Once again, Professor Chris Whitty has been hounded in the streets by yobs. This is the third time in recent months that he has been harassed over his highly public role in the efforts to control and restrict the spread of coronavirus. He is a non-political and non-partisan member of the civil service who has been at the heart of saving lives and finding the best solutions for dealing with the pandemic. Regardless of your opinion on how the UK has fought against the pandemic, you should be able to respect the difficult nature of his position as well as his hard work – not to mention having the basic decency to not harangue and accost people in the street.
Many people have now suggested that is now time that senior figures that are newly in the public eye, that traditionally would not be, like the Chief Medical Officer, should receive some form of police protection. The decision to do so lies with the Home Office and its ‘Royal and VIP Executive Committee’ and Priti Patel did seem to suggest that it was under consideration during her interview on Times Radio this morning. This would almost certainly be a good decision as it would deter this sort of deplorable situation from happening again.
However, it is clear that over recent years that there has been a noticeable increase in the levels of intolerance, hatred and abuse directed toward public figures and journalists. We can never ignore the bile that exists on social media and that goes into MPs’ mail.
We have had clear examples of so-called “protestors” chasing and attacking journalists. For example, Nicholas Watt, BBC Newsnight’s Political Editor, was chased down the streets by anti-lockdowners, and journalists were attacked at last year’s George Floyd protests – including one photographer who was bottled. We know where this hatred and intolerance ends – in tragedy. Voters go to the polls in Batley and Spen this week just over 5 years after Jo Cox was murdered there, going about her job representing her constituents.
It is perhaps a dark irony that many of these “protestors” use the language of freedom as their justification for their protests and that they claim they are trying to fight back against “draconian”, “fascist” and “authoritarian” forces. They have no idea what they are talking about. After all, if the UK was the sort of dystopian police state that they claim, large scale protests would be brutally suppressed rather than allowed to go ahead. Anyone trying to walk up to a senior member of the government machinery and yelling abuse would be disappeared rather sharpish as soon as they even tried to get close.
Everyone in this country has a duty to help safeguard our society – we all have a role to play in fighting back against the shocking levels of hate and division that continue to rise. We must stop considering anyone that disagrees with us as the enemy or worse – we are tearing ourselves apart. We are all part of this nation and it is time that people recognise the basic fundamental requirements of a functioning free democracy.