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From the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, anyone who doubted Big Media’s narrative was branded a conspiracy theorist.

Strangely, most of what notional conspiracy theorists spoke and wrote about in 2020 has come true.

Last week, I read two articles of interest about the virus, the New York Times (NYT) and China.

The NYT, China and the virus

On August 2, 2021, Ashley Rindsberg, the author of The Gray Lady Winked: How the New York Times’ Misreporting, Distortions and Fabrications Radically Alter History, wrote an article for UnHerd: ‘Did the New York Times stifle lab leak debate?’

What an eye-opener it is. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Rindsberg has done a lot of research into the history of the paper, nicknamed The Gray Lady in the United States.

He says that the paper’s relationship with China has been going on for over a decade and explores its dubious ties with totalitarian regimes of the 20th century:

Researching and writing my new book, I discovered that the Times has a dark history of inadvertently helping authoritarian regimes with its reporting, including the Nazis, the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro.

In the case of China, this appears true to an alarming degree. For over a decade, the Times has nurtured a special relationship with the CCP — though we can only speculate as to whether this influenced its editorial output. Still, the Times certainly appeared unconcerned about the appearance of impropriety as it took millions of dollars from Chinese propaganda outlets, most prominently China Daily. In exchange for this badly needed revenue, the Times has published hundreds of “advertorials” written by Chinese propaganda outlets, including China Daily, which promote CCP messaging on the most serious topics, such as a double-page spread on the hotly contested Diaoyu Islands brazenly titled: “Diaoyu Islands Belong to China.

But the paper’s advertising relationship with Chinese state outlets is only the visible part of the iceberg. In 2012, seeking to capitalise on China’s burgeoning middle and upper classes, the Times launched a Chinese edition of its daily paper followed by the launch of a luxury lifestyle magazine. “The appetite for New York Times journalism in Chinese has never been stronger,” a company press release stated at the time.

In investing so heavily in China, the Times unintentionally handed the rapacious CCP an editorial lever to sway coverage. The Times learned this first-hand when, in 2012, the CCP blocked Chinese access to the Times online in retaliation for an unfavourable article on the family finances of China’s outgoing premier, Wen Jiabao. The Times set out on a year-long “lobbying” effort to restore coverage that included meetings with Xinhua, the parent of China Daily.

In early 2020, the lab leak hypothesis was roundly condemned in Big Media, especially the NYT.

Rindsberg leads us through the timeline and the narrative:

Of course, over the past year newspapers across the world have fallen for the CCP’s distorted Covid-19 narrative. And there is no evidence to suggest that the CCP did put pressure on the Times. But when it came to the lab leak debate, the Times was relentless. Starting in early 2020, when little was known about the virus — and nothing about its origins — the Times adopted a stridently anti-lab leak stance. In its first report on the topic, a February 17, 2020 article covering comments made by Sen. Tom Cotton, the Times stigmatised lab leak as a “fringe theory”. Once the story was published, its reporter took to Twitter to describe it as “the kind of conspiracy once reserved for the tinfoil hatters”.

Only one week prior, another outlet made strikingly similar claims. In an editorial, the CCP-owned China Daily thundered that Cotton’s decision to spread “malicious rumors” shows “how irresponsible some are in their haste to attack China”. The Times, echoing China Daily, also cast the lab leak hypothesis as a “rumor”.

Over the months, the Times’s coverage grew even more strident — and more in line with Chinese propaganda. In February 2020, it gave a platform to zoologist Peter Daszak, publishing an opinion piece by him which claimed that the pandemic was caused by “road-building, deforestation, land clearing and agricultural development”. Daszak argued that “discovering and sequencing” viruses like Covid-19 in labs like the one in Wuhan should be a priority.

The Times, which used Daszak as a key source in over a dozen articles, has never mentioned that Daszak’s organisation funded the Wuhan lab, in particular research into bats and coronaviruses, a flagrant conflict of interest. Crucially, there was no mention of this when a reporter interviewed Daszak this February, following his return from a heavily criticised WHO investigation into the virus’s origins. (Danszak later recused himself from the investigation because of the conflict of interest.)

