December 10, 2020 - 8:00am

Now that the great vaccine roll-out has begun, I can reveal its active ingredient: sour grapes. At least, that’s the impression you get reading Fintan O’Toole’s column in The Guardian.

According to him, the pride that we might feel in being the first country to start vaccinating against Covid is “phoney patriotism”. In any case, he argues, “very little is really gained by jumping ahead of other countries by a few weeks”.

Really? How about vaccinating vulnerable people against a deadly disease that’s still infecting thousands every day? I’d say that’s a pretty big gain. What would O’Toole have us do instead? Politely not use an available vaccine until the EU catches up?

Let’s just imagine the reverse scenario, in which the EU had got its ducks in a row and the UK was lagging behind. Do you think The Guardian would have been running op-eds arguing that Europe was “jumping ahead of other countries” and that the British delay didn’t really matter? No, the propaganda value of such a comparison would have been exploited to the full.

O’Toole is keen to remind us that this particular vaccine was developed in other countries — something we already know. It’s not like the British government is trying to obscure that fact — it has, after all, ordered millions of doses, and is now busily injecting them into its own citizens. Inoculation is the sincerest form of flattery.

The author accepts that the “integrity of the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is not in doubt”, but then immediately launches into a diatribe about the “political pressure to declare a win for Britain”. What is being implied here? If the integrity of the regulator is beyond doubt, then the only political pressure that matters is that on the Government to make the vaccine available the moment it’s approved.

If ministers want to declare this a win, then good. It’s not like we don’t need cheering up. Indeed, the economic recovery depends on the restoration of hope. O’Toole objects to ministers wrapping up the good news in “red, white and blue”, but what government doesn’t wave the flag? The EU is no exception — slapping the old blue-and-gold on anything it can get its net contributors to pay for.

Of course, if you’re determined to put the worst possible spin on everything that the British Government does, then there’ll be no pleasing you. O’Toole even accuses Matt Hancock of “pretend-crying on Good Morning Britain”. Well, that’s one interpretation. Another is that a man who has shouldered a weight of responsibility that few of us can imagine, who has been blamed for the deaths of tens of thousands people, and who has lost a family member to Covid might just be feeling a twinge of emotion on a day when something finally went right.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.