This text is part of a longer article I’m currently writing about the expansion of the UK biosecurity state through the winter of 2020-21, and which I hope to publish before Christmas. However, some of what this section exposes is happening right now. We think it best, therefore, to publish this information as a separate article, in the hope it will provide some support to those who, like us, are resisting what is being implemented under the cloak of the latest Government-imposed lockdown of the UK and with the collaboration of our scientists, doctors, academics, teachers, writers and other state clerks.
My title, for those who do not recognise the reference, is taken from the book published in 1927 by the French writer and cultural critic, Julien Benda, titled La trahison des clercs. In this extended essay, Benda accused European intellectuals of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries of having lost the ability to think rationally about politics, having instead becoming apologists for, among other things, the struggle for power. Benda used the French word ‘clerc’ in the Medieval sense to mean a scribe, or what we would now call a member of the middle-class intelligentsia; but the Modern meaning of ‘clerk’ retains Benda’s intended puncturing of the intellectual posturings of that class and their betrayal of their intellectual independence from the institutions of power it is their social role and moral duty to hold to account. In this section I want to look at the roles of such clerks today in giving scientific legitimacy, practical implementation and intellectual credibility to the Government’s lies about the coronavirus crisis from within the institutional frameworks of medicine, education and letters.
It cannot be too strongly emphasised that SAGE, the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies on whose recommendation the second lockdown of the UK has been imposed, is not a group of independent scientists, doctors, academics and other medical specialists dressed in leather-patched tweed jackets and politely advising the Cabinet Office with reports that are then ignored, set aside or belatedly listened to. This is very much how the UK press depicts SAGE, which is fronted at press conferences by the suitably academic-looking Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance. However, in reality SAGE is merely an extension of the Government. Its leading figures are not independent experts giving their objective opinions about what they think the Government should so, but scientific advisors and employees from Government ministries, departments and executive agencies, representatives from the Scottish Government, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive, or directors of organisations and quangos dependent on Government funding for their existence. These include the following members:
- Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Advisor
- Professor Chris Whitty Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser, Department of Health and Social Care
- Professor John Aston, Chief Scientific Adviser, Home Office
- Fliss Bennee, Welsh Government
- Mr Allan Bennett, Public Health England
- Professor Phil Blythe, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for Transport
- Professor Andrew Curran, Chief Scientific Adviser, Health and Safety Executive
- Professor Paul Cosford, Public Health England
- Dr Gavin Dabrera, Public Health England
- Professor Sir Ian Diamond, Office for National Statistics
- Professor Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director, Public Health England
- Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar, Director, Wellcome Trust
- Professor Kevin Fenton, Public Health England
- Dr Aidan Fowler, National Health Service England
- Professor Robin Grimes, Chief Scientific Adviser, Ministry of Defence
- Dr David Halpern, Behavioural Insights Team, Cabinet Office
- Baronness Harding of Winscombe, National Health Service Improvement
- Dr Jenny Harries OBE, Deputy Chief Medical Officer
- Professor Gideon Henderson, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
- Dr Indra Joshi, NHSX
- Professor Dame Angela McLean, Chief Scientific Adviser, Ministry of Defence
- Dr Jim McMenamin, Health Protection Scotland
- Professor Carole Mundell, Chief Scientific Adviser, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
- Dr Rob Orford, Welsh Government
- Professor Sharon Peacock, Public Health England
- Professor Alan Penn, Chief Scientific Adviser, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
- Professor Guy Poppy, Chief Scientific Adviser, Food Standards Agency
- Professor Steve Powis, National Health Service England
- Dr Mike Prentice, National Health Service England
- Mr Osama Rahman, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for Education
- Professor Tom Rodden, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
- Dr Cathy Roth, Department for International Development
- Professor Sheila Rowan MBE FRS FRSE
- Chief Scientific Adviser, Scotland
- Alaster Smith, Department for Education
- Dr Nicola Steedman, Scottish Government
- Dr Mike Short CBE, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for International Trade
- Dr Gregor Smith, Scottish Government Chief Medical Officer
- Professor Jonathan Van Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer
- Professor Charlotte Watts, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for International Development
- Professor Sir Mark Walport, UK Research and Innovation
- Professor Ian Young, Professor Ian Young
- Professor Maria Zambon, Public Health England
These 43 make up exactly half of the 86 members of SAGE, and are by far the more powerful and influential members. There is a similar proportion of Government officials to academics in the SAGE subgroups. These include the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), which in March recommended that ‘the perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging’, and which includes at least 3 members of the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insight Team or ‘Nudge Unit’; and the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M), which includes 7 employees of Public Health England, the executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care. And, of course, this list doesn’t include the unofficial presence of the Prime Minister’s Chief Advisor, Dominic Cummings, and Ben Warner, a data scientist and another Downing Street Advisor, both of whose names are redacted from the published minutes of SAGE meetings. Nor does it take account of the role of seemingly independent academics such as Professor Neil Ferguson, who with 4 other colleagues from Imperial College London was responsible for the now-infamous 16 March report containing the wildly inaccurate and repeatedly refuted estimates of deaths and ‘cases’, and who all sit on the SPI-Modelling subgroup. This year alone, Imperial College London received $88.86 million in grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), which has bankrolled it for well over a decade.
The influence of private investment on so-called ‘independent’ experts such as these, who make supposedly objective decisions used by the Government to curtail the freedoms of the UK public, is endemic to the medical and pharmaceutical industry. It was recently revealed that Sir Patrick Vallance, who Chairs SAGE and decides who attends its meetings, still has £600,000 in shares in his former employer, the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, where he was President of Research and Development from 2012-2018, and which has in turn been awarded an untendered contract by the UK Government to help develop 60 million doses of a vaccine for COVID-19. Sir Patrick is in good company, as the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van Tam, who Chairs the SPI-M subgroup and the COVID-19 Clinical Information Network, is a former employee of the Swiss multinational healthcare company Roche, on whose behalf he lobbied the World Health Organisation for human vaccines that made both Roche and GlaxoSmithKline billions.
But the influence of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on UK health policy and vaccine development goes beyond the consistently alarmist reports produced by Imperial College London, whose Real-Time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT) programme, with its estimate of 100,000 ‘cases’ per day doubling every 9 days, has been used to justify the latest lockdown of the UK. Besides being the second largest contributor after the US Government to the WHO’s $2.4 billion annual budget (with $219.7 million in grants in 2020 alone), the BMGF is also a main donor to the Wellcome Trust ($613,000 in grants over the past decade), whose Director, Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar, is also a member of SAGE, and sits on the PHE Serology Working Group along with 1 other employee of the Wellcome Trust, 2 employees of Imperial College London and 5 employees of Public Health England, which has itself received $7.46 million in grants from the BMGF since 2010. Another beneficiary of Bill Gates’ Microsoft billions is the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which this year alone received $5.8 million in grants from the BMGF, of which $1.5 million is for vaccine development, but like Imperial College has accepted tens of millions in grants over the past decade and longer. In 2008, the School received $46.4 million from the BMGF for research into malaria, the bulk of which went to the ACT Consortium conducting the research, whose Principal Investigator was Chris Whitty, at the time Professor of Public and International Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the LSHTM has 5 professors in the main membership of SAGE, another in the Behavioural sub-group, and no less than 9 professors and doctors on the Modelling sub-group that has produced the estimates on which both lockdowns have been justified. If that isn’t enough influence, the Medical & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) currently guaranteeing the safety standard of COVID-19 vaccines has received $7.15 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation over the past decade, $1.37 million of it this year. In December 2017, the MHRA announced a partnership with the BMGF and the WHO worth £980,000. Incomprehensibly, for anyone who doesn’t know how Big Pharma exerts its influence over governments, the UK’s regulatory and executive agency of the Department for Health and Social Care responsible for overseeing the safety of medicines distributed in this country is being funded by a US billionaire who in January 2010 invested $10 billion as part of his call for a ‘Decade of Vaccines’.
