This is one of those rare days when I wish I was still a political editor, able to ask a question of Boris Johnson at this afternoon’s Downing Street briefing.
Earlier today, in a piece for the Huffington Post, I posted these twenty questions I would like to see him answer.
- Although France was far quicker to respond to the crisis than the UK, President Macron has nonetheless apologised to the French people for mistakes made early in the handling of the crisis. Would you now do the same, and do you not think if you did so the public might be more trusting of advice you give now to continue with the lockdown?
- Is the fact that we are going to be held longer in lockdown related to the fact that we were one of the countries to go last into it?
- On what possible basis could you describe as an ‘apparent success’ the UK heading to the top of the European death league table?
- On what possible basis can you describe as an ‘apparent success’ the fact that the UK has one percent of global population, and almost 20 per cent of global Covid deaths?
- Can you name some of the NHS workers who have died? Have you written to their families, as previous Prime Ministers have written to the families of soldiers killed in battle?
- Do you agree with those nurses and doctors who have said they do not appreciate the constant language of war used by politicians, and in particular what do you say to Nicki Credland, chair of the Association of Critical Care Nurses, saying this: ‘We are not martyrs, angels or heroes. We are critical health professionals who simply want to do the job that we chose safely and with respect.’ Or Doctor Rachel Clarke: ’We’re not soldiers. We didn’t sign up to die for a cause. We don’t want Red Arrows, medals, jingoism or war rhetoric. We want masks, gloves, gowns and visors. Could you actually focus your minds on that please?’
- It is now over a month since you told the House of Commons that care home workers would have the PPE they needed ‘by the end of the week.’ By the end of which week will that pledge be fulfilled?
- Was it deliberate trickery not to include care homes in the daily calculation of death rates, and does this not underline that you have consistently relegated the care home sector to the level of second class service?
- On how many occasions since you became Tory leader have you committed to setting out long term plans for the care sector? Are we not seeing the consequences of your failure actually to do so right now?
- What is actually happening in care homes that the rate of transmission is higher than elsewhere? Which minister is directly in charge of analysing what appears to be the biggest problem area right now?
- When you committed to 250,000 tests per day, was that a slip of the tongue? And will you apologise on behalf of the government for the failure to meet the pledge of 100,000 tests by today?
- What is the point of these repeated moving pledges when so few of them are met and yet nobody is held accountable?
- Chancellor Merkel explained recently the consequences of different stages of easing lockdown in terms of the R factor, what each stage would mean in terms of increasing the rates of infection. Could you do something similar for us now?
- What investigation is being done into whether the high incidence of Covid in Liverpool is related to the football match you allowed to go ahead, attended by almost 3,000 people from Madrid, which was already in lockdown?
- Are you aware that the organisers of the Cheltenham race festival say your encouragement that it should go ahead was a prime reason in their decision not to cancel? Will you therefore accept at least some responsibility if people contracted the illness, and died, as a result of attending at a time so many other countries had already banned large events?
- What, specifically, have you learned from seeing how other countries have managed the crisis?
- Would you congratulate Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, where the government appears to have defeated the virus? Do you wish we too had ‘gone early and gone hard?’
- When you said we would ‘send the virus packing in twelve weeks’ what did you mean by that, and have we sent it packing?
- Given the scale of the crisis, and the economic challenge it poses, do you not accept that all but the most ideological of Brexiteers would see sense in pushing back the deadline on talks to agree our future relationship with the EU?
- Whilst we all accept you must focus on what is happening now, and how you deal with it, given the scale of loss of life, do you agree there must be a judge-led independent inquiry into the crisis once we are through the worst?
Here’s some more.
My son Rory, whose data and analytics business depends on live sport happening, especially football, spends much of his day sending me angry messages about how government ministers and advisers seem incapable of understanding how to implement basic mathematical principles, and endlessly asking me for an assurance that ‘you lot’ (the Blair government) would not have made such a hash of things.
This set of questions is from him.
- Mr Johnson, will you explain your understanding of the difference between statistics and analytics? Do you agree that such an understanding is essential for any government relying on science to make major decisions?
- Will you explain your understanding of the difference in decision-making processes between ‘instruct’ and ‘inform’? In that context, will you explain exactly what you mean when you say you are ‘following the science’?
- Do you accept that science itself is not always an exact science, that as Prime Minister you make judgements in part on a range of scientific advice, but ultimately it is your decision when and how to ease lockdown restrictions?
- You talk of this being an unprecedented situation. That means the level of uncertainty in making predictions is higher. A basic understanding of maths/probabilities tells you that when uncertainty is greater, the value of binary thinking diminishes. Yet you and your ministers talk purely in binary terms. Why?
- So … Please give the answers to the following questions, and if you do not have all the answers at your fingertips now, would you give a commitment to publishing the answers by the end of the day?
- A) By what percentage does a lockdown for one week decrease the likelihood of person x, y, z (insert age, sex, job, region a range of people) getting the virus and passing the virus on?
- How does that figure change for two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, five week, six weeks?
- B) What would be the difference to the likely infection rates of the country be between professional football being played behind closed doors, and football played with crowds? Please give your answer according to crowds of 5, 10, 15, 20, 40 and 60,000.
- C) In addition to health and economic analysis, what assessment are you making of the impact on individual and societal well-being of a return to such activities?
- D) Will you commit to publishing any analysis that has been done for the infection rate sector by sector?
- E) Could you explain in simple terms the objective of testing? Again everything is talked about in binary terms but can you explain, if every single person was tested, how the information would be used strategically? Hypothetically if everyone is tested and the infection rate is assumed to be x and number of people have it y what is the approach? How does that change as the numbers go up or down?
Now a few more, some with the help of people who responded to my first set.
– The Government’s figures suggest that 21,678 people had died from Covid-19 by mid-April and yet official figures, verified by the Financial Times, suggest that there were 41,000 excess deaths compared to the five year average for this time of year. To what do you attribute these additional 20,000 deaths?
– A test, trace and isolate strategy requires a combination of different tests – including rapid and lab-based antigen and antibody tests. A target of 100k tests of any variety is just a target. Not a strategy. Can the PM give us a breakdown of what tests are involved in a test, trace, isolate strategy, how many of each are needed and how and by when they will reach this scale?
– There are many British-based providers of PPE and diagnostics who are now supplying other countries because they are hitting brick walls with PHE procurement. Will the Government make necessary changes to procurement so that suppliers have a) a human being they can interact with and b) transparency on the progress and status of procurement?
– A new paper from researchers at University College London and Health Data Research UK estimates that over the next 12 months, the coronavirus crisis is likely to result in about a fifth more cancer deaths than would otherwise have been expected. In England, we’d see more than 107,400 people die from cancer over the next year, almost 18,000 more deaths than without the pandemic. How will the government provide care during lockdown and a new normal for this extremely vulnerable group of patients?
– If the science shows that face masks make even a very small difference, why is the government not recommending their use?
– What provision is the government making to boost production of PPE and other vital equipment in the medium term in the UK, avoiding a repeat of the failure to procure equipment quickly from other countries?
And finally, from me:
- Do you accept that your cavalier, lazy, lackadaisical approach to this crisis as it first emerged has cost people their lives, and left many many families in grief? Will we perhaps see a bit more humility and a little less boasting about your ‘apparent success’ which is not be very apparent to those families, or to NHS and care home staff still struggling to get the equipment they need?