When former UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock handed over a veritable treasure trove of personal WhatsApp correspondence – over 100,000 messages in all – to a journalist whom he had commissioned to co-author his Pandemic Diaries, it appears it did not cross his mind that she might go rogue on him and release his confidential correspondence into the public domain.
Whatever we might think of Isabel Oakeshott’s decision to break Hancock’s trust – here is her version of events, where she makes the case that the public deserves to know how their government messed up – this information will hopefully give us critical insights into the mindset of top civil servants and political leaders tasked with managing the pandemic response in Britain.
I have only seen a tiny fraction of these 100,000 WhatsApp messages, namely those published on the Lockdown Files page of The Telegraph. Based on what I have seen, things are not looking good for Mr Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries memoire. But more importantly, Isabel Oakeshott’s whistleblower revelations confirm the worst fears of lockdown critics, namely that government ministers and public health officials were not acting in good faith, but just propping up their own careers and trying to keep the population under the spell of fear and dread.
What the Lockdown Files reveal is not a government trying, in good faith, to do what is right for the people, or trying to carefully balance the good and bad consequences of their actions, or trying to make sure their interventions track the best available science, but rather, a government scrambling to save face, stay on the right side of public opinion, score PR points, and avoid political rows and divisions that could play out badly in the press.
The cavalier, manipulative, and reckless attitude toward the lives and well-being of others is colourfully illustrated by a flurry of WhatsApp exchanges between government ministers and senior civil servants that were almost certainly not intended for public consumption. Numerous of these exchanges have been in the public domain for days, and to the best of my knowledge, their content has not been substantively repudiated either by Hancock or any other of the public figures involved. Furthermore, The Telegraph has very much staked its reputation on their authenticity. So it seems very likely to me that they are authentic.
Here’s an executive summary. The full content of the messages I have drawn upon is documented at the end of this article. 1
- We see Hancock talking about “deploying” a new variant, as though variants were just a tool to manipulate public sentiment.
- We see the Cabinet Secretary joking with Hancock about important people being put in “shoebox” accommodation because of Mandatory Hotel Quarantine policies.
- We see Hancock very single-mindedly pursuing his testing targets and apparently subordinating the welfare of vulnerable nursing homes to his desire to meet his wider testing targets.
- We see Prime Minister Johnson worry about whether lifting lockdown measures will be well received by public opinion (he could have worried instead about whether lockdown measures violated civil rights, or destroyed human well-being).
- And we see senior members of government discuss school masking policies from a purely political and strategic perspective (e.g. in terms of their “visible impact” and in terms of avoiding squabbles with Scotland and WHO), with little regard to their scientific validity.
All of these exchanges reveal a willingness to subject people to scientifically baseless and uncomfortable mask requirements based on purely political considerations; contempt for individuals subjected to Mandatory Hotel Quarantines; a near-obsession with staying below a certain “R number,” in near complete disregard of any other aspect of social reality; and a conception of testing as reaching testing “targets,” at almost any cost, with no visible concern for the potential collateral harms of lockdown interventions.
No doubt there is plenty more incriminating evidence in the Lockdown Files. If these sorts of exchanges were happening at the highest levels of the UK government, it is likely that similar exchanges were happening in other nations (we already know, for example, that the US government colluded with social media companies to censor their critics). It’s just that it’s not every day that a newspaper gets privileged access to over 100,000 confidential text messages from the Secretary of State for Health. It’s unlikely that a national Covid inquiry would get access to this level of unredacted confidential communications.
The question is, can we extrapolate from Matt Hancock’s WhatsApp correspondence to the motivations of other governments? Unfortunately, not a whole lot. But this particular data dump should at least make a major dent in the pro-lockdown narrative as it reveals how callous, inhumane, scientifically uninterested, and shamelessly self-serving some of the leading decision-makers were in one of the nations that ended up with the dubious honour of helping to pave the way for prolonged lockdowns across the world.