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Boris is our sin-eater We all suffered, and now we want someone to blame

Is this the end of cakeism? Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Is this the end of cakeism? Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images


January 19, 2022   5 mins

In the 19th-century Welsh Marches, when someone lay on their deathbed, folklore reports that it was usual to summon a person known as the “sin-eater”. This person would place a plate of salt on the dying person’s breast, then a piece of bread on the salt. Then, as a witness described in 1852, the sin-eater “muttered an incantation over the bread, which he finally ate, thereby eating up all the sins of the deceased”.

Today’s sin-eater is yesterday’s cake-eater: the Prime Minister who not long ago was being castigated for not imposing lockdown rules swiftly enough, and is now being berated for never really believing the rules. Meanwhile, no one respectable wants to look at whether the rules he imposed, with overwhelming public support, were themselves worth the price.

The rules were harsh and the No. 10 breaches were numerous: “socially distanced drinks”, boozing on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral, leaving and Christmas parties, cheese and wine. The list goes on; but the minutiae are less important than the cumulative sense that the Government, presided over by Johnson, carried right on with normal, sociable working life while the rest of the country dutifully took the lockdowns literally and endured a self-imposed state of alienation, isolation and misery.

No doubt some measure of the resulting media feeding-frenzy is powered by people who raged at Johnson’s Brexit-era political untouchability. His haute Remainer haters are hugging themselves with glee to find him now not only touchable, but downright tarnished.

This group would try to turn Boris forgetting to put the loo seat down into a resignation offence. But beyond this Greek chorus, Partygate has cut through all the way to the sensible people who take even less of an interest in Westminster court politics than I.

Some of this is about offences against the British sense of fair play. After the Great Crash, David Cameron declared that “we’re all in it together”, a slogan regularly flung back at him when (as was often the case) his policy decisions seemed to fly in the face of this high sentiment.

If Cameron’s austerity demanded a straitening of the public purse-strings, our pandemic-era leaders demanded an equally austere straitening of the public heartstrings. We were asked, in the name of social solidarity, to accept a brutally thin gruel of human contact and intimacy. And now public outrage is driven by the same feeling that we’re not ‘all in it together’, and never were.

Beyond the fury, though, lies something deeper yet, and far more uncomfortable: a need for absolution.

Richard Munslow, the last known sin-eater, died in 1906. But the work of French philosopher RenĂ© Girard suggests we’re less removed from the practice of singling out one individual to carry the weight of collective wrongdoing than we might imagine.

In Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978), Girard argues that human societies long ago developed what he calls the “scapegoat mechanism”, as a means of keeping social rivalries in check. Where tensions threaten to boil over, he suggests, a group will instead resolve them by focusing anger and hostility on a single individual.

Today, social tensions are certainly high – and pandemic measures a central battleground. Some in our increasingly politicised debate claim Covid is a “plandemic” pushed by plutocrats, or that vaccines are unsafe, and merely an element in a “New World Order” conspiracy between government, finance and Big Pharma.

On the other side, supporting public-health measures has also become a political identity. For the most zealous, it’s no longer even really about science: I have argued that, for some, vaccination has taken on a social meaning wholly independent of the vaccine’s actual function, that’s less about public health or infection control than spiritual purity.

But we didn’t get here all at once. On March 9, 2020 Italy imposed a lockdown, and on March 23, Britain followed suit; but the slide toward today’s bien-pensant restrictionist orthodoxy wasn’t immediate. Into April that year, it was possible to argue in the Guardian that borders should stay open and that masks don’t work.

But by then the public was already under lock and key. It felt like a moment of national crisis, and the moral pressure to “do your bit” was powerful. It also swiftly took on a censorious edge, with surveillance drones over the Peak District, a scenic lake dyed black to deter anyone in search of a pretty view, and police forces setting up easy ways for people to dob their neighbours in.

The cost of this mass collective effort at austerity of the heart was innumerable tiny moments of alienation. People tried to educate five-year-olds on Zoom, or denied them birthday parties. Large families were banned by the rules from seeing grandparents. There was the little old lady fined for sharing a socially-distanced cup of tea in her communal garden. People died alone in hospitals, or struggled, unsupported, with illness and disability.

People reported seeing their aged parents, locked away in care homes for their own safety, visibly dying of loneliness. A nurse was arrested for trying to take her 97-year-old mother out of a nursing home, so she didn’t have to wither away in isolation like that.

We all suffered, and nearly all agreed to it. Now, as even the Covid-maximalist Guardian reports that Omicron seems to be waning as rapidly as it waxed, the question rears its ugly head: was any of it worth what we suffered? Were we right to assent collectively to austerity of the heart?

Re-opening that question would mean revisiting every extra instant of loneliness or abandonment experienced over the last two years, in the name of public health. Every instant borne disproportionately by the members of our community oldest, youngest, poorest or the most in need of care – and that every one of us went along with.

I don’t know if it was worth what we suffered. But the behaviour of Boris Johnson suggests he was never entirely convinced. So now we’re angry with him. The Labour Party tweeted a quote from “Jenny”, an NHS nurse, who described how a man ‘begged, wept, shouted to be let in, but we said no – for the greater good of everyone else.” The man’s wife then “died unexpectedly and alone, as the Government had a party.”

A funeral worker broke down in tears on LBC, describing to James O’Brien how he felt ‘like an idiot’ for stopping weeping, bereaved people coming into funerals, to mourn their dead loved ones.

Electoral politics likes to pretend that whatever policy is being offered won’t come with any downsides. Johnson himself is famed for such “cakeism”, which he brought in spades to the Brexit campaign. But as Rafael Behr pointed out recently, the pandemic has forced us to confront the fact that sometimes there are no cost-free choices.

In Behr’s view, the cakeist error was clinging to “liberty” when we needed was swifter and more decisive restrictions. Such measures as were imposed were, for the most part, followed in good faith: the nurses turning sobbing relatives away from wards where their loved ones lay dying did so out of concern for the patients in their care, not a sadistic wish to sever the bonds of family.

But lurking in the background of all the rage now pouring out at Johnson lies the opposite possibility: that perhaps all that alienation and misery didn’t make enough difference in the end to have been worth it.

Is this true? We’ll never know. We made the choices we made. And now, thanks to Johnson’s metamorphosis from our leader to our sin-eater, we don’t even need to wonder. All of it was his fault, all along.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

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Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

Yes, the rules he imposed had overwhelming public support – after the far lighter restrictions he wanted to introduce were criticised and scorned by the public.
I think the British people (and those from many other nations including my own) who supported these draconian rules throughout should have a good long look in the mirror.
Unfortunately many don’t like what they are seeing, so they double down and become even more venemous.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
2 years ago

There were some of us that were aghast at what was happening and yes I agree the government eventually capitulated to popular opinion but popular is not necessarily the right course to follow.
If a leader serially lies and repeatedly invents science fit to popular opinion and then makes policies that make no sense , even to him, then that is not a leader in any capacity. He is like a flag in the wind. In which case we don’t need a leader, we just need a ballot box for each decision. Boris is a coward, political and vain.

“Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.”
MARTIN LUTHER KING

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

Alka, I think all politicians lie – serially. I also think they are vain and almost all are on a pathology spectrum. I also think almost all play to populism – and if that reads cowardice, well then it is easy to accuse many of being a coward. I’m not a fan girl of politicians generally.
I do wonder which UK leader would have guided the nation thoughtfully and maturely and would have pushed back harder against Sage and the petrified public?

