by Kate Clanchy
Thursday, 26
May 2022
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07:30

I am unmoved by the Sue Gray report

We should be questioning the rules themselves more than petty infractions
by Kate Clanchy
Boris Johnson holds a press conference in response to the publication of the Sue Gray report. Credit: Getty

Speaking as someone who lost both parents to Covid during the second lockdown, who was kept from her mother’s deathbed, and who attended a funeral for 10 surrounded by duct tape – I find myself unmoved by the Sue Gray Report.

It’s not that I don’t think Boris Johnson is unfit for office — I thought that before he took office. And of course, it’s important how government officials behave and spend money, but we’ve known about Johnson’s special brand of squalor and extravagance since Wallpapergate (and before). Nor do I approve of throwing up on walls and carrying drinks in suitcases — I’m a schoolteacher. I’d like to call them in and phone their parents.

But it seems unlikely Johnson will resign. And focusing on the parties probably won’t bring Downing Street many new enemies, either. But it will bring back the atmosphere of authoritarianism and puritanism of lockdown: the focus on rules for their own sake; the demonisation of students; the removal of chocolate from supermarkets; the tracking of hill walkers with drones; the tsking at hard-breathing joggers; the making of hospital saints and covidiot sinners.

Such strong binaries; such tides of condemnation. It worries me because I’m not sure how much it all helped my parents in the last year of their lives, and nor were they; and the more condemnation there is, the harder it is to ask.

Even writing down the question makes me want to set out more disclaimers. No, of course I’m not an anti-vaxxer. I’m fully jabbed up and so is everyone I’m related to. No, I’m not a doctor. No, I’m not a statistician. I don’t follow strange accounts on Twitter or wave graphs in people’s faces (I don’t even know how to read the graphs). No, I didn’t sign the Great Barrington Declaration (though my mum met Carl Heneghan once. He was writing an emergency prescription.) Absolutely, I wore a mask. So did my parents. We kept to the rules, and we just had a few questions about them. We wondered how it would all pan out.

The questions seem urgent, now. All around us are the tolls of the pandemic — in education, the economy, the health service, in our private and public lives — and we need to be able to talk about them with some sort of dispassion and discrimination. We need to talk about Covid as an illness, not a plague, and public health as public health, not a moral battle. We have to get over our personal conduct and the conduct of our neighbours and think about how useful it all was.

During lockdown we all went to live on the internet and imbibed its mixture of private and public. Now, it seems, we can only discuss policy in the same way. I have to introduce myself to the Covid debate by saying ‘Speaking as…’ . We are more interested in condemning Boris Johnson’s morals than his decisions. We have to do better than this. It would, excuse me, horrify my parents more than the Sue Gray Report.

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Andrea 0
Andrea 0
6 months ago

Good article, with the exception of the long disclaimer in the middle.
(And Carl Henegham is not part of the GBD, although I believe supported it).
What questions did you have, what would have liked to see discussed, what would you change before the next wave of the new and improved variant hits us?
Anyway, maybe Johnson is unfit for office, but look on the bright side, at least he is not Saint Nicola. Personally I would prefer the type ideas of drunken orgies (as Blackford more or less put it), to the piousness of Sturgoen.
We do need a SERIOUS discussion about the mass hysteria that hit us, the nefarious role that the MSM played in it and our complicit attitude, but that is not going to happen, is it.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
6 months ago
Reply to  Andrea 0

Roundheads vs Cavaliers is a human divide as old as the race. I’m with you, give me the party animal over the Puritan.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
6 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Cavaliers wrong but romantic, Roundheads right but repulsive. An eternal truth

Last edited 6 months ago by JR Stoker
David Smith
David Smith
6 months ago
Reply to  Andrea 0

Well said.
I found this author annoying…. in a typical leftist sort of way. She has a sense that something needs to be said but is so terrified that her fellow travellers will cancel her that she ends up saying nothing.
In fairness, she realizes weakly that the petty rule makers and covidiots deserve only scorn and mockery rather than rebuttal.
She might at least read about The Great Barrington Declaration.
As a specialist physician I was very impressed by it, and signed it.

