STEPHEN GLOVER: The blame game for Covid-19 deaths should look far beyond the Tories
Would Jeremy Corbyn have handled the pandemic more competently than Boris Johnson? Would his successor as Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, have made a better job of it?
And what about the omniscient BBC, which has appointed itself judge and jury in a trial of the Government after the appalling death toll from the virus surpassed 100,000?
Many might have done better than Boris, though I exclude Mr Corbyn.
But I still believe there would have been a similar outcome whoever had been in charge over the past year.
That’s not to deny the PM has made many mistakes, as has been pointed out by countless commentators including me.
Would Jeremy Corbyn have handled the pandemic more competently than Boris Johnson (pictured during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on Wednesday)?
Last February and early March, he was slow to grasp the gravity of the situation, and even attended an international rugby match on March 7 when the virus was already rampant in Italy.
Pre-Covid Boris was genial and easy-going. He didn’t like making huge decisions, and hadn’t had much practice at it.
Neither his experience nor his disposition had prepared him for the high-speed bolt from the blue that hit him — and us.
So, yes, he did bumble around quite a bit, and lives would probably have been saved if the first lockdown had been imposed before March 23, though we had better leave a definitive assessment to the eventual official inquiry.
But the suggestion the Government is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths — which is what some BBC journalists and the Labour Party imply — is tendentious, to say the least.
It seems never to occur to Mr Johnson’s critics, doubtless because they have made up their minds that he is a chump, that other reasons than his alleged incompetence might explain Britain’s abysmal death rate.
These fall into two categories. There are the immovable facts of life. And there are failings in our public services. In neither case can government make much difference, not over a short period at any rate.
The Government can’t be blamed for this country’s high population density, thought to be a factor in spreading the disease. In Britain it is 273 people per square kilometre versus the European average of 108.
Nor can it be held responsible for the UK’s ageing population, which is larger than in many countries. Covid is of course far more lethal among the elderly.
Obesity, diabetes and heart disease (all of which are risk factors among those with the virus) are also more prevalent in the UK than in parts of Europe.
Would Jeremy Corbyn’s successor as Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, have made a better job of the pandemic?
Successive governments have done too little to improve the nation’s health, but the failure can hardly be pinned on Boris.
All of us who eat and drink too much bear some responsibility for our impaired health, and we should look at our own behaviour for a moment before taking a swipe at the Government.
Then there are institutional faults, whose origins go back decades. The NHS is doing a splendid job in rolling out the vaccine much more quickly than any other European country, yet it has been guilty of several failings during the pandemic.
For example, more than 20,000 care home residents died from Covid-19 during the first wave. The decision to shove thousands of untested patients out of NHS hospitals and into care homes was partly to blame.
That was scarcely Boris Johnson’s fault. Health Secretary Matt Hancock is not free of responsibility, but the people who should carry the can are senior NHS managers, not least Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS in England.
What about the omniscient BBC, which has appointed itself judge and jury in a trial of the Government after the appalling death toll from the virus surpassed 100,000?
Mr Hancock should also shoulder some blame for another institution, Public Health England, which contributed to the high death rate in care homes. But the chief fault lies with the senior management of this dysfunctional organisation.
On February 25, it advised that it was ‘very unlikely that anyone receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected’.
This catastrophic guidance was not withdrawn until March 13, despite reports of care homes in other countries being devastated by the virus.
Boris Johnson is of course ultimately responsible for all governmental errors, an acknowledgment he made on Tuesday. It is most unusual for a senior politician to put his hand up in such a way.
We should of course criticise Government ministers for their mistakes. But if we concentrate on their shortcomings alone, we ignore the egregious errors of legions of civil servants and quangocrats, who will perform equally badly during the next national crisis.
In other words, an official inquiry must look at the systemic failures of our public services.
They go a long way to explaining why we have had one of the worst pandemics in the world, though comparable countries such as Spain and Italy have run us close.
Naturally I can see why Sir Keir Starmer should point the finger of blame at the Prime Minister while ignoring other factors.
He is a politician seeking party advantage, though I wish he would show some statesmanship during a national crisis.
But it is hard to forgive the BBC for its determination, never more evident than in the past few days, to make Boris Johnson alone take the rap. A perfect example was supplied during an interview on Radio 4’s influential Today programme yesterday morning.
Icy interrogator Mishal Husain put it to Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick that the Government should have accepted scientific advice, and imposed a lockdown at the end of September.
More from Stephen Glover for the Daily Mail…
This was her question — actually more a statement of what she regards as fact: ‘Months and months into this pandemic, when we knew already what it was like, we still made decisions that resulted in another 50,000 deaths within the last three months.’
By ‘we’ she means ‘the Government’. The suggestion is ludicrous. She attributed 50,000 deaths to the decision to disregard scientific recommendation for a lockdown (in reality a so-called ‘circuit breaker’ lasting between two and three weeks).
Perhaps it would have saved lives. The PM resisted because he didn’t want to inflict further damage on the economy, whose ailments cause their own version of misery, deprivation and unhappiness.
Maybe he was right, maybe he was wrong. Let’s again leave it to the official inquiry to decide. But he made a rational and moral decision. He wasn’t being careless. In fact, quite the opposite.
The fact is that the BBC and the Labour Party seldom consider the long-lasting damage caused to the economy — which means the lives of millions — by repeated lockdowns.
Ironically, the Government they berate is increasingly of their persuasion.
Even though Covid infection rates are falling fast, and are less than half what they were at the beginning of the month, Boris yesterday extended lockdown by three more weeks.
Nor do the PM’s many critics, eager to apportion blame, give him any credit for Britain’s so far stunningly successful vaccination programme.
When the pandemic has been finally tamed — it may never disappear — this country’s overall performance could look better than it does now.
Is the Prime Minister uniquely incompetent? I don’t believe so. Would Labour have done better? I doubt it. The inveterate Boris-haters should lay off, and concede that the reasons behind our tragic death rate are much more complex than they think.
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