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Voices: Desmond Swayne proves himself to be the Muhammad Ali of stupid – the stupidest of all time

The Independent logo The Independent 15/12/2021 Tom Peck
Conservative MP Sir Desmond Swayne  - PA © Provided by The Independent

Conservative MP Sir Desmond Swayne

- PA

The debate was pointless on two levels. Before it started, the Labour Party had already promised to back the government on the issue of so-called “vaccine passports”, reducing long hours of House of Commons time to an effective sporting contest between unhinged Tory backbenchers to see who could reveal themselves in public to be the most stupid. And this was in itself pointless, because Desmond Swayne MP was there.

Swayne is the Muhammad Ali of stupid. Not The Goat but The Stoat. The Stupidest Of All Time. And not merely The Stoat but The Stoat of Stoats.

It is occasionally argued that Ali stands alone for being the greatest in an era of greats. Other commonly agreed goats, like, say, Simone Biles or Tiger Woods, did their great deeds in comparatively quiet times. Swayne, on the other hand, not only exercises a stupidity that towers above the rest, he does so in the most stupid era there has ever been. There has, without question, never been a House of Commons this stupid, yet no one can lay a glove on him.

But even by his own exalted, never to be surpassed standards, the high bar of stupid that only he can reach, this was quite possibly his masterwork. He rose, he bounced up and down on the balls of his feet, and then, punctuated by juts of his lower jaw, wove together a syncopated, multi-layered concerto of stupid, with each movement more daring than the last.

“In a typical winter’s day, between 200 and 350 people will die of flu,” he said. He glowered at the opposition benches and the government benches as he did this, at least acknowledging the fact that he was taking on both at once, the kind of thing that might give a man, or indeed single-celled organism, brief pause for thought. It was the kind of glower one imagines he might have practiced the night before. His little eyes probably bulged in just this way when he researched this little factoid on, say, the Office for National Statistics website, which will have shown it to be wildly inaccurate by, depending on how you break out the numbers, a factor of about 10. Then you have to consider the fact that, we’re almost two years into all this now, and so almost two full years since anyone sane dropped the flu comparisons for reasons that no sentient being should still be expected to type out.


He wasn’t done here though. Rotating now, moving in a little half circumference, his eyes sought out the eyes of other members while he told them of, “the carnage on our roads, almost certainly killing more people than Covid at the moment, yet some of us choose to drive!”

At this point, you have to remind yourself that Desmond Swayne is, as far as we know, actually human. And that an actual human being, in public life, drawing a wage from the public purse, really does, at this point, think that driving is more dangerous than Covid. It tragically falls upon us, at this point, to point out that so far this year, an estimated 1,460 people have died on the roads. The pandemic has thus far claimed 150,000 lives. At the moment at which Swayne spoke, the latest daily death toll was published. One hundred and fifty today. A similar number yesterday.

The debate Swayne was taking part in concerned what could be done to diminish the commonly agreed fact that the number is highly likely to soar in the weeks ahead, a fact that Swayne doesn’t think anything should be done about, mainly because of a terrifyingly high number of car crashes that exist only in his imagination.

We’ve obviously been very far through the looking glass for a while now, but the debate in general still had a more pungent flavour of madness around it than has become normal for a while. It involved Labour’s shadow home secretary, Wes Streeting, who’s been in the job about a week, having to act as de facto umpire in the Brainless Tory of The Year Award, as they took it in turns to try and give him a kicking for the thing their own government is doing.

With admirable eloquence he explained how none of their points mattered. That they could mutter on about omicron being “more mild”, even though there’s precious little evidence as yet that it is, and that the vaccines will prevent severe illness. But the point was that if omicron sweeps through the country, it will sweep through NHS workers who probably won’t die but who won’t be able to work, and the NHS will collapse. And that – that – is the main point, the only metric that matters. And it matters a hell of a lot more than whether vaccine refuseniks get to go to nightclubs or not.

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(It should also be noted that the Liberal Democrats were extremely keen participants in this contest; for the increasingly large percentage of increasingly despairing “progressives” who continue to fail to understand why the non-Tories can’t just be one big happy party, your answer: because they actually don’t agree on very much at all. The Lib Dems are too bothered about their sacred principles to worry about the NHS. The Greens would never let Labour back Trident so Labour couldn’t ever win an election with them on board, and the SNP want to break up the country. Politics is hard.)

It is, arguably, disappointing that Labour chose not to take this very big opportunity to make it very clear to the public, who have consistently and overwhelmingly been in favour of restrictions to contain the spread of Covid, that the Conservative Party is so utterly mad and so utterly dysfunctional that it couldn’t have won this kind of vote on its own. That it very clearly can’t, in short, be trusted to keep the people safe – the actual bare minimum requirement of any government.

One makes predictions at one’s peril, but it does seem that the people have been working this out on their own, and quite possibly without Desmond Swayne’s help, grateful though we all must be for it.

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