Wednesday 1 July 2020

Psychopathy and Short-Termism

Coronavirus has supplied many more reasons for hating the Tories. Their complacency and cack-handedness have cost the unnecessary loss of tens of thousands of people. And their determination to push for the return to school, opening non-essential shops, and allowing pubs to operate is going to cost more lives. Who knew the last election would reveal its character as a life-or-death contest within so short a space of time? Underlining the government's light-minded approach in recent days has been a scandal over data. A scandal that should result in prosecutions when all this is done.

In the flap around the introduction of the first local lockdown in Leicester, it emerged the Tories were, as suspected, not reporting the full infection rate figures. The numbers put out in the public health press releases report the so-called 'pillar one' cases: these are tests processed and confirmed by government labs. These are typically administered in a hospital setting on medical and support staff, and patients with Covid symptoms. The 'pillar two' tests refers to the drive-in stations and at-home tests, which are then processed in private labs. It transpires the government have counted and publicised the pillar one tests, but not the pillar two tests. This matters because, firstly, local authorities have hitherto only been supplied with the pillar one numbers and, second, it presents a woefully distorted picture. Look at the Leicester example. Going by the first lot of testing, you could be forgiven for thinking there is no crisis. Transmission appears low as tests confirming a positive are bumping along with fewer than 10 cases since mid-May. Once you report the pillar two cases, the real rate of infection is surging. Instead of four or five confirmed infections a day in mid June, it actually stood at around 70.

Only so much about the government can be hung on ineptitude. Someone, somewhere, made the decision not to report the pillar two cases to give the impression the threat of coronavirus is lower than it actually is [correction - see comments]. And if they are a bureaucrat somewhere in Public Health England, someone in Number 10 also determined the government can live with the under-reporting of figures. I'm sure you have a good idea who's in the frame. In other words, the government have sold the public a pup. The lockdown has been eased this last month, and the opening of the pubs this weekend are based on a false prospectus. Tens of thousands have died preventable deaths, and tens of thousands more run the risk of a premature end. Just see for yourself how the Treasury are marketing this. Never in the history of this country has the government run such an irresponsible campaign.

This nevertheless raises something of a puzzle. The Tories are caught between the biopolitics and economics of this crisis and, unsurprisingly, are putting the interests of business before the health of the workers. Yet let's think this through for a moment. Whether the Tories care or not, politically their deception and inaction is suicidal. As we know, coronavirus is disproportionately fatal to the old, who happen to be their base on the whole). And advertising your incompetence with an ever widening pool of suffering and grief should mean curtains for the Tories' chances at the next election. Why is Johnson happy to risk lives on a course of action the Tories won't benefit from? How come the Conservatives are determined to test their support to destruction?

Not all answers involve playing chess in 11 dimensions. Parties and politicians make mistakes and misread situations, and this is one of them. Having almost delivered Brexit Johnson knows more generational culture war nonsense, with targeted splashes of cash, is the best way of keeping his declining voter coalition together. As he ostentatiously chafed against the remoaners and the prissy constitutionalists holding Britain back in the parliamentary struggles of late last year, ploughing forward against a new coalition of holder-backers and "ditherers" - teaching unions, Labour politicians, health experts - will get him the plaudits. He thinks. It's a calculated risk. Their hope is deaths and long-term morbidities won't reach a level sufficient to destroy the authority of his government, and the prize is getting the plaudits and props for seeing the country through to the other side of this most seminal of crises. Distinguishing between the doers and the ditherers, as he put it at PMQs on Wednesday, is a diagram of how he intends to shape "the discourse" over the coming years.

The second is the inescapable habitus of Conservative Party statecraft. Short-termism is as Tory as monocles and dishonesty. Dave was the "homework crisis" Prime Minister, a baleful characteristic of complacency that surfaced as early as his amateurish and poorly-managed campaign to become Tory leader, and featured both in his headlines-driven approach to policy making and increasingly risky political gambles for ever-depleting returns. This was also shared by Theresa May: the shape of Brexit and her attempts to get it through the Commons were determined by her desire to keep the Tories together as a going concern, which meant living from vote-to-vote and Commons appearance to Commons appearance. And, naturally, Johnson exhibited exactly the same behaviour. Except his short-termism was driven not by a love for his party, but an infatuation with ambition. Johnson is fond of the whack-a-mole metaphor for his approach to local Covid-19 outbreaks, but it reveals the Prime Minister's governing philosophy. If a problem crops up, clobber it and move to the next. This means reactive government, even if kicking cans down the road means an avalanche of crap comes rebounding back in the future. Johnson and his predecessors are guilty of this flippant and supremely damaging approach to government. Except now, married to a psychopathic political strategy, it means death on a massive scale.

Indeed, there are plenty of reasons to hate the Tories. Boris Johnson is determined to provide us with tens of thousands more.


Graham said...

