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Why we must resist the corona-tyrants As Parliament keeps the whole population under house arrest, there are very few voices of dissent

Lingering on hilltops watching the sunrise is definitely non-essential. Credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Lingering on hilltops watching the sunrise is definitely non-essential. Credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images


April 1, 2020   5 mins

I took a call from my mum while she was undertaking her state-sanctioned period of outdoor exercise on Sunday. “I’ve just seen a police car cruising around,” she said, sotto voce. “No sirens or anything. Just prowling. It drove past me; then it came back the other way a few minutes later.”

To understand why she felt the urge to report this to me, you would need to know that she lives in the most somnolent of villages in rural East Anglia, comprised of little more than a few houses and the odd farm. She was certain that it was the first time in a decade she’d seen a police car anywhere about the place.

Though we can’t be certain, the chances are that the local constabulary had dispatched its frontline officers to roam around sleepy villages like hers to ensure the denizens — in this case, many of them retired and elderly — were not contravening the Government’s orders by venturing outside without good cause.

If you have picked up a newspaper or switched on the TV in recent days, you will have seen this type of spectacle being played out in various ways across the country. Hit squads of police officers have descended on high streets and parks, set up checkpoints on main roads and even taken to patrolling beaches in the hunt for transgressors. In some cases, they have been handing out summonses like confetti. Some forces have even established online portals, through which individuals can report fellow citizens who might not be following the rules. Less ‘Blitz Spirit’, more a Stasi-style neighbourhood informers’ network.

Empowered — or, in some cases, wrongly assuming they were empowered — by new legislation in the form of the Coronavirus Act, the police are suddenly everywhere. It’s rather amazing, isn’t it? After years of telling the public that there just weren’t enough resources to satisfy its demand for more bobbies on the beat, our streets are suddenly flooded with them. Like a child who has received a skateboard from Santa, the police just couldn’t wait to go outside and test out their shiny new toy.

Some may wonder why the police’s zeal for getting out into the community in search of offenders — who may be taking a crafty second stroll one day or placing a non-essential Easter egg in their shopping basket — cannot be replicated when it comes to, say, investigating burglaries or cracking down on the anti-social behaviour and general day-to-day lawlessness that blights so many of our communities.

I must stress that this isn’t meant as an attack on individual police officers, most of whom carry out their duties sensibly and diligently. It is, though, a comment on the priorities of police chiefs who, backed by their masters in local and central government, downgrade — and divert resources from investigating — everyday crimes which cause considerable personal and private distress, but always seem willing to throw everything at satisfying a particular political demand. The sad truth is that when they are really needed, the police are too frequently not around.

Some of the well-documented recent incidents — such as the use of a drone by Derbyshire Police to shame members of the public — may well be seen as being at the extreme end of the spectrum and unrepresentative of wider police activity. And so they may be. Moreover, a call from the National Police Chiefs’ Council for more restraint by officers may result in fewer such aberrations henceforth. However, this is about something more than the disproportionate actions of a handful of overly-enthusiastic officers. There are, in fact, some fundamental questions here which go to the heart of how much value our society places on our hard-won freedoms and liberties, and it is astonishing, even taking into account the current fearful atmosphere, that more people are not asking them.

Are we content, for example, that our parliament nodded through, with the minimum of scrutiny and opposition, an Act which grants to ministers and police the most sweeping and draconian powers held by them in peacetime — and then, having done so, promptly shut itself down? What evidence is there that this trading of our liberties to such a drastic degree will in the end prove to have been worth it? How can we be certain that these powers will be relinquished when the pandemic is over or that, once the precedent is set, they will not be used in the future for any reason the government of the day sees fit? Governments are rarely keen to surrender powers which they have previously arrogated to themselves.

And, crucially, should the police have any role at all in enforcing what, in some cases, seem merely to be the general preferences of government rather than anything actually enshrined in the legislation itself? For example, the legislation does not prohibit members of the public from getting in their cars and driving to a convenient location for exercise — the government merely advises us not to do it — yet some police forces are acting as though it does.

One might have expected the ranks of the Left — many of whom have described this government as ‘far-Right’ and just a few months ago were banging on about a ‘coup’ — to have been in the forefront of any opposition to this curtailment of our freedoms. But, no. As is often the case, many on the Left have become the loudest cheerleaders for the new constraints on our liberties. It rarely takes much for their inner-authoritarian to reveal itself.

