‘Masks were a softening up exercise for Plan B,’ according to a government whistleblower. He told me that while there is little appetite in the Cabinet for a full lockdown, Covid Passes are ‘oven-baked’ and ready to go.
In my opinion, the UK government’s Winter Plan was always about Plan B. It displayed a classic ‘foot-in-the-door’ strategy – the raison d’être of Plan A was to prepare you for Plan B. Now winter is upon us, and the nudges fall in a flurry of torpefying snowflakes. Worst case scenarios, big numbers, salutary stories in the media, threats and cajolements are directed at us daily. Plan B is in motion as calls for working from home are heard from the usual suspects and we hear the Cabinet is divided on Covid Passes.
This seasoned government insider plays a key role on a Covid task force and has decided to speak out now because he is disturbed by the unethical reasons for mandating masks. Firstly, ‘It’s a highly political move to reset the Johnson administration’s orientation after bad polling over sleaze and corruption. If Omicron turns out to be super-bad and the public ask what the government did about it, the answer is we implemented masks. The one-way systems, plexiglass screens and masks are to give you an illusion of the government doing something. It’s just theatre. There is no evidence base or proportionality in favour of masks.’
Boris Johnson is a fan of deadcatting, a technique to deflect attention from one issue to another, akin to throwing a dead cat on a table during a heated debate to change the topic. Masks are a dead cat. In this case rather than throw them on the table, the government have slung them on our faces.
Face masks are increasingly discredited, but certain journalists fell hungrily upon a recent new study which concluded that face masks reduce transmission by 53%. The Guardian, The Times, Metro and New Scientist positively feasted. However, that fragrant soupçon of a percentage was based upon weak evidence, there were confounding factors and caution was required when interpreting the study, as Fullfact explained.
‘The public are annoyingly on board about masks’, said this task force advisor. ‘Journalists have not demanded evidence that they work. But the message from the government and the media is hegemonic – everyone says they do work.’
As I set out in my book A State of Fear: How the UK government weaponised fear during the Covid-19 pandemic masks are a nudge, even described as a ‘signal’ by David Halpern, the director of the UK government’s Behavioural Insights Team. Similarly, Professor Neil Ferguson said that masks remind us ‘we’re not completely out of the woods yet’. They serve as a visible public reminder of the pandemic, turning us back into walking billboards pronouncing danger. My source concurred: ‘Masks are a behavioural psychology policy. We need to stop pretending that it’s about public health. Nudge is a big thing in government.’
Despite ‘a pretty much unlimited budget to run trials’ they didn’t run one for masks ‘because they knew that they don’t work’. In effect, ‘the trial was Scotland versus England. And we found they don’t work.’
For this government insider the implications are now too serious to remain silent because ‘we are lying when we say masks work. They are a signal, a psyop. And we’ve criminalised not wearing them. Masks also transfer the blame onto individuals for the epidemic spreading. We have people counting the unmasked on public transport, policing each other. It is deeply unethical that we have set people against each other in this way. It allows the creation of an “out group” to blame.’ He points out that it is the government we should be blame for not increasing healthcare capacity.
The timing of our conversation is interesting. He speaks to me just before the news about Downing Street Christmas parties breaks. People are rightly angry about hypocrisy and the pain of their own cancelled plans last year. The nation suffered last minute restrictions while Downing Street enjoyed revelry. More than one million pounds in fines have been served to nearly 2,000 Covid-19 rule breakers at Westminster magistrates court, including throwing and attending parties, while Boris Johnson evades punishment.
But the real point is not the hypocrisy, or that we suffered while they did not. Rather it is that those who organised and attended the party had a different risk calculus. They did not feel imperilled by parties and gatherings. They knew they were safe, just as they know that masks don’t work. What we are expected to believe is another matter.
As these distasteful double standards are unmasked, Ministers are considering whether to impose Plan B and roll out Covid Passes. When the Winter Plan was published, we were told that the trigger to move from Plan A to Plan B was if the NHS comes under ‘unsustainable pressure’. This was left deliberately vague. If you were watching cases and hospitalisations with an anxious eye, I’m afraid you were missing the more important signs: stories about doctors’ anger at the ‘selfish’ un-jabbed, daily polling via Twitter, TV shows and Yougov about the national appetite for Covid Passes and mandates, and the reintroduction of masks.
There is an army of behavioural scientists, communications specialists and Covid task forces focussed on Covid. The government insider told me there are hundreds of people in this Covid apparatus, even though we are no longer in an emergency. Robert Higgs talks about the ‘ratchet effect’ in his book Crisis and Leviathan whereby the state expands in response to a crisis and then doesn’t recede afterwards to its former level. The aura of emergency will not fade and we risk ever more stringent and unpalatable restrictions unless this apparatus is dismantled. Furthermore, public reputations have been staked on enforcing restrictions, including journalists, scientists and politicians.
The government insider is brutal about the reality of our situation: ‘England is teetering on the edge of a depressing, bureacratic, safety-obsessed society. We’re not at the level of Germany or Austria yet, but we’re on a precipice nonetheless.’ On his primary reason for calling me, he said he is ‘ashamed how much people believe in masks despite the lack of evidence’.
Our leader’s masks are slipping, exposing hypocrisy, psychological manipulation and barefaced lies. Frankly, I am ashamed of them.