back to article Palantir and UK policy: Public health, public IT, and – say it with me – open public contracts

The news that openDemocracy is calling for a legal review of Matt Hancock’s allegedly illegal deal with Palantir is a sign of two things: that things have gone wrong and are going wronger in government health policy; and that there are still ways to start to put it right. What is harder is not finding a process to make things …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fascism Inc.

    Oh how I wish Fascism Inc. Palantir would just be banned from operating in the UK.

    Unfortunately, the way this government is going, Palantir will become compulsory instead of banned. Coming to a town near you, Palantir in charge of parking permits, waste collection and "supplementing" local police forces.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fascism Inc.

      Barry,

      Could you not put food packaging in your recycle bin next Thursday?

      Best

      The Nazgûl

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Please can we have a means of upvoting articles. In lieu of that, please assume you have 10 of mine, Rupert.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      There was a way, but it disappeared due to reasons.

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      @ Dr Syntax

      Opinion pieces are a dime a dozen but opinion pieces that don't pull their punches and say what many of us are thinking are rare.

      This article definitely deserves a bucket load of upvotes as do a few other El Reg articles of late.

      I always thought the ' Save the NHS' campaign was an odd choice of words, now, it is becoming clearer what they were saving it for.

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge
      Pint

      And one of these as well for an excellent piece.

      Presumably we now all go on some Palantir naughty list…

      1. seven of five Silver badge

        I'd guess we all go there, sooner or later. Amassing dirt on people seems like it could be their business contingency plan.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nope, COVID-19 is not a catch-all excuse for backdoor deals

    so what is a workable solution to future Hancocks like this one? I don't see any suggestions (never mind this, or any future government, conservative or labour, will do EVERYTHING THEY CAN to block any such 'solutions').

    1. Fonant

      Re: Nope, COVID-19 is not a catch-all excuse for backdoor deals

      Remove the ability for Government to use "Henry VIII" clauses to give themselves power to ignore Parliament.

      Implement Proportional Representation, to stop parties taking complete control with less than 50% of the popular vote. And to eliminate the problem of MPs not bothering because they're in a Safe Seat.

      Reintroduce the concept of Ethics, Principles and Honesty to those working in public life.

      Making it illegal for any MP or member of government to deliberately mislead the public.

      Require all government ministers to be elected MPs, and not just "mates of the Prime Minister elevated without merit to the Lords".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Nope, COVID-19 is not a catch-all excuse for backdoor deals

        and HOW EXACTLY the above should be accomplished?

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: Nope, COVID-19 is not a catch-all excuse for backdoor deals

          By voting them out in next elections, if that's mathematically possible.

          I think even Labour must have worked by now out that FPTP doesn't benefit them. Shame they screwed up by supporting the status quo in the AV referendum.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Nope, COVID-19 is not a catch-all excuse for backdoor deals

            by voting them out to vote Labour in? That would promptly block any such changes? That's my point, any opposition party, just like any ruling party, is NOT accountable for their lies and empty promises. In theory, the only way would be to make them legally accountable for the promises they make, under _extremely_ heavy, personal sanctions, with specific document that they sign and that confirms they will not SEEK to undermine legality of such document once they get into the cock-pit. And even they, I bet they would do everything they can to weasel out of such legal obligation.

            So, chances of accountability are nil. Not 'virtually' nil. Practically nil. Now, Boris, pay me my roubles, or else or else I'll expose your.. oh, already exposed?! How about, if I expose this one?! Oh, this one's known publicly too?! Damn, we're doomed...

            1. Dan 55 Silver badge

              Re: Nope, COVID-19 is not a catch-all excuse for backdoor deals

              Don't worry, Labour can't be held accountable for empty promises, they're not promising anything.

              If by some miracle they do get in by not promising anything, they'll have realised they need to add legal protection to parliamentary traditions. Starmer is a lawyer after all.

            2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: Nope, COVID-19 is not a catch-all excuse for backdoor deals

              "make them legally accountable for the promises they make"

              Or to quote a previous PM: "Events, dear boy, events". Exactly what promises do you think the present government or opposition would have made in relation to dealing with a novel coronovirus before the last election? Or should the first reaction of a government to any unexpected event be to resign and call an election so that each party can make its promises as to how they'd deal with it?

