IAN GALLAGHER: Is TV’s favourite Sage member Professor Susan Michie such a big fan of lockdowns because she’s a Communist once known as Stalin’s nanny?
Few of the Government scientists helping to shape the nation’s Covid strategy are as influential and ubiquitous as Professor Susan Michie. Not only is she a senior member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) but also two other groups guiding Ministers and she is regularly given a platform by the BBC and ITV to share her ideas.
Yet few viewers and listeners will realise that Prof Michie is a key member of the Communist Party of Britain and is dedicated to establishing a new socialist order in this country.
To her critics, it is little wonder that she is prominent among those demanding yet more Covid controls, bursts of short, sharp isolation and seemingly indefinite mask-wearing and distancing – the sort of policies favoured by the Communist Morning Star newspaper.
As the entrepreneur and former Channel 4 chairman Luke Johnson noted drily: ‘Susan Michie is a member of the Communist Party. They know all about controlling behaviour in places like Communist North Korea.’
Few of the Government scientists helping to shape the nation’s Covid strategy are as influential and ubiquitous as Professor Susan Michie
He might also have added China. Normally Prof Michie – who was dubbed Stalin’s nanny when she was a student at Oxford – is coy about her revolutionary politics but just before the first lockdown last year, she responded to someone praising China’s extreme measures of in dealing with coronavirus by tweeting: ‘China has a socialist, collective system (whatever criticisms people may have) not an individualistic, consumer-oriented, profit-driven society badly damaged by 20 years of failed neoliberal economic policies. #LearntLessons.’
It offered a rare window into the true beliefs of a woman who has been a Communist Party member for more than 40 years. Prof Michie remains at the forefront of the campaign to keep life closed down until the virus has been completely eradicated. Even this month, with the death rate plummeting and vaccinations proving an outstanding success, she co-authored a widely circulated article that demanded yet more restrictions on daily life and ‘maximum suppression’ of the virus here and around the world.
Not only is she a senior member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) but also two other groups guiding Ministers and she is regularly given a platform by the BBC and ITV to share her ideas
‘Public health leaders should focus on efforts that maximally suppress viral infection rates, thus helping to prevent the emergence of mutations that can become new variants of concern,’ she wrote on behalf of the Lancet Covid-19 Commission Taskforce. ‘Prompt vaccine rollouts alone will not be enough to achieve this. Continued public health measures, such as face masks and physical distancing, will be vital too.’
There are some things that Prof Michie – whose first husband was Andrew Murray, once a key adviser to former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – is rather less inclined to discuss, including money. Perhaps because she has so much of it. Indeed, she is the blue-blooded descendant of an earl who, along with her brother, sold a family heirloom – a Picasso painting called L’Enfant Au Pigeon – to Qatari royals for £50 million in 2013. This didn’t stop her once urging fellow Communists to support Jeremy Corbyn at a presentation with the words: ‘We, the working class…’
Yet few viewers and listeners will realise that Prof Michie is a key member of the Communist Party of Britain and is dedicated to establishing a new socialist order in this country
As Britain begins to emerge from lockdown, her critics remain puzzled at how a woman committed to the wholesale socialist transformation of society continues to be at the heart of pandemic policymaking. She is believed to be one of the experts who persuaded the Government to use fear to ensure people complied with lockdown rules, a strategy that exceeded expectations. So much so that it led to concerns over whether people would return to work, forcing Boris Johnson to publicly implore workers to get back to the office last summer. But earlier this year Prof Michie stamped on the idea, warning that people were ‘having to choose between the risk of serious illness or death and losing their job – not to mention the risk of spreading the virus on the way to and from work’. And she suggested click-and-collect services were opening Covid transmission routes and should be shut down unless essential.
Some psychologists believe the Government, acting on the advice of experts such as Prof Michie, emphasised the threat from Covid without putting the risks in context, leaving the country in ‘a state of heightened anxiety’. They also claimed that ‘inflated fear levels will be responsible for the ‘collateral deaths of many thousands of people with non-Covid illnesses too frightened to attend hospital’.
Prof Michie doesn’t see it that way. She says ‘persuasion’ rather than fear helped people stick to social distancing and favours giving people ‘an accurate perception of risk and therefore, for some, increasing the personal threat they perceive, along with being empowered to take actions to reduce the threat’.
Last year she was one of three government scientific advisers who criticised the Prime Minister for defending his then aide Dominic Cummings for driving more than 250 miles during lockdown.
