Warburton votes against Lockdown

Yesterday Parliament was recalled to vote on the latest lockdown. Although the lockdown was announced on Monday night (4 January), it had to be ratified by Parliament. The vote took place on 6 January and was supported by 525 MPs with just 16 voting against.

Local MPs, Liddell-Grainger, Pow and Heappey dutifully followed the party line. Marcus Fysh was absent from the House. But Somerton & Frome MP David Warburton was one of the 16 to vote against. Having done so, today Mr Warburton put out a lengthy statement justifying his position.

Given the significance of the vote, we thought we should reproduce it for you in full. It comes with a health warning. This is not a short statement! But it is worth reading in full, whatever your views.

The House of Commons last night retrospectively approved the regulations governing the lockdown into which the country was placed on Wednesday morning.  There was never a question of Parliament rejecting the measures that the Prime Minister announced on Monday – and which were already in force – as they had the full support of the Opposition and much of the House.

I myself have very serious reservations about them. In making my vote, I wanted to register that disquiet with the Government’s approach, while knowing I had a certain degree of freedom to do so, given the certainty of the measures passing

Each day we’ve been hearing of rising rates of infection, the new – more transmissible – strains of Covid, increased numbers of infected patients in hospital and ever-increasing warnings from SAGE of the NHS being overwhelmed, cases rising exponentially and predictions of appalling death rates. Given all that, I fully appreciate that my vote against the current lockdown may seem unexpected.

And of course, I very much appreciate the difficult position the Government has to face. Public health must be its prime responsibility and it would be immensely hard for Ministers to disregard the advice of those specifically tasked with assessing the risk and making consequent recommendations. 

But I have concerns in several areas.

  • First, the numbers and how they are being reported. Yes, there is no doubt that the new evolving strains of the virus – though thankfully no more virulent – are more easily transmitted between individuals. But our increased rates of infection are more interesting. The mass scale of our PCR testing and self-reporting through the NHS app means that, for example, our case rate appears to be far higher than many European neighbours. And testing also creates some revealing anomalies: the virus seems to understand the soft border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, for example, crediting those to the north with a far higher rate of infection. Our mortality rate – dreadful though it is – remains much the same as others’. So either the false-positive incidence of our testing is giving us a bleak picture, or we appear more resilient to the worst effects of the virus, which is obviously unlikely.
  • Everyone who attends hospital is now tested – itself, of course, a terrifically important step. Those who test positive are reported statistically as hospital Covid patients, whether they were asymptomatic or not; whether they attended hospital for a broken ankle or regular cancer treatment.  Naturally, when we then hear of hospitals managing thousands of Covid patients, such reporting will concern us all and lead the Government to seek to act.
  • Every death, for whatever reason, is tragic and shocking. Even to write about it – and especially to do so in terms of data and numbers – belittles and minimises the personal loss which we all feel. It is important to see, I think though, that excess deaths over the past year have not been statistically higher than the average for previous years. And the ONS reveals that, in terms of deaths per 100,000 of population, since 1993 ten previous years have had higher rates than 2020.  But I also understand that, given the infection rates and the new strains, it is the predictions of future mortality which concerns the Government. They do not know what may come.
  • I will not dwell on the historic predictions of SAGE, but I must draw attention to the missing component in this thought process. At the end of the regulations before us yesterday was the bald admission that “No impact assessment has been prepared for these Regulations.”
  • That means that we were asked to vote, again, on restrictions which will have unknown effects, both positive and negative. We are not provided with evidence for the efficacy of the lockdown, other than our experience of the mixed results of previous lockdowns, and – crucially – we do not know what is the nature or the extent of the detrimental effects.
  • As I’ve said before, the ONS have estimated that the restrictions across 2020 will have resulted in 200,000 non-Covid excess deaths.  Bristol University put the figure far higher.  Whether or not these predictions have any more accuracy than SAGE’s own Covid predictions, these numbers are many times higher than those who tragically will have been lost to the virus.
  • Many of us have repeatedly asked for the data – a cost benefit analysis – which can allow us to make an informed decision. The crucial question we have to ask ourselves is what is the cost to lives, to livelihoods, to businesses, to mental health, suicides, to all non-Covid related heath. It’s imperative that these factors are weighed in the balance against the likely lives saved from those same restrictions.
  • In his broadcast to the country on Monday, the Prime Minster suggested that the lockdown would last until mid-February, but the regulations for approval yesterday actually gave the executive a blank cheque to maintain lockdown until the beginning of April. Three full months.  The Christmas lockdown cost the country the equivalent of an entire year’s NHS budget, and last year’s total costs are unimaginable.  Another three months will not only literally cost lives, it will be devastating to so many others – both lives and businesses – while costing all of us, and future generations, almost £1 billion a day. 
  • I am also deeply concerned by Ofcom’s media restrictions around the virus, and their enforceable guidance on broadcasters which demands that there be one prevalent narrative.  However benevolent their intentions, such restrictions clash harshly with the spirit of our freedom to challenge and question; to examine and debate.  This I find an enormously worrying step.
  • And, as I’ve previously outlined, I have very real anxieties about the precedent that resorting to lockdown again sets: of the state arrogating itself the power to impose stringent measures on its population – to literally lock us all in our homes for three months – when the data upon which this is based is uncertain or unknown. Liberty is like innocence: easy to remove but difficult to regain. And a future government with less benign intentions could easily use this precedent to interfere further – and for malign motives.
  • But I am most concerned because I simply cannot comprehend why an alternative approach to this pandemic is not quickly embraced.  Given that – even when including those with pre-existing conditions – for the under 60s, there is a 1 in 300,000 chance of death, or the over 60s, there is a 99% survival rate and for the over 80s, it’s still 90%, there is a clear alternative to hand – based on individual responsibility that we exercise in our own lives anyway. 
  • We should allow the vulnerable to isolate and protect themselves, as with any other virus – no-one suffering from ‘flu goes to visit and then embrace elderly relatives.  These are the people at risk.  They must be protected. But those not at risk have – I believe – little reason not to resume a normal existence, however much adapted to ensure safety and minimise risk.
  • Above all, we must now do everything possible to ensure that those most vulnerable receive both their doses of the vaccine as quickly as possible.  And, as with all we are trying to achieve, that means mobilising as many as possible, acquiring the vaccine as quickly as possible, and ensuring that we do not fall behind.  More volunteers, less red tape, oiled networks of rapid distribution to mass vaccination centres. We have led the world on this front, and we must now light the way out of this pandemic.
  • And, once the vaccine has been provided to those most vulnerable – which must be completed in the immediate next few weeks – there is no reason for us to continue with the restrictions.  The Government must lift them. Not wait until April. And certainly not impose a repeat next winter as SAGE advisors have intimated.

