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By the editor, Aug 17 2020 11:24AM

43.6% - this was the share of the popular vote for the Conservatives in the 2019 General Election, and this is roughly the share they would get if there was an election now, according to various opinion polls. Support went up earlier in the year as the Covid-19 crisis struck, and fell later on, after the Cummings debacle. But for the moment it appears that nearly all of those who voted for Mr Johnson at the last election would do so again.


Many of those critical of the Government can't fathom this. There seems almost universal agreement that the Government has handled the Covid-19 crisis badly. The economy was already in a bad shape, and is now being hit as hard as anywhere in the developed world. Keir Starmer's approval ratings are at record levels. The Government's claim that Brexit would be "done" by an "oven-ready deal" in January looks ludicrous. On Brexit, Covid-19, Cummings, and otherwise, backbench dissatisfaction with the Government has grown quickly. Polls showed widespread anger at the Cummings episode. There are rolling sexual and financial scandals affecting backbenchers and ministers, adding to the sense that those in charge consider that different rules apply to them. And recently there's been widespread condemnation of the Governement's handling of examination grading.


Yet support remains stubbornly high. Reasons for this might include continuing distrust of the opposition parties and "rallying round the flag" at a time of crisis. But it also seems likely that one factor is "buyer's remorse" - a reluctance by those who voted Conservative to consider they made a mistake.


How does "buyer's remorse" operate as far as voting is concerned? What might determine how long it takes for people to change their minds, if at all? Some factors are suggested below.


1. The natural time lag must often be months, if not years, from a general election. For example, there was a dramatic (and permanent) drop in popularity of the Major Government after the UK's ignominious exit from the Exchange Rate Mechanism in September 1992, after its election victory that April. But it actually took about 6 months for a significant decrease in support to show up in the polls. It's likely that having "invested" support in a Government for a potential 5 year term, people are reluctant to admit they made a mistake for some time. The longer the time period since an election, the shorter may be the effect of any defining event in prompting a decline in support. Since the Johnson Government is only 8 months old, it may be too early for much buyer's remorse yet, even though the seeds of it might already have been planted.


2. "Tribal" tendencies: voters may be more reluctant to admit failings of Government when they identify closely with a group that is represented by it. This can be seen in the USA: it perplexes people that the obvious shortcomings of the Trump administration haven't led to a complete collapse in support. But Trump's base so identifies with him that it doesn't seem to matter very much what he does or says. A similar effect might apply in the UK as far as pro-Brexit voters are concerned. Many may identify themselves with others and against a "liberal elite", which, they consider, sought to thwart their referendum vote, and ignored their concerns and interests for years. For some this may be a permanent shift of allegiance; but even for those whose support for the Conservatives was less wholehearted, this sense of identity may act as a brake on switching to another party. It's possible that the Government will lose its hold over this group over time, now that Brexit itself has happened, and difficulties and splits on implementation emerge. No doubt this is partly why the Government is keen to foment cultural divisions on other issues: to keep the tribe together.


3. It's easier to change your mind when something happens subsequently that you think you couldn't have foreseen. Those who voted for the Johnson Government are less likely to turn against it if it appears to do "exactly what it said on the tin", however disastrous others may think the results turn out to be. But if the Government does something unexpected, which also damages the interests of its backers, or otherwise upsets them, it's more likely to lose support. So for example a particularly "hard" Brexit that inflicts severe economic damage on some of the regions that switched to supporting the Conservatives may not lead to disaffection as quickly as might otherwise be expected - the blame might shift elsewhere (to the EU, for example). Covid-19, on the other hand, is an example of something completely unexpected, and the Government's handling of it might leave it more susceptible. "No one could have predicted what a hash they'd make of that" someone who voted for them might think. The less predictable a Government's failing, the less blame might be felt by those who voted for it, and accordingly the more inclined they may be to shift allegiance.


