Every single one of the 246 prosecutions launched so far under a draconian coronavirus law has been done so incorrectly, the latest figures show.
The Coronavirus Act was introduced by the government in March last year, at the start of the pandemic. It contains emergency powers, such as banning mass gatherings and enforced screening for people deemed infectious, to restrict the spread of the virus.
The latest Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) figures for January, which showed all 14 people accused of breaching the Act last month had been wrongly charged, means there have now been 246 incorrect prosecutions since it was introduced.
As with so many of the Government’s Covid-19 measures, the ten-year jail sentence is important mainly for what it tells us about the mentality of the decision-makers. Laws like these can only be justified on the footing that nothing matters except keeping infections down.
They are the work of people who think that there is no limit to the human misery, oppressive cruelty, economic damage or injustice that we must put up with if it reduces infections.
But then Ministers discarded a decade of planning in a few hours and embarked on a sinister and untried experiment with the lives of millions. They ordered a national lockdown which was both coercive and indiscriminate.
That decision, I believe, was nothing to do with the science. They were panicked to act by seeing recently ordered lockdowns in Italy, France and Spain, following the lead of totalitarian China. Ministers seemed convinced that the public would blame them if they failed to do what other nations were doing.
Life after coronavirus will not feel like life before. It is best that governments acknowledge that and start planning now in order to capture the best that can come out of a very tough period while not raising expectations that life will suddenly snap back to an almost forgotten normal.
Ivor Cummins aka the Fat Emperor – gives James the lowdown on why you can’t trust anything our governments tell us about Covid-19. If you want the facts on Coronavirus – how deadly is it? do lockdowns and masks work? how does it compare with previous pandemics? – you’ve come to the right place
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Mirror archives are available below if this video is removed from YouTube.
- The mortality rate is below 0.2%.
- For most people the risk of dying if you get infected is less than one in 500 (and less than one in 3,000 if you’re below 70 years of age).
- The disease preferentially strikes people who are anyway very close to the end of life/
- The amount of lifetime lost when someone dies of the disease is usually small.
- 2020 will likely turn out to have been a very average year in terms of overall mortality.
- 98% of people who get covid are fully recovered within three months.
- There is no good evidence that covid results in long term health consequences.
- Chinese realized early on that covid-19 wasn’t very serious, no worse than a bad flu.
- China is still reporting less than 20 cases per day.
- China is claiming that less than 5,000 people have so far died of covid in China. That’s less than Sweden, a country with less than 1% of China’s population.
To those people who, still now, object to lockdowns on civil liberties principles, this will be a chilling reminder of the centrality of the authoritarian Chinese model in influencing global policy in this historic year.
This hunger games scenario of a middle-aged, potentially pre-infected and already immune health secretary taking a nominal, rushed, improperly trialled novel-technology vaccine after the pandemic has already passed on live TV is as unethical and obscene as any of the propaganda we have been subjected to. What have we become? If it happens, the supposed vaccinator, the TV station, the secretary of state, and the vaccine company should all be roundly condemned. It proves nothing and risks everything. Obnoxious and dangerous as he is, he hasn’t a clue what might happen to him. He is still that sacred thing: somebody’s patient. A power-crazed, ignorant man for whom the mantras “whatever it takes” and the “end justifies the means” are dear, offering himself for a macabre, televised ritual sacrifice fit for the Incas to appease his political masters. It is truly grotesque. There is no medical reason for him to have these chemicals.
- The ‘new strain’ of coronavirus that put London into Tier 4 was down to more computer modelling from Neil Ferguson.
- The government deliberately resorted to fear.
- The damage done to our standing in the world is permanent.
- The government is doing something it should not do and has no justification.
- The whole notion of the mutant strain is completely constructed.
- NERVTAG is full of psychologists who are experts in frightening people.
- If you don’t get angry, this will never go away.
- There is no evidence that this new variant is any more infection that the old one.
- Historically medical beliefs are often wrong.
- Fighting this thing is probably the most important thing we’ve ever done in our lives.
TIER 4 restrictions could remain in place until the coronavirus vaccine is rolled out across all the affected areas, Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested.
The state of civil liberties around the world is bleak, according to a new study which found that 87% of the global population were living in nations deemed “closed”, “repressed” or “obstructed”.
The figure is a 4% increase on last year’s, as civil rights were found to have deteriorated in almost every country in the world during Covid-19. A number of governments have used the pandemic as an excuse to curtail rights such as free speech, peaceful assembly and freedom of association, according to Civicus Monitor, an alliance of civil society groups which assessed 196 countries.
By using methods such as detention of protesters, excessive use of force, censorship, attacks on journalists, and harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders, many governments have used Covid-19 to “introduce or implement additional restrictions on civic freedoms”, the report said.
To guard against censorship, this is a mirror of the video posted by Leandra Ashton on 5 December.
New guidelines right? We can all see our loved ones if we have a negative test right?
On Dec 2nd my Mum asked for an in-person visit and was told ‘We have no tests’. Don’t worry, replied my Mum, I’ll get one done. The next day, having been tested she emailed a negative test result. This was met with another no: “We’re waiting for vaccinations before visiting can take place”.
The only option? Another inhumane window visit. Today, at the end of her 10 minute ‘visit’, kneeling on concrete by the window trying to connect with my Nan, my Mum raised concerns with the care assistant about how my Nan was looking. This is the response she was greeted with…
- A private firm inked deals with local authorities to gather data that can be used to predict who is likely to break lockdown, creating risk analyses for households
- The system, called Covid OneView, is produced by data analytics firm Xantura
- Councils said the aim is to help identify those most at risk from coronavirus
- MPs have said the system lacks transparency and its not clear why so much information about residents’ lives was needed
- Covid OneView can gather included notes on:
- Unfaithful and unsafe sex, emotional health and wellbeing, sleep issues and dangerous pets
- Anger management issues and socially unacceptable behaviour
- Financial details, including debt, low income and tax arrears
- School attendance, low school commitment and free school meals
Experts working inside Cabinet Office to sift through data that can inform policy-making
GCHQ has embedded a team in a Downing Street cell to provide Boris Johnson with real-time intelligence to combat the “emerging and changing threat” posed by Covid-19, The Telegraph can disclose.
GCHQ analysts have been given access to mobile phone data to track the public’s movements during the national lockdown. The up-to-the-minute reports on compliance are passed to the Prime Minister.
The study is important because of the social structure of control here. It’s one thing to observe no effects from national lockdowns. There are countless variables here that could be invoked as cautionary notes: demographics, population density, preexisting immunities, degree of compliance, and so on. But with this Marine study, you have a near homogeneous group based on age, health, and densities of living. And even here, you see confirmed what so many other studies have shown: lockdowns are pointlessly destructive. They do not manage the disease. They crush human liberty and produce astonishing costs, such as 5.53 million years of lost life from the closing of schools alone.
