Hindsight and distance do make it rather easy to lord it over past laws with a somewhat smug sense of superiority, as though our ancestors were either too soft or too stupid to endure the punishments and restrictions imposed upon them by the government of the day without putting up a fight – like they had a choice, like we have a choice. Whilst the random example of a window tax to help fund the Napoleonic Wars seems almost understandable when a costly conflict spanning almost two decades threatened Britain with invasion several times and therefore led to much desperate legislation, other nuggets from our history appear beyond defensible. ‘What, Cromwell cancelled Christmas, and they just let him do it?!’ ‘What, the Rump threatened married women who committed adultery with execution, and the people just accepted it?!’ ‘What, hunger-striking Suffragettes were force-fed in prison, and Parliament endorsed it?!’ ‘What, gay men were locked-up and given aversion therapy to cure them of their homosexual tendencies, and nobody complained the policy was inhuman?!’
Oh, we were so primitive back then and we’re so sophisticated now. However, tell me, in all honesty, that had some of the more extreme examples of Draconian measures currently being exercised in Albion been proposed this time twelve months ago, you would have accepted them without a second thought. No, of course not – yet here we are, accepting them. Without context, any curb on civil liberties and personal freedoms can seem outrageous to sensibilities detached from the climate that produced them. I’ve no doubt generations to come – if there happen to be any after all this – will look back on some of the rules and regulations imposed by government north and south of Hadrian’s Wall in 2020 and come to the conclusion we the people were a spineless mass of gullible sheep too scared of our own shadows to defy our lords and masters. Yes, at the moment it can feel like we’re living under a cross between the Protectorate and Sharia Law, but whether any damning future verdict on our acceptance of events will be right or wrong depends on who writes the history of all this, I guess – and whether or not they were here.
Despite the fact that a small handful of regional hotspots and the good folk in them are finally standing up to Westminster in the face of further local lockdowns, the kind of shock-horror propaganda campaign designed to scare the public into compliance continues and has, to a large extent, worked in bending the people to the governmental will. The first and oldest lesson in learning how to rule a disparate rabble is to divide them, and for all its incompetence in its handling of the pandemic, the one thing Boris’s Government has succeeded in doing is to split the public between the sceptical and the accepting. Anyone voicing doubts as to the ever-changing official line is invariably portrayed as a conspiracy theory-spouting Icke/MAGA lunatic (and borderline white supremacist, natch), whereas anyone who does as they’re told and questions nothing is a curtain-twitching, neighbour-grassing automaton.
At one time, and not so long ago, Fleet Street would have had the greatest influence over the population in pedalling or questioning the latest Whitehall edict as the indisputable truth; the role of most newspapers when it comes to the issues of the day has traditionally been to reinforce and endorse the beliefs of their readership rather than seek to challenge them. But whilst the dwindling readership of today still receives the same old service, most seek the endorsement of their opinions elsewhere – and they’re not exactly short of options to fire their imaginations. It didn’t take long before the mysterious origins of Covid-19 were explained as the result of clandestine Chinese experiments in developing a killer virus for use in chemical warfare, one that went disastrously wrong when it escaped confinement – or did it? Some hinted it may well have been deliberately leaked as part of Beijing’s long-term project to take over the world, as though Xi Jinping is nothing more than an oriental Dr Evil.
Easily dismissed when the majority were prepared to endure some novel social hardships under the belief it would all be over by Christmas, the gradual evaporation of trust in government to manage the unmanageable has enabled some of the wilder theories to gain a stronger foothold as part of a wider disillusionment with our elected representatives. Mind you, when Keir Starmer exhibits all the independent thought of a nodding dog in a car’s rear window whenever one more repressive measure is unveiled by the opposite side of the House to further limit social discourse, it’s no wonder so many people have lost all faith in the likelihood of an alternative approach to combat the coronavirus being put forth by a politician. A student confined to the campus fortress and swallowing his parents’ life-savings engaged in online tutorials that he could get for free via YouTube in the comfort of the family home is hardly going to express unshakable confidence in the powers-that-be; and the weak streak of posh piss that is Matt Hancock claiming granny’s blood will be on all our hands if we don’t do as we’re told is a bit rich when he was the one who allowed granny to return to the Petrie-dish of a care home that killed her in the first place.
As for Boris, playing the blame game in order to deflect attention from his own failings is allowing us all to see the Eton schoolboy dobbing his chums in it before the headmaster to save his own skin. And, of course, we have SNP MPs and Jeremy Corbyn dinner-party guests, who were all quick to denounce the rule-breaking activities of Dominic Cummings, doing exactly the same thing and keeping their jobs just like Boris’s Svengali did when they were all screaming ‘off with his head’. Hell, the PM can’t even remember what the rules are when asked, so God knows how the rest of us are expected to. Not that this encourages Cummings-like flaunting of them amongst many; so effective has the Covid Project Fear operation been, there are plenty who imagine a seventh person crossing their threshold will trigger an alarm in their local nick that will lead to an Armed Response Unit kicking down their front door within a matter of minutes. Ah, if only Plod could be so prompt in the event of a burglary.
The cat-and-mouse game of hide-and-seek we’ve now been subjected to for seven long months is destined to carry on indefinitely as restrictions are lifted, the virus returns, restrictions are reintroduced and the virus retreats – and so on and so on. And all the while, the immense financial, psychological and social cost of this futile exercise is creating one hell of a bumpy carpet, for there’s only so much that can be swept under it before someone trips over and does themselves a serious injury. As long as the genuinely at-risk are protected and effective testing and track-and-trace systems can actually be introduced, we appear to have no choice but to learn to live with Covid-19 just as we have learnt to live with the common cold, seasonal influenza and a dozen other ailments that might be fatal to visiting Martians but will spare the majority of earthlings. Sweden’s treatment of their care home residents was as catastrophic as our own, but most of that country’s coronavirus fatalities seem to have come in that particular sector; by and large, the Swedish model of ‘herd immunity’ will probably stand Swedes in good stead when the rest of the western world is still furtively searching for a paddle on its never-ending journey up Shit Creek.
© The Editor