Labour attacks Warburton for vote on COVID 19

On Wednesday 6 January David Warburton voted against a lockdown one of just 16 MPs to do so. Yesterday, 7 January Mr Warburton set out his logic in detail for making that decision. The Somerton & Frome Labour Party have criticised that decision. In a letter sent to The Leveller®, Sean Dromgoole attacks the reasoning given by Mr Warburton:


Thank you for setting out your thoughts on why you decided to vote against the latest lockdown so extensively. It gives an unrivalled opportunity to understand your thinking and rationale. I’m going to look at them in the order you wrote them, but I will draw together my thinking at the end.

Your first point is that you knew you had the luxury of objection, without the danger of overturning the result. This kind of gesture politics is frequently something that Her Majesty’s Opposition is accused of.  This time we didn’t, because we consider the issue of great national importance. Other times we certainly have. The point is, you voted against it because you disagree with it and, safe or not, you wanted to express that.

Your first key point is that you aren’t persuaded by the efficacy of the numbers that the Government and Sage are using. It is of course you, and the Government of your stripe, which are in the best position to fix that. When not being misled, by the Windows XP version of Excel, they have twice amended the basis of the figures already. I personally do have confidence they are getting better at it. You cite some interesting examples of why they might be swollen but surely the key point is this. If our ICU units are full and our infection rates are still rising, then they are going to get over-filled and at that point the system breaks down. We don’t need an inch perfect measure just to know whether its going up or down. The equation…

Full + Rising = Disaster.

… is all we need, and we are, by any measure, at that point. So, provided we can tell if it is rising or not the rest, with the greatest respect, is repositioning deck chairs on the Titanic.

You cite ONS figures for “deaths per 100,000, since 1993 ten previous years”. I would be grateful for your source on this. The below is from the ONS and shows a perfect parallel between the uptick in COVID deaths and the uptick in deaths overall. There can be no doubt that COVID has added enormously to the number of deaths in the UK in 2020. To suggest otherwise, based on anomalies from 27 years ago, is simply unhelpful.

Your point about no impact assessment having been prepared is a good one. I seem to remember no such assessment was made for Brexit. It is very much the style of this Government to prefer flying by the seat of its pants than to prepare, in any way, for the implications of its actions. In defence of the Government (not a sentence I use often), time was short. What we do know is that the cases of infection were rising faster than ever before and until the vaccine is fully rolled out the only control we have is to minimise the number of contacts. The further learning has been that while instigated with the best intentions, a complex regional tiering system has not worked and the only thing that has worked to control spread so far is a full lockdown.  No ifs, no buts, same rules for everyone.  It doesn’t take an impact assessment to know this much – so again deck chairs on the Titanic.

I would be grateful again for the ONS reference to 200,000 excess non-Covid deaths (and the Bristol ones that are “far higher”). There is a price to pay for lockdown. Had our ICUs become overloaded sooner, it is clear to me the effect would have been more pronounced. I clearly remember Chris Whitty outlining and including non-Covid increased deaths in his early presentations. The truth is lockdown, or no lockdown there will be a massive increase in non-directly attributable deaths during a major epidemic this lethal. People don’t go to hospital when they should, isolation and depression have tragic knock on effects and, as I keep highlighting, the health services get stretched beyond breaking point and start to fail the whole population – not just those infected with Covid. To blame this excess on the Lockdown, when the disease unchecked would have a similar or worse effect, is logically careless.

You dwell extensively on the cost of it all. Given our different political outlooks you might assume that I would rant on about “each human life being worth uncounted billions”. I won’t do that. You cannot run a country without a plan for how to pay for the bit that the Government needs to do. We will always disagree about how much the Government should be doing – that is the nature of the difference in our political beliefs. I propose to leave our fundamental differences for another day. What I would note about the money, is the grotesque amount being wasted on those with direct familial or friend-based links those in senior positions in your Party. The appalling list has been fleshed out in both the Times here and the New York Times globally. It has been utterly shameful and will doubtless be the subject of criminal investigation later. So, in short, if you are truly worried about the cost you should feel free to encourage your ministerial colleagues to stop their fast track for friends, who are very rarely the least cost providers.

I take your well-made point on media restriction. This is not that land, as both you and I know. Arguments have to be won, not dictated. Our shared belief in this has given rise to your explanation, and this, my response.

Then we get to your final point. The suppression of liberty. You are troubled that a Government has abrogated to itself the right to lock up it’s entire population. In your heart I believe you to be a Libertarian. Best defined in John Stuart Mill’s world changing essay “On Liberty”. It’s central tenet is that we, either as Government or as other individuals, shouldn’t constrain the right of a person to do what they want, as long as it doesn’t hurt others. It should be, in almost everything, up to us. It was a compelling 19th century system of thought – central then to the Liberal party – although it has since been more adopted by souls of the right amongst whom I number yourself. Again a political difference which for another day.

Did you also know that John Stuart Mill wrote brilliantly on meaning. Some of the best work since Plato. He divided the meaning of anything you might say into two parts. The Denotative and the Connotative. The “Denotative” is the direct logical content of a statement or a sentence or an action. It is the Ronseal “does what it says on the can” meaning. It is declarative but dull. The second “Connotative” meaning has been called “the realm of poetry”. It is the implication, the wit, the mood. It is how a sentence may be heard by others as well as what is plainly meant. As Mr Cummings, who I know you didn’t care for, might have put it – “It’s not just what’s been said, it’s the optics.”

