We’re publishing a guest post today by David McGrogan, a professor at Northumbria Law School and Daily Sceptic regular. He is gradually coming round to the idea that beneath Boris’s megalomaniacal lust for power there is a smidgen of libertarian sentiment.
He didn’t know we were at war, and wouldn’t have cared if he had. But I have made my peace with Boris.
This time last year, we had just been “plunged” (I feel duty bound to use this word) into the second full-on national lockdown, and my view of the Government had reached its nadir. It seemed to be hypnotised by opinion poll results which its own messaging had created, victims of a grotesque feedback loop whereby the fears of the population fuelled ever more fear-inducing restrictions. Either that, or the Government had fallen under the sway of a small coterie of scientific advisors whose own groupthink had rendered them incapable of anything other than worst-case scenario planning. Worse, certain high-profile members of the Cabinet seemed to be positively enjoying themselves: the sparkle in their eyes as they appeared on our TV screens hinted at deep wells of authoritarianism lying just below the surface of their placid faces.
But I am now convinced that, although we are not Sweden (the Lionel Messi of public health responses to Covid), we are in a better place than almost any other society. Yes, depressingly, in Scotland and Wales vaccine passports have been introduced and mandatory face-covering is still in place indoors. But life in England is pretty much back to, if not the old normal, then something close to it. We can go to pubs, restaurants, theatres and sports stadiums as we used to. Most of us haven’t worn a mask in months. Kids are in school. Students are on campus. Places of worship are open. Shopping centres are brimming with pre-Christmas energy. Better, we’ve stopped obsessing over the figures – “case” numbers have finally begun to lose the sway they once had over the public mood.
No, things are not as readers of this website would wish it. But compare our situation to that in France or Italy, where vaccines are near-compulsory and mask-wearing entrenched. Or Australia – zero-Covid hell. Or New Zealand, which has merrily embraced becoming a “two-tier society”. Or Austria, which has threatened to lockdown the un-vaccinated, Latvia (back under full lockdown), or Japan and South Korea (where everybody wears a mask every moment of the day they are not in their own homes). Imagine living in the U.S., where a doddering tyrant of a President clings onto Covid authoritarianism as his last best hope to display leadership (although some states have defiantly lifted all restrictions).
By the world’s standards, we have actually muddled our way through the pandemic with our “old normal” relatively intact. And this should, after all, be the bar by which success is judged. Negotiating to a position of living with the pathogen with one’s society unscathed is what pandemic management is all about. We seem to have almost got there. Most countries still appear to be largely stuck in the mindset that dealing with a pandemic means eliminating the pathogen and abolishing death, and, as we now know, in that direction lies nothing but madness.
Thank God that’s not us. And, while you’re at it, it may be worth thanking Boris, albeit through gritted teeth. He has revealed himself to be a very cynical politician over the last two years, adept at manipulating and responding to public opinion. At every stage, he seems to have judged the public mood to be going one way and leapt aboard, flinging principle in the dustbin en route. But what has been revealed since restrictions were lifted in July is that his inner sentiments are in favour of old fashioned, Cavalier-ish English liberty, as he has always liked to imply. In the white heat of March 2020, or winter last year, with the media baying relentlessly for lockdown and the scientists putting out a relentless tsunami of bleak forecasts, he allowed his hand to be forced. But now there is some wiggle-room he is erring in the right direction: toward personal freedom. We ought to be fair to him and give him some credit for that; we all know that if Keir Starmer was in charge things would look very different indeed.
Robert Caro, probably the greatest political biographer of the last 100 years, likes to say that “power reveals”. Once somebody has attained a position to do what they would like to do and to impose their decisions on others, you finally get to see what they are really like. The period 2020-2021 has revealed Boris to be almost nihilistic in his desire to retain power – a chameleon of principle. But it has also shown that there is a foundation of libertarian sentiment somewhere in the depths of his psyche. If I were being very optimistic I might even push the point and suggest that, since it is our electoral system that resulted in him being PM, our society shares that sentiment – at least more than many other countries – too. I wouldn’t have suggested any such thing in April 2020. But stepping out of my front door into an England that feels free once more, I can say it now.