There’s a huge amount of suspicion and distrust about the actions of the British government during this crisis. A lot of it is with very good reason. Yet there are questions founded on convincing and solid evidence and questions which are not. It’s vital during this crisis that we do not allow ourselves to become distracted by questions where there is no solid or convincing evidence and fall down a rabbit hole of unfounded conspiracy theorising. Allowing ourselves to do so merely helps the British government to wriggle off the hook on those questions where there is substantial and substantive evidence that they’re not being entirely honest with us. Those basterts need to be held to account once all this is over, and we must not do anything which might help them to get away with it.
There is a pressing need for this government to explain how it squandered the advantage that the UK had when this epidemic was getting established in other parts of Europe but had still to have a severe impact in the UK. As neighbouring countries went into lockdown, the UK was still permitting mass gatherings to go ahead at the Cheltenham races, and was very reluctant to introduce social distancing measures.
There is a real concern that the British government is deliberately suppressing the true extent of the epidemic by not reporting deaths due to the virus which occur outside hospitals. There is no convincing argument for them to do this, since both Scotland and Wales are reporting all deaths where the virus is listed on the death certificate. There’s no real reason for England not to do so too. There are fears that hundreds of deaths are going unreported in care homes and in the community which would show that England – where the Conservatives have sole responsibility for the NHS and public services – is coping with this crisis far worse than the rest of the UK.
There are concerns that government ministers are using their privilege and connections in order to secure special treatment for themselves and their families. Michael Gove managed to get a test for his daughter when she was displaying mild symptoms, yet NHS workers still can’t get tested.
There are serious issues with the provision of personal protection equipment for staff in the NHS, care facilities, and essential workers. And above all this is a crisis which is being dealt with by public services which are threadbare and worn out from the cumulative effects of a decade of the Conservatives’ ideologically driven austerity.
There is a real concern that the British government is still pursuing a version of the herd immunity strategy and has not totally abandoned it. There is extremely solid evidence to believe that the British government did, despite its denials, pursue the discredited herd immunity strategy during the early weeks of this crisis. By doing so they lost valuable time, and this may yet lead to the UK becoming one of the worst affected states in Europe in terms of deaths from the virus. The contrast between the UK death rate – where England’s figures still don’t include deaths outside hospitals – and the death rate in countries like Ireland or Denmark is sobering. That’s an example of a serious question, one which is it right and proper to press the government on. It’s only one of many.
None of these are questions which the British government is keen to answer right now, and they’re being aided by a media where there are significant press and broadcasting outlets which are not keen to pursue them either. As the daily death toll, the death toll that the government admits to, reached almost 1000 a day, the headlines on the BBC were still about the health of Boris Johnson. Yet even when questions are asked of the government, the ministers who present the daily government press conferences are studious in their efforts not to answer them. In fact not answering questions is the only thing that the British government is really efficient at.
So it’s not like the Conservatives are behaving in a totally transparent and honest way. Once this crisis has passed, there is a huge stack of questions for them to answer. Questions which can’t be brushed away by elevating Boris Johnson to the status of sainthood just because he was unfortunate enough to become infected and even more unfortunate to suffer severe symptoms. They are not going to come out of the other side of this crisis covered in glory. That is assuming that the questions will ever get asked. Which is itself a pretty big question.
But there are also supicions which are misplaced. It’s important that we focus on the real reasons where we have plausible evidence which can be used to hold this government to account and avoid falling prey to some suspicions where there is no such solid evidence. There are a lot of wild theories out there just now, as people are stuck at home and are forced to rely on a media which is patently failing to do its job of holding power to account, and where social media is a morass of fact, reliable information, misinformation, and the outright crazy. If we fall into the trap of espousing theories for which there is no solid or plausible evidence then we risk discrediting those arguments where there are solid and compelling reasons to suggest that the British government is being untrustworthy, and allowing them to get away with it. Because then the government and its apologists will simply dismiss everything you say as being the views of a crank, a conspiracy theorist, or someone who is a malign actor.
However there are rumours circulating on social media which are not backed by strong evidence. These rumours are fueled by the certain knowledge that the British government is composed of liars, charlatans, malign incomptents, and idiots. So if they’re prepared to lie about one thing, if they are incompetent about another and then lie to cover it up, on the face of it it’s reasonable to assume that they’re going to lie about everything else as well. After all, only a fool trusts anything that a known liar says. But the thing about liars is that not everything that they say needs to be lie, and they will use the things they say that are truthful to discredit those who accuse them of lying about the things that they are indeed lying about. Liars tell us that falsehoods are the truth, and so after a while they end up making us believe that even the truth must be a falsehood.
An example of a story which is helpful to the Conservatives is circulating on social media just now. That’s the claim that Boris Johnson was faking his illness. It’s not difficult to understand why people might believe this claim. We all know that Boris Johnson is a liar and an opportunist. He’s built his entire career on an edifice of lies and untruths, so why should his illness be any different? Is it plausible that he’d lie about it? Sure. He’s lied about so many other things.
However unless there is hard evidence, it’s not helpful to speculate that Boris Johnson didn’t “really” suffer from severe effects of covid-19 and didn’t “really” need to go into intensive care. Equally it’s not helpful to claim that he has, in your non-medical opinion, recovered “suspiciously quickly”. Everyone’s experience of this disease will be different. Some people will get infected and show no symptoms at all. Others will display only mild symptoms. Those who are unfortunate enough to experience more severe symptoms will display a range of reactions and will vary dramatically in how they cope with their symptoms and how they recover from them, or sadly how they fail to recover from them. Every individual has a unique response to the same condition. That’s a fundamental tenet of medicine. That’s one of the reasons why they call it the art of medicine. Since it’s relatively easy for the Conservatives to rebut this claim, it only serves to discredit those who voice other – better founded – suspicions about this government’s dishonesty. By falling prey to suspicions that we can’t back up convincingly, we only make it easier for Boris Johnson and his parade of ministerial charlatans to get away with all their many many other lies.
So let’s make sure that we don’t allow the Conservatives to escape responsibility by painting their critics as cranks or conspiracy theorists. When we fall prey to making accusations for which there is no strong evidence we merely make it easier for the Conservatives to avoid accountability for their very real lies and failings. It’s not like we don’t already have plenty of metaphorical rope with which to hang them. Their lies will have consequences.
And finally, because we could all do with some cheering up during these difficult times…
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