Britishness, Politics, Rant, Truth

The Lockdown Files

The Lockdown Files” is the name of a series of investigative reports in the Daily Telegraph, reports which are currently rocking the United Kingdom, having to do with the government’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic.  Keep in mind that the governmental structure in the UK is much flatter than it is in the US, that there are nation-states, rather than state-states, that Scotland and Northern Ireland enjoy the supposed benefits of a pretty devolved and independent government and mostly did their own thing during Covid, but that much of what’s presented here applies all over England and largely in Wales.

A little background: Matt Hancock, a Tory (but very recently turned Independent) politician who’s held posts in various Cabinet departments over the past decade was, for most of the pandemic years, Boris Johnson’s Health Secretary.  He’s widely disliked across party lines, and not too long ago became the (scuttle)butt of much opprobrium following a very public display of affection with his mistress (Hancock was married at the time), in which he not only violated public decorum, but also ran afoul of the social-distancing laws regarding intermingling of people from different households which he was rigorously attempting to enforce on the general population.

After resigning as Health Secretary, and while doing his best to recover from that indiscretion, he signed up, in November of 2022, for a tour of duty on one of the British I’m A Celebrity shows, and ended up spending several weeks in the Australian jungle eating camel penises, digging himself into a hole full of moles, and undergoing the dreaded Flood in Your Face trial, where contestants submerge their heads in a tank of water and allow unpleasant creepy-crawlies to wander at will all over their faces.

And you thought John Fetterman had issues.  I can’t even.

For his sins on the show, Hancock (while still a sitting Member of Parliament supposedly working for the good of his constituents) was paid something on the order of $400K, of which he donated about $10K to charity, declaring it to be “a decent amount.”  He was summarily stripped of his role as party Whip, and has been the target of considerable public fury and ridicule ever since.

Just in case you think I am exaggerating Hancock’s penchant for poor judgment and public self-immolation, in April of last year, he announced that he would co-author, with journalist Isabel Oakeshott, The Pandemic Diaries, a book not actually based on his diaries, but merely his recollections of how brilliantly he had handled the national lockdowns (which were far more severe than almost anything that happened on this side of the pond, and for which the consequences of violation, even the smallest way, were draconian).  The book was published in December 2022.  Reviews were generally scathing.

Fast forward a couple of months to February 2022, and Isabel Oakeshott’s handing over to the Daily Telegraph of over 100,000 WhatApp messages in her possession from her days co-writing the book.  The messages are to and from Matt Hancock and his colleagues in the government and in the health sector, over the course of the pandemic, and reveal a veritable treasure trove of one devastating revelation after another.

Upon being accused by Hancock of a “massive betrayal,” Oakeshott replied:

Was it right to reveal the truth about the way we were governed during the pandemic, or should I have sat on WhatsApps I received from Matt Hancock, because I owed him a duty of confidentiality? Is it my job as a journalist to keep politicians’ secrets and protect their reputations – or uncover what they’d prefer to hide, if it’s in the public interest?

Recognizing that there’s probably some self-serving going on there too, it’s an interesting question.  The Great British public has answered with a massive show of support for Oakeshott, and have turned Hancock into perhaps the most-reviled political villain since John Profumo.  (Who, after his own defenestration, lived an exemplary private life in service to others, and was eventually rewarded with a seat to the right of the late Queen at a dinner celebrating Mrs. Thatcher’s 70th birthday.  I foresee no such display of integrity or offer of any such redemption in Matt Hancock’s future.)

As detailed in the WhatsApp messages, the betrayals of the British public are immense, starting with the policies for care homes in which–as in the United States–thousands of elderly residents died, many probably needlessly while politicians and smug Covid czars mouthed platitudes about protecting the most vulnerable.  In the UK, Hancock proudly touted his “ring of steel” around care homes, put there for the protection of the residents.  The actual policies, as implemented, show that Hancock dismissed medical advice that all home care residents and staff should be vaccinated, and that only full-time staff and existing residents and residents coming into the home from hospitals had to be vaccinated.

