It is not controversial, I hope, to point out that this Government has exploited epidemiological uncertainty in service of the usual thing governments want: more power. The tedious description of the current power grab is to claim that the state has “distilled power from fear”. It is difficult to disagree with that. But it is only half the story.
We need to point out the corollary: that the public has allowed itself to become fearful. We have become like the victim of Stockholm Syndrome who colluded in her original abduction. This Government scared us into these dystopian restrictions because we allowed it to: we need to take responsibility for that. If you live in fear, then you are morally culpable.
I am sorry if that seems harsh.
Actually: I am not sorry at all.
The distortions of this Government are there in plain sight: from the obvious, and deliberate, generation of “false positives” when it comes to testing; to the insistence that Covid-19 is the only logically available cause of death when it comes to relevant certification; from the assumption that when you contract C-19 in hospital you count as a Covid “admission”; to the absurd protocol that when you give up the queue in a testing centre you are recorded as a positive “case”.
Aristotle pointed out that we have obligations of feeling as well as of action. To be a virtuous person requires an unrelenting and systematic interrogation of how we “feel” when we are confronted with a rubbish situation. There is nothing, necessarily, wrong with being scared – provided you can justify the fear. And there is an obligation on you to develop habits of response which sacrifice vice at the altar of virtue.
This is not what is happening in the UK at the moment. People are not questioning their fear – they are indulging it. We are not pointing at the statistics that are scaring us and pointing out that they are rubbish.
The public is not discharging its “obligation of feeling”.
Nor are we recognising our obligations of benign disobedience.
It is not axiomatically true that we must obey what governments tell us to do. In fact, there are situations in which it becomes morally obligatory to push back. Normally, in a democracy, these situations do not arise. Exceptionally, however, some form of “push back” becomes obligatory. If a law is unjust then to follow it – simply because it is the law – is morally offensive.
What makes a law unjust? Here is one way: when people have not consented to it. The Government since March has used the “sock puppet” Corona Act to disguise the fact that its egregious intrusions into our lives have been constructed behind the veil of the Public Health Act of 1984 (yes, really). We currently have rule by statutory instrument, where we should have government by consent.
The Government has forgotten that it is not elected but that it is formed: from people who are elected. It has exploited the constitutional eccentricities of the UK system – the strange co-mingling of the executive with the legislature – and has thereby distorted the chain of consent that normally would lead from voter to Minister.
In these circumstances, it is perfectly defensible to withhold consent to the Pavlovian authoritarianism of the current Covid Secretary. In fact, it is probably obligatory.
My native city is Liverpool. I do not get back there as often as I would like. But I am in touch. The Government justification for placing my relatives into Tier 3 is, shall we say, “inconclusive”. I expect and hope that they will channel the impeccable creative spirit of that city to come up with benign and humorous forms of disobedience. And that Liverpool will lead a good-humoured and condign path out of the current nonsense.
I am more than confident. We Scousers are not easily scammed. And the Government is attempting to scam the nation.