            3. HildyJ Silver badge
              Megaphone

              Re: Nope, COVID-19 is not a catch-all excuse for backdoor deals

              The problem in the UK is the same problem that we have across the pond - the two party system. Since the Lib-Dems dropped off the face of the Earth, your politics have ossified into two blocs of voters who believe in, to borrow a stock market phrase, TINA -There Is No Alternative. Whichever party comes to power will want to cling to whatever power they come to.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Since the Lib-Dems dropped off the face of the Earth

                they dropped off the face of the earth partly (at least) because they promised not to vote for higher education fees when they get into power. Some people genuinely believed they would be 'different' to labour (which broke promises) and conservatives (that broke promises) so they voted for lib-dems. And once in government, the lib-dems quickly broke their promise, which was particularly glaring, given a large proportion of their voters were students (I wasn't, by the way, but I was observing from the sidelines) and instead of 'doing the right thing', i.e. old fashioned - resigning from government, they started (yes Clegg, you, _personally_) to offer usual, typical, political weasel bullshit, e.g. that they can't resign, nosir, cause they have to try and limit damage being done by the conservatives, their senior gov partner. People remembered the glaring discrepancy between a new party that promised a break from the usual political empty promises (before election), and reality (post election), and that was, in effect, the end of that party.

                Naturally, most people who vote labour or conservatives, are more pragmatic or resigned (or hypocritical, arguably), they know they vote for lying (...), they simply have no choice about lying v. true-to-their word, and chose those they 'like' most.

                1. sed gawk Silver badge

                  Re: Since the Lib-Dems dropped off the face of the Earth

                  While I agree with you, as a labour voter in 2017, and 2019.

                  I got the chance to vote for decency, better pay for poor people, scrapping of trident, free broadband, a national social care service.

                  In 1997 I got to vote for the minimum wage.

                  Labour under Starmer doesn't have my vote. I'll not vote before I vote for a Tory, so Starmer is out.

                  Yes, I'm partial, but we the people cannot afford the conservative party to loot us collectively.

                  Churchill's tories voted 21 times against the creation of the NHS.

                  Thatcher gave us the housing crisis.

                  Gove ruined education (ask teachers), Hancock is selling the NHS off.

                  There is a difference between a shit ranty beardy weirdo, and being actually engaged in trying to make life worse for everyone without staggering levels of personal wealth.

                  I'm well paid enough to be prime Tory territory, But I exist entirely because of socialist policy.

                  My education, my business, my very birth are all in some convoluted way down to the NHS, state funding, or assistance.

                  A little extra cash seems a small price to try and pay down some of the debt I incurred on the way.

                  We need legal taxed drugs, foreign policy that says "Chop people up in embassy = no arms sales for you." An acceptance that magic crypto doesn't exist. Free childcare, nationalized infrastructure paid for at the cheap rates the country can borrow at.

                  The tories don't care about anyone but the donors, the libdems are tories as near as makes no difference. So Labour is it as far as chance of change.

                  Starmer doesn't offer anything, might as well vote for full fat tory.

              2. BebopWeBop Silver badge

                Re: Nope, COVID-19 is not a catch-all excuse for backdoor deals

                Except in Scotland and Wales.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Nope, COVID-19 is not a catch-all excuse for backdoor deals

            >Shame they screwed up by supporting the status quo in the AV referendum.

            FWIW if you're in favour of PR then you shouldn't have been in favour of AV. It is pretty much the only system that produces less proportional results than FPTP. It particularly has the insidious effect of all-but guaranteeing small parties don't win seats; that would have had significant consequences in Northern Ireland. That's why Cameron offered it to Clegg as part of the coalition agreement - he knew nobody would want it so nobody would vote for it.

            It's just a pity he tried the same grift with EU membership really.

            1. Dan 55 Silver badge

              Re: Nope, COVID-19 is not a catch-all excuse for backdoor deals

              You only have to look at the party positions in the AV referendum to work out who FPTP currently benefits.