Andrea 0
Andrea 0
5 months ago
Reply to  David Smith

I agree. I too find her annoying at times.
I have read her book: she goes at great lengths to criticize the government and Gove in particular. Shame because all that sniping adds nothing and, consequently, detracts a lot.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrea 0

As an elderly male asthmatic I initially took careful precautions but it became pretty apparent early on that the draconian measures being demanded by a combination of medical statisticians and the MSM backed up by the opposition that continually complained that the government was not doing enough were largely unnecessary. It was obvious that the MSM were whipping up hysteria with entirely irresponsible reporting that demonstrated complete ignorance of the basics of responsible statistical analysis.
It became clear early on that the hysteria regarding not meeting others outside and wearing masks outside and not travelling more than a few miles was completely over the top and unnecessary and for the most part I disregarded strict adherence to these rules, although I never went to test my eyesight at Barnard Castle. On the other hand I never took advantage of the Rishi Sunak meal deals as it seemed obvious to me that dining inside with little ventilation in the presence of voluble fellow diners disinhibited by alcohol was a risk too far for me. Indeed it always struck me that the government and scientific advisors seemed to have completely missed the fact that if people had been instructed to speak as little as strictly necessary when in confined spaces transmission would have been significantly reduced.
At the end of the day I along with many others formed our own rules to follow and it does not surprise me at all that politicians and civil servants assessed the health risks they ran personally and acted accordingly – both Tory and Labour whatever they want to pretend. Did we loose any prominent politicians and civil servants through covid? I don’t think we did, so they all seem to have assessed the risk to themselves correctly. Hopefully none of them hugged their granny after any of the parties we read about.
The rules that caused most grief surrounding visiting the elderly and those dying were in fact probably among the more sensible measures so it is particularly distasteful for the MSM to now search out those who were unable to visit loved ones to seek their reaction to partygate and beergate for comment.
The behaviour of the MSM throughout the pandemic and subsequently served only to lower my view of them. Without the hysteria of the MSM we might have achieved a less economically damaging outcome along the lines of the Swedish approach.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

I’m in a similar boat, but riskier due to immune suppressants rendering vaccines ineffective. And like you, we interpreted and applied the rules to suit our situation, and at no risk to others.

AC Harper
AC Harper
6 months ago

It might be interesting to consider the implementation of the rules rather than the rules themselves. In the early days of the pandemic people were desperate for ways to reduce deaths, and I rather expect (in glorious hindsight) the rules should have been loosened sooner.
I get the impression that there were far too many people determined to apply the rules whether or not they (still) made sense. They were minions thrilled with a taste of power over others.
That some of the senior Establishment failed strict application of the rules is hardly a surprise. And there were plenty of ordinary people that made their own accommodations with the rules. It’s the street wardens and curtain twitchers who delighted in the rules. It was always thus.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
6 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

In short you are willing to accept that there are rules as long as it is entirely voluntary whether you want to follow them or not?

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
6 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

In a free society, bad law has to be disobeyed on occasion if freedom is to survive

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
6 months ago

Interesting article from somebody who is well left of centre. Also interesting is the number of caveats she puts around being able to talk about it, since it is her fellow travellers who generally try to shut down the debate.

Something that occurs to me, that doesn’t seem to have been raised so far, is the fact that older generations generally had a little bit more trust in government. Gt Barrington could have easily been made to work given the greater willingness of this group to cooperate.

If the government had simply said “everybody above 65 has to stay at home,” an overwhelming majority would’ve done so.

Instead they said “everybody has to stay at home,” until the summer of 2020, then they said “you can go out” until around December, then they said “you have to stay at home.”

My 87-year-old father, a rule follower, stayed at home when they told him, and went out when they said he could. He went on a coach trip in October 2020 and died of it in November.

Gt Barrington is generally sold as avoiding the lock down pain for the majority. In fact, more targeted rules would have protected the at risk group much more effectively.

Last edited 6 months ago by Martin Bollis
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
6 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

In theory, I agree with you about targetted “lock-down”; but my fear is that if that were done the government and medical authorities (and everyone else, really) would have forgotten about them and let them all rot at home; the impetus to find a vaccine would have not been there.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
6 months ago

It’s a good point but that is the boomer generation which, we are continually told, wields disproportionate influence.

It’s very hard to know now where different paths would have taken us but the one we took, arguably, was poorer than some of its alternatives.

David B
David B
6 months ago

I remain quite unconvinced that the vaccine has been a bullet at all, let alone a silver one.
Antivirals and symptomatic relief always seemed likely to be the game changers.

Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
6 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

I think the nadir was reached in December, with “stay at home, unless you’re going to an office party in which case, please don’t cancel.”