Healthcare, and auxiliary, workers who ‘floated’ from one facility to another didn’t need to be vaccinated at the time, and neither did new residents coming the facility from anywhere other than hospitals.  So, at the height of the Covid pandemic, a mobile population of unvaccinated workers was moving from facility to facility, and new, unvaccinated, untested, elderly residents were moving in on a regular basis. At the same time, the residents’ family members, whether vaccinated, or tested, or not, were flatly denied any physical access to their loved ones in the homes, could not be with them during their health challenges, and couldn’t even sit at their sides while they died.  There are no words adequate to describe how livid the public is about this.

Other messages reveal a remarkable degree of condescension towards the masses, who are often treated like mushrooms, manipulated by politicians, and are the object of repeated attempts to scare them into compliance:

“We frighten the pants off everyone,” Matt Hancock suggested during one WhatsApp message with his media adviser.

Discussion of what’s generally come to be known as “Covid theater” abound.  Mask wearing?  Thumbs up, because it has a “very visible impact.”  Banning trout fishing (which was actually under consideration)? Thumbs down because (a rare moment of self-awareness) it would be “parodied galore.”  Establish that “fear and guilt are vital tools” and shame the populace into compliance.  Reopen the London “Nightingale” hospital, because that’ll scare people into thinking things are really bad (these seven enormous emergency field hospitals, built in mere weeks all over England at the start of the pandemic were–like the Navy ship hospitals Donald Trump sent to New York, barely used at all, and when they were, almost exclusively admitted non-Covid patients).

And, yes, let’s seriously consider, early in the pandemic, whether the government should require that all citizens have their pet cats killed because the cats might be spreading the disease. (A proposal whose existence was subsequently confirmed and defended by former Health Minister Lord Bethell, on the basis that–at the time–they really didn’t know anything about the disease.  Why ignorance should be a defense against unconscionable acts for these appalling people, when it’s one they never extend for the benefit of others, is totally beyond me.)

The enormity of the betrayal of public trust exposed in these communications is staggering, and goes on and on, from Hancock’s determined efforts to destroy the career of a much-respected and influential scientist and member of the government’s advisory group who criticized the lockdown policies, to PPE contracts for his friends, to the arbitrary and capricious rationales for closing schools, to the jokes told among themselves about people having to suffer through unreasonable quarantines in unspeakable conditions:

The rather disheveled elephant in the room at this point, as is so often the case with British politics, is Boris Johnson.  Initially a lockdown sceptic, he reversed himself at some point, and became a staunch supporter of his government’s recommendations.  I can’t quite tell if he was a willing stooge, or a co-conspirator, but at least I haven’t seen anything yet to indicate that he was on board with, or exhibited, the juvenile, anything goes, “let’s haze the pubic,” “frat-boy” attitude of many of his deputies.  Still, he was the Prime Minister, and he should have known, and done, better.  I think any thoughts and hopes he may have had of the resurgence or rehabilitation of his political career anytime soon have gone out the window, at least for now.

Rishi Sunak, on the other hand, emerges from the mess fairly well and as something of a grownup, with a rational degree of lockdown skepticism, and a thirst for actual truth and data.  He may lose the next election (he probably will), but at least he hasn’t embarrassed himself here.  However, many of the Tories have a lot to answer for, and I think they’ll pay at the ballot box.

God bless the Telegraph for committing what Rush Limbaugh used to call a “random act of journalism” and staying on the case.  They aren’t finished yet, and I can’t wait to see what tomorrow’s installment brings.

1 thought on “The Lockdown Files”

  1. The self-immolation of the Tories continues to amaze me. And in so doing they will leave Labour, a party entirely detatched from reality in so many other ways, as the de-facto victor here. As a lifelong anglophile I’m very saddened by all this.

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