I think a lot about about this (now-deleted) tweet by Daniel Hannan, aka ‘the man who brought you Brexit‘. It was originally posted in February 2020:
It’s not a tweet that has aged well. It’s a shame though: Hannan’s brisk common-sense tone is comforting. His instincts here were that this would all blow over, and maybe there is an alternate timeline where he was right. In the linked article, Hannan admits he is not “an epidemiologist, an immunologist or a pathologist… I have no medical qualifications whatever“, but is confident enough to say coronavirus “is unlikely to be as lethal as the more common forms of influenza that we take for granted… We are nowhere near a 1919-style global catastrophe“.
It would be great to be living in that universe where Daniel Hannan had been correct, and the coronavirus turned out to be panic not pandemic.
Hannan promotes an image of himself as combining intellectual rigour with common sense. In his work, Hannan often tells you calmly not to worry, it will be OK, because these sort of things usually are. It’s the same tone of voice he uses to attack things like literary theory, dismissing Jacques Derrida in an aside in one of his books, explaining how this sort of academic foolishness can be ignored. There is no intellectual curiousity about why something he thinks is silly is seen as important by so many people. Dan is the sort of thinker who feels his simple answer is always right.
To be fair, Twitter is not Hannan’s best medium. I’ve spent a lot of time considering one example where Hannan unsuccessfully lied about a hike (I’ve written a 10,000 word essay on that one, which I will publish properly one day). There even used to be a column in the New Statesman called What is Daniel Hannan demonstrably wrong about this week? which ran for an embarassingly long time. A surprising number of these mistakes related to trade tariffs, something Hannan should have had a grip of as head of the Initiative for Free Trade (not an Institute) and the intellectual architect of Brexit.
It’s easy to mock Daniel Hannan. But I would love that gentle wisdom about coronavirus to have been correct. It also now looks like we are leaving the EU without a trade deal. Hannan’s calm tone about that is as dismissive of people’s fears as his tweets on coronavirus. If you want to see Hannan’s vision for 2025, he wrote a science fiction story about post-EU Britain, in which Britain is prosperous and happy.
I hope Hannan’s predictions for Brexit are more accurate than those about coronavirus. I wished we lived in a universe where Daniel Hannan was right more often.