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
6 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Of course old and vulnerable people generally have to see a lot of other people. They need help – because they are old and vulnerable – so they need helpers. The idea of separating everybody over 65 and everybody vulnerable from an epidemic that is allowed to spread freely through society was never going to work in reality.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
6 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

There are an awful lot of people over 65, my dad and I being two of them, who didn’t/don’t need care.

Separating those that could easily do so, and a rigid testing regime of carers for the rest, must have been a simpler problem to sort out than the economic and mental health catastrophe we created.

David Smith
David Smith
6 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Your comment makes little sense.
There are many ways to isolate high risk groups. This takes some organization and effort but much less than the ridiculous measures we did take. I saw many examples of effective isolation of seniors as a physician.
I also saw the sheer lunacy of how inefficiently we treated healthy, low risk patients in the medical system and how we harmed thousands of low risk children with the lockdowns and school closures

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
5 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Why should anyone ‘have to’ stay at home, by law? If elderly people wanted to make a free choice, as some of them did, to see grandchildren for example, then they should have been allowed to.
Having seem Bret Weinstein’s recent UnHerd interview – I know he is controversial – it seems possible that not only the lockdown policy was a disaster (not least economically, we will take decades to recover) but also Big Pharma’s promotion of what are increasingly seen to be not very effective vaccines to everyone of any age under emergency regulations. (Plus the demonisation of off-patent drugs which of course would not generate the same profit!). This had never been done before during a pandemic. There are some very worrying signs of severe side effects among young people, for goodness sake. Are we doing the proper studies to assess this, or is this more likely that there will be a huge cover-up? The Left used to have a valid critique of the huge drug companies, no more it seems.

Last edited 5 months ago by Andrew Fisher
R Wright
R Wright
6 months ago

The lockdown regulations themselves were the crime. More damage has been done to our constitution in the past two years than the past two centuries, even including devolution, the Senior Courts Act and the Human Rights Act.

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
6 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Quite … they were an affront to civil liberties – I still can’t understand why there wasn’t mass disobedience & rioting in the streets over them.
Sweden managed perfectly well without draconian lockdowns.
I won’t vote Tory again – not until there are some Tories in the party. The fiscal irresponsibility is now reaping its reward with rampant inflation, surprise surprise

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
6 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Wise

That is a very worrying point; why did not people riot in the street and we have mass civil disobedience over such restrictions? What hope for us now if a potential dictator arises?

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
6 months ago

In some ways I think Boris Johnson must be happy about the fuss over partygate because it takes attention away from all the really important things that his government is doing wrong. No one seems to be challenging the government on its policies

Tom Scott
Tom Scott
6 months ago
Reply to  Steve Elliott

This would be the even more incompetent opposition MPs, and the media who seem to have only a seemingly childlike ability to understand the issues.
Watching Parliamentary discussion is like being in a primary school.

Peter B
Peter B
6 months ago
Reply to  Tom Scott

Not quite. In a primary school, the children are learning, growing and improving ! There’s a useful return on the money and time invested. They are also better behaved and listen some of the time.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
6 months ago
Reply to  Steve Elliott

My husband keeps banging on about Boris and his parties and I commented the same, he must be glad of the distraction from the cost of living crisis.
I really don’t understand why people are so surprised. Boris never wanted to lockdown, he was under pressure from the left and DC.
I understood that for many their fear stemmed from losing loved ones but when my friend lost her 99year old Nan and then started berating those who wouldn’t wear masks properly after Captain Tom died, I lost my patience. People die and old people die a lot, no amount of masks and social distancing was ever going to change that.

Michael James
Michael James
6 months ago

It’s precisely because some of the the lockdown rules were so stupid that the politicians who inflicted them on us must be punished for flouting them.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
6 months ago

I’m afraid that anyone who accepted all rounds of the vaccination without question (even after it was clear that it didn’t prevent infection and was killing healthy people), and wore a mask on any occasion, is part of the problem.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
5 months ago

No mask on any occasion? Even medical people treating infected individuals and carers looking after the vulnerable?
Are you the grim reaper?

Stephen Lodziak
Stephen Lodziak
6 months ago

Great article – but just to pre-empt misunderstanding. Carl Heneghan didn’t sign the Great Barrington Declaration either.

Andrea 0
Andrea 0
6 months ago

Did he not?