              The Tories and the DUP were against AV, Labour were split, the rest were for it, including the Greens which is a one-seat party so it's the very definition of a small party. The Lib Dems, the Greens, and the SNP all said that AV wasn't as fair as PR but it was an improvement on FPTP.

            2. MarkTriumphant

              Re: Nope, COVID-19 is not a catch-all excuse for backdoor deals

              How does it produce *less* proportional results?

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Nope, COVID-19 is not a catch-all excuse for backdoor deals

                So there's two elements to its lack of proportionality. So there's the historical evidence it would produce less proportional results for the distributions of votes we see in typical British postwar elections. There's an argument to be had that this wouldn't hold up in reality because people would change their way of voting under the new system, but the fact we don't see radically different results in elections that do use a form of PR (e.g. London, EU, Scotland etc) vs the FPTP general puts that under doubt.

                This is rooted in the second element: the fact that AV to all intents and purposes raises the victory threshold from a plurality to a majority. This has the effect of making the electoral results more representative of the actual views of any given individual constituency, but perhaps counter-intuitively makes the elected parliament as a whole less representative of the views of the country as a whole.

                You can put this in some other terms, for example it is often put that an elector may vote for a candidate without worrying about wasting their vote. This isn't true at all, because unless your first-preference candidate wins, your first preference view is fully discarded. If none of your preferences win your views, as with FPTP, don't count. AV just gives you more ways to express views that are just as easily crowded out by a single, large party: AV would make landslides victories even bigger than under FPTP.

                But don't just take it from me: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/voting-systems/types-of-voting-system/alternative-vote/

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: HOW EXACTLY the above should be accomplished?

          It's a good question.

          I'm thinking guillotines might come into it somewhere. Of the French variety, not the parliamentary variety.

          But I'm sure there will be other better suggestions.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Nope, COVID-19 is not a catch-all excuse for backdoor deals

        I agree on all your points, except for the last one. I don’t think making ministers elected is a solution.

        Firstly, I don’t think the current system of ministers often having two hats (MP and Minister) is working at all. The job of an MP should be to *check on* the government, not to *be* the government. In most parliamentary democracies it is expressly forbidden to occupy both posts at the same time for this very reason.

        The average voter has no influence on a minister’s decisionmaking even when they are also an MP and unless you happen to live in that minister’s HoC constituency you have absolutely zero influence even during election time. Even worse, If you happen to live in Matt Hancock’s constituency and you have an issue with the government’s health policies you have no ways to influence it all as your MP (the only route for mere mortals to have some semblance of influence on the government) is also moonlighting as the Health Secretary.

        Secondly, an alternative would be to have actual elections for members of cabinet, from junior minister to prime minister. That, however, would probably be quite unworkable and almost be a guarantee for having really sub-par quality ministers. I am a great believer in democracy but also well aware of the corrupting effect that elections have. Just have a look at what the savage cousins across the Atlantic have to deal with. Electing everything, up to the second clark of the town Sheriff, just leads to enormous amount of corruption and pork-barreling, not decent representation.

        Instead I would like the House of Commons (the only people with a tiny bit of power that are actually elected) to be able to fire ministers that are underperforming. Something that is quite common in parliamentary democracies, it’s the job of parliament after all.

        The benefit of that could be two-fold. You could put people in a ministerial job who happen to know what they are talking about, instead of people who are just being rewarded for slavishly following some ridiculous party line for two decades. It would probably improve the quality of MPs when that is no longer the only route to become minister, you’d probably get more candidates that actually want to represent people instead of representing actual voters being the only path to power that they begrudgingly walk.

        However, a solution like this would require giving the House of Commons actual teeth. The House of Commons should be able to set its own agenda instead of the government deciding if and when parliament discusses what. The House of Commons should be able to fire ministers and every member should have the right to file a motion of no confidence (currently only one out of 650 members has that right). Select Committees should be able to force any minister up to the prime minister to appear before them with serious punishment if they refuse to. None of this “Oh Mr Johnson doesn’t have time in his diary for scrutiny until Monday morning 3 march 2023, unfortunately”.

