April 13th, 2020


See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Ask No Questions

Yesterday the total of Coronavirus deaths in the UK exceeded 10,0000, and the chief scientific adviser said the country would likely be the worst-affected country in Europe. Predictably, the headline writers and the BBC chose to focus on Boris Johnson sitting up in bed and managing to peck at a piece of toast. Tough call, I know.

Yesterday also saw the leak (notably not publication) of a report which detailed (which very extensive quotations from internal emails etc.) the huge campaign within Labour Party HQ to undermine Corbyn, notably in the 2017 election - where they saw defeat and another five years of Tory rule as a price well worth paying to get rid of him. Oddly, this didn't make the headlines either, and is being sat on as far as possible by Keir Starmer, the new leader.

I've not entirely made my mind up about Starmer yet, but the signs aren't good. For a start, he brought Rachel Reeves back into the Shadow Cabinet, whose most memorable quotation (when she was shadow Work and Pensions Secretary in 2015) was: "We are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen, and we're not, the party to represent those who are out of work." Then he declared that "now is not the time" to ask the government tough questions about their handling of the current crisis. Good call, Keir! Let's leave it until it's too late to make any difference!

One question I should like to ask is, what is the current status of the advice from the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland (who has since resigned in disgrace, having twice driven to her second home after warning against non-essential travel) that: "There is actually very little impact on virus spread from mass gatherings, particularly if they are in the open air"? That advice was used to justify holding the Cheltenham Festival from 10th March, where 250,000 lovers of the turf gathered to watch the Gold Cup and similarly vital (not to say viral) activities. (The organisers also cited Boris Johnson's attendance at an international rugby game days earlier in their decision to proceed: if the PM himself was going to mass gatherings it must be safe, right? He must know what he's doing - right?)

Now, however, people who live in flats or in houses without gardens, and who sunbathe on their own in public parks, are being moved on (and sometimes fined) by the police, and pilloried in newspapers as disgraces to society who might as well be pouring buckets of coronavirus over the heads of hardworking nurses. I'm no epidemiologist, but there does seem to be a disconnect here.

Another question I should like to ask. Fully a third of coronavirus victims are from ethnic minority backgrounds (in the UK population generally the figure is 14%). In the medical professions, where ethnic minorities are more heavily represented, the skew is even greater. What is being done to determine the reasons for this? Can it be wholly accounted for in terms of, for example, class (many working class people have less opportunities for effective self-isolation; many have had to continue working in hazardous jobs: supermarket tills, deliveries, Amazon warehouses, etc.); or is there another (e.g. genetic) reason for it?

A third question, albeit rhetorical because I already know the answer. In the light of this crisis, will Priti Patel be reassessing her idea of what counts as a skill and/or vital worker?