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The UK COVID Inquiry – Downing Street on a ventilator

November 2, 2023

A short post on recent testimony to the British COVID Inquiry:

First point: if the evidence provided by insiders – senior advisers, civil servants and politicians who witnessed at first hand the rank incompetence of Boris Johnson during the COVID crisis – is to be believed, what does that say about the members of the Conservative Party who voted for him as party leader in 2019? Were they dupes, idiots or doctrinaire fanatics? Or were they ordinary people incapable of looking at a picture bigger than their own interests? That question should be asked of the same people, who then elected Liz Truss, an equally incompetent politician, as his successor, with consequences so disastrous that the members of parliament in her party saw to it that she was kicked out within 50 days.

There are two ways to ensure that this tiny minority never gets the opportunity to impose a third disaster upon the rest of us. The Tories should change their rules to deny their members that chance. But better still, those of us who weren’t instrumental in the elevation of the two worst Prime Ministers in British history, should, through our votes in the next general election, banish their party from power until most of its gullible members are in their dotage and incapable of distinguishing between a politician and a goat.

Second, let’s suppose the behaviour of the juvenile delinquents in Downing Street and elsewhere in government had become generally known during lockdown. If you’d done a poll of the general population whether we should “do as they do or do as they say”, I wonder how that would have turned out. 48% do as they say, and 52% do as they do, I suspect.

Third, I have some sympathy (though not much) for the dramatis personae who revealed their innermost thoughts on WhatsApp and ended up shredding their reputations. Back in the day, the only record of their conversations would have been in the form of minutes, from which the naughty bits would have been washed away by some diligent civil servant, or diaries published years later.

Should yesterday’s great and good have been able to communicate via the same method as today’s players, what, I wonder, might we have learned about Suez, the miners’ strike, the three-day week and other big events of the last century? What would General Alanbrooke have said during World War 2 about Churchill on the spur of the moment rather than in his diaries?

In this respect, our American cousins are way ahead of us. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon all recorded their conversations. In Nixon’s case the tapes cost him his job. No doubt there are some pretty ripe WhatsApp conversations from the Trump era that have yet to see the light of day.

All of which suggests that these days, if you want to avoid scrutiny of your conversations, do what the cold war spies used to do. Go into the bathroom and turn on the taps. Or play Verdi’s Requiem at full volume in the living room. Mind you, if it’s now possible to read the charred scrolls from Herculaneum, it’s probably easy to filter out Verdi.

So no hiding place, folks. Somebody somewhere can hear you. Best you mind your language, or don’t have any conversations at all that you don’t want everyone to hear. Which, for a lot of politicians, would probably take most of the fun out of being a politician.

From → Politics, UK, USA

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