Has the UK’s coronavirus response become too politicised? – Conservative Article

Has the UK’s coronavirus response become too politicised? – Conservative Article

Yes, the government’s handling of the crisis has become too politicised. How has the government’s response to a pandemic suddenly turned into a ‘two-horse’ battle over which party would have provided a better response? If the political party I loved had just lost a general election by quite a significant majority, I also wouldn’t be happy. But there is no excuse for this.

Firstly, politicising the government’s coronavirus response is ludicrous as it only attracts further issues and unnecessary focus. It is an argument mainly provoked by Labour grassroots supporters. Their argument could have been centred and focalised around the response to Covid-19.

Of course, there are definitely certain things that should have been implemented earlier. Examples include an earlier lockdown date, a travel ban, airport checks and a wider plan for the NHS and care homes. All we can do is learn from the mistakes made and be prepared for a ‘second wave’.

According to a study run by Dr Richard Fletcher, Dr Antonis Kalogeropolous and Professor Rasmus Kleis of the Reuters Institute, 42% of the respondents think that the coronavirus situation is mixed. 27% think that the UK is ‘heading in the right direction’ and 25% think that the UK is on the ‘wrong track’.

These results are not a surprise considering the role the media has had in influencing people’s opinions and portraying the government’s response. It also found public trust in the government is down by 21% since April. The drop in percentage points is not a shock. This has been since the government was responding to the pandemic by assessing the situation in other countries such as Italy and China.

It is incredible that Labour supporters believe that their party would have done a better job in this situation. This has not happened in the UK since the outbreak of the Spanish Flu. One thing should be considered though; would the Labour party even have any money in the Treasury to even be able to maintain control and provide sufficient funds for the NHS, care homes, local councils and Universal Credit?

I ran a quick straw poll on the University of Exeter’s Overheard group on Facebook just to gather some opinions. 155 people answered which is not many, but a start. The results were as followed: 93 people thought that the UK government’s response had become “too politicised” and 62 people thought that the UK government’s response had not become “too politicised”.

I know the number of people who responded to this is low. However, I believe this reflects the national sentiment in some ways. Again, the government has made mistakes. But in no way, shape or form can Labour sympathisers and MPs state that a Labour government would be able to do a better job of fighting coronavirus.

The people should be supporting the government for the effort that they have put in with their response. I am surprised that many of the public are still not adhering to social distancing rules. Mass gatherings are still organised despite warnings from government experts and the local lockdown of Leicester. No other party could have performed a better job. Moreover, I am surprised that there has not been greater unity between the political parties in a time of such uncertainty.

On a final note, I much prefer Boris Johnson’s five-step plan for local lockdowns in cases of a second spike. It makes sense to devolve power to local regions to focus on containing the virus independently with an executive overreach.

One of the mistakes made by the government when the lockdown was imposed was that the devolved countries proceeded with the change but they put in place differing requirements to uplift restrictions. Some might say devolution will cause more chaos. I believe with the right guidance from the executive and overreach, it will be crucial in containing the virus.

In my next article, I would like to focus specifically on media coverage to the UK government’s response to Covid-19. I believe that the media misinterpret the government and blow government statements and reports out of proportion.

Written by Guest Conservative Writer, Max Jablonowski

Point of Information

Too politicised yes, but what would it have been like if another party was in power? – a Liberal Response

Overall, I agree with Max. This is a virus that has taken lives not only in the UK but across the world. We cannot underestimate how devastating this pandemic has been on society and the economy. Parties should have united from the beginning to prevent a serious spread of the virus, which we have seen.

The government has made a lot of mistakes, a lot. Max is simply trying to shift the blame by saying “the UK has never seen anything like this”. It is the government’s job to respond to a crisis. That is why the public voted to put them in charge. The government needed to take matters into their own hands before all hell broke loose. Instead, they were looking over the shoulders of neighbours to try and copy their answer.

However, we are past that stage. As much as I enjoy blaming the Conservative government for their mistakes, we are at a stage beyond pointing fingers. By saying that one party or another could have handled it better is impossible to know. Parties need to work alongside each other, as hard as that is, to bring multiple ideas to the table on how the United Kingdom moves on.

However, it is nice to wonder. I often think about how other parties would have handled it from the beginning. I believe we would’ve seen mistakes. Whether it be Labour or the Liberal Democrats, all parties would have made mistakes somewhere along the line. The problem is we will never know.

The government and opposing parties need to put their differences aside and think about a recovery plan. The long-term effects will be detrimental in all areas; tourism, economy, hospitality, healthcare, etc. We cannot sit back and twiddle our thumbs discussing whether Keir Starmer would’ve known exactly what day we should’ve started lockdown. That day was months ago, long before it was imposed. Now is time to think about recovery.

Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Charlie Papamichael

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Scrutiny cannot be avoided – a Labour Response

To an extent, I agree with Max; the response to this pandemic has become overly politicised.

In unprecedented situations, criticism alone is not helpful. To merely critique the government and not offer any form of solution or explanation would be absurd. Now, it is arguably more important to focus on moving forward and prepare for a second wave.

