Philip Gilbert 2


‘You don’t need no one who feels the same old way
Oh it’s a shame, we were just getting comfy…’



And the PM and his party were indeed sitting comfy; an 80-seat majority, Christmas and New Year on all expenses paid, (but, by who?) trip to the Caribbean, followed by taking it easy in Chevening, basking in the glory of ‘getting it done’.

‘a tsunami coming to shred his credibility and possibly sweep him away with it’

Whilst, far away, there was a tsunami coming to shred his credibility and possibly sweep him away with it; oh, how the mighty tumble!

I have no intention this week of examining what the government has got wrong during the crisis, the list is endless, hence the title, shambles. Instead, I want to focus on why it has been handled so badly, and how it has been allowed to happen.


Put simply it comes down to this:


  • The virus only became the governments priority when it was too late
  • The PM and the government are the wrong people, in the wrong place, at the wrong time
  • Brexit is their god, their mission in-life, everyting else is an unwanted distraction
  • 10-yrs of Tory government has left the NHS unprepared for such as emergency


A simple look at a timeline highlights this too little, too late approach:

The virus first became news in late-December last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan, by the 23 January their government had announced the lockdown of Wuhan city and the surrounding Hubei province.

UK scientists and medical researchers watching this were becoming increasingly concerned by what was happening and the governments apathy.

Johnson was still basking in December’s election success, and with Brexit ‘done’ was preparing a big Cabinet reshuffle to assert his own authority in other areas.

‘there was little opposition, and no-one asking tough questions about coronavirus’

Labour was seeking a new leader, meaning that there was little opposition, and no-one asking tough questions about coronavirus.

In a speech on Brexit in Greenwich on 3 February, Johnson made clear his views on Wuhan-style lockdowns. ‘We are starting to hear some bizarre autarkic rhetoric,’ he said, ‘when barriers are going up, and when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage.

‘Then, at that moment, humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion of the right of the populations of the Earth to buy and sell freely among each other.’

I’m sorry but in Anglo-Saxon terms that is just bollocks!

Our solution was herd immunity, or, more accurately, survival of the fittest; the majority of the population would contract the virus, develop antibodies and then become immune to it.

‘more families, many more families, are going to lose loved ones before their time’

However by the 12th March reality was setting-in as Johnson went from the disease was ‘likely to spread a bit more’, to, ‘I must level with you, more families, many more families, are going to lose loved ones before their time.’

Then only days after Downing Street had suggested it was not on the cards we went into lock-down.

The government had made no plans, hospitals were overwhelmed but have managed to cope in spite of this.

Health workers are still short of PPE and exposed unnecessarily to the virus, there is a lack of ventilators for patients in intensive care, and a total failure to test for Covid-19.

‘Lions led by donkeys’

Added to this we have the stifling bureaucracy of NHS management stopping supplies when they are available.

Lions led by donkeys.

During all this Brexit reared its ugly head, but only now are we learning of our refusal to join the European Union’s procurement efforts.

This came out some days ago when a civil servant said it was a ‘political decision’. Within the retraction was this comment made shortly after it was stated that : ‘Ministers were not briefed by our mission in Brussels about the scheme and a political decision was not taken on whether or not to participate.


In practice, the sequence of events seems to have been:


  1. Brussels briefed the Foreign Office and the Department of Health and Social Care about the ventilator procurement scheme, presumably at a senior level, in detail and as an issue requiring priority attention.
  2. Those civil servants will then have briefed their ministers, including the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, and the health secretary, Matt Hancock.


Therefore, it appears that ministers knew about the scheme and knew we could take part in it. In civil service-speak, a political decision can also mean a decision taken by ministers, who are political, rather than officials or expert specialists, who advise them.

Whilst ministers are now saying it is the government’s official policy to take ‘the right measures at the right time, guided by the science and the medical experts’, it just more words, too little, too late.


‘My heart is really on it’s knees
But I keep a poker face so well
That even mother couldn’t tell’


Brexit had struck again; we have turned our back on Europe and on post-Brexit links with the EU.  Johnson’s project is not to save and rebuild the nation, it is Brexit. Always was, always will be.

The result of this ideological blindness is that 11 weeks on from the first cases being confirmed, we are approaching 18,000 deaths, and it is likely that there are several thousands more once care home fatalities are counted.

‘country is in lockdown, the economy facing prolonged recession, with no end in sight’

The country is in lockdown, the economy facing prolonged recession, with no end in sight.