        The chances of giving the House of Commons actual teeth are very very slim unfortunately. Parliament is controlled by the government and the government giving power to parliament goes against everything they stand for. They are even now trying to get the power to decide when parliamentary elections are being held back into government hands to give government even more control.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Nope, COVID-19 is not a catch-all excuse for backdoor deals

        "And to eliminate the problem of MPs not bothering because they're in a Safe Seat."

        Take a look at the N Ireland situation. Most seats held on the basis of the constituency religious demographic.

        "Require all government ministers to be elected MPs"

        And who is then to be govt. spokesman in the HoL? They need to be represented in both places. Personally I'd give the HoL more powers but insist that a substantial proportion of them are ex officio as presidents or the like of various chartered bodies such as the various Royal Colleges of $MedicalSpeciality, Royal Society, Institute of $ScientificOr EngineeringSpeciality.

      4. onemark03 Bronze badge

        illegal for any MP or member of government to deliberately mislead the public

        Right: the same way that it is illegal to mislead Parliament now.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Nope, COVID-19 is not a catch-all excuse for backdoor deals

      As has amply been demonstrated by the Trump presidency, what counts is not the law, it's the people who are in position of power.

      What we need is something that can evaluate a candidate's ability to hold a political position. Once elected, said candidate would go through the evaluation process. If successful, the candidate could take the job. If not, find someone else to vote for. Voting is better than nothing, but it is obviously not good enough.

      Of course, the evaluation process would have to be mandatory and unavoidable - which means I'm talking science fiction.

      1. onemark03 Bronze badge

        Voting is better than nothing, but it is obviously not good enough.

        Agreed.

        Democracy is far from perfect but there's no better option available at the moment.

  4. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

    Once again, Yes Minister is a documentary

    Whilst Hancock has (Han)cocked up, I really don't think he's the prime mover on this. The investigations show it's the usual unaccountable mandarins and Quango bosses who have been schmoozed. Was Hancock even able to do anything else but announce it?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Once again, Yes Minister is a documentary

      Slightly off-topic, but the vaccine passport proposals sound eerily familiar. It would be a way of proving who you are, and allow you to demonstrate that you have accessed State provisions (the vaccine), or are exempt. And you would be able to demonstrate this to interested persons to access goods and services. All it would take would be to permit the police to demand to see it for the public safety (and for refusal to show it on request to be "reasonable grounds for suspicion") and the Home Office's dream of a State ID Card would be a reality. And if the barman at the Lamb and Flag can demand to see it, why wouldn't the police be able to?

      But hey, we could go the pub again if only we consent to it this time. And it's Covid's fault that the Government had to introduce it. Blame Covid.

      1. m-k

        Re: Home Office's dream of a State ID Card would be a reality

        it will become a reality. Have you heard about the latest and greatest idea of a photo-ID for elections, as per 2023? Despite having negligible proof of election fraud, this is being pushed as, wait for this:

        “a reasonable way to combat the inexcusable potential for voter fraud in our current system and strengthen its integrity”, and that the “overwhelming majority”

        This says everything about the mindset of our Glorious Leadership, i.e. INEXCUSABLE POTENTIAL. I mean, think of all them Russian trolls potentially turning up IN PERSON, and trying to pass for thousands, millions of law-abiding citizens and derail our world-class democratic system. You wouldn't want that, would you, sir, madam?! No, what am I thinking! - it's the age of digital, they can't turn up in person, sillybilly, they will - potentially - pay each of those thousands of desperate Brits so much (each) that they they will risk committing that fraud, again, and again, and again (after all, how many times can you turn up in one day to vote for somebody else?). The danger is REAL, comrades, the threat is HERE!!!!

        1. SloppyJesse

          Re: Home Office's dream of a State ID Card would be a reality

          There may be little evidence of voter fraud because its quite hard to identify as there's no verification.

          We were in a trial area for ID at the polling station. Personally I see no problem with it, but I understand the concern that it may exclude people. I see no reason not to go for a simpler low tech solution like indelible ink to prevent multiple votes.

