The Left’s case against vaccine passports
A group of senior Labour figures offers an animated defence of civil liberties
“Before the pandemic,”wrote Nate Silver the US political analyst, “I would have guessed that conservatives were COVID hawks and liberals were COVID doves.” It is an intriguing thought: perhaps, if a few key figures had made different decisions, the political argument of the past 18 months could have flipped entirely between Left and Right?
Yesterday I chaired a fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference in which we were given a glimpse of that parallel universe: a group of senior Labour figures, mainly from the Left of the party, brought together by the campaign group Big Brother Watch to discuss “the Left case against Covid passes.” Blur your eyes and you could just make out how it would have looked — a Left that was still animated by a defence of civil liberties.
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Rebecca Long-Bailey, the close Corbyn ally who came second to Keir Starmer in the Labour leadership contest, gave a sense of what opposition during the pandemic might have looked like had her wing of the party still been in charge. Yes, it would be easy to point out inconsistencies in her position (she talked favourably about Zero Covid and the Chinese example while simultaneously championing individual freedoms) but there was no doubting the sincerity of her deep suspicion of pandemic power grabs by the Tory government. For a party in opposition that’s not necessarily a bad instinct — and the way she spoke showed up the absence of that animus in Keir Starmer. She said she had done an online survey which revealed she was a ‘Left libertarian, right underneath Gandhi’ — so make of that what you will.
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Dawn Butler, a former minister in Gordon Brown’s government and MP for Brent Central, had had a heavy night at her legendary party — “generally I adhere by some rules, yesterday I probably failed in that a little bit at the Jamaica Party, and for that I apologise,” she joked. But her concern was specific and clear. She has voted against renewing the “authoritarian” Coronavirus Act each time because she feels that the “police state” that comes with such measures will always make life hardest for minority and vulnerable communities. Random checks and exclusion of certain people will only lead to one thing:
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Bell Ribeiro-Addy agreed with Dawn, and was additionally frank about the reality for her constituents in Streatham. She simply doesn’t see the point at this stage.
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Emily Benn may be the granddaughter of socialist Tony Benn, but the former Labour candidate is a true Blairite and happy to be described as such.
So it was especially interesting to hear from this very different wing of the party. Her concerns were more centred on the abandonment of due process and the ease with which her centre-Left colleagues surrendered the proper checks and balances on state power during this pandemic.
She described how the past year and a half had been “transformative” to her political views, and suggested that her fellow Blairites had forgotten her grandfather’s famous five questions about power, and how you keep it in check (see pic).
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Shami Chakrabarti has spent decades as the controversial face of the Left civil liberties lobby, and her argument came out of that principle: persuasion, not coercion, is how we should attempt to change behaviours in a free society. She feels that discrimination is so much the default tendency of an unchecked society that government needs to intervene explicitly to prevent it — don’t just mandating but banning vaccine discrimination — just as discrimination is illegal on other grounds:
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A reality check: as we gathered outside the secure zone in Brighton, the main conference hall (and even the Momentum fringe event) were subject to Covid pass checks as a requirement for entry. These voices are the minority dissenters — as it stands the mainstream Left is not interested in their arguments.
Interestingly, I just spent a half hour this morning chatting with a typical Centre-Left (PS) voter here in Brussels. I say ‘typical’ because she was in her early 60s, an Italian immigrant to Belgium from the post-war age, lifelong voter of the centre-left party and union supporter. Albeit a dying breed, but still enough to sway Brussels (and by domino effect neighbouring Wallonia) into Vaccine Passports – they are coming in a matter of days.
Her view of the thing was one I’d heard before: I got the jab. I risked potential side-effects in order to stop the spread of this virus. And I should be rewarded for this. Why should someone too selfish to take that risk enjoy the same rights as me?
Me: But the vaccinated enjoy protection for themselves. Therefore why worry about the unvaccinated at all? Unless the protection isn’t after all durable, in which case: why should anyone take the vaccine?
Her: Because the unvaccinated could be a burden on the health service, or on their families…
Me: So should we have obesity passports to punish overweight people? After all, obesity causes serious risks to the health service and to the families of the morbidly obese…
Her: Don’t be ridiculous.
