The advisors have not been free to speak

A couple of weeks ago I joined a zoom meeting of Scientists for Labour a group affiliated to the Labour Party.  The speaker was physicist and veteran science policy adviser Sir David King.  He served Labour and Conservative governments.  Under the Blair government he ran a large foresight programme for major events such as a pandemic.  He now chairs the Independent SAGE, which appears to comprise the experts one might have expected a government to have consulted in managing a pandemic.  The meeting is publicly available.  While he talked I tried to sketch (not very well) and made a few notes.

Here he talks about the fact that the UK had been a world leader in preparedness for such a pandemic, setting out how to manage such an event in 2006.

“the biggest foresight program I ran  was on the infectious diseases … our report … said that it was highly likely that a pandemic of the kind that has just occurred would occur … it might emerge from a wild animal … it would spread around the world very rapidly … within 3 months … it would have a genetic make up that we would have no defences against … we set out what should be done, the WHO was represented on the group … and it is kind of surprising and amazingly annoying that the country that produced this report … and the WHO responded very well … that we are the country that sits behind every country in terms of our operation.  Sixty five thousand excess deaths to date …”

 “it is difficult to believe a word of what the government is saying”.

“complete mishandling of this pandemic of appalling proportions”.

“… this looks like criminal behaviour …”

“A vast number of people have died unnecessarily …”


16 responses to “The advisors have not been free to speak

  1. I was also dismayed by the poor response we had to this epidemic, given the work our scientists had done in this field. Seems like gross incompetence by our leaders. But then, what choice did the electorate have? The Labour party have given the electorate very little to build their confidence this past decade. Let`s hope we have turned a corner.

    • To be honest Labour eas systematically trashed by all the media, not one paper or channel prepared to offer fair hearing or comment. Orthodoxy was only tories are sensible. We are seeing much of what Labour proposed is now what is needed. I think JC maybe not super intelligent. But he is a man who would have asked what do we do to protect lives and who knows how to do this. So honestly, we were duped by a bunch of liars and charlatans who promoted Brexit for their own interests with no idea how to deliver it, who are intellectually and emotionally ill equipped to deal with a predictable pandemic, who are inherently lazy and thoughtless and who rose to power on privilege alone lacking all talent save lying, and we have reaped what we’ve sowed. Maybe we need to look past what vested interests in the Mail and BBC keep pushing at us and think more before we vote.

    • I should as it’s not just voters who were duped. As best I can tell from what comes out, it looks like Labour had turned on itself and the centrists were sabotaging the leadership so I can see voters above all want a coherent leadership. JC has many failings. But really, look what we ended up with.

      • The BBC showing bias? Where have I heard that said before? I suppose blame follows grief but the Labour executive need to look closer to home. Have they lost their memory? Didnt the Foot years teach them anything? In this democracy you cant lead the people – you must convince them. Ed, JC and Foot were all honorable men, but not leaders – they certainly didnt convince the electorate.
        With the Scottish fortress lost and the Industrial heartlands severely chewed when will the penny drop? When the clear blue water rises above the knees of the final two in Tower Hamlets?
        We have been let down by Labour policy as much as the Tories – the difference is Labour werent meaning to do it.
        You can only hope that it will improve from now on – but history says otherwise.

      • You may be right about them not being leaders but question is what makes a leader. You know that snide remark attributed to that old villain Churchill about Attlee (plenty to be modest about) but Attlee has served at the front in WWI and showed true leadership through the war in the cabinet and in key decisions that kept us fighting against the odds, and of course afterwards. Gordon Brown was not a good leader perhaps but was highly effective and competent. People voted for Johnson as a leader who would get things done, it was his slogan, but were sadly misled. I think JC or EM would have been far more effective in the current circumstances. Leadership is also often associated with hyper masculine values. Interestingly, women leaders seem to have been more effective than male strongman. So perhaps we need to learn to think more critically and not vote for superficial appearances. In the uk or USA you can argue that partisan politics aside, we the electorate have got this wrong and when our elected leaders make omelettes for their own consumption, we are the eggs.

      • Well you had one leader – David Milliband who would have prevented the Brexit debacle by either winning the election or holding Cameron back. I think you have one now who is quietly competent and inclusive.
        Brown – yes he acted brilliantly in the banking crisis and doesnt get the credit he deserves but as for the two women leaders we have had – what can you say?
        Although I always thought Yvette Cooper would have been a good choice.
        However the Labour party have exhibited right on poor decision making and the country has suffered for it. Convince not lead – this isnt China.

      • I am no Conservative supporter, as you must surely guess. Still I doubt either Thatcher or May would have made the pigs ear that the current bunch have done. Both were / are driven by a sense of public service, though a very different vision to the one I share – they would have got a grip and there would have been 50K fewer deaths. Interesting threads about nearly a billion in dodgy contracts to cronies while the public health departments do the actual work starved of resources. And the links to Russia – watch that tomorrow …
        I don’t get the obsession with David Milliband – the leader who never was. My guess he felt entitled, something we can do without. He lost and left – could not bear it. Meanwhile Ed M lost a bad election and is hanging in there, and I think shaping up to be a senior statesman of stature and worth, an honourable and decent man.
        Actually I think Corbyn had it right – start from your principles and don’t give ground to the howling press. He lost because he was politically inept – unable to bring people to his way of thinking, promising too much so everyone lost focus. Crucially he did not take the battle to the press, just not adept enough, always on the back foot. However, Milliband/Balls bowed to pressure to come across all moderate and nice to get the media on their side and the media crucified them. Same for Starmer now – we are so timid in what we say no one cares except diehard Labour tribalists like me, so the Tories still lead us despite a cock up of monumental proportions for which they are solely and lethally culpable. We should shout to the rooftops clear action to end the pandemic, a climate emergency agenda, proportional representation and Nolan principles of public service. Force the agenda. Forget the polls. Remember, this time last year people said the Conservatives were finished. We should stand on principles, make good policies and, if we believe in ourselves but others don’t agree or think its all too difficult, get out and persuade people.
        Maybe that is the plan – perhaps he is doing “listening” now and campaigning later.
        Bah – funnily enough sir Keir never asked my opinion.

  2. I don’t think our government was prepared at all, and of course the response has been just a lot of wishful thinking. Americans are generally anti-science too which doesn’t help. They won’t even do simple things like wear a mask. I despair of humanity sometimes. (K)

    • Worth listening to BBC sounds the health programme went out 9pm tonight 21st July which explains how govt ignorance and ideology meant they neglected the public health framework established to manage notifiable illnesses (“it’s out day job”) to commission centralised private providers to set up call centres. Each CoV case is notifiable to local public health officials by long established law but govt neglected to write notification into the contracts of the private providers so all that information they collected was not actually used for its purpose. It was a numbers game not actually using the data to close down the pandemic. Just sheer incompetence.

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