The perception, therefore, created and disseminated by the UK media, that there is tension and disagreement between SAGE and the Government — which is depicted as a struggle between the responsible, communitarian, pro-lockdown scientists and the irresponsible, libertarian, anti-lockdown Government — is a pure fiction. This has been carefully constructed to make the public believe that if this group of intellectually independent academics think we should obey Government lockdown restrictions on our freedoms and rights, then we’d better listen to them. Wikipedia’s claim that members ‘are not generally employed by government’ is an easily-proved lie; and calls by the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition for the Government to ‘listen to SAGE’ is like telling the Treasury to listen to the Department of Health and Social Care. In practice, SAGE is and always has been an arm of the UK Government whose members are paid and instructed to say precisely what they are saying. The delayed publication of its meetings and reports is a public relations stunt intended to present a facade of transparency to a gullible public all too easily impressed by professorships and honours and post-nominal letters, with little understanding of what they mean and how they are earned, and the misguided perception that they guarantee honesty and intellectual integrity. They don’t.
Nor are the academic members of SAGE exempt from the same criticism. If they are not, as many are, employed or funded by Government bodies or the social investment arms of pharmaceutical companies or international vaccine lobbyists, there are numerous instances of Government contracts being awarded to universities and colleges with members sitting on the board of SAGE. On the one hand, this isn’t surprising, given the research capabilities of their departments; but, on the other hand, it would be naïve to dismiss this as an incentive to compliance for universities starved of funds by cuts to education by a Government now dangling those contracts in front of their faces. But these pale beside the vast sums the academic institutions they work for receive in funding from Big Pharma. In her article on ‘SAGE conflicts of interest’, Dr. Zoë Harcombe has identified 12 out of what she calls the 20 ‘key influencers’ in SAGE — those members attending at least half its meetings — who work for or have received funding from organisations financially connected with the development of a vaccine for COVID-19. This doesn’t include Vallance and Whitty, but does include 3 academics (Maria Zambon, Wendy Barclay and the since departed Neil Ferguson) who are all professors at Imperial College London, and 2 (Dame Angela McLean and Peter Horby) who are professors at the University of Oxford. These are the two academic institutions at the forefront of the race for a COVID-19 vaccine in the UK, with Imperial College, which has 4 professors in SAGE, receiving nearly $190 million in grants from the BMGT over the past decade; and Oxford University, which has 6 professors in SAGE, receiving $208 million in grants over the past decade, including $11.64 million for vaccine development over the past 3 years. 3 more key influencers (Charlotte Watts, John Edmunds and Graham Medley OBE, the latter of whom Chairs the SPI-Modelling subgroup) are professors at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which has its own vaccine centre, is also in the race for a vaccine for COVID-19, has received $158.37 million from the BMGF in this past decade, and has 5 employees in SAGE and 9 in the Modelling subgroup. 1 (Steven Powis) is a professor at University College London, which has received over $40.7 million from the BMGF in the past decade, has 6 employees in SAGE and 5 on the SPI-Behavioural subgroup. 2 (Sir Jeremy Farrar and Sharon Peacock, OBE) are professors at the Wellcome Trust/Sanger Institute. And 1 (Andrew Rambaut), is a professor at the University of Edinburgh, which has received $28 million from the BMGF in the past decade, has 2 employees in SAGE and 3 in the COVID-19 Clinical Information Network headed by Professor Van Tam. Dr. Harcombe has uncovered more information about the financial connections, professional roles and secondments to Government departments of the key personnel in this supposedly objective ‘scientific advisory group’, and I recommend you read her article.
Perhaps the clearest indication of this exchange of contracts for compliance is the absence from SAGE of a figure like Sunetra Gupta, Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at the University of Oxford, who in a study published back in March on the ‘Fundamental principles of epidemic spread’ questioned the assumptions behind the since-discredited predictions made by Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial College London, and who proposed very different solutions to the lockdown they were used to justify. Only this departure from Government orthodoxy can explain why such a senior figure in her field in one of the world’s leading universities has not been invited to join SAGE, which is short on epidemiologists to challenge the Chief Medical Officer and, extraordinarily, doesn’t have a single immunologist. Indeed, it is this very clear bias that led David King, Emeritus Professor in Physical Chemistry at the University of Cambridge and the UK’s former Chief Scientific Adviser, to form Independent SAGE, whose name alone casts doubt on the independence of the official version. For her persistent assertion, most publicly outlined in the Great Barrington Declaration, that protecting those vulnerable to COVID-19 and developing herd immunity in those who are not, Professor Gupta has been the object of widespread and vicious attacks on her intellectual integrity, not only in the media but from other academics, and the declaration suppressed on the BBC, Twitter, Google and other media and online platforms and search engines. Such is the hegemony among the UK’s clerks.
Even without such inducements to maintain a united front — or ‘consensus statement’ as it is called in SAGE’s published documents — in the face of increasing dissent from within their disciplines, the actual scientists comprising the membership of SAGE have been carefully chosen for their task, and are not equipped with the knowledge and expertise such an advisory group should have. The most public criticism of its membership and their decisions has come from Dr. Mike Yeadon, an expert in allergy and respiratory therapy with a degree in biochemistry and toxicology and a research-based PhD in respiratory pharmacology who has spent over 30 years leading research into new medicines in some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. In 2011, Yeadon left Pfizer Global as Vice President and Chief Scientist for Allergy and Respiratory, after which he founded his own biotech company, Ziarco Pharma Ltd, which in 2017 was sold to the world’s biggest pharmaceutical company, Novartis; so he has a huge amount of practical experience in the industry. In his article ‘What SAGE Has Got Wrong’, published on 16 October, Yeadon had this to say about the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies:
‘It is my contention that SAGE made — and tragically, continues to make to this very day — two absolutely central and incorrect assumptions about the behaviour of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and how it interacts with the human immune system, at an individual as well as a population level.’
The first of these assumptions is that 100 per cent of the population of the UK was susceptible to the virus and that no pre-existing immunity existed. The second is the belief that the percentage of the population that has been infected can be determined by surveying what fraction of the population has antibodies. In contrast, Yeadon’s contention is that because the proportion of the population remaining susceptible to the virus is now too low to sustain a growing outbreak at national scale, the pandemic is effectively over and can easily be handled by a properly functioning NHS. The country, accordingly, should immediately be permitted to get back to normal life. This, however, raises the question of why, if these mistaken assumptions are so obvious, they have been made by the members of SAGE? And the answer, according to Dr. Yeadon, lies partly in the disciplines and specialisms of its members.
‘In spring, membership of SAGE was initially treated like a state secret. Eventually, membership was revealed. I will say that, for myself, I was disappointed. I looked up the credentials of all the members. There were no clinical immunologists. No one who had a biology degree and a post-doctoral qualification in immunology. A few medics, sure. Several people from the humanities including sociologists, economists, psychologists and political theorists. No clinical immunologists. What there were in profusion — seven in total — were mathematicians. This comprised the modelling group. It is their output that has been responsible for torturing the population for the last seven months or so.’
As it isn’t the subject of this section, I won’t go into great detail about why Yeadon thinks they are so incorrect in the assumptions that are the basis to the current lockdown of the UK, and you can follow his argument in detail in this and the longer study on which it is based, ‘How Likely is a Second Wave?’, which was co-authored with Dr. Paul Kirkham, Professor of Cell Biology and Head of Respiratory Disease Research Group at Wolverhampton University, and Barry Thomas, an epidemiologist at the NHS. But in summary, Yeadon says that although SARS-CoV-2 is a novel coronavirus, at least four other coronaviruses circulate freely in UK on a seasonal basis. This means not only that the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests can pick up and detect as SARS-CoV-2 anyone with a coronavirus common cold, but that this has given 30-50 per cent of the population pre-existing immunity to SARS-CoV-2. In addition, SAGE’s assumption that only 10 per cent of the UK population has been infected with SARS-CoV-2 is based on the proportion of the surveyed individuals in which antibodies to the virus have been detected. However, not only is it well known that not everybody infected with a virus produces antibodies, and especially those with mild symptoms, but all those surveyed had T-cells circulating in their blood, giving them prior immunity to this new but related virus. Indeed, of the 750 million people estimated by the World Health Organisation to have been infected by SARS-CoV-2 so far, only a handful appear to have been re-infected. This, Yeadon states, is how the immune system works, without which humans as a species wouldn’t be here.