4. No one likes to be taken for a fool, or to be betrayed by those whose trust appeared to be warranted; but it's easier to accept the latter than the former. Many of those who voted Conservative considered that Johnson and colleagues were standing up for the "people" against the "elite", and they certainly weren't going to listen to those from this "elite" who told them they were making a mistake. But if the those in the Johnson Government start to behave like the elite themselves, those voters might start wondering if they've been conned. This may be why the Cummings incident was viewed so unfavourably (and why it may yet be a slow-acting poison for the Government). It may also help explain why the Government is so eager to assault supposedly liberal elite institutions such as the civil service, universities, the legal profession, and the BBC. It may be aware that trust from its new voters rests on shallow foundations, and it needs to keep proving it's on their side, against the establishment.


5. The greater the investment, the harder it is to acknowledge it was mistaken. It's easier to write off the duff car that cost £1000 than the one that cost £10,000. Those equivocal about support for the Conservatives are more likely to change their minds sooner than those who, for example, were so disgusted with the Corbyn Labour Party that they said "never again". Some psephologists have identified long term shifts of support for the Conservatives in key electoral battlegrounds, and such groups may be less likely to switch. However, much of the electorate does seem to have been pretty volatile in recent years (the last European Parliament elections being an example), which might suggest voters are less invested in their choices than might appear at the moment.


All this of course supposes that there are sufficient reasons for voters to get disenchanted by the Government. And it's possible that those who didn't vote for it might be blind to its plus points - no doubt there's a psychological effect in the opposite direction ("spurner's remorse"?) - I have to admit I do struggle to see what its plus points could conceivably be. Or it could be that events will turn, perhaps a vaccine is found soon and the economy recovers fast, and any reservations held previously will be forgotten about.


I still think it's likely that it won't be too long before buyer's remorse will set in, at least among some of those whose vote for the Conservatives was less than wholehearted. That support level in the low forties may be more fragile than it looks.


By the editor, Aug 3 2020 12:11PM

The Court of Appeal in R v Lawrance [2020] EWCA Crim 97 ruled that consent to sex based on the fraudulent representation by the man that he'd had a vasectomy remained adequate consent, and was a sufficient defence to a charge of rape. Comment afterwards suggested that the case highlighted confusion in the law about the concept of consent, and suggested that the law may need changing.


In fact I'm not sure that the concept of consent is that difficult, or that the law needs changing. I think the Court simply got it wrong.


The Court noted that there was case law dating back to the 19th century on what types of deception could invalidate consent in rape cases. It also noted that under the current legislation, the Sexual Offences Act 2003, section 76 provided that there was a conclusive presumption that consent hadn't occurred where deception concerned "the nature or purpose of the relevant act" or "impersonating a person known personally to the complainant". The court concluded, in considering the first limb of this test: "The question is whether a lie as to fertility is so closely connected to the nature or purpose of sexual intercourse rather than the broad circumstances surrounding it that it is capable of negating consent." It decided in the negative.


In coming to this conclusion, it considered a number of different scenarios:


"There may be many circumstances in which a complainant is deceived about a matter which is central to her choice to have sexual intercourse. [The case of] Monica was an example, but they can be multiplied: lies concerning marital status or being in a committed relationship; lies about political or religious views; lies about status, employment or wealth are such examples. A bigamist does not commit rape or sexual assault upon his or her spouse despite the fundamental deception involved. The consent of the deceived second spouse, even if it would not have been forthcoming had the truth been known, does not vitiate consent for the purposes of sexual offending. Neither is the consent of a sex worker vitiated if the client never intends to pay."


This is surprising. Ordinarily, if people agree to do something on the basis of a condition, we would say there was no consent if that condition hadn't been met, because one of them deceived the other about it. If I agree with my neighbour that he can park his vehicle on my drive on one condition, it wouldn't matter that the condition was that he could only park a car, or that he was (for example) a Tory voter - if the condition isn't fulfilled, we would say there was no true consent. Why should it be different with rape?


There might of course be circumstances in cases of alleged rape where it wasn't clear that there was any deception, or where it wasn't clear if consent was actually dependent on the condition concerned. So simply saying "I wouldn't ever sleep with a Tory and he was perfectly aware of that" may not be sufficient. But that would be a matter for the prosecution to prove to the criminal standard of proof. If, as it appears in this case, it is undisputed that the complainant made it a condition that she would only have sex with the person concerned if he had had a vasectomy (or whatever the condition might be), then no such difficulty arises. Other cases may be more difficult, but no more intrinsically difficult for one type of condition than for any other.


