Richard North, 21/09/2020  

"'Punitive' fines for failing to self-isolate could 'undermine adherence' to the rules, Sage member says". So goes the Telegraph headline, retailing the view of Professor Susan Michie.

Michie says that the "punitive" new fines announced yesterday "will hit the poorest hardest and risk undermining trust in track and trace". And if Prof. Michie can see this, one wonders why the geniuses who thought up this policy didn't think of it as well.

Oddly enough, Andrew Rawnsley is in similar territory. He is asking, in effect, why the superforecasting genius Dominic Cummings is unable to forecast what time it will be in five minutes, even when he's looking at his watch.

Rawnsley takes a few hundred words or so to come to his conclusion, using Cummings's own favourite tome, Superforecasting, by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner. These authors have worked out that the worst forecasters are "those with great self-confidence who stuck to their big ideas", something which the great Cummings himself noticed.

These people, Cummings wrote in a review of the book, "are lousy at understanding the world and coming to good judgments about it". By contrast, the more successful are "those who were cautious, humble, numerate, actively open-minded, looked at many points of view".

Thus does Rawnsley ask: "which is a better description of the Johnson-Cummings method of government?". He asks his readers to guess if it is: "Cautious, humble, numerate, actively open-minded, looked at many points of view"?

That doesn't leave many alternatives, In fact, there's only one left: "Great self-confidence", which leaves them stubbornly wedded to their "big ideas". By the process of elimination, we are invited to conclude that that might just be the better description.

Such word games are great fun, and they do help us understand the world a little better, especially when we also have Nick Cohen explain what "meritocracy" means when viewed through the distorting filter of Cummings's mind.

However, what nobody seems to be keen to explain – or even venture a guess on – is how long the "ordinary Joe" is going to tolerate this succession of train-wrecks flowing from the desks of the No.10 policy wonks – as endorsed by Cummings.

It's all very well Matt "the knife" Hancock telling us we're in "last chance saloon", and that he will impose "heavy measures" unless the public responds to his last lot of "heavy measures".

But if people are not going to respond to the £10,000 fines that are the current offering, perhaps the next step is to impose million-pound fines. Perhaps he should make them a trillion a pop. That way, the national debt will be cleared up in no time – what's a few sub-prime outstanding fines between friends? They can still look convincing on the balance sheet.

Certainly, the plod most definitely seem to have got the hang of this Covid business. They and the courts have given up prosecuting ordinary criminals, thus clearing the decks to concentrate on lockdown-breakers, and isolation cheats.

For sure, there will have to be special, intensive courses for these brave defenders of the Hancock writ. After all, it isn't everybody who can count to six, and it's a bit difficult when you've got a big stick in one hand and a taser in the other.

Perhaps they'll have specially-trained "six-counters" with empty hands so that they can count on their fingers when they see groups of people, to work out whether the "rule of six" is being breached. You can see why Hancock wants to keep the number down. More than ten, and the plod would have to walk around bare-footed, to keep those extra digits handy – or footy.

Meanwhile, thousands of thugs, thieves and drug offenders can roam the streets unmolested. What is mere crime, when you can pick up a starving self-isolator off the streets? Who cares that they are out shopping because even Covid-positive people need to eat, and if you are living on your own, there isn't much alternative.

Largely, though, it ain't going to happen – at least not very much. A track and trace operation that can't even trace its own samples isn't going to be very efficient at passing the names of sample results to the plod. And, at the speed Harding's wonders are currently working, by the time the local plods have got the details, most of the isolation periods will be over.

What we really need, I suppose, are instant tests. That way, potential Covid sufferers can turn up to the testing stations to have their status checked. If they are positive, the plod can fine them for not having isolated, and get it over and done with. Everybody gets fined (except real criminals) and no-one has to feel left out.

As for the vulnerable people, the government should learn the lessons from its treatment of the care homes during the first round of this epidemic. Every vulnerable person should register with the local plod station, and then be required to take in an infected person as a lodger.

Very soon there won't be any vulnerable people, and the government can claim credit for sorting another problem. Perhaps Johnson can then claim a pay rise, in order to afford a nanny on top of his alimony and child-care payments.

It comes to something though, when all these good ideas are going to waste. Cummings should realise that he's not the only genius in town and open up to fresh input. Soon, there will be no more Covid-19 and all ten of us can get on with repopulating the United Kingdom.

In the meantime, so tarnished have become the reputations of the current gang of politicians that the powers that be are going to impose Britain's most senior government scientists on us.

Apparently, chief medical officer for England, Chris Whitty, and his sidekick chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, are to make a "rare" live televised address calling for us to be good little infectees and keep our viruses to ourselves.

Why we should be any more impressed with Batman and Robin, though, is a source of some mystery. These are the people who got the original plan wrong, and decided that a SARS-type disease could be managed in exactly the same way as pandemic influenza.

These are the people who sat quiet while NHS hospitals turfed out the infected elderly from hospitals into care homes, to infect the innocents. These are the people who actually failed to plan for a working track and trace system, before the event, so that we now have to suffer the magical mystery tour according to Dildo Harding.

With that, I rather suspect that these two will have little more effect than the jaded Johncock duo. Generally, there probably isn't very much the government can do to restore people's faith in the system, which means that anything they do will have limited effect.

There is talk, however, of calling in the Army again, but this time they should perhaps be used to shoot lockdown breakers and isolation cheats. That may be a little messy but has the huge positive of avoiding repeat offenders. If we adopt the admirable Chinese practice of charging the relatives for the bullets, the system can also be self-funding.

Even Cummings might approve of that.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

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