The failures of the Westminster elite on coronavirus are no surprise – so why do we let them run Wales?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture by Chatham House (CC BY 2.0)

Alex Heffron

Today’s Sunday Times article reveals a staggering level of hubris, incompetence and callousness shown by the UK Government and some of its close group of advisors in their handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The report – published by a newspaper that wholeheartedly endorsed the Conservatives at the General Election – is perhaps the most damning article ever written about an UK government. It reveals that the entire response has been a shambles. This is a national catastrophe of a very British sort.

One of the UK Government’s own scientific advisors has said that the UK could end up with the worst death toll in Europe. At least 15,000 people in the UK have already died of coronavirus, and perhaps many more since deaths outside hospitals remain underreported. These are children, grandchildren, parents and grandparents.

And given what we now know about the UK Government’s early handling of the crisis, it’s almost impossible to conclude that their incompetence has not contributed to the death toll.

We now know that back in January, Professor Neil Ferguson, one of the UK’s leading infectious disease epidemiologists and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, warned the government that this virus was potentially as lethal as the Flu Pandemic of 1918.

He highlighted the need for a “60% cut in the transmission rate” — in other words social distancing and lockdown.

But Boris missed five Cobra meetings, not attending his first meeting until March. Cobra is a special committee of ministers, intelligence chiefs and military generals that only meets during times of great peril. Boris didn’t even turn up to the first Cobra meeting on Covid-19. Instead he was at a Chinese New Year celebration. Later that afternoon the UK signed the EU withdrawal agreement.

As the coronavirus crisis grew across the globe Boris spent time at his country retreat, prioratising, among other things, his fractious private life.

 

Damning

By the time Boris went to his first Cobra meeting in March, it was already too late. According to a study from Southampton University, by that point more than 190,000 people had arrived into the UK from Wuhan and other high-risk Chinese cities. Five days after the study, the UK recorded its first case of coronavirus.

A senior advisor to Downing Street told the Sunday Times: “There’s no way you’re at war if your PM isn’t there. And what you learn about Boris was he didn’t chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn’t work weekends. It was like working for an old-fashioned chief executive in a local authority 20 years ago. There was a real sense that he didn’t do urgent crisis planning. It was exactly like people feared he would be.”

Our PPE stocks and pandemic preparedness, at the time of 9/11, were said to be the envy of the world. But since then a decade of austerity has seen our supplies dwindle — to the point where we were unready for a pandemic. Not only PPE supplies, but training to prepare key workers for the likelihood of a pandemic had stopped in the last two years because of No-Deal Brexit negotiations.

The article goes on to say: “The last rehearsal for a pandemic was a 2016 exercise codenamed Cygnus, which predicted the health service would collapse and highlighted a long list of shortcomings — including, presciently, a lack of PPE and intensive care ventilators.”

A source is quoted as saying: “Members of the government advisory group on pandemics are said to have felt powerless. They would joke between themselves, ‘Ha-ha, let’s hope we don’t get a pandemic’, because there wasn’t a single area of practice that was being nurtured in order for us to meet basic requirements for a pandemic, never mind do it well.”

Questions must be asked of not just the government, but also of the scientific advisors. Why didn’t they blow the whistle sooner?

The article is damning of not just the Tories but of Public Health England which “failed to take advantage of our early breakthroughs with tests and lost early opportunities to step up production to the levels that would later be needed”.

The Sunday Times report that Chief Medical Officer for England, Chris Whitty, was focussed on herd immunity, because he believed SARS CoV-2 was like a flu virus. For a flu virus without a vaccine ‘herd immunity’ would be the right policy, it states.

Even with all of these mistakes in their wing mirror, the government could’ve stepped up at any point and started making better decisions. However, we learn from the article that the UK government didn’t make a meaningful approach to testing companies until April 1st. April Fools day, no less. Foolish indeed, but not a joke.

A senior Department of Health insider said: “I had watched Wuhan but I assumed we must have not been worried because we did nothing. We just watched. A pandemic was always at the top of our national risk register — always — but when it came we just slowly watched. We could have been Germany, but instead we were doomed by our incompetence, our hubris and our austerity.”

Destructive

As previously noted, the Sunday Times has no anti-government agenda here. There is no reason to doubt that any of this isn’t true.

Michael Gove’s claim on Andrew Marr this morning that “there are one or two aspects of the Sunday Times report that are slightly off-beam” is about the weakest rebuttal ever and a confirmation that the entire sorry tale is correct.

People will say that this is a time of national crisis and no time to ‘score political points’. But this crisis is entirely political. In that sense, the Sunday Times’ headline ’38 days when sleepwalked into disaster’ is itself misleading. The government had its eyes open – it had all the facts at its disposal – it simply decided not to act until it was too late.

While Boris Johnson has himself been struck down with Covid-19, and thankfully recovered, that does not give him any immunity to his early handling of the virus.

