The writer is in Australia.
As regular readers will well know I have despised what Governments around the democratic world did to us for two-plus years during the Covid pandemic (not including the Governments of Sweden or Florida or a handful of other U.S. states but including all others). It was despotic, thuggish and overwhelmingly flew in the face of the data – data we had at the time, to be clear. Also culpable were the preponderance of the doctorly caste and the vast majority of journalists who exhibited zero scepticism and became barely better than PR, fearmongering agents for the Government, not too unlike Pravda in that regard. And not just the ABC either but big swathes of Sky TV journalists and those writing for the Australian too (all but a Steve Waterson here and an Adam Creighton there). As I’ve said before, it was an honour and a privilege to have been associated as a regular writer with the Spectator Australia because we came out against the lockdowns from virtually day one and never wavered – these policies were wrong on the data; wrong in principle for any society with a passing commitment to freedom and civil liberties; wrong in terms of sensible decision-making in conditions of great uncertainty because in those times you don’t jump to the ‘perceived least risk for just this one threat, a sort of precautionary principle on steroids’ approach, instead you just continue with the laid-down plans you have (the way Sweden did, which as I write has the OECD’s lowest cumulative excess deaths from the start of the pandemic – yes, Australia has a lot more excess deaths, meaning dead people because of what we did, and ours are running at about 15% above expectations, the journalists and governments have just stopped talking about it because they caused it) and wait for more data.
I could go on and on because to be honest I am still seething mad at what the political class did to us. And they did it to us without taking a pay cut. Without suffering anything like what those who were young suffered, what those who were poor suffered, and what those who were outside ‘the laptop class’ suffered. Their claims that ‘we’re all in this together’ were patent lies and anyone with a half-functioning brain could see as much. But it became plain that there was unlikely to be any consequences, any retribution, for all of this cancelling of critics, outrageous slurs about being ‘granny killers’, turning people into snitches of their neighbours and friends, weaponising of the police into thugs, and a lot more. Alas, any inquiry or royal commission would be, at best, three parts whitewash to one part mild and hesitant ‘with the benefit of hindsight we might have done a few peripheral things better’ type outcome. Sure, 10 years from now this would widely be seen in the terms the Speccie Australia stated from virtually day one, the worst public policy fiasco in two or three centuries. But we lockdown sceptics weren’t likely to get much else.
And then a week or two ago Matt Hancock proved that cynicism to be wrong. If readers don’t know, Hancock was the Health Minister in Britain through virtually the entirety of Covid. A while back he approached the U.K. journalist Isabel Oakeshott to ghost-write his memoirs or book on the Covid years. To do this Hancock gave her all of his encrypted WhatsApp texts to everyone that mattered during the entire pandemic years. Oakeshott wrote the book and then, even though she’d promised not to, she gave the entirety of these WhatsApp texts to the U.K. Telegraph. My take is that the Telegraph is covering itself in glory publishing these texts. And the various journalists criticising Oakeshott for ‘betraying’ Hancock (and for doing her job, really) are the very same ones who didn’t do theirs. For two-plus years. Sure, it’s generally a good rule not to break promises. That has social utility. But it’s not an absolute good nor the only important value in life. There are lots of others. And releasing these texts massively outweighed the promise-keeping virtue here. As Oakeshott said, otherwise there was going to be a whitewash. It was in the public interest for people to see these texts and know that their political class was comprised of charlatans and heartless zealots fired by self-interest, making things up on the fly and continually mouthing ‘this is the Science’ when they knew it simply was guesses, seat-of-pants guesses at that, and cover to look good politically.
You have to read some of these released text messages to believe them. Children made to mask-up when they knew there was no scientific evidence, none, for doing so but the politics were good. Top bureaucrats laughing at people who would have to go from business class flights into pokey little hotel rooms for weeks on end. The explicit targeting of sceptics and dissenters, including some of the best epidemiologists in the world, to discredit them and have them silenced because that was undercutting the pollies’ messaging – no mention of truth, notice. When they were told various idiotic rules had no utility they carried on with them because to do otherwise might make them look bad. Seriously, go and read these WhatsApp revelations because we citizens can never again trust these (what’s the word I’m looking for? Two syllables. Might start with an ‘f’).
It will be extra tough reading for those whose small businesses were destroyed. Or those with children whose lives were ruined. (And yes we knew from day one that the chances of a healthy person under 30 dying from Covid was less than one one-thousandth that of someone over 75. It was essentially zero. They knew it too.) Or those who resisted useless mandates. Well, it’ll be cold comfort reading these texts but do it. Because all of us labelled ‘conspiracy theorists’ were right on almost everything. And the whole ‘fact-checking’ industry is nothing more than partisan opinion claims, often worse and verging on a propaganda operation, on behalf of out-of-control government. Laugh at the mere mention of ‘fact checkers’.
Project Fear succeeded because we citizens let it. Never again can it happen. We should shame every MP who played this game and perpetuated this disgusting thuggery and illiberal anti-science that have destroyed people.
Again, Australia right now has sky-high excess deaths. If the goal of lockdowns was to save more lives than it cost then it has failed miserably on its own terms. The incredible stupidity of Hancock in being so arrogant that it never occurred to him not to give away otherwise encrypted texts (which made the writers more forthcoming than otherwise) has done us all a huge favour. And every single Australian knows in his or her heart that our own politicians were no different than Britain’s – no less self-serving, focused on PR and fearmongering, clueless on the data, afraid to stand up to the worst elements of the modelling class, etc. Read ‘em and weep readers.
James Allan is the Garrick Professor of Law at Queensland University. This article first appeared in Spectator Australia.