Politics Explained

Coronavirus: Had enough of experts? This government is turning to them like never before

The advantage of highlighting expert advice is that you can blame them when it all goes wrong, writes Sean O'Grady

Monday 30 March 2020 18:07
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Second opinion: the Cabinet Office minister has undergone a Damascene conversion over the value of specialist knowledge
Second opinion: the Cabinet Office minister has undergone a Damascene conversion over the value of specialist knowledge

The deep irony of Michael “people in this country have had enough of experts” Gove solemnly reassuring an anxious public that the government is being guided by the best expert advice had not been lost on anyone. That Mr Gove can say such things with such a poker face is a tribute, of sorts, to his political skills.

One of the most remarkable innovations during this crisis has been the rise, or perhaps restoration, of the rule of the expert in public life. When the public need to learn more about the coronavirus, why it spreads so quickly and what we can do to try and avoid it, they turn to a range of scientists and, yes, to some journalists for the closest approximation to the truth as can be attempted. Never before have so many doctors and scientists popped up on television. The public do not, on the whole, turn to the politicians, though the relatively high approval ratings enjoyed by Boris Johnson suggest that trust in politics may not be as bad as some suppose, at least for the time being. But the experts carry the authority needed to get on top of a such as this.

Hence the habitual appearance of various medical and scientific officers flanking the politicians at the daily press conferences held in Downing Street and by the Scottish government. And, indeed, at the White House, where even President Trump must treat them with some respect.

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