I have heard and used the phrase “because of covid” probably more than any other in the past year. It’s easy to just write off the problems and madness of the past year as having been because of Covid, but that is not the reality. The government has been the source of many of the issues that have come from a year of lockdowns and my hope in this article to encourage you all not to forget this and end up letting them off the hook. Governments make laws, not Covid.
We live in what I believed to be, until 2020, a democratic and free society in which we valued the rights and freedoms that our ancestors went to war and died in their millions to protect. It’s easy to forget the significance of what they fought for, given how different it is to modern warfare and our view of it. When we fought Nazi Germany, we were fighting a brutal dictator on our doorstep to ensure that he did not take control of Europe because, however foolishly, we seemed to believe in the principles of freedom and democracy that our country was supposed to represent. 1930s Britain was far from a perfect society, but the ideals of democracy that they were defending were well understood to be crucial to our way of life.
Compared to our modern wars in the Middle East over oil, lithium, natural gas and opiates, the fight for democracy seems somewhat more consequential. Our ancestors fought and died in their millions to give us rights that we have surrendered without a second thought. Not once have I heard anyone in a position of power mention the idea of democratic consent for the removal of our many rights and liberties – backbench Tory Sir Charles Walker may be the notable exception.
Freedom of assembly, freedom of movement, the right to protest, visit friends or host people in our own homes have all been banned. We have allowed mandatory curfews, closing of businesses, curbs on alcohol sales after certain times, and witnessed a complete failure of our 4th estate – the media – to hold government to account and ask them to justify these policies.
The government has been able to mandate what we wear, refuse to let us visit or even hug elderly relatives, and stopped us from sharing the last moments with dying loved ones; they’ve even stopped us from grieving together – all whilst ignoring the rules they imposed upon us (while flouting the rules themselves – Michelle O’Neill and Dominic Cummings I am looking at you). They found money from an endless well to hand out to friends and donors whilst fighting tooth and nail not to give nurses a pay rise. They’ve brought the NHS to breaking point over the past decade and then had the audacity to claim it was because of covid. Now, in the latest development of the absurd, they have announced that they are considering vaccine passports (an idea that was laughed at last year for being the spawn of paranoid conspiracy theorists). It’s another assault upon our rights as part of a monstrous attack upon what I long thought to be the cornerstones of modern civilization – inalienable rights and freedoms.
All this was achieved without a single vote by the people, public consultation, democratic consent, or even that much of an explanation. Questioning “the science”, asking for some form of cost-benefit analysis or risk reward assessment, pointing out inconsistencies or outright lies, or even suggesting that people should be allowed to have their own choices in these matters have all become highly contentious. Anyone willing to speak out in contrary to the official narrative has been condemned, ostracised, shadow banned online, or censored entirely. The very idea of freedom of speech and thought has been labelled as dangerous.
It is not controversial to suggest that major changes to our fundamental rights need and deserve democratic consent and justification. It was a time sensitive emergency, but that does not give a free hand to these politicians once the initial period of panic and uncertainty had passed. Unfortunately for us, once the power to lock down and control society is there, it can and will be abused by politicians again and again until we stop them. Sadly it is human nature and whilst we can be kind, so too can we be cruel and even vicious in pursuit of what we believe to be “the right thing”. Belfast’s very own C.S. Lewis wrote in his Essays on Theology,
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.”
This brings me to my second point of contention. Covid was responsible for nothing, our government has made these rules that have inflicted such pain. Covid did not force businesses to close, giving no indication of when they might open, the government did. Covid did not throw out our entire pandemic preparedness plan and fail to stockpile PPE, the government did. Covid did not abandon taxi drivers, hairdressers and beauticians, making their trade illegal, the government did. Covid did not lecture you from their zoom calls and fail to hold the government to account, the media did. Covid did not censor contrary opinions or doctors preaching accepted basic virology, Big Tech did. Covid did not cause the largest upward transfer of wealth in human history (a swing of $8 trillion towards the richest in society), lockdowns and government policy did.
Please do not let our inadequate leaders and politicians off the hook after the pain they have caused us over the past year. When you hear about the sharp rise in mental health problems, homelessness, food bank use, suicides, cancer deaths, waiting lists, children regressing or underperforming, or bars, gyms, and restaurants going bust, don’t forget it was not because of covid. It was inflicted by those who we entrusted to rule us. Remember the £37 billion they wasted outsourcing Test and Trace to Serco next time they tell you there isn’t enough money for a pay rise for teachers, nurses, or carers.
The saddest part of the pandemic was our response as people to this corruption and outright authoritarianism. Whilst we were stripped of our rights with no vote, little debate, justification or explanation, we all sat around and did precisely nothing. If you ever wondered how authoritarians turn democracies into dictatorships, this year has been a front row lesson. We accepted the removal of our rights for our own safety, for our own good, and sat by like good little citizens. Some amongst us brayed and begged for stricter rules and harsher regulation, demanding our government become more authoritarian.
Please don’t forget who did this to us. It was not covid. It was the government.
Josh Hamilton is Editor at https://thejist.co.uk/ and is a book author and podcast host. Watch his chat with Jeff Peel on The Jist, here. Note: all TNE guest posts represent the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of TNE.