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10 December 2020

First Thoughts: mass vaccination, an Eton mess, and the Guardian’s silence on the Moore affair

I am unable to stop my mind racing with worries, from Pfizer side-effects to post-Brexit transport blockages.  

By Peter Wilby

I hesitate to be gloomy, but I can’t help thinking of all the ways the plans for mass vaccination against Covid-19 could go wrong. Worried about post-Brexit transport blockages, ministers are already considering military planes to get vaccines into the country. But think of other stories you could be reading in the New Year.

Widely publicised side-effects – all vaccines have mild ones at least – persuade millions to refuse their jabs. A huge wave of infections, following the relaxation of rules over Christmas, puts thousands of NHS nurses and other staff out of action. Shortages of raw materials (already reported in some newspapers) slow vaccine manufacture. Several loads of vaccine prove useless because they were stored at the wrong temperature. It emerges Pfizer unwittingly provided the UK medicines regulator with incorrect data about the vaccine’s efficacy. Hackers put the computers that control distribution out of action.

Boris Johnson’s government promised a “world-beating” test and trace system which never materialised. Can we be confident it will deliver “world-leading” vaccinations?

[see also: GPs are excitedly preparing for a Covid-19 vaccine – but will everyone take it?]


The rule of law

A fundamental principle of law is that it applies, or should apply, to everyone, including rapists and murderers. The celebrities and Labour MPs who protest against Priti Patel’s deportations to Jamaica miss this point as much as the Home Secretary’s supporters. That some deportees are guilty of relatively minor crimes or were victims of modern slavery, as protesters claim, is irrelevant. Even the worst criminals are entitled to due process and lawyers who can make the best possible case for them. Out of 36 due for deportation on 2 December, 23 had to be removed from the flight because judges considered the arguments for expelling them required further scrutiny. If Patel wants to throw people out of the country, she should ensure her case is legally watertight. Or wait until she has removed all human rights from the statute book.

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Report yourself

The late Harold Evans, the celebrated editor of the Sunday Times, used to insist that, when his paper was in the news, his journalists should report it as they would anything else. How, he asked, could readers trust the Sunday Times if they couldn’t rely on it to report its own affairs openly and fairly?

Katharine Viner, the Guardian editor, clearly doesn’t agree. As discussed here two weeks ago, the paper’s columnist Suzanne Moore resigned because, she said, senior editors gave her inadequate backing when 338 colleagues protested over “transphobic content”. The affair was covered across the British press. Not a word has appeared in the Guardian, however.

Allegations that BBC Panorama’s former reporter Martin Bashir used forged bank statements to secure his interview with Princess Diana in 1995 have been fully reported on the BBC’s own news website. The Guardian should follow that example.

[see also: First Thoughts: How Suzanne Moore split the Guardian]


Muscles and money

I supported Moore’s right to free speech. I cannot support the Eton teacher Will Knowland, who was sacked for refusing to take down a YouTube offering called “The Patriarchy Paradox”. In the 30-minute video, planned as part of a school course on critical thinking, he argues that male aggression is “a biological fact” and a jolly good thing too. Life expectancy would be reduced to less than 40 without men killing wild animals. Women, who just gather roots, nuts and berries and gossip behind each other’s backs, prefer “guys with muscles and money”. The “alternative to patriarchy” is incest and paedophilia, which feminists support. The “paradox” is that, in societies with greater gender equality, men and women revert to traditional roles, a truth, according to Knowland, established by psychologists (it isn’t).

The video, illustrated by violent film clips, is so relentlessly misogynistic –making it barely legal in any context, let alone a classroom – I thought it might be a satire on male supremacist attitudes. Perhaps Knowland intended to challenge the extent to which pupils shared such ideas. But neither he nor his noisy supporters plead that defence.


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This article appears in the 08 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special