Ruthless ideology or sheer incompetence? Breaking down the Governments catastrophically bad COVID-19 response

The UK Conservative Governments handling of the Coronavirus pandemic can only be described as catastrophic and demonstrates a serious disregard for the health and wellbeing of ordinary people. A brief look at the figures themselves prove this, however there is still a large debate as to why we have had one of the worst COVID-19 responses on the planet, is it ideologically driven or just plain incompetence? Before we discuss the potential reasons why the Conservative Government has handled this so poorly I will first dispel any doubts one may have on blaming the Tories for the 3rd/4th highest death toll in the world and the best way to do this is quite simply by providing an objective list of factual, referenced information of many of the Governments biggest failures/lies throughout their COVID-19 response. Below is a list I put together of their major failings that show how we have the highest death toll in Europe and following that is my own analysis as to why this happened, is it ruthless ideology? Or sheer incompetence?


Here is a concise list of most of their major failings that shed some light into how the UK has the 3rd/4th highest death toll in the world as of August 1st: (https://covid19.who.int/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwpZT5BRCdARIsAGEX0znHKTMZoBQP_DP-AgCpseu3VHLCS7YgjnCvampX1GhwtNVlGa0vak0aAlWhEALw_wcB)

While Conservative Governments over the last decade are also to blame for their massive reductions in NHS spending (https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/projects/nhs-in-a-nutshell/nhs-budget), this list will primarily focus on failures directly related to COVID-19 but bear in mind the context of an already paralysed health and social care system. For example in 2016 when Exercise Cygnus showed how unprepared we were for a pandemic and the results were ignored and buried (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/03/28/exercise-cygnus-uncovered-pandemic-warnings-buried-government/), or the 2-year pause in pandemic training for key workers while No-deal Brexit contingency plans were being made (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/coronavirus-38-days-when-britain-sleepwalked-into-disaster-hq3b9tlgh).


Late Response/ Herd immunity U-turn

-WHO issued its highest level of warning for COVID-19 on January 30th, many countries started ramping up testing capacity, all of which have coped far better (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/18/how-did-britain-get-its-response-to-coronavirus-so-wrong)

- A few days after on February 3rd Boris Johnson boasts in a speech about how the UK would be the ‘champion’ of avoiding market segregation during the pandemic (i.e. avoiding lockdown)- This ideological decision of placing the economy above public health has persisted throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic (https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-speech-in-greenwich-3-february-2020)

-The Government's initial disregard for the virus was perfectly summed up by Boris Johnson missing the first 5 Cobra meetings on the topic between January 24th and March 2nd (including for a 2 week ‘working holiday’), despite national and international warnings of the scale and danger of the virus. One Senior Government aide told newspapers “And what you learn about Boris was he didn’t chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn’t work weekends...“It was like working for an old-fashioned chief executive in a local authority 20 years ago. There was a real sense that he didn’t do urgent crisis planning. It was exactly like people feared he would be.”(https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/top-stories/michael-gove-on-boris-johnson-and-cobra-meeting-attendance-1-6613760) (https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/1270841/boris-johnson-coronavirus-uk-news-cobra-meetings-covid19-government-response) (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/uk/coronavirus-johnson-missed-five-key-meetings-before-outbreak-report-1.4232625)

- March 11th- WHO announces global pandemic, France, Spain, Germany (most of whom had already banned large events) etc. went into lockdown over the next few days (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/18/how-did-britain-get-its-response-to-coronavirus-so-wrong, https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1270472/Germany-lockdown-when-did-Germany-go-on-lockdown-why-is-Germany-death-rate-so-low) and yet we waited until the 23rd and pursued ‘herd immunity’, allowing infections across the country in pubs/restaurants etc. including the Cheltenham races with 250,000 attendees which former chief scientific advisor said was “the best possible way to accelerate the spread of the virus”. Particularly as attendees came from all parts of the country (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-gloucestershire-52485584)

