Sunday Column: There is a crisis of leadership in 10 Downing Street.
Almost a year to the day since Dominic Cummings gave a now-infamous press conference, in the garden of no.10 Downing Street, to explain his trip to Barnard Castle, he was once again in the public eye. It had all the feelings of a man out for revenge, saying that the health secretary Matt Hancock should have been fired and that the man he put into 10 Downing Street was unfit to occupy the building.
However, all he did was build on the "conventional wisdom" that we should have locked down harder and faster and the borders with China should have been closed in January 2020, while I agree on the latter point, there is no evidence that the former would have worked. The Prime Minister is reported to have said that he wanted to be like the Mayor from Jaws who kept the local beach open despite a threat from sharks (I would add to that analogy that a person can choose whether or not to go to the beach) and keep the country open despite the threat posed by COVID, this was a position Cummings himself shared at the start of the pandemic, reportedly saying “herd immunity, protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad" but now he is trying to portray himself as a lockdown hardman from at least early February.
If the elected Prime Minister of the country felt that we should prioritise the economy, which if damaged would also lead to avoidable deaths, then why did we not adopt a Swedish approach where people would be advised to socially distance and stay at home if they were in a high-risk group. The flawed data modelling from Neil Ferguson, which predicted 500,000 deaths if we didn't lock down seems to have been what scared Johnson into implementing a "stay at home" order on 23rd March 2020, which has been reimposed twice since.
Surely, however, we can expect the Prime Minister to scrutinise this data or look at Ferguson's past record when it comes to such things (he hasn't got anything right in his entire career). The imposition of lockdown in March 2020 is, in my view, forgivable given that Sweden was the only country intent on going for a "herd immunity" approach the results of that were not yet known. But now we know that Sweden had a lower rate of excess deaths than most European countries that did implement a lockdown and Florida and Texas continue to see a decline in cases despite operating under full normality for several months now, the old saying "fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me" comes to mind. When SAGE advised that lockdown should be reimposed in November 2020, Johnson as a strong leader should have simply said no and cited the evidence of Sweden to support his position, he might have gone down in popularity for a time but it would be unlikely to affect his chances at the next general election.
Another interesting point to come out of Cumming's evidence was that the government and its advisors did not think that the British public would abide by a Wuhan style lockdown that had been implemented by a totalitarian regime. Unfortunately, they were wrong and this country will be less free from now on as a result, as Ferguson himself put it, SAGE did not think they could "get away" with imposing a Chinses style lockdown in the UK but it turned out they could.
Margaret Thatcher famously said that "advisors advise and ministers decide" however she was unique in her willpower and determination, she never cared about short term popularity, only what she thought was best for the country in the long term and she won three elections with massive majorities, unfortunately she was the exception rather than the rule. Johnson on the other hand is the opposite, he prioritises short term popularity over the long term freedom and prosperity of the British people and this is not the kind of leadership we need at this time.
Surely there is now no moral case to keep the BBC license fee.
I remember a Tory peer was interviewed on talkRadio criticising the government's supposed "war on woke" and he mentioned that plans to decriminalise non payment of the BBC license fee were a part of that. However, he failed to mention that the UK is one of the only countries in the world that forces its citizens, on pain of imprisonment, to pay a subscription fee to a publicly owned broadcaster, even North Korea does not do that.
The old arguments that the BBC is a treasured national institution may have held some weight 30-40 years ago (when it actually was) but after the latest scandal involving Martin Bashir manipulating Princess Diana into a Panorama interview using false documents and the BBC's attempts to sweep this under the carpet mean that it cannot be seen as the broadcaster of truth any longer and it is a moral outrage that people continue to be forced to pay for it.
The UK broadcasting regulator has banned certain foreign owned news channels from British TV for far less. The problem with big government agencies such as the BBC is that they become corrupt and only seek to advance their own self interests, unlike the free market however citizens are forced to fund them through taxation. If you can cancel your Netflix, Disney Plus or Amazon Prime subscription, surely you should be given the choice to cancel your BBC subscription.