Governing or guessing? Conservative incompetence over Coronavirus – Liberal Article
When Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, announced last week that people arriving in Britain will now need a negative coronavirus test to be granted entry, I was shocked. How is it that something so obviously beneficial in helping to prevent the spread of the disease is only being implemented now, ten months into the pandemic? Many other countries have had this policy for months. It is just the latest in a long series of failings by Boris Johnson’s government over coronavirus.
The Conservatives have stumbled their way shambolically through this pandemic. Back in June of last year, I wrote that it ‘seems impossible to call much of the coronavirus pandemic a victory’, and the government has done little to change my mind since. Yes, coronavirus would have proven testing for any government. It is a challenge unlike any other seen in our lifetime, and a steep learning curve for us all. But Johnson and his Cabinet have failed again and again. Their response has been unclear and uncoordinated.
A poll conducted by the Policy Institute in December found that 57% of people do not have confidence in the government’s response to the pandemic, double the proportion of people who said the same at the start of the pandemic. 68% of people said the government’s response to Covid-19 has been confusing and inconsistent, with over 50% believing that it was a ‘national humiliation’.
The government has been slow to act and indecisive from the start. It was estimated that if the first lockdown back in March was introduced just one week earlier, it could have saved over 20,000 lives. Over Christmas, lockdown restrictions were changed last minute, forcing millions to change their plans. Had the government had a clear and coherent plan, people could have prepared for Christmas much better.
Then there is the test and trace system. Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said this week that ‘We’ve struggled as a country to have a test, trace and isolate system that works effectively – it just doesn’t work as well as it does in countries like Australia and various other parts of the world’. But why? The answer is poor governance. Readers will remember the controversy over Baroness Dido Harding being placed in charge of the test and trace system. The appointment of Harding, the wife of Conservative MP John Penrose, and a close friend of David Cameron, was seen as Tory cronyism. The system has spent and been committed over £40bn, making it one of the most expensive public schemes ever. Yet, it has been inefficient and is in need of an extensive overhaul.
The cronyism displayed in Harding’s appointment is not in isolation. Companies with links to the Conservative party were fast-tracked for PPE contracts and were found to be ten times more likely to be given covid-related contracts than others. A National Audit Office report found numerous examples of contracts being awarded without the normal competition or justification that exists to prevent the misappropriation of public funds. It’s estimated that £1.5bn has gone to companies with direct links to Conservative party donors and friends.
There have also been government failures over the Test to Release system, which was designed to cut quarantine times for those arriving in the country, it failed on its first day. Many of the companies hired to carry out the testing were new and small companies, with the government ignoring larger covid-19 testing companies. These testing companies were massively overwhelmed and one of them was forced to withdraw from the program.
But, the government failure that has struck me the most over the course of this pandemic happened just this month. On the 3rd January, Johnson urged parents to send their kids back to school, announcing he had ‘no doubt’ that they were safe. The very next day, he U-turned and announced the latest full national lockdown. If one thing had to sum up the incompetency and lack of planning by this government, it would be this.
The last ten months have seen failure after failure from the government. News headlines appear every week about some sort of inadequacy over coronavirus. It is no wonder then that Britain is currently amongst the worst countries in the world for coronavirus deaths and was seeing its highest number of new cases ever just last week. If the Conservatives had handled this crisis better, we would’ve seen fewer failures, fewer infections, and fewer deaths.
Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Fergus Harris
Point of Information
Our response to Coronavirus has not been robust enough till now – A Conservative Response
I cannot disagree with the points Fergus has raised in his article, they are all very valid. Priti Patel has recently admitted that the UK should have closed their borders to travel in March yet they remained open. Tougher policies should have been in place from the beginning such as wearing a face mask should be mandatory at all times.
Perhaps the UK needs to take a page out of France’s book in terms of the way they responded to the virus. The country ground to a halt with mandatory face masks. And, an ‘attestation’ was enforced whereby citizens had to have a document providing reasons as to why they were not confined inside their homes. Result: it worked. Police clamped down widely on citizens disobeying the laws by handing out hefty fines.
However, Fergus has failed to mention the rate at which the vaccination is being rolled out. And, that the UK is championing its rollout. This is a point where France could take a leaf out of the UK’s book. In the first week, only 400 people were vaccinated in France. This Tuesday, 343,000 people were vaccinated. The UK is certainly on track to have 14 million people vaccinated by the end of February.
Yes, I agree the crisis could have been handled better. And, I sincerely think David Cameron would have been more reactive and robust with his response. We need to focus on the positives. Especially as the UK is on the frontline in terms of the vaccination programme. So I certainly would not write off the government.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Max Jablonowski
Guessing and Reacting, not governing – A Labour Response
I always admire a critical article of the UK government and political parties. I certainly haven’t been left disappointed over the course of the pandemic; reproving but necessary condemnation has not been in short supply.
Fergus’s article does exactly this – it is critical but for good reason. And I unreservedly agree with him and all of the mentioned criticisms. Inefficient measures, little regard or empathy for individual difficulty, and constant U-turns prove exactly how Johnson and his government are so far from successful governing in a time of crisis.
Even the seemingly logical decisions that we have seen have stemmed from public discontent and calls for a U-turn. Just take the free school meals debacle as an example. The government is not governing, they are merely guessing and reacting when they have no other choice. No government should be guessing when people’s lives are at stake.
I couldn’t leave this without commenting on Max’s response. While I admire that he too can recognise the failure of his own Conservative government. I am not sure I share the same sentiment in regards to focussing on the positives such as the vaccine rollout. Now, I am an optimist through and through and I can’t deny that the UK’s approach to vaccination has been better than expected. However, I am sure Fergus neglected this point with purpose; one positive, no matter how impactful it may be, cannot account for the lack of positives across the last ten months.
A strong vaccination programme is necessary. And, I am glad that so many people are receiving the date on which they will receive theirs. But we have to remember that we are ten months into this pandemic. And, a government that has arguably only prolonged its negative impacts, regardless of their party affiliation, cannot get away unreprimanded.
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo