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‘The Lockdown Files’
“The Lockdown Files” is the name of a series of investigative reports in the Daily Telegraph, reports which are currently rocking the United Kingdom, having to do with the government’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic. Keep in mind that the governmental structure in the UK is much flatter than it is in the US, that there are nation-states, rather than state-states, that Scotland and Northern Ireland enjoy the supposed benefits of a pretty devolved and independent government and mostly did their own thing during Covid, but that much of what’s presented here applies all over England and largely in Wales.
A little background: Matt Hancock, a Tory (but very recently turned Independent) politician who’s held posts in various Cabinet departments over the past decade was, for most of the pandemic years, Boris Johnson’s Health Secretary. He’s widely disliked across party lines, and not too long ago became the (scuttle)butt of much opprobrium following a very public display of affection with his mistress (Hancock was married at the time), in which he not only violated public decorum, but also ran afoul of the social-distancing laws regarding intermingling of people from different households which he was rigorously attempting to enforce on the general population.
After resigning as Health Secretary, and while doing his best to recover from that indiscretion, he signed up, in November of 2022, for a tour of duty on one of the British I’m A Celebrity shows, and ended up spending several weeks in the Australian jungle eating camel penises, digging himself into a hole full of moles, and undergoing the dreaded Flood in Your Face trial, where contestants submerge their heads in a tank of water and allow unpleasant creepy-crawlies to wander at will all over their faces.
And you thought John Fetterman had issues. I can’t even.
For his sins on the show, Hancock (while still a sitting Member of Parliament supposedly working for the good of his constituents) was paid something on the order of $400K, of which he donated about $10K to charity, declaring it to be “a decent amount.” He was summarily stripped of his role as party Whip, and has been the target of considerable public fury and ridicule ever since.
Just in case you think I am exaggerating Hancock’s penchant for poor judgment and public self-immolation, in April of last year, he announced that he would co-author, with journalist Isabel Oakeshott, The Pandemic Diaries, a book not actually based on his diaries, but merely his recollections of how brilliantly he had handled the national lockdowns (which were far more severe than almost anything that happened on this side of the pond, and for which the consequences of violation, even the smallest way, were draconian). The book was published in December 2022. Reviews were generally scathing.
Fast forward a couple of months to February 2022, and Isabel Oakeshott’s handing over to the Daily Telegraph of over 100,000 WhatApp messages in her possession from her days co-writing the book. The messages are to and from Matt Hancock and his colleagues in the government and in the health sector, over the course of the pandemic, and reveal a veritable treasure trove of one devastating revelation after another.
Upon being accused by Hancock of a “massive betrayal,” Oakeshott replied:
Was it right to reveal the truth about the way we were governed during the pandemic, or should I have sat on WhatsApps I received from Matt Hancock, because I owed him a duty of confidentiality? Is it my job as a journalist to keep politicians’ secrets and protect their reputations – or uncover what they’d prefer to hide, if it’s in the public interest?
Recognizing that there’s probably some self-serving going on there too, it’s an interesting question. The Great British public has answered with a massive show of support for Oakeshott, and have turned Hancock into perhaps the most-reviled political villain since John Profumo. (Who, after his own defenestration, lived an exemplary private life in service to others, and was eventually rewarded with a seat to the right of the late Queen at a dinner celebrating Mrs. Thatcher’s 70th birthday. I foresee no such display of integrity or offer of any such redemption in Matt Hancock’s future.)
As detailed in the WhatsApp messages, the betrayals of the British public are immense, starting with the policies for care homes in which–as in the United States–thousands of elderly residents died, many probably needlessly while politicians and smug Covid czars mouthed platitudes about protecting the most vulnerable. In the UK, Hancock proudly touted his “ring of steel” around care homes, put there for the protection of the residents. The actual policies, as implemented, show that Hancock dismissed medical advice that all home care residents and staff should be vaccinated, and that only full-time staff and existing residents and residents coming into the home from hospitals had to be vaccinated.
Healthcare, and auxiliary, workers who ‘floated’ from one facility to another didn’t need to be vaccinated at the time, and neither did new residents coming the facility from anywhere other than hospitals. So, at the height of the Covid pandemic, a mobile population of unvaccinated workers was moving from facility to facility, and new, unvaccinated, untested, elderly residents were moving in on a regular basis. At the same time, the residents’ family members, whether vaccinated, or tested, or not, were flatly denied any physical access to their loved ones in the homes, could not be with them during their health challenges, and couldn’t even sit at their sides while they died. There are no words adequate to describe how livid the public is about this.
Other messages reveal a remarkable degree of condescension towards the masses, who are often treated like mushrooms, manipulated by politicians, and are the object of repeated attempts to scare them into compliance:
“We frighten the pants off everyone,” Matt Hancock suggested during one WhatsApp message with his media adviser.
