Tag Archives: Brexit

A week in the COVID 19 crisis from a UK perspactive.

COVID-19 in the UK. A Week in an Underprepared Nation

A week in the COVID 19 crisis from a UK perspactive.
A week in the COVID 19 crisis from a UK perspective.

New research from the University of Huddersfield has starkly warned that the local authorities of the UK are unprepared for the sheer numbers of deaths likely to be caused by the spread of the COVID-19 novel strain of the coronavirus.

In a paper published in the journal Emergency Management Review, the authors warn that major increase in mortality rates and staff absences will mean a struggle to issue death certificates, leading to a bottleneck in burials and cremations, with mortuaries filled beyond capacity, adding that even if fatality rates are at the lower end of expectations — one per cent of virus victims — it is highly likely that death and bereavement services will be overwhelmed.

The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for Coronavirus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

As well as analyzing the readiness of local authorities, the authors including Dr Julia Meaton, Dr Anna Williams and researcher Helen-Marie Kruger, drew on data from previous pandemics. Their findings are based on research conducted in 2019 which aimed to assess how well prepared the UK was to handle a potential flu pandemic.

This is by far from the first time that medical professionals have warned the UK authorities that their response to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping that the globe is insufficient. Much of this criticism has focused on the UK authorities failing to secure sufficient medical equipment to handle the growing crisis.

When future generations look back at the handling of this crisis by Boris Johnston’s government they will likely be forced to navigate a litany of lousy excuses, u-turns, bluffs, under the table deals, incompetence and the collapse of the NHS after a decade of neglect. An NHS already at breaking point before the onset of a global pandemic and the health crisis it has wrought.

What follows are revelations of mishandling and blunders that have unfolded during just one week of this crisis. 

Missed emails and missing ventilators

Even as the aforementioned paper was being published, the Government was facing accusations of failing to secure 25,000 ventilators — a potentially life-saving piece of equipment — from UK manufacturer Direct Access. 

The Cheshire based company claim that it informed the UK Department of Health that it could secure the 25,000 ventilators and 50 million coronavirus testing kits, yet its e-mail went unanswered for two weeks. During this intervening period, Direct Access says that the equipment was purchased by other countries. Cabinet Minister, Michael Gove, has apologised for the error and promised to investigate the situation.

“No one seemed to be taking us seriously,” says Andy Faulkner, the manager of Topland, a Dubai firm helping Direct Access obtain ventilators, adding that the two companies offered the government 5,000 units a week over five weeks — but initially received no response. “They asked us to register on the ventilation website, which we did, and then waited another five days for any response.”

Faulkner concluded by saying that it could be as late as July before the companies could offer the NHS any further equipment, even were it to be ordered immediately. 

“Brexit over breathing”

The error comes on the heels of the revelation that Johnson’s government had failed to enroll in the EU scheme to jointly obtain ventilators to avert the predicted shortfall over the following critical weeks. 

The official line from Downing Street was initially that as they were no longer part of the European Union then it had been believed they could not be part of the scheme, an excuse so flimsy that the Independent referred to it as “Brexit over breathing.” Downing Street later clarified that the failure to register in the programme was a result of a communications mix-up. A claim that has been dismissed by Brussels.

On Friday a spokesperson for the EU made it clear that the 11-month transition period during which Britain makes its exit includes an allowance for the country to join in any “joint procurement” programmes. They continue: “The member states’ needs for personal protective equipment have been discussed several times in the meetings of the health security committee where the UK participated.

“At these meetings, the commission stressed its readiness to further support countries with the procurement of medical countermeasures if needed, so member states and the UK had the opportunity to signal their interest to participate in any joint procurements.”

Number Ten did state that they would take part in any future measurements to procure ventilators undertaken by the EU.

To many, this may be seen as an assurance that is both too little and too late. It is estimated that the UK will need 30,000 ventilators to deal adequately with the deepening COVID-19 situation. The NHS currently has an estimated 8,000 machines, with a further 8,000 expected to be ready for the end of April. A deeply worrying shortfall. 

