There are few better at understanding risk in all its forms than Wheeler, the millionaire founder of City spread betting company IG Index. He has been in or around important people for the past 50 years, dining with the Queen and Princess Margaret, playing bridge with Omar Sharif, gambling with Sir James Goldsmith and Lord Lucan in Mayfair’s infamous Clermont Club and then using millions of pounds of his own money to prop up first William Hague’s Conservatives and then, in 2011, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party.
Yet turning to the current crop of political leaders, Wheeler laments the fact that they are apparently failing to factor in the risk to life every day, when working out a response to the Covid-19 virus. “I don’t think anyone has ever properly applied sensible consideration of risk to this kind of thing, although they should have done,” he says.
“And I don’t think the Government has been nearly honest enough with the people. If they had said to people ‘of course we are anxious to lift these restrictions because they are costing people jobs, making people miserable and so on. But there is a cost – every time we remove a restriction to some extent, not negligible, we are increasing the likelihood that more people will get unwell and a few of them will die’. So it is a very tricky decision, I don’t deny that, but we seem to have handled it about as badly as any other country.”
Wheeler is scathing of the Government focus on another R word – the Reproductive rate of the virus, which ministers insist must stay below 1 to avoid the cases increasing (it is currently 0.7 to 0.9).
“What everyone gets wrong is this magic number R – if everyone keeps below it everything is fine and if we go above it it is absolutely disastrous. If R were 1, then in two weeks’ time there would still be, say, 100,000 people infected. But if R were 0.3, the 100,000 would in two weeks have gone down to 30,000, and in eight weeks it would have gone to 810.”
Wheeler thinks the Government would have been far better advised to have a shorter, sharper and stricter crackdown, and lifted “all the restrictions” completely after two months. “There was a very strong case for being very strict for a short period,” he says.
Wheeler is good friends with Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s chief adviser, who with his wife Mary Wakefield were guests at Chilham Castle as recently as February. Cummings also spoke at the launch of Wheeler’s memoir, Winning Against the Odds, in a Mayfair club last September.