There certainly used to be a distinction, from Victorian times, between different types of deception. Some such deception negated consent as far as rape was concerned, and some would result in a different offence. But it seems that the Sexual Offences Act 2003 sought to end this distinction.


Under s.74 of the Act, it is simply stated: "For the purposes of this Part, a person consents if he agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice."


S.76, which the court concentrated on, only operates (with s.75) to provide conclusive presumptions concerning consent, which apply in certain circumstances. Put simply, deception does not have to fit into one of the categories in s.76 in order to negate consent. It is still necessary to consider whether, under s.74, there has been an agreement "by choice" - deceptions concerning vasectomies, or anything else, still need to be considered under that test.


This isn't just my view. The case of R v Jheeta [2007] EWCA Crim 1699, relied in Assange v. Swedish Prosecution Authority [2011] EWHC 2849 (Admin), makes this plain. In that case, the court considered that the deception involved did not fall within s.76, but nevertheless: "This was not a free choice, or consent for the purposes of the Act. In these circumstances we entertain no reservations that on some occasions at least the complainant was not consenting to intercourse for the purposes of section 74, and that the appellant was perfectly well aware of it."


It's odd that this case wasn't referred to in the Lawrance judgment, even though Assange was: the latter is only a High Court case, whereas Jheeta is a Court of Appeal one. The earlier cases relied on in Lawrance that appeared to limit the instances where deception could vitiate consent were considered by Jheeta to have been superseded by the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The court noted that "the offence of procuring a woman to have sexual intercourse by false pretences ceased to exist when the 2003 Act came into force" - the concept of consent had been widened under the Act, and the previous distinctions between different types of deception no longer had the same relevance.


It seems that the Court in Lawrance was concerned to prevent convictions where consent has in fact been given, but allegations of vague or extraneous deceptions have been made - "I would never have slept with him if I'd known X". But that seems to me to confuse an evidential issue with a conceptual one. If it's clear that someone has agreed to sex on the basis of a particular condition, whatever that is, and the other person breaches that condition by deception, there seems no good reason why sex on that basis should be considered consensual.



By the editor, Jul 1 2020 05:13PM

The current Government doesn't care much for law. That was apparent in its previous incarnation, when it attempted to prorogue Parliament, and responded to its defeat on the issue in the Supreme Court by attacking the judiciary. It has been clear in its dealings with the EU over Brexit, where it has openly canvassed the possibility of breaching the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement. And it has been exposed in its handling of Covid-19: not only in respect of the Cummings incident, but also in its mangling (deliberate or otherwise) of law and guidance, and inaccurate statements about what is and isn't lawful.


Plenty of commentary has criticised the Government for this, for example on human rights grounds.


The Government's private response to this criticism is, no doubt: so what? Liberals have to suck it up. We won the election, we've got an 80 seat majority. The "people" (at least, enough of the electorate who might vote Conservative), unlike the liberal metropolitans, don't much care about abstract legal niceties, provided the Government is looking after their interests, and taking care of the basics, such as locking up criminals.


But I don't think this is the trump card that those at the top of Government think it is, even on their own, purely electoral terms, for the reasons set out below.


FAILING TO CONVICT THE GUILTY


Miscarriages of justices don't just concern the wrongly convicted - they can result in the guilty going free. If the Government doesn't pay sufficient attention to the laws it passes, the wrong people can slip through the net. Consider the confusion created by the Coronavirus Regulations, made without any proper parliamentary scrutiny, followed up by guidance that inaccurately stated what the relevant criminal offences were - which resulted in the police trying to enforce guidance rather than target criminal offences. Many people were wrongly convicted. We don't know how many people who might have been guilty were never charged or whose prosecutions failed. And the confusion could have more serious consequences in the long run.


So, for example, the Prime Minister has publicly stated that street protests are lawful, when they've actually been prohibited by the Regulations. Did the Government mean to ban such protests, or not? Protests are now treated, including by the police, as though they are lawful; but what happens if certain protests become particularly dangerous to public health?


