FAILURES OF STATE (a review)

2 April 2021


Tony Richardson review 'Failures of State: the inside story of Britain's battle with the coronavirus' by Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnot (published by Mudlark)


This is a must-read book. It brings together all the processes of the government’s actions but also fleshes out the half stories that we were reading at the time and revealing new facts. In my opinion, it is a good start to any enquiry into the Tories’ handling of the crisis.

Apart from the first section on the origin of the virus, in which they heavily hint at the Wuhan lab, it is very objective.


Throughout they compare the ‘no Covid’ approach in Asia, New Zealand and Australia, with the UK. Over there we saw many fewer cases and deaths and less effect on the economy.

The authors mostly blame Johnson’s libertarianism and Sunak’s concern for the economy not to be affected.


Johnson’s refusal to close down earlier, along with his talk, echoed by Hancock, of the virus’s similarity with flu, is ruthlessly criticised by the writers. His government continued with sports and music events too long. He bragged about shaking hands and told people not to wear masks. Jenny Harries went on TV with him to say they were useless. This policy was only changed for buses in June and for shops in July, whereas their effectiveness had been shown from the beginning in Asia.


They point to the state of the NHS and throughout the crisis blame the lack of beds and shortage of staff for the difficulties when the government’s lack of action had created an explosion of cases. Even when he was pushed into action by the facts, he kept delaying things by a few days. Watching it just made one more angry.

Johnson’s refusal to close down earlier, along with his talk, echoed by Hancock, of the virus’s similarity with flu, is ruthlessly criticised by the writers.

In this early period, the Tories were acting on a ‘herd immunity’ policy. Patrick Valance and Gordon Whitty, the scientific advisors made the same mistake. The book gives chapter and verse on this, listing public quotes, and interviews. They only moved off this when the scientists proved the NHS would be overwhelmed. This led to the first lockdown. The authors argue that this delay was responsible for tens of thousands of deaths.


Tory Lies


Then came the lies, particularly Matt Hancock, arguing that the care homes had been ringfenced, the NHS had managed and everybody who had need of an Intensive Care Unit had got it. All of these actions should be declared crimes. In the care homes they had been forced to accept untested people from hospitals, so the NHS would have beds. This was the cause of the spread throughout the sector and the massive number of deaths. The 111 service and ambulances were used to stop people from going into hospitals. The authors prove there was an NHS policy developed, since denied, of points. If you had 7 points you should not be taken to the hospital and if you were in the hospital you would not be resuscitated. You had 6 points if you were over 80, and if anything else went wrong, it took you over the top. So this stopped the over 80s, and most over 75s being treated.


The book has interviews with doctors saying that people could have been saved and when the cases went down such people were saved. There is a harrowing interview with the daughter of a 74-year-old man who was told that there was no space in the ICU. When his daughter was able to see him, as he died a painful death, there were 8 similar older people dying with no help, on the same ward.

The book has interviews with doctors saying that people could have been saved and when the cases went down such people were saved.

Then it came to PPE, similarly, Hancock and other ministers said there was no problem. In response to widespread reports, even on the BBC, they said there was plenty, it was just a distribution problem. Doctors were reporting that they were made to wear lower graded masks than necessary and the nurses were re-using aprons. In response to this the Health and Safety Executive, the head of which is a government appointee, downgraded the virus, somehow saying it was not life-threatening, therefore the lower grade masks could be worn.


In other words, they changed definitions of a virus because of a shortage. This had huge repercussions, in all workplaces. It made it much more difficult to close a workplace for safety reasons. Companies were allowed to decide whether the worker had caught Covid at work or in the community. This has meant that NO employers have been prosecuted, unlike many young people or students who have broken lockdown rules. It will also make it more difficult to claim against a company for negligence.


The government’s other response was to threaten people in the NHS if they spoke out. The one lesson they learned from China.


No one is taking responsibility for the disaster


When asked to say anything about mistakes made, Johnson said at first we didn’t know about asymptomatic people spreading the virus. He even repeated this story a week or so ago. The authors point out that the first super-spreader in the UK had been such a person and the Chinese had reported the problem in January 2020.


The book deals with the July 4th, 2020 celebrations for the ending of restrictions. They explain that July 5th was the start of the second wave. Rishi Sunak is not just blamed for the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’, but getting people back into workplaces. Johnson had a meeting with the scientists who had been the centre of the herd immunity argument and used them to argue against Sage. They have many quotes from Sage members saying the policies adopted were madness.

Rishi Sunak is not just blamed for the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’, but getting people back into workplaces.

Johnson’ refused to have the circuit breaker in September, ridiculed Starmer who called for it, then adopted it 3 weeks later.


The book finishes its account in mid-January with the fiasco of Johnson keeping schools open and then closing them on the same day. It is a devastating indictment of the government’s actions and blames it for a huge number of deaths.


Even as I finish this review the Guardian has a report that NHS England figures show that 40,000 people caught the virus in hospital, which doctors blame on the lack of beds and the poor state of the hospitals, in other words, because of the austerity cuts.


Anybody reading this book will find out much more than I have mentioned. It is well worth reading.


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