-March 12th,13th France, Germany, and Ireland close schools as Europe declared Covid-19 Epicentre by WHO and yet England not only keeps schools and everything else open but also withdraw official guidance that had asked arrivals from hotspots (such as Italy and China) to self isolate for 14 days (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-51850811)(https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-health-coronavirus-germany-schools/germany-to-shut-most-schools-to-slow-coronavirus-spread-idUKKBN210135)(https://www.ft.com/content/00d2866c-6471-11ea-b3f3-fe4680ea68b5)(https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-51952314)(https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-51876784)(https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-specified-countries-and-areas/covid-19-specified-countries-and-areas-with-implications-for-returning-travellers-or-visitors-arriving-in-the-uk)

-March 12th the UK Government abandons plans for routine testing due to a lack of capacity- the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance openly admits the lack of testing is one of the key errors in the Government’s handling and it is generally seen as a consensus for the reason we have the 3rd highest death toll in the world (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/05/30/revealed-test-trace-abandoned-system-could-cope-five-coronavirus/)

-The initial strategy of herd immunity is one reason our responses were so delayed to most other countries, for example, the lack of a travel ban or even the lack of testing and quarantining of UK arrivals until recently allowed the virus to be imported and further increased the difficulty to contain (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/04/britain-quarantine-plan-travellers-coronavirus)


PPE and resource shortages

-BMA survey published 18th February revealed 56% of doctors in high-risk areas reported a lack of PPE (https://www.bma.org.uk/news-and-opinion/doctors-still-without-adequate-supplies-of-ppe-major-bma-survey-finds)

-To the extent that doctors are taking legal action to force an independent inquiry into failures to provide PPE (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/may/10/coronavirus-doctors-call-for-inquiry-into-ppe-shortages-for-nhs-staff)

-Hundreds of healthcare workers have tragically died due to the lack of PPE,  including Dr Peter Tun, who worked at Royal Berkshire hospital and Dr Abdul Mabud Chowdhury, who worked at Homerton hospital in Hackney, east London, who had both warned about the risks posed by a lack of PPE. (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/may/10/coronavirus-doctors-call-for-inquiry-into-ppe-shortages-for-nhs-staff)

-These PPE shortages were exacerbated by direct failures in PPE procurement (e.g. an order of allegedly 400,000 gowns from Turkey turned out to be 67,000, of which only 4,500 were fit for use in health service https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/may/10/coronavirus-doctors-call-for-inquiry-into-ppe-shortages-for-nhs-staff)

-Perhaps worst of all was the political decision to not partake in the EU PPE procurement scheme: We were eligible to join this scheme to coordinate the purchase of PPE and make up for our dire shortages but the Government chose not to and its reasons kept changing: Initially they said they decide not to because “we are no longer members of the EU”, then they called it a communications mix up, then a member of the Foreign Office admitted to MP’s they had been offered and said “no” and he then quickly and suspiciously retracted the claim and returned to the Government line that it was due to a missed email- (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-52380823) Whichever way you spin it the Government betrayed our healthcare workers, whether it was a malicious political decision to boast our distance from the EU or sheer incompetence.

-Health officials gave a target requirement of 30,000 ventilators in the NHS and at the time we had around 10,000- Health Secretary Matt Hancock then lowered the target to need to 19,000 to make the shortages look less drastic (https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/top-stories/matt-hancock-lowers-target-for-number-of-ventilators-needed-to-tackle-coronavirus-1-6594525)

-It has been revealed that 85 million stockpiled masks and respirators for the NHS were unfit for use, despite claims from the Government that they’d been ‘Rigorously tested’ (e.g. out of 16 million expired ‘3M Respirators’ the Government instructed Public Health England to only test 49, an “insufficient” sample according to the test report itself, they were distributed anyway)- All of these are now having to be withdrawn  (https://www.channel4.com/news/revealed-safety-concerns-over-85-million-masks-and-respirators)

-The Good Law Project have initiated legal proceedings against the UK Government for alleged fraud concerning PPE procurement (https://goodlawproject.org/news/over-100-contracts/) this follows a number of questionable contracts awarded by the Government to companies with no experience while ignoring offers of support from established producers while also breaching procurement protocols.

