As our hopeless, hapless government dithers around the re-opening of the UK economy, it is increasingly clear that it has no vision, no plan and no basic competence at what it was elected to do.
Ministers’ constant refrain is that they are being ‘guided by the science’. But that’s only a part of their job. Their job is the political one, of balancing competing views and pressures, creating a credible forward strategy for the whole country, and executing it competently. Different pressure groups have competing arguments and, as part of its communication strategy, a competent government would expose those arguments to public view.
We don’t have any of that. Instead, we have a government that appears to be under the thumb of a medical pressure group whose primary argument is contained in a pandemic model, the core assumptions of which the government has not published. If you don’t know the assumptions, you can’t question the model. While that might be how the medical pressure group likes things, it’s exactly the opposite of transparent. While the failures of leadership in the early stages of the UK’s pandemic are increasingly well understood (a PM who couldn’t be bothered to attend COBRA but did ignore basic advice on hand-shaking, the extended shortage of PPE, the ejection from hospitals of infected patients to Care Homes, and so on), the later stages have even more serious long term implications.
The government has shuttered the economy, the health service and education. It has side-lined the environment and belatedly quarantined the UK from the rest of the world. The UK government cannot even co-ordinate its plans with those of the devolved governments within the UK, as a result of which everything is happening at four different speeds and in four different ways within a highly inter-connected socio-economic polity. And, in order to keep the country afloat, the government is spending hundreds of billions of pounds that is has no idea where they’re coming from.
The retail, hospitality and entertainment industries cannot work with 2 meter social distancing. The WHO recommends 1 meter, but the UK’s medical pressure group prefers 2. The government is unable to balance the ‘advice’ of the medical establishment against the needs of businesses and employees, the seriously ill and the health service or our children. We face the longest, deepest recession in living memory at the same time as UK NHS waiting lists grow from 4.5 million to 10 million and our young people lose the best part of a year from their education. The likely outcome is a massive increase in poverty, in long term ill health and in chronic illnesses, and a generation of young people whose education has been severely disrupted in order to protect the seriously at-risk groups that could, and should, have been better protected from the outset.
I don’t elect Chris Whitty to make political decisions about what happens in the UK. It’s past time for the government to take control, to find a balance between competing pressures and to set out a credible plan that gets us out of this mess. And then gets on with delivering it.