But the Times also never revealed that Daszak was a favoured source for another outlet: China Daily. The state-owned media organisation, along with Xinhua and sister outlet Global Times, repeatedly quoted Daszak to assure readers of China’s full cooperation in the search for the virus’s origins — and to discredit the possibility of a lab leak.

The NYT‘s coverage was so supportive of China that Chinese publications began quoting it:

In April 2020, for instance, the Times published an article claiming the Trump Administration’s investigation into a lab leak “has echoes of the Bush administration’s 2002 push for assessments saying that Iraq had weapons of mass of destruction.” Within minutes, a China Daily columnist retweeted the story and parroted its central claim.

With more information coming out about a possible lab leak, the NYT has changed tack:

Today, however, just as the tide is turning on the lab leak debate, so too is the Times’s approach to the subject. Last summer, the Times abruptly ended its advertising relationship with Chinese state media outlets and scrubbed all trace of the advertorials from its archive. And in recent months, it has published a handful of articles quoting scientists who believe we should take seriously the prospect of a lab leak.

But does this excuse the paper’s behaviour at the start of the pandemic?

I do not think so. The NYT is one of the world’s most influential newspapers. Everyone takes what it says as gospel truth. It is hard to disagree with Ashley Rindsberg on his conclusion:

Only time will tell whether the lab leak hypothesis is true or false. But whatever the result, what a tragedy it would be if the Times’s coverage delayed that verdict.

Lab leak update

On Friday, September 10, 2021, UnHerd posted the latest on a possible lab leak in Ian Birrell’s article, ‘Is this proof of lab leak lies?’ Birrell is an award-winning foreign reporter and columnist.

Over the past several years, the United States, Britain’s Peter Daszak and France were all involved at some point with the Wuhan labs.

Birrell tells us:

we do know one thing now beyond debate: speculative “gain-of-function” experiments on mutant bat viruses were taking place in Wuhan laboratories.

This research, carried out in labs that did not have maximum level of biosafety, was increasing the infectivity of laboratory-created diseases by constructing chimeric coronaviruses — despite strong denial of such practices by the key Chinese scientists. And the bio-engineering was being funded by United States taxpayers — channelled through a charity run by a British scientist — despite similar denials from America’s most senior public health officials that they supported such science fiction activities in Chinese labs.

This information was uncovered via freedom of information requests made in the United States by The Intercept, which is devoted to investigative reporting:

The Intercept obtained 900 pages of documents detailing two research grants in 2014 and 2019 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to EcoHealth Alliance. This is the charity headed by Peter Daszak, the controversial Briton who led efforts to squash “conspiracy theories” about a possible lab incident after spending years hunting viruses with Shi Zhengli, the now-famous “Batwoman” expert at Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

While some of this information was already circulating, The Intercept was able to obtain updates on the relevant projects:

… these documents include the original proposals along with project updates, so significantly flesh out what we knew. They highlight how US funding bodies outsourced risky gain-of-function research to China, even over a three-year period between 2014 and 2017 when it was banned in their own nation. They also show, with new clarity, the kind of work taking place in secretive Wuhan labs. These disclosures fuel the mystery over the pandemic origins, while also sparking fresh concerns over top scientists in both China and the West who sought to suppress inquiries into the lab leak hypothesis.

The NYT had a role to play here in defending the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV):

A $3.1m grant, according to the documents, was awarded to understand “the risk of bat coronavirus emergence” through screening thousands of samples collected from the nocturnal creatures. This included a chunk of funding worth $599,000 for WIV. Bear in mind that three months ago, Shi, director of its Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases, angrily protested over the world “pouring filth on an innocent scientist” when emphatically refuting that they carried out gain-of-function work. “My lab has never conducted or co-operated in conducting GOF experiments that enhance the virulence of viruses” she told the New York Times.

