Home Politics The Curate's Egg In George Monbiot's Column

The Curate’s Egg In George Monbiot’s Column



It does actually happen sometimes, I find myself agreeing with a part of a George Monbiot column – parts of it are excellent that is. That the rest of it would shame the Bishop is just a return of a welcome normality.

The bit to agree with:

Take, for example, the lethal failures to provide protective clothing, masks and other equipment (PPE) to health workers. A report by the campaigning group We Own It seeks to explain why so many doctors, nurses and other hospital workers have died unnecessarily of Covid-19. It describes a system built around the needs not of health workers or patients, but of corporations and commercial contracts: a system that could scarcely be better designed for failure.

Four layers of commercial contractors, each rich with opportunities for profit-making, stand between doctors and nurses and the equipment they need. These layers are then fragmented into 11 tottering, uncoordinated supply chains, creating an almost perfect formula for chaos. Among the many weak links in these chains are consultancy companies like Deloitte, whose farcical attempts to procure emergency supplies of PPE have been fiercely criticised by both manufacturers and health workers.

Well, yes, he’s not the only person who has noted the failures of the PPE supply system. As I said myself:

The national attempts to source PPE have not been so successful, with the reliance upon central bureaucracy probably being the reason. As Friedrich Hayek pointed out, all knowledge is local. Things are best done by people who know what they’re doing.

When considering medical equipment we can even identify who those people are. We have a number of purchasing managers employed, and a number of sales managers. They are the experts in what is needed and what it is possible to supply. If they talk to each other then knowledge meets knowledge, and that’s the best chance of producing a solution. As opposed to the idea of everything being filtered through a bureaucracy that lacks
the essential information.

Given official intransigence, it is Edmund Burke’s little platoons who save the day. The website PPE Exchange has been cobbled together by the publicly minded, as distinct from the publicly employed, and does just what it says on the tin: it is an exchange for these necessaries, and one that claims to have two billion pieces of equipment available at time of writing.

Centralisation being the problem, a lack of faith in and use of markets. Amazingly, Monbiot’s source makes the same critique:

NHS Supply Chain – the organisation at the centre of this problem – was
created in 2018, after years of outsourcing of NHS Logistics. NHS Supply
Chain is technically a part of the NHS, headed by the Secretary of State.

As some have noted, centralised and national systems headed by a politician tend not to work. Good that we all agree.

But of course, this being Monbiot, we have the entirely bonkers as well:

It could all become much worse, due to another effect of corporate power. A report by the Corporate Europe Observatory shows how law firms are exploring the possibility of suing governments for the measures they have taken to stop the pandemic. Many trade treaties contain a provision called “investor state dispute settlement”. This enables corporations to sue governments in opaque offshore tribunals, for any policies that might affect their “future anticipated profits”.

So when governments, in response to coronavirus, have imposed travel restrictions, or requisitioned hotels, or instructed companies to produce medical equipment or limit the price of drugs, the companies could sue them for the loss of the money they might otherwise have made. When the UK government commandeers private hospitals or the Spanish government prevents evictions by landlords, and stops water and electricity companies from cutting off destitute customers, they could be open to international legal challenge. These measures, which override democracy, have already hampered attempts by many governments, particularly of poorer nations, to protect their people from disasters. They urgently need to be rescinded.

Government comes and steals your stuff. You can take them to court – to a court that the government doesn’t own, run and control. Isn’t this a pernicious breach of the elements of democracy?

It being worth noting that we do, domestically, have rules about compulsory purchase and that a full market price must be paid. Quite why foreigners shouldn’t have the same rights is never really explained, is it?



  1. Actually it is the secret part of the court that irks most objectors. Secrecy is the shield of the powerful and corrupt usually. Also useless mostly for military purposes IMHO.


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