All posts filed under: UK

Vaccines and the Coronavirus Crank Crisis

When I last wrote about the rise of the coronavirus cranks for Quillette on January 16th, there were 37,000 people in British hospitals with COVID-19, and 1,411 COVID-related deaths on that day alone. The story that self-described sceptics had been telling themselves since the summer was a smoking ruin. As far back as June 2020, they had been announcing that the virus had run its course, that herd immunity had been achieved, and that there would be no second wave. They then dismissed a resurgence of the infection rate in August and September as a “casedemic”—a fraudulent illusion built on a glut of false positives produced by unreliable over-testing. The founder of the Lockdown Sceptics blog, Toby Young, claimed in June that the “virus has melted into thin air,” and predicted that “there will be no ‘second spike’—not now, and not in the autumn either.” In September, YouTube personality and low-carb entrepreneur Ivor Cummins declared that “the epidemic is over.” Asked what it would take to prove him wrong, he tweeted: “Simple. Excess mortality this …

Standing Up to the Gender Ideologues: a Quillette Editorial

On June 23rd, Britain’s Royal Academy of Arts put out a carefully worded five-paragraph media statement regarding German-born textile artist Jess de Wahls. “We have apologised to Jess de Wahls for the way we have treated her and do so again publicly now,” read the RA communiqué. “We had no right to judge her views … This betrayed our most important core value—the protection of free speech.” The controverted speech in question was contained in a 2019 blog post, in which de Wahls wrote that “a woman is an adult human female (not an identity or feeling),” and that trans women are “biological males [who] choose to live as a woman, or believe they actually are women.” These are statements that almost every person knows to be true, but which have become unfashionable to say out loud in highly progressive subcultures. And so, when a handful of people raised a fuss about de Wahls’ work being sold in the RA gift shop, Academy officials not only purged de Wahl from their inventory earlier this month, …

Breaking the Union

The purpose of the Scottish National Party, like that of other separatist political groups, is to break the nation state of which it is presently a part. The Catalan nationalists wish to subtract Catalonia from Spain; the Parti Québécois wish to cut Quebec out of Canada; the Vlaams Blok wish to split Belgium into two separate states; the Corsican nationalists wish to achieve independence for France’s largest offshore island. Scotland’s secession is now appreciably more likely than at any time in the past. If successful, it would mean that the United Kingdom, which for some centuries has been a significant (if now diminishing) force in the world, would be suddenly and seriously wounded. It would also mark a weakening of the group of Western democracies led by the United States, and of the “Five Eyes” security and information sharing co-operation between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US. The United Kingdom was created when England and Wales formed a parliamentary union with the independent nation state of Scotland in 1707. Spain would still …

Lesbians Aren’t Attracted to a Female ‘Gender Identity.’ We’re Attracted to Women

There is commonly held to be a difference between a sexual preference and a sexual orientation. Sexual preferences include preferences for blondes over brunettes, or macho men over pretty boys. At the more exotic end, they can include predilections for cars, chandeliers, and dalliances with farm animals. None of these are sexual orientations, though. Opinions differ on what makes an orientation an orientation, but my preferred explanation says that for a preference to count as an orientation, it has to be stable in individuals, widespread among the human population, and have a range of relatively important social consequences. Two such orientations are heterosexuality and homosexuality. They are defined in terms of specific patterns of attraction. You are heterosexual if you, a member of one sex, are stably sexually attracted only to members of the opposite sex to you. Alternatively, if you’re stably attracted only to members of the same sex as you, then you’re homosexual. If you’re stably attracted to both sexes, you’re bisexual. In addition to these terms, equally applicable to both males and …

Debate and Disinformation: The Ugly Quarrel Over the UK Government’s Race Report

Howard Beckett is the deputy leader of the largest trade union in the UK, a frontrunner in the race to be its new leader, and the elected representative of the country’s unions on the executive of the UK Labour Party. On Friday, May 14th, the party suspended Beckett, and he was reported to the police for tweeting this about the Home Secretary, a woman of Ugandan Asian descent: Although its use in the US dates back to the 1960s Black Power movement, the phrase “institutional racism” gained political currency on this side of the Atlantic following an official investigation into events surrounding the racially motivated murder of a black British teenager, Stephen Lawrence, in 1993. The report produced by this inquiry concluded that the Metropolitan police force investigating that murder was guilty of: …a collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. [Institutional racism] can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour that amount to discrimination through prejudice, ignorance, …

Between Hartlepool and Hampstead—Paul Embery on the British Labour Party and the Working Class