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago

But it’s not possible morally just to be ‘not a fan’ of politicians in general- we are responsible in some tiny measure for the ones we get, and so we must make a choice between poor and dismal each time we go to vote. And if the choice is so distasteful, we also have an obligation to act to improve the system, tho that is clearly beyond 90% of us. Part of the poverty of our current political state is caused I fear by the relative ease of public but ineffective comment (UnHerd, Twitter, usw) compared with the stranglehold of the party system over effective action.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
2 years ago

Our FPTP system means we often vote to prevent a party being elected
. That action creates safe seats, plus a complacent and powerful political party. Would PR produce better – or more instability?

Last edited 2 years ago by Justin Clark
David Giles
David Giles
2 years ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

It will produce results just like we had in 2010. We liked the idea of coalitions, of ‘consensus’ but we’re furious at those politicians who negotiated away slme of their positions in order to form the government of consensus we said w wanted.

Nick Clegg has at last been replaced as our sin eater.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  David Giles

Yes, I am no particular fan of Nick Clegg, but that is exactly the role he and the Lib Dems played after 2015.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
2 years ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

I agree. Trying to keep a party in power by voting for a lousy politician can backfire as it has in our area. Surely we should start from the beginning again and just elect the best honest person we can. If we all did that we would have a far better government. Voting for my tory MP just increases the wokeness in the conservative party but still the local tories put her forth every time.

Bruce Luffman
Bruce Luffman
2 years ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

I thought this subject might eventually be raised. In electing the 32 unitary authorities in Scotland, FPTP has beeen entirely dispensed with for a proportional representation (PR) system called Single Transferrable Vote (STV). It is fully PR and I have won a seat in 3 elections – two with FPTP and 1 with STV in 1999, 2003 and 2007. I am now retired.
STV provides a balance of political parties and all Scottish unitary authorities are run by coalitions of the parties. In theory, it creates a more consensual local government and in practice it seems to work quite well. However, it is difficult to do or create anything differently and maybe that is what the the electorate wants – quiet governance.
The thing is that Brexit required an audacious Government and what we got apart from the ridiculous Covid debacle, weak, indecisive and muddled Government and for that we should blame Boris and his uninspiring Cabinet. There is no real political experience in this cabal of young Twitter driven MPs and finding a new PM will be difficult but would a coalition from a PR system be any different because most of the Opposition are similar in experience and sagacity.
I would think out of the box and go for Frost, Harper or Baker.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
2 years ago
Reply to  Bruce Luffman

Great reply. Frost has my vote if ever that was possible. Baker yes and Harper too. Good choice there imho. Barclay… Mordaunt…

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

I agree – I am discerning and I support one above another. Often I support the least worst. What I am trying to say is that I don’t expect that they have lofty ideals that they adhere to – I am pragmatic. I will stick with my statement that they all bend the truth.
In South Africa I have great experience with swallowing my bile and voting for a party that might have annoyed me greatly, but has some values, is still largely uncorrupted and in the main delivers services within the constraints it operates in and within the province it governs. Voting is strategic and tactical always. Never be idealistic.
You can only be starry eyed in liberation movements!

Last edited 2 years ago by Lesley van Reenen
Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago

I couldn’t agree more re ‘bending the truth’! They all do it. And having stood for election (very low echelon stuff) a few years ago, I can attest to the pressure to do some of that bending that immediately accompanies the desire for votes – only, of course, in the interests of fairness and balance and presenting the best case, and never, oh no, for personal advantage
..

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

Smiley face!

Last edited 2 years ago by Lesley van Reenen
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago

Those happy pre Apartheid days when your country was a joy to visit!
Now, sadly it is like watching the ‘fall of Rome’, but in overdrive.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
2 years ago

Perhaps Sunak would have ? Maybe not ! But “the chosen one” did not. We are here now in the present. The quest for a leader remains.

Sorry to reply with another quote :

“Until you change how you get things done, you’ll never know what works best.”
ROY T. BENNETT

Jean Nutley
Jean Nutley
2 years ago

Said it before and I will say it again, you can always tell when a politician is lying. Their lips are moving.

Deborah B
Deborah B
2 years ago

When the terrible images from Italy were shown on our TV screens, with the attendant predictions of doom, I couldn’t see how it would be possible to avoid similar lockdown measures.
Whether the UK could have taken a less Draconian path is debatable. I’m sure with sufficient forethought and planning there may have been a middle way. But the government was forced into an Italy style lockdown because of the fear and anxiety caused by Italy’s experience.
That is the nature of global news. It was unavoidable, unfortunately.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Deborah B

Deborah, from early on in 2020, from data taken from the cruise ship (a perfect real life crossed with lab example!) and from Prof Hendrik Streeck from Germany (he extrapolated data from a small contained community spread right at inception), IFR was very low. .3%?
From early on we knew those most at risk were overweight/obese with co-morbidities. Who can forget awful pictures from Italy hospitals that confirmed this.
Anyone could do some simple maths and employ simple logic to figure out how damaging lockdowns were going to be on many fronts, yet here we are close to 2 years later having been through many lockdowns (which have been proven not to work), constantly listening to modellers who are out by about 600%. And IFR is not much different from that found at the beginning.
Those compliant – look long and hard in the mirror.

Last edited 2 years ago by Lesley van Reenen
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Deborah B

It is in the nature of poor journalism.
Apparently the same scenes have been playing out in Italian hospitals every flu season for the last few year due to cut backs following the financial crisis.
There was some speculation that some of the images were not even from the then current year

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

Malicious journalism. Not poor.

Art Johnston
Art Johnston
2 years ago
Reply to  Deborah B

This has been perpetuated and amplified by the media. Look at any newspaper and TV and the fear level (and of course the poor reporting) is unbelievable. It goes on and on and on and on. People that are afraid to leave their basement bunkers are just petrified by the TV they stare at.  The politicians have no courage (or are just doing their normal moving their lips and lying.)  

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Deborah B

That’s because you lacked leadership, such as the Governor of Florida, who stood by his guns, despite savage attacks and dire predictions, which of course have all been proven wrong and are laughable In hindsight.

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
2 years ago

And the Unions. They had a lot of say in all this.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago

Precisely, ‘guilty as charged’!

Mangle Tangle
Mangle Tangle
2 years ago

You are naive about the world if you believe, as you say, that ‘all politicians lie’. That’s as simplistic a view of the world as the opposite.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida, USA.

Rose D
Rose D
2 years ago

Thatcher.

Andrew Clayden
Andrew Clayden
2 years ago

Perfect quote for these times Alka, thanks for sharing. I agree 100%

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Clayden

Great virtue signalling too!

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
2 years ago

But is it so very obvious what was right on every occasion in the last couple of years?

Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

I sympathise with your comment, Hilary. We are perhaps looking back at the alpha and delta variants of this disease through an omicron lens (widespread, but unlikely to make you seriously ill). I felt initially that we should have focused restrictions on the really vulnerable, and let others live normally, but have to acknowledge that that is easier said than done. It is difficult to hermetically seal off the elderly and chronically sick for a start, and that, anyway, leads to the most vulnerable to disease also being the most vulnerable to loneliness. Time will tell where the worst mistakes were made, but we’ll have to wait.

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Tonkyn

The vaccine was only ever intended for the vulnerable not children or young men ( who ARE dying from heart attacks and strokes I’ve personally known 2 in the last 6 months). And before the vaxx and also large scale natural immunity we needed lock downs. But for people to die alone without loved ones is utterly barbaric I’d have risked anything to be with my family and the relatives should have been allowed to choose!!