This is an archive of a series of Tweets by Josef Kalf. It contains a summary of information that may be of interest to visitors.
Firstly, I am not going to be talking about cabals or any conspiracist stuff. I want to talk about power (based on what power has always done, in its own interests) & why we shouldn’t focus too much on on nations. Also “pretexts” and historical precedents. A common question is: “So Iran, along with South Korea & North Korea are all in on the conspiracy? They’re all in collusion? All governments of the world?” It’s not the way to look at it. It’s not like synchronised swimming. Can you think of a “pretext” where ALL governments of the world benefited (US, UK, Russia, Iran, China, Israel, France, etc)? One well-known pretext was “Terrorism”. Who started the “terrorism pretext” back then? It was the US who started it, and it got the support of the US power alliance (UK, France, Israel, etc).
Who benefited? EVERYONE! (Even the Russian, Iranian governments) The idea of the “War On Terror” being bogus and totally “manufactured” and a deliberate imperialist plot — for power to benefit from “creating more terror in the world” was unthinkable. It just didn’t make sense to ordinary people. Well now the whole world knows that “deliberately creating MORE terrorism” in the world made perfect sense and was hugely beneficial to ALL governments around the planet (not just the USA which created it). The opportunities to clampdown on citizens in the name of “security” and “protection” was a gift to ALL governments all over the world. This actually happened. Every government of every nation on the planet benefited from the US War On Terror. And guess what? It wasn’t a monolithic global co-ordinated plot. It wasn’t “synchronised swimming” — all nations executing some grand elaborate plan together. Is the new pretext “pandemics”? If so, who is behind the pandemic pretext?
Who’s getting politicians, the media & the public to push it using 24/7 fear-mongering? The world’s ruling elites. Who benefits? The world’s ruling elites. Who are the world’s ruling elites? Who are the ones using the pretext of pandemics to shape the world in their own interests? I will tell you who they are. Anyone who reads the world’s leading political analysts (Chomsky et al) knows this. The ruling elites include the influential actors who are in the upper echelons of political/state power who are in favour of global governance (everyone from Emmanuel Macron, Tony Blair to Henry Kissinger, Prince Charles, Obama, the Clintons & the people behind Biden).
They also include the people connected to concentrations of private wealth & power — the world’s banking & financial institutions, digital tech corporations, pharmaceutical giants, energy industry, news media & entertainment industry etc. They also include the elite groups, bodies, institutions, think tanks, NGOs, UN, WHO, WEF, IMF — who are in bed with private wealth & power, who have been embroiled in corruption, bribery & corporate interference. And the corporate giants who have posted record profits while the economy has been destroyed & countless businesses & livelihoods have perished. $10.2 Trillion dollar profits for Gates, Bezos & the other giants since Covid. These are the ruling elites.
So… we shouldn’t be looking at power through the lens of “nations” (e.g. which nation or country has power). We should be looking at who are the richest and most influential actors who want to shape the world in their own interests (not the people, the masses). Look at this tweet. This guy is expressing a common reaction: “No one WANTS a pandemic”. It’s too unthinkable.
It sounds perfectly reasonable on the surface. Politicians, people in power — they are human beings. The idea of human beings wanting a pandemic sounds too unthinkable, outrageous, insane, psychopathic? With the manufactured “War On Terrorism”, even America’s own military intelligence warned: “If we go ahead & do this, we will create countless Al Qaedas & ISIS-style groups all over the planet” But they went ahead & did it anyway (Chomsky). Why?
Why create more terror in the world? More fear, more fighting & divisions among the people (racism against immigrants, islamaphobia, etc) The elites knew it would be the perfect opportunity to take power to the next level: Advance imperialist agendas (when you have more control of the Middle East oil region, you have more control of the world). It was also the perfect opportunity for governments to clampdown on citizens. Studying power, history, propaganda, etc tells us that all the major power grabs have been predicated on massive lies. Saddam’s WMDs was a monumental lie from those in power, who managed to get mass public consent for all the slaughter which ensued. How do you get mass public consent for terrible things? Ramping up fear, getting people panicked, stoking divisions among the masses helps enormously.
Do you know there are groups, programmes, operations exist to shape public opinion. That’s their job. Their job is to shape the opinion of the public. e.g. getting the public to give consent/approval/support to invade Iraq — for example — is not an easy thing to do. Sure, a million protested on the streets. But the propaganda obviously succeeded.
Today it’s not even controversial to discuss the actual conspiracy of Weapons Of Mass Destruction or deliberately creating more terror groups (& tensions in the world to fuel more terror) across the world. Why is it not controversial? Cos now we all know the truth about it. The bogus manufactured War On Terrorism is all known to everyone & admitted even by power. Therefore, how outlandish can it possibly be to suggest that all kinds of horror await citizens all over the world on this new theme of “global pandemics”? The opportunities here dwarf the War On Terrorism, right? That was nothing compared to this, right? As Chomsky pointed out about 9/11 & the “war on terror”, the opportunity to clamp down on citizens in the name of “security” & ramp up surveillance was a gift to all governments. How much of a “gift” is the pretext of deadly pandemics sweeping across the world? This is the mother of all opportunities to manufacture a “new normal” & to introduce the most intense, high-tech system of clamp down we could ever imagine, in our wildest dreams (nightmares).
The terrorism pretext didn’t involve a monolithic global co-ordinated plot. If you read Chomsky who’s written many books “How Power Works”, “Understanding Power”, “Who Runs The World” etc you’ll see that it’s pointless to be fixated with viewing power through the prism of nations. You need to be looking at this in terms of “who are the ruling elites?” Who are the ones making sure the world runs in their interests? The Ruling elites are happy to be invisible because they want to remain unaccountable and unelected. That’s the beauty. They make whatever deals they want with governments. Governments love it too, cos they can do backdoor deals with them. We all know — despite all this talk of the decline of the US Empire — that America is still overwhelmingly the world’s nation superpower. And America has absorbed many other nations around the planet.
Let’s look at the nations which HAVEN’T been absorbed (Russia, China, Iran). These nations are surrounded by US military bases. Does Iran or China have military bases and ships surrounding the USA or Europe? No. America still calls the shots & has a large number of countries as pet poodles (the UK, etc). But focusing on nations misses the point anyway. In a world ruled by money, the real superpowers (with the real power to wield) are CORPORATIONS. Corporate power rules. It really does. We live in a “plutocracy masquerading as democracy”. What little crumbs of democracy we have now…just look how fast they are disappearing. Would you say I’m crazy if I said we are living under a dictatorship now? All over the world we’re seeing the police becoming more militarised. The point is to be more imposing & intimidating as we move closer & closer towards dictatorship. If you are living under “rule by diktat” (“Do what we say or face the consequences”) then you’re in a dictorship! Therefore we have every reason to believe armed forces involvement in this Covid programme is to provide an effective coercive intimidating presence. Of course people are going to make out that the armed forces are there as a helping hand or purely for administrative purposes.