So, once again – given the economic, social, health, livelihood, business, mental health costs, the suicides, unemployment, insolvencies, each of which is a personal tragedy – I could not possibly in good conscience vote again to compromise lives and destroy livelihoods. 

I very much understand the enormous pressure under which the Government is operating, and applaud many of the mitigation measures that have been implemented so far. But, knowing that the vote and the regulations would pass, I felt strongly that the Government needed to know that there are still, small voices who have serious concerns, who would advocate a different approach, and who are deeply uncomfortable in supporting restrictions which will in themselves directly cause such personal, economic and social harm for their constituents and for our country.

6 comments

  • NOW that in my opinion is a very, very rational argument. I have also felt concerned that the “Data” has not told the “Whole” story. For instant what is the Death rate per 100,000 infected or better still 1,000,000 infected. Throughout out history there have been, viruses and bacterial epidemics. As someone who is 68 and type 2 Diabetic living in “Rural Somerset”. Need the data to reflect location as well so a death rate per 100,000 of infected Covid residents by district. Then a mature and rational judgment can be made for ones OWN risk.

  • David Warburton’s hypocrisy is breath taking. Try considering this statement and replace Covid with Brexit: “Many of us have repeatedly asked for the data – a cost benefit analysis – which can allow us to make an informed decision. The crucial question we have to ask ourselves is what is the cost to lives, to livelihoods, to businesses, to mental health, suicides, to all non-Covid related heath.” – Brexit is something for which we had several years in which to undertake a cost benefit analysis but we were never given the opportunity to see one.

    Then we have this:” In his broadcast to the country on Monday, the Prime Minster suggested that the lockdown would last until mid-February, but the regulations for approval yesterday actually gave the executive a blank cheque to maintain lockdown until the beginning of April. Three full months.” versus the recent vote by Parliament over 1 day of the Brexit bill that incorporates Henry VIII powered ie the ability of ministers to change the laws without ANY oversight by parliament with no end date ever – and MPs were given totally insufficient time to even understand what was in the Brexit Bill.
    “The Christmas lockdown cost the country the equivalent of an entire year’s NHS budget, and last year’s total costs are unimaginable. Another three months will not only literally cost lives, it will be devastating to so many others – both lives and businesses – while costing all of us, and future generations, almost £1 billion a day. ” whilst Brexit has already cost the UK billions in wasted civil servants time/ expected to cost business £7billion in customs declaration red tape alone / cost of lorry parks / custom officers to be employed etc etc – all to achieve absolutely zero and Brexit is expected to cost many businesses and their employees their livelihoods, and impinge on their mental health – this apparently is justified expenditure.
    Of course the cost of COVID didn’t need to be quite as great as it has been if Warburton’s party had not handed out multi million pound contracts to their mates with zero experience in the relevant field. Has David Warburton been vocal about this corruption? I’ve not heard him thus far.
    I suggest David Warburton pays a visit to his local hospital and sees for himself how many of the Covid patients are relatively young and the strain that the NHS is under (helped by years of austerity and failure to rain staff – thanks David and Conservative party). Allowing COVID to get out of control- as it now is thanks to the failure of this Government to act in a timely fashion is impacting on people with non Covid related health problems, and any day now people having heart attacks / strokes / car accidents etc will find there are no beds available for them. What is your immediate solution to the problem we are faced with due entirely to the current Government’s failure to take the required action in a timely fashion Mr Warburton. Vulnerable people shielding is not sufficient.
    Ofcoms guidance states that “Consistent with the right to freedom of expression, broadcasters have the editorial freedom to analyse, discuss and challenge issues relating to the coronavirus. If broadcasters include potentially harmful material in their programming, they must ensure they provide adequate protection for the audience from such material.” So what exactly is Mr Warburton deeply concerned about? That anti vac people are not to be given free air time? If only Farage hadn’t had quite so much free air time to spout his lies and misinformation.
    The final outrage is Warburton’s comment that “Liberty is like innocence: easy to remove but difficult to regain.” How very true- I once had the liberty to travel visa free throughout the EU, to live and work in any of 27 countries. Thank you for removing my Liberty Mr Warburton. I doubt I will regain it in my lifetime, or if it will ever be regained for citizens of the UK.
    This self justification reflects very poorly on you.