On the flipside, as a result of the confused messaging by the Government, most people mistakenly believe that there is a law prescribing 2 metre social distancing in the UK. If there was public pressure to enforce this "rule", for example after some particularly high profile event that attracted widespread opprobrium, no prosecutions would be possible.


Imagine if the Government got the law confused on more serious crimes as well, such as terrorism offences - and those perceived as guilty went unpunished. Simply sounding "tough" on crime only gets you so far. If you get the law wrong, you end up looking weak. It doesn't look very good for the "party of law and order". The "law" bit isn't an optional extra; in a democracy, at least, if you want order, you need to get the law right first.


LOSS OF AUTHORITY


Much of what a Government does is to make laws itself and draft laws for Parliament to approve. If it demonstrates a disregard for laws, it can weaken its own standing with the public.


The Cummings debacle provided a good example. Having made the Regulations restricting freedom of movement, the Government then supported its chief adviser who appeared to have flouted them. In Mr Cummings' own statements on the matter, he mixed up what was law and what was guidance, and didn't appear very bothered about whether he had in fact committed an offence, appealing instead to to a broader sense of what was justifiable. The Government's defence of him took a similar line, and blithely asserted that he had acted "legally" without explaining why it had reached that conclusion, and before any independent investigation had considered the matter.


The implication here is: the laws the Government makes don't matter that much; don't take them too seriously. It chimes with other statements made by the Government, such as urging people to use their "common sense" and appealing to "civic duty" rather than requiring compliance with the minutiae of the Regulations. The public may start to wonder whether this is a Government that is really governing; what sort of authority does it actually have?


ALIENATING PARLIAMENT


Governments only exist with the support of Parliament. Since Parliament's business is to make laws, it is dangerous for Governments to treat laws flippantly. Conservative backbenchers have already shown themselves capable of defeating the Government and securing U-turns. This could get worse if, for example, the Government is perceived as downplaying the importance of bills that certain MPs are particularly interested in.


The Government's disdain for rules extends to its treatment of parliamentary procedures (indeed, in Mr Cummings' case, for the legislature itself). This has already caused friction with Conservative MPs. such as the row over remote voting.


Ultimately, Conservative MPs can unseat the Prime Minister. And even if he and the Government survive to fight the next election, they're in a perilous position if they've lost the support of many of their own MPs.


LOSING TRUST AND SUPPORT


One result of the Cummings episode was a dramatic decrease of support for the Government. There may be many reasons for this, but it is fair to assume that increasing numbers of people were distrustful of what the Government was telling them, and many didn't much like the Government defending someone who appeared to have broken the rules which they were trying to stick to.


No doubt the Government has determined from its extensive use of focus groups and behavioural science that people don't always respond well to being told what to do by law, and sometimes respond better to guidance and "nudging". No doubt also its dominant Vote Leave contingent believes that voters aren't bothered about compliance with electoral law and other established norms when it comes to campaigning, and assume voters have the same attitude regarding governing.


But there comes a point where people do like to know where the line is between what is lawful and what isn't. Many people may be happy to follow guidance generally, wouid act contrary to it in certain circumstances, and yet would almost always avoid committing a criminal offence. This isn't just because of fear of the material consequences of conviction: it's also because of social stigma.


A Government that sends out confusing messages on what is and isn't a crime risks losing the support and trust of the public in dealing with something like the Covid-19 crisis. We've all heard people say something like: "I've no idea what the rules are now, but doing so-and-so can't be that risky, can it?" The Government is now trying to relax restrictions nationwide, but impose tighter restrictions locally. It's difficult to do that if people aren't clear what the restrictions actually are, or have been encouraged not to care what they are, and have decided to judge matters for themselves.


Recently the Prime Minister warned against people "taking liberties" after reports of large crowds congregating on beaches. Ironically many of the people involved had good reason to think they had the "liberty" to do what they were doing, because the Government had given out the message that "British common sense" could be relied on to regulate behaviour, and the small print could be ignored.


