Monday, May 17, 2021
HomeCOVID-19In defence of Sir Desmond Swayne

In defence of Sir Desmond Swayne

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THE Conservative MP and lockdown sceptic Sir Desmond Swayne has come under intense criticism following the surfacing of an interview he did with Save Our Rights UK in November.

According to Sky News, the former minister and member for New Forest West said:

‘It seems to be a manageable risk, particularly as figures have been manipulated . . . We’re told there is a deathly, deadly pandemic proceeding at the moment. That is difficult to reconcile with ICUs (intensive care units) actually operating at typical occupation levels for the time of year and us bouncing round at the typical level of deaths for the time of year.’

He also told the group, which appears to be a broad church that includes supporters of some of the wilder conspiracy theories, to ‘persist’ in their anti-lockdown campaign, adding: ‘And I’ll persist too.’

His comments have been roundly condemned and the Labour Party has called for him to have the Conservative whip removed, though there’s no indication that will happen.

Michael Gove said: ‘I would hope that he issues a full and complete retraction and apology for what he said – it’s unacceptable.’

Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the Prime Minister agreed with Gove, though awkwardly when asked about it during his trip to Scotland, Johnson replied: ‘I’m sorry, I haven’t seen that.’

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: ‘Those comments are thoroughly wrong and I very much hope Desmond will reflect and take those comments back.’

The Whips’ Office said: ‘We completely condemn these comments. It is on all of us to work together to control the virus to protect the NHS and save lives.’

It is reported that Conservative chief whip Mark Spencer spoke to Sir Desmond and asked him to attend a meeting with scientific advisers – which Sir Desmond has happily agreed to do. Oh, to be a fly on the wall . . .

Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, wrote to the chair of the Conservative Party Amanda Milling alleging that Swayne ‘endorsed conspiracy theories about the veracity of the disease’ – seemingly a reference to his claim that ‘figures have been manipulated’. 

She laid it on thick: ‘The seriousness of his actions cannot be understated. For a member of parliament to appear on this platform and undermine our fight against the pandemic could have truly devastating consequences.’

The criticisms of Sir Desmond (at least, the ones that aren’t based on guilt-by-association) boil down to arguing that 1) there is no evidence that data has been ‘manipulated’ and 2) that at the time of his comments, deaths were not ‘typical’ for the time of year.

It is notable that no attempt has been made to dispute his claim about ICUs in November operating at ‘typical occupation levels for the time of year’, since that is demonstrably true, as the graph below comparing 2020 with 2017 shows. This was not the impression many in Government and the media were giving at the time, with claims that daily ‘Covid admissions’ were running at around 1,500 a day – which they were, but that wasn’t unusual – being made to whip up fear and used to justify increasing restrictions. This, presumably, is what Swayne means by ‘manipulation’ of figures. That and the infamous prediction of 4,000 deaths a day made by Witless and Unbalanced in October to bounce the Government into the second lockdown. I think it’s fair to describe those figures as having been ‘manipulated’. After all, it was that prediction which prompted the UK statistics watchdog to issue another warning to the Government on its confusing and opaque use of statistics.

Source: NHS

In terms of deaths, while November did see a greater number of weekly deaths than the average for the last five years, it was not hugely elevated and the trend was largely flat or declining. Describing this as ‘bouncing round at the typical level of deaths for the time of year’ seems fair.

Source: ONS

Sir Desmond defended his comments last week, saying they were ‘legitimate at the time’.

He is right to stand his ground. It must be acceptable for MPs, like journalists and other members of the public, to challenge Government policy, particularly during a crisis when momentous, far-reaching decisions are being made. Hindsight must not be used as a weapon to attack critics of the Government. Everyone has made some poor predictions in this crisis, Government ministers and advisers included. That’s not a reason for punishing dissenters from Covid orthodoxy in order to silence them. Any moves in that direction must be stoutly resisted.

This first appeared in Lockdown Sceptics on January 30, 2021, and is republished by kind permission.

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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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