You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘2020’ tag.

This week, Big Brother Watch’s Ministry of Truth exposé states how UK Government agencies tracked social media accounts of certain well-known Britons during the coronavirus pandemic to monitor opinions.

One of the Twitter accounts involved belongs to a publican who had not yet begun appearing on television.

2020: online dissent, abuses of power

Before going into that story, here are bookmarks I had filed under ‘Ministry of Truth’. It would seem that the name relates to a Twitter account which has since been renamed. This person has nothing to do with the aforementioned exposé, but the tweets reflect what was already on people’s minds.

Interestingly, all of these relate to the pandemic.

Looking back to April 2020, three weeks after the UK locked down, people were already discussing the egregious nature of lockdown and suspicion about any vaccine.

This is an informal poll asking what percentage of global deaths justifies a lockdown:

Nearly 80% of people did not wish to take a coronavirus vaccine, should one be developed:

By April 13, police were already entering people’s properties. In this case, there was no party going on, but the abuse of power was shocking:

The video went viral:

On April 24, 2020, Tony Blair’s Institute for Global Change suggested that state surveillance was ‘a price worth paying’ to stop coronavirus. Shocking:

By the end of April, we discovered that the WHO had coined the expression ‘New Normal’ on June 7, 2019:

In June 2020, despite lockdown in force, protests took place. In London, Metropolitan Police officers ran away from protesters after being pelted with objects:

2023: Ministry of Truth

On Saturday, January 28, 2023, Big Brother Watch sent an advance copy of their report to the Mail, which reported (emphases mine):

A shadowy Army unit secretly spied on British citizens who criticised the Government’s Covid lockdown policies, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

Military operatives in the UK’s ‘information warfare’ brigade were part of a sinister operation that targeted politicians and high-profile journalists who raised doubts about the official pandemic response.

They compiled dossiers on public figures such as ex-Minister David Davis, who questioned the modelling behind alarming death toll predictions, as well as journalists such as Peter Hitchens and Toby Young. Their dissenting views were then reported back to No 10.

Documents obtained by the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, and shared exclusively with this newspaper, exposed the work of Government cells such as the Counter Disinformation Unit, based in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the Rapid Response Unit in the Cabinet Office.

But the most secretive is the MoD’s 77th Brigade, which deploys ‘non-lethal engagement and legitimate non-military levers as a means to adapt behaviours of adversaries’.

According to a whistleblower who worked for the brigade during the lockdowns, the unit strayed far beyond its remit of targeting foreign powers. 

They said that British citizens’ social media accounts were scrutinised – a sinister activity that the Ministry of Defence, in public, repeatedly denied doing.

Papers show the outfits were tasked with countering ‘disinformation’ and ‘harmful narratives… from purported experts’, with civil servants and artificial intelligence deployed to ‘scrape’ social media for keywords such as ‘ventilators’ that would have been of interest.

The information was then used to orchestrate Government responses to criticisms of policies such as the stay-at-home order, when police were given power to issue fines and break up gatherings. 

It also allowed Ministers to push social media platforms to remove posts and promote Government-approved lines.

The Army whistleblower said: ‘It is quite obvious that our activities resulted in the monitoring of the UK population… monitoring the social media posts of ordinary, scared people. These posts did not contain information that was untrue or co-ordinated – it was simply fear.’

Last night, former Cabinet Minister Mr Davis, a member of the Privy Council, said: ‘It’s outrageous that people questioning the Government’s policies were subject to covert surveillance’ – and questioned the waste of public money.

Mail on Sunday journalist Mr Hitchens was monitored after sharing an article, based on leaked NHS papers, which claimed data used to publicly justify lockdown was incomplete. An internal Rapid Response Unit email said Mr Hitchens wanted to ‘further [an] anti-lockdown agenda and influence the Commons vote’. 

Writing today, Mr Hitchens questions if he was ‘shadow-banned’ over his criticisms, with his views effectively censored by being downgraded in search results. 

He says: ‘The most astonishing thing about the great Covid panic was how many attacks the state managed to make on basic freedoms without anyone much even caring, let alone protesting. 

Now is the time to demand a full and powerful investigation into the dark material Big Brother Watch has bravely uncovered.’

The whistleblower from 77 Brigade, which uses both regular and reserve troops, said: ‘I developed the impression the Government were more interested in protecting the success of their policies than uncovering any potential foreign interference, and I regret that I was a part of it. Frankly, the work I was doing should never have happened.’

The source also suggested that the Government was so focused on monitoring critics it may have missed genuine Chinese-led prolockdown campaigns.

Silkie Carlo, of Big Brother Watch, said: ‘This is an alarming case of mission creep, where public money and military power have been misused to monitor academics, journalists, campaigners and MPs who criticised the Government, particularly during the pandemic.

‘The fact that this political monitoring happened under the guise of ‘countering misinformation’ highlights how, without serious safeguards, the concept of ‘wrong information’ is open to abuse and has become a blank cheque the Government uses in an attempt to control narratives online.

‘Contrary to their stated aims, these Government truth units are secretive and harmful to our democracy. The Counter Disinformation Unit should be suspended immediately and subject to a full investigation.’

A Downing Street source last night said the units had scaled back their work significantly since the end of the lockdowns.

The Mail‘s article also has the 77th Brigade member’s full disclosure as well as Peter Hitchens’s first-hand experience from that time.

It is ironic that a Conservative MP, Tobias Ellwood, is part of the 77th Brigade, which monitored another Conservative MP, David Davis:

Toby Young, also monitored, featured the Mail‘s articles on his website in ‘The 77th Brigade Spied on Lockdown Sceptics, Including Me’.

He pointed us to a Twitter thread from Dr Jay Bhattacharya, one of the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration, which the Establishment panned worldwide:

On Sunday, January 29, Spiked had a tongue-in-cheek title to their article on the exposé, ‘Warning: sharing a spiked article could get you in trouble with the government’:

Today, a report by Big Brother Watch has revealed the alarming lengths the UK government went to in order to hush up its critics. We now know that three government bodies, including a shady Ministry of Defence unit tasked with fighting ‘information warfare’, surveilled and monitored UK citizens, public figures and media outlets who criticised the lockdown – and spiked was caught up in that net.

This mini Ministry of Truth was composed of the Rapid Response Unit (RRU) in the Cabinet Office, the Counter Disinformation Unit (CDU) in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the army’s 77th Brigade. The 77th Brigade exists to monitor and counter so-called disinformation being spread by adversarial foreign powers. But, as a whistleblower from the unit told Big Brother Watch, ‘the banner of disinformation was a guise under which the British military was being deployed to monitor and flag our own concerned citizens’. The other bodies worked together to monitor ‘harmful narratives online’ and to push back on them, by promoting government lines in the press and by flagging posts to social-media companies in order to have them removed.

The public figures targeted by these shadowy units included Conservative MP David Davis, Lockdown Sceptics founder Toby Young, talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer and Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens. All of whom had warned about the consequences of lockdown and had raised questions about the UK government’s alarmist modelling of the virus.

Documents obtained by Big Brother Watch, using subject-access requests, reveal that Peter Hitchens was flagged for, among other things, sharing a spiked article. A cross-Whitehall disinformation report from the RRU in June 2020 notes that, ‘The spiked article was shared on Twitter by Peter Hitchens, which led to renewed engagement on that specific platform’. The RRU also monitored the level of public agreement, noting that ‘some highly engaged comments’ agreed with the article, while others were critical …

We desperately need a reckoning with lockdown, and with the lockdown on dissent that accompanied it.

Big Brother Watch announced their report with a summary of highlights, ‘Inside Whitehall’s Ministry of Truth — How secretive “anti-information” teams conducted mass political monitoring’.

Read that if you do not have time to peruse their full report.

Guido Fawkes also summarised the report on Monday, January 30:

Millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money went into this egregious surveillance. Imagine inadvertently paying to have yourself monitored by the state:

Unbelievable.

Will anything come of this? I certainly hope so, but I doubt it.

On Thursday, February 2, David Davis asked about Peter Hitchens during Cabinet Office questions:

David Davis: In 2020 we have evidence that the Cabinet Office monitored the journalist Peter Hitchens’ social media posts in relation to the pandemic. In an internal email the Cabinet Office accused him of pursuing an anti-lockdown agenda. He then appears to have been shadow- banned on social media. Will the Minister confirm that his Department did nothing to interfere with Hitchens’ communications, either through discussion with social media platforms or by any other mechanism? If he cannot confirm that today, will he write to me immediately in the future to do so? (903428)

Mr Speaker: Who wants that one?

Jeremy Quin (Cabinet Office Minister): It is a pleasure to take it, Mr Speaker. I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. He referred to the rapid response unit; what it was doing during the course of the pandemic was entirely sensible—trawling the whole of what is available publicly on social media to make certain we as the Government could identify areas of concern particularly regarding disinformation so that correct information could be placed into the public domain to reassure the public. I think that was an entirely reasonable and appropriate thing to do. I do not know about the specifics that my right hon. Friend asks about; I would rather not answer at the Dispatch Box, but my right hon. Friend has asked me to write to him and I certainly will.

They have an answer for everything.

Let no one think that Labour would have done anything differently. Labour fully supported the Government on everything coronavirus-related and said they would have gone further.

Advertisement

Previous instalments in my series on Harry and Meghan can be found here, here, here and here.

I left off at the end of 2019, with The Sun publishing a story on the Sussexes imminent extended visit to Canada, which enraged the Duke and Duchess:

On December 21 that year, Sky News reported:

Harry and Meghan’s spokeswoman ended speculation over their whereabouts by confirming the couple and their seven-month-old son Archie are spending their six-week Christmas break in the country Meghan called home for seven years.

“The decision to base themselves in Canada reflects the importance of this Commonwealth country to them both,” she said.

“The Duke of Sussex has been a frequent visitor to Canada over many years, and it was also home to The Duchess for seven years before she became a member of the Royal Family.

“They are enjoying sharing the warmth of the Canadian people and the beauty of the landscape with their young son.”

The duchess lived in Toronto before joining the Royal Family as the popular US drama Suits, in which she starred in, was filmed in the Canadian city.

Harry and Meghan were famously pictured in Toronto in 2017 at the Invictus Games.

The Sussexes are likely to have spent the US Thanksgiving celebrations on 28 November with the duchess’ mother Doria Ragland.

Prince Harry’s grandmother, the Queen, is said to be supportive of the Sussexes’ plan to take a long break and not join the rest of the Royal Family at Sandringham on Christmas Day.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have previously spent Christmas with Kate’s parents in Berkshire instead of with the Queen.

Harry’s grandfather, Prince Philip, 98, was taken to hospital in London on Friday from Sandringham for treatment for a pre-existing condition, Buckingham Palace said.

The Queen had just arrived at the Norfolk estate for her Christmas break after the State Opening of Parliament on Thursday …

By Christmas Eve, the Mail reported that the Royal Family wanted the couple to return home in light of Prince Philip’s stay in hospital:

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have been urged by Royal family members to return from abroad to spend Christmas in the UK, as Prince Philip spends a fourth night in hospital …

It comes after a family Christmas card of the royal couple smiling in front of a Christmas tree, with Archie’s adorable face staring down the camera lens, was revealed.

On December 28, news emerged in the UK that:

THE Duke and Duchess of Sussex have registered the trademarks for hundreds of products with their Sussex Royal brand.

That same day, Blind Gossip posted ‘The Big Plan’:

Think back to a few months ago when we talked about the baby.

Our married couple was oddly reluctant to let the public see the baby, citing concerns over safety and a desire to bond privately.

We told you that wasn’t true. Plenty of their family members have managed to keep their children safe and secure over many generations while meeting their obligations as public figures.

We told you that the couple was actually trying to keep sightings of the baby rare while they figured out how to monetize the situation… without the rest of the family finding out.

They bungled that scenario.

However, it’s now full steam ahead with The Big Plan!

What is The Big Plan?

To brand and monetize everything.

You are now seeing that plan being put into motion. And if you question what they are doing, you will be met with anger, misdirection, and insistence that their motives are pure.

We hid the baby because… Privacy! Motherhood!

We take private planes and stay in posh private digs because… Environment! Wellness!

We isolate ourselves from 99% of our family and surround ourselves with celebrities because… Family! Safety!

We are engaging our own outside lawyers and PR team because… Protection! Charity!

How dare you question our motives!

See how that works?

Fortunately, the Queen put paid to Sussex Royal on February 18, 2020, as the Mail reported:

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex must drop their ‘Sussex Royal’ label after deciding to step down as working royals.

Following lengthy and complex talks, the Queen and senior officials are believed to have agreed it is no longer tenable for the couple to keep the word ‘royal’ in their ‘branding’.

Harry and Meghan have spent tens of thousands of pounds on a new Sussex Royal website to complement their hugely popular Instagram feed.

They have also sought to register Sussex Royal as a global trademark for a range of items and activities, including clothing, stationery, books and teaching materials. 

In addition, they have taken steps to set up a new charitable organisation: Sussex Royal, The Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

It has now been made clear that they will need to ‘re-brand’.

Returning to December 2019 and January 2020, Harry was eager to work out some sort of arrangement for his and Meghan’s future with the then-Prince Charles. Charles told his son that such things had to be done in person, not via email. Prior to that, Harry had contacted the Queen, who said she would be happy to meet with him until it turned out her diary was full.

Various excerpts in this post come from investigative-turned-royal reporter Valentine Low and his 2022 best-seller, Courtiers. Royal insider Lady Colin Campbell said on GB News a few weeks ago that Low’s book must be the definitive one he had so much access to the people who run the Palace.

On a personal note, I read all of Valentine Low’s work when he wrote for the London Evening Standard around the Millennium. Low left no stone unturned in his lengthy exposés, and it is good to see that he continues to doggedly investigate his subject matter.

Another book I would recommend is Tom Bower’s 2022 best-seller Revenge, which concerns the Sussexes lives. It, too, is packed with detail. Again on a personal note, I read his biography of the late Robert ‘Bob’ Maxwell in the 1990s. Maxwell died an unresolved mysterious death on his yacht. Maxwell was larger than life, both physically and figuratively. Bower’s biography was a page-turner, from start to finish.

I sent both Courtiers and Revenge as Christmas gifts in 2022. I commend them to my readers.

‘Cornered, misunderstood, deeply unhappy

Valentine Low’s excerpt, which The Times published on September 25, 2022, explains what happened between December 2019 and January 2020 (emphases mine):

The current set-up was not working for them, and they wanted to go and live in North America. Harry seemed to be under the impression that they could just sort it out by email before he and Meghan got back to London on January 6. The reply they got, however, was that this would require a proper family conversation. They were also told that the first date that the family would be available was January 29. It is not clear if this inflexibility was on the part of Charles, who was due to be in Davos, or that this was the response of his long-time private secretary Clive Alderton, pulling the strings. Either way, from the Sussex point of view, this went down incredibly badly. It fed into the narrative that they were not being taken seriously by the palace machinery, or by the rest of the family.

Harry had tried to speed up matters by arranging to see his grandmother alone before he left Canada. However, the message was conveyed to him that the Queen had been confused about her diary, and was no longer available. Harry was incensed, because it was not true: the courtiers had got in the way, it seemed, because they saw the meeting with the Queen as an attempt to pick the Queen off before Harry started talks with the rest of the family. As one source put it, “There was a danger that a private conversation could be interpreted very differently by two people.”

And so it turned out with other conversations concerning the Sussexes, leaving the Queen to state that ‘some recollections may vary’.

Harry considered travelling directly to Sandringham to see his grandmother:

He eventually dropped the idea, but it was a sign of his frustration that he even contemplated such a move.

Royal diaries opened up early in January 2020:

Given that the couple announced their plans to stand down on January 8, and the royal family met to discuss it all five days later on January 13 — the so-called Sandringham summit — it seems that the family diary was rather more flexible than originally appeared.

Harry and Meghan could be maddening, of course; they had already infuriated the royal family by pushing out their Megxit announcement on January 8 with the minimum of notice when all the talks had been about issuing a joint statement. But the palace also showed the sort of initial inflexibility that was always guaranteed to infuriate them. Harry and Meghan felt cornered, misunderstood and deeply unhappy. If the rest of the institution failed to appreciate that, even if their demands were unreasonable, the departure negotiations were never going to end happily. It is uncontroversial to suggest that the Sussexes would regard the talks as a failure. They wanted to find a compromise whereby they could live part of the year abroad but carry out some royal duties at home. No such compromise was found. Instead, they lost their royal duties, their patronages, Harry’s military affiliations, their security, their income from the Prince of Wales and, for official purposes anyway, their HRH titles. They pretty much lost everything, except for the freedom to do exactly what they want.

This is what I meant yesterday by the mess of pottage.

The courtiers were busy:

In the immediate aftermath of the Sussex bombshell on January 8, when the Queen said she wanted all four households to “work together at pace” to find a workable solution, Edward Young, the Queen’s private secretary, was with the Queen at Sandringham. The first negotiations took place in Clarence House — Charles’s home ground — over the following four days, with the private secretaries and communications secretaries from the four households all trying to find a way to make the Sussexes’ dreams a reality. They gathered in Alderton’s office, a sunny first-floor room where paintings from the Royal Collection sit alongside photographs of Alderton’s own family. Young would join the talks on the phone from Norfolk, but for the first few days it was Alderton who was leading the discussions. (Later, they would all have talks at Buckingham Palace.) Simon Case, Prince William’s private secretary, who is now cabinet secretary, also played a pivotal role. “He was talking to both sides,” said a source.

The people sitting around the table went through five different scenarios, which ranged from Harry and Meghan spending most of their time being working members of the royal family, but having a month a year to do their own thing, to them spending most of their time privately, but doing a select number of royal activities. There was, according to more than one source, a positive atmosphere in the room: they wanted to find a solution. At one stage, Alderton made the point that if they could get this right, they would be solving a problem for future generations of the royal family who were not in the direct line of succession.

Ultimately, the Queen decided that the couple could not be both in and out of the Royal Family:

By the end of the week, the five scenarios had been worked through. The view from the palace establishment was that, however much time Harry and Meghan spent away from royal duties, anything they did would reflect on the institution. That meant that the normal rules about royal behaviour would apply. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.

But the Sussexes wanted their freedom: freedom to make money, freedom to dip their toes into American politics. There was no way for the two sides to reach an agreement on that point. Crucially, it was the Queen who took the view that unless the couple were prepared to abide by the restrictions that applied to working members of the royal family, they could not be allowed to carry out official duties. One source said: “There was a very clear view: you can’t be in and out. And if you’ve got such clarity of view, it’s very difficult to say, ‘Why don’t we go 10 per cent this way instead of 20 per cent?’ ” Compromise was off the table, removed by the Queen.

Low wonders whether the courtiers could have handled the situation ‘differently’, but it seems the previous paragraph would say that they could not have done so. The Queen took the final decision — and the right one, in the estimation of most Britons.

Mismatched expectations

It would appear that Meghan thought she would be the star of the Royal Family, whereas the Palace, rightly, expected her to slot into her role as the Duchess of Sussex.

Low found empathisers with both sides then adds his view:

One former palace insider believes the way the developing crisis was handled was “incompetent beyond belief”. They said: “I think Meghan thought she was going to be the Beyoncé of the UK. Being part of the royal family would give her that kudos. Whereas what she discovered was that there were so many rules that were so ridiculous that she couldn’t even do the things that she could do as a private individual, which is tough . . . It just required the decision-makers to sit around a table and say, ‘OK, what are we going to do about this? What do you need to feel better? And what can we give?’ ”

There is, however, another view: that nothing could have ever saved the situation. The two sides were just too far apart. Another palace source, who has been critical of the Queen’s private secretary Edward Young in the past, said: “I think that it was an impossible task. I think in Meghan and the household, you had two worlds that had no experience of each other, had no way to relate to each other, had no way to comprehend each other. And Meghan was never going to fit in that model and that model was never going to tolerate the Meghan who Meghan wanted to be. So I think that it was inevitable that they would not be able to work together. I don’t think there’s anything Edward could have done about that that other members of the royal family would have accepted.”

Both things are probably true. There was a collective failure on the part of those who work for the royal family to recognise that there was a serious problem, to flag it up, and to try to do something about it. There were no high-level discussions any time in the first eight months of 2019 — when Meghan was later to say that she had suicidal thoughts and the first clues were emerging that the Sussexes were plotting an escape — about the nature of their unhappiness and what could be done about it.

But even if that had happened, I do not believe that it would have solved the problem. Their grievances were too deep-rooted, and the distance between what the Sussexes wanted and what the royal family felt able to give was just too great. Perhaps the best that could have happened is that the divorce could have been handled without all the acrimony that followed the events of January 2020. One thing is definitely true, however. If there were any failings, they were during the first year or so of Harry and Meghan’s marriage.

There is one final thought on this, and it comes from a surprising source, someone who knows Harry well but remains upset about what Harry and Meghan did. Their view is that perhaps the Sussexes’ departure was not the untrammelled disaster that so many think it was. “There is a part of me that thinks Meghan did Harry the greatest kindness anyone could do to him, which was to take him out of the royal family, because he was just desperately unhappy in the last couple of years in his working life. We knew he was unhappy, but we didn’t really know what the solution would be. She came along and found the solution.”

Dear, oh dear.

The Sussexes ignored staff advice

In an article from January 10, 2020 for The Times, written as the formal separation took place, Low tells us what was going on between the Sussexes and their staff before the couple sent out their statement:

This reveals how Harry has his own sense of the truth:

There was talk of putting out a statement — not the one that was eventually released but a blander version merely confirming that talks were taking place, and giving none of the detail about their plans to become financially independent and to split their time between Britain and North America.

Once more, Harry spoke to the Queen. Versions of how the conversation went differ. According to one narrative she made it clear that he should not go public with his plans. However, a source close to Harry told The Times: “He certainly thinks she said it was fine.”

His closest advisers did not think it was fine. Both Sara Latham, the couple’s communications secretary, and Fiona Mcilwham, their private secretary, argued strongly against putting out a bombshell statement without consulting the other members of the family. Harry and Meghan, however, were determined to press ahead.

The other royal households were given the statement shortly after 6pm on Wednesday. Ten minutes later it was sent out to the world.

It seems that the Duke and Duchess hadn’t listened to their staff on other occasions:

Harry and Meghan’s closest advisers are a devoted team who believe in the values, aims and ambitions espoused by the duke and duchess. But that does not mean that their advice is always listened to: and it also does not mean that some of them are not anxious about their future as the couple carve out their new role.

It also does not mean all of them have been involved in the plans. The Sussexes’ website, sussexroyal.com, was created by Made by Article, a Canadian company, without input from their Buckingham Palace press team. Instead much of the content, criticised for inaccuracies, was created by the couple with Sunshine Sachs, a PR company in New York.

The Sussexes’ most senior advisers are Sara Latham, their communications secretary, and Fiona Mcilwham, their private secretary, both appointed in the past year. Until last year the couple’s household was part of Kensington Palace, home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and they were a closely knit team and funded by the Prince of Wales.

Then came the falling out and the decision for the Sussexes to set up on their own. In theory they are answerable to the Buckingham Palace team, but in reality they operate as a separate fiefdom. Most staff costs are paid for by the Duchy of Cornwall, but communications staff under Ms Latham are paid for by the sovereign grant.

Public unhappy

Low then explores the view of the general public in January 2020, which was quite negative, especially as their money went towards the refurbishment of Frogmore Cottage, where the Sussexes lived for only a short while:

… the announcement that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex aimed to be financially independent has raised questions about their future income. The duke has personal wealth — the money left to him by his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales — but is supported by money from his father and public cash.

In the narrow streets that surround Windsor Castle, locals grumbled at the cost of a recent renovation to the couple’s residence, Frogmore Cottage, which sits in the castle grounds. Taxpayers paid £2.4 million to renovate the grade II listed building, into which the pair moved nine months ago. Jess Hunter, 28, manager of the Queen Charlotte pub, said: “It seems a bit rich to then turn around and walk away from it all. I like Meghan but she knew what she was getting into when she married Harry. If you don’t want to be a princess, don’t marry a prince.”

About 32 per cent of people thought the decision would “damage” the royal family, while 49 per cent did not. “He’s a normal human being and he’s wanting to carve out a little bit of space for his new family to grow in,” added Michael Smith, 52, a prison officer. “It’s what his mother would have wanted.”

The Sussex Survivors’ Club

The Times featured another excerpt from Low’s book on September 24, 2023.

It gives examples of how unaccustomed courtiers are to incivility — and so should they be. It is hard to imagine what they went through from 2018 to early 2020.

Low takes us back to 2018, when he was part of the press pack on the couple’s South Pacific tour:

It is normally a standard part of a royal tour, the moment when the royals venture to the back of the plane, where the media sit, to say hello and have a chat. But the tour of the South Pacific by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in 2018 was different …

Harry had looked out of sorts. His relations with the media pack had been prickly and strained. Where Meghan smiled, always putting on her best face whenever she was on show, Harry glowered. On the five-hour flight back from Tonga to Sydney, his press handlers promised that he would come and thank the media for being there. It was only after the plane had landed that the couple finally appeared.

I remember the scene well. Harry looked like a sulky teenager, Meghan stood behind him, smiling benignly. Her only contribution was a comment about how much everyone must be looking forward to Sunday lunch at home. Harry sounded rushed, as if he couldn’t wait to get back into the first-class cabin. “Thanks for coming,” he said, “even though you weren’t invited.”

