On Monday, Rishi Sunak will appear at the Covid Inquiry. It barely matters what he says because it is as predictable as sunrise that he will be pilloried for the mistakes of others, that being the modern purpose of politicians, it seems.
In his own appearance, Boris Johnson said that he was “very much impressed and dependent upon the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser, both of whom are outstanding experts in their field”. Weren’t we all? In those early months of 2020, most of us trusted Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty to find the best way through the impending pandemic. We were glad to “follow the science”.
Yet now we have to listen to a lawyer, Hugo Keith KC, tell us with the benefit of three years of hindsight, that the entire pandemic was all the fault of politicians.
The virus, the Chinese regime and the scientists are spotless in their reputations, it seems. Had Sunak and Johnson acted differently, then apparently almost nobody would have died.
This is claptrap. No country – not Sweden, not Japan, not Outer Mongolia – escaped the pandemic. Britain suffered about as many waves of the virus and excess deaths per head of population as France, Germany, and Italy, and rather better than Spain. Many places that did well in the first wave did badly in later waves.
Not that Mr Keith knows this: he shamelessly told Mr Johnson that Britain had one of the worst pandemics in Europe and had to be corrected by the former prime minister.
Never in the history of Britain have politicians so clearly abandoned their own policies and instincts at the behest of the technocrats. This was made plain day after day as the scientists took to the airwaves and stood behind podiums, saying nothing different from the politicians who echoed and praised them.
Unsurprisingly, the scientists got a lot wrong. I vividly remembering attending a packed meeting on March 10 2020 in the House of Lords at which Dr Whitty told us that there was no risk in travelling on public transport. “Yerwhat?” I thought. He appeared to be entirely in thrall to the “it’s not airborne” myth.
Then I remember the experts going too far in the opposite direction: showing inaccurate slides to justify a second lockdown in the autumn of 2020, using idiotic models to demand an unnecessary (as it turned out) third lockdown in December 2021, and failing utterly to take into account the damage lockdowns were doing to mental health, children’s education and cancer diagnoses.
Boris Johnson also made mistakes, of course, but if anything he listened too much to scientific advisers – both before and after he nearly died of the disease. His biggest mistake, in my view, was to abandon – at the experts’ behest – a Swedish-style voluntary lockdown for a draconian and compulsory one, which has devastated children’s education and resulted in an epidemic of deaths from cancer and heart disease.
Yet we now know that on excess deaths Sweden did better than almost any country in Europe; economically, too, it suffered less harm.
Excuses about Sweden being an obedient and low-density population are irrelevant – because the “experts” sang a very different tune at the time.
They did not say, “Oh well, it might work in Sweden but not here”; they said Sweden would become “the world’s cautionary tale”, was “unlikely to feel economic benefit”, a “catastrophe”, a “disaster”. Yet Mr Keith appears to be blissfully unaware of all this.
More and more, it looks as if this inquiry, set up by the Blob, staffed and run by the Blob, sees its job as blaming the politicians and excusing the Blob.
Indeed, I sometimes wonder, as I watch politicians taking the blame for the blunders of quangoes and agencies, whether that is all elected legislators now are: designated scapegoats.
If the lesson the inquiry learns is that everything would have been fine if a different team of politicians had been elected in 2019, that will be not only wrong but dangerous.
The five true lessons of the pandemic are: epidemiology is unpredictable so planning ahead won’t work; changing course can be sensible; authoritarianism is a mistake; experts do not have a monopoly on wisdom; and there are always trade-offs.
When Sunak makes his appearance, I bet you will not hear these.