Whilst I agree with your criticism of the governement I am not certain you have the details of the pillar 2 tests correct.
Pillar 2 tests are included in the figures reported daily which includes national, regional, upper and lower tier local authority totals. So the decline in new cases which is used to justify the easing of lockdown includes all cases (though these are too high and we should have waited an other two weeks before begining to come out of lockdown).
The problem is that local authorities have only been given the pillar 1 figures which means they have only got the details for a minority of cases.
It seems that they were not given pillar 2 data because of "data protection" issues which is a monumental failure and probably due to the testing being done in private labs.
Rather than being a case of fidling the figures it is a failure to plan how local actions would be intiated and operated. I suspect this is a result of the government's complete distrust and contempt for anybody outside the cabinet office.

Anonymous said...

Keir Starmer said in the House of Commons that he was in favour of lifting the lockdown but he was aware of the risks while Johnson wasn't aware of the risks. This is the wrong line to take. It is unknowable whether Johnson is aware of the risks and that question is not the important one: the issue is whether systems have been put in place to manage the risks.

In practice the Government has devolved to other parties the responsibilities for setting up systems for managing the risks while soaking up the praise for opening up, and criticising groups like teachers for being obstructive (while teachers are trying to get to grips with putting into practice a series of contradictory guidelines). As the last commenter says, there has been a failure to plan how local actions can function, but beyond this:-

- the infection rate is still too high to effectively control the pandemic by pouncing on clusters of cases

- local government (to whom most of the responsibility has been devolved) struggles to get hold of the information it requires and has to try to implement measures that central government imply are no longer necessary.

According to the prepared plans for a pandemic, local government should have been at the centre of testing and tracing. The question of using private laboratories (and the associated issue of data protection) would not have arisen if the prepared strategies had been followed. Local government is not only distrusted and held in contempt by the government, as the previous commenter has said; it gets in the way of pouring money into the private sector for IT systems that do not work and for tracing systems run by the untrained.


DFTM said...

Apparently someone thought it a good idea to name tomorrow, Super Saturday.

Yes on a day when millions of drunken dickheads and other Covidiots will pack the pubs of the UK and likely infect thousands more and almost certainly result in thousands of deaths, is being named Super Saturday.

A day for capitalism to advertise the fact it cannot function unless absolutely and unequivocally non essential work is carried out! The Institute for Economic affairs says we must do this or people will starve, they will be telling us next that the production of Space Hoppers is an absolutely essential condition for Wheat to grow!

If we are going to name tomorrow Super Saturday let us rename 9/11 Terrific Tuesday and the Manchester Bombings Marvelous Monday!

Blissex said...

«coronavirus is disproportionately fatal to the old, who happen to be their base on the whole).»

The tory vote is based on (southern) property ownership and the number of properties will not shrink, and they will be inherited, so the number of tory voters will not shrink, it may even increase: every time a 70-80-90 year old tory voter dies, his property is inherited by a new 40-50-60 new tory voter, or multiple ones share the property ownership if the dead tory voter had multiple heirs.

The number of tory voters falls in these situations:

* Property falls in price.
* The area where property inflation happens becomes smaller.
* Property ownership becomes more concentrated.
* The idiots who vote for the tories who inflate southern housing costs, without being southern property owners, for "ideological" reasons, stop being "ideological".

George Carty said...

Blissex, weren't 40-somethings a demographic with one of the biggest Toryward swings between 2017 and 2019? Perhaps a lot of them voted Labour in 2017 primarily because they feared Theresa May's "dementia tax" was going to rob them of their inheritances?

Boffy said...

A load of old property owners dying so that their property comes on to the market is one way that house prices do drop. The fact it comes at a time that a lot more property is coming on to the market as EU citizens go back to the EU, and are not replaced by other EU citizens, because of Brexit adds to the downward pressure on house prices. With millions of people losing their jobs because of the damage caused by the government imposed lockdown of social activity, there will be millions more who can't pay their mortgage and become forced sellers once the mortgage holiday ends, and as interest rates rise due to the massive amounts of borrowing resulting from the economic damage caused by the government imposed lockdown, millions more will default. But, interest rates cause the capitalised value of assets to fall, which means that the price of land is set to crash, and of the inflated property prices built on it.

Already, in the last two months we have seen the biggest monthly drop in house prices for 12 years, and last month, we say a similar drop which meant that we have had the first annual fall in house prices since 2012. We have the same, but more extreme, conditions that existed in 1990 that resulted in house prices falling by 40% in a matter of a few months.

So, if the Tory vote were simply a matter of house prices it would look pretty dire for them. But, it isn't, and such a view is facile. In the late 1940's, house prices dropped, as new supply came on to the market. But, in 1951 the Tories won the election. In the 1950's, house prices went nowhere, and fell in real terms. House prices recovered their 1990 nominal level in 1996, and a new property bubble was inflated after 1997, but New labour were in power for 13 years after that, and would probably have won again in 2007, had Brown called the election, rather than waiting for 2010.

Most surveys now show more people think that high house prices are a bad thing than a good thing (and they are right), so its hard to see how, other than for a small core of elderly Tories its a winning electoral strategy.

George Carty said...

In the 1950s the rate of homeownership was much lower than it is now, so there were more votes in promising to build more and better houses (and indeed the Tories campaigned on this basis at the time) than there were in propping up the prices of existing houses.