‘What we can conclude from this is that SAGE is wrong to rely on percentage seroconversion (antibodies) as a reliable guide to the proportion of the population who’ve been infected. This is a truly dreadful error, one that could not have been made but for the inadequate skillsets of the members of SAGE. I’m sorry, but I have to say it. They had too many mathematicians and no one with the right experience to interpret the data coming in from fieldwork.
‘SAGE’s estimate of the proportion of the population who’ve so far been infected by SARS-C0V-2 is a gross and amateur underestimate. SAGE says everyone was susceptible and only 7% have been infected. I think this is literally unbelievable. They have ignored all precedent in the field of immunological memory against respiratory viruses. They have either not seen or disregarded excellent quality work from numerous, world-leading clinical immunologists which show that around 30% of the population had prior immunity.’
This has led SAGE to declare that the ‘pandemic’ has only just begun. Yeadon calls this ‘palpable nonsense’. It’s a respiratory virus, with a lethality no greater than seasonal influenza in its worst years. Indeed, out of the past 27 years, mortality in the UK in 2020, adjusted for population growth, lies in 8th place — hardly testimony to an unprecedented disease crisis requiring a lockdown. Yeadon’s final judgement on this catalogue of errors and the measures they are justifying is damning.
‘SAGE has nothing useful to tell us. As currently constituted, they have an inappropriate over-weighting in modellers and are fatally deficient in pragmatic, empirical, evidence-led experienced scientists, especially the medical, immunological and expert generalist variety. It is my opinion that they should be disbanded immediately and reconstituted. I say this because, as I have shown, they haven’t a grasp of even the basics required to build a model and because their models are often frighteningly useless, a fact of which they seem unaware. Their role is too important for them to get a second chance. They are unlikely to revise their thinking even if they claim they have now fixed their model. The level of incompetence shown by the errors I have uncovered, errors which indirectly through inappropriate “measures”, have cost the lives of thousands of people, from avoidable, non-COVID-19 causes, is utterly unforgivable.
‘As a private individual, I am incandescent with rage at the damage they have inflicted on this country. We should demand more honesty, as well as competence from those elected or appointed to look after aspects of life we cannot manage alone. SAGE has either been irredeemably incompetent or it has been dishonest. I personally know a few SAGE members and with the sole exception of a nameless individual, it is an understatement that they have greatly disappointed me. They have rebuffed well-intentioned and, as it turned out, accurate advice from at least three Nobel laureate scientists, all informing them that their modelling was seriously and indeed lethally in error. Though this may not have made the papers, everyone in the science community knows about this and that SAGE’s inadequate replies are scandalous. I have no confidence in any of them and neither should you.’
Dr. Yeadon is not a human-rights activist, a left-wing campaigner against the pharmaceutical industry, an ‘anti-vaxer’, a ‘COVID-denier’, or any of the other labels with which anyone questioning Government advisors are dismissed in the media. He is an industry insider, a former colleague of Patrick Vallance in the Wellcome Research Laboratories, and a senior researcher into respiratory diseases for private companies making vast profits from medicines for the public. He has nothing to gain professionally or financially from making these accusations, and a lot to lose reputationally. Once again, like Lord Sumption QC, the former Justice of the Supreme Court who has accused the Government of making coronavirus-justified Regulations unlawfully; like Dr. Sunetra Gupta, the Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at Oxford who continues to defend building up herd immunity against the Government’s imposition of lockdown; like Professor Michael Levitt, a biophysicist in the Department of Structural Biology at Stanford University and one of the Nobel Laureates ignored by the modellers at Imperial College London; like the tens of thousands of doctors, scientists, academics and industry specialists across the globe, what he says cannot be dismissed as a ‘conspiracy theory’.
There are only two possible explanations for this: 1) thousands of eminent specialists in their field across the world have all entered into a global conspiracy to lie about the most important event of our time; or 2) scientists working for their governments are lying to the public. The recent exposure of the blatant lies shown first on national television and then to the House of Commons by the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor and Chief Medical Office to justify the current lockdown — and only retracted when their predictions of 4,000 deaths per day from COVID-19 were shown to be mathematically incorrect by Carl Heneghan, Professor of Evidence-based Medicine at Oxford University — should make it clear which of these explanations is most likely to be true. Indeed, on the day the lockdown came into effect, the Office for Statistics Regulations issued a ‘Statement regarding transparency of data related to COVID-19’ in Government briefings and interviews, saying that:
‘The use of data has not consistently been supported by transparent information being provided in a timely manner. As a result, there is potential to confuse the public and undermine confidence in the statistics.’
This is a polite way of saying that SAGE has lied to us. However, so unaccountable has our Government become, so widespread is the expectation and acceptance of corruption in public life, that instead of being compelled to apologise for misleading Parliament and fired from their jobs in ignominy, both Vallance and Whitty continue to hold their positions at the head of SAGE.
The next group of clerks I want to look at has far less influence on giving direct legitimacy to the Government’s lies about the threat of coronavirus, but plays a far greater role in implementing it. This is the education industry, one the UK’s top three sources of employment, and which presides over 8.89 million school students and 2.38 million students in higher education. These are, perhaps, the most vulnerable members of our society and the most susceptible to propaganda, bullying and fearmongering. They are also our future. And with the overwhelming allegiance of young adults to the Labour party following the dreams and illusions of the past five years, the current orthodoxy of the so-called Left in this country — led by Sir Keir Starmer, the former Director of Public Prosecutions and current Leader of the Labour Party — in supporting the Conservative Government in every coronavirus-justified Statute — no matter how financially catastrophic for the working class, no matter how in violation of our rights and freedoms — makes the education industry one of the most powerful propaganda arms available to the UK biosecurity state.
On Monday, 19 October, Internal Communications at De Montfort University in Leicester sent an e-mail to all their staff titled ‘DMU to pilot new national testing programme in fight against COVID-19’. It read as follows:
‘Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the health and wellbeing of our students and staff has always been our top priority. We’ve worked hard to make sure all the necessary measures are in place for you to be able to enjoy everything our campus has to offer in the safest way possible. You can find out more about this by taking a look at Your DMU Safety.’
In reality, without consulting either its staff or its students, DMU has unilaterally decided to implement the programmes and regulations of the UK biosecurity state. This includes enforcing mandatory mask-wearing, implementing an on-site Test and Trace programme, and making almost all teaching virtual, without any consideration of the effects this will have on students and lecturers. In particular, our repeated attempts to raise the question of how students without access to adequate laptops and suitable internet connection — which is often the case among DMU students — are meant to participate in virtual platforms has been repeatedly brushed aside as an inconvenient fact that everyone is willing to acknowledge but no-one has done anything to address. The e-mail continued:
‘Today, we would like to let you know about a pilot initiative for a new national project taking place at DMU over the next few months which we hope will positively impact the fight against COVID-19 for our staff, students and society as a whole.
‘Supporting the Government’s Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) the university will host an NHS Test and Trace facility on campus, giving staff and students an opportunity to engage and explore how effectively Lateral Flow antigen tests can be used at scale.
‘If successful, it would allow for the rapid deployment of new testing technology, enabling regular testing in targeted locations, a clear step forward in the fight against COVID-19.’
