The lethal ideology of British exceptionalism

A fantastic explanation of our current situation and our government’s pathetic attempts, not to make things better, but to keep us in the dark about what’s going on, or more correctly, about what’s not going on, courtesy of Wee Ginger Dug.

On Friday it was announced that the number of people who died in the UK after being diagnosed with the coronavirus had risen to 980, a number which is greater than the daily total ever reported for Italy or Spain. Yet this figure is misleading. There is a difference in the way in which different parts of the UK report their figures. In Scotland and Wales, the figures given are for all deaths where coronavirus is mentioned on the death certificate. This includes deaths in care homes. The figures for England where the Tories are in charge are however only the number of those who have fallen ill with coronavirus symptoms and who have died in hospitals and whose deaths have been registered in the past 24 hours. The true number of deaths is going to be considerably higher, yet the British government does not seem disposed to let us know what that figure might be.

Possibly this is because the British state doesn’t want us to realise that the UK was badly placed to deal with this disease because of policy decisions taken by successive British governments over the years, because of the privatisation of public services and the lack of funding for social programmes that support good health and full employment. Maybe they’re trying to cover their collective arses because their handling of this crisis was a disaster from the beginning. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to scare us with the possibility that there are many more deaths to come. Maybe it’s a deliberate and cynical attempt to reduce the headline figures in an attempt to disguise the true extent of death toll from us because the herd immunity strategy that was pursued in the early weeks of the crisis has bitten this government on the bum. Maybe it’s due to some issue with the way in which the figures are collated which is perfectly innocent. I don’t know which of these scenarios it may be, or whether there’s some other explanation, and neither do you. This is because the British media doesn’t think it’s a worthwhile line of questioning.

1000 people are dying every day, you’d think that in a normal democracy with a properly functioning media there would be an outrage about that. 144 people have died in the UK due to terrorist attacks since 2000. Even on the UK’s government’s partial figures the number of people who are dying every single day from the covid-19 virus is seven times the number who have died in the UK as a result of terrorism over the past twenty years. It’s Hillsborough, Aberfan, Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, and the Herald of Free Enterprise combined, every single day. Yet the true figure is certainly higher, and the number is set to grow. And every single one of those who add to the number represents a human being, with dreams, with families, with ambitions, with fears, with loves and losses and a life no longer led.

Instead of the sound of a media that’s clamouring for answers with a steely eyed determination to hold the British government to account, there’s the syrupy symphony of sychophancy. The BBC merely parrots Tory propaganda, and promotes rousing messages from Ibris Elba as though it were the North Korean TV channel. Meanwhile the tabloid press has turned into a sickening chorus of fangirlishness for Boris.

We’re getting our intelligence insulted by the likes of today’s front page in The Sun, which helpfully informs us that Boris Johnson’s girlfriend Carrie Symonds has sent him copies of the scans of their unborn baby. And according to The Sun’s chief political editor, Tom Newton-Dunn, Boris Johnson is enjoying watching movies and playing sudoku on his iPad as he lies in his hospital bed recovering from his illness. We’re promised a lot more in tomorrow’s Mail on Sunday about how Boris is spending his time in convalescence – which movies he’s watching, how he’s doing with his sudoku scores. I can hardly wait.  It is all lovely, at least if you define sickening sycophancy as lovely, but it’s not exactly helpful to anything but the self-serving mythos of the liar and charlatan who wormed his way into Number 10 on the basis of made up stories about Brexit.

Cos here’s the thing. You don’t become a hero by virtue of coming down with an infection and surviving it, for all the attempts of the British media to paint Boris Johnson as some sort of martyr for Great British Spirit. The heroes are those who put their own lives on the line in order to treat the tsunami of victims who are overwhelming our health services. A task which is not made any easier by the Boris Johnsons of this world, who have cut public services to the bone in an ideologically driven austerity for which there was never any need.

Some of these deaths could have been prevented if different policy decisions had been made. Some deaths could have been avoided if the British government had followed the example of Germany or South Korea and adopted a rigorous policy of testing and tracing the contacts of those infected. Deaths could be avoided if medical staff had access to the protection equipment that they’re screaming out for. But hey. Boris Johnson is feeling better. Isn’t that lovely.

The reason that the media isn’t holding this woeful government to account is the same reason that the wrong policy decisions were made in the first place. British, or more exactly English, exceptionalism. It’s that exceptionalism which leads British nationalists not to recognise their own nationalism. It is the unshakeable, deep rooted, conviction that British is best, that Britishness is the natural state which is envied by everyone else. It’s a British belief in itself which cannot be nationalist because it’s inherently better. It’s the belief that because within the British state English priorities, politics, and policies effortlessly dominate the other nations of the UK that Britishness has somehow transcended mere nationalism. It is of course a delusion.

The ruling class of the UK is imbued with the unshakeable conviction that the rules and norms which Johnny Foreigner adheres to need not apply to a red blooded Englishman. When you represent a state which has just left the EU because it considers itself unique and different, you’re not going to quibble when the government proposes not to follow World Health Organisation recommendations for tackling the virus.

