This country paid a catastrophic price for a reckless overreaction to a disease that was only life-threatening to a small number of people who could have been protected without imprisoning the entire population. As each day passes, more evidence emerges that shutting down society for prolonged periods to “stop the spread” and “protect the NHS” was a monumental disaster.
Hancock, obviously, disagrees. The Rt Hon Member for West Suffolk is not just unrepentant: he still wholeheartedly believes that as health secretary during the pandemic, he made all the right calls.
These are the words of Isabel Oakeshott who has written an article ‘The Truth about Matt Hancock’ that was published in The Spectator yesterday. Oakeshott co-authored ‘Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries: The Inside Story of Britain’s Battle Against Covid’ and has noted the “key lessons” she took away from the very revealing writing process she undertook with a man whose approach to the pandemic she vehemently opposes.
In the event, Hancock shared far more than I could ever have imagined. I have viewed thousands and thousands of sensitive government communications relating to the pandemic, a fascinating and very illuminating exercise. I was not paid a penny for this work, but the time I spent on the project – almost a year – was richly rewarding in other ways.
I am not so naive as to imagine that he told me everything. However, since he still does not believe he did anything wrong, he was surprisingly inclined to disclosure. In an indication of how far he was prepared to go, the Cabinet Office requested almost 300 deletions and amendments to our original manuscript.
[In this article] – based not only on what is in the Pandemic Diaries but on everything I saw in the process of putting the book together – are what I consider the key lessons.The truth about Matt Hancock, Isabel Oakeshott, The Spectator, 9 December 2022
Oakshott’s Spectator article covers mass vaccination mission creep, no rigorous vaccine safety monitoring, counter-terrorism units deployed to crush scientific and social media dissent, major restrictions pursued for political reasons without evidence, expert advisers ignored. However, Oakshott concludes that she does not believe there was any conspiracy, but rather that our political leaders were misguided and made catastrophic mistakes.
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Below are excerpts from the article ‘The truth about Matt Hancock’ by Isabel Oakeshott. We have not adjusted the excerpts to read in the third person and so, for example, “I” refers to Isabel Oakeshott.
Hancock is utterly scathing of anyone who argues that repeated lockdowns were avoidable; does not have the slightest doubt over any aspect of the government’s vaccine policy; and thinks anyone who believes any other approach to the pandemic was either realistic or desirable is an idiot.
He is adamant that he never cut corners on vaccine safety, though the tone of his internal communications suggest that in his hurtling rush to win the global race for a vaccine, he personally would have been willing to take bigger risks. I believe he would have justified any casualties as sacrifices necessary for the greater good. Fortunately (in my view) his enthusiasm was constrained by medical and scientific advisers, and by the Covid vaccine tsar Kate Bingham, who was so alarmed by his haste that at one point she warned him that he might “kill people.”
Hancock, Whitty and Johnson knew full well that non-medical face masks do very little to prevent transmission of the virus. As early as 3 February 2020 – long before anyone outside the Department of Health was taking the prospect of a pandemic seriously – ministers were told the masks make no significant difference. People were made to wear them anyway because Dominic Cummings was fixated with them; because Nicola Sturgeon liked them; and above all, because they were symbolic of the public health emergency.
As far as Hancock was concerned, anyone who fundamentally disagreed with his approach was mad and dangerous and needed to be shut down. His account shows how quickly the suppression of genuine medical misinformation – a worthy endeavour during a public health crisis – morphed into an aggressive government-driven campaign to smear and silence those who criticised the response. Aided by the Cabinet Office, the Department of Health harnessed the full power of the state to crush individuals and groups whose views were seen as a threat to public acceptance of official messages and policy. As early as January 2020, Hancock reveals that his special adviser was speaking to Twitter about “tweaking their algorithms.” Later he personally texted his old coalition colleague Nick Clegg, now a big cheese at Facebook, to enlist his help. The former Lib Dem deputy prime minister was happy to oblige.
Such was the fear of ‘anti-vaxxers’ that the Cabinet Office used a team hitherto dedicated to tackling Isis propaganda to curb their influence. The zero-tolerance approach extended to dissenting doctors and academics. The eminent scientists behind the so-called Barrington Declaration, which argued that public health efforts should focus on protecting the most vulnerable while allowing the general population to build up natural immunity to the virus, were widely vilified: Hancock genuinely considered their views a threat to public health.
For his part, Johnson occasionally fretted that they might have a point. In late September 2020, Hancock was horrified to discover that one of the architects of the Declaration, the Oxford epidemiologist Professor Sunetra Gupta, and her fellow signatory Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, had been into Downing Street to see the prime minister. Anders Tegnell, who ran Sweden’s light-touch approach to the pandemic, attended the same meeting. Hancock did not want them anywhere near Johnson, labelling their views “absurd.”
Anti-lockdown protests were quickly banned. When, in September 2020, the Cabinet Office tried to exempt demonstrations from the “rule of six,” Hancock enlisted Michael Gove to “kill it off,” arguing that marches would “undermine public confidence in social distancing.” Gove had no qualms about helping.
In conclusion: While vast sums of public money were wasted and the collateral damage from lockdowns and other Covid policies was enormous, I do not believe there was any kind of conspiracy, still less any malign intent on the part of our political leaders during the crisis. They may have been misguided; and got some things catastrophically wrong, but mistakes were made in good faith. Whether or not those errors will be forgiven by a public only just beginning to realise the full consequences is another question.
Read the full article HERE.
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