Sunday Blog 6: March 16 2020

Herd Immunity

As a subject for a learned paper or even a PhD, the theory of herd immunity might be a worthy offering. But as a platform for policy at the height of a global pandemic, it is absurd. It is even outrageous because the ‘the best scientific advice’ cannot possibly include unproven (in this case) theories, which in order to prove them will require the sacrifice of tens of thousands of lives.

If the official government assertion, through its advisers in whom the country is fast losing confidence, suggests that up to 60% of the population might become infected while the herd (us) tests the theory, that is nearly 37 million, 37  million, cases.  Given that the NHS could cope with the significant fraction needing care, which realistically it could not, and everybody got the very best and appropriate treatment, you are still looking at an overall death rate if things go according to this crackpot plan, way above the worst of nightmares.

There is however clear evidence that the government has woken up to the fact that what it thought was science, was in fact theory, projection and assumption. The science, real science, now shows that this is a respiratory disease and dealing with it is socially about lock down and medically about ICU beds, respirators  and the staff to man them. So everything is about to change. Let us hope it is not too late.

In the key and critical areas the signs are that the government itself, if not some wiser folk outside it, was completely unprepared. One snippet is that when they counted the ventilators available, then rushed to buy more, they found all the other non-herd immunity countries, which is all of them, had got there first and that the shelves were bare. Hence frantic calls in the night to industrialists to tool up to make them.

There is another creeping anxiety. Boris the clown, who became the brilliant politician and the popular prime minister, may turn out to be the clown after all. He is certainly no Churchill. Not least because Churchill chose his words carefully. And he was able to finish his sentences.

China, Huawei, H.S.2 etc.

Commentators became excited when the Boris government’s majority sank into the twenties over the ongoing agitation over Huawei. There are two sorts of people in politics and public affairs. One sort looks to the past to inform their wisdom. The other looks to the future. Over China it is more complex than that.

The past lookers are wedded to the traditional values of the West and seek to shore up barriers to protect that heritage. They see China as, at best, a rival and at worst an enemy. The future lookers know that the dominance of the West is in decline. America’s power is waning, China is well on track to becoming the world’s first mega power, technologically and economically. Not militarily in the absolute sense but enough to neutralise the supposed military superiority of the US. In other worst if America were to use force to destroy China’s power, it would in fact destroy its own.

The UK is now in the position that, as a country unshackled to any group, the survival of its own Union now depends on its ability to grow its economy at such a speed as to secure that Union. It has to demonstrate to its own people that they are much better off because of Brexit and much better together.  The country which can offer the UK the technology, skills and trade it needs to make sure it can achieve consistent year on year growth through an infrastructure upgrade and a home production reboot, is China. The heart of the new Tory Left government knows this. America has no 5G technology, that works, to offer, nor has it a clue how to build HS2. China can offer everything from nuclear power stations onwards and is happy to build the hardware, like trains, in the UK. It can also show us how to deliver these big projects within budget and on time. And, as we know, in a crisis can be called upon. It is China which has rescued British Steel.

To the new Red Wall Tory heartland, China can mean proper jobs and increasing living standards. Better by far than an unquantified ‘special relationship’ with a country, led by a president who freaks most people in the UK out,  and which appears not only to have lost its way, but also to have lost its touch. The fumbling confusion of its response to the c-virus, the inadequacy of its health care system, its inability apparently even to measure the extent of its outbreak, all compares very badly indeed with the Chinese focus and mounting expertise with what has now become a global pandemic.

Farewell to Austerity

There has been no occasion since WWII when a budget has been presented to Parliament to a backdrop of two gold star economic emergencies. Corona virus and Brexit both pose exceptional economic challenges. The first will be draconian but hopefully short lived. The second may go on for years depending on negotiations between two sides bound by common interests but separated by opposing red lines.

So the first Budget from the Boris Government was keenly awaited to see whether and by how much it departed from the good housekeeping strictures of the financially prim treasury which have dominated policy for the last ten years. The scale of the proposed spending, whether day to day or investment for the long term, was breathtaking by comparison to the meagre hand outs of recent years. Austerity is very definitely over. However the success will be measured by the degree to which growth is stimulated.

On the spending front the offer was dominated by critical financial support during the c virus emergency. The infrastructure plan is only just big enough to shore up the decay through ten years of under investment. There has to be a lot more to get ahead in the race to become a cutting edge country for sustained growth in a troubled world. Failure to go the extra billions will in the end just increase debt without real benefit long term.

The new chancellor has made a good start. For a Tory chancellor of the post Thatcher era, a revolutionary one. But make no mistake. He has a long way yet to go. It remains to be seen whether the Tory right wing will back him. There will have to be a big bonfire of Conservative economic verities and rules. They will have to be replaced with something much closer to Keynes and even Corbyn. This is, after all, the self proclaimed People’s Government. The People are waiting. And watching.



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