Rating the Government on Covid

David talks to Bronwen Maddox, Director of the Institute for Government, about how well the Johnson government has performed over the past year of the pandemic. There have been some successes - the furlough scheme, vaccines - and plenty of failures - education policy, health outcomes. But which were the key choices? Who can claim the credit? And where does the blame really lie? Plus we discuss how much personality still matters in political decision-making.


Talking Points:


What has the government done well over the last year?

  • It got financial support to a lot of people, surprisingly quickly.
  • Building this infrastructure was inadvertent—it was for Universal Credit. 


Vaccines have been heralded as a success story; can the government really claim credit?

  • It has been funneling money to some of the groups that were successful.
  • The government did a good job in buying vaccines and choosing where to invest.
  • In the rollout, you get something analogous to test and trace. Much of this is being done through the NHS, which makes it easier.


What went the most wrong?

  • There were at least 20,000 care home deaths in the first few months. And just about half of the deaths have happened since mid-November. These both look avoidable.
  • The education mistakes were disastrous. 


A case often made against this government is that one of their key problems is timing. 

  • Johnson’s instinct to delay a decision in the middle of uncertainty might in other circumstances be more positive, but so many times the delay has been damaging. 


The government says it’s been following the science, but science is often uncertain too.

  • It’s hard for politicians to communicate uncertainty.
  • Still, people in the UK still trust scientists despite the government’s communications failures.


With coronavirus, Starmer opted for a politics of competence.

  • If your opponents start doing something competently (ie the vaccine rollout), then what do you do?
  • The politics of competence doesn’t get people fired up in the streets.
  • People often take competence for granted. They want something on top of that.


Mentioned in this Episode:


Further Learning: 


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