We all knew Boris was an incompetent buffoon, and this crisis has proven that to be the case. We all know the Tories dismantle the NHS for private profit, and now we find that ten years of austerity meant stockpiles of PPE were run down and pandemic planning was shelved.

The government’s response to coronavirus has been a continuation of the same laissez-faire policy that guides Westminster. It believes in ‘free-markets’ for the wealthy and it believes in ‘herd immunity’ for the masses. None of this is surprising.

Of course, some will say that in our defence Wales did not vote for the Conservative party at the 2019 General Election. The Conservatives haven’t won a majority of the vote here since 1865.

But why then does Wales continue to want remain part of a Westminster system that allows an elite that does not represent our values to cause such wanton destruction?

Despite Wales never voting for them, the Tories will always get back in power. Labour are culpable too because they tow the line and dislike rocking the boat.

Now is the time for us all to say enough. Not just Welsh people, but English people, Scottish people, Irish people. The callous, incompetent upper-class Westminster elite that we allow to run our lives is the problem. They do not represent us.

One day we might re-enter a new union across the islands of Britain, but it will be one based on respect and sovereignty, not deference to an economic elite.

But first, we must declare independence and rebuild a Welsh society that puts people first. If the shambles the UK Government has made of the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t wake us up to that, it’s hard to know what will.

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Phil
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Phil

The reason why we leave Westminster run wales is that we have no backbone to take control ourselves .we have politicians who should be pushing for further autonomy but they are more concerned with looking after their own jobs and rather be seen and not heard.
How many times to do we see Scotland’s first minister being interviewed compared to our own first minister . ?

This is why Scotland can decide more on their own future and Wales is still kept and treated like peasants.

Wake up Wales

Ernie The Smallholder
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Ernie The Smallholder

Thanks for taking the time to write this article, Alex It is the decision of the people of Wales: If they want to STOP this disaster and for us stand on our own feet, the 1st step is to vote in Plaid Cymru in 2021 and all elections at least until we get our independence. The people must not allow themselves to be conned into playing THEIR game of submission and then complaining afterwards. We must have our own based political parties; Our own Social Democrat, Socialist, liberal centre, centre-right, etc. For Welsh Labour government to stop considering the Conservatives… Read more »

Dr John Ball
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Dr John Ball

I realise that you will take the opportunity to plug for Plaid Cymru – and then strangely peddle the idea of a aligning with unionist parties.
And do you really believe that PC is interested in independence; twenty years of getting into bed with (unionist) “Welsh” Labour should surely have shaken you out of your stupor,

O.R
Guest
O.R

Then who do you suggest people vote for John? If Plaid won’t deliver independence, who will?

Jason Evans
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Jason Evans

Well I may as well say it, how about us giving the WNP and Gwlad a chance.

Helen Lewis
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Helen Lewis

Because you don’t stand a chance under the current electoral system. All you will do is divert votes from Plaid.

Jason Evans
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Jason Evans

Woah, wind your neck in, I’m a member of Plaid but I’m not so stuck in my ways and so blinkered that I can’t see that there is proportion of people out there that support Independence but cannot bring themselves to vote for Plaid.
Also you’re approach is very similar to the line unionist spout.

Jason Evans
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Jason Evans

Rushed that reply a bit left out what I think is an important bit and that is I like plurality in politics, it caters for all peoples hope’s and ideas for an Independent Cymru/Wales, I would hate to live in a one party state, though it does seem some people are quite happy for that to be the case !

John Young
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John Young

For the best part of 100 years Plaid’s performance has been the very definition of lunacy ie doing the same thing time after time and expecting a different result. If they’re not going to change now what is the point of voting for them. Read it again – 100 years ! Adam has got 13 months to do something before the 2021 election. He should set out Plaid’s stall now. It’s almost certain that Labour are going to lose a number of seats next year. And they’ll be looking to Plaid again for support. So Adam should state now what… Read more »

K. K
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K. K

Top comment there Phil and its true that both politicians and people in Wales don’t have any backbone to make a change. Having been involved with local issues over the years I don’t bother anymore because people are lazy, indifferent or more interested in their social status. It’s pathetic but a sad facet of Welsh life unfortunately and it gives me no pleasure to say so. On the other hand, I always look at what we have achieved as a nation in other areas over the last 20 years and I feel positive. An absolutely blinding football team thanks in… Read more »

stuart stanton
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stuart stanton

Excellent argument, agree on every point but, as so many other Welsh people are……am stuck in England for the foreseeable future and stuck for anything positive to do that will boost Wales finding a separate identity away from the English Nationalists.

j humphrys
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j humphrys

No explanations, no more excuses . All Wales must now unite under one banner for independence!

David
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David

Is there any truth in, that the nurses and doctors had to sign the Official Secrets Act for treating the PM BJ?