Notwithstanding people’s anxieties and the widespread desire to protect lives, a society that asks no questions while politicians push through this type of far-reaching legislation — effectively placing the whole population under a form of house arrest — and then stands and watches as some police forces apply a wide and unsparing interpretation of it, may be storing up all manner of problems for itself.

That’s why we should listen carefully when someone like the distinguished former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption expresses his concern. Much has been made in the media of Sumption’s condemnation of Derbyshire Police over the drone affair. But it was his wider warning against the surrender of our civil liberties that should resonate with us most. Speaking on Radio 4’s ‘The World at One’, he said:

“When human societies lose their freedom, it’s not usually because tyrants have taken it away; it’s usually because people willingly surrender their freedom in return for protection against some external threat
 The pressure on politicians has come from the public. They want action. They don’t pause to ask whether the action will work
 And anyone who has studied history will recognise here the classic symptoms of collective hysteria. We are working ourselves up into a lather in which we exaggerate the threat and stop asking ourselves whether the cure might be worse than the disease
 This is how societies become despotisms.”

In truth, I don’t know whether the threat is exaggerated in the way Lord Sumption suggests. For my part, I am following the Government’s advice in all matters. But there are some things I do know.

I know, for example, that other eminent and informed voices — including the likes of Dr John Ioannidis of Stanford University, retired professor of pathology Dr John Lee and Professor Sucharit Bhakdi of the University of Mainz — have raised profound concerns over the strategies employed by Western governments in their management of the pandemic. So Lord Sumption may be on to something.

I know that it is especially vital at times of mass conformism that we create a space in the debate for those with alternative opinions — especially when, like the aforementioned, they are experts in their field — and challenge any attempt to silence them.

I know that, such are the implications of the new legislation, it should not have been enacted, as it was, without the most intense and rigorous scrutiny. And we had better be on our guard for as long as these new laws are extant.

And I know, too, that on every single occasion the police abuse their powers in the name of the legislation, every citizen who believes in liberty and the rule of law has a duty to protest in the most vociferous terms.


Paul Embery is a firefighter, trade union activist, pro-Brexit campaigner and ‘Blue Labour’ thinker

PaulEmbery

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S Trodare
S Trodare
4 years ago

Excellent article!

More people need to speak out, as Benjamin Franklin once said: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
The Government and mass media have done us a disservice by escalating panic and hysteria over Corvid-19, and in so doing risk the economic future of the majority of the people of the UK, when the data regarding the Corvid-19 pandemic is at best debatable, see the link below I was sent the other day: https://swprs.org/a-swiss-d
Pressure needs to be put on politicians to stop losing their heads and reinstate the hard won freedoms this country has been proud to promote world wide before it is too late to prevent an extremely serious economic crisis at home.

mike otter
mike otter
4 years ago
Reply to  S Trodare

I think Corvid is probably quite accurate: the cleverest of birds, long lived, tool users, hierarchy enforced by violence up to and including infanticide. All in a days work for true believers in a closed society: ie the police, socialists and sadly those parts of our ruling party who know no better.

Scott Allan
Scott Allan
4 years ago
Reply to  S Trodare

Thank you Sue Forbes. You have the perfect comment. Love it! Love it.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago

Thanks Paul, great article. I think most people have had nothing but contempt for the police for some years now. If you are burgled or mugged they are simply not interested. But now, if you go outside for a walk, they are on to you in a flash. As with all arms of the British state, they are useless as they are wicked.

pauline.k
pauline.k
4 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I wouldn’t say they are wicked, but they have become too politicized and simply take their orders from a PC Home Office.

mike otter
mike otter
4 years ago
Reply to  pauline.k

i think “wicked” in the sense of the banality of evil. They are good at doing what they are told. If that means enabling child rape gangs or low level drug dealers with “zombie “knives then that’s OK with them. Given proper leadership they’d probably be OK. Look how the Spanish Guardia changed after 1975

perrywidhalm
perrywidhalm
4 years ago

A crisis brings out the authoritarian in everyone who wants power over their neighbor. IT’s always been thus …

Bernard
Bernard
4 years ago

I have found the public’s response to being treated as serfs enlightening.For many years when I have been visiting towns and villages and have seen the memorials for the Great War listing names of people who were shipped overseas to meet their death; I have wondered how was it possible that all those thousands were willing to comply with orders from their masters and now I have an insight into people’s obedient and credulous nature.

nickandyrose
nickandyrose
4 years ago
Reply to  Bernard

Slavery does seem to suit many people. Sad to say.

pauline.k
pauline.k
4 years ago
Reply to  Bernard

Good point. People feel safer being told what to do. But I can think of very worrying precedents for this. George Orwell would be aghast.

