Full English Brexit

In the ironically named “Planet Normal” Daily Telegraph podcast, truculent rosbif Lord Frost – AKA “Frosty the no man” – spells out the way ahead for the go for broke Tory right.

He has two main points.

Lockdown was a bad idea.

In that breathtaking way that Tories have of stating the exact opposite of the facts with breezy self confidence, he says that when the pandemic is viewed in hindsight, the UK has “come out relatively positively” but that the country will look back on lockdowns as a “serious public policy mistake”.

“Relatively positively”? Compared with who I wonder? With a death rate of 2,257 per million (and rising) the UK is 25th worst out of 207 countries. We have done better than 24. Worse than 182.

So, relatively positive compared with the USA (2,567 per million) or Poland (2,670 per million) Croatia (3,197) or Peru (6,248); but really grim compared with Ireland (1,221) or Kazakhstan (987) or Cuba (735) or Vietnam (364); let alone Japan (145) or South Korea (121) or Australia (101) or New Zealand (11) or China (<4).

The only comparable West European countries that have done worse are Belgium and Italy.

The countries that have done worst are mostly in Eastern Europe or Latin America; often countries that had a denialist leadership for at least part of the pandemic – like the USA or Brazil. The countries that have done best are those that have followed an active Covid suppression policy throughout the pandemic, like China, or for most of it, like New Zealand or Australia; or large numbers of countries in the Global South in which the average life expectancy does not reach the elderly age groups most at risk of death.

Please note the difference in scales between this graph and the European one. The Japan block here is far fewer people (151) than the Norway block above (258).

To get into a reductio ad absurdum with the country that has done best, for every 1 person who has died of Covid in China, 650 have died in the UK. Quite an achievement.

Perhaps he is less concerned with deaths – which disproportionately affect people who are old, or poor, or live in overcrowded conditions, work in front line jobs or are ethnic minority – than with “the economy”. As he says, “There haven’t been enough voices challenging the epidemiologists. There hasn’t been enough of a voice of the economy in this, [or] an attempt to get to grips with the trade-offs.” So, there we have it. On the one hand we have mass deaths. On the other, money to be made. As the Deputy Business correspondent of the Daily Telegraph put it at the start of the pandemic, a viral cull of the economically inactive elderly – sitting in care homes costing a fortune – would be “mildly beneficial”. Not something to lose any sleep about. With 175,000 excess deaths since March 2020, that’s that box ticked.

Had there been no lockdown early on, far more people would have died. The most recent waves have been blunted by mass vaccination. Vaccination did not start until December 2020. The only way to stop the first wave was to lock down hard. It worked. Even though it came late and reluctantly – with many Tories wanting to “take it on the chin”; in the hope that if enough infections ripped through the population quickly enough, the survivors would be immune by the Summer, we could bury our dead and move on. But a collapsed Health Service in the meantime would have scuppered their government, so they couldn’t risk it.

By May, cases were low enough that another couple of weeks could have had them in the sort of territory that would have required an effective test, trace and isolate system to keep them under control. Instead the government opened up too quickly. Resistance to school reopening from the teaching unions helped slow down the inevitable viral rebound, which took off apace from the start of the autumn term. The influence of people like Lord Frost in the Conservative Party stopped the government taking the necessary action before it was too late to stop another wave of mass infections, hospitalisations and deaths last winter.

So, unless Frost is rewriting History, or has a serious case of amnesia, it is quite clear that without the lockdowns in 2020 we’d have had an awful lot more dead people. Obviously “a serious policy mistake.”

He is also against what he calls “Covid theatre” – like masks – possibly because, as well as helping stop infections spreading, they are a visible sign of both the seriousness of the virus and an act of conspicuous social solidarity that shows there is such a thing as society (and that will never do).

‘Don’t rush on net zero’

As if that’s what they’re doing! Because there’s really no hurry is there?

He says, “I think climate change is a significant problem. I just don’t think it’s necessarily the most significant problem that the country faces at the moment.”  By the time it is, it will be too late. This is like the Veneto Regional Council voting against climate control measures minutes before having to evacuate their council chamber to escape rising flood waters. As for them, so for Lord Frost. Everything will be under control and normal. Until it isn’t. As he says, “I would not run at it. I would pace it a bit, if we must set ourselves this net zero objective.” IF WE MUST…get off our arses and do something, lets not go at the pace needed (7% CO2 reductions on an annual basis) let’s amble along hoping that someone else will take up the slack.

In California and British Columbia this summer, people in small towns like Greenville and Quincy would have seen everything looking normal until minutes before wildfires burned them to the ground. Perhaps Lord Frost didn’t get a look at the news during the Summer to see all those wildfires and floods. Perhaps he hasn’t noticed the melting permafrost and glaciers and the impending sea level rises. Or the droughts. Or the hurricanes and typhoons that are multiplying and moving into more “temperate” zones. Or the mass extinctions. Or the Amazon being on the verge of tipping into savannah. Still, there’s no rush is there and we have to pace ourselves…

What he is against is exactly what’s needed.

  • As fossil fuel bills rise because of rising gas prices, he wants to slow down the transition away from them. An argument that the investment in transition should not be loaded onto consumer’s bills is one thing, arguing to scrap them altogether is another. Neither he, nor anyone in the Net Zero Watch group makes the distinction.
  • He is against state investment in renewable technology (“picking winners”) because, unlike Deng Xiao Peng, he doesn’t care whether the cat catches mice as long as its privately owned. The record of leaving it to the market – when it comes to insulation and retrofitting for example – holds no lessons for him. At the current pace of insulation, 50,000 houses a year – many of them bodged by half trained white van men – we will have finished doing the 26 million homes the UK needs doing to hit net zero by 2050 in 2541. I’m not sure if that’s a leisurely enough pace for Lord Frost, but it doesn’t look like they are breaking much of a sweat to me.

As he puts it, with great precision “We’re bringing in measures that are sort of unnecessary, too soon.” He doesn’t specify what these are, but presumably he’d rather bring them in when its too late.

He is also in favour of using Brexit to go for wholesale deregulation of course.

So – the programme for a proper Tory government, with none of this leveling up pinkwash posturing: Freedom for the virus! Lord make me green but not yet! Take back decontrol!