First they came for Tommy Robinson. Then they came for Brexit activists. And then they came for doctors and nurses at anti-lockdown rallies. Who will be next, in the tightening ratchet on British liberties? There was no outcry by politicians about the police brutality at Trafalgar Square on 26th September, just as in 2018 little concern was expressed about the summary imprisonment of Tommy Robinson (later ruled unlawful) or the imprisonment of Amy Dalla Mura for giving MP Anna Soubry a piece of her mind.
The government response to the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed a fault line in the character of those who represent us in the House of Commons. This is a divide that cuts across political parties. Sitting on or behind the government and opposition front benches are the ‘we know best’ puritans, a political class in moated detachment. Occupying the benches furthest from the Speaker are representatives grounded in the common sense and social norms of their constituents.
Cavaliers, by nature, throw caution to the wind. They want us to get on with our lives and to fear the coronavirus no more than seasonal flu. The puritans consider every death as avoidable, and perhaps in fear of being blamed themselves, point a finger at reckless citizens who fail to follow a cascade of national and local rules. The former have learned to expect little reward, but stick to their principles. The latter have more power and influence, because they are the virtuous type that gets promoted – whether in politics or any organisation.
There is no chance of a ministerial position for Sir Desmond Swayne, and let us be thankful for that. Sir Des made headlines last week with his broadside on the slavish bowing of Boris Johnson to scaremongering chief scientific advisors. The prime minister ‘has been abducted by Doctor Strangelove and reprogrammed by SAGE’, he observed. ‘I will not make myself popular for saying this’ but Vallance and Whitty ‘should be sacked’.
The New Forest MP has form in standing up for the freedom of citizens. He was the only one who raised alarm over the instant jailing of an ‘enemy of the state’ in 2018, challenging ministers on whether they ‘understand the level of public unease in to which Tommy Robinson tapped’ on grooming gangs and official silence.
Another example of straight talking is Philip Davies, the Yorkshireman who has trenchantly fought the creep of subversive feminism and its divisive notions of toxic masculinity and patriarchy. Davies criticises the Covid regime as a dream come true for the Nanny State, with arbitrary rules that destroy livelihood. The majority of parliamentarians, sadly, are killjoys who regard the coronavirus as too good a crisis to waste. Pub curfews are the merely the thin end of the wedge.
The Liberal Democrats, a party whose title has persistently breached the Trades Description Act, are poor advocates of liberty. Yet all eleven of them voted against the Coronavirus Act last week, and Daisy Cooper, MP for St Albans, savaged the government for its 10pm pub curfew.
Facing these irritating questions is health secretary Matt Hancock, who seems to be relishing his puritanical role. He responded to reasonable concerns expressed by a Slough MP with a stroppy ‘I will not have this divisiveness’, refusing to answer the question or to even to look at the source.
Hauptkapitan Hancock has history. As culture secretary in 2018 he proposed censorial controls on social media, pledging to make Britain ‘the safest place in the world’ for using the internet. Tech companies would be required to quickly remove any abusive messages. As so much of our life is on social media we are prone to the totalitarian urges of governments, whose unholy alliance with Big Tech is a serious threat to free speech and democracy. If he had his way, Hancock would bring in China’s social credit system overnight.
The vote on the coronavirus law showed that Hancock is generally supported in the house. However, some on the Labour side think that he is not going far enough. A staffer for Clive Lewis, an enthusiastic lockdowner, replied tersely to an e-mail imploring his vote against restrictions: ‘I ask that you do not contact our office again’. Lockdown sceptics must be dismissed as dangerous conspiracy theorists and, as though they were terrorists, denied the oxygen of publicity.
The Covid regime is an opportunistic power-grab by politicians who have settled into a master-and-servant relationship with the people who they supposedly represent. From the dark days of Brexit subterfuge, I have a transcript (16th January 2019) of the government’s call to assure corporate business leaders that Britain would be leaving the EU in name only, despite the clear referendum result. Chief undertaker Philip Hammond, flanked by Stephen Barclay and Greg Clark, chose their words carefully but the message was clear: we will seek the least disruptive withdrawal so that your profits and cheap labour supply are unaffected.
This would have been Brexit in name only. But as we have seen with the contrived Covid crisis, disenfranchisement is now the rule. We are now on a seemingly irreversible road to serfdom. Resistance, belatedly, is emerging, with some pubs banning all MPs from their premises until they rescind the absurd curfew (although Daisy and Des should be exempt). More rallies are planned, despite politicians demanding that we stay in our homes. Pitchforks at the ready, for the peasants’ revolt!