In fact, as pretty much everyone besides DMU knows by now, the so-called ‘NHS’ Test and Trace programme is a £12 billion public-private enterprise of 35 contractors and subcontractors, 22 of which are private companies with an appalling record of incompetence, malpractice, fraud, price-fixing, financial mismanagement, conflicts of interest, misconduct, bribery, breaches of contract, breaches of security, breaches of confidentiality, abuse of human rights and questionable ethical practices. For details of this, see section 10 (‘Outsourcing the State’) of our report Lockdown: Collateral Damage in the War on COVID-19. The £108 million contract for outsourcing the programme was awarded in May to Serco, the UK provider of public services in prisons, border security, military defence and information technology. Among numerous other failings of propriety, Serco was fined £22.9 million by the Serious Fraud Office in 2019 for charging the UK Government for electronically tagging people who were dead, in jail or outside the UK; in the same year Serco was accused of covering up sexual abuse in the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Centre; and in 2013 Serco was found by the Prison Inspectorate to be locking 60 per cent of prisoners in their cells up to 23 hours per day in HMP Thameside. Yet this is the company given responsibility for overseeing accuracy and security of the Test and Trace programme. The contract, which may eventually be worth up to £432 million, was awarded directly by the Department of Health and Social Care without competitive tender, and has a clause allowing Serco to rewrite undeclared key terms on service provision. The actual testing sites and processing of samples are all run by subcontracted private companies. This privatisation has been universally acknowledged outside Government as a failure of incompetence and corruption. Far from being a ‘clear step forward’ in the fight against COVID-19, the Test and Trace programme in which staff and students are being asked to participate by DMU is an example of the shady dealings that are outsourcing public services in the UK to private contractors awarded billions of pounds of public funds without scrutiny or accountability. DMU should have nothing to do with this pilot, let alone unilaterally volunteering its students and staff to be its guinea pigs.
‘Lateral Flow antigen tests are a new kind of technology that could be used to test a higher proportion of asymptomatic people. This would better enable the Government to identify asymptomatic cases who are at high likelihood of spreading the virus, and break the chain of transmission. The first Lateral Flow antigen tests have completed initial validation and the Government is identifying how to best use this new technology at scale through a series of different field tests and pilots. The first such major pilot will be at DMU.
‘Lateral Flow antigen tests detect the presence or absence of coronavirus by applying a swab or saliva sample to the device’s absorbent pad. The sample runs along the surface of the pad, showing a visual positive or negative result dependant on the presence of the virus. The tests have been validated by Public Health England. They are safe and offer reliable results.’
Lateral Flow tests detect a target substance in a liquid sample such as saliva, and are used for point of care or home testing, for example in pregnancy tests. In the case of Lateral Flow antigen tests, they detect any substance that causes our immune system to produce antibodies, including a virus. However, far from offering ‘reliable results’, according to an article published on 5 November in one of the world’s most cited scientific journals, Nature, their sensitivity is ‘two orders of magnitude lower’ than that of the PCR tests already in use; and because their specificity is also lower they generate ‘high levels of false positives in low-prevalence settings, when a person’s probability of infection and a test’s false positive rate are numerically similar’, so much so that results require backing up with PCR tests when producing positive results on asymptomatic subjects. Moreover, in an interim guidance document from the World Health Organisation published on 11 September titled ‘Antigen-detection in the diagnoses of SARS-CoV-2 infection using rapid immunoassays’, it specifically states that antigen-detecting rapid diagnostic tests (Ag-RDT) should only be used where there have been suspected outbreaks of COVID-19 and there is a high prevalence of infection, and should not be used on ‘individuals without symptoms’ or where there are zero or only sporadic cases. It explains (Table 1): ‘Ag-RDTs are not recommended for routine surveillance purposes or case management in this setting. Positive test results would likely be false positives.’ Yet on the DMU webpage advertising ‘free regular tests on campus’ this week it states that the ‘aim is for all students and staff to be tested regularly (at least twice a week’); and the Government is proposing to use it as part of the permanent monitoring of the health status of the UK population. Like the PCR tests that have produced the current epidemic of false positives, Lateral Flow antigen tests are being used for a situation for which they haven’t been designed, thereby compounding the inaccuracy of our perception of an epidemic which, as Dr. Yeadon says, is effectively over.
There’s a saying among those who work in the tech and social media industries that if something is free it’s because you are the product being sold; and this test is being offered to DMU staff and students ‘free at the point of use’. This October, Dr. Jon Deeks, Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Birmingham, commented in the British Medical Journal on the commercial incentive for rolling out these rapid-response tests: ‘There is a massive opportunity for companies to get very rich selling poor tests, particularly if they get a Government contract’. At the end of September, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation entered into purchase agreements for £120 million of such Lateral Flow antigen tests, and is part of an international coalition supporting this approach, which will most probably be used to justify the mandatory vaccination programme on which they and other social investment arms of global corporations will make trillions.
As for being ‘validated’ by Public Health England, on 18 August the executive arm of the Department of Health and Social Care was superseded by and incorporated into the National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP). Designed by the management consulting firm McKinsey and with senior management comprised of former executives from Travelex, Jaguar Land Rover, Waitrose and Talk Talk, the NIHP is a private-public partnership with the Test and Trace Programme and the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC), a monitoring system designed to require businesses to collect a wide range of data, including biometric samples, from their employees, customers and visitors. The JBC is being run by Clare Gardiner, the Director of National Resilience and Strategy at the National Cyber Security Centre. This is a branch of General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the UK’s intelligence, cyber and security agency, which in 2013 was exposed by Edward Snowdon to have been routinely collecting, processing and storing vast quantities of global digital communications, including e-mail messages, posts and private messages on social networks, internet histories, and phone calls. This week, GCHQ launched a new cyber offensive targeting websites and social media accounts that publish content categorised as ‘propaganda’ for raising concerns about state-sponsored Covid-19 vaccine development and the pharmaceutical corporations involved. And if anyone doubted that the implementation of the biosecurity state is a cross-party programme, this week the Labour Party called on the Conservative Government to introduce further emergency legislation that would impose criminal and financial sanctions against social media platforms that do not censor content that questions the need or motivations for mass vaccination, which the Shadow Health Minister, Jonathan Ashworth, described as ‘conspiracy theories’.
‘The pilot will be crucial in understanding the effectiveness of these tests. The new lateral flow test will be run alongside existing testing methods (PCR) and anyone who tests positive will still need to self-isolate in accordance with current guidance and to undertake a confirmatory test through the NHS. Staff and students must also continue to book a test with the NHS if they have symptoms.’
In fact, according to a briefing paper published by SAGE on 3 June titled ‘Impact of false-positives and false-negatives in the UK’s COVID-19 RT-PCR testing programme’, RT-PCR (reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction) tests — which do not test whether someone is infected or infectious but were designed for forensic RNA trace analysis — ‘under laboratory conditions . . . should never show more than 5 per cent false positives’. However, this is under ‘idealised testing’ conditions, and the authors warn that ‘in a clinical or community setting there may be inefficient sampling, lab contamination, sample degradation or other sources of error that will lead to increased numbers of false positives’. Incredibly, they admit that they have been ‘unable’ to find any data on the operational false positive rates in the UK COVID-19 RT-PCR testing programme, which is, they conclude, ‘unknown’. But based on data published in 43 external quality assessments for RT-PCR assays for other RNA viruses carried out between 2004-2019, they estimate that the median false positive rate for RT-PCR tests is 2.3 per cent (with an interquartile range 0.8-4.0 per cent). However, this is in idealised laboratory conditions and on patients with a high viral load, not in the makeshift tents in which the Government is rolling out its Pillar 2 swab-testing programme of the wider community. The authors of the SAGE briefing conclude:
‘Unless we understand the operational false positive rate of the UK’s RT-PCR testing system we risk overestimating the COVID-19 incidence, the demand on track and trace, and the extent of asymptomatic infection.’
