Philip Gilbert 2


‘It’s so fucked I can’t believe it, If there’s a way I wish we’d see it
How could it work just can’t conceive it, Oh what a mess it’s just to leave it’


The choices governments made in the last month have profoundly shaped what risks its citizens are exposed to during this pandemic. Those choices have, to a large extent, determined how many of us will die.

For example, earlier this week it was reported that there have been 7.4 deaths in Ireland for every 100,000 people, whereas the UK has 17 deaths per 100,000.


  • The figures released by the Irish government includes deaths in nursing homes and the community, whereas the UK’s do not.
  • Ireland has lower population and is less densely populated, however: 39% live in the Greater Dublin area, whereas Greater London holds 16% of the population of England.


The crucial difference was that the UK went into lockdown before Ireland, on 23rd March, but Ireland was already operating a ‘delay phase’ from 12th to 27th March.

An example of the crucial difference in how the two governments approached the situation lies in this two-week period from 9th March, when Ireland cancelled St Patrick’s day whilst the UK allowed the Cheltenham Festival to go-ahead.

As Helen Ward, professor of public health at Imperial College London, wrote today, it’s now clear that so many people have died, and so many more are desperately ill, simply because our politicians refused to listen to and act on advice. Scientists like us said lock down earlier; we said test, trace, isolate. But they decided they knew better.

‘we said test, trace, isolate. But they decided they knew better’

Whilst we did well in the early phase, but then, on 12th March, abandoning containment, announcing that community case-finding and contact-tracing would stop.

The aim was no longer to stop people getting it, but to slow it down while protecting the vulnerable. Critically, nothing was done about social distancing, it was not recommended then.

After a report led by Neil Ferguson, also of Imperial College, published on 16th March which estimating that without strong suppression, 250,000 people could die in the UK, the government responded by  recommending social distancing, avoiding pubs and working from home if possible.

It was only on 23rd March that a more stringent lockdown and economic support was announced.

Between 12th and 23rd March, tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of people will have been infected. Boris Johnson himself may well have been infected that week, and his stay in the intensive care unit may have been avoided if the government had shifted to remote working on 12th March.

‘Critically, nothing was done about social distancing’

Part of the reluctance to impose a lock-down maybe Johnson’s own libertarian principals; when, on 20th March, Boris Johnson announced lock-down he made it clear that this decision was an assault on the national character.

‘We’re taking away the ancient, inalienable right of free-born people of the United Kingdom to go the pub,’ he said. ‘And I can understand how people feel about that.’ Lest his anguish be in any doubt, he underscored the point: ‘To repeat, I know how difficult this is, how it seems to go against the freedom-loving instincts of the British people.’

Johnson’s admirers saw it as his Finest Hour, ‘the moment when his Churchillian posturing would become real and he would save his country.’ When the prime minister was hospitalised, his overwrought friend and fan Toby Young confessed in the Spectator to ‘a kind of mystical belief in Britain’s greatness and her ability to occasionally bring forth remarkable individuals … who can serve her at critical junctures. I’ve always thought of Boris as one of those people – not just suspected it but known it in my bones.’ And they say that love is blind….


‘Will nature make a man of me yet?’


Extending last week’s theme of how previous Tory governments had consistently undermined and underfunded the NHS, this week we look at more current and specific examples.

Starting of course with protective clothing, or, as we all now know PPE. The reality is that NHS workers are risking their own lives treating patients with the virus and are being forced to do so with a terrifying lack of equipment.

‘Each time I listen to him he sounds more out-of-his depth’

We must of course not overlook the health secretary who suggested that it could be re-used! Each time I listen to him he sounds more out-of-his depth.

‘There are often young doctors and nurses, many with kids at home, putting themselves in challenging situations without proper PPE. It’s not acceptable, morally or ethically, that people should put their lives at risk to do their job unless they have adequate PPE,’ Sue Hill, the college’s vice-president, told the Observer.

Let us now turn to testing, which is quite easy to deal with; we are so far behind with testing anyone that is beyond comment.

Or it would be, had they not been able to rush Michael Gove’s daughter to the front of whatever queue there is meant to be. The excuse, we need him to help in running the country. Like the virus there seems to be no antidote to that problem either.

‘not acceptable, morally or ethically, that people should put their lives at risk to do their job’

But there are inequalities that cannot be made fun of. For example, the government’s much lauded income support scheme already excludes many, there are other concerns.

The chancellor said in tweet that ‘the whole point of fiscal conservatism in normal times is to be able to act decisively if there is a genuine economic emergency’.

Fiscal hawks, of which there are many within the Tory party, will be keen to draw a line under the crisis period and insist that we now need to tighten our belts again to pay for it.

But will the final cost be borne by government? Mortgage and rent ‘holidays’ and guaranteed loans for small businesses are then loans that they will have to pay back when the crisis is over, meaning that the bulk of the costs will ultimately be borne by ordinary people.