Birrell gives us the NIH’s definition for ‘gain of function’ (GOF):

the term gain-of-function research describes a type of research that modifies a biological agent so that it confers new or enhanced activity to that agent.

The following are real life examples of GOF:

Analysis of these papers show US funds supported construction of new chimeric Sars-related coronaviruses, which combined a spike gene from one with genetic material from another — and then showed the resulting creation could infect human cells and mice engineered to display human-type receptors on their cells.

One new virus had increased pathogenicity over the original virus and three new viruses increased viral load in lung tissues up to ten thousandfold, which is most definitely “enhanced activity.” As scientists pointed out to me, these results demonstrated increased pathogenicity of SARSr-CoVs with different spike proteins in humanised mouse models. And similar construction work was proposed to be done with another type of deadly pathogen — the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, which first flared up in Jordan nine years ago after spilling over from camels and has since cropped up in 27 countries, causing 858 deaths.

Dr Fauci is also involved:

Anthony Fauci, the US infectious diseases expert and presidential adviser, insisted earlier this year that his country “has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology”. His stance led to a furious clash in Congress with Senator Rand Paul, who gleefully tweeted after The Intercept published its article on the papers: “Surprise surprise – Fauci lied again. And I was right about his agency funding novel coronavirus research at Wuhan.”

Paul was backed by Richard Ebright, the bio-security expert and professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, who has long been a fierce critic of such work since he argues that the risks of creating new diseases in laboratories vastly outweigh any potential benefits. The documents make it clear that assertions by Anthony Fauci and the NIH Director, Francis Collins that the NIH did not support gain-of-function research or potential pandemic pathogen enhancement at WIV are untruthful,” he said.

Birrell discusses France’s involvement with Wuhan:

Buried in the documents are two more intriguing details. First, the experimental work creating mutant chimeric coronaviruses was carried out at WIV’s biosafety level 2 lab and then the work analysing them in humanised mice performed at the biosafety level 3 Wuhan University Center for Animal Experiment, not at the new maximum level 4 WIV lab built with French assistance. The cluster of labs at the university hospital, incidentally, includes a breeding centre that created at least 1,000 types of genetically engineered animals from mice to monkeys. So this means the details in the papers accord with a previous statement by Shi that their coronavirus research is “conducted in BSL-2 or BSL-3 laboratories” — although a level 2 lab has, some say, barely higher safety standards than a dental clinic and certainly few safeguards against an lethal airborne virus.

As for Daszak, while he defended China, his charity warned about viral infections from animals encountered in fieldwork:

while Daszak has been condemning supposed conspiracy theories and defending his friends in China with whom he has collected thousands of samples, his own charity was pointing out the major risk of accidental infection faced by researchers when collecting such specimens in a project he led. “Fieldwork involves the highest risk of exposure to SARS or other CoVs, while working in caves with high bat density overhead and the potential for fecal dust to be inhaled. There is also some risk of exposure to pathogens …while handling bats, civets, rodents or other animals, their blood samples or their excreta.”

Accidental viral infection via animals was another point mentioned early last year which the media summarily dismissed.

The story of the origins of COVID-19 continues to unfold.

I look forward to reading more in future and covering it here.

On Monday, July 5, 2021, Richard Madeley, an occasional co-presenter on ITV’s Good Morning Britain (GMB), asked SAGE member Susan Michie if her avowed Communism affects her coronavirus recommendations to the general public:

It must have come as a surprise to a number of GMB‘s viewers who probably did not suspect that a card-carrying Communist works for the Government.

Michie, a psychologist who is also a professor at University College London, works on the SPI-B — behavioural — committee of SAGE which has been driving public behaviour during the pandemic. She appears most frequently on the BBC but also on other television channels.

She was also a speaker at the UN’s Psychology Day in 2020. The Division of Health Psychology of the British Psychological Society, of which she is a member, tweeted:

I’ve written about Michie three times before, twice in the run-up to Christmas (here and here) and once in June.

Before I get to Richard Madeley’s interview with Prof Michie, the tweets below show what Communist health policy looks like. We’ve been living under such rules for 16 months and counting.