          Of course, nothing you change at a polling station will do anything to close the holes in the postal ballots.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Home Office's dream of a State ID Card would be a reality

            more likely, because it's extremely hard to pull off without anyone noticing. Like any plot that involves lots of one-off, amateur, conspirators. This would be all over social media before the polls even closed... That said, a conspiracy _theory_ on social media, that there is such a plot in place, this might make have a negative impact on the system. It's probably much easier and cheaper to convince people that democratic system is rotten, than to actually make it rotten. As a matter of fact, you don't even need to fake it's rotten, you can simply highlight plenty of examples where it actually is rotten. OK, I think I've earned my daily wage today ;)

            1. SloppyJesse

              Re: Home Office's dream of a State ID Card would be a reality

              I like your confidence in the system, but it might be a little misplaced.

              This fraud [1] happened in my city. Followed the case at the time and the biggest issue seemed to be finding the evidence to get a conviction because of the lack of traceability of votes cast. I think it would be a lot easier now with postal voting (and not just me [2]) and may have happened in the last election [3] in my area.

              [1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-derbyshire-23461729

              [2] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/11560017/Postal-voting-fraud-is-easy-electoral-commissioner-says.html

              [3] https://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/news/derby-news/former-derby-city-councillor-charged-4996796

          2. onemark03 Bronze badge

            a ... low tech solution like indelible ink to prevent multiple votes

            Agreed entirely. We'll never abolish computers or robots but sometimes low-tech / no-tech is best.

        2. Teiwaz

          Re: Home Office's dream of a State ID Card would be a reality

          In N.I. you have to present an I.D. at the Ballot station.

          Been that way as long as I've been a voter. Quite used to it, seemed odd that it's never been asked for since i moved island, still carry my drivers in every time I go to vote now out of habit.

          1. scrubber

            Re: Home Office's dream of a State ID Card would be a reality

            A driver's licence to vote? Weird. Why not a voting licence? Then we could have a voting test where the government get to ensure only people they approve of get the vote. People could get points on their licence if they did anything deemed against the spirit of a good citizen, like posting something against the official narrative to social media, too many points and you lose the privilege of voting.

            1. onemark03 Bronze badge

              get points on their licence if they did anything ... against the spirit of a good citizen

              So "social credit" à la People's Republic of China?

              Yeah, right.

              1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

                Re: get points on their licence if they did anything ... against the spirit of a good citizen

                whooosh

      2. onemark03 Bronze badge

        why wouldn't the police be able to (see ID cards)?

        Maybe to avoid any kind of "Papers, please" scenario?

    2. not.known@this.address Silver badge

      Re: Once again, Yes Minister is a documentary

      And those mandarins and Quango bosses are not elected by us at all, they are elected by each other via The Old School Tie method of campaigning.

      Funny how people forget this when blaming government ministers for "messing up".

  5. Roger Kynaston Silver badge

    Adam Curtis has a doco series on just this

    We've been watching it on iPlayer. Lots of depressing stuff about the UK, US, China and Russia.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Stop blaming the governemnt for the spread of Covid-19.

    Blame people like the brain-dead blonde who was asked why she had travelled from Manchester to the South Coast during Lockdown, and told a TV news reporter it was "because everybody has it up there and nobody has it down here". And six weeks later, the figures on the South Coast rocketed.

    Care to guess why? Did Boris visit Bournemouth? Did Hancock travel to Kent and spread their new variant?

    No, and no. It was idiots who think the rules do not apply to them or their friends.

    1. Roger Kynaston Silver badge

      Re: Stop blaming the governemnt for the spread of Covid-19.

      This article is not about apportioning blame for the spread of COVID19. It looks at a lack of transparency in how contracts are being awarded to companies by the government. The only link with the pandemic is that ministers seem to be hiding behind the emergency to avoid scrutiny.

      In response to your request that we stop blaming Johnson et al. Let us not forget that his government failed to act quickly a year ago and the Prime Minister himself was probably a super spreader.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Stop blaming the governemnt for the spread of Covid-19.

      Can anyone think of any other high-profile incidents of people travelling hundreds of miles during Lockdown 1? Even when the Government's clear instruction (which magically turned into "advice" after the event) was that you shouldn't? Perhaps an incident which made the Government out to be a shower of "do as we say, not as we do" shifty bastards?

      I'm sure I read about one. I must get my eyes tested.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Start blaming the governemnt for the spread of Covid-19.

      FTFY.

