Joanna Williams

In defence of Isabel Oakeshott

Other journalists don’t like being confronted by their failure to hold the government to account

(Credit: Times Radio)

What shocks me most about Matt Hancock’s WhatsApp messages is the flippancy surrounding decisions to scare, manipulate and control the British public. We were told, repeatedly, that government ministers were ‘following the science’. But thanks to Isabel Oakeshott we now know that schools were closed, children masked, families and friends separated, visitors kept out of care homes and quarantine periods prolonged, less because of ‘science’ and more, it seems, for political convenience.  

So where is the outrage? People lost lives and livelihoods. Children missed out on education and exercise. Physical and mental health suffered. Lengthy NHS waiting lists and economic problems will be with us for many years to come. Yet, incredibly, the response to this scandal of unimaginable, incalculable scale, from most news outlets, is oddly subdued. Non-existent, even.

Far from leading every major television and radio news bulletin, the Daily Telegraph‘s lockdown files revelations are pushed down to item three or four. They’re an aside to the main events of the day. Deserving only of a brief mention, each new revelation is caveated with the same defensive statement from Hancock himself.

More astonishing still, where journalists do manage to summon up a scintilla of outrage, it is not directed at Matt Hancock, or the advisers who egged him on, but at Isabel Oakeshott. Radio 4’s Nick Robinson led the way, taking Oakeshott to task for breaking a non-disclosure agreement. Then Cathy Newman demanded to know how much Oakeshott was being paid by the Daily Telegraph for contributing to the lockdown files. Others have followed suit, arguing that Oakeshott has breached journalistic ethics by exposing a ‘source’ and is pursuing her own anti-lockdown agenda. 

What is wrong with these people? How skewed must your moral compass be to read about the arbitrary imposition of rules that devastated the lives of care home residents, children, small business-owners and many, many more, and conclude that it’s not Matt Hancock, nor any of the senior civil servants, special advisers and government ministers who need to be held to account, but Isabel Oakeshott? In what moral universe is Oakeshott the problem and Hancock the victim? Talk about shooting the messenger.

Various suggestions for this warped judgement have been put forward.

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