2018 Daily Mail article

But first, here is a brief retrospective from the time when Jeremy Corbyn was Labour leader.

In 2018, the Daily Mail posted an extensive article about her support of Corbyn and her praise of Communism. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

This is her family background. Much of the £52 million she inherited from her mother was in a Picasso, which she and another family member sold:

Susan Fiona Dorinthea Michie is the granddaughter of Henry McLaren, the 2nd Baron Aberconway, an Eton-educated Edwardian industrialist and Liberal MP. 

He inherited major interests in coal, iron, steel and engineering conglomerates, and created the sumptuous gardens at Bodnant House, a stately home set in 5,000 acres near Snowdonia.

Her mother, Dame Anne McLaren, was born at Aberconway House, the family’s imposing 2,800-square-metre second residence in London‘s Mayfair, and was one of the world’s leading biologists. When she died in 2007, aged 80, she left £52million in her will.

Ms Michie’s father, meanwhile, was an eminent computer scientist who was the son of a wealthy banker whose photo is among the National Portrait Gallery’s collection.

Despite these moneyed roots, the blue-blooded Susan, 62, marches to the beat of her own drum.

She stretches her every sinew in pursuance of a class war as a member of the Communist Party of Britain.

The article then described the speech she gave in early March 2018:

On Monday night, she addressed a meeting of about 40 true believers at the Marx Memorial Library in London’s Clerkenwell.

She delivered her speech while standing beneath a portrait of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, a bronze of Lenin and an array of Soviet flags

Seemingly oblivious to the irony, this lifelong beneficiary of inherited wealth began by saying: ‘We, the working class.’

During the course of a two-hour talk, Ms Michie (whose day-job is as a university academic) made a comment that broke almost a century of hard-Left tradition. 

Britain’s Communist Party, she said, is urging its members to work ‘full tilt’ to help get a Labour prime minister.

This development — after decades of Communists and Labour operating on very separate lines — is a direct result of Labour’s lurch to the hard Left under Jeremy Corbyn.

Already, there have been signs of this change of policy with the Communists deciding last year not to split the Left-wing vote by fielding their own candidates at the General Election.

With the two parties increasingly in harmony (Ms Michie declared it ‘a really good situation to work much more closely than we have in the past’), the Communists — by way of a ‘priority’ — are advising their comrades to actively campaign on Corbyn’s behalf.

In the general election of December 2019, Labour suffered its worst result since 1935.

Sir Keir Starmer eventually replaced Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.

Now on to Michie’s activity as a SAGE member.

Regular media appearances

By May 2020, Michie was already becoming a regular guest on various news programmes:

As Guido Fawkes explained, Michie is not only a member of SAGE but also Independent SAGE, a breakaway group (emphases in the original, those in purple mine):

Susan Michie is a Marxist campaigner who has managed to get herself on not only the activist dominated fake SAGE, she is also on the official SAGE. Quite an achievement and evidence of the time and effort she is dedicating to the cause…

Michie is Professor of Health Psychology and Director of the Centre for Behaviour Change at UCL, so prima facie she has the credentials to be a scientific advisor. What is never mentioned at any point to give context to her many media appearances, in which she usually launches a tirade at the government, is that she has for 40 years been a member of of the Communist Party of Britain.

All this has not precluded her from using family wealth to financially support the Labour Party under the Corbyn leadership. In March 2018, it was Michie who said that the Communist Party would no longer stand against Labour in general elections and she should be “working full tilt” for the election of Corbyn as PM. Hardly surprising given her daughter was appointed under him to Labour HQ and her ex-husband was Corbyn’s close adviser. That illustrates the level of her dedication to far-left politics.

Two days later, the Father of the House, Peter Bottomley MP (Con), appeared on Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme to lambaste the BBC for not revealing her political philosophy and connections:

He said (audio in Guido’s post):

If one of your previous contributors has been a member of a far left party for decades, donated more to the Labour Party under Corbyn than I’ve given to the Tory Party in forty years, was the wife of a former Labour Party special adviser and mother of Labour’s head of complaints, that might have been better than just saying she’s a member of SAGE.

