Is UK PM Boris Johnson now a prisoner of “the science” again? – the case for and against

The UK is battening down the hatches again on Covid-19 after ONS figures reveal the number of cases in the UK is rising again.

PM Boris Johnson has delayed a further series of lockdown relaxations (theatres etc) alongside new localised lockdowns in the north of England. This follows a dire warning from chief scientific office Chris Whitty that freeing things up has gone far enough and, today, professor Graham Medley (left), chairman of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) sub-group on pandemic modelling warning:

“I think we’re in a situation whereby most people think that opening schools is a priority for the health and wellbeing of children and that when we do that we are going to reconnect lots of households.

“And so actually, closing some of the other networks, some of the other activities may well be required to enable us to open schools.

“It might come down to a question of which do you trade off against each other, and then that’s a matter of prioritising. Do we think pubs are more important than schools?”

Hardly surprisingly, yet another dire prediction from a prominent medic has caused a degree of consternation among supporters of re-opening the economy and returning to (fairly) normal life.

So are the scientists – “the science” as the Government liked to call in its in its daily briefings – taking over again? Despite their questionable record?

The case against the science

1/They’ve been wrong, pretty much all along.

2/They failed to notice that Covid-19 different was a different virus to flu, for which they’d prepared. Despite having plenty of warning.

3/The all-powerful Sage committee couldn’t make its mind up about anything. It took the PM’s advisor Dominic Cummings to tell them with to get on with lockdown as the number of Covid-19 cases was increasing exponentially.

4/Medic after medic seems to be competing for press release headlines – “we’re all going to die” – without much evidence.

5/Do medics study even basic economics? If you close down social life and the economy for ever you run out of money. Then they’d have to wave goodbye to their high salaries, gold-plated pensions, golden handshakes when they retire and second homes in France. The NHS doesn’t make any money, it consumes about 30% of the UK’s GDP (it’s the biggest employer in Europe) and it still doesn’t work.

6/Johnson surely knows this. So why does he respond like one of Pavlov’s dogs to everything they say? The latest missive from Sage is that there might be “civil unrest” if lockdown goes on or increases. Is civil unrest part of their remit? It’s none of their business.

7/And is pubs for schools a meaningful trade-off? Or do they just want to ban anything that might be bad for your health?

The case for the science (and BoJo.)

1/People’s lives and well-being are at stake so we have to try anything that’s going. Even if, like face masks, there’s little evidence they work.

2/Whenever there’s a proper public inquiry we’ll all be in the shit so we have to extra careful to mind our backs now, whatever the economic consequences. Knighthoods are in jeopardy.

3/We have to be seen to be doing something – if it doesn’t work we can always blame the medics.

4/The power of slogans will always get us off the hook. Didn’t ‘Get Brexit Done’ win an election?

5/Something might turn up – like a vaccine.

Can’t think of much else, but you be the judge.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

One comment

  1. Avatar

    Great piece. I think a lot of this comes down to Oxbridge liberal arts graduates having an inferiority complex around STEM graduates. I noted this a lot on Radio 4 when I used to listen to it – how Melvyn Bragg et al would wax lyrical about these modern gods, who went a step beyond their literary and philosophical yet not scientific revered mental prowess.
    I imagine the low powered third rate Cabinet are absolutely enraptured and spell bound by these scientific wizards who hold certainty in their grips. Oh what these power mad politicians would give to hold such a grip on absolute truth. Now is their chance, let’s abdicate our responsibilities and facilties and let’s give these (in truth) flawed, non certain and politically biased scientists a free ride.
    The longer this goes on, the more I hope they get every single decision wrong. The entirity of the establishment, all political parties not just the government need to be shown to have got this spectacularly wrong.