The Wokingham Paper

Why we haven’t had enough of experts

Neil Coupe
Neil Coupe

I caught part of a documentary about the abolition of Capital Punishment during the week.

There were some extraordinary insights into its history, but one of the commentators on the programme raised the point that when it was abolished during the 1960s this was not due to public opinion, which was in favour of maintaining it, but rather it was down to a group of determined MPs, at a time when the public was willing to accept that the politicians knew best.   

As he then went on to say, it would be very difficult to imagine this happening today.

At a time when faith in our leaders is so diminished, it is sometimes refreshing to be reminded of the calibre of people working in the background doing the real work.

On many occasions over the past few days, I have been hearing how reassured people have been by the presence of the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Officer.  

Maybe it’s the partly the grey hair, but listening to sensible, experienced and measured people, explaining their view on what is happening, giving clear advice and guidance, while openly saying that they cannot say with certainty how the coronavirus crisis will unfold, has been a source of great comfort over the past week or so.

The cynic in me does wonder whether the Prime Minister is so keen to be flanked by his two eminent Civil Servants, as even he appreciates that people need to be convinced that what he is saying is actually true and is supported by genuine experts

It does beg the question though why, up to now, our Government is so disdainful of ‘experts’, and why the Government’s chief advisor has made such an objective to fill the Civil
Service with ‘weirdoes and misfits’. 

How reassured would we be as a nation, during a time of an evolving, complicated and very real problem, if we were depending on one of these afore-mentioned ‘weirdoes’? 

There are times when experience and gravitas are required, and that time seems to be now.

Similarly, in a period where questionable news sources are so prevalent, and ‘fake news’ is so widespread, surely the value of BBC news be it on the television, online, or particularly, on the radio is clear for all to see, and attempting to defang or weaken the BBC seems to be yet another strategy that has not been thought through, or at the very least the opaque potential benefits may be outweighed by the unintended consequences.

Maybe the current problems will highlight how fortunate we are to enjoy the benefits brought by our long-standing institutions, such as the Civil Service and the BBC, and we may even start appreciating what we have got.

We cannot know how long this crisis will last and what the long-term implications will be, but hopefully, we shall all be doing our bit to prevent the possible spread of the coronavirus.

I was surprised to witness an exchange last week when somebody started sneezing into his hand, and when it was suggested that it may be a good idea to use a tissue and wash his hands, point blank refused to do so, and said he really didn’t care if anyone else picked up something from him.

In fairness, there was a half-hearted apology a few minutes later, but it does not augur well for what may very well be a very challenging few weeks for the nation.

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