Two stories in the Guardian grabbed my attention this morning.
One is a report on Sajid Javid’s car crash interview on Covid yesterday. Twitter was full of medics despairing as a result of his comments. That was unsurprising. In the face of a rapidly growing number of Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths Javid appealed for people to take precautions, knowing full well that his own behaviour, that of the Prime Minister and most especially that of his colleagues in the House of Commons suggests that not one of them thinks that any precautions are required to tackle this wave of Covid when it looks more likely than any previous wave to overwhelm the NHS.
The political message was three fold. First it was one of denial that there really is an issue. Second it was one of denial of responsibility on the part of the government if there might be an issue, even if the government denies that there is. Third, it was to pass the blame firmly onto the public if matters get worse, even though the government is actually not demanding any change in behaviour from them.
The anger from informed commentators in the face of this indifference to risk was justified. The current R rate for Covid is estimated to be only a little over 1. The disease is spreading exponentially in that case, but not (thankfully) at too high a rate. The point is important. What this makes clear is that relatively small measures could now push R below 1 and begin to slow the spread of the disease. Compulsory face masks, encouraging working from home and requiring social distancing may well be enough, although all would of course have an impact on social gatherings.
But the government won’t require these things. What it is saying is that it will not ease the pressure on the NHS. It will not take the steps necessary to ease the suffering of those waiting for NHS treatment. Nor will it prevent avoidable deaths. In the face of crisis it will do nothing.
The second story shares this theme. As the Guardian has noted, on Tuesday a note from the Number 10 nudge unit was published as part of the net-zero package of announcements. It said we would need to change our behaviour to meet net-zero. The usual things were mentioned. We would need to eat less meat, consume less energy, fly less, and so on. All are absolutely true: they must happen if we are to have any chance of meeting net-zero targets. As the Guardian noted:
The document said it would be extremely important to ask for public behavioural change: acceptance of changes to policy and infrastructure; willingness to adopt new technologies; and direct individual action.
As the Guardian then noted, that report has now disappeared from the web. The government said of its mysterious absence:
This was an academic research paper, not government policy. We have no plans whatsoever to dictate consumer behaviour in this way. For that reason, our net zero strategy published yesterday contained no such plans.
Yet again, the government is saying it is not for them to hear experts and to act on their advice. It is instead for the public to decide.
This is, of course, classic populism. Experts are discounted by populism. They are the elite. They are to be ridiculed and blamed. They are to be made the subjects of hate as the government seeks to divide society. But whatever happens their opinion must not be acted on, whatever the harm might be from ignoring them. In the land of populist equality, Jo down the pub has an opinion that is just as important, and if they say eat steak and guzzle diesel, well that’s just fine with this government and sod the consequences so long as they still vote Tory.
I think it time to say that the era of Enlightenment is most definitely under threat. Maybe it is drawing to a close. A very Dark Age is starting.