One of the other two – though he wasn’t identified as such at the time – was her husband, Professor Robert West. He is also a behavioural psychologist, who works with Prof Michie at University College London. He tweeted: ‘Conservative MPs and supporters must be feeling alarmed at what is going on in Government. It is nothing short of a shambles with Trumpian levels of deceit. The people of this country are being treated like idiots and I doubt they will stand for it.’
To her critics, it is little wonder that she is prominent among those demanding yet more Covid controls, bursts of short, sharp isolation and seemingly indefinite mask-wearing and distancing – the sort of policies favoured by the Communist Morning Star newspaper
The couple, members of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), have both spoken publicly of their belief that the recent lockdown was too lax. ‘People are walking around the community spreading it, and the reasons are because of not having enough income or not enough practical support,’ said Prof Michie.
She added that it was not ‘just about what you cannot do’ but what ‘the Government should be doing to support all of it’.
Today, despite the optimism created by vaccines, Prof Michie and her husband cling to the idea of a ‘Zero Covid’ strategy that would see people locked up for longer, social-distancing rules imposed indefinitely and overseas travel curbed.
Prof Michie’s views on eradicating the virus were recently described as dangerous ‘nonsense’ by distinguished geneticist Prof Anthony Brookes of Leicester University, a signatory of an open letter calling for an end to restrictions.
‘If we continue with such stringent lockdown and suppression measures, the really nasty mutations of SARS-CoV-2 (which will always be out there – and likewise for all the other respiratory viruses) will be selected over the regular strains,’ he explained. ‘Instead of keeping us safe, her plan could help these strains to emerge and spread into dominance.’
Such criticism seems to cut little ice with Prof Michie, who was a keynote speaker at a Zero Covid rally in London at the start of the year, sharing a platform with Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the National Education Union, who congratulated his members for closing down schools.
Meanwhile, the Morning Star has noted approvingly that Prof Michie’s husband has been doing his bit, saying that Zero Covid has garnered ‘support among the Government’s own scientific advisers, including Prof Robert West from UCL’.
PETER HITCHENS: Fellow Marxists searched Professor Susan Michie’s baby’s pram for propaganda
The super-rich Communist Susan Michie is so militant that her fellow Marxists once searched her baby’s pram for subversive literature.
They lifted the tiny infant out of the way, to check that the future Professor of Psychology was not smuggling ultra-hardline propaganda into a crucial conference.
No wonder that fellow students at Oxford a few years before had called her ‘Stalin’s nanny’.
The super-rich Communist Susan Michie is so militant that her fellow Marxists once searched her baby’s pram for subversive literature
The 1984 pram-searching incident, disclosed in 2014 by a far- Left website called The Weekly Worker, is far from being the oddest thing about this interesting person.
The oddest thing about her is that she is a senior adviser to Boris Johnson’s Tory Government, a regular participant in the official Sage committee and the SPI-B committee, which have had such influence over the handling of Covid.
Yet despite, or perhaps, because of being very wealthy indeed, she has been a fervent Communist since 1978, and still clings to the Hammer and Sickle long after the collapse of her creed’s regimes from East Berlin to Moscow.
Her favourite place in the world is Havana, infested with secret police spies and one of the last tottering strongholds of Leninist rule.
It is quite possible to argue that Britain has undergone a revolution in the past year: a cultural revolution in which we have put health and safety above liberty in an astonishing way; a political revolution in which Parliament has become an obedient rubber-stamp and opposition has evaporated, while Ministers rule through decrees; and an economic revolution in which millions of previously independent people have become wholly dependent on the state for their wellbeing.
Perhaps, then, we should look for some revolutionaries. For what an opportunity they have been given by the Covid crisis.
The oddest thing about her is that she is a senior adviser to Boris Johnson’s Tory Government, a regular participant in the official Sage committee and the SPI-B committee, which have had such influence over the handling of Covid
Widespread fear of a mysterious plague led millions to seek safety in the arms of the state. But was this just a natural reaction, or was there any encouragement?
A now-notorious document was issued in March 2020 by Sage, called ‘Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures’. It concluded that we were not yet frightened enough.
It said: ‘A substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened.’ So we needed to be scared a bit more. It recommended: ‘The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging.’
Well, most of us can recall such messaging. Wherever can it have come from?
The Government, supposedly led by a liberty-loving conservative, deployed intense and repeated propaganda, about the overwhelming of the NHS. It united us around a sort of worship of care workers.
It cleverly portrayed quarantine measures, from house arrest to mask-wearing, as selfless and generous, so making nonconformists and dissenters appear stupid, selfish and mean.
Any society should have room for people such as Susan Michie, whose freedom of speech and thought I uphold to the end. But any society that places people such as her at the centre of its most important decisions is a society in danger
As such a dissenter, I can say with certainty that the Government completely crushed my side in the argument. Most people still don’t even know what we think.
Downing Street’s aim, no doubt, was simply to slow the spread of the disease. But were others hoping to ride the train of fear and threat a little further down the track, creating a new kind of society in which the State, declaring itself the main source of health and safety, distils power from fear?
Susan Michie has not responded to my requests for an interview, either directly to her email or through the press office of University College London, where she works. So I cannot say whether her lifelong belief in Communism, apparently inherited from her equally militant scientist parents and shared with her ex-husband, the former Jeremy Corbyn aide Andrew Murray, has had any influence on her advice. But let us look at some of the things that have been going on in the world of ‘behaviour control’ which she inhabits.
Laura Dodsworth, who has been researching the Government propaganda campaign for her forthcoming book A State Of Fear, says: ‘Behavioural psychology is deeply embedded in government now.
‘The problem is that a government which relies on behavioural psychology, and specifically the weaponisation of fear, has given up on trust and transparency.
‘The Government should trust people to judge risk and make the right choices.’
There is little doubt of this. But has the success of the vaccination programme and the apparent retreat of the virus ended this problem? Or are we in danger of being stuck with restrictions on our lives for good? Prof Michie seems to think so, demanding a global strategy of ‘maximum suppression’ of Covid-19.
‘No single action is sufficient to prevent the virus’s spread; we must maintain strong public health measures in tandem with vaccination programs in every country,’ she wrote recently.
And we can guess what that involves, all too easily.
There is a powerful counter-case to this astonishing call for what might well be unending severity and restriction – that vaccines work well against all variants yet seen and that natural immunity will work even better.
Vaccines reduce illness, and hence death rates, for all variants. Most young and healthy people are safe from Covid-19, and always have been. Most of the old are now protected from serious illness via the vaccine.
But can it overwhelm the idealists – Utopians in fact – of Zero Covid, a well-organised and active lobby who believe that the virus needs to be eliminated completely?
Susan Michie seems to be a supporter of this idea. On July 30, 2020, she tweeted: ‘To get people out & about, schools back, workplaces open, economy recovering we need #ZeroCOVID.’
On February 24, perhaps recognising that Zero Covid might put some people off, she tweeted: ‘ ‘Maximum suppression’ seems to be a good way of expressing the goal of ZeroCOVID (without getting side tracked into wilful or other misinterpretation).’
Where does this desire for elimination of the virus actually lead? Many people have praised China’s response to Covid. But in reality China still has Covid outbreaks, and responds to them with measures of extraordinary ruthlessness.
It has also used Covid to speed up and strengthen its worrying ‘social credit’ system, which puts everyone under surveillance, rewards conformity and punishes misbehaviour by denying access to the small joys of life.
Freedom is conditional, and the gift of the state and the Communist Party. In Peking, which is virtually Covid-free, citizens must use a smartphone to scan a QR code for every mode of transport. Contact-tracing is constant.
Anyone who leaves or arrives in the city must be tested. As David Rennie, Peking bureau chief of The Economist, recently observed: ‘It’s very hard to know where Covid containment starts and a Communist police state with an obsession with control kicks in.’
Which in a way completes this circle. Boiled down to its essence, Communism is all about believing your cause is so good that you deserve to have total power to pursue it. Your opponents are not just wrong, but bad. Ruthless methods are justified in suppressing them. All you need is an aim so shining bright that you are entitled to use almost any means to attain it.
In the last century, old Communism failed. Its claim to end poverty and create a more equal and prosperous society proved utterly false. Its methods – KGB torture and surveillance, Gulag concentration camps and that great concrete confession of failure, the Berlin Wall – were so grotesque that they were indefensible. But its supporters did not give up.
They found new causes – sex equality, global warming and now, perhaps most potent of all, the claim that the health of the people is the highest law, justifying an assault on freedom unprecedented in our time.
Any society should have room for people such as Susan Michie, whose freedom of speech and thought I uphold to the end. But any society that places people such as her at the centre of its most important decisions is a society in danger.
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