Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen speaks at an anti-vaccine protest (Photo credit should read Matthew Chattle/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

The vax distracts

Anti-vax nonsense is dragging the Right away from real crises

Artillery Row

British conservatives are surrounded by winnable battles that they are failing to fight.

Last week it was revealed that hundreds of convicted criminals — including a paedophile, a wife-murderer and several terrorists — were roaming the streets of Britain after arriving on small boats in recent years, with many claiming benefits and living in subsidised accommodation whilst working illegal jobs. Some 8,500 crossed illegally in 2020; that figure shot up to 45,000 last year. After thirteen years of Tory rule, this crisis is only worsening.

Violent crime continues to rocket. Austerity-era cuts to the police, both in terms of manpower and the custody estate, have left our emergency services struggling to match the challenges before them. Just months ago, the government confirmed that prisoners are to be held in police cells for the first time in fourteen years because jails are running out of space. Last week, a violent lorry driver who was convicted of attacking another trucker was spared a paltry 18-week jail sentence, because the court was told there was nowhere to keep him locked up.

In much of the country, crime is effectively legal. If your phone or bike is nicked in London, you might as well not bother filing a crime report. Most friends of mine who have been unfortunate enough to be the victims of a robbery only inform the police so they can immediately close the case and claim insurance.

Enemies of conservatism are still being funded by the Conservative government. In December, left-wing news outlet JOE shared a video it had produced in collaboration with the Home Office. Four days earlier, JOE had made an incendiary attack on Home Secretary Suella Braverman, blaming her for supposedly forcing migrants to cross the Channel after four people died. On 23 November, they said that Braverman was getting “rinsed again and again” at a select committee. On 7 November, they said that Braverman “should not be in office”. 

How are some of the Conservatives’ Right-leaning critics reacting to this grave, reversible failure? The most effective opposition to the Right should always come from the Right. Are they piling on the pressure to call for an urgent change to our outdated human rights laws that allow for bogus asylum claims to be stamped through? Are they crying out for emergency funding for prisons and frontline policing? Are they regularly reminding the Tories that they do not, in fact, need to sustain an entire universe of journalists, activists and lawyers who hate them and exist to terrorise their legislative plans?

Not the best day in the office for their fact-checking department

No. Unfortunately, much of the lifeblood of the British Right is instead being channelled into the scandal of someone discovering a defibrillator in a phone box in rural England.

The discovery of the phone box heart restarter inspired a crazed response because it taps into a rich seam of online conservatism: the sincerely held belief that we are facing a sudden spike in early deaths and heart attacks due to harms caused by the COVID-19 vaccine.

Around the same time, the Conservative Party tweeted that it had installed more defibrillators at schools “to keep pupils and teachers safe” — a policy that has been implemented steadily for many years. It is now sparking DEFCON 1 in online vax panic circles, who seem to believe that these useful machines are a tacit acceptance by the government that it has infected us with heart poison.

The evidence does not align with their eruption of protest. It is true that there is a small link between having two vaccines and a heightened risk of myocarditis — especially in those aged under forty. Among the same cohort, a study in Nature Medicine found that there were 10 myocarditis events per million people with COVID-19, and an extra 15 per million following a second dose of the Moderna vaccine. These are small differences in a tiny rate of occurrence. When you look at all age groups, the study found that there were “between 1 and 10 extra events of myocarditis in 1 million people vaccinated with a first or second dose, but 40 extra cases in 1 million people infected with COVID-19”.

It is also true that we are experiencing a spike in excess deaths, but this has been explained by a surge in flu and years of disruption to the NHS after Covid lockdowns. The excessive heart attacks are not being caused by those extremely rare myocarditis events — which are mostly mild — but rather due to the delay in the distribution of statins and blood pressure medicines after the pandemic. That misguided advice to “stay away” from the NHS is coming back to bite us.

Invariably, like all niche “alternative” thinkers, this band of amateur cardiologists is often heard saying “no one is talking about this” — but this claim doesn’t add up. Washington’s CDC is “actively monitoring reports of myocarditis and pericarditis after COVID-19 vaccination”, the British Medical Journal has published a study updating evidence on the links between the jab and heart conditions, and hundreds of millions of people have been included in peer-reviewed trials to assess the possible connection.

No study nor expert input has managed to dissuade the “vaccine death” conservatives, who batter social media timelines day and night with their outrage at the supposed rise in heart attacks afflicting otherwise healthy people and athletes after they receive a COVID-19 jab. Journalist Christopher Snowdon has recently written about this phenomenon on his Substack, commenting that the trend is a mixture of “selective attention bias (paying more attention to some things than to others) and confirmation bias (looking for things that you agree with or which serve your purposes in some way)”.

