“There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”
So wrote George Orwell in his novel “1984”.
For my generation, the Iraq War should perhaps have acted as a warning that modern governments would use Orwellian tactics.
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Two of the greatest democracies in the world led a military invasion, the reason for which was based on falsehoods about Saddam Hussein. The fact that Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld had concocted the falsehoods may be no surprise. What was surprising was the lack of challenge to the information, which they had presented as fact, the widespread refusal in government to countenance that the White House’s many claims were not backed by any evidence or robust analysis.
In the US, the once-great New York Times took on the role of stenographer-in-chief for the White House, an extraordinary dereliction of journalistic duty.
In the UK, the Prime Minister shamelessly acted as Bush’s poodle, even producing his own “dodgy dossier” to justify his actions. Her Majesty’s Opposition – to its eternal shame – entered the division lobbies with the Labour government and voted for war.
Scroll forward to 2020 and the debate on Covid – or rather the lack of it.
Since the virus arrived in Britain, the government and its advisers have (at the taxpayers’ expense) created a highly effective climate of fear. People have become very afraid. Covid is the new Black Death.
Suddenly a new type of language appeared: “protect the NHS”, “lockdowns”, “bubbles”, “social distancing”, “surges”, “spikes”, “second waves” – to be spiced up later on with “Rule of Six”, “circuit breakers” and “three tiers”.
Maybe in the first few days, or even weeks, this was justified as so little was known about the disease, its transmission and how to treat it.
But as the facts and clinical evidence piled up, so did the capacity for the British government to ignore them.
Given the extensive clinical evidence the government now possesses, do we, the public, know what is the survival rate now of an 80 year old admitted to a UK hospital versus March? The data is available. Why is it so very difficult for the public to obtain?
Are the population at large aware that, globally, Covid is unlikely to make it into the top ten causes of death this year? Currently the global Covid death rate is 1.1 million. Yet every year 1.35 million die from road traffic accidents. The number one killer globally is heart disease at a significantly higher 17.9 million.
In the UK, total deaths from COVID have reached 43,000. Yet each year in the UK, 170,000 die from heart disease.
The effect of government policy is now widely appreciated: the medical disaster of the NHS ignoring non-Covid conditions such as cancer, heart disease and mental health; the wanton destruction of much of the British economy while the entire public sector remains untouched. And, of course, as Lord Sumption has pointed out, “the greatest invasion of personal liberty in our history.”
We are powerlessly watching senior politicians and their advisers consistently misleading the electorate. For example, where is the evidence that restaurants and pubs are a primary source of disease transmission?
The government is now regulating every aspect of life, even to the point of telling its citizens whom they are allowed to invite into their own homes. It is appointing state-sponsored “Covid Marshals” as well as involving the police in the madness. All this might have been expected from Jeremy Corbyn, but not a Tory government.
And the cruel and unusual punishment of the British people continues. London is once more strangled by restrictions based on zero published data as the government demonstrates that the south can be beaten as viciously as the north – a “levelling down” perhaps?
Meanwhile, much of the press, led by the BBC, has, for months, accepted the lack of transparency and evidence with startling acquiescence. For them, Britain is simply the setting of a Hollywood disaster movie. Bad news always sells.
A few journalists have been outspoken, as have some MPs, but they are alas just a brave (if now growing) minority.
On Monday 5 October, the Great Barrington Declaration was published, signed by 6,300 medical health practitioners and public health scientists, a figure which has now risen to 40,000.
The Declaration is a highly credible document, which charts an alternative course to deal with the crisis without destroying the economy. It is a measure of the UK’s tragic condition that such an important document as the Declaration has received minimal attention.
John Walcott, an eminent American journalist, who did question the Iraq War, has commented:
“Higher levels of civilisation must depend even more heavily on a conscientious respect for the importance of honesty and clarity in reporting the facts and on a stubborn concern for accuracy to determine what the facts are.”
One day, this government in general – and Matt Hancock in particular – will be held to account for what it has done: the mass expulsion of the elderly from hospitals into unprotected care homes; the failure of “our” NHS to treat adequately those with non Covid conditions when it clearly has had the capacity to do so; the lamentable performance of “test and trace”; the needless wrecking of our once buoyant economy; and, perhaps most importantly, the far-reaching curtailment of our liberty.
It is no good arguing that other governments have been equally incompetent. That is not an excuse. Britain should be better than this.
It is fundamental to democracy that there are checks and balances to the government of the day, namely the legislature, the law courts and an inquisitive and critical press. In the UK, in 2020, all these institutions have been found sorely wanting.
As Orwell put it:
“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”
David Soskin is a former Special Advisor to the Prime Minister, Number 10 Policy Unit, in the 1990s. He is a director of Reaction.