However it is looked at, yesterday’s announcement by the government that all Covid restrictions in England are to be lifted was historic. With case numbers rising, and it being acknowledged by the Prime Minister that we must reconcile ourselves to many more deaths, which the Chief Medical Officer seemed to shrug off as being inevitable so that we might as well get on with them, the actual evidence for the benefits of ending restrictions now simply does not exist. The best Johnson could offer was “if not now, when”? My suggestion might be “when the risks justify it”, but it is very clear that what is happening has nothing to do with risk appraisal and everything to do with politics.
The trouble is that this is the politics of the madhouse. People are being asked to accept more deaths for political reasons, just as we have been asked to accept lower incomes and employment as a result of Brexit for political reasons.
We are told that removing masks will be a “freedom day”. We are told we must not be “demob happy” though, to extend the wartime metaphors. The request is that we act responsibly. Both the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Officer suggested that acting responsibly would include continuing to wear masks in indoor situations with limited ventilation where mixing in close proximity with vulnerable people was likely. Places like schools, shops, public transport and many hospitality venues then, in that case. But the requirement to do that is being abolished. The very obvious implication (and how either an stay in post when this is so clear is hard to work out) is that public health considerations are being abandoned.
This is also very apparent from the politics of this. Tory MPs are queuing up to condemn mask wearing as an assault on civil liberties. It is, they claim our right to infect other people if we are spreading this virus, which we cannot know until it is too late to protect others from the risk we create in that situation. After all, no one suggested mask wearing was primarily about protecting the wearer, although it might help. It is all about acting in the interests of others.
Acting in the interests of others is, however, now considered anti-social in a perversion of logic that I will never understand. The government is saying, quite explicitly, that we should have the choice to put others at risk with regard to Covid. This, apparently, is a human right. And Tory MPs are lining up to agree.
The logic is, of course, indefensible. Unless that is you think we should also abandon laws about, for example, driving on the left to protect other drivers, or to prevent smoking in public places to protect people from secondary smoking, or to create an age of consent in an attempt to limit the sexual exploitation of children. We know that such laws are reasonable. We know they protect lives. We live with them. Measures to prevent Covid fall into the same category. But apparently they are now to be considered abusive, except for the fact that this requires the protection of others to be considered abusive to be true.
The protection of others is not abusive. It is one if the basic tasks that we expect government to deliver. Achieving that goal is something for which we expect to compromise our own rights. And we do so willingly, accepting codes of conduct for behaviour that we adapt to and which become normal. Drunk driving laws are one perfect example of that in my lifetime. When I was young this was tolerated. Now the right of the drunk to drive is rightly considered wholly unacceptable. The right of the potentially Covid infected person should similarly be constrained during a pandemic, which we are without doubt continuing to live in, contrary (yet again) to the claims of Tory MPs.
So what is this all about? What is the motive? And why is it that this policy can be promoted, successfully, to some in this country who seem to think protecting others a massive affront to their rights? The answer is simple. It is implicit within the framing of that question. This is all about a newly explicit Tory belief in the promotion of personal rights at cost to those of others.
The logic is to be found in the comments of Tory MP Lee Anderson who said in June that he could not support the England football team in the Euro 2020 championships because they planned to take the knee to show their commitment to Black Lives Matter. He said:
For the first time in my life I will not be watching my beloved England team whilst they are supporting a political movement whose core principles aim to undermine our very way of life.
As Gareth Southgate has patiently explained, the England team take the knee to show their commitment to equality, and to each other as a multicultural group, and to make a gesture in solidarity with those amongst them and in the much wider community who have and do suffer continuing prejudice. Anderson, in that case, is suggesting that the Tory way, which he considers our way of life, is to oppose equality and to instead support division and prejudice and those who promote it.
I suspect that he is right. I think that may now be the Tory way of life. I think it can be summarised as being the logic of Ayn Rand. That is, this belief is that there is no duty of care except to oneself, and that we not only can be but apparently should be indifferent to others, which was her prescription.
I, however, suggest that this is not our actual way of life. I would suggest, even more, that it was not the Tory way of life to which they supposedly for so long subscribed. That way of life was typified by adherence to the teachings of Christianity. It was not for nothing that the Church of a England was described as the Conservative Party at prayer for such a long time. I think they have left that behind now, but in doing so they have also left behind its most basic prescription that “one should love one’s neighbour as yourself”. There is, of course, nothing wrong with loving yourself in that formulation. It is actually implicit in it. But there is a duty to care for others at least as much. This was the way of life to which the Tories subscribed.
But they do not subscribe to that view any more. They have rejected this. That is implicit in what they are saying on masks, on Black Lives Matter, and so much else. They are saying that they now believe in “Love yourself, and stuff your neighbour”. This is the way of life that seek to promote.
There is nothing remotely akin to our actual way of life about this.
There is nothing remotely ethical about this.
There is nothing remotely sensible about this: it is simply not a viable way of living.
There is no basis for government implicit in this, because the logic does, of course, reject the whole notion and relevance of government.
There is no foundation for a society in this.
Instead this logic is wholly destructive, of the individual who believes it, and of society itself.
And it is this logic that informs the removal of all Covid restrictions. The argument is we should not care about others, and we should presume that they do not care about us. Quite explicitly, we are to make our own choices.
I have made that choice. I have decided we are ruled by psychopaths.
I will refuse to comply with their wishes.
I will wear a mask.
I will do so out of respect for others.
I will do so to show I care.
I will do so as an act of political defiance.
I will do so to show that I believe we can do better, for each other, for society, and as a country.
This will be a political act, just as taking the knee ie a political act. It will be a protest to promote the compassionate society I wish to live in, which will reject the indifference the Tories seek to promote.
I hope others will do likewise. We need to make the gesture. We need to show we care. We need to upset those who do not want us to wear masks. We need to build a better view of living. This small continuing protest will be a step towards doing that.