Anyway, going back to the topic of power…
The US still calls the shots as the nation superpower. But in a world ruled by money, the real superpowers (with the real power to wield) are corporations. The concentrations of private wealth & power who are hidden, who have tentacles, connections & influence all over the planet. This is the New Empire, isn’t it? The ruling elites. As I mentioned, Chomsky et al. have books on this stuff. This is why I think it’s stupid the way people demand to see evidence of some Darth Vader overlord pulling the strings globally across the planet. The lizard thing — that’s just a slur to ridicule people as looney conspiracists.
20 YEARS AGO IT WAS TERRORISM “Yes please do everything you can to protect us from Saddam & Al Qaeda. Sure, invade country X, you have our approval. We also accept that security & surveillance now needs to be more intense.” NOW IT’S PANDEMICS “Tougher lockdown measures please!”
I started this thread answering the question “So explain how every governments of every country is in on this global plot”. The next question is: “All those doctors, nurses, hospital staff all over the world…so are you seriously saying they are all in on it?” It’s a facile point to make. Because they are all PEOPLE. Doesn’t matter if they are junior nurses or the most senior esteemed leading specialist doctors. They are people and capable of being corrupted, or pressured, or being susceptible to groupthink.
As we all know, millions upon millions of people adhere to the agenda of power or follow mainstream, establishment consensus. Does this mean THEY are part of the 1%? No. They are just gullible people who swallow mainstream narratives & follow mass groupthink. Thankfully there are also millions of people in the world (including bus drivers, roadsweepers, medical staff, MIT, Oxford, Harvard, Stanford scientists, experts, Nobel Prize winners, whistleblowers) who do NOT swallow the propaganda. It’s not right to say that the respected experts standing against the consent are a fringe group of wackos. Consider their qualifications and their standing in the scientific community. They have nothing to gain by opposing the consensus. That’s why we need to listen to experts who are blowing the whistle. What do they have to gain? They face ridicule, ostracisation, their careers destroyed.
Regarding the line which pro-lockdown people make (“So you’re saying all hospital staff and doctors are in on it?”) We are all complicit and guilty of being “in on” all kinds of horror. Watch this short educational allegorical film:
Were the members of the public who were in favour of the invasion of Iraq, the Vietnam war, the rise of Hilter, etc “in on it”? Well, yes, of course they were — but they weren’t involved in the running of it, where they? They were “knowingly complicit” or following the herd. Millions upon millions of human beings “agree” with what power is doing. Just because they agree with power, and they may be nice, well-meaning people, does it make it right? It means that these millions of people have been successfully propagandised. How many millions supported Hitler and the Nazis? How many millions voted for Boris Johnson or Margaret Thatcher? Or supported wars or went along with terrible, inhumane policies? Millions upon millions of human beings (NHS staff, doctors/nurses, bus drivers, politicians, window cleaners, judges, engineers, waitresses, journalists) will simply swallow propaganda. But thankfully many are not so gullible.
You understand that the vast majority of journalists don’t do journalism, right? Because of the system-serving mindset which is endemic in that profession. Why do you think people who work in the medical profession are going to be any different? Most human beings are compliant and system-serving. We need to focus on how power works and educate people to get them out of this mindset. Are you happy to let our ‘betters’ take care of running society for us? You trust the consensus? Do you think it’s in our interests, not in the interests of those responsible for the consensus being pushed day in day out, 24 hours a day? What is happening to the general public in 2020 is very distressing. The cult mindset from the mainstream consensus is shameful. There is so much disregard for devastation of millions of lives, and refusal to fight for what makes life worth living.
This is BIG and getting out of hand (like an actual real virus which is deadly to humanity — not only has a huge section of the Left become totally de-lefted, human beings are being de-humanised en masse). Today we see a new form of left which is fake and anti-Left & which belittles citizens who are demonstrating the most elementary leftwing values (regardless of whether or not they consider themselves left). Some of these elementary values are:
- Behaving with real humanity (not fake humane caring for the sake of keeping up appearances)
- Giving equal regard to all lives and not relegating other causes of human death and suffering which eclipse the virus
- Being true to standing against authority which is illegitimate (like standing against this three-way marriage made in totalitarian heaven, a lethal cocktail which becomes self-reinforcing and invincible if you allow it to continue).
- Having a sense of urgency to push for getting enough grassroots people rise up and fight against the authoritarianism on the horizon.
- Pushing for comprehensive public inquiries, holding the ones leading the agendas to account, investigating their actions and behaviour.
- Pushing for balanced public debate and combatting the smearing and ridiculing
- Safeguarding all that makes life worth living
- Standing against the destruction of the economy and the prospects for a decent human existence for the sake of our children and future generations.
- Protecting marginalised, impoverished people, working classes.
- Shielding them from economic hardship, exploitation, oppression/control.
- Recognising that these ‘new normal’ policies are bringing the worst economic depressions in world history
- Recognising small businesses being swallowed up by multinational giants (which have gained tremendously from Covid, record profits, etc)
- Recognising that Newnormalism = the world being shaped in the interests of state power in bed with unelected, unaccountable private power & globalist elite institutions.
- Recognising that a new level of de-humanised mass consumerism and mass debt slavery to colossal online shopping giants like Amazon is just around the corner.
- The idea of believing in communities and meaningful human connections vanishing from society for good, as power seeks (like never before since Thatcher/Reagan) to break people up into atomised, lonely, weak, afraid, confused individuals controlled by division and fear.
For dictatorships to work, laws are not enough, as there are never enough police officers to enforce laws that a majority of the working population doesn’t believe in. Historically, totalitarian regimes have relied on the grudges of individuals, on the stoked prejudices of communities, & on the sense of duty of members of society to an abstract notion of a nation/people/religion to police the population.
Above all, they have relied on fear.
We shouldn’t give oxygen to the mainstream narrative that:
A. being for the Covid agenda (tougher lockdown measures) is a “leftwing” position
B. being against the Covid agenda is a “rightwing” capitalist position.
The ones who are more obsessed with playing stupid “culture war” games and making the debate (or lack thereof) about a “piece of cloth” are the pro-lockdown types. The opposers/dissenters are largely steering clear of this culture war nonsense. In fact, actively calling out stupid culture war and identity politics division & distractions is a prominent trait of those who oppose the consensus. The dissenters are more clear-headed, capable of critical thinking and are focusing on the wider threats and implications for human society. They are not selfish, petty mask moaners. When it comes to Covid, there’s a lack of rigorous interrogation from people calling themselves left. There’s even a lack of even the most non-committal, uncontroversial, thought-provoking discussion on some of the points made below.
