In the continuing coronavirus pandemic, it doesn’t seem that much is getting better for anybody. People are panic buying, scaremongering is rife, and more deaths are being reported.
It’s almost as if we are now living in the 2011 Steven Soderbergh movie Contagion, and that’s as bad it seems.
What should make us far more concerned, however, is the newest attempts by the government to squash our freedoms, of whose effects could linger long after the coronavirus has died down. This should worry us all, especially given how it could go through Parliament unopposed.
If one dissects the bill, this is inarguably the gravest threat to our civil liberties since the era of Tony Blair, whereby he did his best to restrict the liberty of the ordinary citizen to combat so-called ‘terrorism’.
Many basic freedoms are put at risk. The police have more power to detain ordinary civilians if they suspect them of having the virus, allowing the Home Secretary to control port operators more strictly, basic gatherings could be cancelled (with the businesses involved being forced to close), and local elections can be suspended.
Surely the obvious threats to basic Habeas Corpus laws and the undermining of democracy that this entails should reasonably concern any citizen, especially for something of which in this country has a fatality rate of 5% and most of the people who catch it have it mildly.
It also gives more power to the local government to interfere in funeral processes and puts more pressure on the employer involving sick pay. This also doesn’t explain how the £300 billion in funds is being spent on aid, which given its inevitable lack of revenue (unless drastic action - such as scrapping excess spending on the likes of foreign aid and HS2 and possibly increasing taxes for the wealthy – is taken) is likely to cripple Britain’s economy for the near future, of whose impacts shall outlast the coronavirus indefinitely.
Also, an important part of this to worry about is that the adverse effects of the bill shall be felt far longer than this outbreak lasts.
The law shall be in place for two years, and that’s not even considering if the government simply ignores repealing it later on like the Labour Party attempted to do for mandatory ID cards. Could this get any worse?
And I understand much of the criticism for this attitude, but much of it is based on emotion rather than facts. Would I rather people die? No, but there’s no evidence that these sort of restrictions will work, and in the cases of Italy and France (who have initiated similar measures), it hasn’t made a difference.
Don’t you think the coronavirus is enough of a threat to warrant such overreach? No, I don’t, given that there are few examples where this level of government control is warranted, let alone this case, whereby you’re far more likely to die in a car accident than through catching the coronavirus.
Why are you so selfish? Not certain that not wanting civil liberties restricted and thinking ahead beyond a brief period of panic is selfish at all, especially given that many of those same people who bring up this accusation often panic buy and overload on essential products at the expense of others.
What makes it stranger is the flip-flopping of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He was once a champion of civil liberties, going as far as to appear in the documentary Taking Liberties, where he complained about such freedoms being ‘eroded’ by the Blair government, and it having to be ‘a good job to get it back again’. Will the real Boris Johnson please stand up? Or is he pandering to the reactionaries and much of the regressive left, as he has done since taking power?
Far too many commentators on both the left and the right have remained silent on this, and in some cases have supported such measures, condemning those who raise even a flicker of criticism as uncaring brutes, who might as well have spread the virus themselves.
But good on those for challenging this, like columnist Peter Hitchens, The Conservative Woman founder and writer Laura Perrins, comedian Jimmy Dore and journalist Robert Peston among others, who seem to appreciate basic civil liberties above mass hysteria and panic.
The reasonable solution to this would have been to ban all flights from China and other highly infected zones and possibly to seal borders, which countries like South Korea have done, and where the problems are nowhere near as prevalent as they are here.
However, the government is so heavily drunk on globalisation (of whose ending shall hopefully start after this pandemic) and the global economy, that such reasonable measures were put out to pasture, and now the more draconian seems appropriate. However, it isn’t, and never will be.
In the aforementioned Hitchens’ 2004 classic The Abolition Of Liberty, he warned that attacks on basic freedoms were ‘popular’ as the public ‘increasingly believes what it is told and would tolerate much in return for a real attack on crime’, against whatever ‘bogeyman’ was prominent in that news cycle.
However, he also outlined that he felt that there were enough people ‘from both traditions, who believe that freedom is our most precious possession and that no arguments of necessity should be allowed to weaken or destroy it’.
Hopefully, there will be enough outrage about this for the government to have some sense and, at least, put this to a debate in Parliament. It’s what the public deserves. Until then, email or contact your MP any way you can. This is far too important to ignore.