It is in this realm that your gesture of opposition may be found woefully wanting.

In my mind’s eye I have the daughter of a local friend whose qualification as a doctor was brought forward last summer so that she could serve in this crisis. She embraced this. She has since been subjected to increasing workload and thinner ranks as the steps that were taken to make her job possible were always too little, too late. As she fights exhaustion and limited resources, I wonder what she connotes from discovering her MP has voted against the very measures that might just mean her ability to do her job doesn’t collapse around her.

In my minds eye I have the local renegade who will not have read your careful specifics, but has heard about it. He will just assume from your rebellion that he can carry on ignoring the rules because “Mr Warburton doesn’t believe in it, so why should I”.

In my minds eye I see the ninety-year-old widower, now alone at home because his wife passed during the second spike last year, desperately trying to work out why his MP is objecting to the very measures that might protect others from the abject bleakness of his lonely grief.

You may have had your reasons for voting the way you did David, although few of them survive scrutiny. The issue is how will your gesture voting be interpreted by your constituents almost all of whom are now knuckling down to another prolonged lockdown because of the failure of previous measures. The connotation of your parliamentary gestures is that you are scoring points while Rome is burning. The rest of us however. are quietly putting out the flames by adhering to the very rules you couldn’t support.

Sean Dromgoole, Chair Somerton and Frome Constituency Labour Party


  • Excellent and well-reasoned response by Sean Dromgoole. The statement by David Warburton lacked clear referencing (some footnotes would have added value) and seemed pretty lame by comparison. His points, if he really needed to make them, would have benefitted from a more logical exposition. As the days go by, and the COVID figures get more concerning, his objections to lockdown look increasingly risible. I just hope people aren’t deterred from following the rules to safeguard our NHS and slow the spread of the virus.

  • David never fails to disappoint, his voting record is unbelievable.

  • Government is struggling to control virus and keeps changing rakes with minimal notice. However, we need to support their efforts to beta the virus. Those who wilfully break the rules will take comfort from Mr Waqrburton”s words. If he really wants to help us then he should focus on arguing for more support for business, working people and families in Somerset. .this is the least that we should be able to expect.

  • I have written to D Warburton expressing my anger at his risible stance. The people of Frome are trying so hard to keep to the rules because they know how stretched are our NHS resources thus they need support form their MP not a “Cummings type ” attitude. Mendip may be lucky in its low Covid Numbers but its inhabitants are not selfish enough to ignore the plight of other parts of the country .

  • Please read this analysis by a new socialist group who can see the damage that continued lockdowns are doing. The fact that labour are compounding the damage done by the majority tory government is incomprehensible. It is a tragedy that they are putting political point scoring ahead of human suffering. We need facts in context. we need balance. we need PCR testing to only be counted as positive if tested in Pillar 1 Laboratories, with clinical diagnosis. The nation is being terrified and mislead. And why? for opportunistic exploitation. The comfortable middle classes that are working from home, and the independently wealthy are not the ones suffering, so they don’t care about the working classes whose jobs in tourism, hospitality, retail are disappearing. They pay for private tuition while children from deprived homes have no where to study. What is going on here is insane. So a blind eye is turned to those in government that are lining their pockets from contracts for the boys. This is not about protecting the elderly and the frail. we have had 9 months to take action and do this. This is about making as much money as possible, before their bubble well and truly bursts. It is criminal.

  • “I wonder what she connotes from discovering her MP has voted against…”

    “the local renegade … will just assume from your rebellion that he can carry on ignoring the rules”

    For all of the writer’s fancy references to ‘the connotative’, this type of argument — “you mustn’t argue this because if misunderstood, bad things will happen” — can be used against any speaker you like, if you apply it the right way. Taken to its logical conclusions, this is the kind of argument that can be used to suppress freedom of speech and the rational and scientific enquiry which depends on it.

    People’s potential misinterpretations of Mr. Warburton’s argument, or their emotional reactions to it, are matters which lie with them more than with Mr. Warburton. Mr. Warburton’s arguments should be assessed strictly on their merits. Your article up to this point is a good attempt to do so, but from this point onwards it descends into an emotive undermining of the right to rational debate, a right which is so foundational to our society and freedoms.

    • I think JSM’s point is that language, and by extension, debate cannot be purely rational. My point is that David should take more care with his political posturing because his words can have hugely unhelpful effects. There has been extensive too and fro on Twitter over this and what is entirely clear is that many of the people who support David’s stance do so because they don’t support the lockdown and don’t feel bound by it. They are emboldened by David. It would be good to have an MP, who in time of national crisis, supports the government and our medical leaders. So that for the next few dreadful weeks we all know that we are pulling together. Instead in Somerton and Frome we have an MP who seeks to undermine those efforts by voting against the very measures brought in to protect the NHS from overload. Of course I don’t normally support this Government, but just now, at the moment of peak crisis I do. David has chosen this moment to give succour to the Covid deniers, the anti-maskers, the 5Gers and the fans of that “other David” Mr Icke and distance himself from the efforts of the rest of us.

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