Swine flu was a textbook case of a scare
By Christopher Booker
So swine flu – eventually found to be only a tenth as virulent as ordinary flu – passes into history as yet another massive scare. Hyped out of all proportion by drug companies and the World Health Organisation, this fooled our endlessly gullible politicians into spending £1 billion on vaccines which turned out not to be needed. Thus, quite predictably, did the swine flu panic follow the classic pattern of so many other scares before it, as Dr North and I analysed in our book on the phenomenon, Scared To Death. Tracing the history of many examples, we showed how the most damaging point in any scare, from BSE and salmonella in eggs to the Millennium Bug, comes when governments fall for the hype, needlessly costing us all billions of pounds.
With perfect timing, the European Parliament last week shelled out 70,000 euros on a propaganda exercise at Olympia, designed to turn children into “active EU citizens”. I was alerted to this shameless PR stunt by Gawain Towler, press officer for the group in the Brussels parliament which includes the UK Independence Party.
The EU’s interactive game, dubbed “Crisis Point”, asked children to imagine that they were an MEP or a European Commissioner faced with a deadly new disease, Xtreme Drug Resistant TB, which had sent Europe into meltdown. The players were told they had just a day to choose from a range of strategies to save their fellow European citizens from disaster. Clicking the buttons, Mr Towler soon saw the point. If national governments were allowed to take unilateral action, the screen showed that millions would die. But if the EU was allowed to assume control, it would be possible to reduce the number of deaths to only a few dozen.
This is what North and I dubbed “the beneficial crisis”, whereby the EU has repeatedly used some panic over health, energy, finance or terrorism to justify seizing more power from national governments. A glaring instance was the Belgian dioxins panic of 1999, which gave Brussels the excuse to take over from member states all power to regulate on food safety. No sooner had it done so than the hysteria over dioxins in Belgian chickens, which led to losses of £1 billion, was found to have been completely baseless. But once again, the EU had succeeded in the one thing it is really good at – sucking ever more power to the centre, in order then, corruptly and very inefficiently, to misuse it.