Kate Denkinson looks at the background to Isabel Oakeshott’s Lockdown Files and the newspaper which Boris Johnson once claimed was his ‘real boss’
It does not take an investigative journalist to work out why Isabel Oakeshott sold former Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s WhatsApp messages to the Telegraph.
Claiming to have published them “in the public interest”, neither Oakeshott nor the Telegraph has ever made any secret of their anti-lockdown views. The newspaper regularly referred to Covid restrictions as “state diktat”, while Oakeshott called life-saving lockdown measures a “brutal regime [that made the UK] just like East Germany”.
According to his former chief advisor, Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson called the Telegraph “my real boss” and the newspaper played a pivotal role in encouraging the then Prime Minister “not to act” in defiance of medical advice in the run-up to the disastrous second wave of COVID-19 in the winter of 2020.
The willingness of both the Telegraph and Oakeshott to ignore expert advice on the basis of contentious “research” is equally apparent, as demonstrated by their unwavering support for the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD).
Claiming that herd immunity was more effective than lockdowns, the GBD has been the subject of numerous positive Telegraph articles, including one from Reform Party leader Richard Tice, who used it as the basis for promoting the Brexit Party (as it was then known). It has been soundly debunked by several publications, including Byline Times which first revealed its funders to be an outlet linked to right-wing libertarian think tank The Koch Brothers.
Likewise, tech publication Wired highlighted that the only qualification required of the 2,780 ‘Medical and Public Health Scientists’ who signed the GBD, was their ability to tick a box saying they were scientists.
Despite this, on the day the Lockdown Files were released, Tice gave an exclusive interview to GB News extolling the virtues of the GBD. Speaking to Bev Turner, a key figure in the misinformation community, he paraphrased a Telegraph headline referring to the “whitewash” he believed would occur had Oakeshott (who also happens to be his partner), allowed the Covid inquiry to analyse Hancock’s messages in its own time.
This desire to “both sides” lockdown sceptics has been a feature of Telegraph reporting since the beginning of the pandemic. As with the GBD, the other side of the coin is often tarnished with unsubstantiated ‘research’ and the vested interests of those leading the charge.
Us For Them is a case in point. The supposed ‘grassroots’ group of parents formed to challenge mask mandates in schools, was revealed to have been given PR advice by a former advisor to Boris Johnson. Their influence was such that, following a legal threat from the group, Gavin Williamson reopened schools contrary to the advice of actual scientists.
The group’s leader, Molly Kingsley, wrote regularly for the Telegraph throughout the pandemic, promoting her campaigns against vaccinating and masking children. More recently she has written to voice her complaints that the COVID inquiry will not be taking her opinion into account; a decision most likely based on the fact that she is a lawyer with no scientific or medical qualifications.
Kingsley is not the only Lockdown sceptic to feature prominently in the Telegraph. Lord Jonathan Sumption, a mediaeval historian and former judge, has written a number of columns for the paper, referring to lockdown as a “slippery slope” to authoritarianism. Many of the claims he made to support this were later debunked by Full Fact.
In March 2021, Sumption wrote that lockdowns “do not work”, citing the work of the HART Group to support his claim. Two months later, fact-checking organisation Logically revealed HART to be a lobby group seeking to have anti-vax myths legitimised in parliament and “wrestle control back from SAGE.”
By allowing these groups to present such misinformation as the concerns of ‘ordinary people’, the Telegraph’s anti-lockdown cartel is playing an age-old political game; capitalising on Westminster’s failings by posing as the vox populi (at least as far as it suits their own interests).
This is a game at which Tice and the Reform Party excel, filling the gap left by the Tories’ pandemic mismanagement with glittering promises of a Libertarian utopia. Desperate to move away from the idea of the Right Wing as populated by wealthy men who neither know nor care for their constituents, Tice regularly complains about the “Westminster Elite”. Setting up himself and his party as the solution, he appears to be hoping no one will notice that (just like most of the current cabinet) he was a long-term Conservative party member and went to private school.
Not unlike the various anti-vax conspiracy groups which have emerged in the last three years, the continued success of both Reform and the Telegraph relies on convincing their audience that they’re the only ones listening to their concerns. The fact that they generated many of those concerns through rampant misinformation campaigns is apparently not in the public interest.
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