James Rae Smith
James Rae Smith
6 months ago

I think Andrea O is slipping into exactly the thinking that this piece criticises. I too would prefer to go for a drink with Boris rather than Nicola, (and incidentally seriousness is not quite the same as piousness), but would it not be better to concentrate on what they have or have not done rather than whether they charm us. If you think government (& even democracy) matters, surely the question we should be asking is whether his personal conduct and qualities are are degrading democracy, and whether, as he claims, he got the big calls right. For myself I’m with Henry V, Falstaff’s place was in the tavern, not in government.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
6 months ago

I thought the issue emerging here is hypocrisy and the foul treatment of cleaning/ security staff. The actual rules are a separate issue though the experts with incredible hindsight have persuaded themselves they always knew the answers without any scientific training.That’s what galls most people and we’ve all met these types- arrogant, self centred and condescending. Most Brits don’t like that kind of person.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
5 months ago

“but we’ve known about Johnson’s special brand of squalor and extravagance since Wallpapergate (and before). Nor do I approve of throwing up on walls and carrying drinks in suitcases — I’m a schoolteacher. I’d like to call them in and phone their parents.”
And you claim not to be judgemental and an authoritarian?
The lady doth protest too much. You’re a hypocrite.

Last edited 5 months ago by Ian Stewart
Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
5 months ago

The continuing coverage of the parties is an excuse for journalists unwilling or intellectually challenged to not consider the pressing issues of the day. What can the UK do to end the war in Ukraine without rewarding Russian imperialism? What should be the UK’s reaction to a Chinese attack on Taiwan? What measures should the UK take to maintain national security in the face of another pandemic, cyber-warfare etc.? How can the UK government subsidise energy and other prices when rising interest prices will tip it into defaulting on existing debt ? Given the inadequacy of most journalists to answer these questions, perhaps they could start with easier ones … starting with the parties themselves. Why did the Conservative and Labour leaders continue to advocate lockdowns when they clearly believed that Covid was not a danger to healthy adults below the age of 50 or even 60? Who was doing what in the Wuhan laboratories of virology? Should we demand reparations from China? Are the Covid vaccines safe if there has been no time for long-term tests? Why did the Government continue to take advice from failed forecasters and shareholders of Big Pharma? Who stole what from the Government under the pretence of providing medical supplies?

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
5 months ago

Agreed. nearly all the news/information we receive is from journalists, yet they seem to have abandoned the real job of finding out stuff and telling us about it in favour of repetition of the latest narrative.
Their aim seems no longer to impart information – their main goal in life is to get someone to resign/get sacked.
While they claim to be ‘holding the government to account’, no-one is holding them to account.
Note that none of them predicted Ukraine invasion, nor the resistance of Ukrainians…now that have failed to predict the fall if the Donbass. Thei journalism consists of interviews with people (mostly women) who they get to cry on camera.

Simon S
Simon S
5 months ago

As a teacher I am amazed you are so sanguine at the rule maker being the rule breaker. It is the blatant hypocrisy that is abhorrent.

MDH 0
MDH 0
5 months ago

A couple of points – I lost my mother “to covid”, except that she tested negative two days before she died, and showed no signs of respiratory illness. But she still got counted as a covid death. How many others, I wonder?
And “of course” I declined to take an untried vaccine, deciding instead to wait a reasonable time before considering it – say until 2023. Needless to say, I shan’t be bothering.

bill hughes
bill hughes
5 months ago

The ‘elite’ ignored the rules because they – better than anyone else – knew the whole thing was a confected nonsense, we were not all at risk, another new respiratory virus is not a ‘killer disease’ unless you are part of the very small susceptible group; the very fact that the normal way of reporting death – ‘died of’ was turned into ‘died with’ in March 2020 gave the game away to those who were awake. So, yes, of course, senior politicians and civil servants ignored the rules because the rules were rubbish, just the inevitable but pointless consequence of the original lie that covid was coming to get us all.

Kathryn Dwyer
Kathryn Dwyer
6 months ago

Well said Kate Clanchey. One of the many tragedies of the past two years is that even to ask a question about the effectiveness of the policies is considered subversive/irresponsible/selfish/libertarian/conspiracy theorist…….

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
5 months ago

It’s not the focus on rules for their own sake: it’s that rules, applied and accepted by all are necessary for social cohesion. What would it have cost the hedonists of Downing Street and the Cabinet Office to have conformed to the rules: only their sense of entitlement. What would observing the rules given them: respect.