      12 Billion to pay teenagers to make Track and Trace calls instead of ramping up the exisiting localised services.

      Leaving the borders completely open for a year while new variants were spreading.

      Opening back up over summer way before the disease was under control.

      Johnson boasting about shaking hands with covid patients.

      Dom driving hundreds of miles with an infected family.

      "It was idiots who think the rules do not apply to them or their friends."

      Why would I blame the governemnt?

      1. Andrew Dancy

        Re: Start blaming the governemnt for the spread of Covid-19.

        Look, I'm one to give the Government a kicking as much as the next man, but only when it's deserved. There are some pernicious false facts doing the rounds which everyone repeats as gospel - I'd expect better of El Reg readers. Please, please don't just repeat so called facts without actually checking first.

        The actual cost of Test and Trace (it's not called Track and Trace, that's a deliberate mis-naming by people who peddle the misleading information to remove the Test bit) is £4bn . The £22bn was what has been allocated for the entire Covid response, not just Test and Trace, and only a portion of it has actually been spent.

        Of the £4bn almost all has been spent on the Test element of Test and Trace - for example setting up the labs that process the PCR swabs in all four home countries cost about £1.6bn. Then there's each test - there have been about 90m tests and it's estimated each test costs about £10-20 in total.

        And don't get me started about the lies people peddle about the NHS app...

  7. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Trust but verify?

    "Palantir says it keeps data safe: who cares? Let’s see the details. The internal systems. The audit trails."

    In my professional experience, it's effectively impossible to obtain anything except assertions about security from any corporation unless you have significantly more financial clout than they have, and even then it can be hard. Typically they fall back on "we have ISO 27001 certification" which, as we all really know, provides no assurance of actual security, only that certain specified processes are in place and certain documentation exists (the ISMS). Whether the ISMS actually works to secure the enterprise doesn't get audited as it's realistically impractical to do so. The fundamental and insuperable problem is that it's virtually impossible to detect the difference between nothing going wrong by chance right now and nothing going wrong because the ISMS is working.

    Even if on prem supervisory audit is feasible, it can't verify operational security other than for a snapshot for which everyone was probably briefed in advance. Consequently, assurance of third party security is almost impossible to achieve in practice, so "trust" is almost always a case of being forced to accept, rather than choosing to accept on the basis of sound evidence.

    This is the hard nut that probably will never be cracked unless constant supervision is in place (and it's unlikely ever to be).

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Trust but verify?

      "unless you have significantly more financial clout than they have"

      The financial clout lies in offering the contract. If the contractor wants the job then they accept the conditions.

      You might rely that a contractor who's big enough might turn down the contract. But contractors don't get big by repeatedly turning down contracts.

      1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

        Re: Trust but verify?

        Contractors don't get big by following their contracts to the letter and the spirit. TFTFY

      2. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Re: Trust but verify?

        "The financial clout lies in offering the contract.

        A multinational I once worked for already had reciprocal business arrangements with a corporation beginning with G. On trying to obtain a specification of their information security performance criteria in order to support outsourcing my client's entire business processes to them, I was merely palmed off with "we are certified under ISO 27001".

        This is far from a unique occurrence. We are currently in the position that the behemoth providers of services (the "contractors") actually have the whip hand in most negotiations.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's what we voted for!

    This type of outcome was crystal clear given Boris' mob's track record. And yet vast swathes voted them in at the last election. There is plenty more of this coming down the pipe. Especially given all those oven-ready big trade deals that need to be sweetened. So suck it up.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's what we voted for!

      while I think that Boris is a terrible choice for PM (and his pals equally terrible for any government), I would not blame him too much for UK's poor record. I mean, sure, he was as clueless (despite huffing and puffing and surrounding himself with 'boffins) as any other politician in Europe (or elsewhere). I have seen similar decisions, that turned to be (in hindsight) major or just usual disaster, being made in at least a few other countries, and their leaders making the same jerky moves and surrounding themselves with their local 'boffins', and implementing the same measures (too late) and loosening restrictions (too early), and introducing fresh lockdowns (too late / too early), and again and again. And they're all doing it know, which tells me that nobody has a clue how to do it, other than 'by vaccinations'. It seems that whatever tactic, or strategy has been implemented, the end result has been similar. Perhaps, a common denominator might be that ALL those leaders, and all those scientists surrounding them, that are meant to inspire confidence in The State, just don't know what to do with a pandemic in a mobile society.

