Local Elections

The Electorate Didn’t Endorse the Lockdown Policy Last Week; They Just Plumped For the Least Terrible of the Pro-Lockdown Parties

A Lockdown Sceptics reader called Keith Anderson has taken issue with my note on the election result. He thinks I was being too pessimistic.

In respect of Tory success in the local elections/by-election, the fact that people choose the lesser of two evils in no way means they endorse or support the same – in this case they were faced with opting between the Conservative lockdown party, or the Labour would-have-been-a-worse lockdown party!

As for the failure of anti-lockdown parties and candidates to make headway, to the mind of most, to elect someone to combat something that’s going to end in a month anyway holds little attraction – better to vote for a brand they understand and has stated positions on other ongoing/future issues whilst, tactically, preventing the other, more lamentable set of cretins/phoneys from taking control by splitting the vote.

In short, we used to live in a two-party state. That now has become a one-party state by dint of hollow/woke opposition.

Another reader and occasional contributor, who wishes to remain anonymous, is more gloomy.

I think the problem is lack of opposition and media monoculture. Lockdowns are contentious in U.S. politics. Ron DeSantis is going to run in 2024 on his anti-lockdown policies and their success in Florida, for example. And large percentages of the population are awake to their dangers. But most importantly opposition is basically ingrained on one side of the isle.

I think this is telling us that political and media monoculture in the U.K. is becoming downright dangerous. To the extent that democracy works it relies on competition. There’s none of that now. So it doesn’t work. I really hope something shifts, or we’re in for a troubled decade or two.

The article also produced some good comments below the line, such as this one from Stephensceptic:

The populations of western countries are getting what they have asked for. It is the old axiom that you get the government that you deserve.

Most people got deeply scared in March 2020. We can debate the role of the media, Imperial College and other so-called “experts”, as well as the novelty of a daily death count in creating this fear but it was real. They demanded that government “do something” and so governments did. They had no clue what to do and copied China. Johnson started out rightly by saying that nothing would really stop this but he got destroyed in the Press and by public opinion. He took the message and did an about face.

Many people have then stayed scared. Governments have realised that their activist measures are still popular, given the fear, and have no incentive to unravel them or to assuage the fear. Indeed, they see more political risk in unrolling the measures because they will then be blamed if Covid comes back. They will also lose their “rally round the government” political calling card.

First World War analogies kind of work best for me. It was begat by mutual fear of other countries, rather than of a virus of course. The war was then actually popular for most of its period in all belligerent countries. Even the generals were popular despite the casualties. Ending the war would have taken far more political courage than continuing it. Just like now. It took a long time for the popularity of the First World War to unravel as people woke up to the reality of the disaster it truly was. This happened quickest in places such as Russia and only really happened afterwards in countries such as Britain.

I agree with Toby that the awakening from this man made disaster will be slow. But when it comes it will be all the more vicious for that. My instinct is that deep down many members of governments realise this and will continue to perpetuate the emergency and the fear. Stopping it will bring the whole deck of cards crashing down.

And finally, a word of encouragement from a commentator who describes themselves as A.N. Other Lockdown Sceptic:

As my wise 87 year-old Mum said at the start of this shit show, “They told us that WW2 would be over by Christmas.”

Sadly, we need to be in this fight for the long haul. The truth will come out, we just need to put our shoulders to the wheel to ensure that it does.

Keep up the good fight, fellow courageous lockdown sceptics.

A Note on the Election Result

The consensus among the commentariat is that Britain’s leaders benefited from an ‘incumbency effect’ last Thursday, with voters rewarding those parties that have been in power during the pandemic and punishing those that haven’t. Does this mean the cause of lockdown scepticism is a busted flush? Anti-lockdown candidates were trounced wherever they stood. Leo Kearse, who ran against Humza Yousaf in Glasgow Pollock on behalf of the Reclaim Party, got just 114 votes.

But before we fold up our tent and go home, it’s worth pausing to consider the advantage that the incumbent, pro-lockdown parties had. For one thing, Boris Johnson, Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford were able to spend tens of millions of pounds – in Boris’s case, hundreds of millions – on ads to encourage people to comply with their social distancing policies. Ostensibly apolitical, which is why taxpayers’ money could be spent on them, these ads indirectly endorsed the approach these leaders have taken to managing the pandemic. After all, an ad telling you how important it is to wear a mask on public transport may not be an explicit invitation to vote for the politician that introduced mask mandates, but the subtext is that the politician in question made exactly the right call – he or she is saving lives by insisting we all wear masks. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the governments of all three nations are buying up space across the media, including in newspapers, and paying ‘rate card’, i.e. full whack, which no other advertisers do. Not that there have been many other advertisers for the past year, at least not for concerts or films or exhibitions. That will have created a powerful financial disincentive for editors to criticise the lockdowns or the politicians that introduced them.