The English nationalist exceptionalist mindset means that it becomes expected, desired even, that the British state will follow a different model from the rest of the world even though the rest of the world is following a model which is proven, scientifically based, and which works. And it’s taken for granted that the ‘lesser’ nations of the UK will obediently follow Westminster’s example. Exceptionalism is why the British government squandered the lead that the UK had in the early days of the epidemic with its reluctance to introduce the social isolation rules that were already in force elsewhere. Because the British are special. The British are different. The British won’t tolerate the restrictions on their personal liberty that lesser breeds put up with. Exceptionalism is why the British media won’t hold the government to account for it – even though it’s an exceptionalism which kills. British exceptionalism is a lethal ideology.

The British state is however truly exceptional in one area. It’s exceptional in its disregard for its citizens, its lack of concern for the wider good, and its single minded focus on enriching those who are already wealthy. British nationalist exceptionalism is holding Scotland back, not because Scotland could also be exceptional. It’s preventing Scotland from being normal.

For those who want to find out more about Wee Ginger Dug’s blog or read some of his other posts, click here.

Are you one of the herd?

Despite their repeated denials, it’s fairly obvious that the UK Government has been pursuing a strategy of herd immunity, but just not telling us.  Their announced actions, often unbelievable, have been designed to delay implementing another solution, not promoting one.  They don’t care that their excuses have been easily found out, because they were only put forward to waste time, to make herd immunity inevitable.  They can’t be embarrassed and, in any case, they have had another equally unbelievable excuse ready.  It’s a case of ‘if you don’t like this excuse, we have others’.

The World Health Organisation declared coronavirus a global emergency on 31st January, but several weeks passed before the UK Government paid much attention.  In the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, the UK Government were quite open about the herd immunity idea. Who can forget Boris Johnson’s “let’s just take it on the chin” comment in one of his early press briefings?  The concept of herd immunity is, of course, one that underpins the use of vaccines.  The more people vaccinated, the fewer will catch the disease, so limiting the spread.  This, after all, was the technique responsible for the elimination of smallpox and the reduction in many other diseases.  What could go wrong?  Surely there’s no difference between a mass vaccination programme and deliberate mass exposure to a virulent disease.  Is there?

The more people catch the virus, the more will develop immunity to it and that will inevitably reduce the spread.  So went the plan.  Of course, there was another aspect to the plan that wasn’t so widely publicised.  As has now become much more obvious, those younger and fitter will likely be less seriously affected by catching the virus.  They’ll have milder symptoms or even none at all.  But those older and less fit and those disabled or suffering serious life limiting illnesses are going to be much more seriously affected if they catch the virus.  Their symptoms will be much more serious.  They could become very ill.  They may die.  But who can forget Dominic Cummings’ reported statement that “what does it matter if a few pensioners die”.

But is the UK Government really adopting a strategy which could cause the unnecessary deaths of thousands, even tens of thousands, of people?  Let’s look at the evidence.

Do not resuscitate letters are being given out to many of the elderly or disabled.  This was first revealed when a surgery in Wales sent out letters to many of their patients asking them to sign a do not resuscitate order.  The surgery was forced to apologise, but, subsequently, it was found that other surgeries and care homes were doing the same thing.  Is this just a practical response to the pandemic when medical resources are in short supply or is this an attempt to cull those in our communities who are no longer making enough of a contribution, those who are costing money that the UK  Government could spend better elsewhere, such as on tax cuts to those few rich folk who actually pay tax?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are steps that should be taken by the government of any country affected.  These can be summarised as identify, isolate, contact trace, or, as the Director General of the WHO put it, test, test, test.  The UK Government response was to say that this advice was aimed at poorer countries with less developed health services.  Richer countries with more developed health services didn’t need to test so aggressively.  As a result, in the early stages of the pandemic, little effort was made to introduce any form of mass testing, despite the proven success of such regimes in several Far East countries, particularly South Korea and China.  In fact, nothing much happened until people started to compare the UK’s pathetic efforts against Germany’s: hardly a poor country.  Are these the actions of a government concerned for its people?  Instead of testing, the UK Government have relied on people staying at home and, if they were out, on social distancing, staying at least 2 metres apart at all times.  Was this because they thought this was the best course of action, or was it just a ploy to place the blame for anything going wrong with the Government’s plans on the people and not the Government?

Of course, if you don’t test, you don’t need testing kits, so little effort was made by the UK government to acquire them until they were forced into it by the bad publicity they were getting. They had string of excuses, of course, lack of available supplies, lack of chemical reagents, all shown to be lies by the manufacturers, who inevitably told that the government had not even approached them about supplies. In fact, companies who contacted the UK Government directly were either stalled, or didn’t even get an answer.  Are these the actions of a government concerned for its people?

People who contracted coronavirus and became ill had to be admitted to hospital for treatment, the most serious being admitted to an Intensive Care Unit (ICU).  Here we see the effects of Tory government policy over the last 10 years, the deliberate underfunding of the Health Service since the Tories came to power in 2010, initially with a little help from their LibDem friends.  To see the full scale of the reduction, look at the chart below, particularly at the difference between the average annual spending increase for the latest decade, from 2010, versus the one before.  The last two decades are post devolution and are for NHS England only, but the Barnett formula ensures Scotland doesn’t escape.  As you can see, the per capita spending increase during the period of Tory government is only just above zero, compared with almost 6% in the previous decade of Labour government.

