For anyone whose political instincts tend towards the position that liberal democracy is the best way to order society; and that individual liberty isn’t the Government’s to give, and shouldn’t be take away without good reason, these are tricky times.
Liberty is irrelevant to the sort of people (let’s call them Coronazis) who think they should only be permitted to leave their houses when it is safe, and democracy’s downside is finding that a large enough number of people –whether out of ideological difference, self-interest or pure stupidity– disagree with you and are in a position to order you to do stupid things.
Perhaps that doesn’t matter, because the UK and devolved Governments have more or less ignored democracy in its established and constitutional form throughout the pandemic. Laws placing restrictions on our liberty which weren’t even deemed necessary when cities burned and armies of invasion massed across the Channel, have been imposed without scrutiny by Parliament.
The Government sussed out early in the game that the sentiment among a majority of voters seems to be that they couldn’t give a stuff about liberty or democracy, so long as they’re safe. Suppressing the spread of a frequently asymptomatic infection with a mortality rate less than half of one percent has supplanted every other political priority. A trillion pounds of debt, a mental health crisis, the prohibition of public Christian worship and millions of unemployed don’t matter, so long as we don’t get a cough.
It would of course be heavenly to be Like New Zealand: a nation-scale version of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, where nobody ever goes in and nobody ever comes out until the whole world is safe again; or until after several generations of living on pure empathy New Zealanders evolve into something so alarmingly different from the rest of humanity that we have to nuke them. Unfortunately, the virus was out and about in the UK long before the Communist Party of China decided to let on, and eradication is a fantasy. We have to learn to live with a little more risk in our lives, until the British population acquires sufficiently widespread immunity to Covid-19; in one of the two usual ways.
Happily, this week saw the first real ray of light in the Covid crisis. Driven by the twin incentives of vast quantities of cash and fierce global competition, pharmaceutical companies in America and elsewhere seem close to bringing effective vaccines to market. Pfizer reported (a little too late, probably on purpose, for Donald Trump to take the credit) that clinical trials projected its vaccine to be 90% effective.
If anything, the good news is making the Coronazis double-down on caution. After all, if it’s only a few months until we’re safe, why take any chances? A quite amazing 46% of respondents to a poll believed that lockdowns should continue, even after the widespread roll-out of a vaccine.
And while Coronazis successfully egg the Government on to ever-further economic self-flagellation, we’re faced on the other side with Covidiot anti-vaxxers, who (believing Covid-19 to be a ‘plandemic’ and vaccines an evil scheme to depopulate the planet) are intent on doing everything they can to bugger up attempts to achieve herd immunity and enable us all to get on with our lives and businesses. While the Coronazis present themselves as the voice of cautious common sense, the anti-lockdown debate has been hijacked by Covidiot loons. Social media enables anyone with a stupid idea to amplify it among people even stupider than them; as stupid, even, as members of the Corbyn family. Conspiracy theories that the coronavirus and its proposed prophylaxis are a deep state plot are so widespread as to appear mainstream.
And however deep the deep state that’s supposed to be putting this fiendish conspiracy together, it comes nowhere near the bottomless, oceanic, French-philosophy-student-smoking-a-Gitane profundity of the wilful pig-ignorance of the anti-vaccine headbangers. There’s no helping them. They’re too far gone. How they get radicalised and ‘red pilled’ into believing this madness is the subject matter of a far longer article, but start discussing the eradication of smallpox or a hundredfold decrease in infant mortality anywhere around hard-core anti-vaxxers and they give you the sort of thousand-yard stare you’d get off Rebecca Long-Bailey if you asked her to join you out fox hunting with Lord Rothschild.
Others –vaccine-sceptics rather than doolally deniers– don’t necessarily see themselves as living in a state of enlightenment compared to the rest of us sheeple; just that they’re a little bit smarter than everyone else: “I won’t take the vaccine until Boris and the other politicians have had it”, they say with a knowing wink. “I won’t be a guinea pig”.
The good news is that they won’t have to be guinea pigs, because –as medicines regulators throughout the free world have made perfectly clear– the approval process for new vaccines has not changed one bit because of Covid-19. Actual guinea pigs have almost certainly already had it, as well as human guinea pigs in all the usual cascade of regulatory approvals which the clever-clever vaccine sceptics (who, for one reason or another, seem to overlap in remarkable numbers with Eurosceptics) generally say are holding back British business and need to be done away with.
Lockdown lovers and anti-vaxxers are two sides of the same coin. Overcaution, irrationality and an inability to understand and deal with risk are ruining the country. As soon as it’s available, take the damn vaccine and let’s get on with life.
This article was originally published in The Pembrokeshire Herald.