It should be on every leftwing person’s radar. Power, oppression and propaganda are the basic staples for anyone with leftwing or socialist values. I simply don’t get progressive & intellectuals who refuse to even discuss the WEF (like they don’t even want to acknowledge their existence).
If the WEF really is a tinpot outfit of no consequence then progressives & intellectuals should explain why the WEF is of no consequence. There’s no excuse anymore. The Great Reset & Davos has made multiple TIME Magazine cover stories.
The world’s most powerful & influential actors seem to embrace the messages from elite groups, bodies, institutions, think tanks, NGOs, UN, WHO, WEF, IMF — who are in bed with private wealth & power, who have been embroiled in corruption & corporate interference.
The world’s most powerful & influential actors seem to embrace the messages from elite groups, bodies, institutions, think tanks, NGOs, UN, WHO, WEF, IMF — who are in bed with private wealth & power, who have been embroiled in corruption & corporate interference. It’s surely foolish to not pay attention to their brand for a world vision and future of human society gaining traction?
When all this stuff is in plain sight and you can get it from the horse’s mouth, there’s really no longer any excuse to claim it’s conspiracy theory nonsense.
Many people do indeed want to argue endlessly about the ins and outs of mask efficacy, statistics, technicalities, the actual nature of the virus and theorise about why the lockdown happened. However many people don’t get caught up in technicalities — they want to focus on the wider picture of what’s afoot, they want to talk about the horrific top-down tightening of controls which is making human existence unbearable.
If endless arguing on technicalities, the virus, reasons why it has happened, etc) isn’t the bag of people identifying as Left, then they can just focus on the fundamental INJUSTICE and INIQUITY of clampdown measures and the lies used to justify them. These horrific injustices and iniquities are all unchallenged by a huge number of so-called Leftwing people. It’s depressing. People rightly have been outraged over Assange injustices and manufactured Anti-Semitism injustices ✊ When it comes to these particular injustices, they simply cannot bear the deception and the dishonest, system-friendly mindset among people from top to bottom. But when it comes to Covid injustices, it’s the SAME DANGEROUS MINDSET but on steroids. It’s the same sneering and ridiculing of people as cranks and conspiracists. Yet, people who reckon they’re left/socialists aren’t calling it out. It’s bizarre.
If one is not visibly combatting the injustices & iniquities mentioned in this thread, or at least engaging in the various issues raised (which are all about power, oppression, propaganda, lies, corruption). How can one call oneself left? It’s insane. It doesn’t add up. No self-respecting leftist can reconcile it. It seems like utter hypocrisy. Especially for anarcho-socialist lefties & anti-establishment types who act like they are uncorrupted by the system-serving mindset of centrists, liberals, Guardian types.
I remember thinking in 2019 (and the years leading up) that this is THE worst period of lies & hypocrisy – not just among power, politicians & media but among ordinary people.
Now in 2020 it’s off the scale. 2019 seems like an “honesty paradise” compared to today.
The 2020 Covid scandal is a pretext/vehicle which puts all historical precedents & puts all other pretexts/vehicles to shame! It is being used to institute authoritarian horror, and those de-lefted lefties have turned into the cruelest, nastiest enforcement officers. Time is running out. We need to encourage people to stand up against THIS. If we don’t do everything we can, it will be too late. The power-versus-the-people will have reached a whole new level. It will become more self-reinforcing and invincible than ever before. We need to wake people up to the fact that going along with this scandal is not in anyone’s interests but those in power. We need to wake people up to the fact that those in power only have power over us because we — the people — give it to them. It’s an illusion. We need to take away their power by not being COMPLIANT. For if you are compliant, then you are COMPLICIT. State power, in bed with unaccountable, unelected private power wants a controlled demolition of the global economy for it to be rebuilt again — more than ever before — in the interests of 21st century capitalism.
The dominant power structures wants us further reduced to fearful, isolated, obedient and dependent cattle owned and exploited by a ruthless and truthless financial elite. It’s society shaped in their interests — not ours — to a whole new level. The effects of what is happening is essentially resulting in the de-humanising of humanity. We need to do everything to stop people being compliant and complicit in this crime against humanity before it’s too late.
Our mission: save the NHS by neglecting ourselves and the NHS. I received numerous CCG advice and flow-charts on the coronavirus-centric mass processing of patients. Most of it was about whom not to see, and who could pass the pearly gates of the hospitals. Then there was the advice on the parallel IT and video-consultation medical industrial revolution: our new NHS normal.
…For clarity, the “D” in coronavirus means “disease”, the second “S” in SARS-CoV-2 means “syndrome”. In a sense, the WHO had already decided Covid-19 was a distinct disease entity caused by a novel coronavirus before characterising it as a syndrome called SARS-2, and before the naming of the virus as SARS-CoV-2. The importance of scientific syntax and semantics cannot be overemphasised. Such cognitive slip-ups trickle unnoticed into general parlance and may have fatal consequences for us as a species.
Without a definite cause, one cannot definitively conclude to treat anything in particular. Is Covid-19 a syndrome, a mixed bag of symptoms and signs that has been negligently and politically globally fast-tracked to a scientifically wrong conclusion? Is it, in practice, a conflation of different, distinct disease entities including influenzae, rhinoviruses, pneumoniae and other coronaviruses, not to mention other non-infectious phenomena?
Transcript of speech
Government by decree: Covid-19 and the Constitution
Cambridge Freshfields Annual Law Lecture
27 October 2020, 6pm
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the British state has exercised coercive powers over its citizens on a scale never previously attempted. It has taken effective legal control, enforced by the police, over the personal lives of the entire population: where they could go, whom they could meet, what they could do even within their own homes. For three months it placed everybody under a form of house arrest, qualified only by their right to do a limited number of things approved by ministers. All of this has been authorised by ministerial decree with minimal Parliamentary involvement. It has been the most significant interference with personal freedom in the history of our country. We have never sought to do such a thing before, even in wartime and even when faced with health crises far more serious than this one.
It is customary for those who doubt the legality or constitutional propriety of the government’s acts to start with a hand-wringing declaration that they do so with a heavy heart, not doubting for a moment the need for the measures taken. I shall not follow that tradition. I do not doubt the seriousness of the epidemic, but I believe that history will look back on the measures taken to contain it as a monument of collective hysteria and governmental folly. This evening, however, I am not concerned with the wisdom of this policy, but only with its implications for the government of our country. So remarkable a departure from our liberal traditions surely calls for some consideration of its legal and constitutional basis.