Gordon Welford
Gordon Welford
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

After a few weeks it was very obvious to some eminent scientists,Sunetra Gupta among them,which led to the Great Barrington Declaration.And as pointed out the Diamond Princess was a shining example of Covid at work.As Dr. Alan Mordue concluded in his excellent piece on Public Health this week,all the existing principles of Public Health were violated

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago

I ignored the lockdown. It made no difference to my life. An endless cycle of home, work and Tesco. Then it dawned on me that I had been self isolating for the last 20 years

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
2 years ago

The MSM and the Opposition need to be held accountable for the part they played in demanding ever more draconian lockdowns and restrictions, for the censorship and demonisation of any one who tried to question or counter their toxic big pharma enabling narrative.
The people were had and all too easily. Lessons must be learned and learned well because the enemies of freedom will not stop with this.

Aidan Trimble
Aidan Trimble
2 years ago

But Boris didn’t invent any science, did he ?

Mangle Tangle
Mangle Tangle
2 years ago

Well put, but a leader must also ask, “Is it possible?” Boris knew it wasn’t possible, as the collective desire to lock ourselves away was just too strong. So (even) Boris couldn’t do what was right. But he should still have been smart enough to hairshirt Number Ten.

Ed
Ed
2 years ago

100%

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago

Yes many forget, or choose to forget, that the U.K. govt initially sought to take a less restrictive course, but was beaten into submission by the news media and opposition politicians into taking a far more restrictive course. Ever since then it’s been a succession of ‘gotcha’ stories that are so easy to generate midst the rules.
An excellent article summing up why Johnson is such a target for almost everyone – but not me.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Now, THAT is virtue signalling. Good for you for not targeting poor old Johnson .

Iris C
Iris C
2 years ago

They had overwhelming public support because any professional voice that questioned shutdown policies was silenced. For instance the 700 signatures letter to The Times from qualified and experienced medicos from a wide range of disciplines was never followed up.

Lucas D
Lucas D
2 years ago

There’s a lot in this. That nurse telling us she turned away a husband, begging and pleading to see his dying wife, isn’t really angry at Boris. She’s angry at herself. And how easily she was turned into a monster by her own fear.

Last edited 2 years ago by Lucas D
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Lucas D

And they say’Auschwitz couldn’t happen here’. Dream on sunshine.

George Glashan
George Glashan
2 years ago

…but i was just following orders…

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

Many Jews in Germany still thought it would never happens to them, right up until the moment it did.

Tom Jennings
Tom Jennings
2 years ago
Reply to  Lucas D

Right you are sir. This is why I think Boris is more scapegoat than sin-eater.

Deborah B
Deborah B
2 years ago
Reply to  Lucas D

And her willingness to accept the extra Draconian rules that hospitals and care homes imposed. Public institutions relished the ‘zero tolerance’ approach and added layers of misery on top of government guidelines. We are living in close proximity with extremists. Frightening!

Rose D
Rose D
2 years ago
Reply to  Lucas D

Fear or cowardice? Or both?

Shelly Andon
Shelly Andon
2 years ago

A really great article. I have never seen such schadenfreude as being shown against Boris Johnson. People are gleefully asserting how well they followed the rules and if they could do it so could Boris. However it has been clear to me throughout that Boris never really believed in the rules that he was forced to impose on an increasingly puritanical society. I have never felt so ashamed to be British as the spectacle playing out in our media. It isn’t Boris who has made a laughing stock of our country, it is we who are doing so by making Boris the scapegoat of all our sins.

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 years ago
Reply to  Shelly Andon

Agree completely. Girard’s way of looking at the scapegoat phenomena sheds much light on recent trends. He said believe in Christ’s sacrifice reduced the need to scapegoat regular people. With declining faith in at least some circles, and with social media intensifying social rivalry, the need for scapegoating could increase. The worrying thought is that maybe some of us who like to oppose witch hunts are maybe causing social harm, as we are blocking a needed release of tension.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Shelly Andon

Agreed, a completely pathetic & excruciatingly embarrassing performance by the ‘Great British Public’. It even exceeds the nauseating, mawkish behaviour exhibited at the death of Dianna, late Princess of Wales.
Even as I write, I hear the former ‘Brexit Bulldog’* one David Davies MP **is attempting to plunge his puny penknife into the unfortunate Boris.

(* A misnomer, as sadly he turned out to be the Brexit Poodle.)
(**His use of Cromwell’s rhetoric was also very embarrassing.)

Last edited 2 years ago by SULPICIA LEPIDINA
Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago

A few of quotes from this beautiful article compiled as I read.

“no one respectable wants to look at whether the rules he imposed, with overwhelming public support, were themselves worth the price.”
How true this is.

This one is interesting.
“Beyond the fury, though, lies something deeper yet, and far more uncomfortable: a need for absolution.”
Absolution from what, from not following the rules?

“perhaps all that alienation and misery didn’t make enough difference in the end to have been worth it.”
Plenty of people believe it. I for one believe it. All the pointless rules that we were made to follow. The various leaders going on TV to show us the way, all the while they were only concerned about their ratings and their rivals’.
Party-gate at most has shattered an illusion that was so important to so many of us. And yet, some still cling to the charade. Take Scotland, secondary school kids (of all people) are still masked in school. Primary kids still can’t have assemblies or trips or anything. And that wasn’t even worth a single mention from yesterday’s Sturgeon’s address nor, astonishingly, by ANY of those Lorna Slater’s clones that pass as “opposition”. In Scotland the illusion is still alive, but that’s not because the rules have meaning or do anything at all, but because those who rule us have invested so much in them, and the public was so attuned to them that neither is really ready to let go or admit that perhaps it has been a monumental waste of time and money. After going along with them for so long, how can you turn back and say, “never mind, we were just kidding”? So government and the Slaters carry on as nothing has changed. We have to pray that the public will see to that.

Did I see the light before others? I think so, but certainly I am not alone in this, even though there were relatively few of us. For me the more parties they had in Downing Street, the better. I wish they had one a day, and I thank Johnson for that. This could be the biggest service he has done to this country, even better than Brexit. He has broken the spell and now it is up to us to wake up.
Red pill or blue pill, which is it?

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrea X
Justin Clark
Justin Clark
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Politicians certainly get aroused having all this power. You can see that represented by that authoritarian government leader for Northern Territories in Australia. Disturbing but thank goodness for the ability to vote out years later
.

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
2 years ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

Same for the Northern Territories in the UK.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
2 years ago
Reply to  Christian Moon

superb! agreed!

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Christian Moon

We used to call it North Britain. We even had a North British Railway.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

And the Royal North British Dragoons, i.e. the Scots Greys.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Prior to 1922 only one of Scotland’s five major railway companies had the temerity to mention Scotland in its name.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Perhaps alot of people latched so strongly onto the feeling of lockdown because it provided a feeling of togetherness which I think human beings basically require for their spiritual and emotional wellbeing. That feeling of togetherness has eroded considerably in the West (and particularly, you might argue, in the UK, the US and other similarly individualistic nations). The institutions which provided that togetherness (e.g. the church) have lost their relevance, while the rise of hyper-individualistic phenomena such as social media has accelerated the atomisation of society. Society becomes spiritually poorer and less happy as a result.
The fervour with which lockdown was accepted was a sign that people crave to be part of a group and are willing to sacrifice themselves to ensure the wellbeing and survival of that group. While it is rather silly to have thought lockdowns would be a consequence-free free lunch – it would be rather sad if there was regret for having enjoyed, even cherished, the period of solidarity. If possible, that element and memory should be abstracted and extracted from the rest of the wreckage and propagated.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Sorry, I felt ‘together’ for a nanosecond, before thinking it through and realizing that inter alia we were consigning many hundreds of thousands to losing jobs and businesses and their life work and savings (and consigning millions to poverty).
I simply did not feel togetherness with people who could not see that the future wellbeing and survival of their group would not have been served by lockdowns.