According to a study carried out in August by doctors from the Centre for Evidence-based Medicine at Oxford University, samples amplified by RT-PCR tests 30-34 times pick up the smallest traces of virus left over from an infection up to 3 months earlier in individuals who are no longer either infected or infectious. This is because in each cycle of amplification the DNA into which the viral RNA is converted is doubled, so that at 30 cycles (230) it has been amplified over a billion times. If the sample is amplified through 60 cycles, 100 per cent of the tests will come back positive. In Public Health England’s guide for health-protection teams published in October, ‘Understanding cycle threshold (Ct) in SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR’, it states that ‘a typical RT-PCR assay will have a maximum of 40 thermal cycles.’ This is far beyond the upper limit of 24 cycles for detecting samples that are infectious, which is to say, in which the virus has penetrated a cell and is replicating. In effect, how many cycles of amplification swab samples are put through, multiplied by the number of tests conducted, will determine the severity of the ‘epidemic’ you’re after. The authors of the Oxford study conclude:
‘A binary Yes/No approach to the interpretation RT-PCR unvalidated against viral culture will result in false positives with possible segregation of large numbers of people who are no longer infectious and hence not a threat to public health.’
According to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics, in the week ending 31 October, 1.2 per cent of people in the East Midlands tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. This means that, were PCR tests conducted on DMU’s 20,000 students, on average 460 (2.3%) would test positive, but between 160 (0.8%) and 800 (4%) of the results would be false positives. Given the prevalence of asymptomatic infections and the poor conditions for testing, the far end of this spectrum is far more likely; but the PCR test would only have to reach an FPR of 1.2 per cent for 100 per cent of the test positives to be false. This isn’t surprising, since the RT-PCR test was not designed either to prove infection or to diagnose an infectious disease. What is surprising is that DMU is collaborating in this deception.
In a radio interview conducted on 17 September, Dr. Yeadon pointed out that were the results from PCR tests conducted under current Pillar-2 testing conditions submitted in a forensic case, they would be thrown out of court. In its briefing, the SAGE report lists the causes of false positives as follows:
- Cross reactions with other genetic material;
- Contamination during sampling;
- Contamination during swab extraction;
- Contamination with PCR amplification;
- Contamination of PCR laboratory consumables.
The DMU pilot-programme is being conducted in the university’s sports venue, which is appropriately called The Watershed, where cardboard boxes laid on the floor, temporary partitions hastily erected and school-room tables serve as a makeshift laboratory administered by staff with undeclared training and qualifications. Yet this test would consign the 460 and more students who tested positive and at least their households to 2 weeks’ enforced quarantine, with anyone additionally identified through the Serco Test and Trace programme as having come into contact with them while designated ‘infectious’ also placed under quarantine, resulting in potentially tens of thousands of people being placed under house arrest without medical cause. The Lateral Flow antigen test, which produces an even higher percentage of false positives in low-prevalence settings like DMU, will consign even greater numbers to a medically meaningless quarantine. Despite this, it emerged in October that UK police forces will be given the data of those forced to quarantine as a result of these wildly inaccurate tests, with fixed-penalty notices for non-compliance raised by The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 to a maximum of £10,000 as of 28 September.
‘The DMU pilot will begin in the coming weeks with a small group of students who will be contacted separately and given the opportunity to volunteer and help shape the future of this technology. Over the following weeks, the testing will then be rolled out to include a wider population of DMU staff and students. Further details on testing will be available in due course via email and an area on the Your DMU Safety microsite so please look out for more information.
‘The results of the DMU trial will be analysed carefully alongside other university and school trials to assess how Lateral Flow devices might be used to test large numbers of people who do not have symptoms, and how this might help to get the country back to normal.
‘Using Lateral Flow tests may enable us to identify infectious people who are asymptomatic, ensuring that they are aware and can prevent onwards infection. This could then minimise ongoing disruption for those who test negative, in turn supporting the economy and wider society to return to a more normal way of life.’
Testing asymptomatic transmission of a virus is difficult, because people without symptoms have no reason to go to a medical facility and get tested, meaning accurate estimates of how many individuals they have been in contact with since they contracted SARS-CoV-2 and whether they have been infected by them are extremely rare. Historically, however, asymptomatic transmission has never been the main source of infection in viral epidemics, and the same is true of SARS-CoV-2. On 20 November, a study titled ‘Post-lockdown SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid screening in nearly ten million residents of Wuhan, China’ reported that out of 9,899,828 (92.9 per cent of) residents tested between 14 May and 1 June a month after lockdown restrictions were lifted on 9 April, no new symptomatic cases and just 300 asymptomatic cases were identified. From the latter, no positive tests for SARS-Cov-2 were identified among 1,174 close contacts of asymptomatic cases. Statistically speaking, as a vector of infection, asymptomatic transmission of coronavirus doesn’t exist.
Far from helping to return society to a ‘more normal way of life’, therefore, testing DMU students and staff with a quick, cheap and inaccurate binary test, whose production rate of false positives is even higher than the slow and inaccurate PCR tests on which the current lockdown has been imposed, and which appears to have been piloted specifically in order to ‘overestimate the extent of asymptomatic infection’, will significantly contribute to the Government’s ability to make compliance with medically unfounded programmes and technologies of health surveillance, monitoring and control a condition of access to public life under the UK biosecurity state pilots like this are helping to implement.
‘Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, DMU has worked to support its staff, students and the community around it. Our volunteers have helped people across the city and our academic research has increased knowledge of the pandemic and informed at a national level about the long-term effects it could have.
‘This pilot is an extension of this work and offers us an important opportunity to be at the forefront of the national effort against COVID-19.’
De Montfort University is an interesting choice to pilot this scheme. What everybody knows about Leicester is that it is at the geographical centre of England; but DMU isn’t Oxford or Cambridge, Manchester or Liverpool, University College London or Imperial College London, whose modelling team is responsible for both lockdowns. DMU is ranked 81 among the 130 UK institutions listed in the University League Tables 2021. The students aren’t wealthy. Their parents aren’t drawn exclusively from the middle classes. There is a high proportion of students from working-class, Black and Asian families. They might be thought by the Government to have a lower likelihood of being exposed at home to information about the coronavirus crisis other than what they hear on mainstream media and from De Montfort University. It appears that they have been chosen precisely because of the likelihood of their compliance with this new test. But just to make sure, on 6 November the Prime Minister paid a personal visit to meet the staff and students who are participating in this scheme, where he posed for the cameras and took the Lateral Flow antigen test under the makeshift arrangements. It wasn’t revealed whether it came back positive.
We know about this e-mail and the pilot scheme because ASH’s co-founder, Geraldine Dening, is a part-time senior lecturer in the School of Architecture at De Montfort University. She has declared her opposition to the university’s plans in writing, and has refused to enforce its measures on her students. Instead, in the single class in which she has been in physical proximity to her students since the first lockdown, she invited them to make the decision of whether to wear a mask or to maintain social distancing. All but one of her students made the decision to take off their masks and interact with each other and with her. The following day, she received a letter from her ‘line-manager’ (UK academia no longer having Heads of Departments) informing her that it had been observed and reported by fellow members of staff that she was not enforcing Government guidance. From her own attempts to address De Montfort University’s enforcement of Government guidance, often well beyond the statutory Regulations, all of which have universally fallen on deaf ears, it’s our impression that staff will be as compliant as the students in this pilot testing scheme, which has been presented to both, as I have shown here, on false assumptions, inaccurate information, undisclosed conditions and half-truths incompatible with the pedagogical and scholarly values of an institution of higher education.
