Revelation

Revelation


Christopher Harries
@CjHarries14

The people of Wales have in the last few days been unwittingly subject to a miraculous act. The First Minister, Mark Drakeford has inadvertently performed the political equivalent of the miracle in the Gospel of John. In the Gospel, Jesus cured a Celidonius of blindness while Drakeford may have gifted the Welsh public sight.

Since the onset of Devolution, Labour has dominated politics in Cardiff Bay. That dominance has been impervious to failings or scandal.

In the absence of media scrutiny and public interest, events that would cause substantive damage to the public trust if they were to happen in Westminster can pass without impact on the public perception of the Welsh Labour Government.

Imagine the furore if in Westminster a Minister had sought to pressure the civil servants at their command to obtain private information on opposition figures. Or if the Prime Minister were to act unlawfully in the way he made arrangements for an inquiry connected to the suicide of a colleague? These are just some of the scandals that have passed here in Wales without the Government facing real scrutiny or judgement.

To focus on scandal is not to ignore failings, like the management of the Welsh Health Service which has seen five of seven health boards in Wales taken into special measures. Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board remains in special measures more than five years after being into placed into such measures by the then Health Minister, one Mark Drakeford.

Let us not forget that Labour has governed Wales in one form or another for over twenty years. Yet how often has the Welsh Government been held to account for failings that harm the people of Wales?

Devolution has created a situation where politicians in Cardiff Bay have been able to evade being accountable for their failings. The public often apportions blame to Westminster rather than to those responsible in Cardiff Bay. This situation is exacerbated by a client media that seems to be averse to subjecting Ministers in Cardiff Bay to the sort of scrutiny afforded to those in Westminster.

The First Minister may have inadvertently given the Welsh public the miraculous restoration of sight that has largely been missing for twenty years. The debacle of restrictions applied to the sale of non- essential goods in retailers allowed to remain open has given the Welsh Government greater scrutiny or wider media attention since the onset of devolution.

With the next election for the Welsh Parliament looming closer, this miracle should be welcomed by all. Increased interest in the politics of Cardiff Bay may help to address the apathy that has become increasingly apparent with each election.

With the devolved Government finally seen to be responsible for measures that adversely impact on the lives of individuals, this could be the decisive moment of political awakening and with it change.

In the wake of scrutiny and public anger, the opportunity is there for the Welsh Conservatives to demonstrate that they are a government in waiting. Offering enhanced scrutiny as well as a substantive agenda for change that delivers for the people of Wales.

Let us hope that the restoration of sight to the people of Wales is not fleeting but permanent like that restored to Celidonius.

Worst Instincts

Worst Instincts


Christopher Harries
@CjHarries14

The manner that the Welsh Government have gone about implementing the so-called fire break risks undermining the process. The decision to restrict consumer choice in those shops permitted by the bureaucrats to open has descended into farce. The disparity in interpretation by retailers across Wales has led situations like the refusal in the sale of items like sanitary products.

The subjective restrictions imposed on retailers have exposed Mark Drakeford and Vaughan Gething to ridicule. Nothing demonstrates the worst excesses of the paternalist instinct at the heart of the Welsh Government than the perverse sight of shops with shelves of stock covered to prevent the public from buying the wares upon them.

In recent years, commentators have remarked on the empty shelves of shops in Venezuela or the fake shops of North Korea. Yet here in Wales we have the experience of aisles closed off not for an absence of stock but due to political choice. The First Minister, Mark Drakeford has justified this draconian measure on the grounds of fairness. Yet the Welsh Government is the architect of this inequity having forced businesses deemed to be non-essential to close.

This myopic measure does not help small businesses impact by the firebreak lockdown. Restricting sales in supermarkets merely force consumers into taking their custom to an online outlet like Amazon. The only measure that will help businesses forced to close by the Firebreak Lockdown is to end the arbitrary national lockdown.

The argument of fairness lacked credibility while justification on the grounds of scientific advice fell short. If the shopping experience posed a risk to consumers, that risk would remain irrespective of which aisles were open to consumers. This action, like the closure of pubs at a set time, is because the relevant ministers have embraced the illiberal instincts which is at the heart of their politics.

The Welsh Government’s disproportionate action is fitting for that famed quote from the politician and historian, Lord Acton: ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’

Most would accept the need for government action in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Yet for such intervention to be effective requires public support, fear alone will not suffice. Measures must be seen by the public as reasonable, driven by science not merely the whims of a minister. Will the public see the implementation of the Welsh government’s diktats as reasonable or as unnecessary interference?