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
2 years ago

But the lockdowns did save lives, didn’t they?

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

We don’t know really. It delayed some folk from fatally getting the virus, and thus extended their lives. Others did not get treatment for other conditions and died, or may do so, much earlier than they otherwise would. And some were able to take the vaccine and thus have survived. This latter is the only valid argument for lockdown, I suspect.

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
2 years ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

And lots of us acquired natural immunity from infection that we recovered from without hospital treatment but were still told to get the problematic mRNA vaccine despite that. As indeed are the many NHS staff who almost certainly have natural immunity which the government won’t look for before sacking them.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

No.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

No they didn’t. There is plenty of information out there proving that lockdowns simply did not work. Quite sophisticated, looking at when measures were introduced, looking at movement of people (cell phones!).
Anecdotally, South Africa in the Beta wave last summer had no hard lockdowns and the epidemic wave rose
. and then fell.

Last edited 2 years ago by Lesley van Reenen
Gordon Welford
Gordon Welford
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

NO,they postponed some and caused others,cancer,heart attacks ad finitum

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

Lockdown was never about saving lives in the U.K. it was about trying to stop the NHS from being overwhelmed due to it not being fit for purpose.

Hosias Kermode
Hosias Kermode
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

A health service offered free to all, no matter how wonderful the ideal, was never going to work. Demand is always infinite. Supply of course is not.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

Some argue that they increased the number of deaths as sick people huddled alongside their unsick relatives in their flats.

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

However, that “togetherness” was limited to the zoom class, which in turn created an underclass of people to whom they subcontracted all the risks.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Indeed. Those that kept their jobs that is.

Ron Wigley
Ron Wigley
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Brilliantly put AndrĂ©a, the collective unconscious working its magic on the majority, it affected Boris too, his political instincts at the outset were aligned with Sweden’s Tegnell and were absolutely correct, and as you say, he has now broken the spell and this is the biggest service he has done for the country, but the raging lynch mobs are all coming for him now, let’s hope we can all wake up from this nightmare, Boris should stay warts and all.

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  Ron Wigley

I think so too. He needs to stay for now. Once the dust has settled he can be done away with, but I really feel this is the wrong time.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago

Excellent article. Johnson’s downfall is his need to always be loved and to therefore just try and give the people what they want…or what they think they want. The latter was clearly the case during the pandemic.
I remember the absolute furore when Britain held off locking down at the start of the pandemic, how people seemed absolutely set on giving up their freedoms “for the greater good” (or maybe just because everyone else was doing it and they were scared?) So Johnson gave them what they wanted and now they’re acting like toddlers on Christmas day because the toy they asked for from the big blonde Santa Claus isn’t as exciting as they thought.
Johnson’s inability to hold his own and set rules even against the tide of public opinion is a sign of his inability to truly LEAD and so I do think he should be removed.
But why aren’t Drakeford and Sturgeon being subject to the same rage? All those daft rules about “non-essential aisles” in the supermarket. Sturgeon took every opportunity to be stricter than England to polish her Queen of Lockdown crown. Why is only Johnson getting it in the neck?
Just as the herd dynamic was scary at the start of the chain of lockdowns, the witch hunt on Johnson is now has a dangerous, febrile feel to it. Not for the first time in the past few years, one gets a real feeling of how thin the veneer of civilisation is and how quickly order could dissolve into violence.

Last edited 2 years ago by Katharine Eyre
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

“But why aren’t Drakeford and Sturgeon being subject to the same rage?”
Because Boris made Brexit happen, and the establishment hate him for it.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Quite, and that is also something which drove me insane this whole time. The lockdown debate became just another front in the Brexit war, although one had zero to do with the other. I’ve said it a million times: mixing the pandemic up with other political agendas is wrong and has to stop.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Because Drakeford and Sturgeon give the impression that they thought about the problem and came up with what they thought was a sensible solution. We all know that this was not the case for Boris.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Aah no man Rasmus. Drakeford and Sturgeon have constantly put in evermore draconian restrictions and lockdowns, virtue signalling in a silly one upmanship political point scoring game with the UK government. I don’t even live in the UK and it was clear to the naked eye. They achieved nothing for it and frankly are/were an extra drain on England. They should be given their independence immediately and learn to balance books.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

No they didn’t. Both manipulated the so called ‘crisis’ for blatantly nationalistic political advantage.

stephen archer
stephen archer
2 years ago

sadly, too true

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago

What an excellent essay that gets to the very heart of the present synthetic drama.

The answer to your provocative statement “that perhaps all that alienation and misery didn’t make enough difference in the end to have been worth it”, is that none of this nonsense was necessary or worn it. In fact it has been the greatest British fiasco since 1939.
Ironically much of the blame for this is due to the malign influence of The Mekon * who, by his own admission as an ‘arts bluffer’, is totally enthralled by ‘the science’ or lack of.

That ‘science’ reveals the average age of death for the UK’s 150,000 fatalities is a staggering 83, whilst Life Expectancy hovers stubbornly at around 81. This is not, repeat not, the Black Death, much to the disappointment of many.
The current outburst of moral outrage is as ridiculous as it it embarrassing, what has happened to this once great nation?

(* Otherwise known as Dominic Cummings.)

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
2 years ago

Plus only about 15,000 have died with just Covid as the cause. Average number of comorbidities is 3-4 people already obese etc. My biggest beef is that NOWHERE have we been told to supplement vitamin D or other immunity boosters I think 90% of deaths had severely low D levels at least partly explaining high rates in ethnic minorities

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Alison Wren

Yes that subtle difference between WITH & OF which has alluded most commentators.
Paradoxically I was aware of vitamin D deficiency from the very beginning. Something to do with those who live at 52 degrees north, as have their antecedents for centuries, being deprived of necessary sunlight.
Perhaps that was the catalyst that inadvertently encouraged ‘us’ to create the second greatest Empire the World has ever seen?

Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago

Technically – and speaking mainly for myself – ours was bigger.

Last edited 2 years ago by Dan Gleeballs
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

Yes it was, but undoubtedly second best to the greatest there has ever been.
However not a bad effort, and its munificence was legendary.

Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago

Light musings aside, Tiberius ruined quite a few early emperors. The Jimmy Savile of ancient Rome. Far from the home life of our own dear queen!

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

Agreed, but of much of Tiberius’s debauchery was confined to idyllic Capri.
The machinery of state was unaffected by his depravity. ‘The Pax Romana’ continued its extraordinary mission to ‘humble the mighty & and protect the weak’.*

(* or so Virgil thought.)

Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago

That’s a great quote. It still astonishes how much and how deliberately our empire builders looked back to aspects of Greece and Rome – such as the cenotaph for Leonidas in Sparta. I think we were the first with an actual ‘unknown soldier’ but the Athenians kept one place empty in funeral processions – for the lost.

We stand on the shoulders of giants.

Last edited 2 years ago by Dan Gleeballs
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

Yes,two giants really, and we have struggled valiantly ever since, to emulate them.
The last major attempt was probably the founding of US Republic, which must deemed a qualified success.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

Great article.
The secret of our prime ministers is that they are weak. We give them an impossible job and blame them when they fail to perform it. The prime minister serves as a kind of glorified scapegoat.
Andrew Gimson in ‘Prime Ministers’.
I think it would have been wise for Boris to resign promptly, giving himself the chance of a return another day. If he is forced out there is no chance, but perhaps he would prefer that.
Mind you, if the whole party palaver has been at Cummings’ instigation I can understand why he would fight to stay where he is.

