Getting the Big Calls Wrong

https://yougov.co.uk/topics/economy/trackers/how-the-government-is-handling-the-issue-of-inflation-in-the-uk
https://yougov.co.uk/topics/economy/trackers/how-the-government-is-handling-the-issue-of-inflation-in-the-uk

As a country the UK seems to be weathering the series of world ‘storms’ less favourably than other European countries.  In particular the impact of fuel, food and goods price rises seems rather at odds with the current rhetoric from the government suggesting that they are doing rather well. We look at three areas where they got the Big Calls Wrong!

Covid epidemic

The UK has had extremely high death rates. Of the large EU countries, only Italy saw higher death rates than the UK. The UK got the big calls very wrong. The primary mistake was listening to the more extreme right wing members of the governing party on ‘herd immunity’ which led to delays in going to lockdown, and coming out too early. We squandered away the advantage of having early access to a vaccine by making poor decisions.  In addition we failed to adequately manage the situation with PPE, by focussing on supporting suppliers aligned with the government and lack of oversight. Many millions of pounds were wasted which put the NHS under avoidable extra strain. Even more critically, we released sick and frail people into care homes illegally to infect other sick and frail people. UK government said that “we did a good job with vaccines”, but the comparative performance of other countries suggests they did a better job overall on Covid, despite being later with mass vaccination. Why? Because their big decisions made based on reason not dogma.

Having a Prime Minister who is a stranger to the truth makes it difficult to prove we got Covid wrong. However the fact people died at a higher level than other countries is pretty conclusive.

Brexit

When the decision was made to deliver Brexit, the original idea was to exit the EU and have a balanced trading relationship that ended free movement and allowed the UK to make its own trade deals. What in fact happened was that we pulled out of any organisation with the word Europe was in it. We left the Galileo GPS system we were key to designing and the European Energy Market system allowing us to buy ahead. Neither of these departures was actually a prerequisite to exit the EU. The overall impact of the type of Brexit we went for (which included pulling out of a perfectly workable customs arrangement) was that we greatly harmed the pound.  It has fallen from nearly $2.00/£ in 2008 to around $1.19 now. It is a fact that the UK pound fell so dramatically in 2016 and never recovered, directly as a result of the Brexit decision.

The government seems to think this is a good thing as it helps with inward investment like selling off parts of the NHS. However we buy fuel in dollars, which is why the UK pump prices have been so much higher even though the barrel price itself is lower than in the past. It was over $140 in 1980 and 2008 compared to around $110 at the moment. The fall in the pound is a major contributor to this exceptional petrol and diesel cost rise.   

So better decisions, even with Brexit, would have helped the recovery at least in part

War in Ukraine

This is another ‘Boris is doing great’ story. But that is all it is – a story. Yes the UK should stand proud that it is supporting Ukraine so well, but let us put this in context.

The UK and the US were supposed to guarantee to protect Ukraine if it came under attack as a result of it voluntarily giving up nuclear weapons according to the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. Both the US and the UK failed to support Ukraine and it could have done this outside of NATO if it wished. We failed to protect Ukraine on Crimea in 2014 and now there is a full on invasion we look to salve our conscience.  The US and the UK have supplied some weapons to Ukraine but the ones they need for air defence and those with a decent range have been delayed causing thousands of lost lives and lost territory.  A firmer position over Crimea would also have limited and arguably stopped the movement into Eastern Ukraine in the first place. But it is impossible to hide from the fact Ukraine was let down by both the US and the UK.

 So on three accounts the UK government did not get the big calls right. 

  • Failing to keep people alive is not a big decision got right
  • Failing to have a plan for a least damage Brexit is not a big decision got right
  • Failing in our obligations to protect Ukraine (twice) is not a big decision got right.

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