What has come as a shock to some, is that the Government has approached a manufacturer to produce ventilators, albeit one with no prior history in building medical devices and equipment. 

Help from unusual sources

The company Dyson unveiled a prototype ventilator — the Co Vent — just last week, immediately garnering an initial order for 10,000 units from Westminister. The deal will be based upon the device passing tests from expert clinicians and health regulators, according to a spokesperson for Boris Johnson. 

The involvement of the company, founded by billionaire Brexit-supporter and Tory-part donor James Dyson, has garnered a great deal of scepticism, with a representative from Penlon-part of the ventilator Challenge UK consortium — stating that it is deeply unrealistic to design a new ventilator and rapidly begin producing tens of thousands of the device. 

Why have a ventilator by a leading manufacturer in the field when you can buy 10,000 unbuilt prototypes from a Tory donor? Credit: Dyson.

There is, of course, some crossover between the ventilator and the machine that made Dyson a household name, the vacuum cleaner. Both machines are designed to pump air efficiently, and some of the parts are similar. If this doesn’t inspire much Dyson have employed the Technology Partnership — a company that employs some scientists with experience in designing medical interventions — to assist them. Dyson has also pledged to donate 4,000 Co Vent units globally to help fight against COVID-19, as well as promising to donate a further 1,000 devices to the UK.

Fortunately, the NHS is receiving help from a somewhat unexpected source to help tackle other shortages. A medical fetish website — MedFet Uk has donated its entire stock of disposable scrubs to the NHS after it was approached by procurement representatives. 

“Today we donated our entire stock of disposable scrubs to an NHS hospital. It was just a few sets, because we don’t carry large stocks, but they were desperate, so we sent them free of charge,” the company said in a statement posted on their Twitter account. 

The scrubs donated by medical fetish website MedFetUK

Whilst the company has received rightful praise, it seems utterly terrifying that so many years of abuse, neglect, and cost-cutting measures by the Tory Government has left NHS is such dire need of essentials they have to appeal for help from a fetish website. 

The MedFetUK Twitter statement went on to reflect this sentiment, concluding: “So when it’s all over…and the doctors, nurses and other staff have done an amazing job (as they undoubtedly will despite the circumstances)… let’s not forget, or forgive, the ones who sent the NHS into this battle with inadequate armour and one hand tied behind its back.”

First Brexit-induced psychosis documented by medics

Politics and health often intertwine, sometimes in hard-to-predict manners. In the UK, a man was brought to the emergency room following a psychotic episode induced by Brexit — the country’s unilateral decision to withdraw from the European Union.

The man in his 40s was brought to the hospital in an acute psychotic state, 3 weeks after the European Union referendum results in the UK were declared. His mental health had deteriorated rapidly following the announcement of the results, with significant concerns about Brexit. He “had auditory hallucinations, and paranoid, referential, misidentification and bizarre delusions”.

“Political events can act as major psychological stressors and have a significant impact on the mental health of people, especially those with a predisposition to develop mental illness,” researchers write in the British Medical Journal.

The patient’s situation gradually improved within 2 weeks of medical treatment. Unlike the British political climate, the patient made a complete recovery — but the diagnosis of Brexit-induced psychosis lingers as an aide-memoire of how stressful political.

Psychotic politics

Psychosis is a broad medical term, usually referring to hallucinations or delusions about things that don’t exist. Oftentimes, psychosis is triggered by an underlying mental illness, but it can also be triggered by extreme stress, fatigue or brain injuries. Traumatic events can also trigger psychotic events.

In this case, the patient experienced increasing stress since the Brexit referendum. He became increasingly agitated and concerned about the racially motivated incidents following the referendum. He found it harder and harder to sleep and make sense of the political events unfolding before him. Drugs prescribed initially to alleviate these symptoms were ineffective, and his mental state continued to worsen until he was admitted to an acute psychiatric facility, where he stayed for 3 weeks.

The case is medically instructive, showing how acute stress produced by current events can produce serious psychological symptoms. Overall, stressful events precede up to 50% of all psychotic events, but the exact mechanisms through which the stress acts are still unclear.

