“Pandemics cannot happen”: the views of the Independent Oxford Alliance’s chair

“Pandemics cannot happen”: the views of the Independent Oxford Alliance’s chair
A Banksy satire on climate change. Photo by Matt Brown at Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY.

Anne Gwinnett, the chair of Oxford’s new anti-LTN party, has posted a series of tweets which cast doubt on the Covid pandemic and climate change, among other topics.

Dr Gwinnett, who lives in the north Oxfordshire village of Tackley, has been the chair of the Independent Oxford Alliance since its formation. Her Twitter account includes a suggestion of “a push to centralised dystopian control”; a call for health bodies to weaken Covid protections; and an image promoting ivermectin as a drug that can “beat Covid”.

The Independent Oxford Alliance states that “we operate as an alliance of independents… IOA candidates and councillors think for themselves and have their own views.” In this long read ahead of polling day on Thursday, we explore the views of the party’s chair, who appears on election literature appealing for a return to “common sense” in Oxford.

“Ban the mask”

Much of Dr Gwinnett’s timeline is taken up by criticism of public health measures intended to slow the spread of Covid-19. One retweet contained a call to “Ban the mask”. Another tweet by Dr Gwinnett doubted that masks help reduce infections.

Dr Gwinnett tweeted that she personally had lobbied regulatory bodies to weaken Covid protections:

In July 2021, Dr Gwinnett posted an image asserting that ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug for animals and people, was “safe and lo-cost” and “beats COVID”. The alleged use had already been disowned by drug company Merck (in February 2021), the US National Institutes of Health (in the same month), and the European Medicines Agency (in March). The US Food & Drug Administration responded to suggestions that ivermectin might act against Covid by tweeting “You are not a horse”.

One retweet highlights a call for vaccine manufacturers such as Astra-Zeneca, Pfizer and Moderna to be “immediately indicted for fraud”. Another states that “Pandemics cannot happen”, part of a wider thread which alleges that Covid was “planned” and that its spread would be “self limiting”.

A theory retweeted by Dr Gwinnett claims that Covid-19 test kits were being imported by several countries in 2017. This claim, which Dr Gwinnett reposted in February 2023, had been debunked by the BBC and others as far back as September 2020.

“There is no #ClimateEmergency”

Another topic aired in Dr Gwinnett’s timeline is climate change. One retweet claims “There is no climate emergency but there is a massive climate scam.”

A retweet promotes the views of Malcolm Roberts, the Queensland politician described by Wikipedia as “a proponent of fringe global warming conspiracy theories”. Roberts has a background in the coal industry and believes global warming is “a UN-inspired hoax to introduce an antihuman socialist New World Order”.

“There is a push to centralised dystopian control”

Dr Gwinnett has also promoted views that suggest Covid controls were connected to a wider global agenda. In one retweet, she commented: “this is pretty clear – there is a push to centralised dystopian control”.

Conspiracy theories about the World Economic Forum became commonplace over the Covid period. Boosted by a speech in which the head of the WEF called for a post-Covid world to be “healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous”, the theories centre around (in the words of the BBC) “a grand conspiracy by the global elite, who somehow planned and managed the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Here, Dr Gwinnett is sharing a tweet which makes a connection between “wealthy businessmen requiring unvaccinated crew on their business jets” and the World Economic Forum. The connection has been disclaimed by the pilot in the featured interview, who said “Unfollow anyone spreading this garbage”.

In another tweet, Dr Gwinnett promoted a petition which called for “LGBT content” to be removed from the primary school curriculum. The petition asserted “I am sure there are many parents who do not want their or other children taught about LGBT in primary school.”

The response from the Department for Education was that “Primary schools are not required to teach LGBT content.” The only mention in the primary school curriculum is that “Families of many forms provide a nurturing environment for children. (Families can include for example, single parent families, LGBT parents, families headed by grandparents, adoptive parents, foster parents and carers amongst other structures.)”

Politicians and social media

Political figures’ social media accounts are now regularly scrutinised – on local councils as in Westminster. Kevin Bulmer, Oxfordshire county councillor for Goring, was recently suspended from the Conservatives for sharing an anti-Islamic posting by the far right group Britain First, though he continues to sit as a member of the Conservative Independent Alliance grouping. Ian Middleton, leader of the Green group on the County Council, was attacked for past tweets which “of course look appalling”. Liam Walker, the combative county councillor for Hanborough, resigned from his post in the previous Conservative administration after agreeing with an anti-cyclist tweet.

There is no suggestion that Dr Gwinnett’s views on climate change or the pandemic are the policies of the Independent Oxford Alliance. We have not been able to find any opinion on climate change on its website or tweets, and the party stresses that “our candidates and councillors do not have to follow a party line”. Indeed, one IOA candidate, David Henwood, previously brought a motion to Oxford City Council that praised children for going on climate change strikes: “We have a collective responsibility to change both as individuals and as members of groups and communities.”

In this election, the IOA has sought to align itself with the interests of car drivers, describing council policies as a “narrow minded attack on motorists” and promoting “freedom of choice when it comes to modes of transport”. For the 19% of voters who do not believe in man-made climate change, and in particular the contribution from transport emissions, the IOA is likely to be a more palatable choice than the explicitly climate-centric policies adopted by the Greens, Liberal Democrats, and many Labour councillors.

Conversely, voters who do not support the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, yet believe in tackling climate change, may query whether they are comfortable voting for a party whose chair has promoted the notion of a “#ClimateScam”. They may choose instead to vote for one of the other parties who are opposed to (or sceptical about) LTNs, such as the Conservatives or some Labour councillors.

Dr Gwinnett’s name does not appear on an Oxford ballot paper – just as Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak’s names don’t – but she features heavily in leaflets delivered in Oxford. The Independent Oxford Alliance says that it will “make decisions based on genuine feedback & evidence”. Dr Gwinnett’s willingness to promote tropes such as “Why were countries importing COVID 19 test kits in 2017?”, over two years after it had been straightforwardly and widely debunked, sits uneasily with this.

The Oxford Clarion contacted Dr Gwinnett for comment and received the following response which we publish verbatim.

"As the name would suggest the Independent Oxford Alliance (IOA) is focused entirely on issues in local politics directly affecting the lives of people who live and work in Oxford and its surrounding areas. Unlike national parties, whose tone is set by an elected leader and enforced by party whip, our party came together around five key priorities for improving life in Oxford.  Therefore, what I, or anyone else, thinks on global issues holds no particular sway. Each of our independent candidates constructs their own manifesto based on feedback from people in their constituency."