by agreeing with Lord Sumption that herd immunity either through a vaccine or infection is the only real endgame. However, unlike Sumption, who points out that we are only delaying things with social distancing, Aaronovitch agrees with the “scientific community advising the Government” which believes that “it’s more important to slow the spread so that the health service can cope”. It’s all about keeping infection rates from “increasing exponentially” and buying time “before the vaccine arrives”.

‘He buys completely the Ferguson line that without social distancing the death toll would have been over 200,000: “Mass graves, coffins filling those nice new lorry parks and hospitals unable to take any other patients.” The irony, of course, is that it was precisely because of this kind of hysteria, whereby the Government wildly over-estimated the likely demand for critical care, that hospitals didn’t take other patients, leaving up to 16,000 people dead for want of medical attention with many more to come. In fact, the Government is about to ask hospitals to clear their beds again ahead of the second wave. Will they never learn?

‘Aaronovitch also appears blissfully unaware that almost all of his points can be countered with a single word: Sweden. How do we know not locking down doesn’t lead to apocalypse? Sweden. How do we know infections and deaths don’t keep on going until lorry parks are crammed with coffins? Sweden. How do we know our health service wouldn’t have been overwhelmed absent a lockdown: Sweden. Look: no lockdown, no apocalypse. But for some reason I can’t quite fathom Sweden doesn’t get a single mention in his article.

‘He says he “cannot see a reason” why the growth rate of deaths in early April “wouldn’t have continued”. Again, may I point you to Sweden? And also, Professor Carl Heneghan, who pointed out in April that the deaths in London peaked way too soon for the lockdown to be credited with bringing the epidemic under control. Even Chris Whitty has acknowledged this. As in other places, it appears to have reached a natural limit (arguably helped by the pre-lockdown voluntary social distancing).

‘Against the idea of people choosing their own level of risk, he argues that all older people are more vulnerable to some degree and we can’t protect them all – parents of teenage children, for instance. It seems that no level of risk is acceptable to him. He concludes by arguing that “winter is coming, and if we want open schools and a half-normal life, and not have friends and relatives choking their last in ICUs, then there will have to be trade-offs”.’

It was illuminating to see the dangerously statistically illiterate risk-aversion of the lockdown zealots spelt out so clearly. As I wrote on Lockdown Sceptics: ‘For all the suspicions about the cynical motives of those pushing the lockdown line – and I don’t doubt there are some who have no intention of letting a good crisis go to waste – it shows that many are just blocking out the evidence that counters their entrenched positions.’

We might add to that their own deep fears. And this is the hardest thing to understand. What exactly has triggered this fear? Surely that is the subject that any independently minded commentator (that Aaronovitch would claim to be) would want to interrogate, as Tim Black does so brilliantly here on Spiked Online

How is it that so-called progressive liberals are more fearful of a health risk than they are of the government’s exploitation of it, the ongoing abuse of democracy and Parliament’s surrendering of its role over the continuing Covid emergency laws?

Has Aaronovitch learnt nothing from history?

We have to hope the public are more sceptical. According to YouGov, public approval of the Government’s handling of the crisis is at its lowest point so far: -33 compared with -18 last week. We have to hope it is for the right reasons. Without doubt the testing fiasco has exposed the Government’s farcical claim that mass testing is the way out for the UK. Demand for tests now that schools are back outstrips supply three to four times over. Increasingly the public will become aware that the Health Secretary is misleading the public on the meaning of test results and that he is, either deliberately or through sheer ignorance, scaremongering – as with his false claim on Julia Hartley-Brewer’s show that hospital admissions for Covid are doubling every eight days, a claim echoed yesterday morning by the government’s chief scientist, Sir Patrick Vallance.

They are not, as detailed again on Lockdown Sceptics here. 

Yet the claims debunked by experts such as Carl Heneghan and his team at Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine time and again keep reappearing on the lips of government minsters and their senior advisers. Justifying the coming lockdown yesterday, Sir Patrick Vallance claimed that less than 8 per cent of the UK has any immunity to this virus, a position that a review in the BMJ last week of the latest mounting evidence on pre-existing immunity clearly contradicts. 


Meanwhile, recent Government focus groups reportedly discovered that a common complaint is the lack of a long-term plan for Covid. 

What a surprise. Unfortunately we can guess the reaction: ever more draconian rules and punishments, ever more fearmongering to justify them, and ever more instructions to grass on our neighbours. All threatened for at least another six months, by which point you have to wonder what will be left of our liberty, our economy and our sanity should they get away with it.

I can only say I am amazed if all this does not remind Mr Aaronovitch of another period in history in another country. This is how freedom dies.

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Will Jones
Will Jones
Dr Will Jones is a maths graduate with a PhD in political philosophy and author of Evangelical Social Theology: Past and Present (Grove, 2017).He blogs at https://faith-and-politics.com/

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