The BBC called Bottomley’s remarks an:

ad hominem attack.

Prof Stephen Reicher, who teaches at St Andrews in Scotland, is another SAGE member who works on SPI-B. He took issue with Prime Minister Boris Johnson for not sacking his then-special adviser Dominic Cummings after his fateful trip to County Durham during lockdown. Michie agreed:

She is clearly not a Boris fan, nor is The Guardian‘s Carole Cadwalladr:

Lockdown and mask fan

In May, it was becoming clear to a segment of the British population that Michie favoured a Chinese-style handling of the pandemic. An Anglican clergyman tweeted:

The accompanying article from Michie in The Psychologist is a mild one about directing the public’s response to the pandemic. Notable is this sentence (emphases mine below):

If these behaviours changed across the population (as seatbelt use and smoking in public places have), the Covid-19 pandemic would extinguish.

In July 2020, masks had been compulsory on public transport since mid-June, but were not yet mandatory elsewhere. Michie told LBC’s Andrew Castle that they must be required:

By November, more Britons were finding out the truth about Michie:

When Boris banned Christmas, lockdown sceptic Dick Delingpole tweeted:

Michie started 2021 by asking why people were not complying with the mask mandate:

In April, mainstream journalists were finally beginning to reveal Michie’s political persuasion:

Guido Fawkes reminded his readers that he had unearthed the information in May 2020:

In June, despite Boris’s stellar rollout of the vaccine programme — still the best in Europe — Michie, laughing, told Channel 5 News that we would have to wear masks ‘forever’ (00:57 – 1:05):

A week later, she complained to Freddie Sayers of UnHerd that she had been misquoted (video at the link):

I actually used four words [in that interview with Channel 5], and only one of them was reported. The full words I used were “forever to some extent”. What I mean by this is that, sadly, this isn’t going to be the last pandemic. For as long as humans are around viruses are going to be around …

In reality, as you can see in the Channel 5 video above, her first answer was ‘Forever’. When the interviewer expressed her astonishment, Michie gave the longer response.

She told Sayers that she wanted a delay to Freedom Day, which was to have been on June 21. She must be happy:

I don’t think there’s really any alternative other than delaying for four weeks and seeing what’s happening. It’s a very tricky situation… I think [Boris] is right — I think the question is: is it going to be sufficient?

She probably opposes the possible July 19 Freedom Day, too.

She clearly did not want to discuss her communist beliefs with Sayers:

My politics are not anything to do with my scientific advice. And I’ve never discussed my politics with people like yourself, so nor am I going to now. And the important thing is that when one gives scientific advice, one does so using the expertise one has — not going beyond the expertise, being transparent about what expertise you provide. And I think that the kind of articles you refer to are a really disturbing kind of McCarthyite witch hunting, which I don’t think should have any place in a liberal tolerant society.

Richard Madeley’s interview

This brings me neatly to Richard Madeley’s interview from Monday morning, July 5.

Guido Fawkes broke the story, along with the video (emphases in the original):

Guido commends Richard Madeley for being the first TV host in the country to invite “Independent” SAGE’s Susan Michie on to their show and finally confront her about her hard-left politics. Madeley rightly points out that activist expert Michie’s love of national Covid restrictions may not be born from her concern for the nation’s health, rather the default policy position of a hard-core, state-loving communist. It looked like Susan didn’t appreciate this line of questioning…

Lockdown Sceptics has the transcript (emphases in purple mine):

Richard Madeley: There’s a point I really have to put to you and you’ll be aware of this because there’s been a lot of commentary about this in the British media about you and it’s to do with your politics and you know what I’m going to ask you. You’ve been a member of the Communist Party for about 40 years now, you’re still a member, and we know that they’re statist. We look at Communist countries around the world and we see that they are tremendously top down dominant and controlled societies that they rule over. I just wonder – and I’m putting this question on behalf of those who wonder about your politics – if your politics actually informs your sense of control? It’s not just the medical arguments, but you have a kind of a political bent to want the state to tell people what to do?