On 7 November, four medical practitioners, including a paediatrician, an immunologist, a surgeon and a medical physicist, published an open letter to the Prime Minister and his senior Ministers complaining that the Government’s reaction to the actual threat of COVID-19 is ‘disproportionate’, that it is causing ‘more harm than good’, that through ‘exaggerating’ the risk to health based on ‘false positives’ the Government is ‘misleading’ the public about a second wave of infections, and that it is deliberately using a ‘strategy’ of fear — fear of contagion, fear of prosecution, fear of being informed on by neighbours — to induce compliance. Significantly, the authors share Dr. Yeadon’s argument that a large proportion of the UK public has pre-existing immunity to SARS-CoV-2, but estimates it to be even higher, at 40-60 per cent. They say it is ‘vital’ we build on this immunity, rather than once again locking down the population. This letter, titled First Do No Harm and co-signed by 469 other health professionals and scientists including 12 named Professors, is particularly concerned with the severe, widespread and long-lasting negative effects lockdown measures are having on the mental and physical health of children and their parents; and I recommend it to everyone in the education industry, both staff and students. Citing the delay in referrals for children with health conditions like diabetes or for those exposed to child abuse at home, reduced social and family interaction, reduced access to education and extra-curricular activities, the imposition of social distancing and mask wearing beyond Government guidance and on the interpretation of individual education institutions, the sending home of children with minor coughs or colds who are refused re-entry without a ‘negative’ PCR test, and even the quarantining of entire year groups for a single ‘positive’ test, they write: ‘Widespread and excessive testing in educational settings is having an additional impact, exacerbating these issues.’
It isn’t only in the classroom, however, that the Government is using the education industry to implement the programmes and technologies of the biosecurity state. Since the Government-imposed lockdown of the UK, Architects for Social Housing has been asked to participate in several online conferences, academic and otherwise. While this may have been a justified precaution eight months ago when we knew relatively little about the threat of COVID-19, we now know that there is no medical justification for doing so, and numerous social, economic and political reasons for refusing such measures. As scholars and teachers, academics should question orthodoxies of knowledge and behaviour, whether Government-imposed or media-fabricated, not unquestioningly perpetuate them. Unfortunately, we have seen the latter position adopted by UK academia, with universities and other institutions of higher education uncritically prepared to obey Government guidance on face coverings, social distancing and now testing and tracing.
By acting as if the country were under what over 290 coronavirus-justified Statutory Instruments call a ‘serious and imminent threat to public health’ without presenting anything more than contested, inaccurate and discredited evidence to that effect, academia is helping to create the professional and pedagogical conditions under which the regulations, programmes and technologies of the UK biosecurity state are being normalised. This is being done without legislative scrutiny, parliamentary approval, medical justification or consideration of their long-term social, political, economic and health consequences, not least for the young people placed under our care.
By holding and participating in online classes and conferences, academics are acting on the dictates of a quite evidently corrupt Government cynically using this crisis to expand its power, further outsource the State, and fill the pockets of its financial backers. Under the cloak of a manufactured crisis, this Government is transforming the UK from a parliamentary democracy founded on the division of powers between executive, legislature and judiciary into a biosecurity state governed by Ministerial decree under an ‘emergency period’ it is in the Government’s power to perpetuate indefinitely.
The job of a teacher, whether at a nursery, a school, a college or a university, is to educate their students, to install in them the will and confidence to question what they are told, and to teach them the skills with which they can find out the truth about the world. It is not to terrorise them with falsehoods. It is not to bully and threaten them into compliance with measures without medical basis and which are profoundly injurious to their mental and physical development. It is not to indoctrinate them into the propaganda of a Government and media that has been exposed, time and again, to be liars in the pockets of those who seek, among other things, to turn education into an instrument of that propaganda. It is not to enact the role of policeman, spy and informer in the corridors of education. Nor do teachers have the powers under law to enforce such measures on students. If the Government requires a policeman in every classroom to enforce its Regulations, then it is not governing by consensus but by force, and deserves the accusations of authoritarianism and worse levelled at it.
Architects for Social Housing formally denounces the collaboration of UK academia in this unconstitutional erasure of our human rights, civil liberties and democratic procedures. We call on all academics to refuse to participate in the normalisation of virtual conferences, online teaching and anti-social classrooms of masked students terrified into compliance by Government propaganda and lies and subjected to a testing programme of questionable validity and unclear purpose being promoted on false premises. We demand that UK academia returns higher education to a properly social space governed by a spirit of questioning and knowledge, not of fear, ignorance and unthinking obedience, which as Lord Sumption has warned us, ‘are the authentic ingredients of a totalitarian society.’
And finally, I want to turn to the world of letters, as the nexus of journalism, literary reviews, cultural commentary and periodical publishing is rather foppishly referred to in the UK. Again, its influence in either justifying Government regulations or implementing them is far less than either the medical or education industries. But it plays a key role in the hegemony of the middle-classes, whose members continue to oil the cogs of ideology that will bring us through this revolution and out the other side without even being aware it happened. The almost universal conformity and collusion of the UK’s middle classes in implementing the regulations, programmes and technologies of the UK biosecurity state is a testimony to the role the world of letters plays, not in informing, analysing and debating these changes, but in articulating — through that strange rule-book of behaviours called ‘class’ — what its membership should and shouldn’t say and do.
It took the London Review of Books over a year to publish something about the Grenfell Tower fire, and finally came up with an issue-long revisionist apologia for Kensington and Chelsea council by its editor-at-large, Andrew O’Hagan; and besides O’Hagan’s equally vituperative smears against him back in 2014, the LRB still hasn’t published anything more than polite observations by Patrick Cockburn on the incarceration, torture and show trial of Julian Assange this year — until now the greatest travesty of justice in modern British history. So we shouldn’t be surprised that its commentaries on the coronavirus crisis have escalated from quiet reportage to hysterical fearmongering to outright propaganda. A politely liberal organ of vaguely distressed middle-class values, the LRB is perhaps a better barometer of class allegiances than it is a broker of their terms. Leave that to the Guardian, the Financial Times and the BBC. The titles convey something of the periodical’s commitment to the menial duties of a dutiful clerk.
Wand Xiuying, ‘The Word from Wuhan’, was the LRB’s first report on the coronavirus, written by someone under quarantine less than two months before the final official death from COVID-19 in China, which has a final death toll of 4,632 in a nation of 1.4 billion.
Rupert Beale, ‘Wash your Hands’, written by a clinician scientist at the Francis Crick Institute, which is partnered with Imperial College London and the Wellcome Trust and counts among its board members key SAGE member Sir Jeremy Farrar, set the benchmark for every subsequent contribution. It provided a brief overview of coronaviruses, from those like OC43 and HKU1, which cause the ‘common cold’, to SARS and MERS, both of which had far higher infection fatality rates than SARS-CoV-2 but were far less infectious. Conversely, SARS-CoV-2 is asymptomatic or causes only mild symptoms in 80 per cent of infections, with 15 per cent requiring hospital treatment and 5 per cent requiring intensive care. This was written the week before the Government imposed the lockdown of the UK, and 8 months later those figures are still generally agreed on. But his next figures, which he appears to have taken from the World Health Organisation, is that the case fatality rate is 3 per cent, which equates to 70 and 165 million deaths worldwide, reduced to 1 per cent if Governments impose lockdown restrictions. Now we know the IFR is around 0.2 per cent, and according to the almost meaningless criteria for attributing deaths to COVID-19, 1.263 million people have died with it, or with symptoms similar to it, or had it listed on their death certificate as an underlying cause in accordance with the WHO’s instructions to medical practitioners. This is less than the 1.45 million deaths caused so far this year by HIV/AIDS, the 2.16 million deaths caused by alcohol, the 4.33 million deaths caused by smoking, and the more than 7 million deaths caused by cancer. We can’t expect Dr. Beale to speak with the benefit of hindsight, but none of this appears to have registered with the author, who appeared happy to use his status as a clinician to terrorise his readers with these wildly inaccurate estimates. He didn’t hesitate to write that, without lockdown measures, this would be ‘the worst disaster in human history in terms of total lives lost’; and quoted a colleague writing that ‘This will be different from what anyone living has ever experienced. The closest comparator is 1918 influenza’, which killed 50 million people. He concluded:
‘What’s very clear is that we must comply immediately with whatever measures competent public health authorities urge us to take, even if they seem disproportionate. It’s time to increase “social distance” in all sorts of ways.’