Five hours. For five hours I went round this circle with a close friend. His other justification was “It’s an emergency. You do anything in an emergency, even if it doesn’t work and you’ve had months to come up with other alternatives” Arrrrgghhhhhh
Indeed. I’m 68. I have blood pressure 110/66, a BMI of 21, a resting heart rate of 56, normal bood sugar levels and live up three flights of stairs, no lift. Lucky? Perhaps, but I have exercised regularly and intensely for the past 30 years and I eat almost entirely whole foods. Yet now I must take an emergency vaccine against a disease which poses little or no risk to me (I am retired and live socially-distanced by default) to protect (apparantly) the vulnerable whom I avoid anyway and many of whom have spent the last 30 years loafing on the sofa chomping Dorritoes, ice cream and cake, building co-morbidities that will kill them anyway before very long. It’s nonsense, especially since, under certain regimes, I would be banned from the gym and forced to stay at home, risking my basic fitness and all my hard work which, on another day, the same authorities recommend and encourage.
I have to admit, your comment about avoiding the vulnerable really make me chuckle.
I wish people didn’t so much fall into the temptation of hyperbole. You were never stopped from exercising for the whole of the pandemic. One thing the UK did get right. And you don’t have to take the vaccine either!
Not guilty. Gyms were closed for many weeks in the UK and in South Africa where I am currently staying, and weight training is my thing. As regards actual bans on the unvaxed which is what I was talking about, the qualifier was ‘under certain regimes’. Italy, France and some Canadian provinces are some existing examples, there might be others.
Yes, Martin Smith! If my auto is running beautifully, and I get a bulletin from the manufacturer that I should add some gidget “just to be safe”, and it is costly, but I must also sign a waiver just in case it ruins my engine … Don’t you think I’ll naturally say, “Oh I’ll just pass on that”…I am very healthy for my age (or any age, really), haven’t had flu or a cold for forty years, despite being in the company of the underprivileged young, have never had a cold sore or a fever…why would I want to challenge my immune system for an illness with a 99.5% survival rate, with a genetic treatment that has a significant risk of harmful sequelae? I’d be mad. And the appeal “do it for your fellow man” is rather silly, given that vaxxed and boostered folks can still shed the virus …
Graham, I am going to say it the way it is. It seems many people are just too stupid to see the correlation between for example the obesity/smoking/etc example and the vaccine example.
This is because obesity has crept up on us over the last few decades. Now obesity and overweight have become the norm. How can the norm be bad? From my own view, smoking is also growing in popularity.
The enemy is not obesity, not smoking but old age. When you are young you never believe you will become old.
Interesting point. But I think being addicted to fear fueled irrational messaging has also crept up on us and this is the consequence. It’s not coming out of the blue. People who are not vulnerable feel extremely vulnerable (whilst quite a lot of vulnerable people don’t feel it all all or at least misplace the cause of their vulnerability – over eating, smoking, other addictive behaviours). They’ve developed this fear dependency over many years and now it’s overwhelming our social norms. There has been evidence of the symptoms before however, if you look closely.
I’m not judging anyone suffering in this way, by the way. The misery of widespread social anxiety should not be underestimated. But it certainly crept up and it’s largely easy to ignore and blame other people for it
One could always go back to the argument that cases of covid19 will overwhelm stretched health services and prohibit other medical care. I’ve only just really thought about the idea that someone with severe obesity that they had years to do something about should take precedence over someone suddenly suffering from a brand new respiratory disease that they have no immunity for? I mean clearly it’s often the same person so you could even say the obese are the cause of the health service becoming overwhelmed from covid19.
This is not a moral judgement. For large parts of my life I’ve been obese and I’ve never ever thought I wasn’t equally deserving of medical treatment than anyone else or that this shouldn’t be the case for someone who smokes or someone who takes part in high risk sports. Because we never know the full motivations of why one person does what they do and what makes an addiction (in particular) to any behaviour easy or difficult to break. I just think it’s interesting the way we scapegoat a group of diverse people with many different reasons for doing something we have decided is objectionable without ever questioning that anyone getting and suffering a severe dose of this disease has in fact done nothing to encourage it except possibly be poor, in a multigenerational home or working/living in a vulnerable location without being able to do anything about that. They have, in fact, clearly NOT set out to get sick with covid19 to the detriment of others even though I admit I’m currently thinking about it to improve my lifelong immunity.