Alison Houston
Alison Houston
4 years ago

We became a sovereign nation again, on January 31, 2020. The Queen should not have given Her assent to the Coronavirus Bill. She is obliged to uphold Her Coronation Oath and protect our ancient rights and freedoms. A precedent has now been set. Any party with a large majority can put the nation under house arrest on a whim, provided it can get its bill through both houses.

When Lord Sumption was asked about the prorogation, before it happened he was not in favour of it, he agreed with the outcome of the second Miler case, that the Queen should be nothing more than a nodding dog or rubber stamping machine. During his Reith Lectures he did not mention our constitution once, he stated over and over again that all there was was parliament, and judges. This might have been the case, back then, before Brexit, but not now. The Queen is restored to Her true role as Head of State, the breach of sovereignty, that began in 1972, has been repaired, we are once again a Constitutional democracy, only it seems the Queen is being wrongly advised, by those who worked under the old ‘pooled sovereignty’ nonsense and still believe the Head of State has no active role in the politics of the nation.

pauline.k
pauline.k
4 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

In theory you are right. But can you imagine what would have happened if the Queen HAD refused her consent? The monarchy have not had that much power since 1688.

Alison Houston
Alison Houston
4 years ago
Reply to  pauline.k

I think most people would have cheered Her to the rafters if she had said, I am upholding your freedom, as I am required to do and asking my Government to think again on this Bill. But in the meantime for the health of the nation I require you to choose to sacrifice your own liberty in order to love your neighbours as yourselves.

billdavies80
billdavies80
4 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Extraordinary if a 93 yr old did that . how lucky are Sweden their health policy makers are non Governmental.

pauline.k
pauline.k
4 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

You and I would have cheered her to the rafters and perhaps a few others on this site, but most people prefer Big Brother and seem to enjoy being ordered about. Worrying and sad.

Lindsay Gatward
Lindsay Gatward
4 years ago

Absolutely agree. Also I think we under estimate the social behaviour impact of this confinement even for just this three weeks. If it goes on for six weeks or six months we are into unknown social behaviour territory. And of course the economic/financial world is certain to experience massive unintended consequencies. It is surely inevitable that we will all be exposed to contagion eventually. The logic of the current policy seems to require that we remain isolated until we are all infected which is rather contradictory. The stated aim of this isolation is to spread out the potentially deadly cases so there will be more attention to each case which would look a lot more organised but how much does the extra attention reduce the deadliness of those cases? While so far politically effective how socially and economically cost effective is endless confinement given our curent knowledge plus the unknown but inevitable unintended consequencies?

iordache.dragos
iordache.dragos
4 years ago

Arguably the ‘extra attention’ makes a difference in the relatively small but significant number of cases where people would die without receiving it. In addition there are patients suffering from other illnesses who would be deprived of care if the NHS was overwhelmed. But the questions, as you very aptly pointed out, are: (1) for how long will this be economically sustainable? (2) even on the current paternalistic stance, why isn’t the lockdown limited to risk categories? I get the feeling that governments simply respond to voter pressure at this stage. It remains to be seen how their attitude will change when public opinion ends up having enough of it.

mike otter
mike otter
4 years ago

If the scaremongering and fakery of the so called experts and their anti business supporters were based on truth i am sure we’d gladly give up our freedoms to save the 100s of thousands of lives at stake. However not even the doom mongers believe their own spin. HS2 sites remain open as its an “essential business”. Wilko remains open selling motor oil and small fastenings whilst motor factors are closed. You must remain 2m apart unless you are on the tube trains or at the tills in co-op, tesco etc (though you can be 2m apart in the rest of the store) Anyone who is fooled by this nonsense has already given up their rights to be a free thinking human. If a real killer virus comes along like ebola sadly they will be toast.

nickandyrose
nickandyrose
4 years ago

I’ve been speaking out on threads here, Guido Fawkes and the Daily Express against this policy. I can accept being attacked for my views by people frightened for the health of themselves and their loved ones, but so few seem to fully grasp what is at stake here.