Discussion of what’s generally come to be known as “Covid theater” abound. Mask wearing? Thumbs up, because it has a “very visible impact.” Banning trout fishing (which was actually under consideration)? Thumbs down because (a rare moment of self-awareness) it would be “parodied galore.” Establish that “fear and guilt are vital tools” and shame the populace into compliance. Reopen the London “Nightingale” hospital, because that’ll scare people into thinking things are really bad (these seven enormous emergency field hospitals, built in mere weeks all over England at the start of the pandemic were–like the Navy ship hospitals Donald Trump sent to New York, barely used at all, and when they were, almost exclusively admitted non-Covid patients).
And, yes, let’s seriously consider, early in the pandemic, whether the government should require that all citizens have their pet cats killed because the cats might be spreading the disease. (A proposal whose existence was subsequently confirmed and defended by former Health Minister Lord Bethell, on the basis that–at the time–they really didn’t know anything about the disease. Why ignorance should be a defense against unconscionable acts for these appalling people, when it’s one they never extend for the benefit of others, is totally beyond me.)
The enormity of the betrayal of public trust exposed in these communications is staggering, and goes on and on, from Hancock’s determined efforts to destroy the career of a much-respected and influential scientist and member of the government’s advisory group who criticized the lockdown policies, to PPE contracts for his friends, to the arbitrary and capricious rationales for closing schools, to the jokes told among themselves about people having to suffer through unreasonable quarantines in unspeakable conditions:
The rather disheveled elephant in the room at this point, as is so often the case with British politics, is Boris Johnson. Initially a lockdown sceptic, he reversed himself at some point, and became a staunch supporter of his government’s recommendations. I can’t quite tell if he was a willing stooge, or a co-conspirator, but at least I haven’t seen anything yet to indicate that he was on board with, or exhibited, the juvenile, anything goes, “let’s haze the pubic,” “frat-boy” attitude of many of his deputies. Still, he was the Prime Minister, and he should have known, and done, better. I think any thoughts and hopes he may have had of the resurgence or rehabilitation of his political career anytime soon have gone out the window, at least for now.
Rishi Sunak, on the other hand, emerges from the mess fairly well and as something of a grownup, with a rational degree of lockdown skepticism, and a thirst for actual truth and data. He may lose the next election (he probably will), but at least he hasn’t embarrassed himself here. However, many of the Tories have a lot to answer for, and I think they’ll pay at the ballot box.
God bless the Telegraph for committing what Rush Limbaugh used to call a “random act of journalism” and staying on the case. They aren’t finished yet, and I can’t wait to see what tomorrow’s installment brings.Published in General
I do hope these stories get the wide coverage they deserve.
I’m generating a list of U.S. personages who should be so honored.
This is going to take a while …
The absence of both character and scientific competence among those who “led” us through the pandemic is striking. The western elite class is of poor quality. Why is that?
I think Boris Johnson and Mike Pence (the man who ran the absurd task force of Fauci, Birx, Redfield-the mediocrity all-stars) were entirely concerned with appearing to operate according to scientific authority. Both were utterly incapable of discerning much less disputing horribly bad advice.
The self-congratulatory mask & mandate class is ready to hide behind a media wall of science, to try to promote amnesia and then pretend they were right and noble. Hancock and the rest of the arrogant Anglo-American actually anti-science clique need to be publicly, ruthlessly crucified and humiliated until those hordes of fellow travelers who claimed they believed in The Science will become like all those in France who (post-war) claimed to have been part of La Résistance all along–golly, we always knew Fauci was full of it. That is necessary to inoculate our politics against a repeat of mandate-mania.
It is noteworthy that the MSM has to be dragged kicking and screaming into covering any of the big scandals of our era because they are complicit in those crimes. That may be the biggest scandal of all.
They have the character of bureaucrats. They have the scientific competence of bureaucrats as well.
True on all counts. I think sometimes about what’s “different” today, because incompetent bureaucrats are like the poor; they’ve always been with us, and they always will be.
For me, much of the horror of stories like this shows itself in the immaturity and apparent complete lack of seriousness of these people, their narcissism, their disrespect for those they are supposed to be serving, and their childish glee–which they share among themselves–at inventing the most onerous restrictions for other people to follow and then punishing them when those people get it even slightly, and inconsequentially, a bit wrong.
My Dad (who’d have been 104 years old tomorrow) must be spinning in his grave.
Generations of meritocracy. The only defence to them misusing power is denying it to them. And by “them” I mean the entire political class, elected and unelected, and their simps, the press.
This is not a loony, Randian or libertarian theory-driven position. This is an empirical observation.
