Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the British public have become familiar with the government repeatedly saying that its decisions are ‘led by the science’. Ministers have used these words to respond to media questions on a wide variety of issues: from the actions the government took – or failed to take – to contain the virus, to the coun- try’s economic prospects.
A simple, reductive message is not unknown in British politics. The soundbite ‘Get Brexit done’ is credited with helping the current government secure its parliamentary majority last December. But it has become glaringly apparent that such simple messaging is of limited use when dealing with a public health crisis of the magnitude of COVID-19.
Contrary to reassuring the public, the repeated deference to ‘the science’ has served not only to highlight the failings in early preparedness for the pandemic, but to reignite tensions that exist at the boundary between policymaking and scientific expertise.