Your money or your life? The coronavirus started the last cultural war | Polly Toynbee | Opinion

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Uunity did not last long – and rebellion broke out from the right. What started out as a mockery of the police officer is booming into deep dissent over the entire coronavirus lockdown policy. A reported conflict between Matt Hancock in health care and Rishi Sunak in the Treasury over its costs and benefits seeps into the right-wing press in what is beginning to be a deep cultural war – your money or your life.

He went up in the Mail, the Times and the Telegraph. Here is Jonathan Sumption who takes matters into his own hands in the Sunday Times: “As soon as scientists start talking about a month, or even three or six months, we enter a kingdom of sinister fantasy in which the remedy has become the most great threat to our society … Generations to come are grappling with high levels of public and private debt. These things also kill. “The Mail on Sunday promotes criticism that would let the virus tear up:” Professor Graham Medley, the government’s chief pandemic modeler, said that the only viable path through the health emergency would be to let people become infected so that they are no longer vulnerable … Domestic violence and burgeoning mental health problems could be generalized if the normal functioning of society remains paralyzed, according to Professor Medley. “

Social Democratic Sweden has become the unlikely beacon of hope for the right, the country refusing to close. Fraser Nelson writes in the Telegraph: “For the Swedes, the rest of the world is having a reckless experience.” Conservative Swedish economist and head of Brussels think tank Fredrik Erixon denounces the Spectator’s lockdown, citing Orwell on self-censorship and the threat of totalitarianism. As Swedish crown cases increase, they can also deviate, although if they remain as they are, they act as control of the world.

This attitude has spread from exhibitionists and regular right-wing opponents to comments from people like Luke Johnson, president of Risk Capital Partners and Institute of Cancer Research. In the Sunday Times, he said that “with an exaggerated fear of falling ill with the coronavirus and dying – we slowed the nation down and we all became hypochondriacs.” He fears for the moral fiber of the nation: “The closure contributes to eroding the work ethic of a generation.”

Expect this low rumble to turn into a libertarian crescendo, despite polls showing the country overwhelmingly in favor of life-saving isolation, the Queen captivating the national mood. The opposition questions delays, procrastination, disastrous lack of testing and lack of public sector preparation, austerity – but most importantly not the foreclosure itself. When it is all over, when the costs have been calculated based on assessed deaths and long-term social and economic damage, we can know who was right, although with the life and death stakes in this cultural divide, we cannot expect either party to admit defeat.

Before going to the hospital, Boris Johnson said he had “a scientifically directed step-by-step plan of action.” He didn’t do it, he zigzagged, but at least that seems reasonable. However, it is difficult to follow “science” when epidemiologists fall. Who’s right about the numbers and the death toll, the alarmist at Imperial College London or the moderate at Oxford University? We have a baseline for flu deaths in the UK: there was no outcry during the winter 2014-2015 flu toll of 28,189. Any wise government would have was petrified by Imperial’s worst warning of 510,000 dead if no action had been taken. Now watch each side choose their scientists based on their state of mind.

On the big question, the public wants no price on life: if asked, it wants all cancer drugs at all costs, even if it delays death by only a few months. People prefer that everyday political decisions weighing life against money are made through a dark glass. Less money for the homeless, social care, poor families or maternity services leads directly to death, as measured by forensic science by Michael Marmot of the Institute of Health Equity. Poverty is killing, infant mortality is increasing for the first time in decades, and the poorest women are dying younger – although that never worries the law. The economic downturn will kill and hurt: the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Resolution Foundation show that the youngest, the lowest paid and women will be the most affected. Cancer Research UK chief clinician Professor Charles Swanton warns that curable cancers will become inoperable when treatment is stopped. It is not possible to avoid compromises, although they can always be hidden. Denying the lives of the elderly to save the youth of the future seems brutal – but for the poorest, the lack of social services and day centers is already reducing life.

It is not only in a crisis that health care is rationed. Labor created the admirable National Institute for Excellence in Health and Care (Nice) to make it explicit: in treatment costs, a year of life adjusted according to quality (one qaly) is worth 30,000 £. Professor Gill Leng, the new director of the institute, was asked to produce quick Covid-19 guidelines, but, uniquely, “we were told that cost was not an issue,” she says. . “What’s best for the service.” For intensive care in adults, the Nice algorithm uses the clinical frailty scale, “a holistic approach”. Dementia is rightly included as an undesirable frailty in the dashboard.

Will Nice ever assess in qalys if the losses of a struggling economy were worth the gains in life years saved in the lockdown? It all depends, says Leng, on the quality of the data: she hopes someone tries to assess it. For now, “the key question is the exit, how to get out? Testing is essential, but she opposes the release of the lucky ones who are immune first. “In the end, only solidarity, all of this together, will allow us to get through. “

How strange it is that the usually “patriotic” voices, the nostalgic “right minded” nostalgics who are the first to break this solidarity.

Polly Toynbee is a Guardian columnist

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