No subsequent retraction of this irresponsible fearmongering in the service of the biosecurity state has since been issued either by Dr. Beale or by the LRB.
David Runciman, ‘Too Early or Too Late?’, written by a contributing editor of the LRB, set the periodical’s equivalent political position by opposing Johnson’s initially laissez-faire attitude (this was published a week into lockdown but was most likely written beforehand) against Government intervention. The coronavirus crisis, in this reading, was about political positions and values: right-wing libertarians versus left-wing communitarians. 7 months later, this completely false opposition still holds sway in the perception of the middle-classes, and not only in those who read the LRB.
Thomas Jones, ‘Quaresima’, in the same issue. A report from Orvieto written in mid-March, when the world’s attention had turned to Italy, ticked off the by-now familiar numbers of ‘positives, new cases, recovered, dead’. While I was writing Language is a Virus: SARs-CoV-2 and the Science of Political Control, in which I began my research into how these figures were compiled and to what their numbers referred, the LRB, which accepted all these figures at face value, published this diary of mounting hysteria ending with a biblical reference, warning us all of the retribution to come. The Catholic Church couldn’t have done a better job of terrifying its followers into obedience and submission.
James Butler, ‘Follow the Science’, written by the co-founder of the pro-Corbyn Novara Media, was about the Government’s response to the coronavirus, which began with the strategy of shielding the vulnerable and developing so-called ‘herd immunity’ in the rest of the population. This was only reversed when the Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, presented to SAGE the now infamous study published by Imperial College London on 16 March, with its wild estimates of over half a million deaths in the UK. In a typically LRB example of how to turn an unsubstantiated claim of extraordinary political naïvety into unquestionable fact on the basis of nothing more than dinner-party conversations, Butler made the now immortal statement that: ‘Few believe Johnson is an Anglo-Orbán, eager to use the crisis to institute rule through decree.’ Few, that is, except Lord Sumption — and a few million other citizens of the UK.
Wang Xiuying, ‘#coronasomnia’, published in the same issue, was the author’s second contribution. Published on the day before the last deaths were attributed to COVID-19 in China and infections were down to 1,081, it reported, among other things, the debate on whether to open schools in China while those in the UK had been closed down for a month.
Paul Taylor, ‘Modelling the Epidemic: Susceptible, Infectious, Recovered’, was written by a Professor of Health Information at University College London, which as we have seen received $40.7m from the BMGF in the past decade, has 6 members on SAGE and 5 on the SPI-Behavioural subgroup. Published 6 weeks into the lockdown of the UK, the author finally examined the Imperial College London report on whose prediction of half a million deaths it was justified. And what it found was damning. The estimates in the 16 March report had been revised upwards from one published by the same team just a week before; and sections had a ‘back of the envelope’ quality, with data based on guesses and assumptions from personal e-mails to Ferguson. The article even mentioned that 91 per cent of so-called ‘COVID deaths’ have a pre-existing medical condition. By then I’d published Manufacturing Consensus: The Registering of COVID-19 Deaths in the UK, exposing the criteria that made any estimate of deaths from COVID-19 meaningless. None of this, however, had any influence on the author’s conclusion. ‘The only option is suppression, and its consequences, economic and social, are unknown’.
Eliot Weinberger, ‘The American Virus’, was a sort of US version of Runciman’s earlier article. By now I had published Lockdown: Collateral Damage in the War on COVID-19, and not only the economic and social consequences of lockdown but the costs in lives lost were available for anyone to read who wished to. That didn’t stop the LRB publishing this report, again written in the diary format, that firmly equated Donald Trump with ‘COVID-deniers’, and contained such unsubstantiated assertions as: ‘It is obvious that the actual number of COVID-19 deaths is far greater than the confirmed death toll’, and ‘Although the actual numbers are undoubtedly much higher’. This was straight off the trending streams of Twitter. Indeed, its staccato entries were tailor-made to be quoted on social media, damning by association with the US President anyone who dared to ask why it is ‘obvious’, why we shouldn’t ‘doubt’ these exaggerated figures.
Nicolas Spice, ‘In the Isolation Room’, published at the end of the same issue by the publisher of the LRB, and written, as the article from China had been 4 months before, from quarantine, its measured tale, told in the first person, of a 67-year-old man with a chronic respiratory allergy being treated for COVID-19 on an NHS ward was elevated to what the author himself claimed is a ‘synecdoche for the pandemic as a whole’. It ended with this warning: ‘If the capitalist system is to survive, we shall need to go back to our dream of safety first, and fast.’ A month had passed since I’d published The State of Emergency as Paradigm of Government: Coronavirus Legislation, Implementation and Enforcement, recording the vast number of regulations and programmes that were making his wish come true.
James Meek, ‘The Health Transformation Army’, was written by another contributing editor of the LRB. A history of the World Health Organisation written primarily from its relationship to the US Government and the latter’s battle for ascendancy with China, this was far more interesting for what it didn’t say about this organisation that has played such a role in all our lives this year. It didn’t say, for instance, that the WHO declared coronavirus to be a pandemic on 11 March, the same day it entered into partnership with the World Economic Forum to launch the COVID-19 Action Platform. It didn’t say that on 5 June the WHO changed its advice on wearing facemasks — and even then only to their ‘potential’ benefits — following lobbying from European governments including that of the UK. This is intellectual dishonesty by omission, censorship by the white noise of fear. And despite the ongoing lack of evidence for their effectiveness and the overwhelming evidence for their negative impacts on lives, jobs, education, businesses, mental health, civil liberties and political freedoms, some of which I had collected the previous month in The Science and Law of Refusing to Wear Masks: Texts and Arguments in Support of Civil Disobedience, Meek didn’t hesitate to identify the UK’s failure to impose lockdown, self-isolation, enforced quarantine and mandatory mask-wearing as the reason for the high number of deaths officially attributed to COVID-19. Instead, in a convincing impersonation of our Health Minister, he concluded: ‘Lockdown requires each individual to accept personal constraints for the sake of the community, even when they are not themselves ill.’
Rupert Beale, ‘In the Lab’, his second article for the LRB, took this latest opportunity to advocate for vaccination. He referred to what at the time was the recently revealed observation that the number of people in the UK infected with SARS-CoV-2 was so low that there were not enough people to test the efficacy of vaccine prototypes, but dismissed these as ‘mutterings’. But while he was sceptical about finding an effective vaccine by 2021, he never questioned why we should want one when so little of the population has the virus, let alone the disease. ‘A bigger problem’, he concluded his article, ‘is to get enough people to take it up.’ This sounds very much like advocacy for changing legislation to make taking a vaccine for COVID-19 mandatory.
James Meek, ‘Red Pill, Blue Pill’, published after 2 months of silence during which 90 Statutory Instruments were made into law, 35 of them ultra vires of the Public Health Act. This was the second article on the coronavirus by the LRB editor, and once again it sought to damn through association, not with Donald Trump this time but with the likes of David Icke, equating the thousands of doctors, scientists, researchers and other critics of the actual threat of the coronavirus crisis with conspiracy theorists. Presented as an insight into ‘the conspiracist mind’, this is little more than trolling, designed to slander, silence and suppress, while comforting its readers that anything they hear to the contrary can safely and comfortably be dismissed as ‘conspiracy theory’.
Peter Geoghegan’s ‘Cronyism and Clientelism’, a review of the corruption, privatisation and outsourcing being pursued by the Government under the cloak of the crisis. The author didn’t let the fact that in the 5 months to September the Department of Health and Social Care awarded private contracts worth £11 billion — around £3 billion of which has not been accounted for — deter for a minute his belief in everything the Secretary of State has told us about the ‘pandemic’ to justify this outsourcing of the State to his business contacts, and the need to transfer these vast sums of public money into private hands.