However, some form of scrutiny is necessary. We can all agree that there is overwhelming pressure on the Conservative government, but they cannot ignore all accountability. This is a necessary function of democracy. Such scrutiny may even prove helpful in preparation for a likely second wave.

I also feel that this article fails to meet the mark statistically. While the straw poll is a good idea in theory, given the lack of statistics on this issue, the 155 respondents account for 0% of the UK population. Combined with the lack of diversity at the University of Exeter, this can by no means be said to reflect the national sentiment. It is interesting that Max has only used such evidence to support his view. His article, therefore, is largely politically motivated. The irony.

So, while the response to the pandemic has become overly politicised, the government cannot avoid all scrutiny. Nor can they expect to. They must be kept in check.

Written by Junior Labour Writer, Abi Clargo

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Max Jablonowski
Conservative Writer | Website

I am Max Jablonowski, a second year student studying French and Politics at the University of Exeter, and I am about to go on my year abroad to Paris to complete two internships. I was Academic Events Manager of the Politics Society in Exeter and I was privileged enough to organize events such as Question Time, co-host the 2019 General Election Hustings with MWEXE and host the Rt. Hon. James Brokenshire MP, the current Minister of State for Security.

Charlie Papamichael
Co-head social media marketing at | Website

I am a second year student currently reading International Relations and Modern Languages at the University of Exeter.

Abi Clargo
Junior Labour Writer | Website

I’m Abi! I am a liberal, political enthusiast from the Welsh valleys. Since I was young, I have been captivated by politics. I used to spend so much time watching the morning news before school, and have paid close attention to political campaigns for as long as I can remember. It was a lot later that I decided I wanted to pursue politics academically. Now, I have just finished my second year studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Exeter.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Charlie, I completely agree with your attitude here, but you speak as if it is time to stop criticising the government as if we are out the woods? Are you not worried that the governments decision to reopen pubs, not making mask wearing mandatory and everything else deserves criticism?

  2. Hi Max, thank you for your intriguing comment. Although I agree with you that not making mask wearing obligatory, and reopening pubs which an evident drinking culture are dangerous, we will gain much by being critical? Other parties have criticised many moves by the government, but where has it gotten us? I believe now is a time for cooperation. No more pointing fingers and playing the blame game. Parties seriously need to buckle down and work together to prevent further spread. That requires work both the Conservatives and other parties, trust is a two way street!

  3. Ignoring the largely academic exercise of whether one party may have done better in this situation than another, scrutiny of government is NOT the same of criticism for its own sake. Mr Johnson has repeatedly tried to politicise issues where the opposition were looking for consensus (namely on schools, where no attempt was made to have a cross-party consultation, involving unions and other stakeholders, that Starmer was calling for). Equally, the furore over issues like Michael Gove not wearing a mask in a Pret seen in the press (though not amongst opposition MPs) does not put public health first, especially when more substantive issues are apparent.

    The fact is, if government will not listen to criticism (and it very rarely does – despite U-turns aplenty) then it will appear as if such critique is broadly pointless. Yet, if we are to mindlessly accept that the government are doing the best in a bad situation then it really has to be the case that government is actually trying its best. This is not the case. From attempting to restrict jury trial under the pretence of a backlog caused by COVID-19 (it wasn’t – cuts since 2010 has led to this situation – and the backlog was worse in 2014 but no such policy was floated) to the scandal of public contracts given out to companies linked to government figures with no proper tendering process(read here:https://goodlawproject.org/news/money-for-cummings-mates/). Yes, opposition needs to be constructive, but to suggest that the government are doing their best in the circumstances is a naive and politically motivated position that seeks to protect the Conservatives from scrutiny, scrutiny that should be welcomed as an attempt to point out holes in the government’s approach rather than dismissed due to who it comes from.

    • Hi Peter, Thank you for taking the time to read my article and writing a response to provide further debate. First of all, may I remind you it only became compulsory to wear face masks as of 24th July. Personally, these rules should have been enforced sooner and perhaps Mr Gove should have worn a mask to set an example but he was not wearing a mask in a Pret à Manger as wearing a mask was not compulsory at the time.

      As to the backlog in criminal trials and restricting jury trial, the Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland has floated the idea of ‘Nightingale Courtrooms’ and using video links to still provide a functioning justice service with the jury having an online presence, please see this article written in The Guardian for further context: https://www.theguardian.com/law/2020/may/24/uk-faces-backlog-of-400000-criminal-cases-due-to-coronavirus. It also makes sense to delay cases due to Covid-19 on the basis of health and safety. The government already were implementing a £1bn court modernisation programme which is being brought forward to adapt to these changes. The cuts in 2010 were to be of 40% but in the end was 25%. The Treasury also gave the department £1.18 billion more than planned for 2018/19 and £1.33 billion more than planned for 2019/20. Please see the House of Commons publications for further information: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cdp-2019-0217/. The cuts provided in 2010 were to adapt to the realities left by the Labour government to reduce the deficit.

      To go back to your first point about cross-party consultation, I completely agree with you that there should have been more cross-party involvement but one point to consider is that there could have been further inefficiency when making important decisions. Covid-19 is a fast-changing situation and decisions need to be immediate with hardly enough time for debate.

