DOMINIC LAWSON: Under Labour, unions would jump the vaccine queue

DOMINIC LAWSON: Under Labour, unions would have jumped the vaccine queue, but voters preferred fairness

There’s no gratitude in politics, they say. But this aphorism appears to have been refuted in last week’s multiple elections.

The Conservatives in England, the SNP in Scotland and Labour in Wales: all were rewarded.

The point is that in each of our nations, the leaders of these (governing) parties were fronting up the Covid vaccination programme, and were the principal public voice of the policy. It has been extraordinarily successful. So, to the administrators, the political spoils.

The Conservatives might be perplexed, given the vaccination triumph rested so heavily on Boris Johnson’s wise decision not to join in the pan-European procurement system, that the pro-European SNP and Welsh Labour have benefited from a policy they would not have chosen.

But to be fair to the Scottish and Welsh First Ministers, Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford, they never challenged the way the vaccines were distributed. Whereas the Labour Party in England did.

And we should not forget it — because it reveals something about why they have become so unpopular.

Priority

In January, the English Labour Party objected to the jabs schedule set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which was to prioritise purely on the basis of risk of dying from Covid.

We were all ranked by age, eldest first — with only front-line health workers given higher priority, regardless of age. It was simple, fair and based on the best medical assessment of risk of death from Covid.

But Keir Starmer’s Labour Party disagreed, and argued that all ‘key workers’ should be prioritised. Or, as its press release declared: ‘Approximately 6.2 million key workers would benefit from being moved up the priority list.’

Keir Starmer’s Labour Party challenged the way the vaccines were distributed and it might have lost votes because of it

Doubtless they would. But the inevitable consequence, had Labour’s policy been adopted, would have been to delay the vaccination of older, more vulnerable people, with, literally, fatal results.

Needless, to say, all the ‘key workers’ Labour sought to prioritise were in the public sector, whose trade unions are the party’s most significant financial backers. Follow the money.

The most voluble supporter for this policy was Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner, who has just been removed from her position as party chair, allegedly because she was responsible, as ‘campaigns coordinator’, for Labour’s abject performance in the Hartlepool by-election.

The most voluble supporter for Labour’s ‘public sector first’ policy was Deputy Leader Angela Rayner, who has just been removed from her position as party chair [File photo]

Having heard Rayner’s deplorable defence of the party’s ‘public sector first’ vaccination policy on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, I thought at the time this was not a person you should put in charge of anything.

She was, in that interview with Justin Webb, specifically demanding that teachers be given special priority. 

But when Webb put it to her that this ‘would make the delay longer for other people … those over the age of 65’, Rayner blithely retorted that ‘we wouldn’t be pushing them down, because the Government can deliver more vaccines’.

Untrue

But first, the NHS was already getting as many vaccines as they could handle; and second, no matter what the pace, if you had put teachers ahead of the over 65s, you would still be relegating, in the pecking order, those at much higher risk of dying from Covid.

Rayner even told the BBC that ‘all front-line key workers, including teachers, are more at risk of infection and death, and that’s a fact.’

Not only was that untrue (England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, had already pointed out: ‘Is there a clear signal in the data of a markedly increased risk of infection or mortality in teachers? No.’), the figures showed that the professional group most at risk of dying from Covid were restaurant managers: way, way ahead of teachers.

Rayner’s defence of Labour’s vaccine policy called to mind the comedian Diane Morgan’s creation, Philomena Cunk — also a redhead with a strong Northern accent

Indeed, the risk to teachers was even lower than that of the working age population as a whole. Restaurant managers, however, are not part of the Labour/public sector union nexus.

So farcical was Rayner’s defence of Labour’s policy, she reminded me of the comedian Diane Morgan’s creation, Philomena Cunk — also a redhead with a strong Northern accent — who started life in Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe.

In fact, Labour’s policy was little different from what had actually happened in much of the EU. 

Rayner claimed that teachers were more at risk of death and infection from Covid-19, despite this England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jonathan Van-Tam (pictured), having already pointed out: ‘Is there a clear signal in the data of a markedly increased risk of infection or mortality in teachers? No’ 

Not only was their rollout much more sluggish than ours, but in many of those countries, notably Portugal and Italy, the public sector unions had ensured that their members got priority.

This is yet another reason why the decline in the deaths of the elderly from Covid there has been so much less rapid than in the UK. (Our fatalities among those aged 70 or over have fallen by 98 per cent since the peak in January.)

Pressure

In February the Portuguese former Europe Minister, Bruno Macaes, an outspoken admirer of the UK’s approach, observed of his own nation: ‘You have to understand the country is organised around corporatism. So the police will get vaccinated, the firemen … the politicians. Only at the end the elderly, because they are a mere age group and don’t even have a union, the poor fellows.’

The Portuguese former Europe Minister, Bruno Macaes, is an outspoken admirer of the UK’s approach to vaccinations, observing that own nation ‘is organised around corporatism’ [File photo]

It so happened that our own Government came under great pressure from the police to give them special treatment. 

The head of the Met, Dame Cressida Dick, had asked them to do so, and declared herself ‘extremely disappointed’ that officers had not been prioritised.

The head of the Met, Dame Cressida Dick said she was ‘extremely disappointed’ that police had not been prioritised for vaccines [File photo]

When I raised this with a friend at the heart of the vaccination scheme, he told me with a sigh: ‘Every department in Whitehall argued that its stakeholders were a special case.’

It was vital for the Government, as a whole, to hold the line against this: not just in the interests of saving the greatest number of lives, but also to prevent the vaccination queue becoming an unedifying competition between various vested interests. 

If that had happened, it would have undermined the societal solidarity and fairness which have been so important in our battle against Covid.

When solidarity and fairness are displayed by the Conservatives, rather than Labour, no wonder Hartlepool chose blue over red; and no wonder Keir Starmer seems confused.

Watch out Fogle! My Chihuahuas might give you a nip

What foolishness is this? In last Thursday’s Mail, Ben Fogle denounced that splendid breed, the Chihuahua: ‘What is the point of such yappy little dogs? You can’t go for lovely long walks with them.’

We have three delightful Chihuahuas who all adore going for walks, of any duration. Why would they not? As Fogle points out, little dogs have oodles of energy.

His article was a commentary on a recent report from the University of Helsinki that ‘small breeds are by far the most likely to attack humans’.

That may be — but if owners of Chihuahuas thought like Fogle and never took their dogs for a walk, it is obvious the poor mutts’ pent-up energy might result in aggressive behaviour.

Chihuahuas have oodles of energy and are handy companions for anyone with a rat infestation as their origins in Mexico were as ratters. Pictured: Lawson’s three Chihuahuas out for a walk

It would be yet another demonstration of the rule ‘blame the owner, not the dog’. And Chihuahuas get a bad name precisely because too many owners wrongly consider them a ‘handbag dog’ and treat them accordingly.

In fact, their origins in Mexico were as ratters — and their tiny size was engineered to enable them to hunt in apertures too small for standard breeds.

We have certainly benefited from this: it is only our Chihuahuas’ ‘high prey instinct’ (as the textbooks call it) which has kept our infestation of rats down to tolerable levels.

On many nights we hear a penetrating squeal — which is the noise a rat makes when suddenly seized in the jaws of one of our Chihuahuas.

And, for the record, they’ve never done that to a human.

They might make an exception if they came across Ben Fogle, however, because they are sensitive creatures, and resent hurtful comments.

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