-Again, they were warned of our unpreparedness for a pandemic in 2016, and we were also warned much more in advance of COVID-19 than many other countries


Testing failures and lies

-By early April we were still conducting less than 15,000 tests a day while Germany had been solidly testing 50,000 a day (https://www.ft.com/content/49f3b95a-167e-4784-b099-614486f0ff53)and the correlation between high testing figures and countries that have coped much better with the pandemic is blatant.

-The Government has made outlandish testing promises it couldn’t keep and resorted to massaging the numbers by counting incomplete tests and home tests that had only been posted to ‘reach’ its target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of April- Their intent to manipulate the public here is clear as testing numbers had only been 52,000 a day a few days earlier with progress going up very slowly until they changed the criteria for testing figures (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/coronavirus-testing-figures-uk-target-criticism-hancock-a9495621.html)- This blatantly false and misleading figure has served as a soundbite consistently repeated by ministers despite its ‘absence of the truth’.

-The lack of regular testing to NHS staff is a massive risk to themselves and their patients and yet the Conservative party leadership voted against the weekly testing of NHS and social care staff on the 24th June 2020 (https://www.theyworkforyou.com/divisions/pw-2020-06-24-60-commons)

- 840,742 people are waiting for diagnostic tests, and more than half (468,622) have been waiting for more than six weeks.- Regular testing of staff is critical in reducing this backlog (https://rcni.com/nursing-standard/newsroom/news/covid-19-labour-calls-weekly-testing-of-nhs-staff-162441)

-Complete failures over testing have left us unable to test and trace the virus:


Failures to test and trace (and money and time wasted on the app)

-         Testing, tracking and tracing the virus has proved to be extremely effective in places such as South Korea, New Zealand, Germany etc (https://www.wired.co.uk/article/coronavirus-track-and-trace-nhs-trust)

-         -Many countries are now using track and trace models whereas the UK Government wasted time and money developing its own which has now been ditched wasting £11 million and more importantly potentially thousands of lives after wasting time chasing glory and a “world-beating” when we could have already been implementing existing technology- Apple and Google had already reached out to us and we declined (https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/06/19/1004190/uk-covid-contact-tracing-app-fiasco/)

-         When asked why we were so late on contact tracing compared to the rest of the world Boris Johnson promised contact tracing to be up and running by June 1st (at the time of writing it is August 1st and the initial plans have been completely abandoned and the new plans still have a long way to go) (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52741331)

-         Recently in PMQ’s Johnson attempted to excuse this fatal error by claiming no other country had a successful track and trace app which, unsurprisingly, was a lie as there are fully functioning apps in Germany, New Zealand, South Korea, France, Australia, Latvia, Singapore etc. (https://fullfact.org/health/coronavirus-track-and-trace-app-boris-johnson/)

-         Our early releasing of lockdown was only promised with the conditions of a functioning track and trace, we are nowhere near a functioning system and yet the Tories have gone ahead with easing lockdown regardless, and against the advice of the World Health Organisation- ignoring the science and going against their own promises (again), putting thousands of lives at risk (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/14/who-cautions-against-further-lifting-lockdown-england)- This goes perfectly into my next area of moving away from the science when it doesn’t suit them politically.


Moving away from science when it doesn’t suit them politically

-An official report by Government SAGE scientists that criticized aspects of the Government's response was censored by the Government and over a page was blacked out, SAGE scientist described this as “Stalinist”- censoring scientific criticisms during a pandemic in which we have the 3rd highest death toll in the world is unforgivable (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2020/05/08/government-accused-stalinist-censorship-redacting-sage-report/)

-We have now begun lifting lockdown restrictions despite warnings from various high ranking scientists and SAGE members who have condemned the end of lockdown as a reckless ‘political choice’ ignoring the science (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52858392)