  • Alison Barkshire

    Information about rates per 100,000 is readily available, and shown broken down by town mapped across the county. For Somerset https://www.somerset.gov.uk/coronavirus/ then go to Dashboard.

  • Dr Malcolm Scobie

    After the SARS outbreak in 2002-3, governments around the world, including the UK, were advised by the relevant professional bodies, mine included, to prepare for a possible global pandemic. Such preparations to include sufficiencies of expertise, PPE, etc etc. The MERS and Ebola outbreaks reinforced the necessity for such advice to be taken seriously and acted upon.

    When, in 2010, ‘austerity’ was imposed on the UK public sector the capabilities we then had for dealing with such epidemics were decimated. Local government Environmental Health Services, wherein lay expertise in tracing contacts during outbreaks of infectious diseases, were cut back. Laboratories attached to local hospitals were stripped of their previous role of analysing community contact samples. Instead such analysis was given to a much reduced number of ‘centralised’ laboratories under the auspices of Public Health (England). No additional capacity was built-in and the flexibility to respond quickly and rapidly expand services when needed, was lost. The thought of increasing the UK’s capability of dealing with a global pandemic slipped down the list of HM Government’s priorities.

    More warnings of a possible pandemic were voiced by experts across the world. One such actually ascribed a name to such a pandemic, ‘Disease X’.

    In the UK the impacts of austerity were reinforced by those of Brexit, which became all-consuming in terms of focus and discussion. The warnings of ‘experts’ were lost in the hyped-up scepticism of politicians such as Michael Gove who loudly stated that we should not listen to experts!

    In December 2019 the emergence of the coronavirus cases in Wuhan, China was notified to the rest of the world. But it took three months for the UK to respond in any practical way. The response, in the form of the first national lockdown, should have stopped the virus in its tracks. The reason it did not was because the ‘lockdown’ was nothing of the sort. A lockdown in name only, still allowing overseas flights in and out of the UK, and with no attempt to fully control possible spread within the general UK population.

    All the measures since then have been, at best, half measures. One step forward, two back, a couple to either side, etc. The accompanying narratives have ranged from it being only the same as flu to a conspiracy to control the population by whomever.

    Advice and information produced by HM Government has been contradictory and confusing. Politicians and aides have displayed hypocrisy and irresponsible behaviour, whilst urging the population to behave in whichever way was the ‘flavour of the day’.

    Contracts for PPE, ventilators, etc were awarded to contacts of politicians, with little or no proper oversight as to capabilities and probity. Allegations of ‘croneyism’ and abuse of the public purse were made. Understandably, given some of the headlines and the enormous sums of public money being spent, or wasted in some instances. Initiatives (a redefinition of the word?) such as ‘Track and Trace’ were badly managed, so much so that eventually the much depleted local authority Environmental Health Services, with their long overlooked expertise in contact tracing, had to become involved.

    The whole episode has been mismanaged from the start. That is why we are in the current situation of rising numbers of cases and deaths.

    But the blatant dishonesty and prevarication on display is breathtaking. We are told that the case numbers are rising because of a new “more transmissible” variant of the virus. As transmissibility is dependent upon movement within the population – the virus does not spread without our help – this smacks of the politicians making excuses for their ineffectuality!

    And as for David Warburton’s statement I find myself even more despairing.

  • In this very long explanation, the statistic which matters most is the one David Warburton least considers: Hospital admissions. If hospital care cannot be provided, then many more will die and the Health Service will be overwhelmed to the point of being unable to manage all other illnesses. Unchecked viral spread will incapacitate health staff and other key workers and, rather than a lockdown, the nation will grind to a halt in uncontrolled mass- sickness. Countries who have rapidly locked down and tested scrupulously are the least affected. They have also suffered the least economic hardship. They are the statistics Mr. Warburton should be looking at.

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