NHS funding

The result of this reduced funding is an NHS that has fewer reserves of both staff and equipment to cope with the additional requirements.  In terms of staff numbers, let’s look at vacancies in England, most badly affected by the Tory Government cuts. In 2010, the vacancy rate for consultants (doctors and dentists) was 3.5% and this rose to 9.0% in 2019.  In 2010, the vacancy rate for nurses was 2.5% and this rose to 12.3% in the 1st quarter of 2019, reducing slightly in the following two quarters (figures from NHS Digital).  In Scotland, the vacancy rate for consultants in 2010 was 2.9% rising to 7.8% in 2019.  In 2010, the vacancy rate for nurses was 0.8%, rising to 5.0% in 2019 (figures from ISD Scotland).  So the Scottish figures are better, though still showing a rising trend.  Thank goodness NHS Scotland has been better funded by the Scottish Government during this last decade, even though it’s not been completely shielded from the Tory cuts.

What has the UK Government done to overcome the NHS staffing issues?

Despite the large amounts of NHS money being spent on private health providers, little money is being spent on NHS staff.  Only 3 years ago, while Jeremy Hunt was Health Secretary, Tory MPs cheered when a pay rise for nurses (in NHS England) and other public sector workers was voted down.  Gives you an indication of the Tory party’s level of respect for NHS workers in the days BC (Before Coronavirus).  Nurse’s pay in Scotland, funded by the Scottish Government, has been consistently higher than England.

For many years, the NHS has depended on overseas workers to fill the gaps in their staffing.  More than 10% of the total workforce come from abroad, with an even larger proportion of doctors.  Given that, it is astonishing that the UK Government chose to separate the UK from the rest of Europe and introduce rules to significantly limit the numbers coming from abroad.  Why would any sane government do this?  Were they influenced by the largely racist British press, who for years had mounted a never-ending campaign of hate against any and all ‘foreigners’?  Were they influenced by the owners of the press, most of them living abroad (non-doms) and non-taxpayers, but big contributors to the Tory party?  Were they influenced by the fact that hedge funds could make money from the situation, hedge funds also being big Tory donors, and nothing beats money?  Or was it all three?  Was this the action of a government concerned for its people?

What has the UK Government done to overcome the NHS equipment shortages?

Funding, or the lack of it, over the last 10 years has also affected the equipment available to the NHS staff.  Coronavirus has highlighted, in particular, the the lack of ICU beds, the lack of ventilators and the lack of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).  In the days BC, these were considered optional extras by the UK Government.  Three years ago, the UK Government knocked back a proposal to acquire eye protection for frontline NHS staff on the grounds of cost.  It’s that Jeremy Hunt again!!!  His fingerprints are all over the underfunding.  If eye protection had been suggested for MPs to defend them from the frothing on the opposite benches, would cost have been such an issue?

However, with the onset of coronavirus, you would expect that the UK Government would at last see sense and made every effort to correct a situation which threatened to affect a large part of the UK population.  But you’d be wrong.

Take ventilators.   With all European countries affected, the EU organised a joint procurement exercise for ventilators.  Even though they were in the process of leaving the EU, the UK were invited to join.  After initially trying to pretend they didn’t get the email and not bothering to attend meetings, the UK Government finally declined the offer.  They said they could do better, allegedly.  Apparently, Brexit was more important than people’s lives.  Finally, after rejecting or even ignoring several offers from UK companies, the Government placed an order for 10,000 ventilators with Dyson, a company with no ventilators and no experience in their production.  However, Dyson did have one important advantage: they were major contributors to the Tory Party.  Hopefully, the ventilators work, pass the appropriate regulatory tests and arrive in time to help in the current crisis.  They are certainly needed as, recently, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary (no, he’s not related to Tony Hancock, despite many of his TV appearances being a bit funny) admitted that the target of 18,000 ventilators available by the peak of the infection will not be reached, despite the target being a significant reduction from the initial estimate of 30,000.

PPE has been another on-going problem for the UK Government.  Though the government have consistently told us that they have loads of PPE available and that distribution problems were the reason why they weren’t getting through to where they should be, though I’m not sure how difficult it is to hire a couple of vans or get a delivery company to do it for you.  At times, the government even seemed not to understand the level of protection required, surprising considering the number of medical advisers they employ.  The result of their failure to deliver enough of the correct PPE has been that many health workers, especially in hospitals, have been using inadequate protection, causing many to become infected by the patients they are treating.  This has meant that many doctors and nurses have had to stop work to let the infection run its course, but, more seriously, has caused many serious illnesses and even some deaths.  Especially sad has been the number of retired doctors and nurses who have put themselves at risk by returning to help out in the current emergency and have died after contracting coronavirus.

Is it surprising that the NHS have found it difficult to cope with the coronavirus pandemic?  Is there any doubt that UK Government inaction has greatly magnified these difficulties?  What do you think?