Velveteen loftiness about MPs, world-weariness at the ‘Right-wing press’, a smooth certitude that he knew more about economics than the Treasury: That was Sir Patrick Vallance at the Covid inquiry. A performance of sustained hauteur.
During Covid he must have left for work each morning with a sigh at the looking-glass, wetting an eyebrow and remarking, ‘My dear, you’re a class above those blockheads’.
You remember Vallance. He used to stand stage-left at the Downing Street press conferences looking fashionably semi-detached. There was always a suspicion he moved his lectern a few inches further away from Boris to avoid being infected by Brexit.
Sir Patrick scorned Rishi Sunak for introducing Eat Out To Help Out, and for having worried about the economic damage of lockdown. Pictured: Sir Patrick Vallance giving evidence at Dorland House in London on Monday
Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance during a press conference at Downing Street in 2020
While Dr Chris Whitty used to do the gulping drainpipe routine, two exhausted eyeballs swimming in brine and jabbed on to cocktail sticks, scientific adviser Vallance wore natty suits and had a drawling tone. Smooth as a billiard table.
Everything about him screamed Royal Opera House, Easter in Tuscany and weekends of coldly competitive doubles at the private tennis club.
As he affirmed the oath – rationalists, please, do not swear on the good book – he exchanged bon mots with the judge, Lady Hallett. ‘I’m sorry we keep imposing on you,’ squawked her ladyship, all eyelashes and pretty smiles.
She wears a woollen scarf through these sessions. I don’t recall Lord Hutton doing that at his inquiry. ‘I suspect it’s not the last time,’ said Vallance with his husky, James Mason voice. Hallett, gobbling like a mother goose: ‘I fear not!’
The interrogation, if that is the noun, fell to Andrew O’Connor KC, one of the second-change barristers. The inquiry’s chief counsel, Hugo Keith KC, sat beside him, concentrating hard on paperwork. Doing his time-sheet? The legal costs for this inquiry are roughly the size of the economy of Madagascar.
O’Connor KC fell over himself to praise Sir Patrick for submitting to the inquiry a gossipy diary he started keeping during Covid. He claimed he never intended it to be made public. Good one! The first three months’ entries, from what one could gather, were written retrospectively. Who does that unless with backside-covering in mind?
Boris Johnson was scorned for being ‘bamboozled’ by science and not understanding graphs (join the club, old horse). From day one Sir Patrick was up to his oxters with two lockdown agitators, super-wealthy Sir Jeremy Farrar and underpant-twanger Neil Ferguson. No one pointed out that Ferguson’s lockdown predictions were wildly over the top.
There had been ‘palpable tension’ between Sir Patrick and Eyeballs Whitty. ‘He was a delayer, of course,’ was Sir Patrick’s withering putdown.
If Dr Whitty was indeed wary of lockdown, he will rise in the estimation of many of us. Not once in this inquiry so far have I heard a convincing description of the hateful illiberality of lockdown.
Sir Patrick scorned Rishi Sunak for introducing Eat Out To Help Out, and for having worried about the economic damage of lockdown.
Sir Patrick confirmed that he had clashes with England’s Chief Medical Officer Sir Chris Whitty in his diary
He himself plainly would have been happy with even worse economic damage.
No one at this pathetic, bloated, monocular inquiry ever puts it like that. They’re all subscribers to the magic money tree society.
The longer the day lasted, the more comfortable Sir Patrick became with his own superiority. There was a long passage about him proposing an economic counterpart to Sage (the science wallahs who kept whipping up dire forecasts). ‘Various rather eminent academic economists’ had urged him to set up such a body.
Given that he was a mere science adviser, this was megalomaniacal delusion and should be noted as such in the inquiry’s report. But don’t hold your breath.
In other news, the Foreign Secretary was introduced to the Lords. In ermine, cheeks all pouchy and pink, he looked just as he does in the cartoons.
As Lord Cameron clocked various former bores from the Commons, he must have groaned inwardly at joining this crew of droning has-beens.
Sir Patrick Vallance would probably consider them ‘rather eminent’ but I suspect Dave will hate it there.