Susan Michie: I’ve come on your programme as a scientist, as do all people who come on to your programme as scientists. They come on to talk about the evidence, relevant theories, how we approach our scientific disciplines, and you don’t ask other scientists about politics so I’m very happy to speak about science which is what my job is and to limit it to that.

RM: So you’re saying that your politics doesn’t inform your opinion on this subject?

SM: I’m saying that I agreed to come on this programme as a scientist and I’m very happy to talk to you about the issues that you’re raising as a scientist which is the same for other scientists that you invite on to the programme.

Michie has a large house in a leafy part of London, but the video clip says Berkshire for her location. So, she must be one of those privileged people with two homes. Could one call her Berkshire place a dacha?

If Michie thought her interview with Richard Madeley was a one-off, she was wrong.

On Tuesday, July 6, Times journalist Matthew Syed brought up her Communism in his interview with the BBC’s Jo Coburn on Politics Live:

Syed mentioned Michie by name and said that it would be wrong for a political agenda to determine a pandemic response:

Guido Fawkes provided this analysis of what Syed said:

On Politics Live earlier Matthew Syed succinctly made the point that Richard Madeley was inching towards yesterday – the issue of the card-carrying communist Susan Michie, of the self-appointed “Independent” SAGE, being given frequent media platforms to smuggle in her political agenda under the guise of “science”. Michie is a committed Marxist ideologue, and central committee member of the British Communist Party. This is relevant.

Marxist analysis understands socialism itself to be a scientific method for understanding and predicting social, economic and material phenomena to derive probable outcomes and probable future developments. Her life-long ideology feeds into her work as director of UCL’s Centre for Behaviour Change. That theoretical underpinning to her ideas on behavioural change and social compliance has gone unexplored even as she has been given a position advising the government in these matters. She has spoken approvingly of the Chinese Communist dictatorship’s authoritarian methods and of her belief that restrictions in Britain should continue “forever, to some extent.” Her whole mindset is one of top-down control and diktat that is incompatible with a free and open society.

Before anyone claims that Syed is a misogynist or a right-wing Murdoch lackey – he has a very readable intellectual column in the Sunday TimesGuido would remind them that he stood as the Labour candidate in the 2001 UK general election. At the very least it is fair to discount Michie’s advice in the light of her ideological activism.

However, as the aforementioned Lockdown Sceptics article says, complete with a tweet, one woman accused Good Morning Britain of misogyny and asked people to stop watching the programme in protest.

Toby Young, who wrote the article, says that her sex had nothing to do with Madeley’s question. It was her politics (emphases mine):

I really don’t get why it was “misogynistic” of Madeley to ask Susan Michie whether her hard left politics have affected her position on mask mandates. Of course they have! After all, forcing people to wear masks as a condition of participating in certain activities is a flagrant breach of their liberty and the reason Michie doesn’t care about that and thinks public health concerns should take priority (even though there’s precious little evidence that masks reduce transmission of the virus) must in part be because she’s a communist, who famously don’t put much value on individual freedom. And the reason Madeley hasn’t put the same question to other members of SAGE is not because Michie’s a woman, but because she’s the only one who’s been a member of the Communist Party for the past 40 years.

True.

However, by July 8, Ofcom, the media watchdog, received 145 complaints about Madeley’s interview:

Guido reported that one of the 145 complainants was Michie herself (emphases in the original):

Ofcom are unlikely to rule against Madeley for asking a question Michie did not want to answer; that’s an editorial judgement way outside Ofcom’s remit. Yet apparently for 145 viewers, it was all too much. Of course, amongst those complaining was Michie herself, who took to Twitter to write:

“A complaint has been submitted and a public apology requested”.

If Michie and 144 other pearl-clutching viewers were upset by Madeley, Guido has to wonder what they thought of Matthew Syed’s comments on Politics Live yesterday…

What concerns me is that Susan Michie might not be the only Communist in SAGE.

