Over 1½ million people unemployed. Thousands of businesses collapsing. The Union decaying steadily, draconian diktats, indefinite suspensions to fundamental freedoms, open contempt for parliamentary scrutiny and accountability. Yet all this is not, as it would first appear, the pursuit of some socialist or communist dystopia but in the name of ‘protecting’ a public sector organisation. And in Britain. In 2020.
That is the sad, brutal yet true reality of this government’s response to Covid-19. We’ve come a long way since March, when many Britons made enormous sacrifices and went into effective house arrest to save lives and protect the NHS. Fast forward six months, and the scales have fallen from their eyes. Sadly, the government has had no such realisation.
The government has again decreed another national lockdown. What will be the effect of this? In March, we had only forecasts, predictions and speculation. Today, great swathes of data and research all point to the same conclusion – lockdown kills more than it saves. We also know that lockdown inflicts the harshest harm on the poorest. Do we indulge in failed strategies to supposedly save lives, and in doing so callously condemn the poorest to grinding hardship? Put yourself in the shoes of a single mother, or an impoverished lonely pensioner in an urban sprawl – a tiny, damp, freezing flat, unable to see anything else apart from four miserable walls.
That is but a grain of sand, and is merely scratching at the scab of lockdown’s deep wounds. Grant a thought for the entrepreneurs who have seen their ideas, their risk, their savings being destroyed, in many cases by lockdown.
Or consider the shattered dreams, aspirations and longings of the young? Disrupted and lesser education, scarce employment opportunities and a mounting, burgeoning national debt, one of the largest ever, in just six months. Just imagine the bill at the end of another national lockdown.
It is easy, but folly, to insist it will come right in the end. If only. Rather, let us have a properly informed, contextualised debate about the inevitable trade offs, and to choose a brighter, pragmatic, measured path. The Prime Minister has conjured up comparisons with World War II, but from my observations of history, Britons did not run from the very real threat of the Nazi regime. We came together, as one nation, to face the danger, and to fight for our freedom. We did it then; we can do it again. Over the last six months, we have banished proportion and perspective. Today, we can banish fear and irrationality, but will we?
It is perhaps a sad and chilling reminder of the chronic short-termism that plagues our politics. As Disraeli once remarked, “A politician looks to the next election, a statesman the next decade.” This government is preaching short-term gain for long-term pain. The gain is miniscule, the pain immeasurable. A calling and challenge to each and every Briton – who will rally to the defence of freedom, liberty and good sense?