People are still shooting the messenger, not hearing the message

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It was the person who commented on Facebook that really gave me pause for thought: “I get that you may be working abroad,” he wrote, “but this might be a bad image to project upon people who are severely pissed off and stuck in what was once a great country.”

I was on a business trip to Australia. Anyone who knows what I do professionally (I’m a tennis commentator) would not only have known it was a business trip and not a jolly, but my commentary could be heard across the UK. I had recorded a county elections campaign video from my hotel quarantine room in Melbourne contrasting Australia’s approach to Covid with Britain’s, yet instead of people hearing my comparison, some heard ‘Australia’, saw me in a polo shirt, and thought ‘jolly’. I wouldn’t call 14 days in hotel quarantine jolly.

I understand that people are irritated when they’re locked down in a cold snap and they see someone in a polo shirt pontificating from somewhere’s summer. But this form of shooting the messenger (or shooting the messenger’s location) means people don’t see the blindingly obvious message – that they are being taken for a ride by our government.

The biggest comparison I drew between Australia and Britain (or perhaps it should be between Victoria and England) was the contrasting sense of cause and effect. Australia has taken the necessary measures to eradicate the virus, and is largely back to normal now, while Britain’s lockdown is based on hoping for the best with poor enforcement, and we’re a long way from normality. But this week’s figures on track and trace in England highlight an even bigger contrast.

Once I was released from quarantine, I was able to work in relative freedom in Melbourne. Then came news of an infected family in the airport Holiday Inn. Within a couple of days, the infection had spread to a total of 13 people. At that point the government of Victoria ordered a five-day statewide lockdown – on the basis of 13 people!

But it’s not the five-day lockdown or the 13 people that’s noteworthy. The Victorian authorities had traced all ‘primary close contacts’ of those 13 people, pinpointing 905 people. All 905 were ordered to self-isolate for 14 days, with regular police checks to ensure they were doing so. A few more cases emerged in the five days of lockdown, but they were all linked to the original 13 (and their close contacts were traced too). After five days, the lockdown was ended, and nine days later, a further easing of restrictions on mask-wearing and gatherings was announced. Test and trace in action!

Compare that with this week’s House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report saying the UK government’s test and trace system has cost £23 billion in its first year (described as an “unimaginable” amount of taxpayers’ money) with no evidence of any measurable impact on tackling the coronavirus. The contrast with Australia is staggering.

There ought to be outrage at the profligate waste of such sums, yet Boris Johnson continues to enjoy a bounce in the opinion polls because of the relatively smooth rollout of the vaccines. When people don’t appear to care about such wasteful use of taxpayers’ money allied to blatant cronyism in the awarding of contracts, and instead are more worried about shooting the messenger who highlights such comparisons because the sun is shining where he’s speaking from, you have to conclude that the old dictum about people getting the governments they deserve is alive and kicking.

* Chris Bowers is a two-term district councillor and four-time parliamentary candidate. He writes on cross-party cooperation and in 2021 was the lead author of the New Liberal Manifesto.

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  • Little Jackie Paper 11th Mar '21 - 5:28pm

    ‘Relative freedom’

  • What is this thing about being abroad?
    Many young poeople will be seeking work overseas as unemployment rises due to Brexit.
    The Liberal Democrats are an internationalist party with a party section Liberals Abroad made up of people who live and work overeseas.
    Events overseas do impact the UK. Covid-19 came from abroad.
    Britain is seeking to expand its trading with Asia but its old fashion views of foreigners will militate against that.

  • Manfarang 11th Mar ’21 – 6:12pm:
    Many young people will be seeking work overseas as unemployment rises due to Brexit.

    ‘Bosses say UK now a more attractive investment destination than before Brexit’ [11th. March 2021]:

    More than half of British bosses predict they will increase the number of people they employ this year compared to 44pc worldwide

    The UK is a more attractive destination for international businesses than it was before Brexit and confidence in the economy is rebounding, according to a survey of 5,000 executives worldwide.

    The country is now the fourth most promising market for growth after overtaking India, PwC’s annual survey of chief executives found.

  • Jeff
    A global sweatshop. It will take a lot for this country to thrown off its stagnant society image.

  • @ Chris Bowers

    “Australia has taken the necessary measures to eradicate the virus, and is largely back to normal now, “

    Surely you’re not suggesting that Australia has “eradicated” Covid 19? That would be impossible.

    They have closed their borders, which is not sustainable and at some point will have to open them again or be isolated from the rest of the world. Occasionally they find a case or a suspected case and have a lockdown. Hardly normality. Australia and New Zealand will therefore be among the last countries to return to normal.

  • Peter Martin 11th Mar '21 - 8:27pm

    “Australia has taken the necessary measures to eradicate the virus, and is largely back to normal now ”

    Except it largely isn’t. Having to have 5 day lockdowns for a dozen or so infections isn’t a sign of normality. The problem now is that Aussies are neither vaccinated in sufficient numbers nor has the population built up sufficient natural immunity to be able to fully open its borders again. There’ll be no no normality until they do that.

    We’ll probably see repeats of these kinds of small scale outbreaks but relatively large lockdowns until they’ve vaccinated 80% or so of the population. They are a long way from achieving that.

    The article below quotes a health chief as saying “fervent anti-vaxxers are a small minority.” From my own experience of living in Australia, I wouldn’t be too sure about that! I They are unlikely to get anywhere near that level on a totally voluntary basis.

  • Peter Chambers 11th Mar '21 - 9:46pm

    ‘Bosses say UK now a more attractive investment destination than before Brexit’

    It remains to be seen if this is Carpetbagging. Buying assets is not the same as building up sound businesses. Given the drop in exports to the EU, I shall wait before believing that the stock market has re-connected to the ‘real economy’.

  • “Positive talk about the UK’s post-Brexit appeal for global investors counted for little today (12/3)as London’s top flight continued its recent underwhelming performance.
    The FTSE 100 index fell 20.22 points to 6,716.74, meaning it was only 1% higher in a week when Wall Street indices hit record highs on the back of Joe Biden signing his $1.9 trillion stimulus package and when European markets also made robust progress.
    London’s sluggishness jarred with recent evidence that UK stocks have attracted more foreign backing since January’s Brexit trade agreement kicked in. The Financial Times also reported that Japanese investors had bought more UK government bonds since the start of the year than at any period on record.
    But it was the US bond market where many London investors looked today after the 10 year yield revisited 1.6% to put tech-focused growth companies on the back foot after a brief respite.”

  • George Thomas 13th Mar '21 - 11:22am

    I fear too much is spoken about Test and Trace as a massive cost based on cronyism and not enough about why it was so open to apparent corruption and why it’s been so ineffective: cuts to any testing capacity over 10 years as part of austerity measures putting us on the back foot from the start, delaying taking any action until things were already out of control in England over winter despite the science, and common sense, saying otherwise.

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