Kerry Davies
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Kerry Davies

The OS Act is nothing much and the staff are covered by GDPR anyway. All NHS staff and volunteers with patient contact or access to records have to undergo Enhanced DBS checking which is why we won’t ever see the “750,000 NHS Volunteer Army”.

Owain Glyndwr
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Owain Glyndwr

Yes, all of the doctors an nurses in the teams treating Boris Johnson had to sign the Official Secrets Act (the clue is in the name) and if they refused (two did) then they were removed. The OSA is a hell of a lot more than “nothing much” (Kerry, below). IF you breach the OSA you can and will be sent to prison. It is farcical to draw any comparison between the OSA and GDPR. The Official Secrets Act, clue is in the name, SECRETS. Boris was nowhere near as ill as it was portrayed. It was just another false… Read more »

Jonesy
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Jonesy

I thintThere is such a thing as patient confidentiality, nobody who works in medicine can talk about patients outside the ‘four walls’,.

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Dithering and procrastination are not exclusively English/UK conditions. As a nation the Welsh have excelled at this. We have passed up so many opportunities to whack the Unionist parties at elections – Westminster and Cynulliad. When we got ourselves a measure of devolution we contrived to elect the wettest bunch of status quo addicts you could have imagined in your worst nightmare. Minimal courage to go with the minimal energy on show. Shameful. Time to wake up and move on.

Lloyd Orange
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Lloyd Orange

Datganoli darlledu. Devolve broadcasting. If we want Welsh people to start voting with their hearts, they need to understand what is going on in Wales. As much as I would like to see independence, until this happens it shall remain a willow the wisp of a dream.

O.R
Guest
O.R

As long as a sizeable percentage of the Welsh public continue to read and swallow the defecation spewed out by the English national arse wiping material eg Sun, Daily Mail there isn’t a cat’s chance in hell of people waking up to what’s really going on. How we’re really governed – or mis-governed and the continued failings, neglect and indifference of Westminster towards Cymru will continue to wash over us. How do you change ordinary people’s reading habits? Aside from banning the sale of this tripe in Wales, I’ve no idea

Owain Glyndwr
Guest
Owain Glyndwr

Important: Plaid Cymru are pretty okay at publishing, mainly theoretical articles on some relevant topics. However, what is in fact much more pertinent, is that Plaid Cymru were formed on 5th August 1925, almost 95 years ago. Over those last previous 95 years Plaid Cymru has achieved comparatively relatively little towards an Independent Free and Self Governing Wales, almost as if most of the last 95 years have been wasted. Independent Wales would could and should have been achieved in one generation ie start the project in 1925, run the project on a 25 years (max.) timeline and form independent… Read more »

Owain Glyndwr
Guest
Owain Glyndwr

Postscript: Just think for a moment of whomever are your greatest leaders from over the centuries, and that is what Wales needs. Somebody with drive, passion, charisma, a hard man or woman, with the big match temperament, a visionary and natural born leader, whether political (or sport or business). It can be done. In the private sphere companies can be formed in a home-garage and only 20 years later have a market cap. of £1 TN. It can be done. But without a leadership individual and leadership team then it will NEVER be done. Leanne Wood would have never achieved… Read more »

j humphrys
Guest
j humphrys

Adam has good ideas. Neil has the plan and the guts. Adam should come over and bring the willing! Good luck.

David
Guest
David

Adam the MP is a different person to Adam the AM after being influenced in the US of A.

Owain Glyndwr
Guest
Owain Glyndwr

Update: I can personally assure you that Adam Price will NEVER achieve Welsh Independence. He simply does not have the big match temperament. Also, if you surveyed 10,000 people in Wales to name the AM leader of Plaid Cymru (first/second name) the results would not be pretty. Adam Price and Plaid Cymru in 2020 are simply not in the public consciousness and especially in South/East Wales where a hell of a lot of the voters live. Until Plaid and their leadership are active in the day to day dialogue then it is a no go.

Owain Glyndwr
Guest
Owain Glyndwr

There is an inherent issue in posting these articles on the nation.cymru website. This website has an extremely low exposure and low readership, and those that do read are already convinced anyway. It is great that everyone shares into social media. These articles need to be published in all the big newspapers. Guardian, Western Mail, Irish Times, New York Times, etc. The Independent Wales project could (and should) come to a successful fruition. But on the current trajectory (no trajectory) it does not look very optimistic, not at all. It is no good having a loyal following in only a… Read more »

Steve Duggan
Guest
Steve Duggan

Recently there were concerns about how COVID-19 was going to affect the Welsh Independence movement through march cancellations – in fact it has done the complete opposite ! Bungling, incompetent Westminister has given us the green light – we must go and go fast! We do not need to spell out how bad the UK government is, that’s plain to see, we now need to highlight how we, as a Nation, will do things far far better ! Let’s take the bull by the horns, starting in 2021 by kicking Labour out of office, and finally gain self-determination !