If only we could find out more about the political proclivities of the other members.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption has been a doughty opponent of lockdown since last year.

He has given many interviews during that time.

His most recent one was to Freddie Sayers of UnHerd, an excellent site which explores the world of ideas, history and current affairs.

I found out about Lord Sumption’s interview via Guido Fawkes. On Friday, March 5, Guido posted an article about it as well as an ONS (Office for National Statistics) survey about over-80s breaking lockdown rules:

Guido’s post says (emphases in the original):

Buried in the latest ONS data dump of Covid research is a remarkable – if logical – statistic. Just 33% of over 80s have not met with anyone indoors since having their jab, with 43% admitting to meeting with people other than their carers or support bubble after receiving the first dose. After two jabs, this explicit rule-breaking rises to 48%. Despite the widespread rulebreaking, hospitalisation and death rates amongst the age group are tumbling…

Cheeky octogenarians are not alone – spritely 72-year-old Lord Sumption yesterday made a splash by telling UnHerd that “sometimes the most public-spirited thing that you can do with despotic laws like these is to ignore them” – even claiming that a quiet campaign of “civil disobedience” has already begun …

With regard to the vaccine, most in this age group support it enthusiastically, despite the fact that 41% of the survey’s participants experienced side effects after the first dose. Here are more ONS findings on that subject (emphases mine):

    • Of those who had experienced side effects and were still awaiting their second dose of a vaccine, 63% said the side effects would not affect their decision to get the second dose, and 35% were more likely to get the second dose.
    • Around 19 out of 20 over 80s (96%) would be very or somewhat likely to encourage others to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

Also:

Of over 80s who had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, 49% reported that they had met someone who they do not live with, outdoors, since receiving their vaccination; 54% had left home to go shopping, and 45% had left home to participate in outdoor leisure activities.

In contrast, one in five (20%) people who had received at least one dose of a vaccine reported that they had not left home for any reason since receiving their vaccination.

The survey findings add background to what Lord Sumption, 72, told Freddie Sayers of UnHerd.

The video is 51 minutes long and requires concentration:

Note his tie, which has a motif of American flags from the Colonial era with ‘We the People’ printed on it. He also sits with his arms crossed much of the time to hide a physical ailment.

It looks as if they met in his office. Sayers must have been thrilled to resume in-person interviews, as he has had to do them remotely over most of the past year.

Many of the comments beneath the video are from Britons disappointed that Lord Sumption implied that the vaccine will be the only way forward at this point in returning to a normal life. To be fair to him, he did describe it as ‘a regrettable step’ and that ‘people should be prepared to trust each other’, instead (31:00-31:14). Also:

I recognise that most of my fellow citizens want coercive measures.

Unfortunately, I agree with him. There is no way out right now. It is doubtful that the vaccine will be made mandatory by law, but most adults won’t be able to resume much of their prior lives without it. Many employers and businesses will require proof of vaccination. This is likely to also be true for package holidays and international travel.

Lord Sumption talked about how we arrived at this point. He said that the public were afraid of this pandemic and wanted protection from the government. The government protected the public and helped to reinforce the fear factor in their coronavirus briefings and other public statements. Hence, civil liberties went out the window. He said that once those are gone, it is very difficult to regain them, particularly as government ministers enjoy their new roles in controlling the population.

UnHerd has an article with notable quotes from the interview.

On the dangers of public fear, Lord Sumption said:

John Stuart Mill regarded public sentiment and public fear as the principal threat to a liberal democracy. The tendency would be for it to influence policies in a way that whittles away the island within which we are entitled to control our lives to next to nothing. That’s what he regarded as the big danger. It didn’t happen in his own lifetime; it has happened in many countries in the 20th century, and it’s happening in Britain now.