  9. jmch Silver badge

    Track and Trace

    "We have a government that has paid multiple billions for track and trace, only to have the fourth highest per-capita death rate from COVID-19 in the world."

    Apropos of this, I was seeing a really interesting article on the way track-and-trace was implemented in Western vs Eastern nations eg Japan. There they recognised that there are many people infected who don't spread the virus, while there are a few 'super-spreaders' who do most of the spreading. So if there is a R0 of 2, it's not from every infected person spreading it to 2 other people but from 1 in 10 infected people spreading it to 20*. In Japan they implemented a 'backward' track and trace, ie if somone is infected, track backward to find who likely infected them, and then do the tracking on the contacts of the person known to have been a spreader.

    In the west the general approach was to track the contacts of every single person with a positive test. Not bad policy per se, but with 85% of infected people being asymptomatic and unlikely to spread it to others, it diluted limited resources to track and trace people who likely were not going to be spreading covid anyway instead of focusing those limited resources on people known to be spreaders. So sure, the UK implementation of track and trace sucked, but the theory behind impleentation was flawed all over western Europe and US, hence covid numbers all over the region an order of magnitude higher than those seen in SE Asia**.

    *slightly more complex than that, but should suffice to illustrate

    ** of course there are many reasons for the difference of which this is just one, I find it interesting nevertheless

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Track and Trace

      "There they recognised that there are many people infected who don't spread the virus, while there are a few 'super-spreaders' who do most of the spreading"

      The short version is that it's a very "clustered" virus. There was a bit in last week's Horizon about it :)

  10. Claverhouse Silver badge
    Meh

    The Occult

    With Palantir, he is giving our money and our health data to a company which is deeply implicated in helping elect and benefiting from Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory and subsequent no-bid contracts.

    A company with deep connections with the CIA, the NSA, the FBI - it seems that if it has got three letters in its name and wears dark glasses, it’s a customer.

    Pretty sure Donald Trump and the 3-Letter Agencies were mutually antagonistic since before he was elected, because he never gave them no respect.

    [ Probably rightly. ]

    .

    From the estimable leftie, Thomas Frank...

    Among the industries that define American culture, the anti-Trump ‘resistance’ was virtually airtight: the media and entertainment industries hated him, the tech industry hated him, academia hated him. The foreign policy community hated him, the NatSec community hated him, Iraq war Republicans hated him, the little world of the DC commentariat hated him, and the broader world of the press hated him too.

    The mind-blowing detail about this Coalition of the Aghast was that it also included the Central Intelligence Agency. Not long ago, the CIA was the great bête noire for peace-minded liberals: as everyone knew, it was the government agency that overthrew foreign governments, deceived and misled people in distant lands and fought for dictatorship around the world. Its list of crimes against democracy was long and disturbing.

    But over the last four years this picture changed completely. Now liberals were supposed to shed tears for the agency — because the poor CIA had been maligned and disrespected by Trump, who (among other things) claimed it exaggerated the role played by Russia in the 2016 election. Indeed, the affinity between liberalism and the spy agency eventually became so obvious to ‘resistance’ people that it didn’t have to be explained.

    ...

    This is utterly fatuous and yet it is not wrong. In the Trump era, the press did indeed come to resemble what Washington calls the ‘intelligence community’. Hayden himself became an ‘analyst’ for CNN in 2017, as did James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence. Former CIA chief John Brennan became one for NBC. Countless other former spies made similar moves, speculating on TV about ‘disinformation’ and the occult power Vladimir Putin had over Donald Trump.

    https://mondediplo.com/2021/02/02usa

    1. yetanotheraoc

      Re: The Occult

      Flawed analysis. *Everybody* hates Trump, everybody except the approximately 25% of USA voters who believe his falsehoods. But they only know him from a distance. There are some other people who use him to gain access to power, and *appear* not to hate him. But they hate him too, and when they quit or get fired they write a book about how much they hate him. Maybe there's some members of Trump's own family who don't hate him, on the other hand one of them has written a book.