It is not the the government has arrogated to itself these powers, but that there is nothing to stop it from doing so in the future. If there is an outbreak of flu next year, will we go through this nonsense again? And you only have to look at the extradition treaty between the UK and US post-9/11, allegedly for extraditing terrorists, to see how power can be abused.

I for one am fearful for the future of our freedoms. I am not, however, frightened of a disease that for the vast majority is no more than a cold.

Calvin Goddard
Calvin Goddard
4 years ago

A quite brilliant article Paul, many thanks for writing. I feel the same way. I’m sure there are many in this land who think likewise. Liberty and the rule of law have been taken for granted; those of us who believe they are one of our treasured possessions must protest as you say, when they are infringed.

Dominic English
Dominic English
4 years ago

The clearest and most concise article I have read on this subject so far. Thanks Paul.

Patrick Cosgrove
Patrick Cosgrove
4 years ago

I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill. There’s a 6-monthly review built into the legislation. I’d far rather have someone ordered not to do something that might infect me than be advised not to.

pauline.k
pauline.k
4 years ago

I am afraid you have fallen hook, line and sinker for all the hysteria.

iordache.dragos
iordache.dragos
4 years ago

Why do you feel you need to be advised or ordered things? I would have thought that one can inform oneself and act accordingly if one wants to avoid taking risks.

Steven Roberts
Steven Roberts
4 years ago

Great article. Like your mother, I live in a rural location and haven’t seen a single police officer in 15 years near my house. This week I have been passed, very slowly, when walking by three patrol cars. I agree they have plenty of resources to do a decent job – if only they spent less time looking on Twitter for “hate crimes”.

Scotched Earth
Scotched Earth
4 years ago

So many start off so edgy”‘I’m going to criticise this institution'”but then surrender with their little apologies: ‘I must stress that this isn’t meant as an attack on individual [whatever].’

Some might have read Art Spiegelman’s Maus, ‘graphic novel’ of his Holocaust survivor father’s memories. P.214 has a few frames showing Vladek having friendly conversations with a camp guard (until guard does duty in inner camp and thereafter is ‘afraid anymore to speak’); p.221 has another ordering Vladek (threatening death) to repair his jackboot and so pleased with the result was he that he gave Vladek ‘a whole sausage’.
I must stress that this isn’t meant as an attack on individual SS men”Š

There comes a point when organisations must be judged irredeemably corrupt, and condemned in their entirety.
One of the reasons we are where we are is too many excusing the systematic failings of organisations because one or two members are not completely evil; and by so doing, innate evil is provided with cover.
I’m sure there are those who join the police with the best of intentions; but when they see the true nature of their job, they either are corrupted and embrace their role, or they leave in disgust (such as the ex-Staffs plod of past CoppersBlog fame).

Any serving police officer should be utterly ashamed; and if they have any integrity, they should walk away. (Perhaps a few hope to subvert their totalitarian mission, just as there were Resistance sympathisers in the French police; as they had to suffer the ‘whips and scorns’ until Liberation allowed Maquis fighters to testify to their good character, so any such Resistance police officers must endure likewise.)

Paul Embery ‘may wonder why the police’s zeal‘ for harassing ordinary ‘cannot be replicated‘ for real criminals; but others are familiar with the late Sam Francis’s explanation of ‘Anarcho-Tyranny’, effectively creating a Police State using criminals as proxies.

Our Public ‘Servants’ have turned on us and become our Masters. Both our Parliament and the Public Sector are the shame of Britain.

spaarks
spaarks
4 years ago

Completely agree Paul. Here in Northern Ireland (once well known for its police force, the notorious R.U.C.). I’m pleased to say the PSNI are taking a less extreme attitude than in GB. Not so in The Irish Republic, where it is an offence to go out at all if you are over 70. How will the Police here deal with an over-70 who daily highlight is to take her/his wee dog for a walk?

Neil Mcalester
Neil Mcalester
4 years ago
Reply to  spaarks

“notorious” ?