The present government came to office after the general election of December 2019 with a large majority and a good deal of constitutional baggage. It had not had an absolute majority in the previous Parliament, which had rejected its policy on the terms for leaving the European Union. It had responded to Parliamentary opposition with indignation. The Attorney-General told the House of Commons in September 2019 that they were unfit to sit, surely one of the more extraordinary statements ever made in public by a law officer of the Crown. The government had endeavoured to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny of their negotiations with the EU by proroguing it, and had been prevented from doing so by the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller (No. 2). The ground for the Court’s intervention was that the prorogation impeded the essential function of Parliament in holding the government to account. This decision was certainly controversial in expressing as a rule of law something which had traditionally been regarded as no more than a political convention, although I have no doubt for my part that the Court was right. But whether it is properly classified as law or convention, the constitutional principle which the court stated was surely beyond question. Governments hold power in Britain on the sufferance of the elected chamber of the legislature. Without that, we are no democracy. As the court pointed out, the dependence of government on Parliamentary support was the means by which “the policies of the executive are subjected to consideration by the representatives of the electorate, the executive is required to report, explain and defend its actions, and citizens are protected from the arbitrary exercise of executive power.” The present government has a different approach. It seeks to derive its legitimacy directly from the people, bypassing their elected representatives. Since the people have no institutional mechanism for holding governments to account, other than Parliament, the effect is that ministers are accountable to no one, except once in five years at general elections.
Within four months of the election, the new government was faced with the coronavirus pandemic. The minutes of the meetings of SAGE, its panel of expert scientific advisers, record that shortly before the lockdown was announced the behavioural scientists advised against the use of coercive powers. “Citizens should be treated as rational actors, capable of taking decisions for themselves and managing personal risk,” they had said. The government did not act on this advice. Encouraged by the public panic and the general demand for action, it opted for a course which it believed would make it popular. It chose coercion. For this, it needed statutory powers.
There were three relevant statutes.
The Coronavirus Act was passed specifically to deal with Covid-19. This hefty document of 348 pages with 102 sections and 29 schedules was pushed through all its stages in a single day in each House as the lockdown was announced. In the time available, no serious scrutiny of its terms can have been possible. The Act was primarily concerned to enlarge the government’s powers to marshal the medical resources of the country and to authorise additional public expenditure. But tucked away in Schedules 21 and 22 were additional powers to control the movement of people. Schedule 21 authorises public health officials to screen and test people for infectious diseases. They are given extensive powers to control the movement of any one found to be infectious and to call on the police to enforce their directions. Schedule 22 confers on the Secretary of State extensive powers to forbid “events” or “gatherings” and to close premises for the purpose of controlling the transmission of Covid-19. For present purposes, however, the important point to note is that apart from the power to prevent events or gatherings, the Act conferred no power to control the lives of healthy people. The measure stood in a long tradition dating back many centuries by which infectious diseases were controlled by the confinement of infectious people, not by the confinement of healthy ones.
A power to confine healthy people was, however, conferred by another Act, the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. The Civil Contingencies Act is the only statute specifically designed for emergencies serious enough to require the kind of measures that we have had. It authorises ministers to make regulations to deal with a wide variety of “events or situations”, including those which threaten “serious damage to human welfare”. These are defined so as to include things which may cause loss of life or illness. The regulation-making power could not be wider. Ministers are authorised to do by regulation anything that Parliament could do by statute, i.e. anything at all. In other words, it authorises government by executive decree. Specific examples given in the Act include restricting the movement or assembly of people and controlling travel. In enacting these provisions, Parliament recognized that emergency legislation of this kind is constitutionally extremely dangerous. It therefore provided for the powers to be exercisable only under stringent Parliamentary control. I shall return to that.
The government chose not to include a general lockdown power in the Coronavirus Act and not to use the power that it already had under the Civil Contingencies Act. Instead it resorted to the much more limited powers conferred by Part IIA of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, as amended in 2008. Section 45C(1) authorises the Secretary of State to make regulations “for the purpose of preventing, protecting against, controlling or providing a public health response to the incidence or spread of infection or contamination in England and Wales.” That sounds very wide, but the problem about it is that the power is couched in wholly general terms. It is a basic constitutional principle that general words are not to be read as authorizing the infringement of fundamental rights. The best known formulation of what has been called the “principle of legality” comes from the speech of Lord Hoffmann in Ex parte Simms  2 AC 115, 131. His words are well known, but they are so apposite as to be well worth repeating. Parliament, he said, “must squarely confront what it is doing and accept the political cost. Fundamental rights cannot be overridden by general or ambiguous words. This is because there is too great a risk that the full implications of their unqualified meaning may have passed unnoticed in the democratic process. In the absence of express language or necessary implication to the contrary, the courts therefore presume that even the most general words were intended to be subject to the basic rights of the individual. In this way the courts of the United Kingdom, though acknowledging the sovereignty of Parliament, apply principles of constitutionality little different from those which exist in countries where the power of the legislature is expressly limited by a constitutional document.” There are few more fundamental rights than personal liberty. The effect of the principle of legality is that those proposing its curtailment must be specific about it and take the political heat.
So what specific powers to curtail personal liberty does the Public Health Act confer? The answer is that its main purpose is to confer extensive powers on magistrates to make orders in relation to particular people thought to be infectious or specific premises thought to be contaminated. Magistrates can make orders disinfecting infectious people, quarantining or isolating them or removing them to hospitals, among other things. They can order the closure or decontamination of contaminated premises. Ministers are given very limited powers in this area, only two of which were relevant to the lockdown or to current measures of social control. Under Section 45C they have a specific power to make regulations controlling “events or gatherings”. A “gathering” is not defined, but the context shows it to be concerned with more substantial assemblies than ordinary social interchange in peoples’ homes. The object was to deal with threats to public order. Otherwise the only specific power conferred on ministers is a power to do some of the things that a magistrate could do. The result is that ministers can make regulations controlling people thought to be infectious. There is no specific power under the Act to confine or control the movements of healthy people. To interpret it as conferring such a power would not only be inconsistent with the principle of legality. It would also be contrary to the whole tenor of this part of the Act. It is axiomatic that if a statute deals in terms with the circumstances in which a power can be exercised so as to curtail the liberty of the subject, it is not open to a public authority to exercise the power in different or wider circumstances. The courts will I suspect be tempted to give the government more leeway than they are entitled to. But on well established legal principles, the powers under the Public Health Act were not intended to authorise measures as drastic as those which have been imposed.