Of course, 18,000 is quite a good score, after all few weeks ago the government’s advisers crassly said that fewer than 20,000 deaths would be ‘a very good result’.

Contrast this with Germany who appear to have brought coronavirus under control. They have C. 3,868 deaths, less a third of our growing number (Germany’s population, at 83 million, is far higher), they have conducted widespread testing from early on, precisely what we failed to do.

And there is the point; they saw the problem, acted, and contained it. We, by comparison, were oblivious until too late, a government dazzled by its own brilliance.


I can’t go down there
I can’t understand it
I’m a no-good coward


Another part of Brexit is immigration, even though immigrants, 153,000 of them, keep the HNS going.

Not only do they lack PPE, many are also struggling financially, unable to pay the fees levied by the Home Office to enable them to remain in the UK and continue to save lives.

‘immigrants, 153,000 of them, keep the HNS going’

Currently, the NHS surcharge is £400 a year. There is no right of deferral, or ability to pay, it has to be paid in advance for the entire duration of an applicant’s visa or residency permit.

If an NHS worker has any family included on the residency permit, such as a spouse and children, the applicant has to pay the surcharge for them as well, again for the entire duration of the visa, a family of four on a five-year work permit or limited leave to remain visa has to pay £8000.

The fee is to go up this October, from £400 to £624, meaning that the same family of four will have to pay £12,480.

But they are’t the governments priority, as, after all, ‘We are all in this together.’  How many times do we have to hear this and the realise that we aren’t, that their priorities aren’t ours?

Last Wednesday, the government sneaked an announcement about HS2 under the Covid-19 umbrella, as notices to proceed were posted in the industry press to get back to work, subject only to ‘social distancing’.

Along with the resumption of work at the closed Euston site, the ‘minister for HS2’, Andrew Stephenson, said he wanted to offer those working on the project ‘certainty at a time when they need it’.

Quite remarkably, he continued saying he ‘cannot delay work on our long-term plan to level up the country’.

If we put to one-side crass stupidity of worrying about this when everyone else is trying to stay alive, HS2 serves only the most prosperous counties in Britain.

If leveling-up is really the motivation, a railway from Yorkshire to Lancashire might be of more use.

Or, if this is about vital infrastructure, then surely London’s Crossrail would be more crucial for London’s recovery?

With HS2 unlikely ever to go beyond Birmingham it is more a vanity project than ever.

The business case for HS2 was originally £2.70 for each pound spent, it is now between £1.20 and 70p, well below any normal Treasury threshold.

It is not only government that has shown we are not ‘all in together’, many so called entrepreneurs have quickly lost that spirit when their own money is at stake.

‘Take the ever-appalling Richard Branson, a man who once sued the NHS’

Take the ever-appalling Richard Branson, a man who once sued the NHS, and who has not paid income tax in this country for 14- years, he is now requesting a taxpayer bailout.

Like many billionaire philanthropist’ he needs to realise that the public finances would be in rather better shape if people like him contributed their fair share, i.e. paying tax.

And, continuing the subject of bailouts, what of the governments promise of financial help for all?

The US has already gone through its $350 bn of SME support programme, the Swiss can approve and get money into business accounts after 5 simple questions on the same day, and the Germans managed to disperse money without any apparent effort, whilst we have managed little over £1.1 bln of loans.

Stories of firms being told their turn will come in Mid-May and beyond are legion! The question must be asked; was this ever genuine?

‘question must be asked; was this ever genuine?’

However, on a positive note we should remember that the NHS came into being after the second world war showing that seismic, destructive events can change assumptions.

It was ‘the umbrella principle’: ‘if money was no object when it came to killing people, it should be no object when it comes to keeping them alive.’

This was at a time when the national debt was in excess of 200% of GDP, it wasn’t that ‘money is no object’, more, ‘money has no meaning’.

Let us not forget our leader, the PM, there can have been few more obvious headlines than the one in this week’s Guardian; ‘Boris Johnson is the wrong man in the wrong job at the wrong time.’

Amongst many others, this column has been saying this since he joined the list of candidates following Theresa May standing down as Tory leader.

‘the wrong man in the wrong job at the wrong time’

He is superficial, a product of a by-gone age, where the master spoke and others ran around doing his bidding, Downtown Abbey if you wish. For him its country breaks rather than working weekends, urgent crisis planning, sorry, old boy!