      Once again, thank you for your response and thoughts. I look forward to hearing your response to my comments and apologies for the delay in responding to you!

      • Thanks for the reply, Max. I get the point on the need for speedy decisions and that cross-party consultation would slow this process but getting something wrong quickly is, I think, obviously worse than getting it right. The recent Greater Manchester lockdown, introduced (apparently, though the statutory instrument was not on government websites) at 9pm the day before it was due to start from, is perhaps the prime example. I’m personally more concerned about how legislating by decree, as this government appears to be doing, is sidelining Parliament (though in recess) through some of the more significant decisions during this crisis.

        On your points about the courts, I get that the government are doing something to try and placate the Criminal Bar Association and get some courts running again, I guess, but it simply isn’t enough. Of the promised 10 ‘Nightingale’ courts, only 2 (I think) have actually been opened. Moreover, this backlog and lack of court space is of a direct result from policy making since 2010. Indeed, a number of the courts being using during this emergency were those shut during the last 10 years.

        Criminal Justice is a public good; we would not be arguing about whether hospitals should be closed to shore up the deficit (ignoring the obvious point that the financial crisis was not a public debt crisis and was another failing of private sector institutions) and yet since 2010 over 50% of all magistrates courts have been closed in England and Wales, often sold off to developers who profit from this. Ignoring the implications to access to justice, a fundamental right of any civil society, this has led to the 450,000+ case backlog in mags courts. Equally, the sitting days of courts have been restricted by successive Tory governments, meaning that less cases can be heard. This again exacerbates the backlog.

        Criminal justice is not a partisan issue – it is a necessity for all – and arguing about it in economic terms (as if cutting the justice budget was ever necessary, criminal lawyers are not well-off like their commercial peers) completely misses the point. We need a functioning criminal justice system, not one that is wheezing due to underfunding, where ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric is shown to be an illusion, where both victims and the public are failed. Honestly, I would recommend reading a bit further on the cuts to criminal justice, maybe start with The Secret Barrister’s blog. It does have a bit of a left-liberal slant but ask any criminal practitioner about the state of justice in this country and the picture given will be bleak.

  4. Max, I could not possibly disagree more with this politically motivated (ironically) and disingenuous article, that seeks to gloss over any failings that have come about through incompetence and, dare I say, even malice.

    We can start with the unsubstantiated claims in this article, that are so overtly political in motivation it undermines the very point you are trying to make. Ignoring that hypotheticals over which party would do best in this situation serve no purpose, your smear that Labour would have done worst due to economic ineptitude (or at least that’s the subtext) highlights your poor faith arguments. Why not try and defend the government’s record on issues like track-and-trace (which is far from the ‘world-leading’ system we were promised), excess deaths in care homes and the world-leading death rate seen in the UK.

    On the point about a lack of unity between political parties, I would like to believe this is in good faith but honestly I think you are feigning ignorance. When Keir Starmer suggested a taskforce over the reopening of schools (and not, as the Prime Minister is wont to suggest, opposing the reopening), repeatedly over several weeks, the government made no effort to take him up on the offer to work with schools, unions and other stakeholders to ensure this was done in a safe manner. Of course, with a tracking system that functioned, schools could more easily be reopened and cases managed in a precise manner.

    The government seems terrified of scrutiny of any sort. This should not be welcomed. In areas where public pressure is limited or non-existent, the government has frankly been taking the piss. For instance, PPE procurement and other government procurement contracts during this crisis appear a developing scandal, where companies given contracts worth up to £108 million to obtain PPE, were found crowdfunding for equipment (namely PestFix – see here https://goodlawproject.org/news/over-100-contracts/). Similarly, Public First were given a contract directly, with no proper tendering process. That this is run by Ms Rachel Wolf, a SPaD at the Dept of Education when both Gove and Cummings were there, is surely no coincidence (read here:https://goodlawproject.org/news/money-for-cummings-mates/).

    On local lockdowns, I agree somewhat with your position but your naivety regarding how government is statutory instruments to sideline Parliament on what are totally unprecedented alterations to how law functions in this country is really quite apparent. For weeks upon weeks, Matt Hancock has been introducing highly restrictive (and poorly formulated) amendments to the so-called lockdown measures, with no Parliamentary scrutiny. At one point, having sex with your partner, if you did not live in the same household was a criminal offence. My broader point is this, that government needs to be held to account and even more so in a crisis situation, as mistakes will be made and if opposition can point these out lives will be saved. The bunker mentality seen by the Tories at various points during this crisis takes us all for fools, and we would be far better off with an open, reflective government. But seeing as that will not happen, we will just have to rely on the opposition, media and the public to point out mistakes and hope, hope that the government might listen for once.

  5. Two fantastic responses there from John and Peter, thank you for contributing to the conversation! Love hearing people’s views from outside the POI community! We have asked Max to give you a personal response to both your impressively detailed points as soon as possible, to enhance the debate! Again thank you for reading, and hope you enjoyed the article in full although you obviously disagreed with our Conservative writer!

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