‘the bulk of the costs will ultimately be borne by ordinary people’

The only people in society not being asked to share the burden are ‘rentiers’: those who make money by owning assets they can charge others to use, such as banks, landlords or profitable corporations, such as utility companies.

For example, Landlords have access to mortgage holidays but are not required to pass these on to their tenants. If they do, they can recoup any missed rent when the crisis is over.

Since the same cannot be said for tenants’ lost income, many will be pushed further into debt or face eviction.

Disappointingly, but unsurprisingly, the government has been quick to protect the interests of rentier capital it has been equally slow in protecting the interests of workers.

‘the result will be to push house prices up’

I hope people aren’t relying on this? if so, we will have social problems. There have already been examples of large companies laying off workers, or at best, pocketing government support and refusing to top it up from their own coffers.

As a result of mis-guided policy, rentiers will emerge unscathed from the crisis, perhaps even better-off, as the lock-down has curtailed their usual expenditure.

As economist Gary Stevenson points out, if some of this windfall is spent on property, the result will be to push house prices up – adding insult to injury for the low-paid renters who will have borne the brunt of the crisis.


‘I’m rich
Like a hot noise
Rich rich rich’


Let’s us now turn to food and panic buying unfortunately low-income families don’t have the cash to indulge in this.

The shortages caused by this, together falling incomes, and meagre universal credit provision, have led to a 3-fold increase in demand at food banks compared to a year ago (1).  As a result, some families are going hungry as research by the Food Foundation shows:


  • 3 million people in Britain are living in households where someone has been forced to skip some meals, and
  • 5 million people have gone without food for a whole day because they had no money or access to food.


And for those in rented accommodation, research shows that a fifth had to choose between paying for food and bills and paying their landlords this month.

Despite the governments temporary ban on evictions, a quarter surveyed have already lost their home, unable to pay the rent, they voluntarily move in with friends or parents.

‘a quarter surveyed have already lost their home’

As we now look forward, we start to consider what is required to aid recovery. Globally there is a need for co-ordinated action, and it is this that we will consider next.

Whilst much of the financial system such as the banks, is stronger than in 2008, the global economy operates with the scantiest of safety buffers and with no margin for error.

The fundamentals are built-on sand, its ultra-low interest rates that have been keeping the global economy afloat for the past decade.

What has happened in the last 30-years is that global markets have increase in both size and reach. Globalisation has led to extended supply chains, and hot money chasing higher returns in emerging markets and leaving at the first sign of trouble.

‘The fundamentals are built-on sand’

Except for the central banks, these interconnected markets have not let to multilateral cooperation. All the central banks have achieved is ensuring that money is cheap and plentiful, addict markets to cheap money, whenever they try to increase and normalise rates stock market panic leading to a reversal.

On a local level the reason the UK government has been pumping so much money into the health service, into wage subsidies, into support for the self-employed and for small businesses is that they were all only just managing before the crisis broke.

The last 10-yrs has seen the lowest real-wage growth since the 19th C. For many being self-employed is a struggle to make enough to live on, taking out an emergency government-backed loan (assuming they could get one) would wipe out their profits for the next two years.

Ultimately, the shock from the banking crisis was not big enough to effect real change, we must hope that the added threat to life this time around produces a different result.

‘Things need to be different this time to build in the resilience required in the future’

Free-market governments like the UK’s have not been converted to socialism overnight, they have done so because of the inherently fragile nature of their economies. Things need to be different this time to build in the resilience required in the future, because there will be a next time.

The issue to a global response can be summed up in two-words: Donald Trump

Earlier this week, he announced that the US would stop its funding of the WHO for going easy on China. This has been widely condemned; former US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said the funding halt was ‘obscene,’ and Bill Gates called the WHO decision ‘as dangerous as it sounds.’

Global problems require global solutions. Covid-19 does not respect borders – even closed ones – and its continued transmission anywhere poses a threat to health everywhere.

‘intensive international cooperation will be needed’

We are still in phase one of the crisis, in which countries are mostly focused on containing the initial wave of domestic outbreaks. If these efforts are not to be in vain, then intensive international cooperation will be needed to get expertise and resources to where they are needed most.

Recent history shows that international co-operation is possible and deliver results:


  • During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union worked together to provide the WHO with the resources it needed to eradicate smallpox, a disease which afflicted about 50 million people a year in the early 1950s and no longer threatened humankind at all by 1977.
  • The 1930s Depression was exacerbated by countries turning inwards and putting up trade barriers in a misguided attempt to protect their own economies, whereas the international response to the global financial crisis of 2008 was coordinated and effective, lessening the impact of the economic shock.


For the richest country in the world to decide to use its power, wealth and influence to undermine a global solution is an act of sabotage.