But at the broader level, it also gives an indication of how much of the British population felt following the divisive vote. A recent study found that Brexit uncertainty affected the mental health of 1 in 3 young adults, and antidepressant consumption has increased starkly after the referendum. Simply put, aside from being a social, economic, and political issue, Brexit is also now a mental health issue, negatively affecting the British population, with no clear solution in sight.

UK sees climate change as more important than Brexit

Despite the messy negotiations of Brexit — i.e. Britain leaving the European Union — United Kingdom citizens believe that climate change is a more important issue and should be a top priority to the newly-appointed Prime Minister Boris Johnson, according to a new survey.

London’s skyline. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

 

Up to 71% of the UK public agreed that climate change would be more important than the country’s departure from the EU in the long term, the ComRes survey showed. Six out of 10 adults said the government was not doing enough to prioritize the climate crisis. The study, commissioned by Christian Aid, found that women and young people were more likely to say that action over climate change is a more pressing priority than issues around Brexit. The trend was also more pronounced on residents from Wales and the East Midlands.

“It’s clear that beyond the present political turmoil, UK adults know there is a bigger crisis which is potentially catastrophic for the whole of humanity – particularly some of the world’s poorest people, who are more vulnerable to the effects of this climate emergency,” Christian Aid’s director of advocacy Laura Taylor said.

Almost two-thirds (61%) of respondents said the Conservative Government led by Johnson is not doing enough to prioritize climate actions, despite its recent setting of a net-zero goal for 2050. Key concerns voiced included a lack of policy around decarbonizing transport.

When taking office this week, Johnson gave an inaugural speech and briefly mentioned the environment. He said Britain was “leading the world in the battery technology that will help cut CO2 and tackle climate change and produce green jobs for the next generation”.

“I hope the Prime Minister will hear the challenge from the majority of the UK public to do more to tackle this climate emergency. We need a rapid and radical shift to reduce emissions in the UK and we need global action for climate justice in which the most vulnerable communities are supported,” said Taylor.

The survey came at the same time the UK tries to solve its exit from the EU, now with a new Prime Minister. The UK voted to leave the EU through a referendum in 2016, with leave winning with 51.6% of the votes. Since then, the exit has proven more difficult than initially expected.

The UK was supposed to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, two years after it started the exit process. But the withdrawal agreement reached between the EU and the UK has been rejected three times by UK MPs. A six-month extension was now granted until 31 October.

The consequences will likely be severe. The UK government has projected that in 15 years, the country’s economy will be anywhere from 4 percent to 9 percent smaller under Brexit than it would inside the bloc, depending on the exit arrangement. Europe is Britain’s most important export market and its biggest source of foreign investment.

Choice.

Brexit and Trump’s nomination were caused by a ‘sleeping’ community neuroticism

The latest US presidential election and the Brexit popular vote in the UK brought out the worst in voters — anxiety, anger and fear, a new study shows.

Choice.

Image credits Gerd Altmann.

A lot of factors influence our political views, but research has shown that the best indicator of how people cast their vote are the Big Five personality traits — openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. For example, past studies have shown that low openness and high conscientiousness are good indicators of conservative political views.

However, as many people around the world can undoubtedly attest, 2016 was a strange and daunting year, politics-wise. The results of two events in particular — the US presidential election, and the Brexit referendum in the UK — took the world unawares. Both nations share deep democratic roots, and yet citizens from both were eager to back campaigns built on thinly-veiled populist themes — themes such as fear, lost pride, and loss aversion. The results were so shocking and so unexpected, an international team of researchers reports, because these votes weren’t dictated by the usual traits that govern our political choices; these elections harkened to anxiety, anger, and fear — traits from the domain of neuroticism.

Fear is the path to the dark side

“The models traditionally used for predicting and explaining political behavior did not capture an essential factor that influenced people’s voting decisions in 2016,” says lead author Martin Obschonka, a psychologist and associate professor at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

“We propose a kind of ‘sleeper effect.’ Under normal conditions these traits have no influence, but in certain circumstances, widespread anxiety and fear in a region have the potential to profoundly impact the geopolitical landscape.”