In 8 months of publication, 18 issues and 13 articles devoted to some aspect of the coronavirus crisis, not a single one has addressed the case of Sweden, where there has been no lockdown but only light and consensual measures, where the fatality rate is below that in the UK, where the economy has suffered but millions of businesses are not on the edge of bankruptcy, where state services have not been outsourced to private companies awarded billions of pounds of public money, and where, as we once again sit at home under house arrest, Swedes have returned to something like the life they led before the coronavirus crisis. Not only fearmongering and propaganda, therefore, but censorship too have been the LRB’s role in ushering its middle-class readership into acceptance of this revolution. Not that I think for a minute that the editors and contributors have the least awareness of what that revolution is taking us into, or even that a revolution is taking place; but their willingness to accept, apparently without question, the Government’s claim that this immense upheaval is in response to a virus confirms their place among the subservient clerks of the state.
The other periodical I want to look at briefly is the New Left Review, the bi-monthly Left-wing equivalent of the LRB (the contents of the latest issue are advertised in the pages of the latter), whose academic Trotskyism differs from the former largely in its footnotes. And here, too, the Government line on the coronavirus — while denounced for the usual crimes of not locking down sooner or for longer or with greater severity — is dutifully toed, like a drunk lecturer along a smirking copper’s ‘straight line’. This gives a better insight, perhaps, into one of the more remarkable phenomena of this crisis, which is that the political Left — whether that’s the Neoliberals in the Labour Party or the professional Marxists in academia — is united as never before in calling on the Conservative Government of Boris Johnson to impose, enforce and maintain the ‘lockdown’ of the British people.
In this, the first issue to refer to the coronavirus crisis, the NLR published a medley of global reports from the USA,China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Iran and Japan — but not the UK — collected under the title ‘Pandemic’. No medical criteria for this term was given or examined, and no-one investigated what and who influenced the decision of the World Health Organisation to declare it in March. It was simply taken as a trans-discursive fact. But the article included under the category of ‘theory’, Marco d’Eramo’s ‘The Philosopher’s Epidemic’ was devoted to dismissing the controversial commentaries on the coronavirus crisis by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, whom d’Eramo accused of ‘paranoid conspiricism’ for daring to subject the crisis to the analytic framework of the biosecurity state he had developed for just this moment. ‘If coronavirus denialism was faintly possible in February’, he wrote, ‘it is no longer reasonable in late March’. No reason why this should be the case was given, besides the bullish assertion that ‘the basic facts contradict him’.
Robert Brenner, ‘Escalating Plunder’, found nothing in his own account of the Federal Reserve System’s financial bailout of US financial institutions to the tune of $7.7 trillion — with the result that, between March and June this year, the wealth of US billionaires increased by $565 billion — to question whether the coronavirus crisis justifying such a vast redistribution of wealth upwards should be questioned about the veracity and degree of its threat to the health of the public funding this largesse, or whether and to what extent it justifies such plundering. The equivalent of the LRB article by Peter Geoghegan, and just as politically naïve.
In the months I published my two-part report on The New Normal: What is the Biosecurity State? (Part 1. Programmes and Regulations) and (Part 2. Normalising Fear), the NLR carried no trace or echo of the huge number of regulations being made into law in the UK, the surveillance programmes brought online, the public services being outsourced to private companies, or the new powers being handed to police and security services. Instead, the NLR led with an elegiac remembrance of the work of the cultural critic and film theorist, Peter Wollen. Comforting, but hardly the most pressing matter to a Left-wing journal when the world is undergoing a revolution.
Susan Watkins, ‘Politics in the Pandemic’, by the Editor of the New Left Review, sought to argue for the affectivity of local lockdowns, widespread testing and contact tracing on the grounds that the tiny number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Japan (1,841), South Korea (487) and Taiwan (7) is because these countries were ‘pre-armed by the devastating SARS epidemic of 2003’. In fact, as I have shown in detail in Lockdown: Collateral Damage in the War on COVID-19, these countries not only have among the lowest deaths per capita but also the lowest level of restrictions. The Government Response Stringency Index measuring the severity of restrictions imposed across the world records that, at its highest, Japan reached 47.22 out of 100 and Taiwan 31.48; while South Korea, after 19 April, never rose above 59.26, compared to a high of 79.63 for the UK, which on 9 November was still on 75.00. As for the ‘devastation’ of SARS, this amounted to 73 deaths in Taiwan, none in South Korea, and not a single infection in Japan, which SARS never reached. Not only is the NLR giving its backing to the erasure of civil liberties and human rights by the Government of Boris Johnson, therefore, but it is doing so on the same absence of facts and unsubstantiated assertions.
There are exceptions, and our numbers are growing; but in this usually disunited kingdom of nearly 68 million people, the vast majority have agreed to remain silent. Silent the human rights lawyers, the civil servants, the economists in the Bank of England. Silent the journalists, editors, newsreaders, talk-show hosts, satirists and comedians. Silent the left-wing academics, civil rights activists, protesters and students. Silent the writers, poets, artists, film-makers, actors, musicians. Confronted with the most far-reaching changes to the social contract and its political forms not only in the history of this nation but across the world since at least the Second World War and perhaps far longer, our leaders, intellectuals, public figures, social commentators, expert pundits, national treasures and professional rebels have all put on their masks — not only over their mouths, it would appear, but also over their eyes and ears; too terrified of losing their audiences in the ‘post-COVID’ markets of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to speak out or listen to anything that may compel them to do so; obedient, like everybody else, to the handful of crooks and liars in Government, whose authority they have for ever given up the right to criticise or question or mock. Silent, most unconscionably of all, are our Members of Parliament, except when calling for longer lockdowns, more severe restrictions, stronger enforcement, and harsher penalties for non-compliance.
On 30 September, at its first review by Parliament six months after they had so obediently and rapidly nodded it through both Houses in just three days before voting themselves into recess precisely when their scrutiny of Government actions was most required, the powers conferred by the Coronavirus Act 2020 were extended for a further 6 months. These included the powers in Schedule 21, which can be exercised on the mere suspicion of a Public Health Officer — which is to say, anyone designated by the Secretary of State for the purpose — that we are a ‘potentially infectious person’. This means that anyone so designated can:
- Use whatever force is necessary, including police constables, immigration officers or security personnel, to cover our face with a mask and remove us to a place of detention for 48 hours;
- Take a biological sample (blood, nasal swab or respiratory secretion) from us without our permission, against our will and without a lawyer being present;
- Compel us to answer questions about our movements and personal contacts, gain access to our health records, contacts details and whatever else they deem necessary for their assessment;
- Impose upon us, following their assessment, whatever restrictions and requirement upon our movements, actions and contacts they decide is necessary for an additional 14 days;
- And do so under the threat of our further detention, without time limit, together with the charge of a criminal offence and being taken into custody if we refuse or attempt to leave.
By voting for these and other violations of our human rights empowered by the Coronavirus Act 2020, which will remain in force through the winter and into the spring before it comes up for further review at the end of March 2021, the legitimacy of this Parliament to represent us under UK constitutional law must now be regarded as null and void; and, somehow, we need to go about reconstituting a new Commons that defends and enforces the rights and freedoms of the citizens they represent. At the conclusion of his Cambridge Freshfield Annual Law Lecture last month, Lord Sumption warned:
‘The British public has not even begun to understand the seriousness of what is happening to our country. Many, perhaps most of them, don’t care, and won’t care until it is too late. They instinctively feel that the end justifies the means — the motto of every totalitarian government which has ever been. It is difficult to respect the way in which this Government’s decisions have been made. It marks a move to a more authoritarian model of politics which will outlast the present crisis. There is little doubt that for some ministers and their advisers this is a desirable outcome. The next few years is likely to see a radical and lasting transformation of the relationship between the state and the citizen.’
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