I know intra-cabinet rivalry is a thing, but has any cabinet official been caught suggesting the murder of a cabinet colleague?
The most shocking revelation to me, set out in a Powerline post, is that some ministers “wanted to ‘deploy’ a new Covid variant to “frighten the pants off” the public and ensure they complied with lockdown”.
As dreadful as lockdown restrictions were here in Calif, and they were over the top in their dreadfulness, at least not once did Gavin Newsom propose that if we were out and about doing essential errands like shopping for food, that we should avoid making eye contact with anyone who passed us by.
This advice was an actual British health official recommendation – why, I don’t know. (Did COVID viral particles somehow have special privileges allowed them by floating about on light rays visually connecting one stranger’s eyes to another?)
I think the speaker got this wrong – the public was determining that what would shut COVID down would be the extermination of all British health officials and all British public officials who supported the draconian and controlling policies brought about by using COVID as an excuse.
Boris Johnson got a taste of this.
There is now a lot of evidence showing that the health officials and public officials were a huge danger to the health and safety of the public.
Yes that is one of the most horrifying of the notions these people entertained:
Jay Bhattacharya set out what Hancock was about in this one tweet:
@DrJBhattacharya Dec. 2020. UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock: “When do we deploy the new variant?”
Don’t forget the edicts about not being allowed to hug your spouse.
Yes, that’s where the quote “We frighten the pants off everyone” in the OP originated. A new strain of Covid started circulating (on its own) somewhere in December 2020, and shortly thereafter Hancock devised his plan to frighten people (including Boris Johnson it appears) with it, with the intention of scuppering Johnson’s plan to pull back on lockdown restrictions so that families could enjoy a bit of Christmas together. It worked, and the lockdowns were not only kept on, but were increased in severity before Christmas. No word yet on the “science” behind the decision.
Today’s Telegraph headline: “Matt Hancock rejected advice to cut Covid isolation as it would “imply we’ve been wrong.” (The advice came from Britain’s Chief Medical Officer in November 2020 that five days of isolation from a personal contact with someone who tested positive for Covid would be “pretty well as good as” the government-enforced fourteen day quarantine period.)
Regardless (or irregardless as the case may be) of whether it’s a violation of the new Code of Conduct, I hope some of these people fry in Hell. Forever.
I remember how Auntie Pat spent most of the last three years of her life. Isolated and alone. I’m glad her robust genes, her inventive and creative family and friends, and her determined spirit got her through. But I’m sure they took their toll, and that’s one of the reasons she’s no longer with us today.
I just thought he meant: deploy the tactical argument of some actual new variant.
Don’t forget the government MFers deciding Who is “essential” and Who isn’t.
Every one of ’em should be drawn, quartered, and set on fire in the public streets.
For those who may not know, Larry the Cat works for the British government and–on February 15 2023, celebrated his twelfth anniversary as the No. 10 Downing Street official mouser He’s quite the personality. And, fortunately, not dead:
His last official pronouncement on state business may have been this one, shortly after the Johnson/Truss/Sunak fiasco (I’ve bowdlerized it a bit for compliance purposes):
The French had the Great Cat Massacre in the early 1700s. Lord Bethell was simply trying to keep up.
The British system has the ‘virtue’ that it’s a bit more obvious that politics is a reality game show, where the participants can win notoriety and prizes, and the press plays along with breathless coverage, but the participants can be rotated into and out of the cast at the whim of the producers. The public pretends to care, but only in the way you have a favorite Kardashian.
The US system is identical, just less fun.
I’m inclined to think that main problem was not a lack of character or understanding on the part of politicians. I think that the main problem is the nature of representative government. When a significant portion of the population panics, an elected official has little practical choice except to pander to that panic.
I think that I’m seeing this on the political right at present, in a serious overreaction to the chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio. We see the same thing with mass shootings and other similar events. Covid was an extreme case of this, I think.
I remember the “blood on his hands” argument made against anyone who was skeptical of various policy responses to Covid, most of which seemed like serious overreactions to me. (I said so here at Ricochet, at the time.)
The “blood on his hands” argument is extremely effective, I think. That’s the immediate source of the problem.
The underlying source of the problem, I think, is the fact that most people aren’t very bright, aren’t very knowledgeable about any particular area (like epidemiology or crime), aren’t very good at understanding risks in context (or understanding probability in general), and are easily prone to panic when a particular danger is brought to their attention in an emotionally spectacular way.
So we have a choice: find wise philosopher kings to rule over us, or reduce the scope of government to that exercised by most governors over most people for most of human history i.e. extremely little.
A relevant quote from C.S. Lewis:
How could Hell possibly be any worse than that reality show he was already on?
