Lord Sumption has written a very damning piece on the vanity of Matt Hancock for theTelegraph. Here’s an excerpt:
The 19th-century sage William Hazlitt once observed that those who love liberty love their fellow men, while those who love power love only themselves. Matt Hancock says that he has been betrayed by the leaking of his WhatsApp messages. But few people will have any sympathy for him. He glutted on power and too obviously loved himself.
Some things can be said in his favour. The Lockdown Files are not a complete record. No doubt there were also phone calls, Zoom meetings, civil service memos and the like, in which the thoughts of ministers and officials may have been more fully laid out. Not all the accusations levelled against him are fair. Care homes, for example, were probably an insoluble problem, given the absence of other places for many elderly patients to go, and the scarcity of testing materials in the early stages of the pandemic.
Nevertheless, Hancock’s WhatsApp messages offer an ugly insight into the workings of Government at a time when it aspired to micromanage every aspect of our lives. They reveal the chaos and incoherence at the heart of Government, as decisions were made on the hoof. They expose the fallacy that ministers were better able to judge our vulnerabilities than we were ourselves. They throw a harsh light on those involved: their narcissism, their superficiality, their hypocrisies great and small. Above all, they show in embarrassing detail how completely power corrupts those who have it.
Sumption goes on to outline the three problems inherent in the lockdown policy.
There always were three major problems about lockdowns as a response to this particular pathogen, all of which are thrown into sharp relief by The Lockdown Files.
The first was the catastrophic social and economic cost. Messrs Whitty and Vallance accepted in their evidence to a Parliamentary committee that this was a serious issue but added that it was not their job to think about it. It turned out to be no one’s job. There never was a proper cost-benefit analysis. The Government went into the lockdowns blind.
The second problem was that lockdowns were indiscriminate whereas the virus was selective. This is the critical point in the view of many reputable epidemiologists. The groups at significant risk of serious illness or death were the old and those suffering from certain underlying health problems. For the overwhelming majority of the population, including almost all of those who were economically active, the symptoms could be relatively mild. It did not matter much whether healthy under-65s were infected, provided that they did not infect others in the more vulnerable categories.
Protecting the truly vulnerable would have been challenging, but not as challenging as keeping most of the population locked up. Only about 8 per cent of people under 65 live in the same household as someone over that age. Humans have a developed sense of self-preservation. They had already begun to limit their social interaction before the first lockdown was announced. What they needed was balanced and trustworthy advice, not coercion or propaganda.
The scientists always understood this. In March 2020, a fortnight before the first lockdown, SAGE advised that social distancing measures, including confinement, should apply to those over 70 and younger people with known vulnerabilities. They proposed that “citizens should be treated as rational actors, capable of taking decisions for themselves and managing personal risk”. Policies designed to limit human interaction among those at risk are often said to require mass coercion as if this went without saying. But it was not obvious to the scientists at the time. The policies originally proposed by SAGE were actually followed by Sweden with results that were notably better than ours.
The third problem was that even the minimum of human interaction necessary to keep basic services like food distribution and healthcare running was more than enough to keep the virus circulating. All that lockdowns could ever achieve in those circumstances was to defer some infections until after they were lifted, to prevent people from acquiring a measure of personal immunity, and to prolong the crisis.
Worth reading in full.