A Government that doesn't take criminal laws seriously risks losing trust and support more widely. By making such laws, and being partly responsible for their enforcement, a Government is effectively telling the public: "these things are really serious - if you disobey, the State will punish you". Treating the law as frivolous suggests the Government doesn't mean what it says.


When those in Government - such as Dominic Cummings, Robert Jenrick, and Boris Johnson - break the law, or are dismissive of the importance of any laws that may apply to them, voters notice. They may not be concerned with the finer details of these matters. But they don't like the stench of sleaze and corruption, in the same way that people don't like to associate with neighbours who keep getting into trouble with the police.


FINALLY - THE ELITE VS THE PEOPLE


The Government continues to push a narrative that it is on the side of "the people" against a liberal elite. This still seems to have some traction. But it may be a mistake to assume that these voters equate the law with the elite: they may think well-paid liberal lawyers fall into that category, but not necessarily the police and others involved.


One difficulty of treating laws with contempt is that the Government begins rather to resemble the dodgy tycoon who believes the law doesn't apply to him - it's for the smaller people. The voter who's previously assumed the Government is on her side against the elite might start looking from pig to man and back again and wonder whether there's any difference.



By the editor, Jun 10 2020 01:41PM

Brexit is back in the news. Having been ousted by Covid-19 for a while, the two topics have become linked, and the decision on whether the transition period should be extended has become more pressing.


Little progress appears to have been made in negotiations on a potential deal. The UK has repeatedly stated its refusal to extend the transition period. Since there are 3 basic options - a deal, an extension, and no deal - it's logical to conclude from all this that a no deal result is the most likely.


However, each of these options includes variations. For example, just as with a pre-Brexit 'no deal', there are different angles of cliff edge to a no deal outcome this year, depending on what 'mini-deals', if any, might be agreed. Alternatively, an extension of 6 months, with no progress on talks by the end of the year, may be little different from a no deal outcome, and very different to a 2 year extension.


There are also different sorts of deals. The negotiations are apparently aiming at an all-encompassing deal, and it is this that many commentators consider to be unrealistic in the time available, hence the calls for an extension. But there's nothing in the Withdrawal Agreement I can see that requires the UK and EU to reach a deal that covers everything, or most things, or indeed anything in particular. They could reach a very limited deal that left most points to be determined later. So there could be a deal that effectively provides for an extended transition period (whether 1 or 2 years or more), at least for all the contentious matters, while perhaps securing some limited, uncontentious, permanent changes.


Why would the UK Government be interested in such an option? There are a number of reasons.


1. The poor alternatives. The Government won't get a comprehensive deal that it wants in the time available, and it won't want a deal that gives the EU everything it wants. It is said that some in the cabinet are bullish about a no deal outcome, but even if that's right, there are others who will be less keen. If those making the key decisions in Government consider that there's a reasonable chance of some signficant problems from a no deal outcome, such as chaos at the ports and food and medicine shortages, they may be keen to avoid this if they can.


2. The hard decisions - on regulatory standards, the borders with Northern Ireland and so on - can be delayed till after the Covid-19 crisis is over, and there's sufficient time to reach both internal and external agreement on them.


3. Popular support. Polls suggest increased support for a transition extension since the Covid-19 crisis, and the fact that a deal was reached (even if it achieved a very similar result) might appease some Leavers who would have opposed an extension. Meanwhile, polls also show that the importance of the EU to voters has decreased significantly. Many voters, of course, were happy to see Brexit 'done', and aren't too bothered about the details.


4. It could be sold as a victory to the hardcore Brexiteers and media. The Government's critics are currently attacking it for refusing to consider an extension, and for failing to make progress on a deal. The Government could claim it had confounded those critics - not backing down on the extension, and getting a deal when the 'liberal elite' said it was impossible. (It would be helpful in this regard to include something in the deal of symbolic importance, even if of little actual consequence, e.g. on fish, which the Government could claim as a massive victory.) They'll say Boris Johnson has proved yet again that he can defy expectations. The elite underestimated him before, when they said he couldn't get a new Withdrawal Agreement - but he did. They underestimated him this time when he said he couldn't get a deal - lo and behold, once again he's pulled it out of the bag! The critics, of course, also pointed out before that his new Withdrawal Agreement was essentially the same proposal that he and other Brexiteers had previously rejected. It didn't matter - or didn't matter enough. Would the Brexiteers buy it again?