-The scientists have already started being proven right by local virus spikes in Leicester and most recently Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and East Lancashire prompting reintroduction of lockdown measures locally. After Promises from the Government that important announcements would be made through official briefings, The new restrictions for Manchester, East Lancashire, and West Yorkshire were instead announced through a tweet from Matt Hancock at 9pm, further adding to the confusion and miscommunication that has characterised much of the UK’s response (https://www.burnleyexpress.net/news/politics/government-slammed-announcing-new-lancashire-lockdown-restrictions-twitter-late-last-night-2929207)


Care Homes

-Matt Hancock claims a ‘protective ring’ was placed around care homes, here’s why that’s a complete lie (https://www.ft.com/content/6afb06d6-abd6-4281-ac16-74f500f096d0)

-The Government forced many care homes to accept 25,000 untested, elderly patients to free up hospital beds, combine this with the complete lack of provided PPE in care homes and this put some of the UK’s most vulnerable people at much more risk- to the extent that the EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission have launched an investigation into whether this breached their human rights) (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/05/14/equalities-watchdog-considers-whether-sending-patients-hospitals/) (https://www.ft.com/content/6afb06d6-abd6-4281-ac16-74f500f096d0)

-This is generally considered to have caused the 30,000 excess care home deaths so far this year (While 10,000 of these care homes deaths weren’t explicitly related to Covid-19, the ONS has stated many of these deaths were simply undiagnosed (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-53280011)

-The Prime Minister has now tried to blame this on care homeowners not following Government procedures despite the fact it was the Government procedures that recklessly put 25,000 elderly patients into care homes without being tested (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/05/14/equalities-watchdog-considers-whether-sending-patients-hospitals/) (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/boris-johnson-coronavirus-care-home-death-toll-uk-update-a9604426.html)

Hopefully , this list provided you with enough factual evidence to prove beyond doubt that the Conservative Government have failed to fulfil the most basic requirement of any national leadership, to protect the lives and wellbeing of its citizens. While incompetence has clearly played a large role in their failures, it would be foolish to place all of the blame on incompetence rather than acknowledging the wider issue exposed in the Conservative party ‘ideology’ and a ruthless commitment to neoliberalism at any cost; and this doesn’t just mean to ‘protect the economy’, the scale of our subsequent recession and the lack of a similarly scaled economic response shows quite clearly the Tory party are more concerned with keeping as much of the economy as they can (regardless of its condition) in the hands of the Bourgeoisie (this was also reflected in austerity, if you’re unsure that the Tory party would place ideology over human life simply consider the 120,000 estimated deaths due to austerity over the last decade https://www.bmj.com/company/newsroom/health-and-social-care-spending-cuts-linked-to-120000-excess-deaths-in-england/). In fact, once the Government supporting media barons have blamed everything on Vulnerable, low-income, and minority groups as well as care homes and PHE,  they will want us to attach any remaining blame on the incompetence of a few individuals in Government, attributing their failures to ‘human error’ so they can continue to ignore the structural issues facing British society under the Conservatives and push for Sunak in 5/10 years’ time.

This list hasn’t even included the many devasting social consequences of COVID-19, while many are fighting for their lives, many are also left to fight for their homes, jobs and livelihoods with little to no Government support and as shocking as this may seem, it turns out 50% off at some restaurants has somehow not rescued us from the worst economic recession in the G7- then again what should we expect from a party who increased the national debt by £1 trillion over the last decade (pre-Covid) and a chancellor who was personally involved in the 2008 financial crisis as a multi-millionaire banker. This Pandemic has exacerbated the already deadly issues of crippling poverty, deprivation, homelessness and systemic racism intrinsic to capitalism and the very people meant to fight these issues is a Government that’s also taken an active role in worsening them for a decade. Labours ‘constructive’ approach to opposition taken so far may look nice in PMQ’s but the reality is that the majority of recent Government U-turns have been forced by grassroots campaigns without much major party support so its time LOTO takes a much more active role in supporting these campaigns against the Government to make some larger changes particularly with the reckless blanket calls for workers to return to workplaces without enough specific considerations across industries and specific companies.

Henry Snowballs

7 Sep 2020

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Ruthless ideology or sheer incompetence? Breaking down the Governments catastrophically bad COVID-19 response