In fact, not once while I was obese was I threatened with having medical treatment removed from me but numerous times, since this pandemic began, I’ve had the idea thrown in my face for not doing something perfectly rational based on the current evidence or even for sticking up for other people who have had their rationality questioned in a similarly abusive way.
I have always loathed carrying weight and have been surrounded largely by likeminded people. I just don’t buy it. We all know that overweight is bad.
For a disease that affects the lungs so badly, I’m still waiting for some public health advice linking the dangers to smoking. Here in Italy the only way you could walk around outside for months was if you had a cigarette in your hand. I worked out that it didn’t necessity need to be lit however. Without that prop, you were fair game for all sorts of abuse (no exemption badges here).
I was a teen in South Africa when I saw pictures of smoking induced cancers. Smoking advertising is now banned, smoking inside in public places is banned and generally speaking smokers are ‘othered’.
Yes, it’s true and while I absolutely hate being around cigarette smoke, I have quite a lot of sympathy with smokers now. I know the case was made for secondary smoke diseases but the extent to which smokers are legislated against is quite eye watering. They are still not ever excluded from health care however. And it is rarely suggested. To suggest that someone’s misfortune at catching an infectious disease and the constant narrative that people behave in a willful, selfish and irresponsible manner to facilitate their catching it leaves me without words.
BTW those posters were all over the UK in the 70’s and they certainly put me off smoking for life. Maybe they could do the same with processed foods. Oh.
The interesting thing is that vaccinated people want to be “rewarded” but in reality all that is happening is that the non-vaccinated are being punished. People that bought into the main narrative cannot even conceive that there is no real reason for any of these restrictions any longer.
I was thinking about this a lot the other day. Either the vaccines work at preventing severe disease or they don’t. If you believe they do and you believe you or someone you care about is vulnerable to severe disease, your only priority is to encourage them and get yourself vaccinated. Anything after that suggests you don’t believe they work for some reason or possibly that they’ll catastrophically fail in the near future.
And an amazing amount of sensible, often medically-literate, people believe just that. The mRNA genetic therapy (not really a vaccine) is playing Russian roulette.
Interesting that this story runs parallel to the article about Peter Thiel.
I think vaccine passes have turned into an planet-scale illustration of the Thielian/Girardian worldview. They are a meme, an infectious idea that has spread just as fast as COVID itself. People see other people introduce them and blindly copy without stopping to think about what they’re doing or why. The social proof of other people doing it is sufficient. And then – when pressured to provide reasons by an awkward person who demands individualistic thought – they try desperately to come up with ad-hoc post-facto justifications on the fly that “sound right”. Because they’re invented on the spot to justify the action, they’re invariably full of logic errors. These people probably aren’t even aware of what happened.
The same happened with lockdowns. Someone somewhere did a study (worth what you paid for it), the link for which I’ve since lost, that looked at the exact timings of when lockdowns were introduced. They found that the timings didn’t correlate well with actual case numbers, but did correlate great with when neighbouring countries introduced them. In other words, political leaders were simply mimetically copying each other in a domino-like fashion. The one place that didn’t resisted simply because Tegnall was a member of the awkward squad, and so Swedish leaders got caught between “we must copy what experts do” and “we must copy what other leaders are doing” – fortunately they went for the former. But it was obvious that they really really wanted to become a part of the club.
Not specific to health of course. I used to work in a company that did, amongst other things, software/tech consultancy to the financial sector and especially central banks. These projects were all very samey because everyone in that world was simply looking at everyone else and moving as a herd. One bank would do a blockchain or e-cash project and be hailed as innovative, suddenly all of them would want to do it. When questioned carefully about what the proposed system should do, and why, no clear answers were forthcoming. When put under a bit of intellectual pressure, like asking “what happens to e-cash if there’s a long power cut”, they would simply say whatever popped into their heads first – often something absurd like “we have a requirement that it be able to operate without electricity”. And these were supposedly expert technocrats!
In some ways it’s heartening to read that Labour does actually have people who think about civil liberties. They have been entirely invisible so far. But the left does seem more inclined to mimetic copying than the right. The Tories have sub-factions oriented around specific ideas, like the European Research Group (Brexit), the similarly named CRG (against lockdowns), you have the pro-hard-money brigade and so on. Labour has factions too but they are differing only in the extent to which they are committed to generically leftist values. There is no specific controversial idea that animates these sub-groups beyond who should dominate the party machinery.
