BY JAMES BEMBRIDGE
In Britain, one has to go through the ridiculous charade of downplaying things which are obvious to many but spoken by few. If your assertion is yet to find its way into the digestive tract of the media, then to express it in the presence of so-called learned people will award you the label of a ‘reactionary’.
It is this position that the journalist Peter Hitchens finds himself in for taking the novel view that sweeping powers to the government shouldn’t go unchallenged, nor hysteria over the unverified severity of Coronavirus. His critics claim this position to merely be contrarian self-publicising on his part, but his track record of opposing calls for more anti-terrorist legislation – for the very same reason that it would grant government an unreasonable amount of control – would prove otherwise.
Already, Hitchens’ stance has been somewhat vindicated by the disturbing way in which some of our police have interpreted their new hastily awarded powers: walkers in the Peak District have been chased down by police drones for apparently committing the crime of ‘non-essential travel’; sunbathers in a park were met with the absurd overreaction of police vans and warnings over a microphone that ‘this is a lockdown, not a holiday’ and in case one was still in doubt of our police’s authoritarian credentials, then they need look no further than the Twitter account for Cann Hall Police. One of their team thought it cute to write the following: ‘Some of us nerdy cops feel like kids at Christmas when there’s new legislation to play with. Soooo, what powers of detention do I have under The Public Health (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020…?’ – one would hope that it wouldn’t be thought of as ‘reactionary’ to be concerned over such a statement.
What may be thought of as reactionary, though, is the feverish recordings of retired journalist John Sweeney. In a series of bizarre videos (presumably filmed from his iphone) he effectively calls for Peter Hitchens to be silenced for his dissenting views, referring to him as ‘Death’s useful idiot’. It would appear that Sweeney has transformed into what Orwell called an ‘orthodoxy sniffer’. More disturbing still is that he isn’t alone in his sniffing. It seems that the British are prepared to let government interfere with their lives in an inexhaustible amount of ways. People are not only ready to relinquish their autonomy but those like Piers Morgan actively demand that the government take it from them. The moral panic is reminiscent of The Simpsons character who is known for the phrase ‘won’t someone please think of the children’, only in this case people are pleading to be thought of as children.
Last night serfdom to the state took another form in the extraordinary ceremony ‘clap for our NHS’. People were expected to practice this worship from home but open the windows so that others may hear, like some perverse call to prayer. As adherents of Islam must postface any mention of the prophet Muhammad with the phrase ‘peace be upon him’ it is now impossible to speak the NHS’ name without attaching to it the descriptor of ‘wonderful’. There is something deeply sinister about this, the vague sense that lavishing this obese and wasteful institution with praise may somehow affect the level of care we receive.
By all means praise the workers, but why extend that to the whole of the NHS? We are perhaps the only democracy that regards a government institution with this quasi-divine reverence. Apart from being creepy, the cultish fawning shields the NHS from the scrutiny it desperately needs. In a week or two when your relative is turned down a ventilator by a nepotistic NHS doctor because their second cousin needs one too, will you be joining in the clapping?
Consensus in something doesn’t ensure its success, especially when that consensus is formed in an environment of fear and panic. It is vital that dissenters like Hitchens continue to challenge received wisdom without fear of demented rants for their resignation. Once this pandemic has passed, a good way for Boris to reassure us that this period of state encroachment will be nothing but a blip on his otherwise liberal tenure, would be to draw up legislation that affords similar protections to freedom of speech as is enjoyed under the US Bill of Rights. Or, really, just any assurance that in future Cann Hall Police will have as little legislation to ‘play with’ as possible.
James Bembridge is Deputy Editor of Country Squire Magazine.