But with Covid, the same politicians who pandered to the panic also helped create it.
I have no special training in anything, let alone medicine or public policy. But it was obvious to me by the time LA locked down in March 2020 that the threat of Covid had been wildly exaggerated.
I agree with your last sentence that made up the final paragraph.
As far as the flaw in representative government, that style of government is a splendid thing – as long as big money does not interfere.
We are finding out today that the current sheriff of Maricopa County in AZ was paid 2 million by Soros. This begs the question of “Well why didn’t he call in the FBI to oversee what was clearly a fraudulent election giving Hobbs the election that Lake had won?”
Without that multi million dollar offer, maybe he would have done the right thing. Now we will never know.
Please extemporize on the sort of government (other than representative, presumably) that you’d like to see installed.
An interesting aspect of this window into how the sausage was made during the British government’s managing of the Covid pandemic for England is that it seems to flip many of the commonly held beliefs about it on their heads.
Far from dealing with a fear-ridden population on the edge of panic, the files make clear that the fear, and the panic were largely among a few in Westminster, and often took the form: “What can we do to, and how can we control, the population, in order to make sure it stays in line with, and doesn’t deviate from, our most recent and most stringent control measures? (Which, as I said in the OP were far more draconian WRT people’s daily business than anything in the US.) The files make clear that these few in Westminster feared that, at any moment, the population–which was slowly recovering its wits after the initial early 2020 chaos–might simply stop complying, especially if they were given indications of statistical improvements in the outlook. So they decided simply to lie and mislead, even when it came to exaggerating and fearmongering the risks of new variants, covering up encouraging numbers, and squelching recommendations from all sides to reopen schools.
Far from the all-powerful “science” dictating to the “politicians” the files make it clear that the politicians often flatly ignored or overrode the advice and recommendations of some of its most senior scientific and medical advisors and–when given a range of possible responses to particular situations–some of them with very minimal differences in risk outcomes between the most stringent and the least stringent and whose implementation at the less-restrictive end would have led to a much earlier recovery from the worst of the lockdowns, the government over and again imposed the most onerous and restrictive option to control the population and lock the country down again. Their frequent outbursts of condescension, jubilation, and glee at the inconvenience caused to the English people by their shenanigans may not be actionable, but it’s certainly ugly.
Far from allowing reasoned and open debates about strategies and possible outcomes, (the debate on reopening schools is particularly instructive) the files make it clear that any Member of Parliament or members of the Cabinet not in lockstep with those running the show (still unclear if Johnson was one of them, but he’s looking pretty weak, if not venal) would be bullied and threatened for opposing them. “Nice little center for the learning-disabled you’ve got there in Bury. Be a shame if anything happened to it.”
Far from showing themselves as examples to the country by living under the same rules they imposed on everyone else (the image of the late Queen sitting alone and masked in
Westminster AbbeySt. George’s Chapel,** at the her husband’s funeral comes to mind), the files make it clear that Matt Hancock, freely snogging his adulterous girlfriend in full public view when ordinary citizens were regularly being arrested and prosecuted for such (even non-adulterous) behavior, Dominic Cummings driving up and down the country to visit his parents (when ordinary citizens were restricted from, and arrested for, any such activities), Keir Starmer’s “beergate,” and, of course, BoJo’s “partygate,” and countless more lockdown-busting incidents involving politicians, civil servants, and government advisors–the files make it clear that all of them had the information and knowledge to know that they themselves could flout the lockdowns with impunity, and that the risks to themselves–as would have been the risks to all but the most vulnerable in the population–were minimal.
It’s a disgusting exhibition, and I’m not going to apologize for being disgusted by it. Sometimes, as Freud is alleged to have said, “a cigar is just a cigar.” And sometimes the facts simply speak for themselves.
Oh, I think it was. (About that “understanding” part–I don’t think anyone is accusing them of lacking understanding. They understood perfectly well what they were doing. And they’ll do it again if they get the chance, in a heartbeat, next time.)
**Correction: Prince Philip’s funeral was in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, not at Westminster Abbey.
@She, absolutely. We said it then, and we were criticized as being idiots. But we were right: people in power were leveraging the situation for the sake of MORE POWER. This is precisely why civil rights shall not be infringed!
I had more than one convo with my UK relatives about the UK elite not following their own draconian lockdown rules.
To a one, I heard about hypocrisy. I kept trying to point out that the elites knew more, and were unafraid. And that the public needed to adopt the same attitude.
But it fell on deaf ears. There’s something seductive about fear, I think. Once it has a grip, it’s hard to let go.
I haven’t spoken to any of them since these recent revelations, but as of last summer I still had relatives (they almost all work for the NHS) who lamented if only the lockdown had been harder and longer, things would have worked out better.