He pointed out that the civil liberties we have taken for granted as being well established are, in fact, highly fragile. They can vanish at any time. To this end, he explained that democratic forms of government are but recent developments in the time line of history:

Democracy is inherently fragile. We have an idea that it’s a very robust system. But democracies have existed for about 150 years. In this country, I think you could say that they existed from the second half of the of the 19th century — they are not the norm. Democracies were regarded in ancient times as inherently self-destructive ways of government. Because, said Aristotle, democracies naturally turn themselves into tyranny. Because the populace will always be a sucker for a demagogue who will turn himself into an absolute ruler

Now, it is quite remarkable that Aristotle’s gloomy predictions about the fate of democracies have been falsified by the experience of the West ever since the beginning of democracy. And I think one needs to ask why that is. In my view, the reason is this: Aristotle was basically right about the tendencies, but we have managed to avoid it by a shared political culture of restraint. And this culture of restraint, which because it depends on the collective mentality of our societies, is extremely fragile, quite easy to destroy and extremely difficult to recreate.

Allow me to add that this is why America’s Founding Fathers established a republic, not a democracy. They feared eventual despotism. The establishment of the Electoral College was also intended to be a safeguard against demagoguery.

Freddie Sayers asked Lord Sumption how we got to the point where we consented to the government taking away our civil liberties when they had been held sacrosanct for so long.

Lord Sumption said that our stability as a society and as a nation relies on the support most citizens have towards national institutions. Once a large enough percentage of people begin to question those, everything is gradually thrown into doubt. Socio-political fissures develop and something or someone comes in to replace what citizens as a whole once respected and valued.

Sayers asked him how he became so outspoken on the government’s coronavirus policies. He replied that no one else was stepping up to do so, therefore, he decided to speak up:

I would very much have preferred the kind of points that I have been consistently making for the last year to have been made by just about anybody else. Those colleagues or former colleagues who disapprove of what I’ve been doing have got a perfectly good point. But there are some issues which are so central to the dilemmas of our time, which are so important, where I think that you have to be prepared to stand up and be counted.

He reiterated his awareness that he is in a minority, however, that small minority from last year is now becoming a ‘significant’ minority.

He thinks the Coronavirus Act 2020 is an example of bad law. As such, he does not feel any moral obligation to obey it and advises each of us to do as we think best as individuals:

I feel sad that we have the kind of laws which public-spirited people may need to break. I have always taken a line on this, which is probably different from that of most of my former colleagues. I do not believe that there is a moral obligation to obey the lawYou have to have a high degree of respect, both for the object that the law is trying to achieve, and for the way that it’s been achieved. Some laws invite breach. I think this is one of them.

Politically, Lord Sumption describes himself as a ‘small-l Liberal’, which is classical liberalism — free market economy and small government — rather than what Americans define as ‘liberal’, meaning left-wing.  He served as a Justice of the Supreme Court under David Cameron’s and Theresa May’s Conservative governments.

He had this advice for Boris Johnson’s government:

My first proposal is that governments should not treat information as a tool for manipulating public behaviour. They should be calmer than the majority of their citizens; they should be completely objective. My second lesson would be that governments dealing with scientific issues should not allow themselves to be influenced by a single caucus of scientists. They should always test what they are being told in a way that, for instance, judges test expert opinion by producing a counter expert, and working out which set of views stacks up best.

In other words, the government should stop ginning up fear and listen to scientists other than those on SAGE.

In closing, while watching the video and based on nothing at all, I had a recurring thought that Lord Sumption is an opera lover.

Afterwards, I looked up his Wikipedia entry. Amazingly, I found this:

An opera lover, he serves as a director of the English National Opera and as a governor of the Royal Academy of Music.[46]

I do wish Boris and Co. would meet with Lord Sumption, listen carefully to what he has to say, then act on his advice.

In closing, curtailment of civil liberties can extend to protests. There are the correct kind of protests, such as those in June 2020. Then there are the wrong type of protests.

This one was obviously in the latter category, because the organiser received a £10,000 fine:

Currently, the only places in the UK where a group of people can gather to discuss anything outside the home are the two Houses of Parliament.

An MP pointed that out last week.

As he said, that is wrong on so many levels.

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