I have long thought that incompetence was not a credible explanation for the government’s more extreme actions during the pandemic, so I welcome the article by two sociologists, Jana Bacevic and Linsey McGoey, which says that the government constructed a facade of incompetence, behind which it could manipulate events (The British government’s Covid strategy was never designed to manage the virus, 27 July). In particular, it initially refused the help of existing public health expertise in test and trace while liaising with Serco, Deloitte and others to set up a system (branded “NHS”) that channelled huge amounts of public money to private firms. This “illusion of incompetence” continues to allow the government to avoid responsibility for mismanaging the pandemic, while benefiting its cronies financially. The fact that the government is often in fact incompetent helps, of course, to foster the illusion.
Jana Bacevic and Linsey McGoey describe Dido Harding’s response to the spread of the virus and her argument that no one could have predicted that it would mutate, and therefore no one could be held responsible for the surge of infections. If Dido Harding had read Pale Rider, Laura Spinney’s account of the 1919 flu epidemic, published to coincide with the centenary, she would have known that in its second wave that virus killed mainly young people, having mutated from one that killed mainly older people. Yet again, those who do not take any lessons from the past are condemned to repeat it.