From David Maughan Brown in York: Accountability

September 16th

The ‘operational challenges’ (see my September 6th entry) wholly unapologetically identified by our esteemed Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, as being responsible for people with Covid-19 symptoms being sent hundreds of miles across the country to be tested are worsening, and are already resulting in a health crisis months before the predicted winter surge of the virus.  Yesterday more than 100 people, who, after hours – sometimes days – of trying, had found it impossible to book a test, are reported to have flooded the Accident and Emergency Department at a hospital in Bolton in a desperate attempt to get themselves tested.  Front-line NHS staff, including GPs, are having to stay at home and add to the burden being shouldered by their colleagues because even they are finding it impossible to get a test.   Hancock is now petulantly blaming people who don’t have symptoms for blocking up the system by getting themselves tested, or at least by trying to.  Somebody needs to point out to him that one of the many problems with Covid-19 is that people carrying the virus can be infectious even if they are asymptomatic.  So to advise GPs to go to work when they don’t know whether they are infected, as Hancock is implicitly doing, may well add a few more to the thousands of unnecessary deaths this country has already suffered.

One might have thought that running a country of over sixty million people would carry a greater level of responsibility, and should accordingly carry a higher level of accountability, than running a FTSE company.  Under Health and Safety legislation, company directors are responsible for ensuring that their company complies with its obligations relating to the health, safety and welfare at work of its workers.  Company directors whose gross negligence leads to the death of even one of their workers can be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter and find themselves in prison.  But gross negligence on the part of a government, leading to twenty thousand deaths of their citizens, carries no such accountability.   Had it done so, to cite just one example, even our cavalier Prime Minister might have thought twice about not bothering to attend five consecutive meetings of the Cobra emergency committee held to discuss Covid-19 in the weeks before the virus arrived in UK.

But then, if the same code of conduct applied to running the country as pertains to company directorships, Boris Johnson wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a national emergency committee.  According to a Begbies Taylor advice article, ’Company directorship brings with it a legal obligation to act in a “proper” manner when undertaking company business. If you are found to have acted improperly, you may face disqualification as well as other penalties and fines,’ or even ‘a possible prison sentence in the most severe cases.’ The article goes on to point out warningly that, ‘Company director disqualification can stop you from acting as a company director if you fail to fulfil your legal duties or demonstrate improper conduct.’   It might be thought that ‘fulfilling your legal duties’ probably doesn’t extend to unashamedly announcing an intention to flout international law.

In the lead-up to the election of Boris Johnson as leader of the Conservative Party (note the irony in the name), on 25th May 2019, Peter Stubley published an article in The Guardian titled ‘Boris Johnson: The most infamous lies and untruths by the Conservative leadership candidate.’  Johnson has repeatedly been fired from jobs for dishonesty, on one occasion for lying to the then Prime Minister about one of his many affairs.  There can surely be no question that he would have been disqualified from company directorship for improper conduct on more than one occasion, a disqualification that lasts for 15 years.  Yet here he is, negligently mishandling the most deadly pandemic our country has experienced for a hundred years, and simultaneously cocking a snoot at international law as he leads the charge of the morally light brigade over the cliff-edge of a no-deal Brexit.  And there isn’t even a company AGM at which he can be held to account.

From David Maughan Brown in York: Culture Wars

April 28th

The culture wars have made a very public appearance on our street for the first time in the 18 years we have lived here.   One of our late twenties/early thirties neighbours set up a Melbourne Street Whattsapp group immediately after the lockdown for the benefit of those of us who couldn’t get out to do any shopping, and anyone on the street who needed any other help.  After watching yesterday evening’s BBC Panorama programme on the government’s unspeakably negligent and incompetent approach to and handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, he was so incensed that he posted a message on the group suggesting that when we go outside for the now ritual clapping of NHS and other ‘frontline’ workers at 8.00pm on Thursday evenings we should perhaps chant instead of clapping.  The Panorama programme had made the point that the clapping served the useful purpose for the government of distracting from, and papering over, its culpability.  Precisely what we should chant was, probably fortunately, left unspecified.

I made the mistake of responding, in vastly more restrained terms than I felt inclined to, suggesting that the clapping was clearly appreciated by the NHS workers and that, rather than chanting, other ways needed to be found to hold government to account for the deadly danger NHS staff are facing.  Someone further up the road, to whom I will give the benefit of any doubt as to whether or not she had watched the programme by assuming she hadn’t, responded by saying that she agreed with me but added:  ‘I also think the government is trying to do their best in exceptional circumstances.’  This brief exchange resulted in the rest of the evening being punctuated by a series of pings as my mobile phone alerted me to a flurry of Whatsapp responses.   The stampede for the exit as members dropped out of the group because it had become ‘politicised’ was akin to someone having suddenly shouted ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre or nightclub.

The Panorama programme was definitively damning as it made it all too clear why the UK, which had the longest time of any country in Europe to prepare for the arrival of the pandemic as it made its progress Westward, is heading inexorably towards having the highest death toll on the continent.   Among other things the programme highlighted were:  the grossly negligent failure to stockpile adequate quantities of PPE in advance of a widely anticipated pandemic; the cynical downgrading of the formal stipulations about what was essential protective equipment when it became apparent that there wasn’t enough; the failure to maximize opportunities to acquire more; and the staggering incompetence whereby British offers of assistance with the manufacture of PPE were ignored by government, with the result that large quantities of the necessary materials ended up being exported, rather than being used to satisfy the desperate need here.   The government is constantly trying to shift the blame for its failings onto ‘the science’ by parroting the assertion that it has always ‘followed the science’ in its response to the virus. What part of the science was it following when it committed that catalogue of deadly errors?

If that is the best the government can do, no matter how hard it is trying, it is blindingly obvious that it shouldn’t be the government.  To add insult to fatal injury, they announced today that they will be paying £60,000 by way of compensation to the grieving families of the now over one hundred NHS and care workers who have died from Covid-19.    So the lives of those who have died trying to save the victims of government negligence and incompetence are valued at significantly less than half the annual salary of the Cabinet Ministers responsible for many of those deaths.  The insult was then compounded as they extended it to the NHS as whole with the announcement that the compensation payment would not disqualify the families from suing the NHS if they felt the deaths of their loved ones were the result of failings on the part of the NHS.  That has to be the most jaw-droppingly blatant attempt to shift the blame yet. It goes without saying that it shouldn’t be the NHS that is sued in the present circumstances, it should be the Cabinet.  But you can be 100% sure that the legislation around corporate manslaughter will have been framed to exclude that possibility.  In the end, of course, it is the electorate that gets the government it deserves.   Which probably takes us back to the number of people angrily removing themselves from a Whatsapp group as soon as anyone presumes to voice the slightest criticism of the motley gang of Brexiteer incapables who are responsible for the mess we now find ourselves in.