He wasn’t selected to deal with crisis, he was selected by a small group of ageing activists for his Brexitry. He was their ‘sort’ and had swung the Brexit vote to victory.

This was wonderfully, if unintentionally, summed up by Michael Gove on Sunday, the prime minister is ‘in cheerful spirits’. Cheerful? What is there to be cheerful about?

‘Cheerful? What is there to be cheerful about?’

As for caring, can a party whose austerity policies deliberately placed a 40% cut in emergency personal protective equipment stockpiled for an epidemic, be said to care?

Andrew Lansley reforms, as part of 10-years of austerity decimated the NHS.


‘Try to cry out in the heat of the moment,
Possessed by a fury that burns from inside’


Brexit defines their mindset: break away, break things and disrupt.’

When the PM returns, his first act should be to immediately prolong the Brexit transition: last week No 10 said it would reject an extension.

Johnson may wax sentimentally about the NHS after it saved him, but these are mere crocodile tears, too little, too late.

This current series of Tory administrations will, next month, have been in power for 10 years. British parties who manage that anniversary are usually unpopular by the time it comes, e.g. Mrs Thatcher in 1989, and Tony Blair in 2007

This time however, despite the accumulation of mistakes this hasn’t happened.

In fact, totally the opposite, Johnson romped home with the biggest Tory majority in almost 40-yrs, and could become the first government in almost 200-yrs to win a fifth consecutive election

This is astounding when you consider that the last 10-years has seen a series of governments  presiding over a collection of disasters; the EU referendum, the potential break-up of the UK, austerity policies that have damaged public services and society, failed to reduce government debt, and presided over the worst wage growth for two centuries. Now they are mishandling the coronavirus crisis.

Whereas poor old Labour still get reminded of its failure to halt the winter of discontent in 1979! It does help to have the press on your side, obviously.

‘A dominant party is that which public opinion believes to be dominant’

This phenomenon was, perhaps, best described in 1954 by the French sociologist Maurice Duverger: ‘A dominant party is that which public opinion believes to be dominant.’

Prior to the crisis there was little doubt that dominance was Johnson’s goal; reform of the civil service, excluding dissenting journalists from official briefings.

Even parliamentary oversight has diminished, the Commons has sat for one full month in Johnson’s first 10 as premier. All of this from a government that repeatedly claim to represent ‘the people’.

Mercifully, this Tory era will hopefully end soon. I suspect it well be a spectacular implosion when it happens.

Perhaps their handling of this crisis will prove to be one debacle too many. The blame is theirs, and theirs alone.


‘ Cause I want to be anarchy
No dogs body’


A different tone from Philip this week; whereas there has previously always been a glimmer of hope or optimism to sugar coat the pill, this is straight between the eyes; angry, personal and aimed  squarely at our PM. 

There’s frustration that after ten years of cuts, under-investment and sell-offs the NHS is so weakened as to be relying on its staff to risk their lives to keep going yet Boris is sitting on a big majority.

There’s more than a suggestion that the threat of the coronavirus was not taken seriously soon enough and that has directly led to the death rate in this country to be three times that in Germany.  

It seems that the opportunity to secure ventilators from the EU because the fevered determination to ‘Get Brexit Done’ clouded the judgement of those in charge; perhaps most damning is the conclusion is that Boris is simply not up to the job – ‘the wrong man in the wrong job at the wrong time’.

A real treat for lovers of the lyrics this week, tracks that may not currently be on the playlist, but certainly a reason to do some more digging, and why I think Philip’s choices are so engaging; electronic entries in the normal way please – with 19 points on offer, those claiming 15 and above can expect to be in the prizes.   

First ‘probably the best English songwriter of his generation’ – I liked what I saw when he appeared before, but couldn’t get to Babyshambles with ‘Babyshambles’ – 5 pts

Next, ‘probably the only decent band to have ever come out of Oz’ – I really like Nick Cave but didn’t know the connection so couldn’t get to The Boys Next Door with ‘Shivers’ – 3 pts for each.

Next, a new one on me ‘LAs finest 1970’s punk band’ – 3 pts  for the act and 3 pts for the song if you get to X with ‘I must not think bad thoughts’. Congratulations to Sam, Philip’s son at Fat Possum records for recently releasing the band’s first album in 35 years.

Slightly lower hanging fruit is ‘post-punks finest, an old favourite’ – 2 pts for Joy Division with ‘The Eternal’; finally, and I’m grateful for the bone and a singleton for ‘Anarchy in the UK’. Quite; 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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