  11. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Dave's friends

    David Cameron appointed Dido Harding to the Lords in 2014.

    Matt Hancock appointed her to NHS Test and Trace in 2020.

    The PR firm of another of Dave's friends, Matthew Freud, was awarded a contract to provide “strategic communications”, including “reputation management” for NHS Test and Trace. Yes, under Covid regulations,with the paperwork being issued months after the work was completed.

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/01/tory-linked-pr-firm-hired-provide-test-and-trace-reputation-management-covid

    Your Reputation Precedes You, Mr BondBaroness Harding

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Peter who?

    Did I really just read a whole article focusing on the nightmare that is (and has been) Palantir, with no explicit mention of the man at the top? Same goes for the comments so far too.

    For what it's worth, Thiel also is or has been closely involved with Paypal, Facebook, the Founders Fund, and was a major supporter of and special advisor to someone called Trump.

    https://wikispooks.com/wiki/Peter_Thiel (check the citations too)

    He has also been a regular attendee at Bilderberg conferences:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Bilderberg_participants

    The likes of Zuckerberg and to a lesser extent Cambridge Analytica (remember them?) are just the fall guys.

    https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/27/palantir-worked-with-cambridge-analytica-on-the-facebook-data-whistleblower.html

    Dark days ahead.

  13. streaky

    Public Data

    The benefits to society of open data about a reasonably large nation's health that can be mined and new things found that weren't known before, potential treatments, being able to spot disease clusters before anybody really knows they are happening and all the other things you can do with this data are obvious - properly curated and well anonymized by people who know what they are doing of course - and it probably isn't illegal here what happened given it is actually, technically the government's data to basically do what they like with in our law; I personally want to feel like taxpayers are getting value out of that data and in this case I don't feel like we are. That's what really matters here.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Stop

      Re: Public Data

      Medical data can often be deanonymised using personal information that is either publicly available or easily be bought from a data broker. For example, in one study 43% of individuals who ended up in hospital through accidents reported in local media had their medical records successfully deanonymized.

      And I really can't see why "well curated" data is going to be any different from all the other highly confidential data that has been stolen over the years? The hackers only have to be lucky once, the curators all the time.

  14. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Trollface

    Influence peddlers wanted

    Now, what type of person would we find contributing to this charity?

    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/mar/02/johnson-trying-to-set-up-charity-that-could-fund-downing-street-flat-revamp

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Now, what type of person would we find contributing to this charity?

      I would say that a clever person, on his tax advisor's advice that shows him how such donation gives him a certain extra amount saved AND / OR a certain percentage of a chance that such donation shall not be forgotten. Look at it as an investment opportunity.

      Gosh, in this day and age I expect the Treasury to start begging for 'donations' on one of those crowd-funding sites... You want a new hospital in your area? Click here to contribute to the total of 350M to have one built by one of our carefully selected business partner (no, unfortunately "Carillion" is not available, select another option) and feel PROUD to support such a worthy cause!

  15. Rol Silver badge

    What's the difference between....

    ...a Nigerian prince promising to deposit £100,000 in your bank account, and a company promising absolute confidentiality for your citizens data?

    Probably a couple of zeros, and a seat on the board when you retire from politics.

  16. helkiah
    FAIL

    Train to Nowhere

    I'm wary of hyperbole about police state and big tech, wary of reflexive Tory bashing. But Thiel and Palantir are thoroughly unlikeable, utterly shady. And I'm certain the Tories have created a gravy train with a destination of massive waste, debt and failure.

  17. Potemkine! Silver badge

    In one hand, many ask governments to be as efficient as companies, in the other hand, we want governments to respect the democratic way of doing things.

    Companies are not democracies, far from that. On the contrary, most of them are small dictatorships where the C-Class is the ruler, when not the CEO himself/herself is. Decisions taken in a company are not democratic, they are the expression of the will of a few if not one.

    So the problem lies also on our expectations. I'm all for a government being open, transparent, respecting rules. This implies we have to accept that it leads also to blunders.

  18. sgp Bronze badge

    I just checked how I can support openDemocracy. I can donate via... PayPal. Oh the irony.

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