As Boris Johnson hesitates over the planned midsummer unlocking, Sheila Lawlor, Politeia’s founder and Research Director, argues that Parliament must find its voice.
Very shortly, a Conservative Prime Minister must decide whether to unlock fully the UK economy. The omens are less than propitious. We hear that Boris Johnson, who won his crown as the saviour of Britain’s democracy, may yet extend his reign of unaccountable executive power beyond the timetabled Midsummer Day.
Johnson has spent more than a year shielding behind the lobby of health ‘advisers’ who have continued to terrify the people of this country, via the government and news outlets, into fearful submission, on the basis of modelling and misleading figures. The evidence is that the health secretary and his officials failed to prepare for a pandemic (as they were obliged under law to do), or to tackle it systematically. They were, as a result, caught off guard, and once Covid reached these shores, they aimed to protect, not the patients from the disease, but the system from the patients.
From all accounts Johnson’s instincts at the start were sound. As the long grilling of his former adviser turned adversary revealed, the PM was justifiably sceptical about the efficacy of authoritarian measures. But after March 2020 terror and unaccountable government won the day. The upshot was that Britain appears to have suffered tighter lockdown restrictions, imposed for longer, and a bigger drop in household spending than other G7 countries according to the ONS.
Not surprisingly, the UK’s economy has been in free fall, more so proportionately than that of most of the G7 this year (compared with a year ago, UK GDP in the first 3 months of 2021 was 6.1 per cent lower and Germany’s 3 per cent, whereas US GDP was 0.4 per cent higher and that of France 1.5 per cent). Many of its people have been rendered idle or jobless. Its sick have been left untreated and more prone to death and incapacity through cancelled hospital operations or delayed medical treatment. Its old have been locked into retirement homes, many to die of Covid, infected in some cases by patients callously discharged from hospital without being tested for Covid. All of this went along with high Covid death rates, despite the hard work of doctors and front line medical teams and the miraculous vaccination programme: they are the second highest in the G7 after Italy, and higher than in many poorer countries.
It is no accident that such collateral damage coincided with a protracted suspension of the normal arrangements of Britain’s democracy. Parliament was all but locked down, adversarial politics all but suspended and too few MPs from either side willing to go into battle to hold the government to account.– Labour MPs joined or outbid Conservative to avoid the political fray, and seemed more bound by the advice of unelected officials than by the wider interests of the country or the people they serve. The ‘science’, often based on hypothesis, misleading selection of data, and the human vanity (and self interest) of those perpetrating it in being lionised by the established media, replaced the scrutiny and challenge of parliament and its committees, much to the detriment of democratic government. Rarely have ministers so blatantly taken cover under the advice of unelected officials to terrorise the people of this country into the kind of repressive rule not seen even at the height of World War 2.
Such an exercise of power not only corrupts the perpetrators, it corrupts its victims. In Britain it has had the effect of terrifying a large proportion of free men and women into supporting authoritarian rule, drip fed by the dreadful scenarios, extraordinary figures and dire warnings conjured up of the consequences of stepping out of line. Our rulers have discovered, as tyrants and dictators have invariably known, that propaganda and fearmongering are cheap as well as powerful ways to cow a people into submission. Due to one of the most successful vaccine programmes in the world, the result of the PM’s gigantic gamble a year ago, this country is poised to unlock fully. The ‘scientists’ or statisticians should now be despatched back to their data modelling and parliament allowed to recover its voice, to give the leadership pusillanimous ministers have lacked and to take on the shadowy twilight campaign against fully unlocking. Parliament should take heart from and give heart to the people in whose name it rules. The UK depends on its efforts, beliefs and guardianship of liberty to challenge the terror and assess the full picture.
As for the PM? Having gambled his future on the side of freedom and on taking risks in 2019, he should recognise that the time for shielding behind the science is passed. He won a significant majority then against all the odds to restore democratic government, by challenging the consensus, the doom-mongers and official elites, and winning the trust of voters: in giving him their vote, they trusted him to restore their parliament and our democracy by honouring the decision to leave the EU. He gambled his reputation and his country’s scarce resources last year on buying ‘off plan’ the vaccines then, perhaps, at test tube stage in the labs. Now, given the success in vaccinating so many, he has ensured that unlocking on Midsummer Day presents little risk.
By contrast the danger posed by extinguishing the spirit of the free is far greater. Not only should the final vestiges of lockdown law end on June 21st, but Johnson should take the battle to Parliament and make common cause with those of like mind. Otherwise the people will turn on him as surely as they did on the transient heroes of ancient Athens.
Photo: The Guardian