Individual responsibility isn’t ‘reckless’: it’s British

Connor Tomlinson

July 7, 2021

Normalcy is returning; at least, by the Prime Minister’s standards. July 5th’s press conference affirmed the end of lockdown on July 19th. This is thanks to Sajid Javid instigating a moral shift in cabinet meetings, after Matt Hancock resigned for misinterpreting ‘Hands, Face, Space.’

With fellow lockdown hawk, Michael Gove, facing similar personal turmoil, the stranglehold that SAGE and utilitarians within the Tory Party have had over our lives is finally loosening. The new health secretary, it appears, understands the terrible effects that the lockdown inflicted on us. 

Of course — never one to miss an opportunity to misread the room — Sir Keir Starmer said allowing people to make their own decisions about their health is ‘reckless’. This, despite continually low death rates, daily averages often below that of road accidents (somehow Labour has yet to propose a driving ban) and, despite rising cases, hospital admissions are shorter and for less severe symptoms.

The “rise in cases” they cite is directly correlated with increased testing for people in schools and universities; an age bracket less susceptible to severe illness. And, of course, that’s assuming the tests are reliable (which they aren’t always).

The Prime Minister and Professor Whitty also refused to rule out a reimposing of restrictions in the autumn. This attitude — combined with Whitty’s answer that he would comply with wearing masks if someone in ‘any competent authority’ told him to — betrays a philosophical shift that has occurred under lockdown: that the British state now believes itself to be the progenitor of our rights, rather than a watchman guarding our freedom.

But what is it about Brits which make us so averse, as the U.S.’ Anthony Fauci once lamented, to doing as we’re told?

European perspectives on the British spirit have been repeatedly incorrect. Whereas Napoleon is said to have disparaged England as ‘A nation of shopkeepers’, Marx believed the English working class despised industrious commerce, and would be the vanguard of an international communist revolution.

Though economic arguments for lifting lockdown are compelling, those character attacks from both fronts failed because Brits aren’t motivated by money alone. Instead, our chief concern is what John Locke identified and Nietzsche insulted — striving towards an intuitive sense of happiness. We aren’t collectivists, grand-planners, or ideologues. We simply keep calm and carry on, with a local and familial focus.

That’s why these behavioural edicts—passed down from cabinet ministers and unelected committees—are so alien to us. They reek of continental European bureaucracy. The British character doesn’t share the French or German obsession of reaching a utopian state; of attaining immortality, with a “zero COVID” R-Number. Our common law tradition privileges the innocence of one over the appetites of the herd; the health of each person over a nebulous collective “public.” This sense of individual obligation is why Brits took precautions long before lockdown. (Anyone else remember loo-roll shortages?) All mask mandates and social distancing produced was unfathomable amounts of plastic waste, and the crippling of hospitality venues.

The clamour for further restrictions also appears to be the behavioural preferences of the disconnected fourth estate and Westminster bubble imposed on working Brits. Teaching and transport unions, MPs, avowed communists, and the gaggle of pre-approved journalists at press conferences form a chorus calling for more restrictions, so they can stay home in their pyjamas, cut the commute time out of their workday, and remain comfortably detached from the great unwashed on the bus seat next to them.

Do they reflect the public mood? Despite us being told polls support stricter measures—as Sir Ian Duncan Smith pointed out—the results are likely misnomers: skewed by SAGE’s professed tactic of scaremongering us into compliance, and artificially inflated by equal parts conformity and a misguided sense of necessity. If questions were accompanied by stats about the economic damage, cancer patient waiting lists, and adolescent mental health epidemic, the tune may very well change.

The compassionate side of the lockdown debate is not the one which forces children to hide their faces for eight hours a day; which ends lives and livelihoods with half-hour televised speeches; which urges we cross the street when our neighbours walk by us.

The humane approach to dealing with Covid has always been the most British of philosophies: to just get on with it, and not tear down the sky out of fear that it may fall. If we want a return to normalcy, then it’s up to the public to lead by example, and move forward with the lives we sacrificed everything to supposedly save.

Author

Written by Connor Tomlinson

Connor Tomlinson is the Policy Director at the British Conservation Alliance and a Young Voices Contriubtor

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