This was spectacularly rude — and incorrect. The media had been invited to cover the tour. Later, Harry’s staff told him how badly his remarks had gone down. He replied: “Well, you shouldn’t have made me do it.” Harry’s petulant behaviour revealed much about the couple’s deteriorating relationship with their own staff.

So bad did things eventually become that Harry and Meghan’s team would later refer to themselves as the Sussex Survivors’ Club. The core members were Sam Cohen, whom the Queen had personally asked to step in as private secretary and who worked for the couple from after their wedding until the end of their South Africa tour in September 2019; Sara Latham, the former Freuds PR managing partner, hired in 2019 to be in charge of communications; and assistant press secretary Marnie Gaffney. Sources say the team came up with a damning epithet for Meghan: a “narcissistic sociopath”. They also reportedly said on repeated occasions: “We were played.”

Fast forward to the Oprah interview in March 2021, and all close advisers’ support was forgotten:

Meghan takes pains to highlight the difference between the Queen and those who surrounded her. In Meghan’s account, they were the people who refused to help when she was in her hour of greatest need. They were the ones who “perpetuate falsehoods” about her.

Watching Meghan describe how she considered ending her life in the year after her marriage was an uncomfortable experience. And yet a succession of perfectly decent people, all of whom believed in Meghan and wanted to make it work, came to be so disillusioned that they began to suspect that even her most heartfelt pleas for help were part of a deliberate strategy that had one end in sight: her departure from the royal family. They believe she wanted to be able to say ‘Look how they failed to support me’.

Sam Cohen, who had 17 years’ experience of working at the Palace, would frequently say to Edward Young, the Queen’s private secretary, and Clive Alderton, Charles’s private secretary, that if it all went wrong, the Palace needed evidence of the duty of care it had shown to Harry and Meghan. The duty of care was crucial. “[Sam] was a broken record with them on that,” said a source.

But by the time of the Oprah interview, everything the Palace had done to support the couple — including giving them a team that would have done anything to help them succeed — was forgotten.

Instead, Meghan was able to point out all the times the institution had failed her. One of them was when she says she went to the head of HR, where she was given a sympathetic hearing but sent on her way. This was inevitable: HR is there to deal with employee issues, not members of the royal family. Meghan would presumably have known that, so what was she doing there? Laying a trail of evidence, would be the cynical answer.

Another former staff member goes even further. “Everyone knew that the institution would be judged by her happiness,” they say. The mistake they made was thinking that she wanted to be happy. She wanted to be rejected, because she was obsessed with that narrative from day one.”

Courtiers are unaccustomed to untoward behaviour:

Part of the problem, according to one source, was that everyone in the Palace was too genteel and civil: “When someone decides not to be civil, they have no idea what to do. They were run over by her, and then run over by Harry.”

The situation was not helped by Harry and Meghan’s deteriorating relationship with Alderton and Young. “As things started to go wrong,” a source told royal biographer Robert Lacey, “Meghan came to perceive Young as the inflexible, bureaucratic figure who summed up what was with the BP [Buckingham Palace] mentality, and the feeling was mutual. Young really came to dislike Meghan’s style.” Harry was just as dismissive of the two senior courtiers as Meghan. An insider said: “He used to send them horrible emails. So rude.”

Meghan’s secrecy

If Meghan criticised the courtiers, she was not exactly above criticism herself.

She used secrecy to her advantage:

When Harry and Meghan went to Canada for their six-week break in November 2019, their escape plans were already laid, amid the greatest secrecy. Meghan would not even tell their nanny, Lorren, where they were going. According to one source, she did not know where they were going until the plane — a private jet — was in the air.

Shortly before the end of the year, Meghan confided in a member of her staff that the couple were not coming back. The rest of the team did not find out until they held a meeting at Buckingham Palace at the beginning of January 2020. They found it hard to accept they were being dumped just like that. Some of them were in tears. “It was a very loyal team,” said one.

Money, money, money

By the end of March 2020, Meghan was allegedly panicking about money:

On March 31, The Express reported:

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry agreed to pay back the money spent for the refurbishment of Frogmore Cottage into the Royal Purse as part of their deal with the Queen. As part of their bid for independence from the Royal Family, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex said they want to become financially separate from the Queen and will be looking for new sources of income. Meghan last week was confirmed to have struck up a deal with Disney to narrate their latest documentary Elephant but the Duchess donated the money as the project was filmed before she and Harry announced their departure from the Royal Family.

A royal insider claimed Meghan is terrified because of the financial pressure they are now under and suggested the Duchess has ordered Prince Harry to find a job.

Speaking to US tabloid National Enquirer, the anonymous source said:This debt is a blow to their ambitious plan to become freewheeling billionaires in the world.

“Meghan is terrified that her dreams of being a Hollywood queen will be destroyed by this financial nightmare and she is insisting that Harry make a move and resolve the crisis.”

The insider however noted the lack of previous working experience could make the search for a new job difficult for the Duke of Sussex.

That is too funny. On a serious note, we see again the mess of pottage looming large.

Harry’s lack of work experience led him to dish the dirt on the world’s most famous royals. I hope he’s happy.

Ending on the present day — January 2023 — it is rumoured that Harry might be offered a contract to be a television commentator in the US on his father’s May 6 coronation.

On January 25, The Express reported:

Prince Harry has been tipped to skip King Charles III’s coronation after two US broadcasters allegedly approached the Duke of Sussex to commentate on the ceremony. The Duke’s potential coronation role was first tipped in this weekend’s Sunday Express where TV companies were suggested to be attempting to lure him to join their media teams. Harry’s relationship with his father and the Royal Family has been frosty after a series of digs levelled at the institution in recent months. Royal correspondent Charles Rae said the couple may still be invited to attend the ceremony but suggested Prince Harry may instead opt to strike a deal with US TV channels to act as a commentator and stay in the US …

Speaking on behalf of Spin Genie, Rae added: “There are also rumours that Harry has been offered a lot of money by two broadcasters to commentate on the Coronation …

Networks CBS and NBC are believed to have approached the Duke to get him joining their reporting team in the lead-up to the coronation.

The Venn diagram: Diana

The intersection of the Venn diagram linking Harry and Meghan is clearly Princess Diana.

On August 4, 2021, at the time the Duchess turned 40, her half-sister Samantha told GB News’s Dan Wootton how obsessed Meghan was with the princess:

Here’s the full video, just under 20 minutes long. In it, Samantha discusses how difficult it is to love someone who has caused so much hurt, her disappointment that Meghan has not contacted their ailing father and her book about the Duchess:

As for Harry, Prince Charles’s and Princess Diana’s chef at Kensington Palace, Darren McGrady, says that William and Harry had very different personalities (see at the 1:25 mark).

He says that one day Diana entered the kitchen after the boys had just been in — a favourite place for them to go — and said:

You know, the boys are so different. William’s deep, like his father, and Harry is just an airhead like me.

What more can I say? Nothing.

Cottage pie

In closing, Darren McGrady prepares cottage pie the authentic way. The recipe dates from the 1700s.

There is a note early on in the video that says shepherd’s pie is made with lamb and cottage pie is made with beef, something non-Brits do not realise.

It is also called cottage pie because it was for peasants. Peasants lived in cottages.

But I digress.

Cottage pie was a favourite of Wills and Harry. Perhaps one day, in the years to come, they might enjoy it again together.

End of series

On Wednesday, January 11, 2023, the outspoken Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen had the whip removed for remarks he tweeted about the coronavirus vaccines.

He now sits as an Independent.

Before going into that news, let us look at Bridgen’s past history in Parliament.

Watchdog

Bridgen, who has represented North West Leicestershire since 2010, has always been a watchdog, in and out of Parliament.

Holding his own on Brexit

On April 8, 2019, when Theresa May and Parliament were at loggerheads on how to proceed with Brexit, Bridgen appeared on the BBC’s Politics Live to say that most voters would prefer No Deal. He was the only Leave supporter on a panel of four. Everyone else was a Remainer, including the host, Jo Coburn. They piled in on Bridgen, but the MP was correct. He had cited a poll from YouGov which said that 44% of Britons preferred No Deal. By contrast 42% wanted to remain in the EU.

One month later, he rightly objected to MPs who wanted to have a customs union with the EU instead of a full exit:

The impasse in the House of Commons worsened as the months dragged on. On September 10, Bridgen supported Boris’s prorogation, which ended up being overturned. He talked with talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer just before that prorogation:

In late November, The Sun tweeted an excellent video of Bridgen canvassing North West Leicestershire voters before the general election on December 12 that year. They had strong opinions on Brexit, Labour and Boris. Incidentally, North West Leicestershire is the happiest place to live in the East Midlands:

Pointing out ‘modern slavery’ in Leicester

In January 2020, Bridgen called to the Government’s attention the working conditions at certain women’s garment factories in Leicester. They would be considered sweatshops in the United States.

The city of Leicester is not in Bridgen’s constituency, but he was concerned enough to call the companies out, directing a question to Kelly Tolhurst MP, the then-BEIS (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) in Parliament:

Will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss the situation in Leicester, where I believe that approximately 10,000 people in the clothing industry are being paid £3 to £4 an hour in conditions of modern slavery?

Guido Fawkes reported that nothing was done until July that year, when Leicester showed unusually high rates of coronavirus (emphases in the original):

What happened at the meeting months ago?

The Labour Behind the Label campaign has a report out alleging there is evidence which indicates that conditions in Leicester’s factories, primarily producing for Boohoo, are putting workers at risk of COVID-19 infection. Grim reading…

Leicester’s rates remained high throughout the rest of 2020. By contrast, North West Leicestershire — Bridgen’s constitutency — had the lowest rates in Leicestershire. On October 12, he debated the knotty problem of full lockdowns with talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer, who advocated sequestration of the vulnerable only:

Calling out West Midlands mayoral candidate

In the week before the 2021 local elections in England, he asked IPSA (the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority) to investigate Labour MP Liam Byrne’s alleged use of parliamentary expenses to fund his campaign for the mayoralty of the West Midlands. Byrne fired back that Bridgen put his own London accommodation on expenses, which is what every other MP, including Byrne, does. Then Byrne accused Bridgen of having one of the worst voting attendance records in Parliament. Byrne was wrong there, too, as records show that Bridgen voted 88% of the time, whereas Byrne voted only 63% of the time between 2010 and 2019.

Calling out the BBC

On May 21, 2021, Bridgen complained about the BBC in a tweet, saying that Britons are forced to pay for it, while the organisation shows inadequate accountability in the face of broadcasting scandals it hid under the carpet.

Objecting to coronavirus vaccine passports

On July 22, 2021, Bridgen told GB News that showing a vaccine passport upon entry to various places was ‘unworkable’, saying that most people were already vaccinated and that it would take too much extra time to check everyone’s vaccine status:

2022 signalled big trouble ahead

In 2022, Andrew Bridgen became known as an MP with a reputation.

Initially, his letters of no confidence in previous Prime Ministers became clear, all the way from David Cameron’s time through to Liz Truss:

However, later on, his relationship with his family’s potato business would begin to bring matters to a head, affecting his standing as a Conservative MP.

On September 3, The Times reported (purple emphases mine):

A Conservative MP branded “dishonest” by a judge has been ordered to pay £800,000 and evicted from his luxurious country home after a dispute involving his family potato business.

Andrew Bridgen, 57, has spent years suing his family business, AB Produce, which supplies potatoes and other vegetables to catering companies and supermarkets.

In March, a High Court judge ruled that he “lied” under oath, behaved in an “abusive”, “arrogant” and “aggressive” way, and was so dishonest that nothing he said about the dispute could be taken at face value.

The North West Leicestershire MP had accused the firm of forcing him out of a £93,000-a-year second job, which required him to attend a monthly board meeting. The judge found that, rather than being bullied out of the job as he alleged, Bridgen resigned in order to reduce the amount he might owe his first wife, Jackie, in divorce proceedings.

Judge Brian Rawlings also found that Bridgen pressured the police inspector in his parliamentary constituency to launch a costly one-year investigation into vexatious allegations against his estranged younger brother, Paul Bridgen, 55, who runs AB Produce, which is based in Derbyshire.

In a later judgment in June, which came to light only last week, the MP has been forced by the judge to vacate the Old Vicarage, a five-room property reportedly valued at about £1.5 million. He was given a final deadline of August 24 and Bridgen, his wife and their child complied with the deadline. It is not known where they now live …

Bridgen and his second wife, Nevena, 42, a Serbian blogger and former opera singer, had lived in the restored 18th-century home without charge since 2015. During this period, it is understood that he refused to pay rent, or bills for water and electricity, according to court filings.

Bridgen was told to pay in excess of £800,000 in legal costs to three shareholders at his family’s firm, of which one is his brother, Paul, after bringing claims of unfair treatment. He could yet be ordered to pay £244,000 in rent arrears.

It is understood that Bridgen, who earns a basic salary of £84,144 as an MP, has paid the money he already owes, although the source of the funds is unknown and is likely to come under scrutiny

Parliamentary rules stipulate that MPs who are declared bankrupt must step down if a bankruptcy restrictions order is made against them. He is also vulnerable to another referral to the parliamentary commissioner for standards as he failed to declare AB Produce as the entity paying his rent and utility bills.

According to the guide to the rules relating to the MPs’ code of conduct, MPs must declare “taxable expenses, allowances and benefits such as company cars”, as well as “financial support and sponsorship” and “gifts of property”.

On November 3, Guido reported that the Commons Committee on Standards recommended that Bridgen be suspended from Parliament for five sitting days for the aforementioned controversy:

They also describe an email he sent to the Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone as “completely unacceptable behaviour” as he ‘sought assurance’ about a rumour that Stone was shortly to be ennobled provided she arrived “at the ‘right’ outcomes when conducting parliamentary standards investigation[s]”.

The full list of aggravating factors are as follows:

    • Mr Bridgen breached the rules of the House on registration, declaration and paid lobbying on multiple occasions and in multiple ways. (The Committee noted that each of these breaches could have led it to recommend a suspension from the service of the House);
    • Mr Bridgen has demonstrated a very cavalier attitude to the rules on registration and declaration of interests, including repeatedly saying that he did not check his own entry in the register;
    • Mr Bridgen is an established Member of the House, having been elected in 2010;
    • Mr Bridgen’s email to the Commissioner called her integrity into question on the basis of wholly unsubstantiated and false allegations, and attempted improperly to influence the House’s standards processes …

For Andrew’s clarification, no you cannot submit a letter of no confidence in the Standards Committee…

But, by then, Bridgen had already turned his attention to the coronavirus vaccines, saying that, if there is an investigation in the EU Commission, there should be one in the UK, too:

On Tuesday, December 13, Bridgen was granted an adjournment debate in which he criticised the vaccines and cited Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist who saw his own father, a healthy man, die of unusual heart problems after taking one of the vaccines. Bridgen, like Malhotra, wanted the mRNA vaccines stopped and offered evidence as to why. As I wrote on December 22, Maria Caulfield, the Government minister and a practising nurse, did not approve of Bridgen’s speech. Danny Kruger, another Conservative MP, supported Bridgen’s statements, but Caulfield reiterated the Government’s line on vaccines.

On Wednesday, December 28, the British Heart Foundation disparaged Bridgen’s claims in the adjournment debate, which I also wrote about the following day.

2023 can make or break Bridgen

On Monday, January 9, 2023, Bridgen began the day by tweeting the link to a discussion about alleged lies told during the pandemic and the response to coronavirus:

Later that day, The Guardian reported that Bridgen had been suspended for five working days for lobbying and undeclared interests, matters unrelated to coronavirus:

The MP for north-west Leicestershire was found to have repeatedly broken the MPs’ code of conduct by a cross-party committee, which endorsed findings from Kathryn Stone, the parliamentary commissioner for standards.

He was unsuccessful in an attempt to overturn the recommendation in December and a motion was approved by parliament on Monday.

The suspension is due to start on Tuesday 10 January, and will run for five sitting days.

Bridgen was found to have approached ministers and officials on behalf of a forestry company, Mere Plantations, that had given him a donation, a visit to Ghana and the offer of an advisory contract, a role that ended up being unpaid.

Two of the days were recommended by the committee for the breaches of rules on advocacy and interests. The other three days of suspension were advised in response to what the committee said was a “completely unacceptable” attempt by Bridgen to put pressure on Stone.

Bridgen attempted to appeal against the decision, criticising the investigation as “flawed” and arguing that it had not fully considered the motivations of the person who had made the initial complaint.

He argued that he was just helping a local company that worked with Mere, and that it was thus simply a “constituency interest” that brought him no personal benefits. The committee disagreed with this, saying the MP had breached lobbying rules.

The committee, chaired by the Labour MP Chris Bryant, found that Bridgen breached the rules “on multiple occasions and in multiple ways”.

Meanwhile, Bridgen continued to sound the alarm about coronavirus vaccines.

On Tuesday afternoon, January 10, he tweeted a Project Veritas interview with a Pfizer scientist who alleges that they were aware that their vaccine was responsible for the unusual spike in cases of myocarditis. This is short, subtitled and well worth watching:

That afternoon, Bridgen tweeted a video featuring Dr Peter McCullough, who alleges that the vaccines are responsible for myocarditis cases and deaths. This, too, is a short video well worth watching:

On the morning of Wednesday, January 11, Bridgen retweeted a message from Dr Malhotra which included a video of Tucker Carlson and vaccine watchdog Robert F Kennedy Jr discussing the omerta on coronavirus vaccines:

Bridgen followed up with his own tweet about the alleged dangers of the vaccines, including a quote from Robert F Kennedy Jr:

Worse news than a five-day suspension came later that morning, after Bridgen had tweeted a cardiologist’s comment that the global rollout of coronavirus vaccines will have been the worst human rights violation since the Holocaust. Bridgen later deleted the tweet, but other MPs saw it and strongly objected to it. Pictured along with Bridgen is Conservative MP Simon Clarke:

It then came to the attention of the Conservative Chief Whip Simon Hart, who withdrew the whip from the MP:

On Wednesday morning, Guido reported what Simon Hart had said in defending his decision:

Andrew Bridgen has crossed a line, causing great offence in the process. As a nation we should be very proud of what has been achieved through the vaccine programme. The vaccine is the best defence against Covid that we have. Misinformation about the vaccine causes harm and costs lives. I am therefore removing the Whip from Andrew Bridgen with immediate effect, pending a formal investigation.

However, that afternoon, the Daily Sceptic reported that a Jewish academic in Israel came to Bridgen’s defence:

Andrew Bridgen, the British politician suspended as a Conservative MP over allegations of being anti-Semitic in a tweet criticising the Covid vaccines, has been defended by the Jewish Israeli academic whose article he linked to in the tweet in question.

Dr. Josh Guetzkow, a senior lecturer in criminology and sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told the Daily Sceptic that as a Jew living in Israel he was “surprised” by the accusations against Mr. Bridgen, because “there is nothing at all anti-Semitic about his statement”

John Mann, the Government’s independent anti-Semitism adviser, was unequivocal, saying: “There is no possibility that Bridgen can be allowed to stand at the next election. He cannot claim that he didn’t realise the level of offence that his remarks cause.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that he “completely condemn[ed] those types of comments in the strongest possible terms”.

“Obviously it is utterly unacceptable to make linkages and use language like that and I’m determined that the scourge of antisemitism is eradicated,” he told the Commons on Wednesday …

However, Dr. Guetzkow, whose tweeted article details the alarming, recently-released analysis of vaccine adverse event data from the U.S. CDC, said this is a “tempest in a teapot”.

“The hollow accusations against him only distract from genuine examples of anti-Semitism and ultimately hinder attempts to draw attention to them, much like the boy who cried wolf,” he said.

It is clear from the statement by the Chief Whip that Mr. Bridgen’s chief sin is to have criticised the vaccines. Mr. Hart’s statement notably does not mention anti-Semitism, but rather says that Mr. Bridgen is having the whip removed for “misinformation about the vaccine”, which “causes harm and costs lives”, adding only that he had caused “great offence in process”.

The allegations of anti-Semitism therefore appear to be just the opportunity party chiefs needed to mete out the punishment to the vaccine heretic

Stop Press: Dr. Guetzkow has pointed out that Holocaust survivor Vera Sharav has been drawing parallels between the extreme and discriminatory public health measures during the pandemic and the Holocaust throughout the the last three years.

Rishi Sunak’s comment came up during Wednesday’s PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions), the first of 2023, which I watched on BBC Parliament.

One might well ask who asked the question.

None other than Matt Hancock, who has just returned from a short holiday in Turkey, which seemed to involve shopping.

The Daily Sceptic reported:

Matt Hancock, the disgraced lockdown Health Secretary, hit out at Mr. Bridgen’s “disgusting, antisemitic, anti-vax conspiracy theories” at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday. He said the comments were “deeply offensive” and “have no place in this House or in our wider society”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak replied that he joined Mr Hancock in “completely condemning those types of comments in the strongest possible terms”.

In closing, the Daily Sceptic calls to readers’ attentions Andrew Bridgen’s qualifications:

Mr. Bridgen, who has a science background, has become Parliament’s most vocal critic of the Covid vaccines. He thus made himself a big target for the pro-vaccine zealots who will have been looking for an excuse to punish and cancel him, and who have predictably leapt on the first ‘offensive’ thing they could find.

Wikipedia states that Bridgen studied genetics and behaviour at the University of Nottingham and graduated with a degree in biological sciences.

The Government does not want their big achievement of the past three years — the vaccine rollout, Europe’s first — to be tainted in any way.

However, judging from the comments, Daily Sceptic readers are supportive of Andrew Bridgen and look forward to hearing more from him on the vaccines this year, which is more than can be said of Matt Hancock, who, as of December 28, was still searching for a celebrity agent to kickstart his new career in reality television.

—————————————————————————————————-

UPDATE Guido Fawkes has reported Andrew Bridgen’s statement on having lost the Conservative whip, complete with video:

The fact I have been suspended over this matter says a lot about the current state of our democracy, the right to free speech, and the apparent suspension of scientific method of analysis of medicines being administered to billions of people.

So far, my series on Conservative MP and former Health Secretary Matt Hancock has covered a summary of his current activities as well as his actions during the coronavirus pandemic: parts 2 and 3.

Today’s post reviews the events surrounding the pandemic between October and December 2020, mostly in England. Positive cases spiked in October that year, particularly in certain regions of England, causing the development of a tiered system of restrictions. Christmas ended up being cancelled, a great loss to the hospitality sector, which had been open since July 4.

There was one ray of hope to get everyone out of this: the vaccine.

Dissenters must be silenced

The Mail has been running excerpts from Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries which he co-wrote with former Times journalist, Isabel Oakeshott.

One thing I have not found in the excerpts is any mention of dissent among the public or medics who were not on SAGE.

However, Isabel Oakeshott provides insight about the Government’s view of dissenters in an overview of Pandemic Diaries that she wrote for The Spectator, posted on December 7, 2022. Emphases mine below:

As far as Hancock was concerned, anyone who fundamentally disagreed with his approach was mad and dangerous and needed to be shut down. His account shows how quickly the suppression of genuine medical misinformation – a worthy endeavour during a public health crisis – morphed into an aggressive government-driven campaign to smear and silence those who criticised the response. Aided by the Cabinet Office, the Department of Health harnessed the full power of the state to crush individuals and groups whose views were seen as a threat to public acceptance of official messages and policy. As early as January 2020, Hancock reveals that his special adviser was speaking to Twitter about ‘tweaking their algorithms’. Later he personally texted his old coalition colleague Nick Clegg, now a big cheese at Facebook, to enlist his help. The former Lib Dem deputy prime minister was happy to oblige.

Such was the fear of ‘anti-vaxxers’ that the Cabinet Office used a team hitherto dedicated to tackling Isis propaganda to curb their influence. The zero-tolerance approach extended to dissenting doctors and academics. The eminent scientists behind the so-called Barrington Declaration, which argued that public health efforts should focus on protecting the most vulnerable while allowing the general population to build up natural immunity to the virus, were widely vilified: Hancock genuinely considered their views a threat to public health.

For his part, [Boris] Johnson occasionally fretted that they might have a point. In late September 2020, Hancock was horrified to discover that one of the architects of the Declaration, the Oxford epidemiologist Professor Sunetra Gupta, and her fellow signatory Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, had been into Downing Street to see the prime minister. Anders Tegnell, who ran Sweden’s light-touch approach to the pandemic, attended the same meeting. Hancock did not want them anywhere near Johnson, labelling their views ‘absurd’.

Anti-lockdown protests were quickly banned. When, in September 2020, the Cabinet Office tried to exempt demonstrations from the ‘rule of six’, Hancock enlisted Michael Gove to ‘kill it off’, arguing that marches would ‘undermine public confidence in social distancing’. Gove had no qualms about helping.

Keep in mind that, in June 2020, BLM protests took place in English cities. Police did nothing to stop them, even though we were not supposed to be gathering in the streets, particularly without social distancing. Members of the police responded by taking the knee in front of protesters. Talk about double standards!

Oakeshott had more dismal news emerging from Hancock’s diaries.

Masks

Oakeshott says:

Hancock, [Chief Medical Officer Chris] Whitty and Johnson knew full well that non-medical face masks do very little to prevent transmission of the virus. People were made to wear them anyway because [Boris’s top adviser] Dominic Cummings was fixated with them; because [Scotland’s First Minister] Nicola Sturgeon liked them; and above all because they were symbolic of the public health emergency.

I do despair.

It was exactly as the sceptics said at the time: theatre designed to show the Government’s power over the people.