Last edited 2 years ago by Claire D
Peter LR
Peter LR
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Who would possibly employ Cummings in the future since he has proved himself so indiscreet and vindictive?

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

That’s a most interesting question to take literally. Word is he’s working for various power brokers with strong connections to the tech sector. And he’s making tens of thousand per month just from his substack. Even some of least likely folk (hard core liberals) are paying his sub, per the interest in what he had to say. For evidence, see the Guardian article “Intoxicating, insidery and infuriating: everything I learned about Dominic Cummings from his ÂŁ10-a-month blog.” Personally, Im also not impressed at the way he’s turned on Boris. But I still wish classic Dom the best. He seeks to make a better world. For all of us.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

Nah he’s a bampot. He’s like those kids knifing other kids in the street for saying the wrong thing.

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

Disloyal only to a man who was first disloyal to him.
Why not? If you believe your agenda actually matters. Instead of which we now have Carrie Johnson’s programme of green metro-liberalism, open borders and trans rights. The blob embodied.
The vindictive can be vindicated.

Peter LR
Peter LR
2 years ago
Reply to  Christian Moon

Christian, did you believe his Barnard Castle story? Boris stood by him then when the mob howled!

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

That is very much what’s so troubling. The PM paid an immense price to keep him, and I went around explaining to friends how much there was no point to Boris without Cummings and his agenda, and this support showed his awareness of that fact and his commitment to that programme.
Of course, Cummings had already shown his feet of clay (and lack of a feel for maths) by his severity on lockdown. Where was his much vaunted red team when the chips were down?

Elizabeth Fairburn
Elizabeth Fairburn
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

Ignore Barnard Castle, that was a day out! He went North to his/their family so someone could look after his children IF they went down with covid – why? he had family already in London. That to me was the deal breaker and Boris stood by him!

Gordon Welford
Gordon Welford
2 years ago

Whatever Cummings did then was not for personal gratification,unlike Prof.Ferguson.and no one was at any medical risks from his actions.Problem is that few people were ever at risk from the banned activities

David Uzzaman
David Uzzaman
2 years ago

I don’t know when the penny will drop but drop it will. Like the Germans in 1945 millions will look at themselves in the mirror and say “what was I thinking”.

George Glashan
George Glashan
2 years ago
Reply to  David Uzzaman

im not so sure that reflection will come, i think many more are likely to say “i was just following orders”. Jenny the nurse mentioned in the article, as another commentator has mentioned isn’t angry at Bojo she’s angry at herself, she became like a Auschwitz prison guard and all it took was an instruction from above.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
2 years ago
Reply to  David Uzzaman

Yes. Mary H is right. We are standing on the bridge of the Titanic ..all engines still steaming..but the lookout in crows nest is yelling about a berg just ahead. Some passengers on deck have heard it. But most are still asleep below decks heads down checking case numbers. There is an underlying, inchoate sense of dread out there as – finally – the first shockwaves of the Reckoning are felt. We kinda know…there IS a price to pay for the suffocation of sme enterprise and whole sectors, wild QE, State debt and Magic Money Tree, the stoking of the engineered property bubble, letting inflation soar (nice work BoE) and the massive expansion of the peleton Big State. Covid has changed our society forever, opening huge chasms of social inequality. That feeling of dread is surely feeding the rage at the pitiful Rule Maker Johnson – the man who could not master the governing Technocracy/ Blob and Hard Lockers of the Left. God help us when the markets get to work.

Neven Curlin
Neven Curlin
2 years ago

I’m Dutch and live in Austria, but I can still relate to the central theme this article.

I’ve been very angry during the past two years, angry at all the lies and propaganda that fueled a mass psychosis of a magnitude I hadn’t witnessed before.

But in recent days, mainstream media outlets everywhere have suddenly started to talk about things that have been taboo all this time, suddenly opening up the ranks and allowing for the ‘other side’ to speak again. This has triggered an unspeakable rage in me, that goes well beyond the anger I experienced before.

I shout at my monitor when watching the news, I shout at news articles, I fantasize about physically hurting politicians and TV anchors. Why is this? I don’t want to be that kind of person, because it can only make things worse. And the anger is surely diminishing my personal amount of QALYs.

Is it perhaps because this sudden ‘objectivity’ that the media seems to have found again, is just a form of theatre to make up for the horrible failure of being the fourth pillar of society, while in the meantime all the insane and unethical policies are continuing to be implemented? Again, I live in Austria and tomorrow the Austrian parliament will re-accept a Nazi public health law from 1938 that had been abolished in 1970. And the whole charade will continue once influenza hits next winter.

One sin-eater won’t cut it for me. I want tribunals. I want the repercussions to be such that this can never happen again. But most of all, I want my composure back.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Neven Curlin

Good old Austria ; The Fuhrer would be proud of them!

Peter LR
Peter LR
2 years ago

Now that the Omicron doom forecasts have been clearly seen by Joe Public to be deliberately hysterical the cat is out of the bag. We have been manipulated by political agendas. Spiked has pointed out the hypocrisy of politicians highlighting tragic stories of compassion deprivation when they voted avidly for the enforcement of such policies and even demanded stricter ones.
I’m unsure how far this kind of governing can get us if owning up to a single mistake of judgment or miscalculation means loss of office. Without honesty, and mistakes are inevitable, we shall continue to have cover-ups both by lying or media suppression of facts.

Bob Rowlands
Bob Rowlands
2 years ago

Good article and the last one I shall be reading on this pitiful topic. I just wish Peston, Hope et al would earn a proper crust by writing about important National and World events. If we end up getting involved in another European war because our Prime Minister was distracted by these tittle tattle Cummings generated ‘events’ it’s the inept BJ haters like Cummings and Peston that will be responsible.

Christopher Peter
Christopher Peter
2 years ago
Reply to  Bob Rowlands

Good comment, I feel the same. I’m now avoiding the Spectator website and the constant stream of smug articles from Peston, all on one topic – a man addicted to Westminster intrigue and a well-known Boris hater, he’s obviously totally lapping this up, while I’m feeling a fool wondering how much longer I’m going to continue paying my Speccie subscription when it’s used to fund such rubbish. And meanwhile, the cost of living crisis and war in Ukraine looms, and everyone’s looking the other way blabbering about parties and wallpaper.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago

I stopped the Speccie sub for this reason of hysterical Tory hating articles; don’t watch BBC news either. The DT seems to have gone down the same route along with Guido Fawkes.
Though noticed today the DT and GF have produced articles saying it might be a mistake to get rid of Johnson now. Doh!

Last edited 2 years ago by Ian Stewart
R Wright
R Wright
2 years ago

History will look back on this period of mass hysteria the same way we look back on the Salem witch trials or the internment of the Japanese by the U.S government in WW2.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  R Wright

Don’t forget ‘wee little Scotland’.
Less than three centuries ago a woman in Dornoch* was condemned as a Witch. She was stripped naked, smeared in pitch, placed in a barrel, paraded through the town and incinerated, in front of an ecstatic crowd.!

(* In the far north.)