Why did the government not include a lockdown power in the Coronavirus Act given that it was drafted at the inception of the crisis? The most plausible explanation is that it thought that there might be difficulty in getting such a thing through Parliament without further debate and possibly amendment. Why did they not use the Civil Contingencies Act, which was already on the statute book? The most plausible answer is that the Civil Contingencies Act required a high degree of Parliamentary scrutiny which ministers wished to avoid. Emergency regulations under the Civil Contingencies Act must be laid before Parliament in draft before they are made. If the case is too urgent for that, they must be laid before Parliament within seven days or they will lapse. If necessary, Parliament must be recalled. Even if the regulations are approved, the regulations can remain in force for only 30 days unless they are renewed and reapproved. Unusually, Parliament is authorised to amend or revoke them at any time. By comparison the degree of scrutiny provided for under the Public Health Act is limited. In urgent cases, regulations under the Public Health Act have provisional validity, pending Parliamentary approval, for 28 days, and that limit is extended for any period when Parliament is not sitting. Parliament cannot amend them, and once it has approved them it cannot revoke them. They remain in force for whatever period ministers may decide. These differences in the level of Parliamentary scrutiny were remarked upon at the time when the powers in question were added to the Public Health Act in 2008. The government of the day told the Constitution Committee of the House of Lords that the lesser degree of Parliamentary scrutiny was appropriate because the powers under the Public Health Act were not intended to authorize anything very radical. They were mainly directed at controlling the behaviour of infected people, and then only in cases where the proposed measure was urgent but “minor in scope and effect.”
The problems begin with the very first days of the lockdown. In his televised press conference of 23 March, the Prime Minister described his announcement of the lockdown as an “instruction” to the British people. He said that he was “immediately” stopping gatherings of more than two people in public and all social events except funerals. A number of police forces announced within minutes of the broadcast that they would be enforcing this at once. The Health Secretary, Mr. Hancock, made a statement in the House of Commons the next day in which he said: “these measures are not advice; they are rules.” All of this was bluff. Even on the widest view of the legislation, the government had no power to give such orders without making statutory regulations. No such regulations existed until 1 p.m. on 26 March, three days after the announcement. The Prime Minister had no power to give “instructions” to the British people, and certainly no power to do so by a mere oral announcement at a Downing Street press conference. The police had no power to enforce them. Mr Hancock’s statement in the House of Commons was not correct. Until 26 March the government’s statements were not rules, but advice, which every citizen was at liberty to ignore.
To complain about the gap of three days during which the government pretended that the rules were in effect when they were not, may strike some people as pedantic. The regulations were eventually made, albeit late. But it revealed a cavalier disregard for the limits of their legal powers which has continued to characterise the government’s behaviour. Over the following weeks the government made a succession of press statements containing what it called “guidance”, which went well beyond anything in the regulations. These statements had no legal status whatever, although this fact was never made clear. The two-meter distancing rule, for example, never had the force of law in England. Many police forces set about enforcing the guidance nonetheless, until the College of Policing issued firm advice to them that they had no business doing so.
Why did the government, once they had announced the lockdown on 23 March wait for three days until 26th before making their regulations, and then resort to the emergency procedure on the ground that it was so urgent that Parliament could not be consulted in advance? The obvious answer, I am afraid, is that Parliament adjourned for the Easter recess on 25th. They deliberately delayed their urgent regulations so that there would be no opportunity to debate them before the recess. The period of 28 days before any kind of Parliamentary scrutiny was required was thus extended by the 21 days of the recess, i.e. to the middle of May.
This is not the only respect in which the level of Parliamentary scrutiny of the executive has been curtailed. The Coronavirus Act authorises any payments connected with coronavirus without limit and without any form of advance Parliamentary scrutiny. The Contingencies Fund Act, which passed through every stage in the House of Commons on the day after the Coronavirus Bill, authorised an increase in the statutory maximum in the Contingencies Fund, from to 2 per cent of the previous year’s authorised expenditure, to 50 per cent. The result was to make an additional £266 billion available to the government with no advance Parliamentary scrutiny. These measures departed from a century and a half of constitutional principle by which Parliament controls exactly how public funds are spent.
There was a number of other steps radically affecting the rights of individuals, which the government took without any Parliamentary sanction. Most of these involved exploiting existing regulatory regimes. The two meter distancing rule, for example, was uncritically adopted by the Health and Safety Executive. As a result, a number of building sites and factories where it was impractical to observe it were required to close although not included in the closure orders made under statutory powers. Perhaps the most remarkable example concerns the steps which the government took to deprive people of access to medical and dental services. The provision of medical and dental services was expressly excluded from the closure orders made under the Public Health Act. But a combination of government advice and government-inspired pressure from regulators was used to limit access to general practitioners. They were required to conduct video triages and refer serious cases to hospitals while telling other cases to wait. This has had a serious impact on the diagnosis and early treatment of far more mortal diseases than Covid-19, notably cancer. More drastic still were the steps taken to close down dental practices. On 25 March the Chief Dental Officer, a government official, published a statement referring to the Prime Minister’s announcement of the lockdown and requiring dentists to stop all non-urgent activity. In reality, they were required to stop even urgent activity. Their role was limited to carrying out a video triage of patients. Urgent cases were to be referred to a small number of local urgent dental units which essentially performed extractions. Treatment was refused in other cases. This direction, which had no statutory basis, left many people in pain or discomfort and threatened a significant number of dental practices with insolvency. Even after it was lifted at the beginning of June, distancing rules were imposed which seriously reduced the number of patients that a dentist could see and made many dental practices financially unviable. This is a serious matter, because the government’s use of non-statutory procedures like these escapes Parliamentary scrutiny. Parliament may, for example, be taken to have approved, albeit seven weeks late, the exception in the Health Protection Regulations which allowed the provision of dental services to continue. Parliament has never had the opportunity to approve the instruction of the Chief Dental Officer to the opposite effect.
These events give rise to concern on a number of counts. The most draconian of the government’s interventions with the most far-reaching economic and social effects have been imposed under an Act which does not appear to authorise them. The sheer scale on which the government has sought to govern by decree, creating new criminal offences, sometimes several times a week on the mere say-so of ministers, is in constitutional terms truly breathtaking. The government has routinely made use of the exceptional procedure authorizing it in urgent cases to dispense with advance Parliamentary approval, even where the measure in question has been mooted for days or weeks. Thus the original lockdown was imposed without any kind of Parliamentary scrutiny until the middle of May, seven weeks later. Thereafter, there was little scope for further scrutiny. Even the powers which the government purported to exercise were gratuitously expanded by tendentious and misleading “guidance”, generally announced at press conferences.
A special word needs to be said about the remarkable discretionary powers of enforcement conferred on the police. The police received power to enforce the lockdown regulations by giving directions to citizens which it was a criminal offence to disobey. Fixed penalty notices are normally authorised in modest amounts for minor regulatory infractions, parking and the lesser driving offences. The government’s Regulations, however, authorised them for a great variety of newly created offences and sometimes in very large amounts. On 26 August the government introduced by decree an offence of “being involved” in a gathering exceeding thirty people, and empowered any policeman in the land to issue a fixed penalty notice of £10,000. This sum, enough to ruin most people, was far in excess of any fine that would be imposed by a court for such an offence. The power, which was originally advertised as being intended to deal with “raves” has of course been widely exercised for other purposes. In particular, it has been used to suppress protests against the government’s coronavirus policies. On 30 August, the police served a £10,000 fixed penalty notice on Mr Piers Corbyn for addressing a rally against masks in Trafalgar Square. The regulations contain an exception for political protest, provided that the organisers have agreed a risk assessment and taken reasonable steps to ensure safety. On 26 September the police broke up a demonstration against the government’s measures, whose organisers had agreed a risk assessment and had taken reasonable steps. The police claim to have done this because some of the demonstrators had not acted in accordance with the arrangements made by the organisers. They cleared the square using batons with considerable violence, injuring some 20 people who were guilty of nothing other than attending an apparently lawful protest. There is a noticeable process of selection involved in these actions. No such fines, arrests or assaults have been seen in other demonstrations, such as those organised by Black Lives Matter, or Extinction Rebellion which did not observe social distancing but were thought to have greater public support. The Mayor of London applauded the police action. The silence from civil rights organisations such as Liberty was deafening.