Care homes

Even worse was — and, in some places, still is — the situation in care homes. Patients and their loved ones were separated for many months. There were no hugs, no kisses, no caresses. Instead, patients and family members met at a window, pressing their hands against glass, aligning them with those of their loved ones — just as one would do at a prison visit.

Oakeshott writes:

Hancock is more sensitive about this subject than any other. The accusation that he blithely discharged Covid-positive patients from hospitals into care homes, without thinking about how this might seed the virus among the frail elderly, or attempting to stop this happening, upsets and exasperates him. The evidence I have seen is broadly in his favour.

At the beginning of the pandemic, it was simply not possible to test everyone: neither the technology nor the capacity existed. Internal communications show that care homes were clearly instructed to isolate new arrivals. It later emerged that the primary source of new infection in these settings was in any case not hospital discharges, but the movement of staff between care homes. Politically, this was very inconvenient: Hancock knew he would be accused of ‘blaming’ hardworking staff if he emphasised the link (which is exactly what has now happened).

He is on less solid ground in relation to the treatment of isolated care-home residents and their increasingly desperate relatives. His absolute priority was to preserve life –however wretched the existence became. Behind the scenes, the then care home minister Helen Whately fought valiantly to persuade him to ease visiting restrictions to allow isolated residents some contact with their loved ones. She did not get very far. Internal communications reveal that the authorities expected to find cases of actual neglect of residents as a result of the suspension of routine care-home inspections.

October through December 2020

Pandemic Diaries entries for these months come from this instalment, unless otherwise indicated.

October

Saturday, October 3:

A day dominated by the discovery of a hideous blunder involving a week’s worth of Covid data. Somehow or other we have failed to log around 16,000 cases, which all had to be piled into today’s figures. We might as well just hang a giant neon sign above the Prof’s ‘next slide please’ screen, saying ‘See here: Spectacular Screw-Up.’ [The Prof is the nickname for chief medical officer Chris Whitty.]

Sunday, October 4:

[Head of the Vaccine Taskforce] Kate [Bingham] has been telling the Financial Times we should only vaccinate the vulnerable. Except she has nothing to do with the deployment – only the buying. And what she’s criticising is the Government’s agreed policy. 

‘We absolutely need No 10 to sit on her hard,’ I told the spads [special advisers], adding that I consider her ‘totally unreliable’.

Monday, October 5:

For reasons best known to themselves, No 10 are rowing back on tiers [putting areas of the country into tiers with different levels of restrictions depending on the Covid risk] and has pulled the planned announcement from this week’s grid. They want tough action; then they don’t want tough action; then someone gets to the PM and he changes his mind all over again. FFS.

Tuesday, October 6:

The Economist has got wind of an old vaccine deployment plan. I instinctively asked my spads if Kate might be behind it. ‘I have some evidence to suggest it might have been – ie the fact she had a meeting yesterday with the journalist who has the story,’ came the reply. Who knows, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Saturday, October 10:

Boris has finally agreed to announce tiers on Monday.

Monday, October 12:

In the six weeks since I proposed the tiers system, there’s been delay and watering down at every stage — while the virus has grown faster than the worst-case scenario. What’s most frustrating is that I’m being portrayed as the one who’s pushing for lockdown, whereas actually it’s those with their heads in the sand who will lead us to a full-blown national lockdown.

Thursday, October 15:

Today I announced that London and a few other places are going into Tier 2. The original draft statement was quite bullish on vaccines, but No 10 freaked, ordering me to delete anything that made it sound as if we think vaccines are the way out.

This really annoyed me, because they are the way out. Since that’s our strategy, it’s ridiculous to be told I can’t say it. I will not be blown off the vaccine drive by the sceptics — in No 10 or anywhere else.

This was a problem for Iain Duncan Smith MP, who pointed out that some London boroughs are relatively virus-free, therefore, it is wrong to impose the same restrictions on all of them. With a lot of umms and ahhs, Hancock said that it was only right that the same restrictions were imposed on all boroughs. Iain Duncan Smith looked as if he were about to blow a gasket — and rightly so:

Friday, October 16:

Boris has been studying what they did during the plague and messaged this morning about how tiering worked in the old days.

‘In 1606, the Privy Council decreed that theatres should be closed if deaths from plague exceeded 30 per week,’ he told us. ‘Not sure about these fixed thresholds,’ I replied warily. Thankfully this was the end of the history lesson.

Saturday, October 17:

Woke up to another briefing against me from No 10, this time in the i [newspaper]. Apparently ‘Matt Hancock is the only person here who thinks there is actually going to be a vaccine . . . It’s a running joke with other departments’.

If so, I’m happy to own it. Thank God I banned the team from talking to No 10 about the [vaccine] rollout. They’d just trash it.

Had a bit of a counselling session from Nadine [Dorries, mental health minister] this evening. ‘You are too nice too often,’ she told me.

Tuesday, October 27:

Could labradors be our secret weapon against the pandemic? A bizarre and cheering morning watching disease-detecting dogs on the concourse at Paddington Station demonstrate what they can do on a crowd that included the Duchess of Cornwall.

Inside, I was panicking. I couldn’t stop worrying that the mutts might pick out Camilla, or indeed me, as having the dreaded disease. ‘Please, please, don’t do that,’ I willed silently.

Luckily, the labs correctly identified the man with the T-shirt that had been worn by an affected patient. I was impressed. 

These dogs can pick up the scent of Covid just like they pick up the scent of drugs. I want them at airports and train stations to sniff out super-spreaders.

The [Health] department’s briefing was: ‘Evidence base too thin.’ It’s absurd. Just because they aren’t conventional tests, officialdom can’t see the point.

I’ve pushed it and asked Jim [Bethell, a Health Minister in the Lords] to follow up.

Thursday, October 29:

We’re putting so many new areas into Tier 3 that it’ll soon be a national lockdown in all but name. Had we brought in tougher tiers three weeks ago, as the Prof and I were arguing for, we wouldn’t be in this position. And for goodness’ sake, why aren’t we pushing harder on ventilation as well as masks? We have known since a Spanish study proved it in the summer that Covid spreads more like smoke than droplets — yet the comms is still geared to masks, which are less important than ventilation.

Friday, October 30:

This afternoon I was called to a meeting of Covid-S, the strategy group chaired by the PM. At the end: victory.

Boris grudgingly accepted the stark, painful facts: that cases, hospitalisations and deaths are all rising and the NHS will run out of space unless we act. The upshot is four weeks of lockdown then back to souped-up tiers.

Having won the lockdown argument, I was exhausted but elated and literally ran up the stairs to my office, stopping off to see the Prof, who’d fought hard alongside me via Zoom.

‘Secretary of State, you’ve saved many lives with what you’ve done today,’ he replied.

As I headed off to Suffolk [his constituency], I finally relaxed. We took the children for a curry at Montaz in Newmarket, where the staff seemed excited to see us. It was horrible to think they were going to have to close again on Thursday and I couldn’t tell them.

I really, really wanted to forget the pandemic, just for half an hour, when [ITV political editor] Robert Peston’s number flashed up on my phone. I almost choked on my chapati.

‘I understand that this pm you, PM, Chancellor and [Michael Gove] met. Am told 99 per cent likely there will be a full national lockdown from next Wed or Thurs,’ Peston said.

So the cat is out of the bag — already! Furious, I forwarded the message to my spads [special advisers] and No 10 comms. How the f*** had it leaked already? Only a handful of people knew!

By the time I got home, I had an enraged Boris on the phone saying his media people had told him hacks were pointing the finger at me.

‘Whoever is telling you that is lying to you,’ I replied furiously.

How had this happened? My money is firmly on Dominic Cummings via his acolytes. The agenda? To bounce the PM into announcing the lockdown sooner [rather] than later and stop him U-turning. If they got me sacked into the bargain, that would be a bonus.

I texted the PM to say that obviously the accusations against me were untrue and I could prove that if necessary. Half an hour later, he messaged asking me and [spad] Damon to bring our phones into Downing Street on Monday.

‘With pleasure,’ I replied coldly.

Peston wouldn’t have texted me for confirmation if I was the source. Plus: it’s not like I benefit from this information being out early.

‘I’m taking a huge amount of flak to do the right thing and protecting you in the process,’ I told Boris.

‘Understood, everyone overwrought,’ he replied soothingly, but with Dom dripping poison in his ear, I very much doubt that will be the end of it. So everything hangs in the balance. Either the PM has to rush into announcing the lockdown or there’s such a backlash, especially from our truculent backbenchers, that he bottles it again.

‘It’s a f***ing disgrace,’ I told [Cabinet Secretary] Simon Case. ‘I hope you have a full inquiry.’

As lockdown approaches, I should be focused on testing, the vaccine and getting the new measures right to get us all out of this nightmare. Instead I’m fighting for my political life. This is no way to run a country.

Saturday, October 31:

I hardly slept. Consternation from friends about how it all came out. Jim [Lord Bethell, health minister in the Lords] described it as ‘the fastest leak since Nick Clegg was on world-record form’ — he was notorious when we were in coalition.

Nadine was raging, telling me the culprit ‘needs putting in front of a firing squad’.

Thankfully, at the press conference the PM gave it his all, warning of thousands of deaths a day if we don’t do more.

Lockdown will be a little lighter than last time because we’ve got better evidence about what works. After the s*** I’ve taken, I don’t feel triumphant, but at least we’ve avoided a complete collapse in the NHS and those Lombardy scenes in our hospitals. For now at least.

November

Sunday, November 1:

Boris was still far from reconciled to the lockdown he’d so grudgingly authorised, continuing to fret that we’d be accused of ‘blinking too soon’.

Meanwhile, Cummings is deliberately ignoring my calls and messages. Extraordinary. We’re in the middle of a national crisis in which hundreds of people are dying every day and I’m in charge of the health service. Yet he won’t talk to me. It’s pathetic, petty and downright irresponsible.

Tuesday, November 3:

I think someone’s trying to smear me. First, I’m falsely accused of being in a Commons bar after 10pm, then I’m falsely accused of leaking, and now The Sun wants to know if I went to have a haircut with Michael Gove at the weekend. Nothing to declare there.

One of my allies received a message from a journalist saying, ‘We need to talk about who is framing Matt at some stage . . .’ I think I can take an educated guess.

Tuesday, November 10:

After months of working it up in secret, today I presented the vaccine rollout plan to the PM. I’ve rarely seen him as enthusiastic. Finally I think he realises this really is going to happen.

‘Can we go faster?’ he boomed, banging the table.

As expected, the price of success is that No 10 has gone from not believing the vaccine will happen to getting completely carried away. Yesterday they started putting it out that ‘ten million people’ could get the jab before Christmas.

This was never the plan, is never going to happen, and [my spad] Damon spent half the day trying to kill it.

Friday, November 13:

Cummings has gone! I am elated and, more than anything, relieved for the sake of the vaccine and the country. He’s been such a frightening, damaging, negative force for so long.

‘Now we can actually build a government that works effectively,’ I told Simon Case excitedly.

We talked about restoring proper processes and ensuring everything that should come to me does come to me, instead of being diverted to one of many random groups Cummings set up to interfere/cut me out of the loop/attempt to control everything.

My team — officials and advisers — are thrilled.

Sunday, November 15:

The Sunday Times thinks we’ve been dishing out multi-million-pound contracts to ‘cronies’. Really? I’m absolutely fuming. I’ve not been involved in either the pricing or the decision-making behind who’s been awarded government contracts.

With all my years of experience as a politician, would I seriously just bung millions of pounds’ worth of deals to my mates, just kind of hoping nobody would notice? So galling.

Friday, November 20:

I met my Slovakian opposite number to talk about their government’s super-ambitious ‘let’s make the entire population take a Covid test all on the same day’ initiative. I have my reservations but Boris is super-keen.

Saturday, November 21:

The PM has been talking to the Slovakian PM and is incredibly eager to give it a go. Today’s the day I had to get ministerial approval on the plan. It did not go well — bluntly, the Cabinet think it’s crazy.

Doing my best to ignore the increasingly incredulous expressions on the faces of the Zoom attendees, I walked everyone through what would be required: nothing less than the entire military and every part of the NHS that could be harnessed to the cause. The price tag? A cool £1 billion.

Knowing this one came straight from the top, I gave it both barrels. [Environment Secretary] George Eustice dismissed it as ridiculous. The Treasury said they wouldn’t pay for it. [Defence Secretary] Ben Wallace said the military was already deployed on other missions.

Afterwards, I picked up my phone to [spad] Emma. ‘Well, that was a drive-by shooting if ever I’ve seen one. Shows the limit of the PM’s powers, even in a pandemic. Cabinet government lives!’ I said cheerfully.

Much too late, I realised I’d forgotten to press ‘Leave Meeting’ on Zoom. Around 20 ministers and officials were still on screen, listening to every word.

Sunday, November 22:

I’m under fire from The Observer over Gina [Coladangelo’s] appointment to the [health department] board. They’ve described her as my ‘closest friend from university’ (true — one of) but are also making a song and dance of the fact that she’s a ‘director of a lobbying firm’.

The truth is she hasn’t been actively engaged with that company for years and every aspect of her appointment [as adviser] to the department went through all the proper channels. She was appointed after she proved herself during her stint as a volunteer just trying to do her bit for the country.

December

Tuesday, December 1:

Jim [health minister in the Lords] came to tell me he’d just formally signed the Pfizer vaccine off. I walked into the Cabinet Room, where the PM was standing behind his chair with Rishi, Simon Case and a few others dotted around.

‘We have a vaccine! It’s been formally approved!’ I announced as I walked in.

Boris danced a little jig, his jubilant moves giving every impression that he hadn’t had much dance practice of late.

We were all elated. We know this is the only way out. So many people feared it would never happen. But here it is, the first in the world, in under a year.

On the way out of Downing Street I bumped into Rishi, who gave me a man-hug and thanked me for pulling off the vaccine. Tomorrow is going to be massive.

Wednesday, December 2:

The announcement to the markets was due at 7am sharp. From the privacy of a green room in the bowels of the BBC building, my first call was to my counterparts in the devolved administrations. Ridiculously, we’d had to keep them in the dark about the impending announcement because we were worried about leaks. Then moments after 7am, I was on air telling the world.

Unfortunately, Boris’s good humour didn’t last long. By mid-afternoon, I was just finishing answering questions in the Commons when I got a series of texts from an increasingly desperate-sounding Emma [spad], saying he was ‘going mad’.

She said Boris wasn’t happy that we’re launching on Tuesday, not Monday; wasn’t happy with the time frame for vaccinating care-home residents; wasn’t happy about the way we’re working with the devolved administrations; and had a bee in his bonnet about the use of wholesalers to get the vaccine to GPs.

‘Oh FFS,’ I replied. I wish he’d take a moment to congratulate the team and keep their morale up, not lose it like this.

Thursday, December 3:

A cloak-and-dagger operation to get the first 800,000 doses of the vaccine into the UK. We weren’t taking any chances. Imagine if rogue actors or hostile states tried to hijack the vehicle or seize the goods?

At lunchtime, a drama: in hushed tones, officials told me that the team was switching route ‘as a precaution’ following a credible security threat. It was amazing work by our intelligence agencies and the private-sector company who first spotted it, and just goes to show that we were not being paranoid.

Then, mid-afternoon, came confirmation that all 800,000 doses were safely in the UK. Relief!

As news spreads, we’re beginning to get sheepish requests from VIPs around the world. A Middle Eastern diplomat reached out to Nadhim Zahawi [vaccine deployment minister] asking if we’d be willing to send 400 shots for the royal household. Nadhim sounded embarrassed and assumed we’d have to find a polite way of saying no.

In fact, I’m up for these small diplomatic efforts — so long as the Foreign Office agrees, of course. Done appropriately, it pays dividends for international relations. Nadhim sounded relieved, saying that the king himself is asking.

That morning, Hancock told talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer that restrictions could be lifted once all of the most vulnerable people have received the vaccine, rather than waiting until everyone has been vaccinated:

Friday, December 4:

The first big setback: Pfizer say the vaccine isn’t brewing as fast as they’d like. It means we’re unlikely to get the ten million doses we’re due to receive before the end of the year, and production estimates for early 2021 are being scaled back. Thank goodness we didn’t let the plans go public.

Tuesday, December 8:

Shortly after 6am, I received confirmation that the first person had been inoculated, and I hurried off for the morning media round.

Gina and [spad] Damon accompanied me to the broadcast studios [ITV’s Good Morning Britain]. ‘You need to relax’ was Gina’s advice, by which she meant: ‘Stop being so buttoned up.’ What she did not mean was that I should lose it altogether, which unfortunately is exactly what happened.

I was on my own in a dark windowless booth, answering questions, when they played the video of [the first person] getting her jab. Suddenly I completely lost it, blubbing away, battling to regain my composure as tears streamed down my face. ‘For Christ’s sake, pull yourself together,’ I told myself desperately. Then the camera was back on me, my microphone was live and my watery red eyes were there for all to see. When I tried to answer the next question, my voice came out in a weird sort of croak. Gina said at least I’d shown how I felt.

Much later, I was on my way to bed when my phone rang. Nobody rings at 11.43pm unless it’s bad news, least of all the Prof [Whitty], whose number was flashing ominously. In that calm, professorial voice of his, he explained that three people had suffered a serious adverse reaction to the vaccine. One had nearly died.

We tried to calculate the statistical risk. If three out of 400 vaccinated today had a massive reaction, then that’s 38,000 out of the whole population. And 38,000 is an awful lot of people.

‘Jesus Christ,’ I thought, feeling physically sick. We may well have to halt the entire vaccination rollout. ‘Perhaps all three have a history of anaphylaxis?’ I asked hopefully. Still feeling nauseous, I slumped into bed, knowing I wouldn’t get a wink of sleep.

Wednesday, December 9:

At 5.30am my phone went. ‘All three had a clinical history of anaphylaxis,’ said Natasha [head of Hancock’s private office].

‘[Prof Whitty] recommends that anyone with a history shouldn’t take this vaccine, that we introduce a 15-minute wait after vaccination to monitor people, restrict the rollout to hospitals for the next couple of days and get on with it,’ she said.

I can’t remember ever being so relieved in my life.

The following entries come from this extract in the Mail, unless otherwise stated.

Friday, December 11:

There’s a new [more infectious] variant. This explains why the Covid numbers in Kent have been so stubbornly high.

Monday, December 14:

I announced the new variant in a statement to Parliament. Even normally reasonable MPs are going tonto [crazy]. Everyone can see Christmas falling apart, and judgment is going out of the window.

That day, Hancock announced a shorter self-isolation period, from 14 to ten days:

Thursday, December 17:

A grim day dominated by the announcement of new tiers, which effectively cancel Christmas. Worse for me, they also scupper [wife] Martha’s birthday dinner tonight, which was set to be our first night out in months. I feel terrible about it.

I’ve come to hate the tiers: the boundaries are impossible to draw sensibly, and the whole thing doesn’t keep us together as a country. I hadn’t appreciated how important that is.

Later JVT [Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer] called. He and the Prof [nickname for Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty] have worked out that since the first dose of the vaccine gives about four times the level of protection as the second dose, the best way to save lives might be to give the first dose to as many people as possible and then delay the second.

Also on that day:

[Former Speaker of the House of Commons and former Labour MP] Betty Boothroyd called the office, asking if there’s any way she can get her jab soon. She’s 91 and very vulnerable. I called her back myself as I was in the car home.

I’d never met her, but she’s something of a hero of mine. As Speaker, she was a real trailblazer for women in politics. I said yes, we can get you your jab — given her age, she’s entitled to it — but the deal is you have to have it on camera.

She readily agreed. I gave her number to Nadhim Zahawi, who is going to fix it.

Friday, December 18:

Boris has reluctantly caved to the inevitable and agreed to cancel Christmas. Frankly, we’d have been far better off saying it would be a Zoom Christmas from the start.

That morning, Labour MP Graham Stringer — one of the good guys in the Opposition — criticised Hancock’s maintaining Manchester in Tier 3, accusing him of ‘playing silly schoolboy games’:

Saturday, December 19:

There’s no good time for Test and Trace to crumble, but this is literally the worst. There’s a critical shortage of pipette tips. Our failure to get hold of these little bits of plastic has led to a backlog of 182,000 tests.

Meanwhile, various people, including vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee Charles Walker, are calling for my head over the Christmas farce. It’s an irony, because I wasn’t involved in the Christmas decision at all. Maybe I should have come in and played hardball over it right from the start — but I can’t be Mr Miseryguts on everything.

On December 20, The Sun on Sunday‘s political editor could foresee the tiers extending well into 2021:

She was not wrong. Hancock appeared on LBC radio later that morning to say the same thing. He even acknowledged that the November lockdown did not help:

Someone parodied Hancock’s Christmas card: ‘In Tier 6, you will be eating your pets’:

Retired Southampton footballer Matt Le Tissier, a sceptic from the start, conducted his own Twitter poll showing that 89.7% of respondents did not trust Matt Hancock to tell the truth:

Wednesday, December 23:

We’ve finally started vaccinating care home residents. We’re paying GPs £25 per resident, pretty nice money for something that only takes a few minutes.

The public were sceptical about Hancock’s claims that the new variant, the South African one, was more transmissible. Here is Hancock’s announcement from that afternoon:

A South African studying the data said there was no evidence to support that claim:

Hancock also announced that more parts of England would be in Tiers 3 and 4 from Boxing Day:

That same day, then-London Assembly member David Kurten (UKIP at the time) noted that the Nightingale hospitals were lying empty, rightly calling them a waste of money (see second tweet):

Thursday, December 24:

Boris has been fretting that America has now jabbed more people than we have [Churchmouse’s note: thanks to President Trump]. I had to explain last night that, as a proportion, that means we’re six times ahead. Very unhelpfully, there’s a major Covid outbreak at the largest testing lab in the country, in Milton Keynes, adding to the backlog.

Friday, December 25:

Today is my first real day off since summer.

Monday, December 28:

There are now 20,426 people in hospital with the virus — more than at the peak of the first wave.

Wednesday, December 30:

We’ve announced the plan to extend the interval between the first and second doses of the jab. Lo and behold, who pops up to claim credit? None other than Tony Blair!

That day, Hancock gave an interview to Mark Dolan, who was at talkRADIO at the time, saying he had no date as to when we could come out of restrictions, even with a vaccine:

That afternoon, the Mail reported that only 530,000 doses of the AstraZeneca (Oxford) vaccine were available, when the Government had claimed in May that 30 million would be available by December 2020:

Britain will only have 530,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at its disposal from Monday, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed today after the game-changing jab was approved by the UK medical regulator.

The initial doses fall significantly short of the number touted by the Government in recent months. In May, officials suggested 30million doses of Oxford’s jab would be ready by the end of the year and last month the UK’s vaccine tsar toned the estimate down to 4million, citing manufacturing problems. 

But the UK has ordered 100million doses in total and AstraZeneca has promised to deliver 2million a week by mid-January, raising hopes that 24million of the most vulnerable Britons could be immunised by Easter.

Vaccine or not, the public’s patience was waning.

The first half of 2021 was dismal, beginning on January 4.

To be continued tomorrow.

My series on Matt Hancock MP continues.

Those who missed them can catch up on parts 1 and 2.

Today’s post takes us further into the late Spring up to the early autumn of 2020. The Government’s policy on coronavirus held the UK hostage at home, for varying amounts of time, depending on what part of the country one lived in.

Testing centres popped up around the country. Hancock, who was Health Secretary at the time, urged everyone to go to one of these centres to find out if they had the virus. The narrative was that the asymptomatic could still have it and transmit it to someone else. What a load of cobblers. As Mike Yeadon, who used to work for Pfizer said, if you’re ill, you’ll know about it.

A mobile phone app also appeared: Test and Trace. Another load of rubbish, which was very expensive. Surprisingly, many Britons with smartphones used it. Another good reason for not having a smartphone.

Imperial College’s SAGE modeller, Prof Neil Ferguson, was discovered to have broken lockdown with his mistress, who lived on the other side of London.

In May, news emerged that Boris’s top adviser Dominic Cummings slipped off from London with his wife and son to Barnard Castle, County Durham. As penance, Boris made Cummings give a 90-minute press conference in the Downing Street Rose Garden. Excruciating.

England’s Independence Day was declared on the Fourth of July. Then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s hospitality plan, Eat Out to Help Out, started a short while later, boosting restaurant sales.

During this time, the borders were open and people could travel freely. The problem were the sudden embargos which interrupted holidays at inconvenient hours of the day. Britons were often told to return home from a European country, mostly France and Spain, at midnight or 4 a.m.

However, it wouldn’t be long before the long tentacles of SAGE would find more doom and gloom in the autumn.

More extracts from Matt Hancock and Isabel Oakeshott’s Pandemic Diaries, serialised in the Mail, continue, with news items I bookmarked from the time. Emphases mine below.

May 2020

Amazingly, Hancock managed to achieve his testing goal of 100,000, which seemed impossible when he announced it only a month earlier.

These are the principal extracts from the Mail for the entries below, unless otherwise indicated.

Friday, May 1:

We did it, and with a very comfortable margin. 122,347 tests! Let the naysayers put that in their pipe and smoke it! I’d be lying if I didn’t say I enjoyed my moment, given how desperately certain people were willing me to fail.

Then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson was fascinated by Australia’s low rate of infection. Little did he know at the time that Australia would go into a prolonged lockdown lasting months.

