Toby appeared on Newsnight on Tuesday night to talk about whether lockdown sceptics should be outright banned or reluctantly tolerated. You can watch the segment here. A reader has written a review.
Emily Maitlis: “The lockdown worked in March, it brought the R rate down from 3 to .6.”
Toby Young: “It was falling before it was imposed.”
EM: “We will discuss this again I am sure.”
It was an exit cue of course and whilst it may not have quite amounted to an invitation, we must make sure we do discuss it again with Emily, because whether or not lockdowns work is what it is all about.
The exchange came at the end of a nine-minute segment that perfectly illustrated Dr David McGrogan’s piece on “the failed strategy of lockdown sceptics”, with emotive accusations of Covid denial blocking out any light that might have been used to illuminate key areas of contention. The Newsnight segment was on whether YouTube had been right to remove from its platform the recordings of talkRADIO on the basis that its policy is “to take down content that explicitly contradicts expert consensus”. A decision that has since been reversed.
Emily set out her stall. “In a time of public emergency, and in the face of so much irrefutable scientific data, is it responsible to spread the word of the Covid Deniers/the Lockdown Sceptics – is it responsible to air the unorthodox view? Or is it wrong not to acknowledge it?” Emily asked. A deliberate conflation of deniers and sceptics later justified because Toby Young had, in June 2020 when Covid had, for a time, all but disappeared, argued that Covid had “all but disappeared”, that “social distancing was pointless” which it probably was back then, as evidenced by the absence of an increase in deaths following the BLM rallies and that the second spike had “refused to materialise”. It hadn’t then – but there is clearly a problem now. Emily wanted contrition – Toby obliged. Fair enough you might think but did Newsnight pillory the Chief Scientific Officer when, after months of denying the possibility of T cell immunity, conceded he had been wrong all along? A far greater failure with far more significant implications. Last night Emily read out a tweet from children’s author Michael Rosen saying, “If Toby Young had been in charge he would have switched ventilators off and I would have died.” What possible justification did she have? Was she auditioning for a space on the Good Morning Britain sofa? Did reading that tweet really shed any light on the greatest crisis our nation has faced in our lifetimes? Would Patrick Vallance have received the same kind of treatment?
Ian Dunt, the other contributor and editor of politics.co.uk, questioned the morality of publishing a contrary view – “Should you write it or publish it in the first place, is it responsible, is it truthful, does it show moral consideration?” His answer was of course was no – he “wouldn’t be able to sleep at night”. Using phrasing, and in a tone that clearly conveyed her opinion of the lockdown sceptic argument that lockdown damage might outweigh the benefits, Emily then questioned whether “oxygenating views that encourages a change in behaviour that leads to a greater number of deaths that is dangerous”. That is only one small step away from Paul Mason (formerly of Newsnight), who tweeted, “I don’t want Johnson to say ‘Stay home, safe lives’ etc. I want him to call out and ridicule the bullshit anti-maskers, lockdown skeptics (sic) and denialists in his own party – and order social media platforms to suppress/label Covid disinformation. That’s leadership”. It is not, it is censorship, and Mason, Dunt and Maitlis are all patronising the British people.
One thing that Ian Dunt did get right was that “there was no threat of Toby or his allies convincing very many people – a YouGov poll says 85% of the public support the new lockdown measures”. So why is that? I’ve never been a fan of our Prime Minister, he is the perfect illustration of why you should never make a salesman into a CEO (although without him we might have ended up with Jeremy Corbyn). But I did like the look of both Professors Whitty and Vallance. Chris Whitty in particular comes across as unassuming and honest, a family member was taught by him when she was a medical student and was full of praise. A close friend went through medical school with Vallance and spoke highly of him too (less so now). I wanted to believe, I wanted to go along with the narrative. Professor Ferguson grew up just over the border in mid-Wales and his mother is an Anglican priest, as was my father – I wanted to believe him too. And that is the instinct of the vast majority of the people in this country – it is just too overwhelming, and when the MSM are not doing their job, time consuming not to.
It was David Blunkett referencing Matthew Syed’s brilliant book on “group think” – Rebel Ideas – on BBC Radio 4’s The World at One on April 28th that gave me the confidence to look elsewhere. Drawing on Rebel Ideas, Blunkett argued that the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has a problem, “major mistakes in the recent past have been made by people of similar ilk, similar ideas, similar background, similar thinking being considered the only experts that you could draw down on”.
I set off on a path that will be familiar to many sceptics which took me to UnHerd, Spiked, Tim Spector and the Covid ZOE App, Lockdown Sceptics and then to Twitter and Ivor Cummins, David Paton, Joel Smalley, GBD, Peter Hitchens, Pearson and more. The evidence that lockdowns do not work seems extremely compelling to me but there are also many unanswered questions – how is it that Japan a highly urbanised country of 125 million, whose response to Covid has been shambolic – little testing, no track and trace, intermittent lockdowns – have had so few deaths? What can we learn from Taiwan and Vietnam? And why is it that Sweden, which has performed so much better than most European countries that have had lockdowns, have suffered more deaths than their Nordic neighbours? Is the “dry tinder” explanation enough?
The sceptic case is supported by a huge number of scientists, physicians, academics and well-meaning people who also want to save lives and find the best outcome for our country. They do not deserve to be vilified. This whole Covid thing is not over yet and these rebel ideas justify opening up the debate not shutting it down. The ideas and the data that underpin them warrant serious, detailed scrutiny by the MSM and the BBC in particular, to whom we look in times of crisis.
Emily Maitlis must, as she mooted, make time to discuss this again – soon. She needs to produce the data to justify her assertions that the scientific evidence is “irrefutable” and that the lockdown in March 2020 reduced the R rate from 3 to .6. The programme content should be about data and not sentiment, her guests should be data scientists and not journalists and the segment should be an hour long Newsnight special and not 8mins 44 seconds. I wait in hope.
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