Confusion and Incompetence Again

I watched the Prime Minister’s address last night. My reactions were a combination of confusion, horror and then anger at the sheer incompetence of it.

The first tweet I looked at afterwards had only two words: “herd immunity”. That was my thought too.

The next thing I read was that the address was recorded on Saturday. A meeting of the cabinet was arranged for Sunday afternoon ostensibly to discuss it, but almost all members were presented with a fait accompli. They did not know what Johnson was going to say. The address was ready and the supporting documents apparently printed – although nobody who needs to know what is in them had seen them by Monday morning.

Some obvious questions:

1. What does “Stay alert” mean? People in general have obeyed the “Stay at Home” slogan because they understood it and because it is enforceable with penalties which were imposed on offenders. How can you enforce “Stay Alert”?

2. People who cannot work at home are being encouraged to go back to work, but how can they be sure that their workplace is safe? Employers want to be told what to do and need time to prepare. It has also been noted that this policy favours people who can work at home who are more likely to be in better paid jobs.

3. People were told to avoid public transport, but to use their cars or cycle to get to work. Won’t this create traffic jams and make cycling far more dangerous? As I write this, I hear Sadiq Khan saying that 29 London bus drivers have died of Covid.

4. The idea of sending Reception and Year 1 pupils back to school first has been described by teachers’ leaders as “reckless”. How can children of this age be kept 2m apart?

5. The UK is one of the few countries which did not start to quarantine arriving people weeks ago. There are plenty of anecdotes from arriving passengers who have seen restrictions at other airports. We hear that this won’t start in the UK for another 3 weeks. Why is it taking so long?

Testing has been the key in those countries which have had lower death rates and are releasing the lockdown. There was no mention of testing in the address, presumably because Johnson didn’t want to draw attention to how abysmal it has been. The government has met its objective of 100,000 tests per day only once, by massaging the figures to include the number of tests which had been mailed out, but not used. Germany has been doing at least 250,000 tests per day.

Somebody on the Radio 4 Today Programme this morning was claiming great success with the trials of the much-heralded contact tracing app in the Isle of Wight. But then he said that 30% of the population had downloaded it and it doesn’t work on Huawei, and some old iPhone and Android phones. Weren’t we told that it needs to be used by about at least 60% of the population in order for it to work? And what is the problem with the existing Apple/Google app which is already being used in so many other countries? Not-invented-here is as good an answer as any to this question.

If you want to change policies, the first thing you need to do is to get people who are affected by them on board. What consultation has there been with employers and workers? The TUC leader had not been made aware of any its content before the PM gave his address. And what about the involvement of the other political parties? Keir Starmer did his best to stay calm when he gave his initial reactions but he had plenty of obvious questions. Ed Davey had more constructive criticism on the Westminster Hour later on.

The second thing you need to do is to show complete clarity in what is to happen. We definitely don’t have this. The main reaction to the PM’s address has been confusion. What a contrast with the clarity shown by Nicola Sturgeon who has conducted the press conferences in Scotland every day.

Having different approaches in different areas of the country doesn’t make sense overall. Plenty of people have to move around for work. And what will happen if those who aren’t working just take days off going to areas of the country where there is less infection?

Hidden in the mixed messaging there seems to be a return to the idea of letting as many people as possible catch the virus to generate some level of immunity in the population. The NHS has coped so far, but there is some scientific evidence that having had the virus does not make you immune.

Yet herd immunity appears to be firmly back on the agenda. This is the policy promoted by Dominic Cummings, the unelected psychopath who seems to be running the country. Remember that Cummings has written about eugenics and that he is the architect of the mendacious slogans put out by Vote Leave in 2016. Has Turkey joined the EU yet?

The morning after his address Boris has run away again. When Prime Ministers make an important announcement to the country, it is customary for them to appear on the Radio 4 Today Programme the next day to defend and amplify what they have said. Instead we had more waffle from Dominic Raab.

Brexit remains on the agenda. The government has been overwhelmed with dealing with the virus. How on earth can it cope with the Brexit negotiations, the greatest economic reorganisation in the UK for decades, at the same time? The government is pressing on with its agenda of leave with No Deal on 1 January 2021. The only reason for this must be so that it can blame the Brexit-related economic downturn on Covid-19. Instead of the economy recovering from the effects of the virus, billions will be spent every year on Michael Gove’s 50,000 new customs officers. Does anyone honestly think that they will all be trained and in place within 7.5 months?

People working in the NHS and related occupations have made heroic sacrifices to tackle this virus. Some have lost their lives. They deserve every possible means of thanks, but there must be a reason why the UK, the world’s 6th largest economy, has the highest number of Covid-19 related deaths in Europe. History will show a story of incompetence and mixed messaging from the government.

Dealing with the virus is essentially a management issue. Where is the management here?

Covid-19 is not going to go away until we get a vaccine. One big ray of daylight is the competence shown by the Oxford group who are developing a vaccine. They have moved ahead as fast as possible in their research, and – what is also very important – they have planned ahead and forged an alliance with a major drug manufacturer. Together they are now working on setting up a system which will be ready to manufacture large amounts of the vaccine as soon as they can show it works.

In the meantime the government continues to play catch-up with muddled thinking and mixed messages.

I have come to the conclusion that the only two criteria used to select members of the current cabinet is that they have signed up to a No Deal Brexit and that they can talk for a long time without ever saying anything of substance.

I have never ever understood why people voted for Boris Johnson. We need decisive leadership, not a bumbling showman.

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