Sunday, May 3:

We still haven’t figured out what to do about borders. [Dominic] Raab, [Grant] Shapps and Sunak all want to keep the borders open. Crucially, they’re supported by the Prof [Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty]. On the other side, Priti Patel and I are in favour of far tougher measures, as is Boris.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was enjoying her power over her people, starring in daily briefings which the BBC televised. She gave her briefings at lunchtime. The UK government gave theirs in the early evening.

Monday, May 4:

Tonight, Nicola Sturgeon announced a ‘summer push to elimination [of Covid]’, a policy which has about as much hope of working as Chairman Mao’s attempt to eliminate sparrows by getting the Chinese population to bang pots and pans.

Much as I’m sure Nicola would love to build a Trump-style wall between her fiefdom and the rest of Great Britain, we’re all in this together. One person who’s clearly not keen on a hermit lifestyle is Prof Neil Ferguson [who was advising the Government on its Covid response]. 

I wasn’t particularly sympathetic when I heard he’d been caught breaking the rules [by meeting with his lover]. He’s issued a grovelling apology, but it was obvious he couldn’t continue to act as a Government adviser.

Ferguson resigned from SPI-M, SAGE’s modelling team, but was reinstated in 2021.

The care home situation continued to loom large. Infections and deaths were ever present. Furthermore, families were rightly distressed by having to press up against a window to see their elderly loved ones, a situation that persists in some care homes even today.

Boris suggested that Hancock hire Kate Bingham, a venture capitalist with a background in pharmaceuticals, as the head of the Vaccine Taskforce.

Also on May 4, we discovered that Good Morning Britain‘s star presenter Piers Morgan was a ‘Government-designated essential worker’. His test was negative, but he was experiencing symptoms, so he stayed off air for a few more days. The Mail reported that Hancock tweeted his best wishes before Morgan got the results of his test:

Mr Hancock, who had his own battle with coronavirus and who has previously clashed with the GMB host on the ITV morning show, tweeted that he hoped if Mr Morgan did test positive for Covid-19 that the symptoms would be mild. 

On May 7, Hancock announced that Baroness Dido Harding would head the Test and Trace programme:

On May 9, the Mail on Sunday reported that Boris and Cabinet members were clashing with the beleaguered Health Secretary:

Matt Hancock is living on ‘borrowed time’ as Health Secretary following clashes with the three most powerful members of the Government over the Covid crisis, The Mail on Sunday has been told.

Mr Hancock is understood to have pleaded ‘give me a break’ when Boris Johnson reprimanded him over the virus testing programme – leading to open questioning within Downing Street over Mr Hancock’s long-term political future.

His run-in with Mr Johnson follows battles with both Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove over the best strategy for managing the pandemic.

Shortly after Mr Johnson returned to work at No 10 a fortnight ago, he and Mr Johnson had a tense exchange about the the Health Department’s ‘grip’ on the crisis, during which Mr Hancock said to the Prime Minister, in what has been described as a ‘petulant’ tone: ‘That’s not fair – give me a break.’

He is also being blamed in some Government quarters – or scapegoated, according to his allies – for not moving quickly enough to do more to protect care homes from the epidemic. 

On Wednesday, May 13, Hancock announced a new genomics initiative in order to better understand the virus:

Thursday, May 14:

People are starting to blame us for discharging elderly people from hospital into residential settings without testing them properly, before we introduced strict rules. The evidence simply doesn’t bear that out: care home outbreaks rose sharply long after we had enough tests to put that right.

That day, a Labour peer was mystified as to why the Government did not know how much PPE there was:

Friday, May 22:

Westminster is abuzz with claims that Cummings broke lockdown rules, going to stay with his parents while he had Covid, which looks like a mega breach.

Saturday, May 23:

Downing Street called asking if I’d do some media [to support Cummings], but I’m uneasy. Despite all the reassurances, it feels off.

In the end, I issued a supportive tweet, saying he was right to find childcare for his toddler when both he and his wife were getting ill.

[Former Chancellor] George Osborne messaged me this evening warning me not to stick my neck out for Cummings again. ‘Lie low’ was his advice.

Sunday, May 24:

I spent much of the day fielding angry messages, many of them questioning why the PM is still standing up for Cummings. The answer is that he rules through fear and intimidation, squashing those who dare to challenge him or get in his way.

Monday, May 25:

Cummings tried to draw a line under the Barnard Castle affair by holding a press conference in the Downing Street garden. He sat behind a table, squinting awkwardly into the sun, looking like a sulky teenager who’d been sent outside to do his work for disrupting the class.

Afterwards, I found myself feeling strangely sorry for Boris.

Cummings has only one setting – divide and destroy – and now the boss is having to say some pretty stupid things as he machetes his way through the resulting mess.

The only thing for it was to keep backing Cummings – silence from me would only create an unhelpful story – so this evening I tweeted that I welcome the fact that Cummings ‘has provided substantive answers to all the questions put to him’. Apparently it got me some credit in No 10, but I can’t say I felt good about it.

Away from the Cummings s*** show, we had a Cabinet meeting to discuss plans for easing restrictions. It was a bizarre Cabinet, held on Zoom without a single mention of the Cummings-shaped elephant in the room. 

In fact, an absurd amount of bandwidth was occupied by a discussion about whether – when we allow two households to get together outside – people should be permitted to walk through a house to get to a friend’s garden

It’s fine by me, but are people going to ask whether they will also be able to go inside to use the loo? ‘If they’re quick and disinfect the handle?’ the Prof replied.

Who could believe that under a Conservative government, the long arm of the State would find its way into people’s loos?

On Tuesday, May 26, a Sky News reporter called out to Hancock asking if he was going to sack Cummings. Ermm, it wasn’t Hancock’s responsibility, only Boris’s:

June 2020

Thursday, June 4:

Boris messaged me at 6.43am saying he was ‘going quietly crackers’ about not testing enough people. He told me he sees it as our ‘Achilles heel’. He was in a proper flap. ‘What is wrong with our country that we can’t fix this?’ he complained. 

I tried to calm him down. ‘Don’t go crackers,’ I said. ‘We now have the biggest testing capacity in Europe.’ Tempting as it was, I refrained from saying we did this against the obstruction of his own No 10 operation.

Wednesday, June 17:

In an embarrassingly crude power grab, [European Commission President] Ursula von der Leyen is trying to wrest control of vaccine research and procurement from EU member states.

Never mind that health is a matter for individual countries: the woman who once sent German army units on manoeuvres with broomsticks – because they didn’t have any rifles – wants to move responsibility for scientific development and manufacture into the sticky paws of Brussels bureaucrats.

I may have voted to Remain, but it’s enough to make a Brexiteer out of anyone.

Friday, June 19:

A massive blow-up with Kate [Bingham, head of the Vaccine Taskforce]. She simply doesn’t see the need to order 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccineshe wants 30 million – and can’t seem to grasp almost everyone may want or need it.

I warned her during today’s meeting that if we don’t get our ducks in a row on this one, we risk a complete car crash.

She pushed back hard. But with the other elected Ministers on my side, I won the argument [for buying 100 million doses].

‘I’m not happy with that meeting,’ Kate snapped afterwards. ‘Nor me,’ I replied.

‘We will create a guide for you to explain what we are doing – there are enormous risks with this,’ she said, as if I don’t spend all my time thinking about how to save lives.

Kate pressed on, claiming that the technology that underpins the vaccine Oxford is working on [Astra-Zeneca] ‘is neither proven nor scaled’, and that she has ‘an expert team who are working round the clock, pushing hard’.

I told her: ‘We need to have tried everything feasibly possible to accelerate delivery. I’ve been asking the same question over and over again and not yet had a satisfactory answer – hence my frustration.’

This only seemed to wind her up further, prompting a mini-lecture about the dangers of trying to go too far too fast.

‘The worse case is we kill people with an unsafe vaccine,’ she said. ‘We need to tone the comms to register the fact this is risky and unproven.

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s being patronised.

On Wednesday, June 24, Hancock, riding high as the chap in charge of the nation’s health, appeared on Robert Peston’s ITV current affairs show:

July 2020

July 4 was Independence Day from coronavirus in England.

However, separate regulations applied in Leicester, which still had a high rate of infection. Even so, nothing was stopping them travelling elsewhere to socialise or shop:

On Sunday, July 5, Hancock expressed concern over high infection rates and overcrowded working conditions in certain factories in Leicester. It seems he was thinking of certain textile factories operating like sweatshops:

Monday, July 6:

The Vaccine Taskforce have consistently argued that we only need to back three [vaccine] brands. My view is that, to hedge our bets, we need more. Any one of the vaccines could fail in clinical trials.

Fortunately, Rishi and Steve Barclay at the Treasury are totally onside.

Wednesday, July 8:

Rishi’s announced a new Eat Out To Help Out initiative. I did my best to sound supportive, but in truth I’m worried that it might backfire and lead to a spike in cases.

Thursday, July 16:

In my box tonight was one particularly startling note relating to the way Covid has been getting into care homes. The main takeaway is that the virus is primarily being brought in by staff, not by elderly people who’ve been discharged from hospital.

This explains a lot, including why the rise in care home deaths came so much later than would have been the case if hospital discharges were the primary cause. We must ban staff movement between care homes, fast.

On Friday, July 17, news emerged that deaths from natural causes were being classified as coronavirus deaths because of a previous positive test. A retired journalist had the story:

He pointed out that Public Health England (PHE) never announced how they were tabulating deaths. Scotland, of course, tabulated theirs differently:

The question remains: how many ‘Covid’ deaths were true Covid deaths?

Saturday, July 25:

Anyone coming back from Spain from midnight tonight will have to self-quarantine for 14 days. This is very bad news for a lot of British holidaymakers.

Department for Transport officials kept pushing for 24 hours’ notice for the Spain decision, which I thought was curious – Grant Shapps is normally an ‘action this day’ Minister – until I discovered that Grant and his family had just flown there on holiday. The officials were trying, perhaps too hard, to protect their Minister.

In Cobra meetings, Nicola Sturgeon’s political games have become incredibly debilitating and significantly limit scope for open discussion. She sits like a statue, lips pursed like the top of a drawstring bag, only jolting into life when there’s an opportunity to say something to further the separatist cause.

The minute someone presses ‘End Meeting’, you can almost hear her running for a lectern so she can rush out an announcement before we make ours. We now chew over big decisions elsewhere and relegate formal meetings to rubber-stamping exercises.

Monday, July 27:

Downing Street is in a semi-panic about a second wave.

Tuesday, July 28:

Sturgeon is on manoeuvres again, trying to persuade us all to sign up to her impossible and anti- scientific zero-Covid plan.

Sure, we’d all love zero Covid, but that’s about as realistic as a bagpipe-playing unicorn.

She just wants to look and sound tough, then blame us when her policies don’t work.

I can hardly bear to watch her on TV any more.

Wednesday, July 29:

Testing is a continuing concern. We still haven’t sorted procurement for what Boris calls ‘Operation Moonshot’. The idea is to carry out literally millions of Covid tests a day to keep the economy going.

Also on that day:

Officials say we mustn’t eliminate staff movement across care homes because it might lead to a shortage of staff. Yet research shows the risk of outbreaks in care homes doubles if carers are coming and going.

On Thursday, July 30, Bradford was experiencing a high rate of coronavirus. Hancock put restrictions in place.

This was Bradford Council’s message:

Hancock’s restrictions prohibited people meeting up at each other’s homes:

SkyNews had a report on the story:

Fortunately, for them, it might have felt like an eternity but it was temporary.

What wasn’t temporary was his announcement earlier that day that GP appointments would have to take place remotely. This is still in place today, causing untold distress to millions of Britons.

The Guardian reported:

All GP appointments should be done remotely by default unless a patient needs to be seen in person, Matt Hancock has said, prompting doctors to warn of the risk of abandoning face-to-face consultations.

In a speech setting out lessons for the NHS and care sector from the coronavirus pandemic, the health secretary claimed that while some errors were made, “so many things went right” in the response to Covid-19, and new ways of working should continue.

He said it was patronising to claim that older patients were not able to handle technology.

The plan for web-based GP appointments is set to become formal policy, and follows guidance already sent to GPs on having more online consultations.

But the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) hit back, saying it would oppose a predominantly online system on the grounds that both doctors and patients benefited from proper contact.

They don’t seem to think so now, do they?

The article continues:

Addressing the Royal College of Physicians in London, Hancock noted the huge increase in online consultations as much of the NHS closed its doors to focus on the crisis. In the four weeks to mid-April, 71% of routine GP appointments were done remotely against 25% in the same period a year before.

Outlining what he said were the ways the pandemic had demonstrated the need for greater uses of technology in healthcare, Hancock said that before the coronavirus, “there was a view advanced by some which held that anyone over the age of 25 simply could not cope with anything other than a face-to-face appointment”.

He said: “Of course there always has to be a system for people who can’t log on. But we shouldn’t patronise older people by saying they don’t do tech.”

The rise in online consultations had been welcome, he argued, especially in rural areas. “So from now on, all consultations should be tele-consultations unless there’s a compelling clinical reason not to,” Hancock said.

“Of course, if there’s an emergency, the NHS will be ready and waiting to see you in person – just as it always has been. But if they are able to, patients should get in contact first – via the web or by calling in advance.”

Sure, Matt.

What a disaster that policy has proven to be.

The month seemed to end on a positive note with regard to agency staff working in multiple care homes.

July 31:

Good news on banning staff movement in care homes. After I blew my top, officials got the message.

August

By August, even though England was open and people were socialising again, rules were still in place. They caused a lot of confusion, including in Government. Only Boris had mastered them.

Monday, August 3:

To ram home his point about how complicated the Covid rules have got, Boris went round the [Cabinet] table asking everyone to set them out simply. We had endless different answers, and he got them all right

‘I hope colleagues feel I have justified my general reputation for mastery of detail by being RIGHT this morning about the rules. It’s two households inside and six outside,’ he said triumphantly.

Boris was eager for people to get back to work. He saw self-administered tests — lateral flow tests — as the answer.

Friday, August 7:

Boris is having a sugar rush about DIY Covid testing, which he believes could lead us to what’s he’s dubbed – in emphatic capital letters – ‘COVID FREEDOM DAY’. I have no idea who he’s been talking to, but he’s very fired up.

He thinks rapid home tests are the way to ‘get Whitehall and the whole British army of bludgers and skivers’ back to the office and ‘douse all remaining embers of the disease’. Today, I’m on a short break in Hay-on-Wye. When we got to the pub, there was great excitement. I’m not used to people recognising me, so the universal recognition is a bit of a shock. Something I’ll have to get used to, I suppose.

The following year, everyone would know who he was — and not just in the UK. How happy I am that The Sun released that photo of him and his girlfriend. It went viral, worldwide.

Hancock announced the end of Public Health England, which, strangely enough, still seems to be around.

Tuesday, August 18:

[Hancock has announced plans to abolish Public Health England.] On reflection, I should have been more brutal earlier. It wasn’t fit for purpose, and I should have cleared out senior figures who blocked the expansion of testing, basically because they didn’t want the private sector involved.

In response, Angela Rayner [deputy Labour leader] has been tweeting the usual tripe about Tories wanting to privatise the NHS by stealth. Does anyone seriously listen to this c**p any more?

The truth is, we wouldn’t stand a chance of winning this fight against Covid if it wasn’t for support from business. From manufacturing tests to developing the vaccine, the private sector – alongside the NHS and academia – has been critical to the fight.

Friday, August 21:

Border enforcement is a mess. Everyone who flies in to the UK has to fill out a passenger locator form, which they’re supposed to hand to officials on arrival at the airport, but half the time the documents go straight in the bin.

We can blame compulsory masks for secondary school pupils on Nicola Sturgeon. The UK government fears the woman.

Tuesday, August 25:

Nicola Sturgeon blindsided us by suddenly announcing that when schools in Scotland reopen, all secondary school pupils will have to wear masks in classrooms. In one of her most egregious attempts at oneupmanship to date, she didn’t consult us. The problem is that our original guidance on face coverings specifically excluded schools.

Cue much tortured debate between myself, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and No 10 about how to respond.

Much as Sturgeon would relish it, nobody here wants a big spat with the Scots. So, U-turn it is.

Amazing — and not in a good way.

Boris was worried about the British economy, and rightly so.

Wednesday, August 26:

I was minding my own business, when suddenly, ping! Ping! Boris sprang into life. It was 6.29am. He veered off the reservation, suddenly going off on one about how the virus isn’t really killing many people any more so ‘how can we possibly justify the continuing paralysis?’

He noted that an 80-year-old now has a six per cent chance of dying, which he didn’t think was enough to justify what we’re doing.

‘If I were an 80-year-old and I was told that the choice was between destroying the economy and risking my exposure to a disease that I had a 94 per cent chance of surviving, I know what I would prefer,’ he argued.

This exchange, which continued on WhatsApp pretty much all morning, was more than a little stressful, given that it represented a fundamental challenge to our entire pandemic response.

I’m not quite sure what he expected – that the Chief Medical Officer, Chief Scientific Adviser, Cummings and I would all suddenly throw our hands up and say: ‘You know what, you’re right, this whole thing has been a huge mistake. Let’s ditch everything we’re doing and pretend none of it ever happened’?

Fortunately, after a few hours he ran out of both statistics and steam. All the same, I sense a very definite shift in attitude. Something has unsettled him. Who has he been on holiday with?

By the next day, Boris had gone back to normal.

Thursday, August 27:

Overnight, Boris’s creeping suspicion that everything we’re doing has been a catastrophic over-reaction has evaporated as quickly as it appeared, to be replaced by annoyance at the discovery that there is a supply/demand gap for testing

In fact, we are a victim of our own success. Our advertising campaign encouraging more people to come forward for tests has been a bit too effective, and now we’re overwhelmed.

Saturday, August 29:

Boris has started going on about ‘freedom passes’. I think he envisages some sort of app that would allow anyone who can prove they’re negative to get back to normal. I can see the appeal, but I can also see the likely furore over anything resembling ‘Papers, please’.

Covid cases are rocketing in France. ‘We need to draw lessons pronto,’ Boris said, asking if the French have tried local lockdowns or whether it is ‘a case of the whole frog getting slowly boiled?’

September 2020

Wednesday, September 2:

Test and Trace is now identifying more than half of new cases. ‘It’s like the system actually works!’ I messaged Dido Harding [head of Test and Trace] excitedly. ‘Who would have guessed!!’ she replied.

Hancock talked about a vaccine in a coronavirus briefing.

Tuesday, September 8:

I got a blast from No 10 about talking up the vaccine yesterday. Other than Boris, nobody there has ever really believed we can make it happen. In reality, their scepticism suits me, because it means they’re not meddling. The last thing I need is Cummings interfering or the project going through the Cabinet Office mincer.

Restriction tiers across England were looming. An example would be the aforementioned restrictions in Leicester and the north of England where coronavirus was prevalent.

Tuesday, September 15:

The PM is still dithering over restriction tiers, a classic Boris battle between head and heart.

Thursday, September 17:

Cases are growing. Sage [the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] thinks we need a two-week ‘circuit-breaker’. Boris seemed confused, doing that thing he does, emphatically verbalising the arguments for and against out loud – alarming everyone as they try to work out where he’s going to land.

Friday, September 18:

We are now at 6,000 new Covid infections a day in England alone, nearly double the figure last week.

By 10pm, No 10 had done a complete about-turn. They now want tougher local lockdowns and more warnings about what happens if people don’t follow the rules. Apparently the PM wants to explain that we have to balance Covid with other health and economic factors. 

Well, no s***. What’s really infuriating is that the people who want action to control the virus didn’t insist on me being there [at meetings] to press the point.

Monday, September 21:

Boris is torn. Everyone’s getting heavy with him, from the Prof to Sage, who say there will be ‘catastrophic consequences’ if we don’t act now. They’ve proposed a two-week circuit-breaker.

Friday, September 25:

An alarming note from the modelling people who advise Sage. They say the epidemic is ‘close to breaching the agreed reasonable worst-case scenario’. Meanwhile, public finances are a horror show – from April to August, the figure borrowed was £173.7 billion

Rishi has clearly been using these figures to freak out the PM. But the only sustainable way to get the economy back on track is to defeat the virus, not pretend it’s gone away.

Saturday, September 26:

We’ve spent millions promoting the [NHS Covid] app, including buying wraparound ads in loads of publications. Just as I was allowing myself a moment of satisfaction at a job well done – or at least not ballsed up – there came news of fresh horror. A major glitch has emerged: the app can’t take data from NHS Covid tests.

I sat very still, trying to absorb the full implications of the fact that we’ve just spent tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on an NHS app that… doesn’t link to the NHS. Which genius thought it would not need to do this, first and foremost? Which other genius signed it off on this basis?

Given the multiple overlapping responsibilities of the various quangos involved, Whitehall’s institutional buck-passing and the involvement of two mega tech companies (Google and Apple), we just didn’t know.

What I did know was the buck stopped with me, and it was probably time to adopt the brace position. I prayed that word of this hideous blunder would not reach Cummings, but that was of course too much to hope. Naturally he went nuts when he found out, and I can’t say I blame him.

I find this sort of screw-up personally mortifying. Should I have asked such a basic and obvious question? I took it for granted that we would link our own app up to our own tests. Never assume!

To be continued tomorrow.

The first part of my series on former Health Secretary Matt Hancock can be found here.

It summarises where he is today, having finished third in a British reality show in Australia for a cool £400,000 and deciding not to run again as MP for West Suffolk.

It details the first months of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, through to the end of April as the news covered it.

To offer balance, today’s post covers the same period in Hancock’s own words. He has just published his Pandemic Diaries, which he co-authored with former Times journalist Isabel Oakeshott.

Isabel Oakeshott’s view

Not being able to imagine who on earth would want to collaborate on a book with our historically authoritarian Health Secretary who left his wife in June 2021 for his adviser/girlfriend, I was interested to read Oakeshott’s justification in The Spectator, posted on December 7, 2022.

Excerpts from ‘The truth about Matt Hancock’ follow, emphases mine:

Matt Hancock and I have almost nothing in common. For starters I’m terrified of spiders and hopelessly squeamish. I physically retched as I watched him eating unmentionables in the Australian jungle. Far more importantly, we fundamentally disagree over his handling of the pandemic …

This country paid a catastrophic price for what I see as a reckless overreaction to a disease that was only life-threatening to a small number of people who could have been protected without imprisoning the entire population. As each day passes, more evidence emerges that shutting down society for prolonged periods to ‘stop the spread’ and ‘protect the NHS’ was a monumental disaster.

Hancock, obviously, disagrees. The Rt Hon Member for West Suffolk is not just unrepentant: he still wholeheartedly believes that as health secretary during the pandemic, he made all the right calls. He is utterly scathing of anyone who argues that repeated lockdowns were avoidable; does not have the slightest doubt over any aspect of the government’s vaccine policy; and thinks anyone who believes any other approach to the pandemic was either realistic or desirable is an idiot.

How then could I have worked with him on his book about the pandemic? Some of my lockdown confidantes suggested it was a betrayal and that he should be punished, perhaps viciously so.

I wanted to get to the truth. What better way to find out what really happened – who said what to whom; the driving force and thinking behind key policies and decisions; who (if anyone) dissented; and how they were crushed – than to align myself with the key player? I might not get the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but I’d certainly get a good dollop of it, and a keen sense of anything murky requiring further investigation.

In the event, Hancock shared far more than I could ever have imagined. I have viewed thousands and thousands of sensitive government communications relating to the pandemic, a fascinating and very illuminating exercise. I was not paid a penny for this work, but the time I spent on the project – almost a year – was richly rewarding in other ways. Published this week, co-authored by me, Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries are the first insider account from the heart of government of the most seismic political, economic and public health crisis of our times.

I am not so naive as to imagine that he told me everything. However, since he still does not believe he did anything wrong, he was surprisingly inclined to disclosure. In an indication of how far he was prepared to go, the Cabinet Office requested almost 300 deletions and amendments to our original manuscript. Under pressure from me and out of his own desire that the book should be both entertaining and revelatory, to his credit, Hancock fought hard to retain as much controversial material as he could. The resulting work is twice as long as I originally intended, and half the length he wanted it to be.

Pandemic Diaries: January to April 2020

The Mail has been serialising Pandemic Diaries over the past week.

Excerpts from the first exclusive extract follow, beginning on New Year’s Day 2020.

Wednesday, January 1:

Standing in my kitchen in Suffolk after a quiet New Year’s Eve, I scanned my newspaper for clues as to what might be lurking around the corner. The only thing on my patch was a news-in-brief story about a mystery pneumonia outbreak in China.

There were enough people in hospital for Beijing to have put out an alert. It reminded me a bit of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) back in 2003, which killed hundreds, mainly in China and Hong Kong. I asked my private office to put together a briefing and made a mental note to raise it when I got back.

Sunday, January 5:

There are now 59 cases in China; seven of these patients are seriously ill with breathing problems.

Tuesday, January 7, when Parliament had returned from Christmas recess:

I found the PM [Boris] in the voting lobby looking like he’d had a good Christmas and revelling in all the congratulatory back slaps from colleagues. We walked through the lobby together, and I told him about the new disease.

‘You keep an eye on it,’ he said breezily. ‘It will probably go away like all the others.’

In more trivial news, a picture of my Union Jack socks has somehow gone viral after I was pictured on my way into Cabinet yesterday. My old university friend and communications specialist Gina Coladangelo was not particularly impressed. She thinks they’re a bit Ukip.

Saturday, January 11:

First death from the virus in China — at least, the first one they’ve told us about.

