Should We Welcome the Johnny-Come-Latelies to the Sceptical Fold?

There follows a guest post by Dr. David McGrogan, an Associate Professor at Northumbria Law School, about whether the OGs of the lockdown sceptics’ movement should welcome repentant sinners or shun them as bandwagon jumpers.

At the end of March 2020, I saw an opinion poll result (I wish I could remember where) which indicated 93% of population of the U.K. were in favour of the lockdown that had just been introduced.

I was in the other 7%. In future years, I’ll have to find some way to convey to my kids the nature of that feeling – the strange combination of befuddlement and disappointment that results from watching everybody you know not only going completely mad, but convincing themselves they are being virtuous in doing so. It was like being a lemming, watching its thousands of brethren suddenly getting together and flinging themselves off the nearest cliff into the broiling sea as though it was the most natural and sensible thing to do in all the world. I just couldn’t fathom that anybody might think this bizarre experiment would work – and yet it seemed everybody did. In retrospect, of course, the very unanimity and certainty with which people approached lockdown was itself indicative that something very strange was going on in those heady days of spring 2020. What complex public policy decision in a liberal democracy ever achieves 93% approval in an opinion poll? The truth is, this had nothing to do with reasoned ‘opinion’. It was mass panic.

Thankfully, the national mood is now very different. I don’t believe that things have swung, or ever will swing, to near unanimity against lockdown. But it is now ever more common to encounter the sentiment, ‘Never again.’ People who were zealously in favour of Lockdown 1, Lockdown 2, and Lockdown 3 are now repenting in their droves. The question for us hardened sceptics – the Spartans, the Immortals, the Originals, the Old Guard – is what to do with these prodigal sons and daughters. Do we welcome them with open arms, fatted calf at the ready? Or do we churlishly dismiss them from our doors as accomplices in what will inevitably come to be seen as one of the worst public policy mistakes in history?

The truth of the matter is, we have to think strategically. There must never be another lockdown, in any circumstance. The consequences for our society, our children, our communities, would be too severe. This foolish, inhumane policy must forever be consigned to oblivion. And in order to ensure that it is, we need as broad a coalition of the public as possible. At the time of the first lockdown, I remember thinking that all political differences – left and right, Labour and Conservative, Leave and Remain – were completely irrelevant when set against the division between pro- and anti-lockdown. If you were against lockdowns, you were one of the good guys, whether you were Giorgio Agamben or James Delingpole. And this mode of thinking, I believe, still has to apply, and apply in perpetuity. Whatever one’s background, and whatever one thought in 2020-21, if you would be against the reintroduction of Covid restrictions in the future, you are in the right tent. You can be in the gang and you can sit at the table. We need you.

This will require some gritting of teeth, no doubt. If you, like me, were always against lockdowns, it is galling to say the least to now be told things (“Not all Covid deaths are deaths ‘from’ Covid”, “Not everybody who is hospitalised ‘with’ Covid is being primarily treated for Covid”, etc.) that one has known about since March 2020. It is profoundly irritating to be told “We just have to live with it now” when all you ever wanted was for that to be the case. It is exasperating to have to accept that even those who have come to adopt an anti-lockdown position will probably always think the first lockdown was a) necessary and b) ‘worked’. I understand all that perfectly well. But the task now is to focus on the bigger picture: changing what I am compelled to call ‘hearts and minds’ so as to make completely sure that lockdown never, ever happens again.

Stop Press: Dan Hannan has a good piece in the Telegraph praising those who called the lockdowns right back in March of 2020.

Few commentators came out against the restrictions in March 2020, among them: Toby Young, Fraser Nelson, Jonathan Sumption, Matthew Parris, Freddie Sayers, Janet Daley, Julia Hartley-Brewer, James Delingpole, Peter Hitchens, Ross Clark and, soon afterwards, Allison Pearson.

Back in that sun-drenched, terrified, illiberal spring, no dissent was permitted. Even to point out that an alternative approach was possible – and visible in Sweden – was to court vilification. When Toby Young wrote that we habitually did put a value on human life via the recognised formula for calculating quality-adjusted life-years, that we used it whenever medical interventions were proposed, and that we should apply the same test to lockdowns, he became a national hate figure, howled down as some sort of eugenicist.

The odium was overwhelmingly one-way. Lockdown sceptics did not respond by accusing their opponents of aiming to destroy children’s education, or of being indifferent to mental illness, or of wanting others to die of cancer. Nor did they accuse them of being “anti-science”.

Worth reading in full.

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December 2022
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