The study pooled data obtained from 417,217 British and 3,167,041 United States participants. The researchers used this information to estimate regional levels of fear, anxiety, and anger. Later, they compared these estimates against traits generally associated with political orientation (most notably openness and conscientiousness) in a bid to measure the relationship between regional psychology and voting behavior. Regions were country-level in the U.S. and on the level of local authority districts in the U.K.

The team reports finding a correlation between higher levels of anxiety and fear in a region and the percentage of voters in favor of Brexit or Trump. An even stronger correlation between the two was identified when expanding the search to include the 2012 election, when Mitt Romney was the Republican candidate — the 50 U.S. counties with the highest levels of fear and anxiety had an average 9% increase in Republican votes from 2012 to 2016, while the lowest 50 showed only a 2% shift. The effect was visible in the U.K. as well — the top 50 districts, by fear and anxiety levels, showed an average 60% vote in favor of Brexit, while the lowest 50 districts showing only 46% support.

“This finding supports our initial suspicion that the regions highest on neuroticism are particularly receptive to political campaigns that emphasize danger and loss and that previous campaigns have not tapped into these themes as strongly as we saw in 2016,” said co-author Sam Gosling, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, Austin.

Other factors considered in the analysis were an area’s industrial heritage, current economic conditions, its traditional political attitudes, racial composition, and its levels of education. In the U.K., both rural and industrial regions correlated to higher levels of anxiety, fear, and greater support for Brexit. In the U.S., the same traits were linked to higher support for Trump in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, and the Midwest “Rust Belt”.

Areas with higher population density, higher earnings, higher overall levels of education, and those who scored higher on the openness traits were likely to vote against Trump or the Brexit. Conscientiousness showed very little to no correlation with voting patterns, be they for or against the campaigns.

“Much as the consequences of a region’s fearful or anxious tendencies may remain hidden until certain conditions are met, there may be other regional characteristics that have the potential to influence geopolitical events but the necessary conditions have not yet materialized,” Gosling said.

The paper “Fear, Populism, and the Geopolitical Landscape: The ‘Sleeper Effect’ of Neurotic Personality Traits on Regional Voting Behavior in the 2016 Brexit and Trump Elections” has been published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

So 1930.

Brexit was fueled by xenofobia and a desire to dominate others in society, new paper reports

The majority of Brexit voters think the UK is exceptional, underrecognized in the world, and entitled to privileged treatment — so they shot themselves in the foot to prove it. A new study looks at how base emotions such as xenophobia and perceived British supremacy led the UK out of the EU. Pride in the one’s British roots, however, wasn’t linked with higher support for the exit, the authors note. But something else was.

So 1930.

Protesters outside the American Embassy in London rallying to demand that prime minister Theresa May repudiate Donald Trump’s entry ban on Syrian, Iraqi, Somali, Yemeni, Iranian, Sudanese and Libyan nationals for the next 90 days as well as the indefinite ban on all Syrian refugees.
Image credits Alisdare Hickson.

Last year, some 52% of UK citizens voted that their country should exit the EU — a decision since christened “Brexit”. A new study found that the single strongest link between those who voted yes, regardless of age, gender, and education, was xenophobia — the fear of everything perceived as “foreign”.

The paper further identifies collective narcissism as a predictor of the results. Collective narcissists are people that believe a certain group they belong to (such as a country) is amazing, special, and overall great, a state of affairs which is not sufficiently recognized by those exterior to the group (other countries).

“[Collective narcissism] differs from feeling proud to be British or thinking of oneself as British,” said Agnieszka Golec de Zavala of Goldsmiths, University of London, lead author of the study.

“We know only that collective narcissism predicts xenophobia. We wanted to see whether there was a link between collective narcissism and voting motivated by xenophobia.”

The team reports that xenophobia was the best predictor of the Brexit vote for all citizens, regardless of age, gender, or education. Brits who believe that immigrants erode their values and way of life, or that they take jobs away from UK nationals, were more likely to vote for Brexit. These citizens, the team reports, fall into three categories. First are those who feel threatened by others because they fear change. The second is represented by people “high in social dominance orientation”, who find it desirable and perhaps just that the group they belong to dominates all other groups in society. Finally were the British collective narcissists.

By contrast, the researchers found that “people who just thought it is great to be British” or who held their British identity in high regard weren’t any more likely to reject immigrants or vote for Brexit than others.

Some xenophobia with your tea, sir?

To tease out these connections, the team drew on two batches of studies that asked participants to what extent they agree that immigrants in the UK “threaten the UK’s way of life; threaten the British citizens’ jobs and economic opportunities, personal possessions, their personal rights, and freedoms; physical health” or that they “violate reciprocity of social relations by choice, violate the British citizens’ trust, or hold values inconsistent with those of the British citizens”. Study 1 looked at the role of collective narcissism in comparison to national identification and Study 2 compared collective narcissism and national attachment. Both studies compared the two factors as predictors of the perceived threat of immigrants, the referendum vote, and support for the referendum’s outcome. Study 1 was conducted in July 2016 just after the EU referendum in the UK Study 2 was conducted just after the UK government’s support for the “hard” Brexit option was announced in September 2016.

Pro-EU London protest.

Pro-EU march from Hyde Park to Westminster in London on March 25, 2017.
Image via Wikimedia.

The results of Study 1 revealed that collective narcissism (i.e. “My national group deserves special treatment”), right-wing authoritarianism (“Obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues children should learn”), national identification (“Being from my national group is an important reflection of what I am”), a domineering social orientation (“We should not push for group equality”), and a perceived threat posed by immigrants were both linked to higher support for Brexit and voting “yes”.

Study 2 confirmed the links in study 1 and further showed that effect of national attachment (“I am glad to be a member of my national group, I think that members of my national group have a lot to be proud of”) on the Brexit vote “was not significant” — i.e. while the other independent variables could be used to predict each participant’s vote on and support for Brexit, national attachment couldn’t.

Asked whether she believes that voters held these attitudes before the “Leave campaign” or that they were brought out by it, de Zavala said that “the fact that individual difference variables predicted xenophobia suggest that they did exist previously.”

“However, we cannot exclude the possibility that the Leave campaign strengthened them. In fact, findings in social psychology suggest it is very likely it did. I believe this campaign, in particular, allowed people to spell out, and reinforced, a collective narcissistic definition of their national identity. Leave campaign made some believe that it is OK and patriotic to fight for “purity” of British identity. It provided a language to voice prejudice without feeling that you abuse the norm of political correctness.”

She says that politicians’ discourse can help encourage or discourage such views. Ultimately, if we want to nip xenophobia in the bud, we should take it and intolerance out of what it means to be British — though, that’s golden advice no matter where you hail from.

The study brings an uglier side of politics and human psyche to light, one which we’d rather not look at. At the same time, it’s one whose destructive outcomes we can’t bear to ignore any longer — as many disillusioned Brits, and their counterparts in other countries, are realizing.

“National collective narcissism stood behind the Brexit vote but also behind the Trump vote in the US,” de Zavala explains.

“It is linked to support for the nationalist, ultraconservative, Eurosceptic government in Poland and in Hungary. It is linked to support for dictatorial rule of Vladimir Putin in Russia. The concept of collective narcissism was first introduced to describe the sentiments stirred by the Nazis in Germany.”

The team’s research shows that collective narcissism “systematically” predicts prejudice, aggression, and causes ambiguous, even innocent behaviors of others to be perceived as a provocation to the national group.

“If we care about diverse societies and harmonious intergroup relations, a collective narcissistic definition of our national identity is not what we should strive for or spread. We should vet our leaders more carefully with respect to the vision of our national identity they promote, because leaders have the power to make such a vison normative in groups that follow them,” de Zavala adds.

The paper “The Relationship between the Brexit Vote and Individual Predictors of Prejudice: Collective Narcissism, Right Wing Authoritarianism, Social Dominance Orientation” has been published in the journal Frontiers Psychology.