Friday, January 17:

When I got into the department, Chris Whitty — whom I appointed Chief Medical Officer last year, and who is known informally as the Prof — asked for a word. Calmly, in his ultra-reasonable way, he explained that he thinks the virus has a 50:50 chance of escaping China. If it gets out of China in a big way, he says a very large number of people will die.

At this point, Boris was preparing for our official exit from the European Union at the end of January. Everyone’s attention, not surprisingly, was on Brexit. Hancock’s push for a Cabinet Office Briefing — COBRA — went unheeded.

Wednesday, January 22:

I found out tonight that Sir Mark Sedwill, Cabinet Secretary and head of the civil service, is blocking my push for a meeting of COBRA. Infuriating!

Thursday, January 23:

No 10 has grudgingly agreed to let me make a statement to the Commons about the virus. No 10 are still saying calling COBRA would be ‘alarmist’. What utter rubbish.

Friday, January 24:

Dominic Cummings [the PM’s chief adviser] thinks Covid is a distraction from our official withdrawal from the EU next week. That’s all he wants Boris talking about.

On Saturday, January 25, Hancock worried about evacuating Britons from Wuhan. He contacted then-Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who agreed to put a plan into place. On Sunday, Hancock was frustrated to find that civil servants were drawing up advice on whether, not how, to evacuate UK citizens there.

Monday, January 27:

Coronavirus is now the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to bed.

The next day, Tuesday, a meeting of 30 people took place to discuss the virus, including SAGE members Chris Whitty and Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, who would be regulars on our television screens in the months to come. This is where the alarmism started.

Tuesday, January 28 (see photo):

In his characteristically understated way, sitting at the back peeling a tangerine, Chris Whitty quietly informed everyone that in the reasonable worst-case scenario, as many as 820,000 people in the UK may die. The transmission is so high that almost everyone would catch it.

The whole room froze. We are looking at a human catastrophe on a scale not seen here for a century.

I asked what we needed to do to accelerate a vaccine. Professor [Jonathan] Van-Tam said developing a vaccine normally takes five to ten years, but there’s a team in Oxford working on an Ebola project that can easily be switched to the new disease.

‘I want it by Christmas,’ I said.

On Wednesday, Boris’s PMQs went as usual, with no mention of the virus. Hancock was frustrated.

Wednesday, January 29:

I called the head of the World Health Organisation to try to persuade him — for the second timeto declare a public health international emergency. But China runs various projects in his private office, so he is scared stiff of upsetting them.

Thursday, January 30:

The Wuhan Brits are on their way back. I’ve had a showdown with officials and lawyers over what to do with the evacuees when they land at RAF Brize Norton.

PHE [Public Health England] thinks they should be greeted with a smile and a leaflet and asked nicely to go home and stay there for a couple of weeks. I said they should go straight into quarantine. PHE started hand-wringing about human rights. ‘OK,’ I said, ‘let’s get them to sign a contract before they board. In return for the flight, they agree to go into quarantine. No contract, no flight.’ I was told the contract wouldn’t be legally enforceable and was too draconian. ‘Do it anyway,’ I instructed.

The World Health Organisation have finally declared the virus a public health emergency. The risk level in the UK has now gone from low to moderate.

PHE’s audit of PPE [personal protective equipment] came back and did not lighten my mood. There’s no clear record of what’s in the stockpile, and some kit is past its ‘best before’ date. I’ve instructed officials to work out what we need fast, and buy in huge quantities.

Friday, January 31:

The Wuhan flight touched down at Brize Norton. The RAF crew and all our officials were in full hazmat suits, but the poor coach drivers taking them into quarantine were in their normal work clothes. Who on earth would give protection to air crew but not bus crew?

The UK left the EU on schedule. I remember the parliamentary contributions from Conservative MPs about the wonderful plans they had for the nation. It was a glorious time to be alive.

Meanwhile, Downing Street’s attention would turn to the pandemic in February.

Hancock tries to paint himself as a supporter of personal liberty in this next diary entry.

Tuesday, February 4:

As a [classical] liberal, I’ve always believed people make the best decisions for themselves. Now we are contemplating actions that could bankrupt millions of businesses and interfere in literally everyone’s lives. It is a very, very strange feeling; not me at all.

Hancock says that Boris, rightly, was still unconcerned.

Tuesday, February 11:

Driving home down the Harrow Road [in London], I looked at the crowds spilling out of the pub on the corner and tried to imagine what it will be like if we have to shut these places. I felt like I inhabited another world, that no one outside had yet seen into.

Hancock finally got his COBRA meeting.

Wednesday, February 12:

Back in the COBRA room today for a civil service exercise to rehearse what we’ll do if the virus runs out of control. We role-played how we would do our jobs in two months’ time if the very worst-case scenario has happened and hundreds of thousands are dying.

Where in Hyde Park would the burial pits be? Who would dig them? Have we got enough body bags?

Worst of all was agreeing a protocol to instruct doctors which lives to save. Do we treat the young, because they have more years to live, or the old, because they are more vulnerable? Horrific decisions.

Public Health England (PHE) had bad news for Hancock.

Tuesday, February 18:

PHE says our current approach of tracing all contacts of anyone who’s infected is unsustainable. Apparently they can only cope with five new cases a week. This is infuriating since only a few weeks ago they told me they had the best system in the world.

I had no idea that China was buying testing services from Britain’s Randox. Hmm.

Thursday, February 27:

PHE has outright refused a request from Randox, the UK’s biggest testing company, for coronavirus samples. Certain senior public health officials are absolutely allergic to anything involving the private sector. Evidently they’d rather risk lives than set aside these ideological objections.

No such sniffiness from the Chinese, who are snapping up Randox’s services.

At the beginning of March, public health posters and announcements about coronavirus began appearing.

Sunday, March 1:

We’re telling everyone to wash their hands more frequently and encouraging parents to get their kids to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice to make sure they do it for long enough. What I really wanted people to sing was the national anthem.

Sadly, I was overruled, as the collective view seems to be that happy birthday is ‘less divisive’. Since when is the national anthem controversial? Sigh.

Thursday, March 5:

First two UK deaths — a horrible landmark.

Saturday, March 7:

There’s a crisis looming with ventilators. We have nowhere near enough. If the worst comes to the worst, we may need to put out advice on how to care for a critically-ill relative at home, a terrifying prospect for most people.

I took a few hours off today and took the kids to Planet Laser in Bury St Edmunds [in his constituency]. It involves charging around in the dark in a ‘battle suit’ firing lasers at other players. I was looking forward to forgetting about coronavirus for an hour or so, but no such luck: it turned out that one of the games is called Infection.

Every time a player’s laser hit one of the other players, they would get ‘infected’ with a disease. In between attempts to dodge the fictional virus, I kept having to dart out to respond to urgent messages about the real one.

By March 8, the UK began experiencing a shortage of bathroom tissue. People were bulk buying. Rice was another product in short supply. Hancock says that he and his wife bought a huge sack of rice.

Another thing in short supply were hospital beds.

Monday, March 9:

In my box of official papers this evening was a scientific briefing suggesting the NHS could have a deficit of 150,000 beds and 9,000 ICU spaces.

Tuesday, March 10:

I’ve instructed PHE to produce plans for how they will get testing up from 1,000 tests a week to 10,000. I don’t care who does these tests — just that they’re fast and accurate.

Thursday, March 12:

While the Prime Minister was standing before the nation declaring we’re doing everything possible to save lives, PHE have advised to stop all contact tracing. They’ve basically given up, having become overwhelmed by the number of cases. Infuriating!

March 12, 2020 was the day of the last lunch my better half and I had with friends in Mayfair before lockdown. None of us would have believed that we would not see each other again until August 11, 2021, by which time indoor mask restrictions had been lifted.

Friday, March 13:

A call with my fellow G7 Health Ministers. Everyone sounded terrified.

Also from that day:

Simon Stevens [NHS England chief executive] says frail elderly patients who don’t need urgent treatment need to be discharged from hospital, either to their home or to care homes. He’s spoken to the PM about it and is determined to make it happen.

Saturday, March 14:

In just three days, the numbers have doubled. At 10am I went to Downing Street to talk to the PM and others. We wrestled with all the issues. What measures? How long? Would people comply? Are we doing enough to make sure the NHS can cope?

We were all struggling to get our heads round the enormity of what we were discussing. Boris set out the case for and against each option. After everyone had had their say, we collectively made the decision: to close large swathes of society.

Monday, March 16:

Cummings, [communications director] Lee Cain, Whitty and I went into Boris’s study garden and finessed the message he was going to give in a televised press conference. Then, at 5pm, it was time. Looking as grave as he ever does, Boris told the elderly and vulnerable they are going to have to stay at home for 12 weeks.

That day, Hancock issued his first guidelines to Parliament and the public:

Tuesday, March 17:

I’ve been told we have a billion items of PPE in a warehouse in the North-West. ‘Hooray!’ I thought. Just one problem — we can’t get it out. It turns out that it’s in a huge storage unit with only one door. Ergo, only one lorry can pull up at a time. What a classic government fail.

It was my son’s 12th birthday today, almost all of which I missed. My family is already paying a heavy price for this crisis.

Also from that day:

A bonkers proposal from the Ministry of Justice to let prisoners out, as they’d be easier to manage if they’re not in prison. Yes really: they actually thought this might be a goer. I was emphasising [my opposition] so hard that all of a sudden my chair could take the strain no longer and ripped, tipping me unceremoniously on to the floor.

Hancock advised that the public could pose any questions on his Instagram account:

A few days before, Hancock appealed to retired NHS practitioners to return to the health service to help in the pandemic effort. On Saturday, March 21, he said that 4,000 nurses and 500 doctors were returning:

Good Morning Britain‘s Piers Morgan quickly got into panic mode:

Sunday, March 22:

Crunch meeting in Downing Street, at which the Prime Minister weighed up all the options. He’s famous for this, so it’s impossible to know in the middle of the meeting where he’s going to end up. It’s his way of making big decisions. Today he agreed to a formal lockdown as soon as possible.

Monday, March 23:

At 8.30pm, the Prime Minister gave his address to the nation. From this evening, I must give the British people a very simple instruction: you must stay at home . . .’

In my own household, I found an old computer in the attic and have set it up for our youngest, though I’m not sure how online school is going to work for a six-year-old. With me largely absent, it’s tough on the family.

Hancock led the coronavirus briefing for the first time on Tuesday, March 24. He described himself as being ‘unusually nervous’.

Tuesday, March 24:

Driving down Park Lane there wasn’t a single other car on the road — not one. I sat in the back of the car feeling almost sick. All I could think was: What have we done?

The nausea wouldn’t last long, however. Hancock would soon grow into his newly found power.

He had many messages that day:

He announced a war footing for the British public:

The first Nightingale hospital — relatively unused — was opened.

Hancock ordered NHS and care home staff to report to work:

He issued contradictory advice about working between addressing the House of Commons and the coronavirus briefing later that day:

London’s mayor Sadiq Khan said that too many Tube workers were off sick to run a full service. This left the trains that were running packed to the gills:

Hancock said that lockdown was not guidance and that police would enforce it:

Meanwhile, the airports were open to all arrivals:

On Wednesday, March 25, Hancock expressed his gratitude to the 405,000 Britons who were volunteering in the pandemic effort:

Friday, March 27:

A nurse called first thing this morning to say I’ve got Covid. I called [the PM’s press secretary] Jack Doyle to break the news. ‘Erm, that’s interesting, as we’re just about to announce that the PM has tested positive, too,’ he replied. To cap it all, the Prof [Chris Whitty] also has symptoms.

He later announced his positive diagnosis:

Sunday, March 29:

My throat hurts so much that I can’t swallow and I can’t eat or drink. [My wife] Martha has also got it, along with our daughter and our live-in au pair.

Meanwhile there are still dire supply issues with PPE. The BMA [British Medical Association] is going nuts. It’s not as if I think it’s acceptable: it’s not! There’s just no quick fix. When the whole world is after it, it simply isn’t possible to get as much as we need as fast as it’s required.

Monday, March 30:

The government-owned company that gets PPE supplies to hospitals across the NHS has effectively collapsed. Total disaster.

I’m absolutely furious that the people who are meant to be experts in logistics have been unable to cope because there are too many actual logistics. WTF? We’ve been buying more from China, but the immediate problem is still lorry access to our storage facility in the North-West, where there’s only one door. Funnily enough, nobody has been able to magic up any extra entrances, so we’re still stuck with single lorryloads at a time.

On Thursday, April 2, Hancock announced his audacious and controversial plan of getting 100,000 coronavirus tests done by May 1, something for which he was derided by the media at the daily coronavirus briefings.

Also from that day:

Negative tests won’t be required prior to transfers/admissions into care homes. The tragic but honest truth is we don’t have enough testing capacity to check anyway. It’s an utter nightmare, but it’s the reality.

Under the circumstances, we must make sure that anyone going from a hospital into a care home is kept away from other residents. I hope this message filters through and is followed.

It’s been a choice between very difficult options. If we keep people in hospital, the NHS will be overrun. If only we had more tests.

Friday, April 3:

A 13-year-old boy who died from Covid was buried without any mourners yesterday. His parents weren’t even at the graveside because they were self-isolating. I felt almost physically sick reading it as my own boy, just a year younger, slept peacefully in the room next door.

I told Boris and he was shocked and upset. He tries not to let on, but he is actually a very emotional man. He was coughing through the call. He’s very worried about looking weak: ‘A general’s job is to show strength, not weakness,’ he told me ruefully.

Also from that day:

Officials are still insisting that Justice Secretary Rob Buckland wants to release thousands of non-violent prisoners to take the pressure off the system. I keep writing ‘NO’ in large letters on submissions asking me to sign this off. It’s obvious the public won’t wear it, yet the idea keeps going back and forth on paper.

After about the third iteration I called Rob Buckland, who to my astonishment told me he’d been advised that I was the one who wanted to release them.

Unfortunately, this still wasn’t the end of the matter. Clearly someone in Whitehall still thought it was a good idea and kept pushing it, to the point that the PM asked to talk to us both. I made my views crystal clear.

‘We cannot lock up literally everyone in the country except prisoners, who we instead release!’ I spluttered.

Saturday, April 4:

President Trump has randomly and dangerously declared that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for Covid, despite a total absence of the evidence. What an awful, awful man.

The next day, the Queen gave a brief message of support to her subjects, ending with ‘We’ll meet again’, echoing Dame Vera Lynn’s famous song from the Second World War.

Shortly afterwards, the nation received alarming news.

Sunday, April 5:

I was just about to go to bed when my phone rang for the umpteenth time. It was [Cabinet Secretary] Mark Sedwill, who informed me that the Prime Minister was on his way to St Thomas’s Hospital ‘as a precautionary step’. Boris is still furiously texting everyone.

Everyone knows that a Prime Minister isn’t admitted to hospital unless it’s something very serious. And so it turned out to be.

Monday, April 6:

Boris has been taken into intensive care. Everyone is stunned. I’m told there’s a 50:50 chance he’ll end up on a ventilator; and if that happens, we know there’s a 50:50 chance he will die. The minute the news came out, pharma companies started calling my private office with offers of experimental drugs.

On Tuesday, Hancock surmised Boris was in intensive care because coronavirus affects the obese.

Wednesday, April 8:

Boris spent a second night in intensive care. I worry about losing a close colleague and friend. When you spend time with Boris, it’s impossible not to like him.

He’s endlessly funny and engaging and thinks differently and more laterally than anyone I know. This can bring its challenges when straight-line thinking is required, but for grasping the big picture there’s no one like him.

Nobody speaks of it, but there is a ‘worst-case scenario’ plan for if Boris doesn’t pull through. We couldn’t possibly have a normal Conservative Party leadership election, so the Cabinet would have to take a quick decision, advise the Queen and rally round.

Boris left intensive care on April 9. He left hospital at the weekend. He then went to Chequers to recuperate, accompanied by his then-partner Carrie Symonds, who was in the final weeks of her pregnancy with their son Wilf.

Care homes were Hancock’s focus for the rest of the month — and the summer.

Wednesday, April 15:

From today, everyone going from hospital into social care will be tested and then isolated while the result comes through.

Saturday, April 18:

Care homes haven’t yet grasped the fact that we’re only going to get out of this if we test, test, test. According to figures I received today, the average care home has carried out 0.5 tests, which is exasperating, given how hard we’re working to increase capacity.

Also from that day, another tempest brewed over PPE supplies, which is still a hot topic in Parliament, even today:

Hundreds of businesses are approaching the department offering to manufacture this or that. Half the time nobody returns their calls, even with big companies such as Primark.

The problem is weeding out time-wasters and chancers – of which there are many – without missing opportunities. One company with a good product got so p***ed off they sold everything to the Scottish NHS. 

Even the Labour Party is writing in with suggested names of companies and individuals who could help – apparently without doing any due diligence on the offers.

Hancock sensed that not everyone in Downing Street or the Cabinet wanted him to succeed.

Monday, April 20:

Crunch week for hitting my testing target of 100,000 tests done by May 1. There’s an uncomfortable amount of speculation about my career depending on it. [Dominic] Cummings is itching for me to fail.

Friday, April 24:

Downing Street called my office saying I needed to schedule a quick call with the PM. I was looking forward to it, until I switched on Zoom to find the PM at Chequers flanked by Cummings and about a dozen other advisers. Rishi [Sunak] was there, looking sheepish. I realised instantly what was going on: an attempted ambush.

Boris opened with some gentle warm-ups, then Cummings started the shelling, subjecting me to a barrage of questions about my department’s response: on PPE, testing, NHS capacity, ventilators. Every so often, one of the others would pile in. Most questions seemed to be based on inaccurate media reports.

It was utterly exhausting, but I’ve lived this for months now, 18 hours a day, pretty much every day, so I am on top of every detail.

When they finally ran out of ammunition, I pressed ‘Leave Meeting’, sat back in my chair, checked my body for shrapnel wounds and saw that I was broadly intact. Next?

To be continued tomorrow.

This week’s news that former Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock would be standing down as MP for West Suffolk at the next election was a joyful tiding, indeed.

Hancock is currently an Independent MP. The Conservative whip was withdrawn on November 1, 2002, when he accepted the invitation to appear on I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here, which takes place in the Australian jungle. Amazingly, he came third, getting further than Boy George did.

This week saw more Hancock news with the publication of his Pandemic Diaries, co-authored with former Times journalist, Isabel Oakeshott.

This series charts the rise and fall of the former Conservative MP, a principal protagonist in the coronavirus drama of 2020 and the first half of 2021.

Two Oxford medics give their verdict

On December 8, 2022, The Spectator featured an article from Drs Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson from the University of Oxford: ‘The UK isn’t learning the right lessons from lockdown’.

Both were sceptics during the pandemic, the type of medics Matt Hancock eschewed, as we will find out later on from the Pandemic Diaries.

Excerpts from Heneghan and Jefferson’s article follow, emphases mine:

This month, the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care published a Technical Report on the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK

The report is a long 11-chapter document describing the UK’s response and pointing out suggestions for dealing with future pandemics.  

The report is described as ‘independent’, but the authors are public health civil servants and a handful of academics. Given that the authors were instrumental to a greater and lesser degree in implementing the catastrophes of lockdowns, this report is as independent as President Xi marking his own homework in China

It is hard to reconcile some of the report’s content with what we have written about in the past. For example, there is no mention of the misuse of PCR tests or of Britain’s failure to follow the example of other countries, whose contact tracing systems were overwhelmed in days.

There is also no apology for the evidence-free mass testing programme, the segregation of healthy people, and the lack of identification of truly infectious cases.  

I remember the early weeks of the pandemic, which entered totalitarian territory on Monday, March 23, 2020, with Boris’s five-minute announcement on lockdown.

My far better half and I wondered then about the absurdity of contract tracing. Fortunately, neither of us has a smartphone, nor did we participate in any testing regime ever. We simply don’t see that many people.

Heneghan and Jefferson’s article states:

It would have been better if the report admitted that contact tracing is hugely challenging, that it would never have achieved its intended outcomes and was, therefore, a waste of £37 billion. This is something health officials in Lombardy, Italy had realised by the beginning of March 2020. The UK Parliament has also pointed out that the contract tracing programme had an ‘unimaginable’ cost

Yet, Matt Hancock paraded it as being a fail-safe method of finding out about loads of infectious people.

Then there were the hospitalisations. Here is a little-known fact worth repeating again and again:

up to 40 per cent of ‘hospital cases’ were infections acquired in hospitals … suggesting that whatever ‘protection’ measures hospitals were taking did not work

After that came the school closures, even when Government officials said that children were at low risk from coronavirus themselves but could still transmit it to older relatives. Hmm:

When it comes to the low risk to school children and teachers, the report portrays this as a tension between missing education and stopping transmission

But school-age children had the lowest Covid risk, and we are now reaping the effects of this immunological segregation, with a whirlwind of influenza-like illnesses sweeping across the country. The costs to children socialising and the impact on their schooling are mere details in the report.  

Heneghan and Jefferson point out that the report makes scant mention of the 7.2 million people on NHS waiting lists and the rise in excess deaths because of lockdown. Furthermore:

Our requests for the cause of the current excess in deaths have gone unanswered.

The footnotes and references in the report appalled them:

the type of evidence cited in the report’s footnotes and references is remarkable. It mainly relies on models, i.e. opinions formulated by those with a long history of getting it wrong or citing selective pieces of work

They say that there should be no excuses for the lack of planning for the pandemic:

There is no mention of the need for proper planning to plug known gaps in the evidence. For example, suppose you need to know whether masks or other physical interventions work in the community, you prepare protocols for trials designed to find this out in a short time. In that case, you get prior ethical approval and fire the starter pistol when the WHO declares a pandemic or earlier.  

There is plenty of precedent for this kind of preparation. That is what happened in 2009 with mock-up influenza pre-pandemic vaccines. So there can be no excuses here, just a disregard for crucial gaps in the evidence and a reluctance to address them. It is even easier in the case of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) as there are no regulators breathing down your neck. 

As for crucial NPIs, such as mask wearing and lockdown, the report says:

It may never be possible fully to disentangle some of the effects of individual NPIs in this pandemic, as many were used together…. 

Observational studies on NPIs were often complicated by several potential confounders.

The medics conclude that nothing will change:

Due to the sheer number of interventions tried at any one time, we may never know what works, particularly if we also rely on low-quality observational studies – as we have done – to inform policy.

But none of this matters: it’ll be more of the same next time  

Hancock champions Klaus Schwab

Matt Hancock entered Parliament in May 2010, when David Cameron became Prime Minister, ending 13 years of Labour government.

Hancock began his ministerial rise to in 2013 as a junior minister in what was then the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. He was the UK’s Anti-Corruption Champion from 2014 and 2015. He served as Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General between 2015 and 2016. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, Hancock became Minister of State for Digital and Culture, now the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

In that capacity, he delivered a speech praising Klaus Schwab’s Fourth Industrial Revolution. He delivered the speech at the House of Commons to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) at the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s (4IR’s) autumn reception on October 16, 2017. Hancock introduced Klaus to the APPG.

The transcript is still available to read in full:

… the nature of the new technologies is that the changes we are experiencing today, are probably the slowest changes we will see over the rest of our lifetimes. If you don’t much like change, I’m afraid I don’t have so much good news.

Our task, in this building and around the world, is to make this technology, this change, work for humanity. And I’m profoundly confident we can. Because this technology is made by man, so it can be hewn to build a better future for mankind.

And I’m delighted to speak alongside so many impressive colleagues who really understand this, and alongside Professor Klaus Schwab who literally ‘wrote the book’ on the 4th Industrial Revolution. Your work, bringing together as you do all the best minds on the planet, has informed what we are doing, and I’m delighted to work with you.

For the 1st Industrial Revolution, the UK could claim to be the ‘workshop of the world’ – propelled by development of the steam engine, it reached its pinnacle in the mid-19th Century. But the UK has not had the monopoly on waves of industrialisation.

Now, in the fourth revolution, we are determined to use our strengths to play a leading part. By its nature the fourth industrial revolution is more collaborative than the first. And we will play our part

our Digital Strategy, embedded within the wider Industrial Strategy, sets out the seven pillars on which we can build our success. And inside that fits our 5G strategy, like a set of Russian Dolls.

Our Strategy covers infrastructure, skills, rules and ethics of big data use, cyber security, supporting the tech sector, the digitisation of industry, and digitisation of government. All these are important.

… today I am delighted to announce that we are launching the first £25m competition for 5G testbeds and trials projects. We already lead on the highly technical development of 5G standards through the international work of the University of Surrey and others.

Now we are looking for innovative projects to test the roll out of 5G to develop the UK’s growing 5G ecosystem. We want projects that explore the real-world potential for 5G …

It will also support projects which explore ways of using 5G technology to address challenges in particular sectors, such as those faced in health and social care

Earlier this year, the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ was not a very well-known term – at least before it became a central topic at the World Economic Forum. It recently made its way into an item on BBC Breakfast television – this shows we’ve probably started to reach critical mass.

It’s a pleasure now to introduce the man who made the fourth industrial revolution a household phrase: Professor Klaus Schwab.

Hancock became Secretary of State for Health and Social Care under Theresa May in July 2018, when she promoted Jeremy Hunt, his predecessor, to Foreign Secretary. Hancock remained in post throughout the pandemic until he was caught on camera in a heavy embrace with his then-adviser, now girlfriend, in 2021, when social distancing restrictions were still in place.

Hancock returned to the Conservative backbenches on June 26, 2021, after The Sun published the photos. Hancock and his girlfriend immediately separated from their spouses and are still an item.

