I usually avoid writing about political matters as I feel that discussing such topics often generates more heat that light. However, I think the recent debacle surrounding Boris Johnson’s flagrant breaking of his own government’s rules concerning social gatherings during lock down has brought the more ludicrous aspects of British politics and the pandemic into focus.
The common interpretation of Johnson’s breach of the rules I hear endlessly repeated, namely, that the public were morally right to follow whatever ludicrous rules the government imposes on them so long as the prime minister also follows them also. The prime minister’s dishonesty is clearly worth of rebuke but should not our attention really be focused on the inhuman restrictions lock down imposed on society? Even if the prime minister were following the rules he would be doing so from his mansion Chequers, which is presumably well staffed. Simply put, he is already living a gilded lifestyle. The idea that any sacrifice he makes would have anything more than a purely symbolic value is an illusion.
There is something of the theatrical in this whole situation, Johnson has failed to play the role assigned by society as a person who must follow his own ridiculous edicts. This failure has generated a level of outrage that is beyond the ordinary. Boris Johnson has stepped out of character and revealed that the luxury of being a law maker is not having to follow rules you create. There is also something curiously roman about his rule of the country via edict although apparently supported by “the science”. This said, appealing to Apollo or Zeus a source of authority is far more honest and transparent than using science as a shield.
I have never held public office but I imagine the job of being prime minister must be very stressful, if he wants to let off some steam and have some booze he should be allowed to. Although, his dishonesty is clearly reprehensible it is the rules themselves that are deserving of far greater censure. Can a society be said to be free when it is an item of law under what circumstances I am allowed to leave my house? The discourse around the virus and the constant messaging we are subjected to word “safety” is endlessly repeated, what is ignored in this rhetoric is that the vast majority of adults are not at risk of serious health issues from the virus. Instead of focusing on shielding vulnerable individuals the government instead opted for the dubious strategy of making everyone’s lives equally miserable. It is this logic which is at the heart of socialism: all people must be leveled down to the point where we are all existing in the same reduced state. The government than proceeded to micro managed what people could and could not do on a daily basis: pubs were allowed to open, but had to close after 10pm, you had to wear face mask in restaurants, but not when you are sitting down, face masks were mandatory on planes and trains, but food and drink were still served. Such double think is an intrinsic part of the new regime we must all live under. The government had to be seen to be doing “something” no matter how stupid it is. We must observe the rules even if they are contradictory.
Neil Oliver sums up the situation very eloquently in this speech:
Another feature of this new order is that instead of dividing people by class or by the religion we instead divided by whether our occupation is “essential” and “non-essential”: health workers, public transport employees and other such professions are “essential”. These people were allowed to leave their house more than the prescribed limits. Most other people were not able to enjoy this privileged status.
The virus does not care about our societal notions of “equality”. A great deal of fuss has been made in media about how the pandemic has had an unequal effect on people’s lives, the rich mostly escaping unscathed are able to spend the duration of lock down in relatively luxurious living conditions. Again, there is clearly something wrong with people living in deprivation and poverty (something the government created by making it impossible to for people to work due to the restrictions). However, would it be better if the virus had been more lethal and virulent and killed larger swathes of the population? That would clearly be a more equal distribution of outcomes but it is not better.
The British like to style ourselves as a freedom loving people. After the shockingly high levels of compliance to the government pandemic restrictions I am not so sure we can do so anymore. What people do not remember is that one of ways any evil regimes takes power is not through force alone, but also through the passive compliance of the majority1 . This brings me to another point that is often ignored, that the best defense against the virus is being healthy. However, for a government in love interfering in people’s lives simple advice advocating a healthy lifestyle, loosing weight and getting enough time outdoors was obviously not a going to be popular as these are not interventionist measures. None of legislation brought in during the pandemic was give proper scrutiny. Shouldn’t people who pay for all of the state apparatus have some say over how it is run? We get to vote every four years but beyond this our participation is generally not required. It both farcical and disgusting to have my civil liberties taken away by a service I pay for. Although on this occasion our overlords have deemed that we can have some of our rights back; perhaps on a temporary basis.
Taxation represents year of my life in service of a system that does not even help the people most in need. The homeless were housed temporarily only to be turned out onto the streets again. Much of the money that is taken is lost in layers of bureaucracy or the inflated salary of public servants. Where accountability is lacking, wastefulness grows. The various government measures surrounding the pandemic have in a large part been funded by money printing and debt. Further, there is no clear end in sight to the social ills of inflation, in my grand parent’s day £100 could buy you a house; today it would barely buy a decent pair of headphones. It seems likely that the UK will see hyper inflation at some point if it continues on its current trajectory. However, nobody knows when this will happen so for now The Bank of England is happy to play fiscal chicken, for what can be the harm in devaluing other people’s money? The rule makers themselves are doubtless already insulated from the downside.
My overwhelming feeling as we come out of this crisis is fatigue, fatigue from the gradual erosion of normality and the layers of uncertainty that have been exposed, financially, emotionally, and spiritually. I have been living in the interests of survival for so long that is only now as we lurch out of one crisis into another that I have time to take stock and try and understand what has happened.
The pandemic has also taught me to be more grateful for what is right in front of me. So often we are carried away by future plans that we miss the only thing we will ever have, the present moment. Such talk may sound platitudinous but it is true. The pandemic has also shown me the fragility of things that appear to be stable and permanent. Our hard won liberties are very fragile and can be quickly be evaporated by the powers that be. This has clearly happened in the case of the pandemic in the name of our “safety” whist vast numbers of people die from other illnesses that could have been treated and the NHS not been commandeered to only focus solely on Covid 19.
To return to the discussion of the government, the problem with our current situation is that the state is not treated as a mere means to and end with limited power. Instead it has become an end in itself. It is hard to know when (if ever) the tide will turn towards a more liberal society. It is my hope that I will see the change in my lifetime, if not on these shores then perhaps on a new land yet to be born. I would encourage all of you to weigh up your options.