Chris Green is MP for Bolton West and Atherton.
Resigning from a position of Parliamentary Private Secretary is, in practice, like taking a small step down from the lowest rung of the Parliamentary career ladder. It is not momentous, but is still enormously difficult and you better have a good reason for it. I think I did.
The impact of the Coronavirus pandemic has been a shock to the political system as much as it has for the country. The ambitions of the Prime Minister, following his stunning election victory, have been made more difficult. They are perhaps even more pressing today than they were in December. The greatest focus is in tackling Covid-19, which is an event we had not prepared for and barely understood – at the beginning.
We now know so much more and, especially over the summer when the virus had been suppressed, we had the opportunity to pivot to a different approach from that of the first six months, or to set out why the price of carrying on in the same way outweighed the cost.
The national circuit breaker which lasted three months should have been enough to control the disease and enable a focused and highly able track, trace and isolate system to work. It has clearly failed – otherwise we would not now be speculating on what the patchwork of the new tiering system will look like. I am anticipating a comprehensive series of regional circuit breakers that may have the characteristics of a national lockdown in all but name.
Greater Manchester has had a ten week ‘local lockdown’ and Bolton has had three weeks of a more extreme economic lockdown on top. The latter has meant the closure of bowling alleys and close contact beauticians, whilst pubs, restaurants and cafes can only sell takeaways, which has effectively shut most of them down too. This lockdown was far tougher than the top tier of the new lockdown regime.
From the beginning to end of this period, reported positive test results have rocketed up as though the virus had no care for the rules. The lockdown has failed in its own terms, but has had wider impacts that we have yet to realise the extent of.
There have been 20,000 fewer GP referrals to hospital in Bolton when compared to the last year. We can only imagine what the national figure is. The Department for Health should do a comprehensive assessment of which treatments have not been carried out. Health Ministers should explain to the Commons the impact that this has had for each medical category.
We know the extraordinary financial cost of Covid but when will we know the full health cost of missed medical treatment? We are beginning to find out, but many will be suffering for years to come. By sharing data, the Government will have the opportunity to win people to their course of action. The experience of my constituents in Bolton made me realise that we are following a failing strategy and that its costs are too high.
Is there an alternative? Yes, I think there is and, when I could not make any headway with it privately, I resigned. dThe principal points are:
- The understanding of the disease and how to treat it has advanced since the pandemic first hit us. Existing safe drugs and medical techniques are now being used to treat people in hospital effectively, which means that the threat of the NHS being overwhelmed has diminished.
- Some of the data being used is not as clear as it should be. For example, we are now doing twenty or more times as many daily tests than during the peak of the pandemic and, had we done this number of tests then, we would expect to see 100,000 positive outcomes. The official graphical presentation does not reflect the massive increase in testing.
- Society has changed – people accept ‘low density socialising’, the use of hand sanitiser, social distancing and the wearing of masks. These measures dramatically reduce the rate of transmission.
- We are now in a better position to judge the threat from Covid-19, and a far better place to understand the threat to our health and wealth from the lockdown. We had to make difficult decisions in a certain ignorance at the beginning, but we can now reflect on our own experience and that of other countries.
- Conservatives believe in a free society. We are better placed to assess our own risks, and this is now true with Covid-19. Is it morally right to keep a man or woman isolated from their children and grandchildren for months or years? To have them waste away in misery during their final years as we wait for a vaccine to come to the rescue. A vaccine that cannot be given to babies, is likely to be relatively ineffective for the elderly and may not be that good anyway. Some vulnerable people will want to shield, and we should do all we can to support them but let others enjoy their lives with their friends and family.
We need to start trusting the people or the people will lose trust in the politicians and their advisors. There is another way, and it is not about letting the virus rip.