YESTERDAY evening’s statement from the Prime Minister was but a renewed mawkish wallow in the self-indulgent swamp which substitutes for leadership.
He pledged what he cannot deliver: that when we have come through this crisis we will come together as a nation to remember everyone we lost, but loss is a personal experience which he should not presume to collectivise.
Only a few days ago he said that every death is a tragedy and if you accept that then you wholly misunderstand what it is to be a human animal. By that yardstick, every birth (of which Boris Johnson has a few to his credit) is equally a tragedy, since it must end in death.
Last night the endless evocation of the Second World War and the lauded heroism of so many people doing their jobs when so many others have lost theirs rang as hollow as an Oscars acceptance speech delivered by a fading thespian.
Reform UK’s anti-lockdown position is refreshing and welcome and could usefully be taken one step further to prevent future attempts to imprison the population.
The Chief Scientific Adviser and Chief Medical Officer should be sent packing, which is not to disparage the qualifications and good intentions of Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Whitty or the claque of experts (how hard it is to resist putting inverted commas around that word) from Sage, its sub-groups and the wider chorus of government-indentured eggheads.
Certainly it would be hard to argue that there have not been some serious manipulations of data to suit a narrative of panic and that the precautionary principle has ridden roughshod over common sense, but the overwhelming complaint must be that the experts have shielded the politicians from the ineptitude and lack of imagination of those self-same politicians.
There is an established procedure for the creation of a praetorian guard of scientific boffins to advise ministers. Government, represented by civil servants and their scientific advisers topped off with a ministerial rubber stamp, selects the best available people and so it necessarily follows that government must get the very finest advice. Thereafter any external advice is both unwelcome and unwarranted.
Leaving the officials and their political masters to one side, there remains a feedback loop of Whitehall-approved scientists nominating and appointing one another. This is scarcely conducive to a spectrum of competing opinions but rather to a lab culture on which caution and conventional thinking thrive. Any advice which is at variance with the official line is dismissed almost by definition as impertinent and ill-intentioned.
There is a parallel in Anthony Trollope’s novels of two recurring experts, Sir Omicron Pie and Sir Lamda Mewnew, who are called down from London at great expense when some great or wealthy personage is in the last extremity and where a humble local practitioner like Dr Fillgrave is not to be given sole charge of the treatment. Their ex cathedra prognosis is always authoritative but always cautious and open-ended.
The danger of this intellectual monoculture is that politicians lacking scientific training or experience, and with no understanding of statistics and, worst of all, with no inquisitiveness into either area, are bullyragged by prestigious Sir Omicrons and Sir Lamdas whose purview excludes all but their fragment of the economic and social life of the country.
The restrictions which are foisted on the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary for imposition on the rest of us are positively destructive of our economic and social well-being and yet the government insists that there is no alternative but to follow ‘The Science’.
Here it’s worth pointing out that sticking the definite article in front of ‘science’ is a trick used by bluffers and conmen rather than genuine scientists. The purpose is to invalidate and silence alternative views. In this manner the myriad interpretations and strategies advanced in all good faith by other specialists no less (and often rather more) qualified in their field than our Sir Omicrons and Sir Lamdas are ignored by the politicians and despised by a media pack that is for the most part scientifically illiterate and whose critical faculties have been anaesthetised by the joy of a bad news story that runs and runs and runs.
Without government approved experts the field would be open for debate and would force politicians finally to assume responsibility based on their own analysis and their own judgement. As matters stand, the government is little more than the frightened mouthpiece for a script it doesn’t properly grasp and for which it will doubtless decline accountability in due course.
Moreover, Matt Hancock is enjoying himself too obviously and it is remarkable that he is still in post. His original misunderstanding of what constitutes a false positive test result and his contention that restrictions will have to remain until there are no new variants of the virus (in effect for ever) demonstrate his unfitness for the role.
Boris Johnson must occasionally look at Hancock as he might notice with distaste an errant hair on his bar of soap at bath time, wondering how it came to be there while harbouring a sense that he himself might be responsible for the interloper.
How different things might have been, and still might be, if instead of boning up on whatever they are fed by their coterie of experts and serving up doomsterisms in Downing Street with Whitty and Vallance as bookends, or in TV studios with a purposeful look and a NHS prefect’s badge, they had to defend policies synthesised from a range of contrasting insights. How much better would it be if the population at large knew that politicians were intellectually engaged and that their lives were regulated by properly enacted law than by the caprice of spreadsheets.
It is hard to imagine that Boris Johnson would not be behaving differently if he were properly on top of his subject and not in a position where he could slough off responsibility to Sir Omicron, Sir Lamda and their unelected cohort. For almost a year he has been more an avatar on Covid than a Prime Minister, and for a substantial man he is sadly lacking in substance.