For the moment the Conservative Party is riding high in the opinion polls with 43% of the electorate supporting it and Labour trailing behind with just 34%. We poor Liberal Democrats have a mere 9% (though frankly I'm pleased that anyone notices us at all) and the Greens, in spite of the current interest in tackling the climate crisis, an even merer (if such a word exists) 5%.*
The Troy popularity is assumed to be due to a "Vaccine Bounce": the successful, and for once really "word beating" distribution of the anti COVID vaccine. It seems to go unnoticed that this success is the result of using the NHS and local authority Public Health teams, conspicuously ignored in the Test Trace and Isolate system which was handed over to the private sector, and, at an estimated cost of £37bn , continues to fail dismally.
This feeling of "Well done, the Tories, pulled it off in the end," is perhaps natural, but highly illogical and irresponsible.
We still have the highest total number of deaths in Europe, although in per capita terms we have fallen to about 10th in the world league, with 190 deaths per 100 000, just behind Italy with 192. Given that Italy was afflicted by the pandemic well ahead of other European countries, had we bothered to learn from their experience we should be way behind
The Sunday Times "Insight Team's" investigation, "Failures of State" ( Mudlark 2021) gives stick and lift** but I'll just highlight five areas which should not be forgotten:
- The failure to act on the recommendations of the Cygnus Exercise (2016 - when the Tories were in power and have been ever since) which tested Britain's ability to deal with a pandemic. We were found wanting but most of the 26 recommendations to improve our ability to cope were ignored (pp88-90).
- The failure to take prompt action when the dangers of the pandemic first became apparent in January 2020 (Rugby international and Goodwood Racing events allowed to go ahead, Prime Minister Johnson boasting of shaking hands with people possibly infected, no lockdown until well into March.) This delay is estimated to have cost some 25 000 excess deaths. (p 320)
- Access to intensive care beds for those who needed them was determined by a Triage Tool which rated patients according to age, frailty and "underlying conditions." Anyone with a score of eight or above was excluded. Given that those over 80 were given a score of nine for age alone, that autoerotically excluded them (us) however robust and lacking in underlying conditions they (we ) might be. Only one in nine of the patients who died in hospital were given the highest level of critical care. Health Secretary Matt Hancock's claim that the NHS was "never overwhelmed " was only achieved by sacrificing, among others, the elderly. (pp250 and 251)
- The failure to order a "circuit breaker" lockdown to coincide with an extended "half term" break for schools in October 2020. Had this been implemented it is estimated that 1.3 million people fewer people would have been infected and somewhere between 6 000 and 13 000 people might still be alive. (p 378)
- The permission for a "three household" indoor hug-in for five days over Christmas, which was reduced to one day on Christmas Eve when most had already made plans. A spike in deaths followed some two weeks later.
Others might highlight other aspects of the disastrous mismanagement (medical staff protecting themselves with bin bags because of the lack of PPE, for example.) Suggestions welcome
Sadly not all those who will be voting in our local and devolved national elections on 6th May will have read the book. Many who have will find excuses. But most, if they are rational, will modify their voting intentions accordingly.
* The combined Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green total comes to 48%, still not half the Electorate, but enough the beat the Tories if we had the sense to combine into a Progressive Alliance.
**A Yorkshire expression for "all you could possibly want to know and more besides."