Snowdon runs through the claims made by “sceptics” and skewers them. Most notably, he refers to the documentary Died Suddenly, “which found a bunch of people who had died unexpectedly, assumed they were vaccinated and concluded that it’s too much of a coincidence to be put down to chance”. Unfortunately for the anti-vax documentarians, “some of the people in question were unvaccinated and at least one of them isn’t even dead”. Not the best day in the office for their fact-checking department.

Some of these people are so desperate to create a wave of concern about vaccine harm that they are taking videos of themselves shaking wildly, pretending that their “uncontrollable” shakes have been caused by the Pfizer inoculation. Extraordinarily, these devastating symptoms only seem to affect right-wing American women in their 50s who barely go a minute without tweeting. 

When these kooky takes and “sceptical” personalities started appearing on my Twitter timeline, I was tolerant and unbothered. Like many of the online Right’s niche dissident moments, I expected it to gradually shrink into harmless crankdom. This one has not gone away. Despite the slide into further craziness, the movement appears to be gaining more mainstream traction.

We have no shortage of real problems to focus on

Diamond, one half of the popular alternative media duo Diamond and Silk, sadly passed away earlier this month as a result of heart disease caused by chronic blood pressure. In 2020, the duo were cut from Fox News after they questioned the legitimacy of official COVID-19 data. They alleged that COVID-19 was intentionally spread by “deep-state snakes” — issuing warnings about population control. At Diamond’s funeral, Silk, her sister, used it as an opportunity to continue her vaccine anger. She told the crowd: “Instead of asking if Americans are vaxxed or unvaxxed, the real question to ask is: Are Americans being poisoned?” She added: “In the wild, when they want to depopulate and sterilise a large group of animals, they usually inject one animal, and that one animal infects the rest of the animals.”

After the funeral, notorious Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene shared a clip of Silk’s speech on Twitter, which she captioned: “I demand an IMMEDIATE investigation into COVID vaccines and the dramatic increase of people dying suddenly! This can no longer be ignored and is NOT political.”

The Covid-crazed crowd in Britain has not yet reached this level of conspiratorial depravity, but it is sliding in that direction. The flapping over defibrillators in phone boxes has come amid a more severe strand of pseudo-scepticism. Former Telegraph cartoonist Bob Moran last week tweeted that he wanted to see “every last drop of mRNA that exists burned in a lake of fire”, adding that research, labs and companies involved in the vaccine technology should also be expunged from the Earth. When asked by a follower what he would do to the people who produced the vaccines, Moran replied: “Of course there must be trials, certain journalists, doctors, health advisors, politicians, software developers should be jailed. Perhaps consider the death penalty for some — obviously via lethal injection for poetic justice.” This is genuinely troubling stuff. Moran might benefit from a pint of Madri with his mates, who should tell him that this kind of discourse is just “not on, mate”.

He is not alone. Days earlier, the fringe Heritage Party issued a call “on the UK government to stop injecting people with experimental mRNA immediately”. Thankfully, they did not go on to call for state-sanctioned killings of journalists who reported that the vaccine isn’t that bad, all things being equal.

These lunatic approaches have been relatively harmless because they are delivered by people with little to no influence on our politics. Their dissemination is dangerous, but their reach is limited. Sadly, this approach to the vaccine debate is beginning to extend to Rightists with influence. Andrew Bridgen, a now-independent MP, lost the Conservative whip at the start of the year after he compared the vaccine rollout to the Holocaust. It was the culmination of an extremist arch that saw Bridgen in December call for an immediate end to the vaccine being administered. At a vaccine harms rally this week, Bridgen said that the “truth will prevail”. Someone should let him know that it already has: the vaccine harms have been so small so as to be almost statistically negligible.

If Bridgen wanted to lose the Conservative whip in a valuable way, he could have stood up in the Commons or on air and slaughtered his government’s appalling record on crime and immigration. Alas, he and many others are enthusiastically abandoning their credibility. In one sense I pity them, and feel sadness over their descent into a rabbit hole of misunderstanding. It must be hard to be stuck in such a vortex of anger that is so wildly out of sync with reality. All of the stress of their self-imposed rage is likely putting more strain on their hearts than any vaccine ever could.

However strong my feelings of sympathy and concern, they are crowded out by a sense of frustration. All this energy and activism is being wasted on pointless squabbling.

We have no shortage of real problems to focus on. This week we learned that the police missed seven chances to clamp down on an Afghan double murderer — who lied that he was fourteen to get into Britain and went on to knife an aspiring Royal Marine to death. A multi-billion pound hole has been discovered in Britain’s finances. A biological male who raped two women was held in a women’s prison in Scotland.

Without adequate organising and action, all of these issues could worsen to the detriment of what Rightists should hold dear. Please, vaccine battlers, it’s time to leave behind this craze and focus on the many crises in our midst.

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