The run-up to the pandemic

Even before the pandemic, Hancock was opposed to people who questioned vaccines.

On Sunday, September 29, 2019, The Guardian reported that he wanted compulsory vaccinations for schoolchildren:

The government is “looking very seriously” at making vaccinations compulsory for state school pupils and has taken advice on how such a law could work, the health secretary has said.

Matt Hancock, a vehement critic of anti-vaccination campaigners, has previously suggested such a plan. Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative party conference, he said he was “very worried” by falling vaccination rates, indicating the government could act soon.

“I’ve said before that we should be open-minded, and frankly, what I’d say is that when the state provides services to people then it’s a two-way street – you’ve got to take your responsibilities, too,” Hancock told the Q&A session hosted by the Huffington Post.

“So I think there’s a very strong argument for having compulsory vaccinations for children when they go to school, because otherwise they’re putting other children at risk.

“Then I’d want to make it very easy if the children do arrive at school not vaccinated, simply to get vaccinated, and make it the norm. But I think there’s a very strong argument for movement to compulsory vaccination, and I think the public would back us.”

He took aim at social media for spreading what he called ‘anti-vaccine messages’:

“It’s unbelievable, I think, that Britain has lost its measles-free status, and it should be a real wake-up call. I think that the social media companies have got a lot to answer for, because they allow the spread of anti-vaccine messages.

“I will do whatever I can – the science is absolutely clear and settled on the importance of vaccination. And the worst thing is that if you don’t vaccinate your child, and you can, then the person you’re putting at risk is not only your child but it’s also the child who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons.”

He had already started thinking about compulsory vaccines in May that year:

Hancock first raised the idea of compulsory vaccinations in May, saying he did not wish to do it but might be forced to act if no other solutions to improve take-up rates could be found.

He said: “Those who have promoted the anti-vaccination myth are morally reprehensible, deeply irresponsible and have blood on their hands.”

Confidence in the MMR vaccination seems to have dropped at least partly in response to social media misinformation and scare stories. The discredited claims of Andrew Wakefield, who in 1998 theorised that the jab was linked to autism, are widely circulated.

Wakefield was struck off the medical register in 2010 after suggesting a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

He also seemed to be interested in social care at that time. On June 10, 2019, Care Home Professional reported:

Matt Hancock has pledged a £3.5bn cash injection to prop up the social care system as he kick-starts his campaign to become the UK’s next prime minister.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said he would seek the extra funds in the next Spending Review …

The Health and Social Care Secretary described the current social care system as “unsustainable” and said there’s a “whole number of injustices” affecting society’s most vulnerable people.

“One of the biggest injustices is that for people who worked hard all their lives and have put money aside – the system penalises them and won’t fund their care without them having to sell the house, whereas people who haven’t put money aside get their care supported. I think this is very unfair,” he added …

He wanted to see individuals funding their own social care by contributing to a personal fund:

He stressed that the payments could be made over many years of a working life.

The scheme, which would be made voluntary, would require all workers over 40 to contribute 2.5% of their wages.

“I’d like to see people encouraged to take it out when they get their first mortgage – that being the point where many people buy life insurance,” the minister said.

The insurance scheme would do away with previous Conservative proposals to put a lifetime cap on care costs.

Cometh coronavirus, cometh the man — or not

We were only a fortnight into lockdown in the Spring of 2020, and already we could see Matt Hancock’s true character.

The televised Coronavirus Updates appeared almost daily on the BBC, and he was in most of them.

On April 12 that year, The Mail on Sunday‘s Peter Hitchens wrote ‘Matt Hancock is trying to run the UK like my 1950s prep school’:

Until I started travelling in the Communist world, my main experience of living under tyranny was my time at a boarding school on the edge of Dartmoor, 60 years ago.

The headmaster, an enormous, booming man, had many fine qualities. But he was given to dreadful rages, which tended to strike late on Saturday afternoons.

He would throb with fury because some of the more loutish boys had left their games clothes on the changing room floor. 

For some reason, he viewed this as a terrible crime closely related to murder. So he would summon us into the assembly hall, and harangue us as darkness fell outside

The more we stood mulishly in front of him, saying nothing and with our eyes downcast, the angrier he became …

Collective punishments – a ban on eating toast, or the cancellation of a promised film show – would follow, along with more shouting and angry notices in red ink, threatening worse to come. 

Most of us were guiltless of wrongdoing. But we were small, and he was huge. The staff seemed more scared of him than we were.

We were on a windswept hilltop miles from anywhere. We had no escape

Hancock wanted to ban outdoor exercise because it was violating social distancing rules, hastily put into place:

I had thought such childish things were long over in my life. But a week ago I found that I was, once again, living at the mercy of an equally petulant would-be despot.

Matthew Hancock, Secretary of State for Health, went on national TV to threaten to ban outdoor exercise if people continued to break ‘social distancing’ rules. 

From a Government that claims to be preserving life and health, this threat was literally mad. 

Banning exercise for any length of time will lead to the deaths and illness of many thousands of currently healthy, older people who know that such exercise is vital to their physical and mental wellbeing. 

Such exercise can easily be taken while maintaining the required distance from others. 

The threat was a dictatorial one, of collective punishment of all for the wrongdoing of others. 

This is illegal under Article 33 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. A foreign occupier would not be allowed to do it. 

Sunbathing and sitting on park benches also irked Hancock while the police were enjoying their newly-found powers over the public:

Mr Hancock also said it was ‘quite extraordinary’ that some people had spent the weekend sunbathing in public places despite it being against Government guidance.

Getting into his stride, he urged people not to sit down even for a minute on a park bench, saying those who disobeyed the rules were putting their own and others’ lives at risk.

What is this nonsense? The words of Ministers and the words and actions of the police show a pointlessly bossy side to these measuresthe attempted ban on Easter egg purchases, the sunbathing squad, alleged arrests of people for just buying wine and crisps, the lumpish threat by a police chief to search the baskets of shoppers

Provided the people doing these things do not break the distancing rules, why are they wrong? 

Sunbathing, for instance, probably reduces the risk of infection, and if people keep a proper distance apart, what on earth is wrong with it? Why shouldn’t someone sit on a park bench?

Mr Hancock said: ‘I say this to the small minority of people who are breaking the rules or pushing the boundaries: you are risking your own life and the lives of others and you’re making it harder for us all.’

Hitchens, who spent years working in Communist countries, hit the nail on the head:

I sense something more going on here

The Government are trying to get us to accept a far higher level of state intrusion in our lives than we have ever endured. 

They are treating us as if we were unruly children. This is despite what I regard as a quite extraordinary willingness among the great majority to do as we are asked. 

It has gone to their heads. They need to calm down, for the sake of all of us.

We are not children, this is not some 1950s prep school ruled by the swish of the cane, and Mr Hancock is not our headmaster.

Hitchens rightly questioned the number of deaths at that point, which were nothing unusual, coronavirus or not:

A week ago, at the daily official briefing, Dr Jenny Harries, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, confirmed my point that many deaths with Covid are not necessarily from Covid. She said: ‘These are Covid-associated deaths, they are all sad events, they would not all be a death as a result of Covid.’ 

What nobody says is how many are as a result of the virus.

Then, if you look at the Office for National Statistics weekly death charts, for week 13 of each year (the week which this year ended on March 27), you find some interesting things.

The total of deaths for that week in 2020 is higher than the five-year average for that time of year, which is 10,130. In fact, it is up to 11,141. 

This is 1,011 more deaths than normal per week, 144 more deaths than normal per day, regrettable but not gigantic. Do these figures justify the scale of our reaction?

If you add up the total deaths for the first quarter of the year from respiratory diseases, the figure so far for 2020 (22,877) is less than those for 2013 (25,495), 2015 (28,969), 2017 (25,800), 2018 (29,898) and 2019 (23,336)

Again, is this event as exceptional as we are being told? If not, why the shutdown?

Obtaining PPE was a huge problem, and not only for the UK. France, along with other Western countries, was also scrambling to secure PPE. I know from having read Marianne, a French newsweekly.

PPE popped up regularly in parliamentary debates. Labour asked repeatedly what the Government was doing and to get on with the job.

However, people who knew what was going on in the NHS said that things weren’t as bad as the Opposition benches made them out to be.

Sir Keir Starmer had only been Labour leader — succeeding Jeremy Corbyn — for a week or so in April. He was offended that Hancock told the NHS not to waste precious supplies:

However, those with connections inside the NHS said that a hoarding mentality was present and that there was an adequate provision of PPE:

On April 9, Hancock announced a testing lab in Milton Keynes, the Lighthouse Lab, a.k.a. the National Biosample Centre:

Meanwhile, many of us wanted an update on herd immunity.

On April 8, Guido Fawkes reported, complete with audio (emphases his):

As new modelling released by University College London (UCL) predicts the UK will pass the threshold for herd immunity by Monday (with 73.4% of the population protected either by vaccination or previous infection), Matt Hancock was quick to pour cold water on the findings during an interview with LBC‘s Nick Ferrari. Speaking this morning, Hancock said: 

I was told by some scientists that we were going to have herd immunity in May, and then in June, and then after that […] what I prefer to do is watch the data. And so we’ve set out the road map, the road map is really clear, it is our route back to normal, we’re on track to meet the road map, and that’s our goal.

Pressed on why the government seemed keen to accept the pessimistic assumptions within the Imperial College data, yet sceptical of UCL’s new study, Hancock – rather predictably – said:

I think we have taken the right course in plotting our way to freedom, and doing it carefully, because we want it to be irreversible. We have seen what happens when this virus gets going […] and we want to get out of this safely and irreversibly.

The ‘data not dates’ refrain feels less plausible with every passing day…

One Twitter user sounded the alarm:

When University College London, a respected establishment put out work saying we’ll hit herd immunity by Monday and Matt Hancock immediately dismisses it You know darker forces are at work here. He’s a member of Parliament that doesn’t work for the people, he works for Gates.

On April 23, exactly two months into lockdown, Hancock was enjoying his power over the British people. Meanwhile, some of us were beginning to worry about the economic downside of keeping everyone at home.

The Mail reported that there was no end in sight:

Matt Hancock tonight insisted the coronavirus lockdown must stay until there is no risk of a second peak – as scientists warned the outbreak might not be fading.

The Health Secretary vowed not to compromise the national effort against the disease as Professor Jonathan Van-Tam told the daily Downing Street briefing that while hospital occupancy rates had dipped in in London the picture in other parts of the UK was ‘more of a plateau’.  

The figures – along with another 828 deaths being declared in the UK – add weight to the arguments of those who want to err on the side of caution despite the devastation being wreaked on the economy.

At this point, Boris Johnson had been released from St Thomas’s Hospital from his near-death bout with the virus and was recuperating at Chequers. His wife Carrie, about to give birth to their first child, was with him.

Rifts were appearing as to how long lockdown should last:

Divisions have emerged between Cabinet ‘doves’ such as Mr Hancock and ‘hawks’ who believe the NHS has capacity and would prefer to loosen the draconian social distancing measures earlier.

The PM has intervened from his recuperation at Chequers to snuff out speculation about an imminent easing, with Downing Street making clear his priority is avoiding a ‘second peak’ in the outbreak. 

There are reports Mr Johnson’s inner circle has stopped using the phrase ‘exit strategy’ and instead wants to signal a ‘next phase’ of lockdown, with varying levels of restrictions set to continue for the rest of the year until the virus gets ‘close to eradication’ or a vaccine is found. Australia has successfully suppressed cases to very low numbers.

Scientists have been telling ministers behind the scenes that control of the outbreak is still so uncertain that even slight changes to the curbs on normal life could result in a disastrous flare-up. 

Mr Hancock said tonight:  ‘We have been clear that we will not risk lives by relaxing the social distancing rules before our five tests have been met. 

‘First, that the NHS can continue to cope, second, that the operational challenges can be met, third, that the daily death rate falls sustainably and consistently, fourth, that the rate of infection is decreasing, and most importantly, that there is no risk of a second peak.’  

The Mail included a photo montage of Cabinet members and this caption of where they stood on the issue:

How members of the cabinet are currently split over the ending of the lockdown. Mr Johnson (top left) and Matt Hancock (bottom left) are classed as ‘doves’; Michael Gove, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak (right, top-to-bottom) as ‘hawks’; and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (top centre) is among those in the middle, with Gavin Williamson (centre) and Alok Sharma (centre bottom)

Senior Conservative MPs wanted an end to lockdown:

There is no prospect of lockdown measures being eased before the current period comes to an end on May 11.

However, some senior Tories have been pushing plans for an easing soon afterwards, pointing out that the NHS is still below surge capacity and could ‘run hot’ to limit the economic meltdown.  

SAGE clearly wanted lockdown to continue:

Government scientists have been warning that the situation is currently so finely balanced that even marginal loosenings could have disastrous effects.

One Cabinet source told the Guardian the government’s advisers on Sage had suggested any easing would push up the rate of transmission – known as R.

The source said: ‘The scientists are very clear. There’s no loosening of measures we can do that won’t bring the R back over 1 … 

‘We did have an R of about 3. And we’ve driven that down. But even a small increase in transmission could put you above 1.’ 

The WHO were adamant that the Western world should remain locked down, even though some of those countries were already easing restrictions:

Dr Takeshi Kasai, the WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, said: ‘This is not the time to be lax. Instead, we need to ready ourselves for a new way of living for the foreseeable future.’

He said governments must remain vigilant to stop the spread of the virus and the lifting of lockdowns and other social distancing measures must be done gradually and strike the right balance between keeping people healthy and allowing economies to function.

Despite concerns from health officials, some US states have announced aggressive reopening plans, while Boeing and at least one other American heavy-equipment manufacturer resumed production.

Elsewhere around the world, step-by-step reopenings are under way in Europe, where the crisis has begun to ebb in places such as Italy, Spain and Germany.

By the last week in April, questions were mounting.

On April 23, The Telegraph‘s Christopher Hope wondered why Hancock didn’t take any questions from the media after that day’s coronavirus briefing:

The next day, Hancock praised Muslims for their ‘sacrifice’ in not meeting daily for prayers during Ramadan, but had nothing to say to Christians who could not attend church on the holiest feast of the year, Easter, which remembers Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Houses of worship were closed:

Hancock began wearing a prominent CARE lapel badge on television. By this time, he had pledged that a ‘protective ring’ had been placed around care homes, something he later denied saying.

People found the CARE badge risible.

James Kirkup, writing for The Spectator, defended the move:

Matt Hancock’s badge for carers is a perfectly good idea. The mockery of it is in many cases shallow, ill-informed, revealing and hypocritical.

You don’t need me to describe the badge or the mockery. Anyone with an internet connection and a glancing familiarity with what passes for ‘news’ these days is aware that the Health – and Social Care – Secretary announced that the Government is now backing a scheme that encourages social care staff to wear a green badge saying CARE.

Part of the aim is to give care workers the same sort of recognition, esteem and access to services – reserved shopping hours, for instance – as NHS workers.

This is reasonable, necessary and overdue. Part of the UK’s social crisis lies in the social care workforce, which is too small and too transient. There are around 125,000 vacancies in social care at any moment, roughly eight per cent of the workforce. Turnover is around 30 per cent, double the average across the UK labour market.

Kings College London surveyed care workers and found that some said that teachers warned their children to do better in school, otherwise they’d end up working in care homes:

In a survey of care workers, the Kings’ team found that it wasn’t just society as a whole that looked down on care. It was care workers themselves. One of the most common phrases used by interviewees was ‘I’m only a care worker’. Many reported that their children had been told if they don’t work hard they would end up working in care. ‘The lack of esteem has been internalised,’ prof Manthorpe said. Our collective disregard for social care has left carers feeling worthless and keen to leave the sector, sometimes for jobs with equally poor wages.

The following year, after Hancock had urged all care workers to be vaccinated, a number of those who refused to do so were either fired or left for hospitality jobs.

John Pilger, writing for The Guardian, rightly predicted that a storm was brewing over PPE contracts and wasted money on testing:

A debate in Parliament took place just recently on the topic. Labour are still furious.

The prediction that came true

Former Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, now Lord Hannan, predicted exactly what would happen as early as April 5. He was incredibly accurate.

The Express reported:

Economist warned businesses would “topple like dominoes” if the lockdown remained in force until May, while pointing the finger at Public Health England for the failure to undertake a widespread programme of . The ardent Brexiteer, writing in The Sunday Telegraph, said the cost of the was hard to measure “but no less painful for that”. He explained: “One of my university contemporaries, who has a history of mental health problems, has struggled terribly with confinement.

“A neighbour is facing the grimmest of hat-tricks: her business ruined, her house-move frozen and her cancer operation postponed.

“The village osteopath, who went from 300 patients a week to zero when the bans came in, has been forced into insolvency.

“Nationally, a million more people have been pushed on to benefits.”

Mr Hannan also scoffed at the assertion stringent measures were required to minimise the number of people dying.

He said: “I am astonished by how many commentators duck these consequences by airily asserting that ‘lives matter more than the economy’.

“What do they imagine the economy is, if not the means by which people secure their welfare?

“The economy is not some numinous entity that exists outside human activity; it is the name we give to transactions among people aimed at maximising their wealth, health and happiness.”

If businesses – excluding those deemed likely to accelerate infections, such as nightclubs – were permitted to reopen next week, “we might yet escape the worst”, he asserted.

However, he added: “If the prohibitions remain in force into May, businesses will topple like dominoes, and a decade of depression will ensue.”

And so it came to pass.

To be continued next week.

Yesterday’s post, ‘The Western world is changing, from coronavirus to climate change’, discussed the outrage that Britons felt on reading Rishi Sunak’s revelations in The Spectator about the UK’s coronavirus policy:

Rishi, Liz Truss’s rival in the Conservative Party leadership contest, did not do himself any favours. If he hoped to garner votes from the Party’s coronavirus sceptics, he was mistaken.

From March 2020 to the present, any sceptics voicing an opinion were thrown under the bus, such as Bev Turner, who featured in yesterday’s post.

On Thursday, August 25, the day that the ex-Chancellor’s revelations were published, another sceptic, GB News’s Dan Wootton, aired his views:

Wootton rightly took issue with Rishi’s claim that the wrongful promotion of the SAGE scientists to an all-powerful level was wrong and that he should have changed it.

After all, next to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Chancellor is the next most powerful position in the Government. Yet, Rishi stayed quiet — for two years. Only now has he said anything.

He did nothing. Yes, he could have changed the course of events but did not:

At the end of that night’s show, the Union Jackass nominees — prominent names in the news cycle for dumb things — were Boris Johnson for flying to Ukraine again instead of visiting the Channel to see migrants being escorted in, Nicola Sturgeon for saying she will always be British in spite of pushing for a second Scottish independence referendum and Rishi Sunak for not resigning or doing anything about our damaging coronavirus policy. Wootton chose Rishi Sunak:

Another coronavirus sceptic, Robert Taylor, wrote for The Telegraph about his own experience over the past two years and Rishi’s revelations (purple emphases mine):

 … Take a bow, Rishi Sunak.

I had to do a double take when I saw the reports. For those long lockdown months, nobody in government, let alone the Cabinet, was prepared to say any such thing. It was left to a few courageous journalists and scientists to take on the overwhelming force of the lockdown fanatics, with police fining people for sitting on park benches and neighbours eagerly shopping each other like this was some authoritarian country.

The brave few kept the flag of personal freedom alive. That really is no exaggeration. And they paid heavily for it. On social media the abuse was intense. You don’t care about lives! they snarled. You’re murderers! they claimed. And in the mainstream, things weren’t much better. You’re a “small, disproportionately influential faction,” moaned a Guardian Leader, that “denies the virulence of the virus”. Thanks for that.

One MP, Neil O’Brien, took it upon himself to publicly discredit any sceptic, declaring “they have a hell of a lot to answer for”. No, you do Mr O’Brien, for stifling free debate, along with certain mainstream news outlets for failing over a two-year period to examine whether lockdown might cause more harm than good

But while I welcome and applaud Sunak’s intervention, I also have a question. He was second only to the Prime Minister for power and influence, and lockdown was the most consequential, freedom-destroying government initiative since the war. He had severe doubts about it. So why didn’t he resign? Yes, it would have been another headache for Boris. But given the massive consequences of the wrong strategy, didn’t he owe it to the British people?

It’s tragedy upon tragedy. Okay, it’s a relief to hear that someone in the heart of government had the guts to challenge the dangerous group-think. But it’s cold comfort to millions of children whose schooling was irreparably damaged along with their long-term prospects, and to patients who only discover now that they have cancer, diabetes or heart disease, and to those who were denied the chance simply to hug lonely, dying relatives.

For all these lockdown victims, Sunak’s words come two years too late.

Publican Adam Brooks tweeted the article, which didn’t get any replies in support of the former Chancellor:

However, earlier that day, two former Government advisers weighed in against Rishi: Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain.

Cummings blasted Rishi. The trolley in the tweet is Cummings’s symbol for Boris, who veers off in all directions like a supermarket trolley:

Then he had a go at The Spectator‘s editor Fraser Nelson who conducted the interview with Rishi. Recall that Cummings’s wife, Mary Wakefield, writes for the magazine:

Guido had a post on Cummings and Cain:

But, wait. Wasn’t Rishi a friend of Cummings?

Guido’s post says, in part (emphases his):

Whilst many sources disagree with some of Rishi’s more lockdown-sceptic policy views, his criticism of the decision-making process by which those policies were reached are more widely supported. Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings, however, are not playing ball…

Former comms director Lee Cain argues that whilst he is a “huge admirer” of Rishi, “his position on lockdown is simply wrong. It would have been morally irresponsible of the govt not to implement lockdown in spring 2020.”

Dominic Cummings is, characteristically, less diplomatic. Taking on Twitter he says, “the Sunak interview is dangerous rubbish, reads like a man whose epicly bad campaign has melted his brain & he’s about to quit politics. Also pins blame *unfairly* on 🛒 & others”. A very rare defence of Boris. He ominously promises more blogging on the topic later…

I checked Cummings’s Twitter account, but he hasn’t posted anything more on the subject.

He defends his former boss here because he, too, wanted lockdown, even though he sneaked off to County Durham with his family one weekend during the first one in Spring 2020. He got rumbled, and, as penance, Boris made him give an agonising televised press conference about it. Cummings left Downing Street later in November that year.

Professor John Edmunds, a prominent SAGE member, pointed out that it was not SAGE’s remit to do a cost-benefit analysis of lockdown. That would have been the responsibility of the Chancellor and the Treasury:

So, Conservative Party members should elect Rishi Sunak as their next leader when he couldn’t be bothered to do a cost-benefit analysis during the pandemic? The Treasury has a lot of civil servants. That would have been part of their job. If only someone had asked them to do it:

GB News had a good article with reaction from Government advisers, including scientists:

Boris Johnson’s former communications chief, Lee Cain, dismissed Mr Sunak’s assessment of the situation, saying he is “simply wrong” …

He said No 10, the Treasury and Department of Health and Social Care “met multiple times daily and discussed the trade-offs”.

Mr Cain added: “We all knew lockdown was a blunt instrument that had many downsides but in a world without vaccinations it was the best option available.”

… A No 10 spokesman said: “At every point, ministers made collective decisions which considered a wide range of expert advice available at the time in order to protect public health.”

Prof Graham Medley, a member of Sage, said: “Government have the power, so if one member of Cabinet thinks that scientific advice was too ‘empowered’ then it is a criticism of their colleagues rather than the scientists.

“The Sage meetings were about the science, not the policy options, and the minutes reflect the scientific consensus at the time.”

… Another scientist who contributed advice to the Government during the pandemic said Mr Sunak’s comments “are very misleading as they suggest that he was alone in thinking about the wider impact of lockdown on schools and other social impacts”.

The source said the SPI-B group, which investigated behavioural impacts, and other advisers spent a lot of time examining the issues around school closures.

“If the former chancellor was arguing against school closures he would have found plenty of evidence to support his case from the very group of scientists he now appears to be criticising,” the source said.

On Friday, August 26, Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave an interview in which he discussed the controversy. GB News reported:

Boris Johnson said he is “very confident” the Government made the “right” decisions about lockdowns.

The Prime Minister was asked to address the comments made by his former chancellor during a visit to South West London Elective Orthopaedic Centre in Surrey …

Speaking to broadcasters at the orthopaedic centre , Mr Johnson said if the Government did not lock the country down during the pandemic, “the delays for cardiac, the delays for hips, the delays for cancer treatment, or the other procedures that people care about” would have been “even greater”.

He added: “I’m just giving you my view, which is that the… about the decision to try to stop the spread of Covid, and with all the things that we did.

“Of course, the inquiry will have to look at those decisions. I’m very confident that they were the right ones. I just want to remind people of the logic because I think there’s a bit of… it all gets turned upside down.

“People say, ‘Oh, well, it was because of the lockdowns that people’s health was impaired’. Actually, the purpose of using those methods, imperfect though they were, to restrict the spread of Covid, was to reduce the huge numbers in the NHS.

“Forty-thousand people at one stage occupying beds in the NHS because of Covid, and therefore, to reduce the numbers of patients with other complaints, other sicknesses, other needs, who were displaced by Covid, and are now coming back into the NHS. That was the purpose of what we were doing.”

Unfortunately, lockdown has made the NHS worse. We still cannot see a GP. The A&E wards are full, even early in the evenings on a weekday. Six million patients are awaiting various medical procedures.

Lockdown was the worst thing we could have done. I know the UK is not in an isolated position here, but we should have been better at this.

