61% support and 11% oppose the Government’s decision to launch a public inquiry into its coronavirus pandemic response, which is currently set to commence next year. These high levels of support for launching an inquiry are present across both 2019 Conservative voters (59% support) and 2019 Labour voters (65% support) and suggest a high degree of willingness among the public for a proper investigation into the Government’s response to the pandemic.
Despite high levels of public support for holding the inquiry, the public is split over whether the inquiry will correctly identify the mistakes made by the UK Government, with 38% saying they have confidence that it will but 41% saying otherwise. Overall, Conservative voters (46%) were somewhat more likely to have faith in the inquiry than Labour voters (37%), but both camps are generally very split in their expectations. Interestingly, younger respondents were more likely to have faith in the inquiry, with 41% of respondents aged 18 to 24 saying they think it will succeed at identifying where the Government went wrong, as opposed to only 30% of those aged 65 and older who share this view.
More to the point, almost half (49%) of respondents say, no, they do not have confidence that the inquiry will correctly identify the specific individuals at fault for the mistakes made by the Government in its response to the coronavirus crisis, compared to only 30% who have confidence that it will. Interestingly, both 2019 Conservative voters (43%) and 2019 Labour voters (51%) are relatively pessimistic when it comes to the inquiry’s ability to attribute blame to the correct individuals.
Even so, thinking about the likely impact of the inquiry, 42% of the public think the inquiry is more likely to invite (rather than deflect) genuine scrutiny into the Government’s coronavirus response, whereas 35% think it is more likely to deflect (rather than invite) genuine scrutiny. Whereas Conservative voters are noticeably more likely to select the former rather than the latter option (48% and 29%, respectively), Labour voters are split, with 42% expecting the inquiry to invite genuine scrutiny and 43% expecting it to be an exercise in deflection.
Even so, the British public has little faith that the public inquiry will be conducted speedily. Indeed, a majority (54%) does not have confidence that the public inquiry will be conducted speedily, suggesting that many could see the inquiry as a way to delay (if not quite deflect) further scrutiny.
Intimately connected to these questions is the fundamental question as to whether the Government truly wishes to learn from its mistakes—or indeed whether it has learned its lessons already. Further reflecting the truly split nature of responses to the above questions, our research also finds that 44% think the Government has already learned from the mistakes it made during the pandemic, whereas 44% think the Government has not yet learned from its mistakes. Responses to this question are more partisan, compared to the other questions, with a majority of Conservative voters (65%) saying the Government has learned its lessons, whereas a majority of Labour voters (61%) say it is has not learned them yet.
On this front, 37% find the Government to now be ‘very prepared’ or ‘prepared’ for a similar crisis in the future. Another 34% deem the Government ‘more prepared than unprepared.’ Just 22% say they think that the Government is at least more unprepared than prepared for a similar crisis in the future.
However, this question might not quite paint the best picture of public opinion regarding preparedness for future crises. Indeed, in a March poll, 51% of respondents said that their views came closest to the view ‘The way the UK has responded to the coronavirus pandemic has left me feeling anxious about the UK’s ability to respond to future crises.’ The other49% of respondents, meanwhile, said they came closest to the view that ‘The way the UK has responded to the coronavirus pandemic has left me feeling confident about the UK’s ability to respond to future crises.’
Ultimately, there is majority support for holding the coronavirus response public inquiry, but the public lacks confidence that it will be conducted speedily or that it will correctly identify the mistakes by the Government and the specific individuals responsible for those mistakes. In addition, respondents are nearly evenly split over whether the Government has already learned some lessons from its past mistakes or not, echoing an earlier split in March regarding whether the public is anxious or confident in the UK’s ability to respond to future crises following the coronavirus pandemic.