It was obvious that a lot of the press in Sweden really, really wanted to do what others were doing, and some in the opposition parties but the government? Not so much. What they didn’t want to do was to defend the policy on its merits, but rather ‘we don’t have the power to rule without legislative oversight, so we cannot just enact measures to copycat our neighbours’.
Love your argument! And were it not such a serious one this could read as a funny joke with a great punchline.
Actually not that ridiculous.
Thanks for this summary, Freddie. It’s heartening to hear any sane, rational arguments on this subject. All of the reasons given are valid and, as such, they add up to a significant weight of evidence. The one other I would add is any government that is not being honest with it’s electorate as to the motives and mechanisms for and of vaccine passports for Sars Cov2 – they are solely to coerce non vaccinated into vaccination, they take no account of discrimination, they are not for any appreciable health motives, they don’t appear to have any exit strategy, they are not based on any sound legal precedent and contravene all sorts of laws.
And I might add that there is at least the very real prospect that selective mutations caused by rolling out a ‘leaky’ vaccine in the midst of an ongoing pandemic not only undermine the efficacy of the vaccine on the truly vulnerable (>65) but may in fact enhance the risks for the rest of the population.
The argument was first formulated by Geert Van den Bossche, I believe.
No evidence of it so far. This argument could be made for selfish reasons to get the vulnerable in other countries vaccinated before pressurising the resistant within one’s own borders however. Personally I prefer the idea that helping as many people as possible to not suffer severe disease is a better reason whilst the fact that not all people consider themselves to be at risk of severe disease is something we’ll have to accept, sooner or later, and all the coersion in the world won’t change that while it will just keep perpetuating discrimination, leaky vaccine or not.
Yes, I don’t know that we can say for sure whether or not this selective mutation argument holds. It does seem strange, though, that the case rates among the unvacccinated appear to have increased so drastically after the roll-out of the vaccine. This could be a coincidence (more Delta occuring, unrelated to the vaccine).
If only this constructive discussion between you two were typical of the wider world!
Fact is that if you look at a graph of vaccinations and cases in Israel, questions have to be asked. They are now doubling down and going for 3rd and 4th booster shots and there is no safety profile established for these boosters. They are using Pfizer as far as I know.
Frankly, I have been surprised by the Israeli approach. They are relatively impervious to the suasion of outside political forces on so many issues. So it must be a native belief in the safety of the vaccines, or a desire to double-down on a bet already taken…
I read it is a deal with Big Pharma.
Because, sadly, the statistics are unreliably selected, presented, and guided in interpretation. Any statistics promoted in the media can be dismissed at outset as garnishes for a party line.
Why would you say there is no evidence so far… is this an opinion or sure footed knowledge. Curious.
I follow a number of very balanced informative experts and they communicate very clearly all the latest concerns including the emergence of new variants. They haven’t reported anything yet. Likewise they give really good analysis of infection breakthrough in the vaccinated and report very little waning of the primary function of the vaccine – to prevent severe disease and death. You could start with Muge Cevik on Twitter. If nothing else what I learn is to never take the reporting of a new set of statistics on face value because there is a tendancy to look for the kneejerk bad news when this often isn’t the case. Anyone who takes the time to explain the confounders in a new study is worth giving my time to however.
Yes…. Vanden Bossche was called a veterinary quack for his efforts.
Yes, Geert Van den Bossche put forward these ideas.
I went to law school in the US in the early age of AIDS. ALL professors were left to extreme left (for the time) and at the time there was no distinction between being HIV+ and having full blown AIDS. Crucially, in the early days, it was not clear how AIDS was transmitted. In the air? Handshakes? Toilet seats? Maybe. Who knew? Some concept of “vaccine passports” was in the air.
The entire faculty said that it was their job as lawyers and our job as future lawyers to never, ever let our society become so divided. A two-tier system–where one had to show HIV/AIDS “status” to do the normal things of daily life was not the solution, were were told and I believe.
Generally speaking, I didn’t like these hard left professors, they were so predictable, so boring. But on this point they were right and I agreed with them from my Libertarian perspective. The law faculty did not claim to be scientists or that they would discover anti-viral drugs, they just said that this was a society that they did not want to live in and it was our job to resist.
