Helena Morrissey: a CEO wouldn’t get away with this

November 5, 2020
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Baroness Helena Morrissey criticised the Government in the House of Lords yesterday evening, as England began its second lockdown. The Tory peer, a former financier, began by drawing parallels between how a FTSE CEO would make an important decision, and the government’s approach to making choices:

In business the higher the stakes, the higher the burden of proof on decision-makers. A FTSE CEO announcing a major change in strategy would need to bring along those who are affected by setting out the basis for the decision: the pros and cons, the likely impacts, both good and bad, across all parts of the business and groups that will be affected. And if it’s a particularly controversial decision, that CEO may also take the trouble to explain what other options were considered, and why they weren’t chosen. He or she will share the numbers and the assumptions behind them, share projections and take detailed questions. If you’ve ever attended an analyst day, or a companies results day, you’ll find it’s a spreadsheet heavy affair. And if it’s sobering news, if the case is well made, if the analysis is sound, shareholders and other stakeholders, such as employees, will tend to go along with the decision.  
- Baroness Helena Morrissey

When faced with a difficult choice, a CEO respects the need to bring along their company with them. No, the country is not a business, Morrissey admitted, because the stakes are ultimately much higher in government, especially during a national crisis. That’s why proper scrutiny and detailed evidence is necessary at every stage of the decision making process. The government, according to Morrissey, had not provided either in its justifications for a second lockdown.

Now, at present, it seems although we have even more to lose — the economies already fragile — the less we are told, and the weaker the basis for the decision. There is, as we have heard tonight, vagueness and confusion around the medical evidence that’s being used to justify the second lockdown decree. On Monday when Conservative MP Huw Merriman asked why Sussex was being locked down when it had one of the lowest Covid rates of any county, the PM replied: ‘the medical data is, alas, overwhelming.’ Using my analogy, imagine a FTSE CEO saying, when challenged by an analyst about, say, a decision to close a factory: ‘alas we just have to.’
- Baroness Helena Morrissey

Graphs used in Saturday’s lockdown announcement were criticised by Professor Carl Heneghan, from Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, as provably “out of date”. Morrissey argued that “real data” not just “numbers around the virus” was needed.

I was going to say that there is no evidence that the government is considering, or has undertaken a broader impact assessment before coming to the conclusion that a second lockdown was necessary. But we have now had the admission that no such impact assessment has been made. Yet while we do not know if a second lockdown will work, or is even necessary, we do know that the collateral damage will be devastating. We, and the public, need to see how devastating, and to see why the other options, such as continuing with tiers one and three local restrictions or shielding only those who are vulnerable. No one from the government has shared such an analysis. Presumably the Treasury has modelled the impact on the economy — so why can’t we see that? What are the excess deaths expected from untreated cancers, heart diseases and suicides, borne out loneliness, despair and poverty?
- Baroness Helena Morrissey

England’s second lockdown began this morning at 12.01 am, and will continue until at least December 2nd. It may, of course, last longer than that.


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