I had a curious encounter with Kevin Gray on Linkedin the other day. Kevin is CEO of Bath Building Society and, as such, I expected a degree of skill not available to the average soul. Kevin was responding to a post about Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership skills and the SNP in general. It transpired that Kevin does not like the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon or Scottish Independence although he is a Scot in England. Not unsurprisingly, Kevin also likes Brexit. But quite surprisingly, given his position as CEO, he had swallowed some of Boris Johnson’s lies. The transcript of the dialogue that follows illustrates just how pervasive the Dunning-Kruger effect is and especially so when one tries to change someone’s mind using online media. This BBC post was the initial trigger for Kevin’s outburst at Nicola. She rightly pointed out that Boris Johnson’s preoccupations with getting Brexit done, childbirth, ovens, fridges etc. had made a considerable impact on Britain’s ability to focus on the pandemic. I have left Kevin’s remarks unchecked in purple. My replies are in red. The entire conversation is exactly as it emerged on Linkedin. No editing etc. Simply reportage.
Kevin’s initial reaction was : “Hhhmmmm. Not so sure about that. If there was one example of where Brexit did actually help anyone it was in allowing the uk goverment to move quickly with the vaccine taskforce and deliver mass vacination ahead of EU states. I suspect Devolution did not help however. Having x4 parliaments/assemblies to deal with in the UK must surely have slowed up the response? Much as Nicola was a great politician, I would personally not give too much air time to any nationalist whose aim is only to deliver further and much more serious division in the UK.”
Given Kevin’s senior position, I felt no need to hold back and I replied thus:
“I’m afraid this is incorrect Kevin. We could always have done this as an EU member. The truth will come out in the COVID inquiry. Do remember that the vaccine was developed by foreign scientists. In desperation, Johnson used buying power to snaffle up the supplies. Speaking as a scientist, I must remind you of the short-sightedness of stockpiling medicines in a GLOBAL pandemic. This strategy sprang from Johnson’s desire to mask Brexit carnage with the COVID cover up. The result was a “Britastrophe”. Please check with scientific facts if you don’t believe me.”
To cheer him up and keep it a bit lighter I sent him a copy of the song I wrote in 2020 to epitomise the word Britastrophe:
Kevin was undeterred :
“Don’t get me wrong… we were ill prepared for the pandemic and the preps and early actions were inadequate. I’m pretty sure the enquiry will recognise that. Nevertheless, I’m pretty happy that early political action to stockpile and make early orders might have protected my friends, family, neighbours and their relations and friends in the UK. When it comes to avoiding death of my loved ones…I’m happy to jump the waiting list. We steal nurses from the third world ‘day in day out’ for the NHS so no new low standard applied there. I can’t see how being in the EU would have made a positive difference to the outcome for the UK quite frankly. I also think that SNP will find any cause to justify further separation, angst and years of pain in these islands that will be far worse than any political split from the EU. Some of us are Scots with families divided by politics on this matter. The SNP have hardly covered themselves in glory with their running of the NHS in Scotland for oh so many years after all. Now… an EU wide future plan including with the UK involved would make a lot of sense.”
I decided to challenge the basis of his competence. I am quite sure that Kevin is a competent CEO of a building society, but not so sure about this matter of science :
“Kevin, I imagine that you are NOT a biologist, epidemiologist or similar. As I said, your first statement was demonstrably wrong and the stockpiling of medicines is not a victimless crime. I’m quite disappointed that a CEO can have so little systemic thinking.”
Kevin defended himself again : “We sadly live in an imperfect world where states do not have equal resources or peoples have access to the same levels of health care. I agree that stockpiling vaccine was not victimless but the NHS holds drug stockpiles as part of their business as usual. British citizens benefit from the NHS hiring foreign health workers, often at the expense of others’ health care. It’s not right… but the primary duty of the UK government is to protect UK citizens. Same elsewhere. The UK government was following the preps for the wrong pandemic and clearly failed to implement lockdown as quickly as it should have. They failed to see what had worked in Asia to control SARS. That undoubtedly cost lives. I still cannot see what difference being in the EU would have made though. Happy to be put right on that point. The seeds of our slow initial response were sown decades ago. The next pandemic could be far worse so let’s hope the learning is swift.”
I decided at this point to put some external expert support from a Government source and offered him a way out of his fake news and an opportunity to ‘kiss and make up’ online :
“Kevin. Please read full fact : COVID and Brexit. Now you may correct the record on here. People believe fake news so please add a fact check to your original post.
‘Wrong pandemic’ – coughs … 🙂 I won’t embarrass you further on here but you are welcome to an online leaders’ debate.
Re your point ‘Some of us are Scots with families divided by politics on this matter.’ I can help you with the family healing issue. Read my book on Rebooting Britain.
You made two further points : ‘They failed to see what had worked in Asia to control SARS. That undoubtedly cost lives.’
This was not so much a failure, which implies accidental ignorance. This was wilful ignorance. Johnson and Hancock deliberately put infected patients into care homes due to the false narrative of herd immunity and a non-existent protective ring. This cost 40 000 unnecessary deaths. As regards Johnson’s level of attention and focus on the problem, this image sums up his leadership skills in this area :
You also said ‘When it comes to avoiding death of my loved ones…I’m happy to jump the waiting list. We steal nurses from the third world ‘day in day out’ for the NHS so no new low standard applied there.’
This too is a false equivalence. I won’t bore you with the details but it is one of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s skills. To learn more read the book. Both situations are deplorable (poaching foreign nationals and stockpiling drugs in a pandemic), but they are NOT equivalent.”
By this time I thought Kevin was probably looking for an equitable way out of the matter, having perhaps wished he had never begun this encounter. He used the well-worn Brexiter phrase in an attempt to find something we could agree about:
Kevin : “Well everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I hope we can agree on that. The truth will out in the end and I’m sure that we may all be enlightened. I’m pretty sure that we can also agree that it won’t be 100 years before the next pandemic.”
I’m afraid I could not let this false equivalence pass for peace either :
“Kevin. Facts trump opinions I’m afraid. When they are put in the scales of truth, facts outweigh opinions.
But you are most welcome to join me on a leader’s debate on ZOOM at your convenience with an invited audience on “Brexit Futures”.
Human intervention has probably guaranteed that it will not be 100 years until another health crisis, possibly fungal and far more problematic, but nonetheless, Brexit will have a deeper impact on lives and livelihoods in the long term than COVID has, save for those killed by Johnson’s careless care home strategy, for which there is no way back for them.
The Brexit impact films are worth a look – all fact checked.”
At this point, Kevin ran away as they often do. I would draw some lessons out from this dialogue ….
Brexiteers can come from anywhere. Even CEOs and intellectually bright are susceptible to illusions about Brexit. This merely confirms that Brexit is a religion / ideology and we must use strategies that address beliefs and identity change rather than the usual toolkit.
The lies put forward by Brexiteers have been installed like permafrost on some people’s minds. I very much doubt that Kevin is stupid. I imagine he can count money, but maybe not microbes or viruses.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is powerful when a figure of authority is challenged online where position power counts for nothing. I gave Kevin several levels of expertise to help him revise his view that Brexit had helped the COVID vaccine delivery programme but he stuck to his previously held beliefs.
Online Brexorcisms are always problematic. See the reasons why in this extract from Reboot Britain below.
That said, other people watch these online interactions and stay silent. They are sometimes more important than the other person in the conversation. Kevin made himself and his company look pretty daft in this interaction.
I doubt I will be getting a Christmas card from The Bath Building Society … oddly enough Bath voted to Remain. I wonder if some of the good people of Bath are reviewing their local building societies …