Last edited 2 years ago by SULPICIA LEPIDINA
Michael Hollick
Michael Hollick
2 years ago

There’s an awful lot of the royal “we” in this article. From the outset I viewed the whole thing through the prism of a life spent working in the media. In more than 40 years I’ve worked on everything from a local weekly newspaper to 24-hour TV and internet news services.
Almost everything that has happened makes sense when looked at from the point of view of a 24-hour news cycle that requires constant refreshment and feeding of “content”. There is no time for reflection or consideration, only novelty and fresh meat to the grinder.
I’ve never been remotely frightened of a “deadly” and “unique” illness with a survival rate in the high 90 percent. But by God, it’s hard to think straight, if at all, amid the constant barrage of “content”.

D Ward
D Ward
2 years ago

Very pertinent point, and nailing precisely why we are in the mess we are in

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago

But as Rafael Behr pointed out recently, the pandemic has forced us to confront the fact that sometimes there are no cost-free choices.”

Really? I see very little evidence that the usual suspects have ever contemplated this essential truth. I am proud to assert that right from the very beginning of this globalised panic attack, I was ready at all points to remind anyone listening that there is no such thing as a solution here, not when the cost of it is so enormous.

At first of course I was accused of putting petty economic concerns ahead of health and safety, and then then once the more panicked amongst us started to understand that economic shutdowns also cost lives for other reasons, I was told variations upon the theme that my reckonings were generally off the mark and that the experts wouldn’t get this sort of thing wrong, etc etc.

Anyway, there’s no point to any told-you-sos at this stage, especially when the new game in town is to deny, forever if they can help it, that lockdowns were not worth the colossal damage done to society. It’s hard to hope that the evidence will render such a position untenable in due course when the evidence must necessarily involve tens of thousands of people dying in future years as a consequence of the suspension of cancer screenings, non-urgent surgical procedures and the host of second-order effects that come from prolonged isolation and reduced living standards. But these tragedies are unavoidable in my view, the only thing to hope for is that those responsible face the consequences. If all this gets heaped upon Boris Johnson and nobody else, that won’t merely be a tragedy, it will be scandalous.

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
2 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

We should indeed come down hard on the medical profession, …. a profession that still treats vaccines as a religion…. and has little interest in what health really means … still clings on the idea that the evidence based medicine is based on RCT’s etc etc etc
And we should come down hard on a large part of the press

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago

No it is our fault. It is our ignorance of even basic science and the inability to look what graphs say that has resulted in us accepting the climate crisis nonsense that is damaging our energy supplies and our pockets. It is our stupidity in accepting our freedoms being taken in return for saving us from an insignificant virus using fear and policies that were specifically excluded from our pandemic plans. Then many accepted experimental treatments with no evidence of their safety.
What has really been going on whilst the governments have been playing smoke and mirrors? They have printed unlimited amounts of worthless money and kept interest rates at rock bottom. The money has appeared as taxpayers debt to subsidise pointless renewable energy. Personal debt has increased because of the low interest rates. We have seen an even bigger theft of our wealth to pay for possibly dangerous and useless vaccines. Inflation is now on the rise, as they planned. Interest rates cannot rise to control it and soon we will be living with uncontrolled inflation taking away the rest of our savings. The objective was the great reset. We will have nothing and be happy.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago

And as we consider the replacement of our PM because of a party, a major European war is brewing.
Good to see we have our priorities sorted.

Jean Nutley
Jean Nutley
2 years ago

I have openly said I am no great fan of Boris, however we do have to face some unpleasant facts. Firstly, Boris was facing the unknown, he had no option but to listen to the scientists, and take decisions based on what was purported to be for the common good.
Secondly, who, among us, would have wanted to be in that position? Wouldn’t we have done the same? When Covid first broke, we were warned that it was a killer, above and beyond the common flu. Boris had to be seen to be doing something to protect the population. No-one will ever know what might have happened without that first lock down. What if no lock down meant a catastrophic rate of infection? It was high enough as it was.
Thirdly, surely the people who have failed in their duty and let everyone down is the WHO. Failure to believe, failure to act, and perhaps worst of all, failure to inform.

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
2 years ago
Reply to  Jean Nutley

He only listened to pro Big Pharma scientists Ferguson is a disgrace dissenting voices thrown off social media it’s about control

Gordon Welford
Gordon Welford
2 years ago
Reply to  Jean Nutley

Yes we do ! The Gomprtz curve of the Covid graph peaked before the first lockdown

Fiona Archbold
Fiona Archbold
2 years ago

I am listening to Prime Ministers Questions right now and to be honest I don’t think anyone wanted Boris to be made into the sin-eater apart from the slimy bad actor Dominic Cummings. Sadly Boris’s response to the Cummings’ traps are what let him down. That and anyone who believed work parties were OK if you worked at Number 10. In reality all Cummings has achieved is time being wasted by the powers that be. We urgently need to focus on getting back all of our freedoms and having a real life again, not Cummings revenge.

Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
2 years ago

“funeral worker broke down in tears on LBC, describing to James O’Brien how he felt ‘like an idiot’ for stopping weeping, bereaved people coming into funerals, to mourn their dead loved ones.”

Well he should feel like an idiot. I don’t buy all the whining from the lockdown fanatics, who viciously enforced silly unscientific rules with glee, suddenly having a road to Damascus moment

Boris is an obese degenerate but people get the leaders they deserve

john zac
john zac
2 years ago

We need a bullshit eater today

Hugh Marcus
Hugh Marcus
2 years ago

Actually I don’t buy, the ‘we’re angry at ourselves’ line. I knew Johnston was a liar & a charlatan long before he was PM. We obeyed the rules ( within reason) for the good of everyone. I’m well known as a skeptic & non conformist. But I also respect my family & neighbours, that’s the reason I didn’t blatantly break the rules. Hence when my family cancelled the 60th birthday party they’d organised in the autumn of 2020 & I was unable to see my dying father for 7 weeks in a nursing home, I didn’t scream & shout at anyone.
Am I angry? You bet I am, but my anger is directed at Johnston & the officials who thought it was fine to continually have boozy Fridays.

I hope they all get sunk without trace because that’s what they deserve.

Rob Britton
Rob Britton
2 years ago
Reply to  Hugh Marcus

If we are angry at ourselves it is because we have been made to look a like fools for following silly rules that the government themselves clearly didn’t respect. Boris Johnson’s claim that he had to be reminded of the rules that he himself made is for many the last straw.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago

“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”*

(* Jonn.8:7. King James Bible.)

Dick Stroud
Dick Stroud
2 years ago

Excellent article. Hopefully, when politicians try and remove our freedoms, in the name of global warming, more people will object. How could the forecasters get it so wrong about events three weeks in the future? Just imagine how worthless their numbers are looking out three decades.

Last edited 2 years ago by Dick Stroud
Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
2 years ago

The difference is that sin-eaters agreed to take on the role voluntarily, or for a fee. Often a destitute poor person in the community would be approached and “hired” to take part in the ritual for money – or even just for the chance of a slap-up meal.
Johnson is, in no sense, volunteering for the role. In fact he seems to be lining up civil servants to act as sin-eaters to absolve him of blame.
Besides, sin-eaters are from Celtic tradition. Boris, as a classicist, would no doubt be more familiar with the idea of the Pharmakoi (φαρΌαÎșόi), who served a similar, cleansing ritual purpose in ancient Greece.
These were by no means volunteers – they were usually picked from the city’s prisons, or among recalcitrant slaves. If facing a plague, famine or some other disaster the community would take two such unfortunates and drive them out of the city. Some writers suggest they were then beaten and exiled, whilst others insist such Pharmakoi were stoned to death or thrown off a cliff.
Either way it was hoped that the expulsion or execution of the Pharmakoi would appease the Gods and thus the city would be spared.
What, I wonder, would the conspiracy theorists make of Johnson being ousted (or saved) by the New World Order conspiracy between government, finance and Big Pharmakoi

Last edited 2 years ago by Paddy Taylor
Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
2 years ago

I and my family didn’t look to the rules to keep ourselves safe. We adopted a certain way of behaviour which hello! coincided with the Governments’! Most people actually wanted to keep their “granny safe”.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago

Myths are important. You could argue that (for many) Boris was a Hero (The Hero’s Journey myth) for getting Brexit done.
You could argue (for many) that Boris is a Scapegoat (Scapegoat myths were deeply embedded in many religions).
You could argue that the collection of scrap iron in WW II was a myth to build the nation’s morale (the scrap wasn’t used).
You could argue that particular politicians attain the status of a mythical being (hero or villain) probably disproportionately.
Myths are important, but they are often overblown in a drive to polarize messy reality into comforting absolutes. Clearly we have some way to go before myths no longer gain unthinking support.

Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

My dad met a very wealthy man around 1960 who had made two fortunes. His first was when he realised half of Europe had broken tanks, smashed planes and war iron rusting away. He offered to remove those eyesores for a decent fee. The second fortune came from selling iron ingots back to the same governments when they ran low. He was a very cheerful man, so my dad said.

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
2 years ago

Lots of comments here seem to think it’s obvious that the rules, the lockdowns, masks and so on were not worth it and had little effect on the death rates. I can’t agree.

I remember watching the death rate gradually fall after the imposition of each lockdown. I think it would be impossible to calculate with any accuracy and would involve measuring against each other, loss of earnings, loss of life and loss of education.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

If you recall the reason for the first lockdown was to ‘flatten the curve’, there was no explicit expectation that fewer people would die. So yes I agree that the death rates did fall because of lockdown (at least the first one), but that doesn’t mean to say the number of deaths was reduced (or increased for that matter). It will take years for the data to be analysed.

Gordon Welford
Gordon Welford
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

No Alan the graph peaked before the first lockdown

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

Why do you trust the numbers? The authorities and experts have lied about everything since this whole fiasco was foisted on the world, and they continue to do so.

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

Dear Hilary: the opinion on this has to do whether you silo think (Covid is the only thing relating to health and disease) or whether you think long term public health in its largest possible sense. Silo thinking is much easier and preferred by most.

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

That might have been because the vulnerable were already dead?? There’s serious misrepresentation of the data in any case young people definitely more at risk from the vax than the virus


Gordon Welford
Gordon Welford
2 years ago
Reply to  Hilary Easton

Hilary the graph peaked before our first lockdown.Look at the PANDA graphs which look at the lockdowns and their severity for all major countries.It shows little difference whatever interventions were made.And also look at Sweden,don’t just read the main media and Governments

Graham Cresswell
Graham Cresswell
2 years ago

Excellent article. Bang on the money.

Peter B
Peter B
2 years ago

One of the very few media articles worth reading in the whole sorry Covid saga. At last, some new insight.
I’ve said it many times over the past few years – however poor we might think the politicians, the media are (with a few exceptions) far worse. And we can always fire the politicians.
Perhaps, in a similar vein, we might recall the revulsion about the term “herd immunity” at the start of Covid. The key work here was always “herd”. “We’re better than that” – or so we like to tell ourselves. Yet little that has happened since has shown that herd behaviour is not a strong human trait.
The “sin eater” idea brings to mind Neville Chamberlain who I suspect almost conciously took on the role in 1940. Perhaps Boris Johnson would do best to accept his fate here and hope we recognise what we are asking of him.

Tim Cawkwell
Tim Cawkwell
2 years ago

Very good, Mary. These are rare words of wisdom in this benighted episode in our politics for which I feel the media have a prime responsibility. When things go badly wrong, we look for a scapegoat. For example, as someone has suggested, Neville Chamberlain had to go in 1939 (but he did bear major responsibility for what had happened); I doubt if Churchill was immune from serious sniping in the difficult year of 1941; Asquith’s government fell apart in 1916 right in the middle of the ghastly WW1. I have a dim memory that Pericles copped a lot of flak at the outset of the Peloponesian War when plague struck Athens (430/429 BC). The demos/people want someone to blame: Johnson is the current candidate. Whether he goes or stays should be judged on subtler and profounder reasons than whether he went to a party, or parties.

Philip Stott
Philip Stott
2 years ago

Rafael Behr is far from an idiot, but he’s one of those people I consider who’s common sense is inversely proportional to IQ (which accounts for most Graun writers.

Alex Colchester
Alex Colchester
2 years ago

The suitcase full of wine. Was it battered leather with fading clasps? A sleek wheeled number? Or some sad canvas hold-all, squash racket and towel hurriedly removed? The sins of the matter seem to emanate from this totem.

Nicholas Rynn
Nicholas Rynn
2 years ago

The man has no moral compass. He is unsuited to high office because he is unable to differentiate between the truth and convenient falsehoods.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
2 years ago

This article is way off the mark in my opinion but the bit about fair play is spot on – people are angry because Boris partied away while the rest of us had Christmas cancelled. People look at those photos of the Queen on her own sitting in that pew and see Boris and his chums guffawing and quaffing away and think ‘you’re all c**ts’. And that’s all there is to it. It’s over for him. No one finds him funny anymore.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
2 years ago

Yes of course there are many contradictions, hypocrisies, delusions, projections, ideological motives, fears and neurosies, both individual and collective, involved in all of this lockdown madness. But none of this excuses or explains away Johnson’s utter shallow narcisscism and lying incompetence. He must go.

Trevor Q
Trevor Q
2 years ago

Thank you. It was a relief to read a reasoned piece after all the hysterical outpourings.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
2 years ago

So, maybe Boris Johnson, and many, or at least some, of his court, did not believe in the lockdown regulations, but felt that they had to impose them anyway – the “something must be done,” impetus. Does that excuse them flaunting the rules in joyful manner? It’s not just about the science. Didn’t George Orwell conclude Animal Farm with a party? The voters are now looking in through the windows of No. 10 the way the other animals looked through the farmhouse windows at the feasting pigs.

rhf.howard
rhf.howard
2 years ago

Mary thank you for this. You’re a wonderful writer.

Clare Jones
Clare Jones
2 years ago

Interesting sin eater, history had the donation of land to ecclesiastical good causes to eat the sins, this then became holy land. That donated by women, to women who married god, for Good, such as the Poor Clare’s, and that which created the foundations of hospitals, schools, universities given in free alms, has disappeared into the 19th c wills, of slave traders sitting in the House of Lords. All be that much of the land which was granted by Queens, for the Poor, is today protected under international Human Rights Law. Paradise lost.

Ian Burns
Ian Burns
2 years ago

ONS report a little over 17,000 deaths for the entire pandemic from covid with no underlying medical conditions. Average on the deceased 81.5 years, 1.5 years over the life expectancy for the UK.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

It is a Plandemic forced on us by the Global Elites, and using the Pharma/Medical Industrial Complex spread $$$ Trillions to their toadies (all the Senators and Congressmen bought Moderna and Pfizer on insider tips) and via lockdowns got the Central Banks to print $$$ Trillions, doubling the wealth of the 1% to 0.0001% and soon to cause a global depression when the Great Reset will take everything and you will own Nothing and Be Happy.

MAGA WWG1WGA

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

But then again, was not cancelling Cheltenham in the early spring of 2020 a big mistake? With hundreds of thousands of racing fans attending? National solidarity was really non-existent. A swift and brave decision to cancel such a huge event (at that precarious point) would have shown early on that national solidarity is more than just a pose. Is it still really a pose? I think so.