In December of 2020, Paul Embery published his first book, Despised: Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class, in which he argues that the working class no longer has a voice in British politics. Embery is a firefighter, trade union activist, and UnHerd columnist, and he believes that the typical Labour voter—like the typical Labour MP—has lost touch with the party’s former base. The catastrophic loss of Labour’s Red Wall of parliamentary constituencies in 2019 was the inevitable result. Embery identifies as a “conservative socialist” and considers himself unambiguously leftwing, whether or not the Left will have him. I spoke with him in early March 2021 to discuss his book and his unusual political perspective. *     *     * Paul Embery, tell us about the background of this book. Was there a key moment when you realised, I should really write a book about what’s happened to the Labour Party? There wasn’t a key single moment, but there were a series of events if you like, which occurred in the first decade of this century. …

Lockdown Scepticism Was Never a ‘Fringe’ Viewpoint

Whether or not lockdowns are justifiable on public-health grounds, they certainly represent the greatest infringement on civil liberties in modern history. In the UK, lockdowns have contributed to the largest economic contraction in more than 300 years, as well as countless bankruptcies, and a dramatic rise in public borrowing. This does not mean that lockdowns were the wrong policy, since they might have been necessary to prevent the National Health Service from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 critical-care patients. (And such measures are justified, proponents argue, on the grounds that they prevent infected individuals from harming others by inadvertently transmitting a deadly disease.) But as I will argue below, there’s plenty of evidence that supports those on the other side of this issue, notwithstanding the efforts of politicians, experts, and social-media companies to paint such dissent as marginal or even dangerous. * * * Throughout the pandemic, the British government has assured the public that it is being “led by the science.” However, a number of scientists and other commentators have disputed this claim. These “lockdown …

Scottish Nationalists in Turmoil

Who would have thought that Scotland’s largest party would be roiled by sex scandals? Sex is not normally seen as part of Scotland’s national brand, but it is now and it has not added lustre. The Scottish National Party (SNP) has, for nearly 90 years, sought the break-up of Britain, believing that the Union of 1707 between Scotland and England was illegitimate. It was attained by bribery of the Scots parliamentarians, thereby destroying the Edinburgh parliament and absorbing political Scotland into Westminster government. The home of eccentrics and literary men and women, nationalism was for a long time regarded by most Scots as a tartan fringe and a wasted vote. Before and during the Second World War, some of its leaders even leaned towards the Nazis, in the cranky hope that a German victory over England would deliver liberation for Scotland. To this end, the most prominent Scots writer, Hugh MacDiarmid, wrote unpublished poems calling for the Luftwaffe to destroy London, “the earth’s greatest stumbling block and rock of offence.” The electorate remained unconvinced. Nevertheless, …

COVID-19’s Death Toll: A Historical Perspective

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, public discussion of the virus’s lethality has focussed on two metrics: the infection fatality rate (the percentage of those who become infected that go on to die), and the absolute number of deaths attributable to COVID-19. The latter quantity has been estimated in two different ways: (1) the number of deaths in which COVID-19 was a plausible contributing factor (“confirmed deaths”), and (2) the number of all-cause deaths in excess of the average over the last five years (“excess deaths”). Governments typically report confirmed deaths on the basis of whether the deceased recently tested positive for COVID-19, or whether COVID-19 is mentioned on the death certificate. Many national health authorities also report data on excess deaths, much of which is compiled on the Our World in Data website. There may be a significant discrepancy between confirmed deaths and excess deaths. If a country lacks testing infrastructure or many people die without being properly diagnosed, confirmed deaths are likely to be lower than excess deaths (false negatives). By contrast, if many …

Rise of the Coronavirus Cranks

I am no lockdown junkie. I’d like to get that straight before I explain why the most extreme variant of lockdown scepticism is rebarbative and destructive. I will never forgive the government for dragging out the first lockdown for 14 weeks, pointlessly exhausting the public’s patience and sowing the seeds of the non-compliance we see today. I think the second lockdown was an unnecessary overreaction to a surge in cases in the north-west that was being dealt with by local restrictions. I think the 10pm curfew was counter-productive and the tier system was clumsy and unfair. I always thought “circuit breakers” caused unnecessary hardship and had no chance of nipping the problem in the bud, as their advocates claimed. It was criminal to not reopen the schools in June and I’m not entirely convinced they should be closed now. I scorn the likes of Piers Morgan and “Independent” SAGE who would have had us in lockdown all year if they’d had a chance. No amount of comparing Sweden to its immediate neighbours will persuade me …