Now almost all unis are woke, and the clamor to show their vaccine passports, not as a way of containing Corona, but as a way of showing how virtuous they are, is deafening. The more virtuous, the more restrictions they call for. As I heard here “the inconceivable has become the inevitable.”
Anders Tegnell (Sweden’s Fauci) was right, as the recent interview with Freddie has shown. Let’s learn to live with Corona, and not destroy our economy and our society.
I often think of the fight against HIV discrimination and wonder what happened. To the lack of fight against Corona discrimination, that is.
Vaccines are the new status symbol.
Indeed. It’s bizarre. I have never felt the need to publicise my vaccine status although, more and more, I feel like saying, with regards to vaccine passports, not in my name.
Absolutely. When I see friends and family prpomoting their vaccinated status as part of their Facebook profiles I badly want to vomit.
In California, knowingly passing on HIV/AIDS to someone during intercourse is no longer a punishable offense, yet not getting a vaccine makes one a social pariah.
Thank you, Freddie, for sharing this with us. I must admit that when I saw the line-up of speakers, I thought that these are people I wouldn’t normally give a lot of time to, but I stayed until the end because they spoke a lot of sense. It’s good to know that resistance to some of the covid madness (and especially vaccine passports) is coming from the left as well as the right. So impressed was I by the comments that I totally forgive Dawn Butler for being half-cut from the previous night’s Jamaica Party.
Ok, nobody has mentioned this in the comments, but why were people asked for passports? I thought the idea had been shelved in England. Are you supposed to download you app for going abroad to go to Brighton? Is it even legal to ask for it?
I’m not sure Italy require a passport to enter the country but it seemed to me Easyjet were demanding to see one to get on a plane to travel there at the weekend. There may be an alternative requirement if you’re not vaccinated on arrival (not talking about Italy’s heinous green pass here) but that is the responsibility of Italian border control as I understand it. However, to enter the UK, you certainly need a vaccination passport or you face hefty fines and incarceration in the form of private testing and quarantine. Not sure who’s policing it anymore however.
Regarding the legality of asking for information about a person’s health status, well that seemed to go out the window in March 2020.
At present in the UK it’s not mandatory to have a vaccine certificate, but various venues & events are free to impose this as a condition of entry. It’s being widely encouraged in nightclubs for instance, due to the perceived risk of spread among people in close proximity & a bit inebriated.
It remains to be seen how widespread this becomes.
Alternatively, Ireland imposed this on hospitality venues as part of their emergence from lockdown.
So you require proof of vaccine to have lunch indoors at your favourite cafe.
It’s now claimed this has resulted in a higher vaccine take up rate among younger people.
Of course that claim is made by those who advocate that Covid passports are a good idea.
In the Scottish parliament today, the First Minister reiterated her political party’s ruling that one needs a vaccination passport to enter nightclubs and large gatherings. This was challenged in the Scottish courts by nightclub owners but they have lost their case. I find that appalling because it indicates that the Scottish courts are no longer independent but are subject to party political decision-making.
The case against vaccine passports is the ONS death rates. There hasn’t been a pandemic to justify any of the government’s actions. 2020 was the 12th lowest death rate on record and not significantly higher than the other lowest years.
I’d just like to point out that England has a vaccine passport already in terms of travel to the country. The number of people excluded from the most liberal travel conditions that will come into force on the 4th October is quite astounding. Not just the unvaccinated (for all sorts of reasons obviously) but anyone who can’t produce a document that conforms to the format requested, anyone who hasn’t taken one of the four vaccines that are on the approved list, anyone not on the narrowly defined list of countries included in the passport regulations.
So the vast majority of people will still have to take a private test before travelling to the UK, two private tests and 10 days quarantine when you get there and of course, a test on day 5 if you can afford it to be ‘released’ early. That’s not even considering the red listed countries that will still be locked up in hotels that they have to pay for etc etc. By contrast, the lucky travelers from Europe, US and citizens from these countries – Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Dominica, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan or the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – will only have to take one private test on arrival.
The system is patently ludicrous given the spread of the Delta variant even within the ‘lucky’ green countries. India is an amber country, South Africa is a red country, however the UK, India and South Africa are all dominated by Delta. Fascinating epidemiology logic which is elsewhere called politics.
The thing I will remember from this article is that Nate Silver is an id**t
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