The police’s powers of summary arrest are regulated by primary legislation, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Under Regulation 9(7) of the original lockdown regulations, the government purported to amend that Act by enlarging their powers of arrest so that they extended to any case in which a policeman reasonably believed that it was necessary to arrest a citizen to maintain public health. I need hardly say that the Public Health Act confers no power on ministers to amend other primary legislation in this way.
In fact, the police substantially exceeded even the vast powers that they received. In the period immediately after the announcement of the lockdown, a number of Chief Constables announced that they would stop people acting in a way which the regarded as inessential, although there was no warrant for this in the regulations. One of them threatened to go through the shopping baskets of those exercising their right to obtain supplies, so as to ensure that they were not buying anything that his constables might regard as inessential. Other forces set up road blocks to enforce powers that they did not have. Derbyshire police notoriously sent up surveillance drones and published on the internet a film clip denouncing people taking exercise in the Derbyshire fells, something which people were absolutely entitled to do. When I ventured to criticise them in a BBC interview for acting beyond their powers, I received a letter from the Derbyshire Police Commissioner objecting to my remarks on the ground that in a crisis such things were necessary. The implication was that in a crisis the police were entitled to do whatever they thought fit, without being unduly concerned about their legal powers. That is my definition of a police state.
Many people think that in an emergency public authorities should be free to behave in this way because the ordinary processes of lawmaking are too deliberate and slow. I do not share this view. I believe that in the long run the principles on which we are governed matter more than the way that we deal with any particular crisis. They are particularly important in a country like ours in which many basic rights and liberties depend on convention. They depend on a recognition not just that the government must act within its powers, but that not everything that a government is legally entitled to do is legitimate. The Public Health Act requires any exercise of its regulation-making powers to be proportionate. The government has included in every regulation to date a formulaic statement that it is. But its actions speak differently. Its public position is explicable only on the basis that absolutely anything is justifiable in the interest of hindering the transmission of this disease. I reject that claim. Powers as wide and intrusive as those which this government has purported to exercise should not be available to a minister on his mere say-so. In a society with the liberal traditions of ours, the police ought not to have the kind of arbitrary enforcement powers that they have been given, let alone the wider powers that they have not been given but have exercised anyway. These things should not happen without specific Parliamentary authority, in the course of which the government can be required to explain its reasons and the evidence behind them in detail, and its proposals can be properly debated, amended or rejected by a democratic legislature. Their imposition by decree, even if the decrees are lawful, is not consistent with the constitutional traditions of this country.
There are, I would suggest, at least three lessons to be learned from this dismal story.
The first lesson is one to which I drew attention in my BBC Reith lectures last year. Our society craves security. The public has unbounded confidence, which no amount of experience will dent, in the benign power of the state to protect them against an ever wider range of risks. In Britain, the lockdown was followed by a brief period in which the government’s approval ratings were sky-high. This is how freedom dies. When societies lose their liberty, it is not usually because some despot has crushed it under his boot. It is because people voluntarily surrendered their liberty out of fear of some external threat. Historically, fear has always been the most potent instrument of the authoritarian state. This is what we are witnessing today. But the fault is not just in our government. It is in ourselves. Fear provokes strident demands for abrasive action, much of which is unhelpful or damaging. It promotes intolerant conformism. It encourages abuse directed against any one who steps out of line, including many responsible opponents of this government’s measures and some notable scientists who have questioned their empirical basis. These are the authentic ingredients of a totalitarian society.
So, I regret to say, is the propaganda by which the government has to some extent been able to create its own public opinion. Fear was deliberately stoked up by the government: the language of impending doom; the daily press conferences; the alarmist projections of the mathematical modellers; the manipulative use of selected statistics; the presentation of exceptional tragedies as if they were the normal effects of Covid-19; above all the attempt to suggest that that Covid-19 was an indiscriminate killer, when the truth was that it killed identifiable groups, notably those with serious underlying conditions and the old, who could and arguably should have been sheltered without coercing the entire population. These exaggerations followed naturally from the logic of the measures themselves. They were necessary in order to justify the extreme steps which the government had taken, and to promote compliance. As a strategy, this was completely successful. So successful was it that when the government woke up to the damage it was doing, especially to the economy and the education of children, it found it difficult to reverse course. The public naturally asked themselves what had changed. The honest answer to that question would have been that nothing much had changed. The threat had not been fairly presented in the first place. Other governments, in Germany, in France, in Sweden and elsewhere, addressed their citizens in measured terms, and the level of fear was lower. It is not fair to criticise the government for the mere fact that the death toll in Britain is the second highest in Europe. There are too many factors other than government action which determine the mortality of Covid-19. But it is fair to blame them for the fear which means that Britain seems likely to suffer greater economic damage than almost every other European country.
The ease with which people could be terrorized into surrendering basic freedoms which are fundamental to our existence as social beings came as a shock to me in March 2020. So has much of the subsequent debate. I certainly never expected to hear the word libertarian, which only means a believer in freedom, used as a term of abuse. Perhaps I should have done. For this is not a new problem. Four centuries ago the political theorist Thomas Hobbes formulated his notorious apology for absolute government. The basis of human society, he argued, is that people have no right to be free, for they completely and irrevocably surrender their liberty to an overpowering state in return for security. In an age obsessed with escaping from risk, this has become one of the major issues of our time.
I have criticised the way in which the government has invaded civil liberties with limited Parliamentary scrutiny or none. But of course Parliamentary scrutiny is not enough unless Parliament is to willing to live up to its high constitutional calling. It has to be ready to demand rational explanations of ministerial actions and to and to vote down regulations if they are not forthcoming. There is unfortunately little evidence of this. The public’s fear effectively silenced opposition in the House of Commons. The official opposition did not dare to challenge the government, except to suggest that they should have been even tougher even quicker. Parliament allowed the Coronavirus Act to be steam-rollered through with no real scrutiny. It agreed to go into recess at the critical point in March and April when the need for active scrutiny of government was at its highest. When it returned, it meekly accepted government guidance on social distancing, and submitted to a regime under which only 50 out of the 650 members could be in the Chamber at any one time with up to 120 more participating remotely on screens. This has meant that instead of answering to a raucous and often querulous and difficult assembly, whose packed ranks can test governments with the largest majorities, ministers had an easy ride. The exclusion of most of the House from participating in the core activities for which they had been elected by their constituents, was a most remarkable abdication of the House’s constitutional functions. It has reduced its scrutiny of the government to the status of a radio phone-in program.
