We get the Governments we deserve, that’s my view of how the democratic process works.
We got a Government in late 2019 to “get Brexit done” and within a few weeks , that Government was confronted by a pandemic , the like of which no-one had previously experienced.
The Commons report published yesterday prompts this headline in the Guardian
My early blogs on the pandemic, chiefly written or inspired by Stuart McDonald, charted the chaos we were going through in the first three months of 2020. I went into UCL’s chest infection unit at the end of February to speak about some pulmonary embolisms I was recovering from. The consultant asked if I was planning on isolating myself and strongly suggested I did so. Three weeks later I got on a train to Edinburgh, stayed in an Air B n B and attended a 3 day pensions conference in the City Centre.
On my return, London went into lockdown. During that week , thousands of Italian fans had been at Anfield and half of Ireland (it seemed) at Cheltenham. It was as if we were herding. Indeed , one scientific paper claimed that 50% of the UK population had already been exposed to the virus by lockdown
The R at that time was running at around 2.75, the Oxford report opened its results section with the statement
“Our overall approach rests on the assumption that only a very small proportion of the population is at risk of hospitalisable illness. This proportion is itself only a fraction of the risk groups already well described in the literature, including the elderly and those carrying critical comorbidities (e.g. asthma).”
It was to counter this chaotic thinking that the Covid-19 actuaries were formed. Throughout the early months of lockdown, Stuart, Nicola, Matt , Matthew and a growing band were prepared to explain the data and explain where science and politicians were taking decisions with little or no evidence. Assumptions such as those above, were called out as just that – “assumptions”.
Failures of science and government
Whether it was my doctor or my friends in actuarial circles, there was enough evidence for many of the decisions taken at the time to have been challenged.
The decisions to abandon testing at the beginning of lockdown, the clear out of elderly patients into nursing homes, the failure to follow South Korea and other Asian countries who had experience of recent pandemics is now being publicized. But these mistakes were being pointed out at the time by experts who could see the issues through data. Nicola Oliver’s early paper on mask-wearing – published by the actuaries – changed the way I behaved in the company of others. But it took the UK Government many months to catch up. We continued to see press conferences given by unmasked politicians and scientists, many months after publication.
Looking back with gratitude
I often run along the Thames path beside the Covid Wall, the hearts are already beginning to fade and memories of those early months could fade as well. I remember Stuart’s impassioned cry that “excess deaths” were personal tragedies, not the fatalistic lethargy of “they would have died anyway” a phrase we heard too often.
— stuart mcdonald (@ActuaryByDay) April 22, 2020
I look back in gratitude at Stuart’s humanism and his passionately held belief in the right of people to live for as long as we can help them to live. The abandonment of those in nursing homes remains a shocking episode on which Stuart’s tweets stood out. Ros Altmann and Debora Price campaigned to put a stop to putting a sell-by date on older people.
The Government we deserve
We voted in a Government in 2019 which was woefully prepared to fight a pandemic. For this, previous Governments are also responsible. But at the time and again today, the evidence was clear that we should not have been going to Edinburgh, Anfield and Cheltenham. I should have listened to the consultant and to Stuart and not to Boris Johnson and Chris Witty.
We ran extreme risks, there was an outbreak of Covid in the building adjacent to our conference hall the week we were in Edinburgh. Aegon shut down their offices on the last day of the conference, we travelled home in a steel tube without a second thought. This was a conspicuous failure of ours , a failure that was repeated for weeks around the country.
Now we see more evidence of this gung-ho fatalism in the Government’s reaction to the financial pressures mounting on the poorest people in society which will only get worse as the weather gets colder and the benefits smaller.
At some point we will need to put our hands in our pockets, if we are not to see more social injustice. I hope that this report will solicit some contrition from those living in Downing Street, but to date I have seen no evidence that that will be the case.
We get the Government that we deserve? Those who have no voice, do not deserve to be abandoned again.