I DO find it difficult to have much confidence in our policy-makers and officials in their handling of the coronavirus outbreak, and three astonishing videos have confirmed my doubts.
In the first, Health Secretary Matt Hancock appears taken aback by Andrew Marr’s question: ‘Who is going to care for [sick people]?’
Hancock’s bafflement on Sunday’s Andrew Marr Show illustrates what many TCW readers have known all along: that a society in which most couples both work full-time is a fragile society that lacks strategic depth – indeed a society in which the question ‘who is going to care for this sick person?’ often doesn’t have an clear answer.
In the second video, from Monday’s Good Morning Britain on ITV, Piers Morgan asks a public health expert why the government isn’t banning public gatherings, despite having told us to wash our hands regularly. It’s possible that this was a scientifically naïve question, but it is a perfectly logical and reasonable one. The expert replies with patronising bluster.
It isn’t just the expert’s first response that is arrogant; it’s also his second. He uses the phrase ‘the science tells us that . . .’ as if it’s a magic spell that exempts him from having to offer any further explanation. This two-fold rhetorical bluster is alarming, because experts’ theories are ultimately always built up from reason, and should never stray too far from it. One should never trust an expert who fails to answer logical questions in clear ordinary language; one should trust an expert who ‘pulls rank’ even less. The expert’s initial response is especially nonsensical here, because the European governments which are taking more visible action than us are also doing so on the basis of expert advice. Morgan was, in effect, simply asking why their masters of public health think so differently from ours.
In the third video, taken at a meeting of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee on Tuesday, former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt unpicks a worrying haziness in the thinking of four of our most senior NHS leaders. The woolly language with which the four together gradually gesture at an answer hardly inspires confidence.
The main problem is that they fail clearly to explain precisely what we know so far about the infectious period of the disease, and the overlap between that and the symptomatic period.
In sum: if anything good comes out this virus, I hope that it will be that the British public start to realise that we can all fruitfully apply our rational faculties, and that we don’t need always to wait for officials or experts to tell us what to do. If we defer to them too slavishly, their own rational faculties decline.