However, the basic problem is even more fundamental. Under its standing orders, the House of Commons has no control over its own agenda. Its business is determined by the Leader of the House, a government minister, and by the Speaker. Backbenchers, however numerous, have no say and the official opposition not much more. In this respect the Commons is unlike almost every other legislature in the world. Other legislatures determine their own agenda through bipartisan committees or rules which entitle members with a minimum level of support to move their own business. When, in September, MPs began to kick back against the government’s dictatorial measures, the only way that they could do it was to tack a proviso onto a resolution authorizing the continuance of the Coronavirus Act, requiring the government to obtain Parliamentary approval of regulations made under the Public Health Act. The Speaker, probably rightly, ruled this out as an abuse. But it should not have been necessary to resort to devices like this. The standing orders date from another age when there was a shared political culture at Westminster which made space for dissenting views, and a shared respect for the institution of Parliament. The procedures of the House are not fit for a world in which the government seeks to shove MPs into the margins. Speaker Hoyle was surely right to accuse ministers of despising Parliament. But it will take more than schoolmasterly lectures to address the problem. Over the past few decades, the House of Commons has lost much of the prestige and public respect that it once enjoyed. Mr Cox’s strictures against Parliament in September 2019 were outrageous. But Parliament will richly deserve them unless it can rise to the challenge of controlling the most determined attempt by any modern government to rule by decree.
So much for the first lesson of recent events. The second is a variant of Lord Acton’s famous dictum that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Ministers do not readily surrender coercive powers when the need has passed. The Scott Inquiry into the Matrix Churchill scandal, which reported in 1996, drew attention to a broad class of emergency powers which had been conferred on the government at the outset of the Second World War until such time as His Majesty should declare by Order in Council that the war had ended. These had been kept in force by the simple device of ensuring that no such Order in Council was ever placed before His Majesty. They were still being used in the 1970s and 1980s on the footing that the Second World War was still in progress, for purposes quite different from those originally envisaged. Likewise, the powers conferred on ministers and the police by the Terrorism Acts of 2000 and 2006 have been employed not just to combat terrorism but for a variety of other purposes, including the control of peaceful demonstrations, the enlargement of police stop and search powers to deal with ordinary non-terrorist offences, and the freezing of the assets of Icelandic banks for the protection of their UK depositors. It will therefore surprise no one that the present government, having announced on 23 March that the lockdown would last until the NHS was able to cope with peak hospitalisations, should have continued them in May and June after this objective had been achieved. Ministers did this notwithstanding the warning of their scientific advisers in reports submitted to SAGE in February and March that a lockdown could delay infections and deaths but not stop them. Once again, fear persuaded people to accept the surrender of their liberty, even when the lockdown was no longer capable of the objective originally claimed for it. If the government had made its regulations under the Civil Contingencies Act, as it should have done, they would have had to be reapproved by Parliament every 30 days. Even with a relatively supine House of Commons, it is permissible to hope that Parliament would at least have called for a coherent explanation of this pointless and profoundly damaging decision.
The third and last lesson which I want to draw from these events is that government by decree is not only constitutionally objectionable. It is usually bad government. There is a common delusion that authoritarian government is efficient. It does not waste time in argument or debate. Strongmen get things done. Historical experience should warn us that this idea is usually wrong. The concentration of power in a small number of hands and the absence of wider deliberation and scrutiny enables governments to make major decisions on the hoof, without proper forethought, planning or research. Within the government’s own ranks, it promotes loyalty at the expense of wisdom, flattery at the expense of objective advice. The want of criticism encourages self-confidence, and self-confidence banishes moderation and restraint. Authoritarian rulers sustain themselves in power by appealing to the emotional and the irrational in collective opinion. The present government’s mishandling of Covid-19 exemplifies all of these vices. Whatever one might think about the merits of its decisions, it is impossible to think well of the process which produced them, which can only be described as jerky, clumsy, inconsistent and poorly thought out. There is not, and never has been an exit plan or anything that can be described as a long-term strategy – only a series of expedients. The Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons reported in July that the lockdown was announced without any kind of cost-benefit analysis or advance planning for its disruptive economic effects. The many relevant social and educational considerations were disregarded in favour of an exclusive concentration on public health issues and only some of those. These are all classic problems of authoritarian government. It is habitually inefficient, destructive, blinkered and ultimately not even popular.
The British public has not even begun to understand the seriousness of what is happening to our country. Many, perhaps most of them don’t care, and won’t care until it is too late. They instinctively feel that the end justifies the means, the motto of every totalitarian government which has ever been. Yet what holds us together as a society is precisely the means by which we do things. It is a common respect for a way of making collective decisions, even if we disagree with the decisions themselves. It is difficult to respect the way in which this government’s decisions have been made. It marks a move to a more authoritarian model of politics which will outlast the present crisis. There is little doubt that for some ministers and their advisers this is a desirable outcome. The next few years is likely to see a radical and lasting transformation of the relationship between the state and the citizen. With it will come an equally fundamental change in our relations with each other, a change characterized by distrust, resentment and mutual hostility. In the nature of things, authoritarian governments fracture the societies which they govern. The use of political power as an instrument of mass coercion is corrosive. It divides and it embitters. In this case, it is aggravated by the sustained assault on social interaction which will sooner or later loosen the glue that helped us to deal with earlier crises. The unequal impact of the government’s measures is eroding any sense of national solidarity. The poor, the inadequately housed, the precariously employed and the socially isolated have suffered most from the government’s. Above all, the young, who are little affected by the disease itself, have been made to bear almost all the burden, in the form of blighted educational opportunities and employment prospects whose effects will last for years. Their resentment of democratic forms, which was already noticeable before the epidemic, is mounting, as recent polls have confirmed.
The government has discovered the power of public fear to let it get its way. It will not forget. Aristotle argued in his Politics that democracy was an inherently defective and unstable form of government. It was, he thought, too easily subverted by demagogues seeking to obtain or keep power by appeals to public emotion and fear. What has saved us from this fate in the two centuries that democracy has subsisted in this country is a tradition of responsible government, based not just on law but on convention, deliberation and restraint, and on the effective exercise of Parliamentary as opposed to executive sovereignty. But like all principles which depend on a shared political culture, this is a fragile tradition. It may now founder after two centuries in which it has served this country well. What will replace it is a nominal democracy, with a less deliberative and consensual style and an authoritarian reality which we will like a great deal less.