Kerie Receveur
Kerie Receveur
2 years ago

Why? Thank god they didn’t. This charade has gone on long enough.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago

Yep, Johnson is a Christ figure. And I’m sure Giles F is so miffed these days at Johnson, because he’s not so keen on his original Christ figure, um, Christ, being replaced by a blonde doppelganger.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

He is only an idol to those who, like him, prioritise their own comfort over other people’s needs. Maybe Lucifer would be a better comparison?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Not sure Lucifer ate the sins of others, he instead ate the sinners themselves?

James Chater
James Chater
2 years ago

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Kerie Receveur
Kerie Receveur
2 years ago
Reply to  James Chater

Unless you are or were obese, or very elderly, it was (and is) about as “dangerous” as the ‘flu. This is the problem, the nudges have created the bogeyman, and people seem to accept its validity. It’s a chimera. It’s not reality.

James Chater
James Chater
2 years ago
Reply to  Kerie Receveur

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Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago
Reply to  James Chater

What was a ‘reality’ was what was known from the Diamond Princess data, as early as 1 March 2020: the IFR was below 0.5% and disproportionately affected the old.
It really sticks in my gaw when people start this narrative of “at the time we didn’t know.” We knew. We knew that targeted mitigation a la Great Barrington Declaration was the way to go. We knew lockdowns went against every bit of pandemic planning the world had developed up to 2019. We just chose to ignore what we knew.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Ah, but we had to save that behemoth, the greatest achievement in human history bar none, 

..the NHS*
Apparently despite consuming trillions in public funds for decades, it was on the very brink of collapse

truly astonishing!

(* National Health Service for American readers.)

James Chater
James Chater
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

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Last edited 2 years ago by James Chater
Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago
Reply to  James Chater

Most people accepted it because the government ‘nudgers’ ran psy ops on the population, ably assisted by Big Tech and Big Pharma. Read Laura Dodsworth’s State of Fear.
“Covid-19 was killing alot of working age people.” How many? What proportion of the working age population deaths were attributable to Covid-19 in 2020 or 2021?
First guess. Then go look up that percentage. See how far wrong you were.

James Chater
James Chater
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

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SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

What on earth is so wrong with James Charter that he habitually deletes his comments?
Some months ago, when he first joined this august forum he managed no less that 21 deletions in one day. Incredible!

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

We also knew that targeted mitigation a la Barrington would be extremely unlikely to work. Vulnerable people generally need a lot of carers around, and anyway people are relatively vulnerable down to age 60. There is simply no way in the real world that we could have kept COVID away from a targeted group while letting it rage freely everywhere else. The expected result from that strategy was that everybody would get COVID, those who would die would die, and meanwhile everybody would be free to keep partying. Which is surely the reason that idea was so popular – it gave ethical cover to those who preferred to keep partying no matter what.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Nonsense. Exposure could be reduced for the vulnerable, giving the virus time to spread among the rest of the population.
And while this would not have stopped all infections, the fact is that the policies actually pursued did nothing whatsoever. No evidence lockdowns did anything. If you look at the population data across jurisdictions, severity of lockdown is not statistically significant, anywhere in the world.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I agree with you (again), I sincerely believe from when I have spoken to others and what I have read that the impetus for opposing the restrictions is almost entirely for selfish reasons. I’m sorry if people find this unpalatable, but that is how it comes over.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago

Untrue and unfair. My personal circumstances during lockdown were almost ideal. I could telework. I could move to a nice house in the country. As a parent of a small child, I wasn’t exactly clubbing anyway.
But seeing my 20 year old’s college experience ruined. Seeing small businesses fold. Reading the hairdresser near us commit suicide. Reading about the millions in the developing world who starved when rich economies shut down… I could go on.
On the other hand, few if any of the lockdown zealots watched their business dreams destroyed, and their livelihoods collapse.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

None of them did. Not one of the lockdown zealots worried about food on the table and money in the bank and they have the cheek to moralise.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Probably because most were retired civil servants on brilliant gold plated, index linked pensions. Not for them the horrors of forthcoming inflation.

Gordon Welford
Gordon Welford
2 years ago

Look at Sweden and the PANDA graphs.Lockdowns have worked nowhere

Gordon Welford
Gordon Welford
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Targeted mitigation is what our ‘experts’ are now proposing .If only they had thought of it earlier,after all it was WHO advice until March 2020 !

Gordon Welford
Gordon Welford
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Absolutely right and most of us know it,as must the Govt and Sage,so why did they ignore it ?

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago
Reply to  Gordon Welford

That is the 60 billion dollar question (the increase in share value in 2020 for the largest publicly listed tech companies…)

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago

No, no, and no.

There are two discussions here. Were the lockdowns the right decision at the time? I would say yes. From the information we had, being careful and trying to limit contagion was the right thing to do. As always, we had to make a decision at once, and as always there was not enough information to be sure. And as always people will come in hindsight and blame you for whatever you did. If we had let it all rip and kept partying, we would now have people mourning their loved ones who died of COVID and asking why nobody had tried to protect them.

The other question is whether you abide by rules designed to protect everybody, or whether you prefer to prioritise your personal convenience. Personally, I opt for collective solidarity over individual selfishness, even if it might later prove that the measures were not that effective. You may think that the rules are wrong, and if so you try to change them, but you stick to them, and try to remember that neither your convenience nor your judgement are necessarily more important than everybody else’s. That was always the real reason behind much opposition to lockdowns – not “I do not think they will work”, but “I refuse to accept personal inconvenience just because it is supposed to help other people”. Here Johnson is indeed a hero, a prime example of someone who denies the existance of negative consequences and lets nothing get in the way of gratifying his own desires. I was dismayed that he had enough followers to win an election. And I am extremely surprised to see the normally wise Mary Hartington sign up among them.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

You were “dismayed that he had enough followers to win an election”. Really? What others cretins were available? 

Precisely none.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago

Admittedly it was a hard choice, but that just pushes the responsibility from the electorate to the Tory party members. Personally I would have chosen Corbyn, even though I despise him and am solidly conservative. As one Tory MP said, “We have had Labour governments before – they do damage, then the next government fixes it”. Bad ideas you can overcome. Electing a lazy scoundrel to parliament because he makes you laugh is a harder habit to break.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

‘He’ maybe all you say, but despite all the odds, he did deliver Brexit and thus will survive this current wave of ‘outrage’. *

(* Perfectly demonstrated by the shriek of Martha Kearney “this will not do” @ 0836 GMT on the BBC Today Programme this very morning.)

rodney foy
rodney foy
2 years ago

Would you say he delivered a good brexit?

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  rodney foy

Too soon to say, thanks to this Covid nonsense.

Neven Curlin
Neven Curlin
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

You may be right that the first lockdown was the right thing to do, but what happened after that, was stupid, wrong, unscientific, criminal even. And it’s still not over. In the best scenario, it is going to result in a permanent parasitic pharma tax. In the worst scenario, even more crazy conspiracy theories will turn out correct.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Well said. I agree with both your points; it was the right decision and he should have obeyed the rules. If you don’t like something you try to change it not disobey, and if you do disobey you accept the consequences, just like the statue demolishers and the like should have been made to take the consequences for their breaking of the rules.

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Some of us who understand how the immune system works are extremely cross at the denial of this phenomenon and thus are enraged at the vaccine mandates on NHS and care workers. I’m also enraged that close relatives not allowed to be with the dying surely they should have been allowed to take the chance of their own infection to comfort their loved ones going into the great unknown!!!