Thursday, September 23, 2021
HomeCOVID-19The verdict on Johnson’s Covid battle? Fail, fail, fail

The verdict on Johnson’s Covid battle? Fail, fail, fail

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BORIS Johnson was elected in December 2019 for a variety of reasons. One was undoubtedly to ‘get Brexit done’. But there were many other reasons why he won. I would wager an important one was not only a complete rebuttal of militant Socialism, as articulated by Corbyn, but also a perception that Johnson possessed a sunny optimism and can-do anti-establishment individuality as an antidote to a State increasingly micro-controlling every aspect of our lives. It was hoped he would thus tackle an over-mighty state.

It has not quite gone to plan. In fairness to Johnson, no one could have predicted the havoc Covid-19 would cause but what has been odd is the response of his government. One might have expected the apparently freedom-loving and self-styled carefree libertarian to oversee a light-touch response understanding the checks and balances that were required. Let’s, for the sake of brevity, call it the Swedish approach.

But no, after initially blustering in March Johnson has opted for one of the most severe and illiberal lockdowns in the entire world. Don’t take my word for it. The Oxford University coronavirus tracker is a brilliant database examining the response of all 187 nations on earth across a wide variety of matrices.

Its analysis is that only Venezuela and Lebanon have had a more stringent response. Fine company to be in, eh? The chart below highlights just how extreme Johnson’s government has been. No other major nation on earth has endured such restrictions on freedom.

Current lockdown restriction levels 0 free, 100% greatest restrictions

Source Oxford University Covid-19 Government Response Tracker   

However, surely it was worth it? Given this assault on our freedom, Britain must have performed well? Er, no. While I completely accept that international comparisons are problematic, as statistics and definitions vary by nation, on any measure Britain has had one of the worst medical outcomes on the planet with only Belgium faring worse on the measure of deaths per 100,000 as indicated by the chart below.

What is more, the correlation between severity of lockdown and mortality is weak. Relatively liberal approaches in Sweden and Brazil, for example, have seen substantially lower death rates than illiberal Britain.

Deaths from covid-19 per 100,000 of population (to mid Feb 2021)

Source BBC

The Government has been generous with our money, however. The Oxford database puts the British economic response as being equal only to that of Austria, and much more generous than almost all other major nations. Millions paid to stay at home via furlough, grants for this and that, increased universal income payments and more. This ‘harsh’ Conservative government, if you believe the media narrative, having closed the economy down, has certainly scattered the cash. One could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps Corbyn had won after all?

Covid-19 economic support index

Source Oxford University Covid-19 Government Response Tracker   

But surely this generosity must have saved the economy? Again, sadly not. While public spending has increased by a staggering 33 per cent in 2020, with estimated borrowing of around £375billion this year alone, Britain’s private sector has crumbled. The state now accounts for 56 per cent of GDP. Britain’s economic performance in 2020 was abject, with only Spain performing worse. It is entirely predictable that a centralised Statist approach should fail, and fail it has.

Major nation growth in GDP  2020 y on y – the lockdown effect %

Source OECD

So on any measure this has been a miserable Covid-19 for the UK. Britain, once a global beacon for freedom, has suppressed liberty in ways unheard of in hundreds of years and despite this our death rates have been poor. The lockdown simply has not worked.

The Chancellor has scattered economic support around. The state has grown in almost all areas. Unsurprisingly this centralised largesse has been an economic disaster. Britain’s GDP has withered and is almost the worst in the developed world.

Now we have an escape route out of the lockdown which despite the ‘at-risk’ groups increasingly being vaccinated is so cautious, cumbersome, irrational and bureaucratic as to make one weep.

What has happened to this Conservative Party? I get that coronavirus was a catastrophe emanating from a far-off land but is Johnson in charge, or is it a bureaucratic, cautious and regulation-driven machine scared of failure, unprepared to accept risk, driven by centralised command and control, fearful of individuality and personal choice?

I fear it is the latter. Johnson and Sunak appear buffeted by a far Left-of-centre media, academic opinion and permanent quangocracy who are snuffing out Britain’s peculiar individuality and freedom-loving spirit.

Now the lockdown is coming to an end we must demand that Johnson returns to the mandate he was elected on. It was not just to ‘get Brexit done’. Brexit was but a metaphor for our vanishing freedom and liberty. Johnson will be judged by how quickly and completely our personal, economic and corporate freedoms are restored and how quickly free enterprise is unleashed. The omens are not good.

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Ewen Stewart
Ewen Stewart is a City economist who runs the consultancy Walbrook Economics. He is director of the think tank Global Britain and his work is widely published in economics and political journals.

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