As a species we are pretty terrible at ‘learning our lessons and moving on’, the mantra which follows every adverse event from a needless war to a lost football game. The problem is we don’t generally do well at this. We move on, but do decidedly not learn our lessons.
Examples abound – the end of WW1 guaranteed the second, the hasty redrawing of borders after WW2 has led to the third major European war in just over a century. Brexit has come and gone, with no lessons from the damage it has inflicted, and we march on with environmental destruction despite the lessons which are so self evident with every exceptional bout of weather – currently a UK drought.
So what of the forthcoming COVID enquiry – will that help us create a better, more resilient society more in balance with the biological reality of the world? This is important.
We have history
A pertinent and recent clue lies in the inquiry into the Grenfell disaster, which took four years has cost a quarter of a billion pounds – mainly in legal fees. That equates to £3.5 million per bereaved family, many of whom are still struggling financially. The full report will be published in October 2023, then Scotland Yard will consider any charges ranging from fraud to corporate manslaughter from 2025. For the families, not only will the bereavement live on with them for ever, but so will the campaign for justice.
On the final day, Richard Millett KC, counsel to the inquiry stated the fact that the 72 deaths were totally avoidable.
He accused organisations involved in the refurbishment of spinning “a web of blame” and denying responsibility despite evidence of “incompetence”, “malpractice” and “dishonesty”. His initial fears the process would become a “merry-go-round of buck-passing” had been confirmed. He displayed what he meant with this graphic which demonstrated the complexity involved in getting away with murder.
The labyrinth of evasion and deceit revealed by the Grenfell Enquiry. Its likely the map of COVID contracting will look far more complex
Grenfell United, the families group, said “that we continue to live our lives knowing the evidence has been uncovered, and yet, there’s no change. No accountability. No charges”.
Will the COVID inquiry be any different?
The COVID inquiry has begun, and it has started with Downing street led farce. The government appointed the inquiry team whose brief included gathering all the information they need, including communications from those at the top. Baroness Heather Hallet has been appointed to lead the inquiry.
Heather is an interesting person. The daughter of a police officer, she was told at school that she would not be able to make it to university and fought against sexism to forge a stellar career and become the first female to lead the bar council. She led the 7/7 inquiry which is admired for its quality, so perhaps this bodes well.
Ignoring those telling you what you cant do was the defining factor in my becoming a doctor, even without having to deal with harsh sexual discrimination, so I warm to her history. She is well used to ignoring overconfident privileged men who exaggerate their own abilities, so good luck to her!
She has already reacted to government tardiness, stating that not releasing unredacted information would be a criminal offence. The government want to set up a judicial review to see if they could get out of having agreeing to this. This would be rather like asking the accused what evidence they would like to be excluded in their trial.
Presumably with his middle finger raised to Rishi, Boris then said he would let them have his texts after all. But only those since May 2021 – thus missing the critical catalogue of early pandemic cock ups. That was another phone says Boris and accessing those messages, he has ‘been told’, might not be safe. Safe for who I wonder? The government now want him to clear anything with the cabinet office first or he can pay he own legal fees. I can hardly believe Im writing this!
At least it distracts attention from one early focus of attention, the idiotic and dangerous “eat out to help out” campaign which boosted restaurants and hospital admissions.
In the Grenfell fire 72 people died needlessly essentially due to corruption flowing down from the top. During the pandemic tens of thousands of people died needlessly due to bad decision making at the top on the background of a paring back public services since the financial crash, along with a bucketload of financial corruption detailed so well by Private Eyes “Profits of Doom”.
We can all have our input to the COVID inquiry if we so wish, click here is you wish to add your story.
Why it matters
Political decisions can cost lives. In a democracy is to be expected that our elected representatives cannot be held responsible for decisions made with the best evidence and in good faith which have unpredictable outcomes. In that case, accountability rests in the ballot box.
Yet political responsibility is not matched by those of doctors, nurses or therapists who have to be responsible for negligence or lack of care. Like corporations, politicians evade responsibility for their actions, and there seems little comeback for the suffering and death they cause.
Perhaps the charge of corporate manslaughter, still years down the grindingly slow decision making pipeline of the Grenfell disaster, might also apply to government who cause death while falsely claiming they just did their best. When you have the expertise of the civil service and the best scientific advice available to guide thinking, decisions should be made in good faith.
Yet it’s clear to me there was incompetence, bad faith, corruption and arrogance, the political consequences of which should be prompt. By the time the inquiries conclusions are published, those political careers will have long become history and morphed in speaking tours, books, lucrative appointments to private sector boards and earnings by the squillion.
Before the long distant end of the process, I expect the environmental catastrophe to be making its presence felt in our daily lives – no significant rain for another month will certainly achieve that in the UK. The European war will have moved on to heaven knows where, at the very least devouring resources with a critical and catastrophic opportunity cost. In other words, the money could have been so much better spent.
We will have moved on, distracted from the lessons of the past by unfolding problems. An earlier quicker inquiry could have worked better but would have been politically unacceptable. The chance to learn quickly will have slipped in to the confused wake of our increasingly stormy seas.
Perhaps with the Artificial Intelligence genie out of the bottle, new super intelligent forms of “being” will emerge and work out that we cannot carry on like this, that biggest threat to life on this planet is us humans and our inability to read the capitalised exclamation mark laden writing on the wall.