Brian Monteith: UK’s Covid-19 inquiry is already more revealing than was ever intended
The UK’s Covid Inquiry is proving to be a very expensive sham. Already believed to have cost over £100m, it does not take a great deal of analysis to see that Baroness Hallet’s inquiry is travelling down a pre-conceived path of blaming the Johnson government for the mishandling of the pandemic response while treating public health officials and advisors with kid gloves.
I have no doubt our politicians did indeed make a number of serious errors and will deserve to be held to account for them, but I expect many of the errors that professionals more expert than I will see as arising from the evidence will be quite different to those Baroness Hallet points to in her conclusions. The abrasive questioning of witnesses who warned against the impacts of lockdowns – even though their warnings can now be seen as self-evidently justified – compared to the deference shown to those wanting greater and earlier restrictions is displays wilful bias.
Will the Inquiry look into the lack of a cost-benefit analysis regarding the impact on cancer screening and longer term cancer care against the supposed benefits of lockdowns? No. The same lack of scrutiny about prolonging lockdowns, the use of facemasks, the closing of schools is also glaringly visible.
Yet for all the focus on the chaos surrounding how decisions were being reached we can at last see the secrecy, skulduggery and blatant jockeying for political advantage that existed behind the false presentation of our political leaders as being reassuringly in command.
It is the UK Covid Inquiry, after all, that has confirmed what had already been leaked – that due to the rush to present First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as taking a lead in UK decisions (by her getting to a microphone before the evening broadcast of the Prime Minister and his Chief Science and Health advisors) decisions were taken away from the meetings she might attend.
In repeatedly seeking to gain political advantage Nicola Sturgeon put the SNP before the interests of all Scottish (and British) people. All the while Covid was taking lives Sturgeon was seeking to bolster her political reputation.
While we can, quite fairly, expect the UK Covid Inquiry to reveal the human character flaws at the heart of government that that led to deaths that should have been avoided, it has revealed unwittingly the institutional flaws at the heart of government emanating from devolved legislatures and assembles that also contributed to unnecessary deaths.
Even when Matthew Hancock decided to stop sending patients from English hospitals into care homes, Sturgeon’s government decided against the change and continued the practice, for no other reason than that they could.
It was also the UK Covid Inquiry that published on 29 July 2022 its “Protocol on Documents” stating it would be a criminal offence to "intentionally alter or destroy" any "relevant documents" and that this included "WhatsApp messages" as well as meeting notes, emails and memos. It is not enough for Humza Yousaf to say he will provide all retained WhatsApp messages – it is those WhatsApp messages not retained the public has a right to know about. Just when were Sturgeon’s messages deleted?
If I am right, and the UK Covid Inquiry adopts the metropolitan groupthink so often promulgated by our Ofcom-restricted broadcasters, that we should have had lockdowns earlier, more restrictive and for longer then we can also expect that it will say, or will be used by others to say, that we cannot expect or trust our leaders to take decisions on our behalf and that instead such life-or-death matters must be handed over to the unelected officials of the World Health Organisation.
Why it should be thought unaccountable technocrats whose best interests would not be those of the British public and would be beholden to external paymasters would make better decisions will not be explained (because it cannot be justified).
The WHO still enjoys the perception of being a quasi-UN publicly-funded organisation merely doing the bidding of national governments acting in concert for mutual health security – but it is nothing of the sort. The WHO is, like so many international institutions with UN origins, now organised by a self-reverential technocratic oligarchy who are at liberty to ignore democratically elected governments and receive the majority of their funding from private funds.
The most recent accounts (for 2022) show WHO’s revenue as $4.35bn of which only $0.496bn came from Governments, but $3.619bn was voluntary (private donations) and other revenues amounted to $0.239bn. The largest donor by far is Bill Gates, through three different foundations. Medical supplies and materials amount to only 13 per cent of spending with 30 per cent taken up by salaries and remaining overheads consuming 57 per cent of spending.
By the end of this month the UK Government has to object to changes in the WHO’s mandate that will allow it to change its guidance to national governments into legally enforceable instructions – making it possible to impose lockdowns irrespective of what any UK government wishes. To prevent this process applying here the UK needs to declare its objections before December.
If this is not done then when the next pandemic comes – and it may be this decade or the next, but it will come – it is likely we would not be able to prevent lockdowns and all the harms they do being forced upon us. There would be no need for a Covid-like inquiry for there would be no ability to hold anyone to account nor would there be a process in which lessons learned could be applied by our national governments – for they will count for naught.