Dave Cromwell
Dave Cromwell
4 years ago

If you keep to the 2 metre minimum distance rule to others, i fail to see the harm in taking ‘exercise’ more than once a day. I’ve walked my dog in the morning and evening for the last six years and i have absolutely no intention of dolng anything different now.

Andy Dawson
Andy Dawson
4 years ago

Good article.
For the sake of accuracy, the Coronavirus Act 2020 by itself gives very little by way of new powers to the police. The rules around the lockdown are set out in the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020. Nothng therein gives the police the power to go poking through peoples’ shopping in the hunt for non-essential items.

Alys Williams
Alys Williams
4 years ago

Excellent piece Paul, one of the sanest, best thought out pieces on CV I have read to date in the midst of the hysteria and paranoia.

Scott Allan
Scott Allan
4 years ago

Thank you Sue Forbes. You have the perfect comment. Love it!

Joe Smith
Joe Smith
4 years ago

Would it be too cynical to suggest that it suits the police to have the population locked down as it makes their life easier?! They certainly seem to be getting carried away, overstepping the law and thinking they have the moral high ground about saving lives. But then next winter, like every other one, they’ll be socialising and not self-isolating when off-duty and the flu virus is circulating round the population and killing people in numbers we usually ignore.

Jamie Gerry
Jamie Gerry
4 years ago

Good time to read the Ray Bradbury short story, “The Pedestrian”, about a many who gets arrested for walking outside …

Scott Allan
Scott Allan
4 years ago

I just saw a the police on a news program saying they would start searching shopping baskets for “non-essential items”. This is the beginning of the police state the Labour party has dreamed of. Who is any police officer to determine what shopping items are essential for any citizen.

matthew hilton
matthew hilton
4 years ago

Is it possible to be a firefighter and wear a beard? How do you manage with your BA mask old son?

alwyn_kotze
alwyn_kotze
4 years ago

Well you elected them. Rode roughshod over centuries of common law, as you quite correctly pointed out. Managed to do this while achieving one of the highest death tolls in the world, in a rich country, on an island. That takes some doing.

Rhys W
Rhys W
4 years ago

I find this article so misguided as to be reckless. The public have already demonstrated that simply giving strong recommendations doesn’t work, and that a more forceful hand is required for everyone’s benefit. Clearly social stigma against ignoring advice is an useful tool in the public health toolkit, and is to be used as such. I believe in freedom of speech above all but that doesn’t equate to freedom to ‘stick it to the man’ and behave how you like in a global pandemic. It only takes a small minority of 65+ million to break the rules to have disastrous effects.

As a doctor working in secondary care, all the paperwork has been cut, and we’re back to basics putting in all efforts to deal with the most important issue at hand. Those with chronic disease will suffer as monitoring get cut back and best practice slackened. It’s the same with the police. They’ve dropped all but essential duties to get back on the beat and deal with COVID19 in the most effective way they can. They obviously can’t focus on ‘tackling anti-social behaviour’ because they are clearly going to prioritise avoiding preventable deaths. Having a nosey bobby giving you the eye while you walk the dog is not quite as far down the slippery slope of totalitarianism as the author suggests.

People aren’t ‘asking questions of the authorities’ because that’s what happens in a crisis. Do you want a weekly referendum on what to do next? Do you want it all to be a bit more Brexit with no-one able to make a decision for fear of it being the wrong one?

I suspect the author may have a paucity of things to write about whilst being cooped up inside, and could do with a bit of perspective from those seeing the real problems of coronavirus slowly and steadily hit home in hospitals around the country. I think many of those watching their loved ones die would find this reflex reaction against those trying to prevent further deaths pretty appalling.

spangledfritillary
spangledfritillary
4 years ago
Reply to  Rhys W

Well put.

We here in Britain are at war, like the entire rest of the world. There’ll be a time and a place for all manner of debate at some point but saving lives and giving the health professionals breathing space is the only genuine priority now: stay home as per guidelines or potentially kill a friend or relative (or Mrs Jones over at number 44 who is frail and high risk after a recent total splenectomy). Its about finally ridding ourselves of this accursed Western egotism and personal entitlement and thinking of the safety and welfare of others. (I draw your attention to the Govt drive to get all homeless off the streets, an amazing initiative).

Everything else should wait. For the time being.