Rishi Sunak could have come up with a cost-benefit analysis during those two years, yet he never did.

And he’s running to be our next Prime Minister?

It turns out that Conservative Party members are asking the same question. On Saturday, August 27, The Telegraph featured an article: ‘The moment Rishi Sunak knew his leadership dream was over’.

It had nothing to do with The Spectator interview, but with remarks he made earlier in the month during the hustings in Eastbourne, on the south coast:

It was when Rishi Sunak mentioned California for the third time in less than 10 minutes that his campaign team realised it was all over.

On stage at the Conservative leadership hustings in Eastbourne on Aug 5, Mr Sunak answered a question about the career he would choose as a young graduate by reflecting on the “culture” of enterprise he saw while living on the West Coast between 2004 and 2006.

“I think it’s incredibly inspiring and empowering,” he said. “If I was a young person, I’d want to go and do something like that.”

But back at his campaign headquarters in Holborn, Central London, his strategists were far from inspired.

Staff felt his focus on California showed he was out of touch and summed up his failure to win over grassroots Tory members as polls showed members backing Liz Truss by more than two to one.

“People started to say that it wasn’t going to happen now and he wasn’t connecting with voters in the room,” a source on the campaign told The Telegraph.

“He kept talking about California and tech. It became an open secret within the campaign that he wasn’t going to win. That hustings was the point things really took a turn as everyone started to realise that.”

Just as well, really.

All this talk of California? He must be wondering how he’ll get his Green Card back.

Knowing Rishi and his in-laws’ connections, he’ll find a way.

My far better half and I never miss a Neil Oliver editorial during his Saturday evening GB News shows.

His topic is the changing fabric of the Western world post-pandemic, whether it be through farming prohibitions, climate change or the ongoing revelations about coronavirus policies.

Here is the transcript and the video from his August 13 editorial:

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

It is hard to think the unthinkable – but there comes a time when there’s nothing else for it. People raised to trust the powers that be – who have assumed, like I once did, that the State, regardless of its political flavour at any given moment, is essentially benevolent and well-meaning – will naturally try and keep that assumption of benevolence in mind when trying to make sense of what is going on around them.

People like us, you and me, raised in the understanding that we are free, that we have inalienable rights, and that the institutions of this country have our best interests at heart, will tend to tie ourselves in knots rather than contemplate the idea those authorities might actually be working against us now. I took that thought of benevolent, well-meaning authority for granted for most of my life, God help me. Not to put too fine a point on it, I was as gullible as the next chump.

A couple of years ago, however, I began to think the unthinkable and with every passing day it becomes more and more obvious to me that we are no longer being treated as individuals entitled to try and make the most of our lives – but as a barn full of battery hens, just another product to be bought and sold – sold down the river

Once the scales fall from a person’s eyes, the resultant clarity of sight is briefly overwhelming. Or it is like being handed a skeleton key that opens every locked door, or access to a Rosetta Stone that translates every word into a language instantly understood.

Take the energy crisis: If you’ve felt the blood drain from your face at the prospect of bills rising from hundreds to several thousands of pounds while reading about energy companies doubling their profits overnight while being commanded to subsidise so-called renewables that are anything but Green while listening to this politician or that renew their vows to the ruinous fantasies of Net Zero and Agenda 2030 while knowing that the electricity for electric cars comes, in the main and most reliably, from fossil fuels if you can’t make sense of it all and just know that it adds up to a future in which you might have to choose between eating and heating then treat yourself to the gift of understanding that the powers that be fully intend that we should have less heat and less fuel and that in the planned future only the rich will have cars anyway. The plan is not to fix it.

The plan is to break it, and leave it broken. If you struggle to think the best of the world’s richest – vacuous, self-obsessed A-list celebrities among them – endlessly circling the planet on private jets and super yachts, so as to attend get-togethers where they might pontificate to us lowly proles about how we must give up our cars and occasional holiday flights – even meat on the dinner table … if you wonder how they have the unmitigated gall … then isn’t it easier simply to accept that their honestly declared and advertised intention is that their luxurious and pampered lives will continue as before while we are left hungry, cold and mostly unwashed in our unheated homes.

Here’s the thing: if any leader or celeb honestly meant a word of their sermons about CO2 and the rest, then they would obviously lead by example. They would be first of all of us willingly to give up international travel altogether … they would downsize to modest homes warmed by heat pumps. They would eschew all energy but that from the sun and the wind. They would eat, with relish, bugs and plants. They would resort to walking, bicycles and public transport. If Net Zero and the rest was about the good of the planet – and not about clearing the skies and the beaches of scum like us – don’t you think those sainted politicians and A-listers would be lighting the way for us by their own example? If the way of life they preach to us was worth living, wouldn’t they be living it already? Perhaps you heard Bill Gates say private jets are his guilty pleasure.

And how about food – and more particularly the predicted shortage of it: the suits and CEOs blame it all on Vladimir Putin. But if the countries of the world are truly running out of food, why is our government offering farmers hundreds of thousands of pounds to get out of the industry and sell their land to transnational corporations for use, or disuse unknown? Why aren’t we, as a society, doing what our parents and grandparents did during WWII and digging for victory? Why is the government intent on turning a third of our fertile soil over to re-wilding schemes that make life better only for the beavers? Why aren’t we looking across the North Sea towards the Netherlands where a WEF-infected administration is bullying farmers off their land altogether, forcing them to cull half the national herd

Why do you think it matters so much, to the government of the second most productive population of farmers in the world, to gut and fillet that industry? Why? Why have similar protests, in countries all across Europe and the wider world, been largely ignored by the mainstream media – a media that would have crawled on its hands and knees over broken glass just to report on a BLM protester opening a bag of non-binary crisps. Why the silence on the attack on farming?

Isn’t the simple obvious answer … the answer that makes most sense and that is staring us in our trusting faces … that power for the power-hungry has always rested most effectively upon control of food and its supply? Why are the powers that be attributing this to a cost of living crisis when everyone with two brain cells to rub together can see it’s a cost of lockdown crisis – the inevitable consequence of shutting down the whole country – indeed the whole world – for the best part of two years. Soaring inflation, rising interest rates, disrupted supply chains

Rather than dismiss as yet another conspiracy theory the idea of cash being ultimately replaced with transactions based on the exchange of what amount to glorified food stamps that will only be accepted if our social credit score demonstrates that we’ve been obedient girls or boys … how about taking the leap and focussing on the blatantly obvious … that if we are not free to buy whatever and whenever we please, free of the surveillance and snooping of governments and the banks that run them, then we have absolutely no freedom at all. And while we’re on the subject of money and banks, why not pause to notice something else that is glaringly obvious – which is to say that the currencies of the West are teetering on the abyss, and that one bank after another is revealed, to those who are bothering to watch, as being as close to bankruptcy as its possible to be without actually falling over the edge.

Then there’s the so-called vaccines for Covid – I deliberately say “so-called” because by now it should be clear to all but the wilfully blind that those injections do not work as advertised. You can still contract the virus, still transmit the virus, still get sick and still die. Denmark has dropped their use on under-18s. All across the world, every day, more evidence emerges – however grudgingly, however much the various complicit authorities and Big-Pharma companies might hate to admit it – of countless deaths and injuries caused by those medical procedures

Now I ask myself on a daily basis how I ignored the stench for so long. Across the Atlantic, the Biden White House sent the FBI to raid the home of former president Donald Trump. Meanwhile Joe Biden and his son Hunter – he of the laptop full of the most appalling and incriminating content – fly together on Air Force 1. No raids planned on the Obamas, nor on the Clintons. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi flew to Taiwan and onwards to China. Her son Paul, an investor in a Chinese tech firm and with seats on the board of companies dealing in lithium, was along for the ride, into that part of the world where three quarters of the world’s lithium batteries are made. Taiwan leads in that technology.

It is hard to think the unthinkable. It’s hard to think that all of it, all the misery, all the suffering of the past and to come might just be about money, greed and power. It is hard to tell yourself you’ve been taken for a fool and taken for a ride. It’s hard, but the view from the other side is worth the effort and the pain. Open your eyes and see.

In the middle of last week, Rishi Sunak gave an interview to Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, about his view on the Government’s coronavirus policy and SAGE, their medical and scientific advisory team.

Excerpts from ‘The lockdown files: Rishi Sunak on what we weren’t told’ follow:

When we meet at the office he has rented for his leadership campaign, soon to enter its final week, he says at the outset that he’s not interested in pointing the finger at the fiercest proponents of lockdown. No one knew anything at the start, he says: lockdown was, by necessity, a gamble. Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser, would openly admit that lockdown could do more harm than good. But when the evidence started to roll in, a strange silence grew in government: dissenting voices were filtered out and a see-no-evil policy was applied.

Sunak’s story starts with the first Covid meeting, where ministers were shown an A3 poster from scientific advisers explaining the options. ‘I wish I’d kept it because it listed things that had no impact: banning live events and all that,’ he says. ‘It was saying: you should be careful not to do this stuff too early, because being able to sustain it is very hard in a modern society.’ So the scientific advice was, initially, to reject or at least delay lockdown.

This all changed when Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial College published their famous ‘Report 9’, which argued that Covid casualties could hit 500,000 if no action was taken – but the figure could be below 20,000 if Britain locked down. That, of course, turned out to be a vast exaggeration of lockdown’s ability to curb Covid deaths …

A cost-benefit calculation – a basic requirement for pretty much every public health intervention – was never made. ‘I wasn’t allowed to talk about the trade-off,’ says Sunak. Ministers were briefed by No. 10 on how to handle questions about the side-effects of lockdown. ‘The script was not to ever acknowledge them. The script was: oh, there’s no trade-off, because doing this for our health is good for the economy.’

When he did try to raise concerns, he met a brick wall. ‘Those meetings were literally me around that table, just fighting. It was incredibly uncomfortable every single time.’ He recalls one meeting where he raised education. ‘I was very emotional about it. I was like: “Forget about the economy. Surely we can all agree that kids not being in school is a major nightmare” or something like that. There was a big silence afterwards. It was the first time someone had said it. I was so furious.’

One of Sunak’s big concerns was about the fear messaging, which his Treasury team worried could have long-lasting effects. ‘In every brief, we tried to say: let’s stop the “fear” narrative. It was always wrong from the beginning. I constantly said it was wrong.’ The posters showing Covid patients on ventilators, he said, were the worst. ‘It was wrong to scare people like that.’ The closest he came to defying this was in a September 2020 speech saying that it was time to learn to ‘live without fear’ – a direct response to the Cabinet Office’s messaging. ‘They were very upset about that.’

Lockdown – closing schools and much of the economy while sending the police after people who sat on park benches – was the most draconian policy introduced in peacetime. No. 10 wanted to present it as ‘following the science’ rather than a political decision, and this had implications for the wiring of government decision-making. It meant elevating Sage, a sprawling group of scientific advisers, into a committee that had the power to decide whether the country would lock down or not. There was no socioeconomic equivalent to Sage; no forum where other questions would be asked.

So whoever wrote the minutes for the Sage meetings – condensing its discussions into guidance for government – would set the policy of the nation. No one, not even cabinet members, would know how these decisions were reached.

In the early days, Sunak had an advantage. ‘The Sage people didn’t realise for a very long time that there was a Treasury person on all their calls. A lovely lady. She was great because it meant that she was sitting there, listening to their discussions.’

But his victories were few and far between. One, he says, came in May 2020 when the first plans were being drawn to move out of lockdown in summer. ‘There’s some language in there that you will see because I fought for it,’ he says. ‘It talked about non-Covid health impact.’ Just a few sentences, he says, but he views the fact that lockdown side-effects were recognised at all at that point as a triumph.

He doesn’t name Matt Hancock, who presided over all of this as health secretary, or Liz Truss, who was silent throughout. As he said at the outset, he doesn’t want to name names but rather to speak plainly about what the public was not told – and the process that led to this. Typically, he said, ministers would be shown Sage analysis pointing to horrifying ‘scenarios’ that would come to pass if Britain did not impose or extend lockdown. But even he, as chancellor, could not find out how these all-important scenarios had been calculated.

Liz Truss was not part of the ‘quad’, though, the four Cabinet ministers who determined policy. If I remember rightly, the ‘quad’ were Boris, Hancock, Michael Gove and Rishi. Truss claimed that she didn’t speak up because she was told that the decisions were a fait accompli. Nelson verifies that below.

Returning to Rishi:

‘I was like: “Summarise for me the key assumptions, on one page, with a bunch of sensitivities and rationale for each one”,’ Sunak says. ‘In the first year I could never get this.’ The Treasury, he says, would never recommend policy based on unexplained modelling: he regarded this as a matter of basic competence. But for a year, UK government policy – and the fate of millions –was being decided by half-explained graphs cooked up by outside academics.

‘This is the problem,’ he says. ‘If you empower all these independent people, you’re screwed.’ Sir Gus O’Donnell, the former cabinet secretary, has suggested that Sage should have been asked to report to a higher committee, which would have considered the social and economic aspects of locking down. Sunak agrees. But having been anointed from the start, Sage retained its power until the rebellion that came last Christmas.

In December 2021, at the time JP Morgan’s lockdown analysis appeared:

He flew back early from a trip to California. By this time JP Morgan’s lockdown analysis was being emailed around among cabinet ministers like a samizdat paper, and they were ready to rebel. Sunak met Johnson. ‘I just told him it’s not right: we shouldn’t do this.’ He did not threaten to resign if there was another lockdown, ‘but I used the closest formulation of words that I could’ to imply that threat. Sunak then rang around other ministers and compared notes.

Normally, cabinet members were not kept in the loop as Covid-related decisions were being made – Johnson’s No. 10 informed them after the event, rather than consulting them. Sunak says he urged the PM to pass the decision to cabinet so that his colleagues could give him political cover for rejecting the advice of Sage. ‘I remember telling him: have the cabinet meeting. You’ll see. Every-one will be completely behind you… You don’t have to worry. I will be standing next to you, as will every other member of the cabinet, bar probably Michael [Gove] and Saj [Javid].’ As it was to prove.

Nelson claims that Rishi is telling the truth:

For what it’s worth, his account squares with what I picked up from his critics in government: that the money-obsessed Sunak was on a one-man mission to torpedo lockdown. And perhaps the Prime Minister as well. ‘Everything I did was seen through the prism of: “You’re trying to be difficult, trying to be leader,”’ he says. He tried not to challenge the Prime Minister in public, or leave a paper trail. ‘I’d say a lot of stuff to him in private,’ he says. ‘There’s some written record of everything. In general, people leak it – and it causes problems.’

Rishi said why he did not resign at the time:

To quit in that way during a pandemic, he says, would have been irresponsible. And to go public, or let his misgivings become known, would have been seen as a direct attack on the PM.

At the time, No. 10’s strategy was to create the impression that lockdown was a scientifically created policy which only crackpots dared question

David Cameron employed the same strategy with the Brexit referendum in 2016. He said that the only people supporting Leave were ‘swivel-eyed loons’.

Rishi explained why he waited until now to speak out:

He is opening up not just because he is running to be prime minister, he says, but because there are important lessons in all of this. Not who did what wrong, but how it came to pass that such important questions about lockdown’s profound knock-on effects – issues that will probably dominate politics for years to come – were never properly explored

And the other lessons of lockdown? ‘We shouldn’t have empowered the scientists in the way we did,’ he says. ‘And you have to acknowledge trade-offs from the beginning. If we’d done all of that, we could be in a very different place.’ How different? ‘We’d probably have made different decisions on things like schools, for example.’ Could a more frank discussion have helped Britain avoid lockdown entirely, as Sweden did? ‘I don’t know, but it could have been shorter. Different. Quicker.’

Even now, Sunak doesn’t argue that lockdown was a mistake – just that the many downsides in health, the economy and society in general could have been mitigated if they had been openly discussed. An official inquiry has begun, but Sunak says there are lessons to learn now …

To Sunak, this was the problem at the heart of the government’s Covid response: a lack of candour. There was a failure to raise difficult questions about where all this might lead – and a tendency to use fear messaging to stifle debate, instead of encouraging discussion. So in a sentence, how would he have handled the pandemic differently? ‘I would just have had a more grown-up conversation with the country.’

Hmm.

On Thursday, August 25, Fraser Nelson wrote an article about it for The Telegraph: ‘Rishi Sunak is just the start. The great lockdown scandal is about to unravel’:

For some time, I’ve been trying to persuade Rishi Sunak to go on the record about what really happened in lockdown. Only a handful of people really know what took place then, because most ministers – including members of the Cabinet – were kept in the dark. Government was often reduced to a “quad” of ministers deciding on Britain’s future and the then chancellor of the exchequer was one of them. I’d heard rumours that Sunak was horrified at much of what he saw, but was keeping quiet. In which case, lessons would never be learnt.

His speaking out now confirms much of what many suspected. That the culture of fear, seen in the Orwellian advertising campaign that sought to terrify the country, applied inside Government. Questioning lockdown, even in ministerial meetings, was seen as an attack on the Prime Minister’s authority. To ask even basic questions – about how many extra cancer deaths there might be, for example – was to risk being portrayed as one the crackpots, the “Cov-idiots”, people who wanted to “let the virus rip”. Hysteria had taken hold in the heart of Whitehall …

Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance began by advising ministers not to lock down, saying public events were fine, and that face masks were pointless. They were talking about herd immunity as the way out. Then they flipped entirely. But this reveals something crucial: lockdown never was backed by science. It was about models and suppositions, educated guesswork. It was driven by moods, emotion, fear – and, worst of all, politics masquerading as science.

This is part of Sunak’s point. He doesn’t say locking down was wrong. Just that it somehow went from being a daft idea, rubbished by scientists, to a national imperative whose necessity was unquestionable scientific truth. So we need to ask: was the fear messaging really necessary? Why were No 10 outriders sent out to savage dissenting scientists? Why was Sunak made to feel, as he told me, that he was being seen – even inside government – as a callous money-grabber when he raised even basic concerns?

The disclosures should start a great unravelling of the lockdown myth, its pseudo-scientific sheen stripped away and the shocking political malfeasance left to stand exposed. Were Sage minutes manipulated, with dissent airbrushed out? If Sage “scenarios” were cooked up on fundamentally wrong assumptions we need to know, because that will mean lockdowns were imposed or extended upon a false premise. A premise that could have been exposed as false, had there been basic transparency or proper scrutiny.

This isn’t just about a virus. An autocratic streak took hold of the Government and overpowered a weak Prime Minister – and did so because our democratic safeguards failed. It should have been impossible for policies of such huge consequence to be passed without the most rigorous scrutiny. So many lives were at risk that every single lockdown assumption should have been pulled apart to see if it was correct. It should have been impossible for government to suspend such scrutiny for more than a few weeks.

I suspect that this authoritarian reflex lies embedded in our system, ready to twitch again. Life, after all, is easier without opposition so if tools exist to suspend it, we can expect them to be grabbed

Sunak doesn’t speak like a man expecting to end up in No 10. He said earlier this week that he would rather lose having been honest with people than win by telling half-truths. Opening up on lockdown may not save, or even help, his campaign. But his candour has offered important insights into one of the most important stories of our times – and one that is only beginning to be told.

As the then-Chancellor, he was the most powerful man in Government after Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Rishi held the nation’s purse strings and could have said ‘no’ at any point to the policies. But he didn’t.

It was difficult to know exactly what Rishi’s motives were in giving such an interview. Perhaps he was trying to glean votes from sceptical Conservative Party members in a last ditch attempt to save his candidacy.

Whatever his reason, one outcome was that it got Covid sceptics talking again, with some indirect support from him.

On Friday, August 26, one of those sceptics, Bev Turner, delivered a guest host editorial on GB News.

She was not happy with Rishi’s silence over Government policy:

Now, Rishi Sunak says that lockdowns “could have been shorter. Different. Quicker. We could be in a very different place”, he says now with the benefit of hindsight that some of us never needed… Apparently, as the economy tanks, he regrets the Government’s Covid strategy, stating that the scientists at Sage should never have been put in charge of the country’s response.

Well…who knew?…thanks for that, Rishi. Now I can sleep at night….except of course I can’t. And I won’t until there are arrests over the despotic, unscientific measures of the scamdemic and the perverted profits sucked up by vampirical pharma companies aided and abetted by a media paid off to the tune of £300m. Paid for, by Rishi Sunak’s department with our tax payers money!

“If you empower all these independent people, you’re screwed,” he now says in reference to Sage, “We shouldn’t have empowered the scientists in the way we did.”

She brought up Susan Michie, who is now — or who soon will be — working for the WHO:

a leading member of Sage is a life-long member of the Communist Party and might just have enjoyed the frisson of power.

She wondered why Rishi didn’t do more in his position of power:

… Rishi’s wrong, you can empower scientists – except that as with any medical decision – the consequences of which could be life-changing, you seek a second opinion.

Are you telling us, Rishi Sunak, that you didn’t have the chance, at one of your Sage meetings to ask your colleagues to read The Great Barrington Declaration for instance? That statement written in October 2020 by some of the world’s top epidemiologists and public health scientists in which they expressed their grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of your policies, instead recommending more Focused Protection for the vulnerable. They were publicly discredited as ‘fringe’ according to leaked emails and denounced as quacks. You should have had the gumption, Rishi Sunak, to insist to your team that there might have been a different way.

Rishi acknowledged that there was no cost-benefit analysis of the lockdowns. I remember a handful of  Conservative MPs asking for them in Parliament. Answer there came none.

Bev discussed her own demonisation during the pandemic:

Is he FINALLY referencing the necessity of a cost-benefit analysis of lockdowns?

Let me tell you, after making such statements on TV I was vilified by the press, demonised on social media and written off by former employers as a selfish granny-killer

But it was so obvious if you chose to look. You didn’t need to be the Chancellor to see what was coming. You just needed to switch off the BBC; seek out people who were looking at facts rather than trilling with emotion.

It wasn’t easy taking a public stance for the poor, the old, the young, and anyone who was going to suffer harms from Covid theatre. But I did it anyway. Because it was the right thing to do.

She finds it hard to support Rishi’s stance:

In my opinion, Sunak’s words paint a picture of a man who lacked the spine to publicly call-out what he now says he knew were policy mistakes. How dare you, Rishi Sunak, How dare you

… He wasn’t a passenger when, long after we had a clear picture of the infection fatality rate, said nothing to stop confused, 98-year-old care-home residents having to mouth “I love you” through windows when all they wanted was to hold someone’s hand.

Sunak wasn’t a passenger when schools closed; when the decades-old pandemic response plan was mysteriously ripped up in favour of a Chinese style quarantine-the-healthy strategy. He wasn’t a passenger when the Chief Medical Officers took to their lecterns with baffling figures seemingly obfuscated to maintain the fear.

He was a driver, one of a handful up front at the wheel, map in hand as he helped drive the country into a brick wall with businesses closed, families destroyed, mental health problems exacerbated and some educational achievements lost forever.

He was in on the meetings that decided the NHS must be solely obsessed with a disease that was involved in the deaths of those averaging 82 years of age. Thanks to the growing treatment backlog he was well aware of, we are now deep in a period of excess weekly mortality in the relatively young which dwarfs anything that Covid-19 managed …

“In every brief, we tried to stop the fear narrative,” he now says. “I constantly said it was wrong.”

No, you did not. If you had genuinely believed that you would have resigned noisily and defiantly with the backing of so many British people who could also see the Covid pantomime for what it was. You could have taken a temporary step off your own political career ladder and ironically – you could have eventually come back free from the stains of the Covid oil slick in which this country is now drowning.

You say, Rishi, that you were ticked off by the Cabinet Office after saying it was time to ‘live without fear’. So tell us – who didn’t want to hear that message? Name names now and put your money where your mouth is.

It’s actually hard to know who Sunak is aiming this about-turn at: those of us who stuck our own necks out to question the non-scientific policy, whether that was on TV or even just round a family dinner table are not ready to forgive those who were in power.

Sunak has even said that minutes from Sage meetings were edited to omit dissenting voices from final drafts.

This has caused lawyer Francis Hoar to tweet: “This is absolutely shocking. If this is true then those responsible – and it is reasonable to suppose that Whitty and Vallance were at least aware – should face a criminal investigation for misconduct in public office.”

Quite right.

Sunak has thrown the scientists under the bus. They will now blame the politicians who took the decisions. The inevitable infighting will be bloody and brutal and it will finally allow us to see behind the curtain and find out WHY in my opinion insanity was allowed to run riot. I will have my popcorn ready.

The next day, Neil Oliver delivered another great editorial.

This one is spectacular:

He advised us not to be taken in by Sunak, although he admits that the ex-Chancellor’s revelations have brought the coronavirus policy narrative to the fore.

Excerpts follow:

Don’t be fooled into thinking this disaster movie is coming to an end.

Rishi Sunak was quick off the mark last week with his pitiful, self-serving claims about having known the lockdowns were a bad thing but that despite him drumming his tiny fists on the table until they were a little bit sore no one would listen to him.

He said his heroic efforts to avert disaster were deleted from the official records of meetings he attended.

If that’s true – if minutes of meetings affecting government policy were doctored – then Sunak’s claims demand criminal investigation and jail time for those responsible – including big wigs with letters after their names, who presumably knew the truth of it as well and kept their mouths shut while people needlessly died miserable deaths, endured miserable lives and the country was driven off a cliff.

Sunak squeaks that he was on the right side of history but powerless. What absolute twaddle. He was arguably the second most powerful figure in government. By his own admission, he went along with all that was done to us. If it had ever been about principles, he would have resigned the first time his dissent was ignored and erased. He would have made his way hot foot to a television studio and there delivered an honest statement about how doing the right thing was more important than keeping his job. He did none of those things.

