Labour should reflect on their complicity in our absurd Covid policies
Today’s papers are once again littered with stories about Boris Johnson’s Downing Street parties. But this time the focus isn’t just on Boris, with the Mail showing a photograph of Keir Starmer drinking beer with political aides during lockdown. This revelation might have given Labour the opportunity to change their position on partygate —by focusing on the absurdity of the Covid rules rather than Boris Johnson’s hypocrisy in flouting them. But Starmer as yet has refused to do this, carrying on with mechanistic calls for the PM to resign.
His party’s response hasn’t been much better. A single tweet last week containing a harrowing story from “Jenny”, a nurse who tells a story about a man who waited in a hospital car park begging to be let in, while his wife died inside and alone. Never mind that by the 20th May 2020, the Government had changed its policy on end-of-life visits in hospital, and that such decisions were taken by the hospitals themselves. Such nit-picking was all a distraction from Labour’s PR plan; the point was clear — millions of people made horrific sacrifices during the pandemic and Boris’s alcohol-fuelled revelry had made a mockery of them all.
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Labour, of course, was fully behind all Coronavirus laws and relentlessly pushed for more draconian restrictions. At one point Starmer even described voting for Covid legislation as his “patriotic duty”. So perhaps it’s no surprise that Labour has paid little attention to the absurdity and unpleasantness of the Covid rules.
Aside from the arbitrary cruelty displayed in stories like Jenny’s, the enforcement of many of the restrictions bordered on farcical — did we ever establish whether a scotch egg counts as a substantial meal? — to downright absurd — unlucky walkers receiving fines for drinking a coffee together because it constituted a picnic. Was it constructive for our home secretary to warn people that they would be in trouble if they sat on a park bench? Or for Police forces to threaten people with £200 fines for having a snowball fight?
Some of the penalties for breaking Covid laws were similarly mind-boggling. A year on, it seems astounding that the Government were willing to issue 10-year jail terms for travellers from red countries for breaking quarantine rules, and that £10k fines were levied at pastors for holding meetings in Church car parks. Labour happily voted for and supported these regulations, no matter how overbearing.
It was surprising to say the least that Starmer, a former human rights QC, didn’t question the proportionality or the wisdom of some of these restrictions. But even more surprising has been his silence on the policing of the laws, with a disproportionate number of BAME people fined under coronavirus legislation. Pre-Covid, minority suffering would have been a major Labour talking point.
Over two years on from the start of the pandemic and Labour still won’t hear a word said against the Covid regulations. As Labour’s publication of Jenny’s story makes clear, the problem is not drinks at Number Ten but the Covid restrictions themselves. The public rage at Johnson’s hypocrisy may well be his undoing. But rather than just using these harrowing stories for points against him, Labour would do well to reflect on their own part in all this, and their own encouragement of such a misconceived set of laws.
Amy Jones is an anonymous doctor who has a background in Philosophy & Bioethics.