ON Thursday evening I broke into spontaneous applause: not at 8pm for the weekly worship of the NHS – I’m not that brainwashed – but several hours later during the appearance by Luke Johnson on the BBC’s Question Time.
Since it became a single-issue show, Question Time has been even more difficult to endure. Panellists opposing government policy on Covid-19 have been almost entirely from the Left and argue that the Government’s lockdown came too late and is too lax. Particularly irritating have been the political activists presented as disinterested ‘experts’, examples being Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, and Scouse Professor John Ashton, the Mouth of the Mersey.
Before Thursday, I was unfamiliar with Luke Johnson (son of historian and journalist Paul Johnson). Billed as a restaurant entrepreneur, his having also been chairman of Channel 4 Television did not bode well. And when Johnson prefaced his opening remarks by informing viewers that his wife works in the NHS, I feared another tedious lockdown-loving Leftie.
On the contrary, the Gospel of Luke was a revelation. After the general secretary of the RMT transport union, Mick Cash, had droned on about the government risking the safety of his members, Johnson responded startlingly by asking: ‘Why are rail workers, such as drivers in their cabs, more at risk than health workers?’ Which he followed with: ‘When people say “safe” do they mean safe in every possible way?’ Casting doubt on the science behind the UK’s two-metre social distancing – ‘conjured out of nowhere’, according to the Mail – he concluded: ‘This obsession about being safe all the time is not realistic in a busy city such as London.’
Johnson’s attack on safetyism was just his warm-up. After presenter Fiona Bruce heard him audibly sigh during another panellist’s contribution, Luke Johnson explained his frustration: ‘One of the most unfortunate things which has happened is that the country has got petrified. We’re the most nervous large country of any. The Government’s propaganda has frightened us rigid.’
For this apostasy, the Mirror ran the dramatic headline: ‘Ex-Pizza Express chairman slammed for claims “pandemic is propaganda”.’
Question Time clearly was hosting a heretic. After he had reminded everyone that healthy people under 60 – most of the UK’s workforce – are at little risk from the virus, Labour’s Bridget Phillipson bleated: ‘What comfort does that offer to families who’ve lost loved ones?’
Anticipating the inevitable ‘If it saves one life . . .’ Luke Johnson acknowledged that ‘every death is tragic’, but rightly maintained that we must ‘get this in context’. Warning that what ‘already is the largest recession for 300 years’ is liable to become a depression, he pertinently asked: ‘How many deaths might flow from that?’
Indeed. After reminding everyone of the immense harm which is already arising from ‘only half as many A&E appointments, cancer patients and people with heart disease not being seen’, Johnson grimly warned: ‘The collateral damage of this campaign of fear, this lockdown, has to be taken into account. Very soon I believe this lockdown will be causing more deaths than the virus.’
Finally, there was someone on Question Time articulating this dissenting view. Referring to his namesake’s address to the nation last weekend, Luke Johnson highlighted the comment by Boris which also caused me to throw a slipper at the TV: ‘What disappointed me . . . was that he repeated the line, a figure first put about by Neil Ferguson, that we’ve avoided half a million deaths . . . that was a ludicrous exaggeration, it was scaremongering.’
Devi Sridhar, Professor of Global Public Health at Edinburgh University, adviser to the Scottish Government and a proponent of continued (perhaps even continuous) lockdown, tried to justify Ferguson’s folly with a dubious extrapolation of her own. And like so many myopic scientists who cannot see beyond their own field of expertise, Sridhar suggested we must continue to suppress the virus through severe social restrictions until there is a vaccine (even though one might never be found).
This ‘new normal’, frequently and casually expressed by short-sighted scientists, usually goes unchallenged. But not by Luke Johnson: ‘The collateral damage, the unintended consequences of lockdown are so severe . . . in mental health and in so many other ways, such as the impact on our children’s education, it’s not something we can be lightly undertaking.’
He added ‘one other thing I’d like to say, which I’m afraid is characteristic of this programme’. To the obvious chagrin of Fiona Bruce, Luke Johnson drily noted that he was the only representative from the private sector, which provides ‘85 per cent of people working in the economy’, and trenchantly observed: ‘No one here today is going to lose their job because of Covid. But believe me, there’s a real risk that millions of people in the private sector are going to see their careers demolished, and that really matters.’
Johnson also dismissed the notion that he and similarly minded sceptics prioritise economics over lives: ‘Unemployment can kill people and it needs to be taken into account. Also, how are we going to pay the £170billion a year the NHS costs us if the economy is in the toilet?’
Answers came there none. For the final question of the evening an earnest young man named Bertie asked whether lockdown restrictions should be varied in different parts of England, particularly London. In support of which he cited localised responses in China, but failed to mention that this is achieved by the CCP’s goons sealing homes with the residents inside.
By juxtaposing the ‘communist dictatorship’ and the UK, Luke Johnson gave a rousing peroration: ‘As it is, we’ve given up more liberties than ever in the history of this country over the lockdown, and we shouldn’t forget that. We are a free society and the way we have waived our rights so that we are under effective house arrest as a nation should not be taken lightly.’
Hear, hear. For opponents of lockdown, preserving liberty and maintaining freedom are our trump cards, which on Question Time were played fearlessly by cool hand Luke.