That seems to be the crucial point. Boris Johnson is of course not an ideological Brexiteer, and will be most concerned about public support and party unity (both currently heading in the wrong direction). The option above would appeal to him, if he could get away with it. But who else is key to the decision? Dominic Cummings is one, of course, and Brexiteers have mobilised behind him recently, after his Durham escapades, to 'keep Johnson honest' on the extension issue. For Cummings, Brexit is part of a bigger revolutionary project, and we don't know how important he considers a 'clean break' this year. Who else is key? Michael Gove, who seems to flit between ideological certainty and political pragmatism? Rishi Sunak, whose hardboiled Brexitism might or might not have softened from exposure to Treasury orthodoxy and leadership ambitions? And then there are the Conservative backbenches, which control Johnson's fate, now purged of Remainer dissidents: how ideological are the new MPs; to what extent have they been merely mouthing Brexiteer slogans, and to what extent actually believing them? We ought to recall that, once upon a time, Brexiteers were dead against any transition period at all, but ended up fully behind the current Withdrawal Agreement. But for how much longer would they be prepared to stomach 'BRINO'? Might enough of them fear (and this might be behind the Brexiteer support for Cummings) that a failure to achieve a clean break this year will destroy the dream forever?


Even if the UK Government proposed such a deal, there's no guarantee, of course, that the EU would agree. Though given the unpalatable option of no deal, and given a refusal to agree to an extension, it may not seem such a bad result for them either.


We may still be hurtling towards a no deal outcome. I'm still glad I bought my spare freezer last year, and have no intention of selling it. But there does seem to be a realistic alternative, if those in power want to take it.


By the editor, Apr 29 2020 07:09PM

Views on how to handle the crisis are for the experts. But there are a number of assumptions that I think can safely be made at this point based on what has been made public, and a number of misunderstandings that would benefit from being cleared up.


OVERARCHING POINTS


1. We can't rely on a vaccine. We may never get one. Even if we do get one, it could take many years before it can be used, and even then, it might not be 100% effective. A lot of discussion about the end of lockdowns and other restrictions has been based on comments by Government scientists that a vaccine would take at least a year to 18 months, as though this means it's likely the crisis will end in about a year. If the estimate is right, the assumption is wrong - it's far too optimistic. (Though see point 5.)


2. It's too early to tell what degree of immunity is given by having had the virus. It's possible (I understand unlikely) that it gives immunity for life. But it may very well give immunity for a much shorter period, such as months. So "herd immunity", in the absence of a vaccine, can't be relied on either at present.


3. Some progress has been made on finding effective treatments to mitigate the effects of the virus. Of particular importance, it seems (in terms of patient recovery and avoiding healthcare resources becoming overwhelmed), is preventing damage to the lungs at an early stage. But there's nothing yet on the horizon providing full treatment. It's possible - and some medical experts think probable - we will find a full treatment before an effective vaccine. But given the uncertainty, we can't base policy on potential treatments either.


4. Until either immunity is established or treatments are found, the only options for minimising harm, in addition to provision of adequate healthcare, are slowing and limiting the spread, and isolating the vulnerable. Such measures will only contain the virus; they won't eliminate it (contrary to what some politicians and journalists, including in the UK and US, occasionally suggest). The effectiveness of different measures for achieving this (hygiene, social distancing, etc) is still being evaluated, as a range of measures are being tried around the world.


5. The whole world is engaged in this struggle, and the number of people and the amount of money being spent on it is unprecedented. That must help speed up processes significantly, for example by "falsifying" scientific theories more quickly, in order to arrive at conclusions that are most likely to be correct. Obviously the more transparent and cooperative countries are, the better. Unfortunately in that respect we're not as well served as we might hope. Nevertheless, better an imperfect group endeavour than one country going it alone. This should help with all steps 1 to 4 above.