For all that, there’s excitement in the air. The mere fact the former chancellor and would-be prime minister have broken ranks – basically opting for the tried and trusted playground tactic of claiming a big boy did it and ran away means many are scenting blood in the water.

I’m hearing a lot of people, desperate and hopeful that the whole truth will finally come out, saying things like, “the narrative is finally falling apart.”

It might be and it might not. But the Covid and lockdown double-act is expendable. They’ve wrung all the juice they’re ever going to get out of that rotten fruit and now it’s ready to be cast aside. Or maybe it will just go on the back burner while other, fresher concoctions are brought forward. Either way, someone, somewhere seems to have decided it’s time to move on.

Just don’t be fooled into thinking that stuff about saving Granny and the NHS was ever the point, far less the main event. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again:

“It’s never about what they say it’s about.”

Thousands of grannies and grandpas died anyway and the NHS is a vast money pit that sucks in billions and now shuts its doors against people dying of cancer. I don’t believe the last two years was ever about public health

The good ship Pandemic is holed below the waterline and all the rats are scuttling towards the life rafts. All the lies about Covid, all the lies about vaccines, more and more exposed every day.

On the other side of the Atlantic, micro megalomaniac Antony Fauci is making for dry land as fast as his little paws will propel him. There are so many rats on that sinking ship, however, that they know there won’t be enough rafts. They are aboard the Titanic and many won’t make it. Here’s hoping.

Now that some of the great and the good are changing their tune … now that more and more of the mainstream media are pirouetting like ballerinas and finally contemplating questions some of us have been asking, shouting indeed, on a desperate loop, for months and years, there’s a narrow window of opportunity for getting some other stuff out into the open. And so now seems like the right time to think more of the unthinkable and say more of the unsayable.

Things are unfolding now exactly as the so-called conspiracy theorists, us with the tin hats on, said they would. And while everyone else – those who poured scorn, and ridiculed and hated – surely have to face the fact that we, the outcasts who lost work and reputations and much else besides – were right all along about the unforgivable damage of locking down, about harms to children, about being determined to refuse the Covid injections – in this brief moment while those who had nothing to offer but spite, and vitriol and undisguised loathing for those of us who first suspected we were being sold a pup – and who felt something wrong in our guts and so bothered to do our own reading and learned we were absolutely right and so spoke out and kept speaking out – right now before those smug smarty pants regroup behind the next line trotted out by the establishment, we can state some more of the blindingly obvious.

Let me, on behalf of my fellow conspiracy theorists, put more of the truth out there. After all, in a few months’ time it’s what those same smarty pants will be saying they knew all along as well.

Here’s what I make of the bigger picture – and what some of us so-called Covidiots, anti-vaxxers, Putin-apologists, fascist, far-right extremist swivel-eyed loons want to talk about next.

… The horror show in the Ukraine is being exploited.

Here at home last week, Boris implied that while only lesser mortals are fretting selfishly about heat and food, his attentions are focused on the lofty heights of saving the world. The little people of Britain must endure cold and hunger for … guess what … the greater good.

Anyone with even the faintest grasp on, at least an interest in, geopolitics knowns it is utterly bogus and he is a fraud – along with Biden, Trudeau, Macron, Von der Leyen and the rest of a list so long I don’t have time to read it out.

The imminent cold and hunger were made inevitable not by Putin in 2022, but years ago by the adoption of ruinous, ideologically-driven nonsense presented as world-saving environmental policies that only denied us any hope of energy independence, the profitable exploitation of all the resources beneath our feet and seas, and condemned much of Europe to dependence on Russia.

What we are paying is the cost of going Green, when those polices are not green at all but predicated upon some of the most destructive and toxic practices and technologies ever conceived.

Wind and solar will never provide the energy we need to keep thriving as societies, to grow and flourish. The situation is so insane I find it easiest to conclude we are simply meant to do without.

Stop thinking we’re all going to have cars, and international travel, and warm homes – just different than before. What seems obvious is that we are being groomed to live small lives, to make way for the grandiose expectations and entitlements of the elites that are working so effectively to hoover up the last of the wealth …

Energy prices will keep going up. This will obviously hurt the poorest countries and poorest people first and worst. What is obvious about the Green warriors making war on affordable, reliable energy is that they care not a jot about the poor – at least not the actual poor alive in the world today. Those real flesh and blood people are to be sacrificed, by the millions, utterly denied the energy that might have lifted them out of poverty, so that imaginary people as yet unborn might thrive in a Utopia that exists only in the imaginations of pampered protesters. China will just burn more coal to compensate and seize more control but, shh, best not mention it.

That corrupted thinking comes from Communism – or perhaps Communism’s idiot cousin Socialism. Green warriors don’t care about the poor, in the same way socialists don’t care about the poor … they just hate the rich.

Which is ironic, given that with their infantile protests they are doing the work of the very richest for them.

Ukraine produces a fifth of the wheat crop, required by the poorest. Not this year though. Whatever has been grown will be hard to store and harder to export – so that hunger and full-blown famine becomes a looming threat for hundreds of millions of the world’s hungriest people.

In richer countries, life is being made deliberately impossible for farmers. Spiking costs of fertilisers and fuel are one thing but governments in the Netherlands, across Europe, in Canada and elsewhere around the world are persecuting those who grow our food. Farmers are being made to endure restrictions that destroy their businesses, being driven off their land altogether. They will have to watch as fields they have known and cared for over generations are hoovered up by transnational organisations with other ideas about what that land might be used for.

If you think mass migration and immigration are difficult problems now, wait until the unavoidable famines cause a haemorrhage of humanity out of the poorest countries of Africa and the Middle East. Perhaps hundreds of millions of people with nothing more to lose. Where do you think they’ll go?

And here’s another inconvenient truth: money and weapons keep flowing into Ukraine, but despite months of war and sanctions, the Russian rouble remains strong and an end to hostilities seems as far away as ever. Maybe no one wants that war to end. Wars don’t determine who’s right anyway; wars determine who’s left.

Ultimately this is all about wealth and power. Not money, remember. Money is to wealth as a menu is to a steak. One’s a worthless bit of paper, the other something that will keep you alive. This is about actual wealth and its acquisition. It’s about the already super-rich getting hold of even more of the real things. Land, buildings, natural resources, gold. While we are supposed to be frightened out of our wits, squabbling among ourselves, and just hoping that one day it will all be over, a relative handful of others are hoovering up all the wealth, as planned

Don’t be fooled by Sunak and the rest and their about face – their pretence that they were with us all along. Covid and lockdown carried them only so far – but they plan to go much further. Disease, War, Famine, Death – the same people always ride on the same four horses. Now is not the time to take our eyes off the ball. Not by a long chalk. Keep watching the usual suspects.

On Sunday, August 28, Scottish comedian Leo Kearse guest hosted Mark Dolan’s GB News show.

He gave an excellent editorial about eco-warriors. This is a five-minute video you won’t regret seeing, full of fact with a generous scoop of wit:

He points out that Green pressure on Government has made us back away from energy independence over the years. The result? We are now dependent upon Putin for gas. He says that eco-warriors are helping Putin to win the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the rest of us will be cutting back on fuel we need to heat our homes this winter.

He concludes that Green policies are a nonsense, especially when the Scottish Green leader Patrick Harvie says that only right-wing extremists advocate energy independence.

He gives President Trump credit for telling Germany to become energy independent, even if the German delegation listening laughed in his face. He asks when Germany will ever be on the right side in a war.

I cannot help but agree.

Returning to Rishi’s coronavirus revelations, I will have more on that tomorrow, as there was fallout over the weekend. Bev Turner was not wrong. They’re turning on each other.

It is apposite to follow my posts about Lee Anderson with a series on his fellow Red Wall MP Marco Longhi.

Among other things, they have in common a dislike of Steve Bray, the noisy anti-Brexit protester who had his amplifying equipment taken by police this week.

Steve Bray

This is where I left off yesterday:

I’ll get to the debate in which Marco Longhi said those words.

First, however, Steve Bray reappeared in the area around Parliament on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, with a new boombox:

Guido Fawkes had the story and a video:

His post says (emphases in the original):

Just when you thought it was all over, Steve Bray’s back for an encore. With his boombox ripped from his hands yesterday by a swarm of Met officers, it looked like it was finally time to say bye, bye Bray-by. Not so much.

Undeterred, and as promised during a BBC interview yesterday afternoon, Bray is back on his island outside Parliament, having found a new boombox to blast his tunes at full volume as MPs walk past. He’s also picked up a gang of new supporters to chant along with him. Presumably they don’t have jobs to go to either. Chopper [The Telegraph‘s Christopher Hope] even claims he’s seen pedestrians hand Bray some cash in solidarity. It’s not like Met officers have far to commute given New Scotland Yard’s just metres away…

On May 11, Marco Longhi mentioned Steve Bray, although not by name, in a parliamentary debate, Preventing Crime and Delivering Justice.

Guido covered the bit about Bray:

Guido wrote:

… Speaking in the Chamber yesterday afternoon alongside Bray’s arch nemesis Lee Anderson, Longhi said:

I will not dignify his existence by tarnishing Hansard with his name, but there is a noisy man outside who dresses up as a clown and harasses and chases Members of Parliament and our staff from his little camp on the crossing island on Parliament Street. He is someone else who serves no public benefit whatsoever… This person needs to have his loudspeaker system confiscated and to be moved on. Personally, I would like to see him locked up in the Tower with a loudspeaker playing “Land of Hope and Glory” on repeat at maximum volume. The Met really should deal with him.

Labour’s Lloyd Russell-Moyle intervened to offer swapping offices with Longhi so that “there will be no problem and we will not need to shut down free speech either”…

Guido concluded by saying that, like Lloyd Russell-Moyle, he has no problem with Bray’s braying as it shows we tolerate free speech.

Personally, I disagree. After six years of his daily noise, the Met should put a stop to it.

Returning to the debate, which took place after the Queen’s Speech in May, Longhi discussed the people from his constituency, Dudley North, and their concerns, among them Brexit and re-establishing law and order (emphases mine):

I was going to confine my speech to the Public Order Bill, but I will follow up on a few comments that the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) made. The more I listen to him, the more I think he speaks a good deal of common sense. I would like him to know that I for one, and a number of my colleagues, agree with much if not everything of what he says, and we have a steely resolve to make sure that we are one United Kingdom. That is what we voted for when we voted for Brexit.

My daughters, for some unfathomable reason, sometimes describe me as a grumpy old man. I really do not know why. However, there are a few things that can make me a little bit miserable, and one thing that has really grated on me in recent years is the minority of protesters who have pretty much used guerrilla warfare to disrupt the everyday lives of the vast majority of our constituents—not just mine, but everybody’s.

The good people of Dudley North are ordinary folk, working hard to make a living, a living that is increasingly harder to make in the current climate. I cannot fathom how the privileged and entitled few think it is acceptable to stop our carers and nurses from being able to get to work to care for our sick and elderly, or to blockade a fire appliance from getting to a serious fire burning a local business to the ground—or, more tragically, perhaps preventing people inside the burning building from being saved. Of course, that applies to any blue light service, not just the fire service. That minority of criminals truly disgust me. They have no concept of the real world out there. They have no concept of the misery they bring to those less fortunate than themselves.

I hope that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and those on the Front Benches will join me in making working here more bearable for our staff, myself and my colleagues. I will not dignify his existence by tarnishing Hansard with his name, but there is a noisy man outside who dresses up as a clown and harasses and chases Members of Parliament and our staff from his little camp on the crossing island on Parliament Street. He is someone else who serves no public benefit whatsoever.

Lee Anderson intervened:

I know the character my hon. Friend alludes to, and I have witnessed some ferocious verbal attacks on my hon. Friend from that character, who patrols Whitehall like a public nuisance. May I suggest telling him that, if he is interested in changing things in this country, he should come to Dudley North and stand against my hon. Friend at the next general election?

Longhi replied:

In fact, that invitation has already been made. I am going to print off a set of nomination papers, but I wonder about the 10 people this person might need for the form to be valid.

My staff cannot hear distressed constituents on the phone through the awful racket he causes. All our staff who have offices in 1 Parliament Street suffer considerable stress and anxiety from the disruption he causes to their, and our, work. I doubt that staff in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the buildings opposite, would say anything different—[Interruption.] Is someone wanting to intervene? I do not know. I heard some noises. It is like a Hoover—an irritating thing in the background. I do not know what it is.

This person needs to have his loudspeaker system confiscated and to be moved on. Personally, I would like to see him locked up in the Tower with a loudspeaker playing “Land of Hope and Glory” on repeat at maximum volume. The Met Police really should deal with him. He is causing misery to hundreds of staff, he is intimidating many

Then Labour’s Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who is quite the leftie, intervened for a bit of to-ing and fro-ing:

Russell-Moyle: No, he’s not!

Longhi: I think someone wants to intervene, Mr Deputy Speaker. This person intimidates many who are passing by, going about our business and representing our constituents—

Russell-Moyle: No, he doesn’t!

Longhi: Would the hon. Gentleman like to intervene?

Russell-Moyle: The hon. Member clearly does not know how Parliament works, but we often make sounds across the Chamber when we disagree with someone, and I disagree with him. I am happy to swap offices: I will take his office and he can have my office. Then there will be no problem and we will not need to shut down free speech either. Win-win!

Longhi: I am actually very comfortable for the hon. Member to come to Dudley North and make those very arguments, because he would be out of office completely. Please do come and make those very arguments. I am not going to allow this kind of behaviour from someone outside, who is a public nuisance, to force us to have to make changes for him.

Our police, whether in Dudley, the Met or elsewhere, need the tools to better manage and tackle the dangerous and highly disruptive tactics used by a small minority of selfish protesters to wreak havoc on people going about their daily lives. Our police already have enough to be doing without the unnecessary burden of a privileged few who seek to rinse taxpayers’ money.

It will come as no surprise that I wholeheartedly support the Public Order Bill. If that disruptive minority want to glue themselves to anything, maybe the Bill should make it easier for them to have their backsides glued to a tiny cell at Her Majesty’s pleasure. They would be most welcome.

Kit Malthouse MP, the minister for Crime and Policing, concluded the debate. Malthouse, incidentally, worked for Boris Johnson in a similar position when the latter was Mayor of London:

… We have had a variety of contributions this afternoon, falling broadly into three categories. First, there were the constructive contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) talked about antisocial behaviour in his constituency, a theme we heard from several hon. Members. The three graces—my hon. Friends the Members for Ashfield (Lee Anderson), for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) and for Dudley North (Marco Longhi)—expressed strong support for the Public Order Bill. The general theme was expressed pithily by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough:

“We want criminals to be scared of the law. We do not want the law-abiding majority to be scared of criminals”—

a sentiment with which the Government heartily agree. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) made his usual vigorous and wide-ranging contribution, illustrating neatly why his part of the world is becoming more of a Conservative stronghold with every month that passes

I wrote about Jonathan Gullis in April.

Malthouse ended with this. I do hope he is correct when he says:

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary set out earlier in this debate, the first job of any Government is to keep their people safe, which is why we are delivering ambitious reforms to do just that by cutting crime, delivering swifter justice and making our streets safer. We are backing the ever-growing numbers of police with the tools and support they need, making sentences tougher for violent and sexual crimes, strengthening victims’ rights and restoring confidence in the criminal justice system. We will ensure that we strike the right balance in our human rights framework so that it meets the needs of the public and commands their confidence, strengthens our traditions of liberty, particularly the right to free speech, adds a healthy dose of common sense and curtails abuses of our justice system. I commend the Government’s programme on crime and justice to the House.

In the beginning

Marco Longhi was born in the Midlands town of Walsall, Staffordshire, on April 22, 1967, to an Englishwoman and an Italian airline worker. He grew up in Rome.

He took after both parents in his personal choices.

Following his father’s interest in airlines, he trained as a pilot. Later, following the example from his mother’s family, he entered politics.

In between, he studied at Manchester University and worked in the oil and gas industry. Later on, he became interested in real estate and was the director of the lettings (rental) firm Justmove. He also owns ten houses in Walsall.

His grandfather Wilfred Clarke was mayor of Walsall in 1978. Longhi became a Conservative councillor for the town in 1999 and served two terms as its mayor, in 2017 and 2018.

Dudley North

Longhi ran successfully for election to Parliament in 2019, after the much-admired Labour MP, subsequently Independent, Ian Austin, stood down for Dudley North.

The constituency of Dudley North was created in 1997. Labour’s Ross Cranston served as its MP between 1997 and 2005. Afterwards, Ian Austin succeeded him until 2019. Austin became an Independent in February 2019. He resigned from Labour because he was troubled by its anti-Semitism, which prevailed in some factions of the party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Austin’s adoptive father Fred was a Czech Jew who was adopted by an English family, hence the surname change from Stiller to Austin. Fred Austin was the headmaster of The Dudley School from its foundation in 1975 to his retirement in 1985.

In December 2019, Marco Longhi handily defeated Labour’s appropriately named Melanie Dudley with a majority of 11,533, a swing of 15.8 per cent.

Maiden speech

Longhi gave his maiden speech to the Commons on February 26, 2020, during the debate on the Environment Bill.

Although coronavirus was seeping into the news narrative, getting on with Brexit was still the main topic of discussion among Conservative MPs. The debates were marvellous, imbued with optimism.

Everyone was also happy with the relatively new Speaker of the House, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who was a breath of fresh air compared with his predecessor John Bercow who did so much to try and thwart Brexit.

Longhi’s speech tells us about Dudley and his hopes for the historic town:

Let me start by thanking you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to present my maiden speech today, and to thank your staff—and, indeed, all staff on the estate—for keeping us safe and looking after us so well and with such professionalism. I should like you to convey my more profound thanks, if that is possible, to Mr Speaker for the way in which he has signalled that he will carry out his office as Speaker of the House, in complete contrast to his predecessor. The conventions and integrity that he is restoring in such an unassuming way are having a much greater impact in restoring faith in our democracy than any commentators may be giving him credit for, which is why I want to do so today.

It is the convention to comment on one’s predecessor in a maiden speech. I shall do so, but not for that reason: I will because I want to. I am certain than many in this place will want to recognise Ian Austin for his integrity, and for the brave way in which he decided to stand up against antisemitism. There is not a person in my constituency to whom I have spoken who does not speak well of Ian, even when they disagreed with his politics. So I want to thank him for his efforts as a local MP, and for the example that he has set for many of us, on both sides of the House, in standing up to prejudice and hatred. I suspect that some of my colleagues on this side of the House—myself included—may wish to thank him for other reasons too.

I say with a degree of both pride and humility that I am the first ever Conservative Member of Parliament for Dudley North, the first ever Member called Marco, and the Member holding a larger majority than any of my predecessors in this seat. For that, I thank the people of Dudley, who, like the people in the rest of the country, decided to tell the House—yet again, at the umpteenth time of asking—what they wanted us to do.

The Dudley North constituency is made up of the town of Sedgley, the suburban areas of Upper Gornal, Lower Gornal and Gornal Wood, Woodsetton, and other conurbations around Dudley town itself. It has several attractions of national significance, including the Black Country Living Museum, Dudley Castle and Dudley Zoo.

Dudley has been a market town since the 13th century, and its fortunes over the centuries have ebbed and flowed with the economic cycles of the heavy industry that its coal-rich mines supported. This also means that it has suffered much since the decline of the traditional industries, which is why a focus on skills and future jobs is crucial if the economic prosperity of the area and the wellbeing of Dudley people are to be secured for the coming decades.

Dudley is also credited with being the birthplace of the industrial revolution, with the advent of smelting iron ore using coal instead of charcoal, which is manufactured by burning trees and therefore much rarer and more costly to obtain. Abraham Darby introduced this revolutionary method, which meant that iron and steel could be made in much larger quantities and more efficiently and cheaply. He effectively kick-started the industrial revolution, so Dudley’s heritage and legacy are second to none—notwithstanding what other people in this House might say! However, I will say that competing with Magna Carta and perhaps alienating a doctor might not be my smartest move. Abraham Darby was born in Woodsetton in 1678 and is reported to have lived at Wren’s Nest, which is now a site of special scientific interest—I had to practise that—and, since 1956, one of only two national nature reserves assigned on geology alone because of the variety and abundance of fossils found on the site.

However, although the new industrial revolution brought wealth, it also resulted in the area being named the most unhealthy place in the country in the mid-19th century, because of the dreadful working and living conditions. That led to the installation of clean water supplies and sewerage systems. Dudley had the highest mortality rate in the country. In the 21st century we are faced with the fourth industrial revolution, characterised by a range of new advancements in the digital and biological worlds, but with a different impact on human wellbeing.

Improving health and wellbeing and seeking to tackle mental ill health are some of the areas on which I wish to focus during my time in this House, for the benefit of everyone at home and in their workplaces. If we tackle the issue of poor mental health at its core and in its infancy, we can prevent crisis moments and the devastating consequences that they can have. That it is also why having an environment that we can all enjoy, which supports us in our own wellbeing and that we can leave as a positive legacy to our children and grandchildren, is so important. Mother Nature has been talking to us for some time, and it is time we did more than simply listen. It is time to take action as well, which is why the Bill is so welcome.

Mr Deputy Speaker, if you ever come to Dudley, the capital of the Black Country, you will be warmly welcomed, because that is the nature of Dudley people. You will also feel a sense of expectation—a feeling that change is about to happen, a feeling of optimism—and this is another reason why I am so privileged to represent the town and its people. In the near future, we will be seeing the demolition of the infamous Cavendish House in the town centre to make way for many new homes, the metro extension and I hope—subject to consent—a very light rail system.

Like many high streets around the country, Dudley’s has suffered much. Nobody has a silver bullet to fix that, but increasing footfall by attracting more people feels like part of the solution. If attracting more people into the town centre is part of the solution, and if the focus on skills for future jobs is key, I would like to see our plans for a university campus on the edge of Dudley town centre finally being delivered. I am pleased that the Prime Minister agrees with me on that. These game-changing plans were drawn up before my arrival, and some have been spoken about for many years. Now is the time to turn words into action and to deliver for Dudley. My pledge to all Dudley people is that I will fight every step of the way to make things happen and bring about the change that they want. It is Dudley’s turn now.

On May 12, 2021, he rightly objected to lefties trolling him over Brexit in the Better Jobs and a Fair Deal at Work debate, which followed that year’s Queen’s Speech:

“Your name isn’t English, why don’t you go back to where you came from?” That is a recent Facebook comment from an articulate but clearly limited left-wing activist, so I took some pleasure in replying in Italian “Che in realtà sono nato da un minatore di carbone del black country”—that I was in fact born to a Black Country coalminer.

More condescending left-wingers recently said this:

“You’d think Marco would understand why Brexit is bad. He’s lived in Italy and EVEN his Dad is Italian. Why is he such a strong Brexiteer? He must be stupid.”

Well, brownie points for working out that my dad is Italian. I did explain at length why Brexit is vital, but it became clear to me that there was a limit to their thinking, too—I mean Marco, Italian, therefore remainer, otherwise stupid is a bit of a “micro-aggression”, and is rather limited thinking isn’t it, Mr Deputy Speaker?

Here is my suggestion for the Labour party: set up an internal limited-thinking focus group to eradicate it from among their ranks, because how can they represent people who are clearly not limited? They may want to start in Amber Valley where the Labour leader blamed voters for their election results; it might prove more useful than rearranging the deckchairs on their Front Bench.

So, yes, my name is Marco, and, yes, my father is Italian, but here I am. How did I get here? Two words: opportunità e lavoro—opportunity and graft. My grandfather’s story is one of rags to riches and my parents are examples of blue-collar workers who for years lived hand to mouth. They bent over backwards to give me opportunities, and I put in the work.

Opportunity and work are two pillars of Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech. People out there do not want handouts; they want a hand getting back on their feet. More than anything, they want opportunities to do well. The lifetime skills guarantee is a massive investment in education and apprenticeships, readying people for the jobs coming their way. We may remember the Prime Minister—or “our Boris” as they say back home—visiting Dudley and going to the site of our new Institute of Technology, where he delivered his “jobs, jobs, jobs” vision. The pandemic has shown that fish can be necessary, but fishing rods are what people really need, and that institute will provide the rods.

The Queen’s Speech contained a vast array of steps that will take us out of the clutches of the pandemic, freeing us to be even stronger than when we entered it. The commitment to our NHS and continuing with our investment in the vaccination programme and in private sector life sciences are huge bonuses that this country will benefit from.

The roaring ’20s are upon us. Dio salvi la Regina—God save the Queen.

I hope he is right about the roaring ’20s being upon us.

One year on, and it’s hard to see. However, that is no fault of Marco Longhi’s.

I will have more on this gently witty and highly incisive Red Wall MP next week.

© Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 2009-2023. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? If you wish to borrow, 1) please use the link from the post, 2) give credit to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 3) copy only selected paragraphs from the post — not all of it.
PLAGIARISERS will be named and shamed.
First case: June 2-3, 2011 — resolved

Creative Commons License
Churchmouse Campanologist by Churchmouse is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://churchmousec.wordpress.com/.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,544 other subscribers

Archive

Calendar of posts

February 2023
S M T W T F S
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728  

http://martinscriblerus.com/

Bloglisting.net - The internets fastest growing blog directory
Powered by WebRing.
This site is a member of WebRing.
To browse visit Here.

Blog Stats

  • 1,703,009 hits