Trump’s decisions are driven by the need to cover-up his own mistakes and his desire to be re-elected. Trump now blames the WHO for being insufficiently critical of China’s early response to the virus, but he himself praised China’s cooperation with the WHO and separately lauded Beijing as recently as the end of March.


‘Yankee dollar talk
To the dictators of the world
In fact it’s giving orders’


Economically the picture is gloomy, the IMF says that the global economy is going to suffer its worst year since the Great Depression, and the UK’s Office for Budget Responsibility pencils in a slump unmatched for three centuries.

‘the global economy is going to suffer its worst year since the Great Depression’

Despite this many refuse to see this as anything other than an event unrelated to economic policy. In they are in the ascendancy their view that nothing needs to change as a result of the twin health and economic emergencies may prevail.

Just like all the talk after 2008 about how global capitalism was going to be reformed, which turned out to be just talk.


‘All you do to me is talk, talk
Talk, talk, talk, talk’


And now we turn to the government’s will to instigate such change.

4-months ago Johnson had an 80-seat majority, and had redrawn the electoral map of the UK, this high-point marked another milestone in Brexit’s transformation of the Conservative party from the party of business to the party of the flag.

Today, government is wholly taken up with protecting public health, keeping the economy on life support and, in Johnson’s own case, his personal survival.

The possibility that the economy may shrink by a third, with millions of job losses, means that the Britain which eventually emerges from the crisis will be a country of a significantly different temper from the Britain that went into it.

‘the economy may shrink by a third, with millions of job losses’

Perhaps this can be best summed up by Rishi Sunak’s comments this week. ‘The single most important thing we can do for the health of our economy is to protect the health of our people,’ said the chancellor on Tuesday. ‘It’s not a case of choosing between the economy and public health.’

The fiscal hawks in the party such as Sajid Javid, Theresa May, and Philip Hammond, believe that low taxes remained key to kickstarting the economic recovery.

But Johnson will want to go on spending, not reinventing austerity, as will the health secretary, Matt Hancock, who will press for a large programme of resilience measures in health and social care to guard against a future pandemic.

‘most important thing we can do for the health of our economy is to protect the health of our people’

Sunak’s autumn budget will likely be the litmus test, and could point the way to a different party, and with rather different priorities, from the one that Johnson led to victory last December.

Much depends on Johnson, the party is moulded in his Johnson’s image, and held together by his personal popularity.

As one former minister put it to me this week: ‘The party that was being created in the wake of the election was a new one. It was based on a cultural backlash against liberalism and established elites at home and abroad. But that doesn’t feel to me like what the country wants now. It doesn’t want divisive politics. It doesn’t want a culture war. This feels like a moment to step away from a lot of that.’

Whether to take that step away will be very much Johnson’s own decision. But it is a decision with momentous implications for the Tory party and for the whole of British party politics.


‘There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, eh eh’



  1. Source, Independent Food Aid Network


Some tough reading from Philip this week; with more time than usual, he has looked at the decade of neglect that has seen the NHS so woefully unprepared, and with a sense of mounting gloom, looks at the fortnight of dithering in the face of scientific advice that could lead to thousands of unnecessary deaths – assuming they are counted and reported, of course.

As ‘whatever it takes’ start to sound rather hollow for many facing financial oblivion, never has there been greater inequality – Philip juxtaposes the mushrooming of food banks with state support for the ‘rentiers’; a social and economic time bomb that requires the united and global response made impossible by The Donald’s fit of pique at the WHO.

An embarrassment of riches for lyric spotters with fully six, count them, opportunities for points; electronic entries only this week, and those claiming a full house should take their plaudits on their doorsteps at 8pm on Thursday – but alas no cash prizes because of the risk of transmission.

I’m feeling pretty plumped with a score that will see me comfortably mid-table fodder; first up ‘the best grunge band’ – 3 pts if you got Dinosaur Jr and ‘Freak Scene’.

Next  ‘always a man for a cutting lyric’ 3-points for The Smiths and ‘This Charming Man’; then a new one on me – ‘real bunch of New York punks’ – 3pts for the band and three for the song Yeah Yeah Yeahs and ‘Fever to Tell’. Uh huh.

Next a ‘gimmie’ and ‘the only song that could be used’ to beautifully illustrate his point – a singleton for The Clash and ‘I’m so Bored With the USA’; penultimately ‘the song title and the band are the same, so only 3-points’ for Talk Talk with ‘Talk Talk’.

Finally ‘an outlier, but one of the great tunes, for the voice of Motown when it discovered a social conscience’ – a fitting and fabulous track, a very valid question, and 3 pts – Marvin Gaye and  ‘What’s Going On’; enjoy and stay safe.



Philip Gilbert 2Philip Gilbert is a city-based corporate financier, and former investment banker.

Philip is a great believer in meritocracy, and in the belief that if you want something enough you can make it happen. These beliefs were formed in his formative years, of the late 1970s and 80s


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