GENERAL POINTS


6. Antibody tests aren't 100% effective. And it doesn't take much deviation from 100% accuracy to produce potentially very misleading results. As Tom Chivers has explained, if there was a test that is 95% accurate, and 3% of the population have had the virus, about two-thirds of those who test positive won't actually have had it. (One reason, among many, why "immunity passports" seem a daft idea.) So a great deal of care needs to be exercised in how such tests are used, even though there's widespread agreement that they are needed to move from widespread lockdown to targeted containment.


7. Comparing death rates between countries is of limited, if any, use in comparing how effective their Governments have been at dealing with the crisis. Governments record deaths in different ways (e.g. whether the virus was a primary cause, or one factor, and whether occurring in hospital or anywhere), and even if some consistent measure could be found (e,.g. excess deaths), it's clear that countries were exposed to the virus in markedly different ways, and have very different conditions in which the virus has operated (for example, age of populations, make-up of households). It doesn't follow that for example the UK and Italy have "done worse" than Germany and Greece simply because of the different reported death rates. (They might have done worse for other reasons, of course.)


8. The side-effects of dealing with the virus always need to be considered alongside measures to tackle it directly. These side-effects include other medical conditions, both physicial and mental, that aren't treated properly (including those people not getting treated at all, either because hospitals can't cope, or people won't go). They also include economic and social effects, particularly of lockdowns. There should be no pecking order here - of which lost and damaged lives are more important. There is an unfortunate tendency for views on this to polarise along politically ideological lines (at times in the UK it's felt like the Brexit debate carried on by other means). Any approach that prioritises one type of harm, and seeks to minimise others, should be viewed with suspicion.


9. Containment measures vary in social and economic cost. Assuming equal effectiveness, low cost measures are preferable to high cost measures. An obvious point, perhaps - but it sometimes gets lost in the noise; and fairly simple, minimal cost measures, which may be highly effective (such as encouraging homeworking) hardly get a look in, because the debate is often around high cost measures.


10. Working out which groups (if any) are more or less likely to spread the virus, and which groups are more or less vulnerable to its effects, is clearly important in targeting containment effectively. There needs to be continuous reassessment of assumptions on this. For example, older people appear to be much more vulnerable - but exactly to what extent, and does this vary within age groups according to any particular characteristics? I was surprised that the death rate for over 80s was lower than 20%. It's still awful, of course - but suggests that many elderly people will be okay. So simply isolating all elderly people may go further than is needed. And there's mixed evidence as to whether children are not only less vulnerable, but also less contagious. It is only by continuing to adapt to such evidence as it emerges that containment measures and healthcare resources can be most effective.


SPECIFIC ISSUES


11. Studies indicate that non-surgical masks are likely to reduce the spread of the virus, though not by much. The virus can be spread by release of droplets by coughing, sneezing, and simply speaking, so anything that inhibits the droplets helps. The objections to encouraging such masks are a) it might encourage complacency, b) it might inhibit the supply of surgical masks. As yet, there is no evidence to back up either objection.


12. The benefits of being outdoors ought to be considered alongside the risks. There are physical benefits (some evidence that the virus doesn't thrive in sunshine, vitamin D helps the immune system, people are likely to exercise more) as well as social and psychological benefits (mental health, reducing scope for abuse). On the face of it, these benefits are significant, and it's not clear that Governments are properly taking them into account.


13. Studies indicate that air conditioning may help spread the virus. If so, offices, restaurants, planes and trains may be more dangerous environments than, for example, parks.


14. The latest research indicates that the peak of infections in the UK might have been around 18 March. (New data might cause a revision of course.) If so, this suggests some of the measures prior to the lockdown were quite effective. (Which isn't to say the lockdown wasn't necessary as well.) And if so, it's worth trying to understand which of those measures were particularly effective in deciding on a long term containment strategy..


!5. I've no idea whether, overall, the Government is making the right decisions. I don't envy such a difficult set of choices, and it seems to me too early to tell. My own expertise is in law, and the one aspect I've looked at in depth is the lockdown regulations. There, despite the drastic nature of the provisions, the Government has deliberately avoided Parliamentary scrutiny, and has issued guidance that conflicts with own laws. That doesn't bode well.



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