The same sleight of hand – messaging that on the face of it is apolitical, but has the indirect effect of boosting political incumbents – was in evidence during the televised ‘briefings’ that have dominated media coverage of the pandemic – in Nicola Sturgeon’s case, daily briefings until a few weeks ago. Indeed, Sturgeon suspended her daily briefings during the Scottish election campaign on the grounds that they could give the SNP an unfair advantage over the other parties, more or less acknowledging that she’s reaped a political dividend from giving them. Needless to say, Ofcom dismissed complaints earlier in the year that Sturgeon was using her daily briefings to promote her political standing.

To see how this worked in Boris’s favour, take the Government’s relentless pro-NHS propaganda. Nothing overtly political about every senior member of the Government from the Prime Minister on down praising the NHS, urging people to protect the NHS, telling the public how lucky we are to have the wonderful NHS. But scratch the surface and of course it’s political. This is a Conservative Government disabusing the public of any suspicion they might have that the NHS isn’t safe in Tory hands, which, for decades, has been the Party’s biggest political weakness, ruthlessly exploited by Labour at every opportunity. Not safe? Au contraire, general public. We love the NHS. We want to protect and nurture the NHS. In fact, we are the true custodians of the NHS.

And don’t doubt for a second that this was a cold, political calculation. It was Dominic Cummings, after all, who came up with the slogan: “Stay home. Save lives. Protect the NHS.” That’s the same Dominic Cummings who put the NHS front and centre of the Leave campaign – remember the £350 million a week we would be able to spend on new hospitals after we’d left the EU? Dom will have realised that every time the Prime Minister appeared on the television standing behind a podium bearing that slogan he was boosting the Tories’ electoral chances. The Downing Street press briefings, so slavishly covered by the BBC, ITV, Sky News and Channel 4, were misnamed. They should have been called Party Political Broadcasts for the Conservative Party.

Not that Keir Starmer is blameless. The problem with a national crisis, from the opposition’s point of view, is that normal political life is suspended and all the party leaders are supposed to rally round the Prime Minister. But did Starmer have to be quite so supine in his support of the Government’s decision to impose three lockdowns? His ‘opposition’ consisted of urging Boris to lock down sooner than he did – which, if you think about it, is a tacit endorsement of the policy, effectively acknowledging that Boris got the one big decision of his premiership spot on. Starmer’s position for over a year has been: Really good decision Prime Minister, exactly right, well done. Little wonder he hasn’t had much cut through with the general public. He might as well be another member of the Cabinet.

So, yes, the incumbents probably did get a boost from their handling of the pandemic, but not because they handled it well. They got a boost because they spent hundreds of millions pounds of taxpayers’ money telling the electorate they were doing exactly what they should be doing to keep us safe, and opposition politicians, as well as the mainstream media, enthusiastically endorsed their approach.

At one point I hoped that when life returns to normal, the furlough scheme ends and the catastrophic damage of the lockdowns becomes apparent, the public might begin to question whether Boris, Nicola, et al. did in fact make the right call. Could that create an opportunity for a well-organised anti-lockdown party with a charismatic leader to start building support? But given the boost the incumbents have got from the crisis, it’s clearly in their interests to extend it for as long as they can, which means ‘normal’ may still be some distance away. Oh, and the Government has just agreed a contract with a media buying agency to spend a further £320 million of taxpayers’ money on pro-Boris propaganda. So don’t expect a revolt any time soon. There will be a reckoning, but it will be some time coming.

An Election Address by Boris Johns-On

Paul Bird, a Lockdown Sceptics reader, imagines a letter he might get from Boris Johnson, listing all his achievements in the run up to the May 6th local elections. They include destroying thousands of businesses, plunging millions into unemployment, ratcheting up the national debt, etc. Here is Boris’s preamble, before he outlines all his ‘wins’:

At the election in December 2019, just 16 months ago, you weighed up the competing offers of the Conservative Party – sound economic policy, living within our means, reducing the burden of the state on the British people; and the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn – a creeping increase in state power, loss of freedoms, and unsustainable spending pushing up the national debt.

You overwhelmingly chose the former and handed a landslide victory to the Conservatives. I am immensely grateful to you for putting your trust in me to deliver on the promises we made.

With the local elections coming up in May I would urge you to consider this Conservative Government’s achievements since coming to power. I hope this impressive list will convince you to ‘Vote Conservative!’ in the election.

And here are some of Boris’s achievements: