• Crag

The Nasty Party – rules for thee but not for me

This week, news has broken that the Conservative Party and its team – the government – had a Christmas party during a period in which United Kingdom was in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Justified cries of hypocrisy reverberate through the media, as the leaked video of civil servants giggling while doing a mock Q & A session regards the party is doing the rounds.[1] As a result of this ‘scandal’, the woman in the video, Allegra Stratton, advisor to the Prime minister, has resigned. It is worth mentioning that the media explosion around this story is not a good indication of outrage. The media are salespeople, and the public enjoy a sensational story enough that they want to consume this story, which generates revenue for the media. There is obviously genuine outrage among some number of people, among the general public and the media, but whether it is a 'national outrage' is something we might only get a sense of by polling the question.

This has coincided with an announcement for further restrictions, titled ‘Plan B’ (not to be confused with the morning-after contraceptive pill brand, although it would be nice if the government’s plans could be terminated similarly easily). For the record, this website does not support any of the restrictions put in place by the government, because there is no evidence that they have worked or will ever work, and because they infringe upon civil liberties. Therefore, the complaints made by the public and the media, that the ‘rest of us’ had rules to obey, is a sentiment I am fully sympathetic to. The injustices of people being forced to stay in their homes, being prohibited from seeing their family and friends, of the elderly being kept in enforced isolation for well over a year, of people being prohibited to conduct their private business, has all been too real. This reality, set against government employees suffering none of this hardship, leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of the citizenry. However, as with any reality, one must consider what the real alternatives are to the blatant hypocrisy we see.

Option 1: we have a government which decrees rules and appears to obey them perfectly and without exception.

Option 2: we have a government which decrees rules and appears to break them.

Option 3: we have a government which decrees no rules and allows people to manage their own risk.

One first must accept the political reality in a democracy which makes option 3 not possible: the population does not support the granting of personal responsibility. Any polling data on the pandemic and proposed restrictions shows the majority of the public is in favour of ceding its freedom to the government for promises of security via collective responsibility in the form of lockdowns, social distancing regulations, mask mandates etc. I lament this fact, but it is the state of Britain currently.

So, we are left with a choice of options 1 and 2. Option 1 trends towards the effective establishment of new restrictions, rules and regulations, enforced, and obeyed by even the most privileged people in society – the lawmakers themselves who have a habit of not holding themselves to account. If even those people stick to the rules, you can be sure that the public will, by threat of enforcement. This does not require government officials to actually follow the rules, it only requires that this appears to be the case. A carefully managed image, effective public relations, and suppression of the media would be more likely in achieving this aim than expecting entitled civil servants to do what is expected of them. If one would like an example of this in reality, they need look no further than China or Australia (who would have thought only two years ago that those two countries could be mentioned in the same sentence in this way?).

In Australia, for example, people are put in ‘quarantine compounds’ where escapees have been arrested,[2] police have been stood in properties disallowing residents to leave,[3] facial recognition is being used in public to track people’s whereabouts,[4] $50,000 fines and prison sentences are handed out to people who are found to have broken quarantine by thousands of police spot checks,[5] and other such authoritarian measures more reminiscent of Nazi Germany than Australia at any point in its history. Not to mention the effect of strict lockdowns which have brought the country’s economy to the brink of recession.[6] With the United Kingdom’s Labour party ‘welcoming’ every restriction the government brings in (therefore failing to perform the constitutional duty of an opposition party) and mounting their ‘opposition’ to the government on the insistence that restrictions ought to be even tougher,[7] it is safe to assume a United Kingdom under Labour would much more closely resemble Australia in terms of the loss of civil liberties and personal freedom. It is a sorry state of affairs that the only opposition to the Conservative government comes from within the Conservative party, from backbench MPs with a liberal/libertarian streak.

Option 2, what Britain currently has, straddles two realities: a public preference for restrictions to make them ‘feel safe’, and a government which transparently does not believe said restrictions to be effective or necessary (because they aren’t). Whether by incompetence or by design, the British government’s arbitrary and soft approach to the details of restrictions, lax enforcement, government officials’ disobeying of the rules themselves, and Britain’s long-standing principle of policing by consent, mean we have a way out of authoritarianism. Somewhat thanks to our government’s hypocrisy, an Australian style dystopia has not gripped Britain, and is unlikely to. Our government cannot seriously do what the Australian government is doing so long as it is a Christmas-party-throwing laughingstock.

Option 2 might feel like a bit of a joke, and the hypocrisy might be infuriating. It certainly rubs everyone up the wrong way: the anti-restriction crowd wish the government would apply the way they behave to the way they write their rules, and the pro-restriction crowd wish the government would apply the way they write their rules to the way they behave. However, this duality also satisfies all parties, to some extent. The government acts in line with what the public wants, broadly (implementing restrictions when the pandemic develops), without too severely preventing (1) the large minority who are against restrictions from living their normal lives, and (2) a second large minority of hypocrites who are in favour of restrictions for others while breaking them themselves. Those two large minorities probably make up a quiet majority. Being pro-freedom in the current time is, unfortunately, unfashionable, so people feel virtuous by espousing authoritarian policy positions; but I continue to believe that, when the dangers of ceding freedoms become apparent, the British public will wake up. The next test of British bloody-mindedness is the vaccine booster, a possible vaccine passport, and a possible vaccine mandate, which I sense are unpopular among both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, as the goal posts forever move into the distance without any convincing science to justify it.

To put it bluntly, I am grateful the government breaks their own rules where they see fit, for it makes it difficult for them to enforce the rules and harder to implement more Draconian ones than the ones they themselves broke. It gives the British population the green light to break the rules, too. A hypocritical, incompetent government is better than an authoritarian alternative. In reality, both the government and the public have acted much the same: behaving with some enhanced caution, or at least providing the appearance of it, to tow the line and appease popular sentiment, while breaking the rules when it is convenient or necessary for us. Surely, it is a small minority of people who adhered to the coronavirus regulations at any time throughout the pandemic. People went outside for purposes other than essential ones, they travelled ‘farther than necessary’ for exercise, families and couples met when they shouldn’t have, childcare arrangements between different households continued where they shouldn’t have, parties happened when they shouldn’t have, non-essential workers were refashioned into essential workers for their own and/or employers’ benefit etc. Anyone who pretends the ‘scandals’ of civil servants breaking the rules were exclusive to civil servants are delusional. If the government were not human and hypocritical like the rest of us, we would not have the liberty to take this whole fiasco with a pinch of salt and deal with it in accordance with our own lives.

The Tory Christmas bash coming to light is truly a blessing in disguise. Not a day since the news broke of the party, and the same day that Allegra Stratton resigned, news has broken that the Prime minister Boris Johnson has announced mandatory vaccine passports and has said we need a ‘national conversation’ about mandatory vaccinations.[8] The former is the death knell of Britain as a free society, the latter would be brazenly tyrannical. In light of the government’s treachery, it will be much harder to enact these authoritarian measures without some public and political opposition (probably from within the Conservative party, because the opposition party would prefer a full-blown Covid dictatorship). At the very least, one would hope that the British public will take the government’s hypocrisy as a prompt toward non-compliance with whatever the government mandates next.

The United Kingdom is a country built on principle and precedent. Things happen ‘as they ought to happen’, and things that happen in a way that ‘they ought not to’, generally don’t or are at least apologised for. We have no legal protection against a vaccine mandate – only the sense that it wouldn’t be a very British thing to do. This is in contrast with a country created by design, like the United States, where vaccine mandates are failing in the courts because individual rights were expressly enshrined in a written constitution by political scientists – the Founding Fathers.[9] Forcing a needle into someone is state-led violence.

Successful arguments for freedom made in 18th century England in light of slavery were made not on concrete foundations of constitutionality or legislation, but on a notion of English exceptionalism that to be English meant to be free.[10] In a country without constitutional protections of individuals, long live a culture of incompetent government, mild manners, non-severity, non-compliance, of freedom being the default position of virtue, and of the very British principle of policing by consent – because, when these things are gone, our relatively free society ceases to be.

The British government’s movement toward tyranny has been a great worry since the beginning of the pandemic. What is extremely concerning about the position of the British public is a poll which shows almost half of the British population supporting a lockdown for the unvaccinated only.[11] Austria has already announced this, and Germany has threatened it for 2022 (both countries which famously saw forced injections on inmates in concentration camps as part of the Third Reich, in the name of medical science, and a vaccine mandate for Germans).[12] Even if splitting society into two and stripping freedom from those who choose not to take a medical product was politically acceptable – which it should not be – there is no scientific justification for this, as transmission rates are not significantly different among the vaccinated and unvaccinated.[13] Such a societally divisive and authoritarian move would be unprecedented in Britain’s history and signal a shift in public opinion toward a style of government not accepted in the Anglosphere in many centuries. If the public wants to invite tyranny upon us, then God help us all.

[1] Peter Walker, Aubrey Allegretti and Jamie Grierson, PM accused of lying after No 10 officials caught joking about Christmas party, 7th December 2021 https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/dec/07/leaked-video-shows-no-10-officials-joking-about-holding-christmas-party [2] BBC News, Howard Springs: Australia police arrest quarantine escapees, 1st December 2021 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-59486285 [3] Zena Chamas, The Guardian, Police enforcing strict lock-in a ‘worst nightmare’ for vulnerable Sydney social housing residents, 15th September 2021 https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/sep/15/police-enforcing-strict-lock-in-a-worst-nightmare-for-vulnerable-sydney-social-housing-residents [4] Euronews, Reuters & AP, Australian police use facial recognition to make sure you're home during COVID quarantine, 17th September 2021 https://www.euronews.com/next/2021/09/17/australian-police-use-facial-recognition-to-make-sure-you-re-home-during-covid-quarantine [5] Stephen Gibbs, Eliza McPhee, Daily Mail Australia, Cops are going door-to-door to check on Australians in coronavirus quarantine to make sure they haven't left isolation - with those who do facing jail or fines up to $50,000, 16th March 2020 https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8115329/Police-conduct-random-checks-thousands-Australians-coronavirus-quarantine-amid-fines-threat.html [6] Swati Pandey, Australia’s stunning economic recovery trips on Delta, vaccine snags, 22nd July 2021 https://www.reuters.com/business/australias-stunning-economic-recovery-trips-delta-vaccine-snags-2021-07-22/ [7] https://twitter.com/keir_starmer/status/1468671331453521922; https://labour.org.uk/press/keir-starmers-speech-in-house-of-commons-debate-on-covid-19-restrictions-in-england/ [8] Hugo Gye and Chloe Chaplain, Covid-19 vaccinations may be compulsory in future, Boris Johnson warns in wake of Omicron variant restrictions, 8th December 2021 https://inews.co.uk/news/politics/covid-19-vaccinations-may-become-compulsory-omicron-variant-1342996?ITO=msn [9] BBC News, US court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for companies, 6th November 2021 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-59194421 [10] Somerset vs Stewart, 14th May 1772, accessed 9th December 2021 http://www.commonlii.org/int/cases/EngR/1772/57.pdf [11] Emily Atkinson, Almost half of UK adults would back lockdown for unvaccinated, poll suggests, 22nd November 2021 https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/covid-lockdown-unvaccinated-vaccines-poll-b1962358.html [12] A leftist publication, the Jacobin, made a bizarre attempt to put the American Republican party’s stance on vaccines on a par with Hitler’s. The following article makes the qualification by asserting that Hitler was opposed to vaccine mandates, but then goes on to review the history and confirm that Hitler was in favour of mandating vaccines for Germans. The writer makes a meal of the fact that Hitler did not want to give non-Germans any protection against disease or spend the state’s resources on them, and somehow extrapolates that to the default fascistic position being ‘anti-vax’. No matter the mismatch of the article’s title to the main body of the text, or the fudging of history, or the mental gymnastics leftists are willing to perform to paint those in favour of freedom of choice in healthcare as Nazis, it is simple truth in political science to say that the state mandating anything upon a person is more tyrannical than the state not doing so, and therefore that a vaccine mandate approaches totalitarianism rather than departs from it. https://jacobinmag.com/2021/09/vaccine-mandates-covid-pandemic-german-nazi-inoculation-policy

[13] Anika Singanayagam, PhD, Seran Hakki, PhD, Jake Dunning, PhD, Kieran J Madon, MSc Michael A Crone, MBBCh, Aleksandra Koycheva, BSc, et al., Community transmission and viral load kinetics of the SARS-CoV-2 delta (B.1.617.2) variant in vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals in the UK: a prospective, longitudinal, cohort study, published by The Lancet, 29th October 2021: https://doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(21)00648-4; and an expert review of the aforementioned study by the Science Media Centre: https://www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-reaction-to-study-on-household-transmission-of-sars-cov-2-looking-at-vaccination-status-and-variant-type/