The consequence of policy perceived to be disproportionate is that the public comes to see other measures in regards to tackling the pandemic as unnecessary.

Question Time

Question Time


Daran Hill
@daranhill

You know who I feel most sorry for in Welsh politics? The guy in the Senedd on £45,000 a year whose full time role is rejigging the seating plan for a room hardly anyone uses anymore. He never gets to put his expensive loafers up for long.

So Mark Reckless is off again. The man with more new homes than Dr David Banner is moving house again.

So how does this latest defection make you feel?

Were you furious when Mark Reckless left UKIP to join the Welsh Conservatives?

Were you incandescent when Mark then moved from the Tories to the Brexit Party?

Are you spitting blood and venom today now that he has pitched his flag on the grumbly male charabanc of Abolition?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then it’s likely your feelings about all three of them will be the same. You will really, really not like the idea of Members of the Senedd being allowed to change parties.

So let’s try another question, aimed just at those who are frothing at the mouth.

Would you have actually voted for Mark Reckless in any of the iterations he had presented since 2016?

What about UKIP Mark – or Mark Mark One – bedecked in purple and bestriding the stallion of victory in the 2016 referendum in Wales?

Or how about Mark Mark Two, in sensible Tory suit and blue tie, standing at the back of a big group shot but being slightly distanced from the rest of the gang?

Or Mark Mark Three, his blue tie paler, and his sword of truth and justice wet with the triumphal blood of the 2019 Euro Elections in Wales?

Or the Guido Fawkes version, Mark Mark Four, complete with Spanish moustache, powder kegs and a box of matches to burn the ‘Assembly’ to the ground?

My guess is that if you are really, really outraged at Mark Reckless then you are really, really never likely to have voted for him in any of his outfits, now matter how snazzy.

Mark will have probably not lost your vote today compared to his jump to the Tories or his romance with the Brexit Party.

But let me ask another question of those perpetually outraged: are you a Member of the Senedd that Mark now wants to abolish?

And if you are, then this brief column is aimed at you. Because I have further questions.

Firstly, can you not see that Mark Reckless has been pushed further and further into the arms of Abolish by the very culture prevalent in the Senedd?

Can you not recognise that someone has been on a journey not because he did not like the Senedd when he glimpsed it from afar, but because he did not like what he saw when he got up close?

And every year that went by he became less and less comfortable with a culture where there are now goodies and baddies?

Are you really comfortable with the development of an institution where some Members of the Senedd – not just confined to the unMagnificent Seven first elected for UKIP in 2016 – are now basically denied the rights and privileges most Members enjoy by default?

And one final set of questions to all those Members of the Senedd who are absolutely fecking livid right now. Why didn’t you actually try and change the system to prevent MSs moving between party when you had the chance?

You must remember. It’s when you debated that glorious Bill to change the Senedd’s name and you had to sit into the night and bring in thermos flasks of Bovril and dairylea sandwiches to sustain you through hours of heated debate into the wee small hours, because the name on the door was the most pressing issue you were facing that term and you had to apply your focus and your stamina to dealing with that critical issue of democracy.

You’ll also recall – if any one of you are still reading – that in the rest of the rag bag Bill that you changed the franchise ever so slightly and tinkered around with some other stuff.

But none of you – absolutely none of you – tried to change the rules to stop Members of the Senedd switching parties.

So let me pose a final question: what the actual feck are you going to do about it now – just jaw off in indignation on Twitter, or actually prevent it from happening again?

Proportionate response

Proportionate response


Christopher Harries
@CjHarries14

Benjamin Franklin famously remarked in correspondence that nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

Despite the inevitability of death, in an increasingly secular society, the fear of death appears to have taken hold. To assert this is not to downplay death, every death during this pandemic is a tragedy. Yet, fear should not dictate a crude and disproportionate response.

The Pandemic has seen fear taking root with crude government policy enacted as a result. To say this is not to diminish the virus. The virus is pernicious and undoubtedly lethal for some. Accordingly, measures should be encouraged to protect the most at risk like the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions. Yet, some of the policy implemented seems to be for the sake of appearance.

The policy to close pubs at a set time is one such policy. Are we to assume from this policy that humans have some mogwai like trait that the consumption of alcohol or food after a set time could have Gremlin like consequences? Consumption in a pub after a set time may increase risk, but where is the evidence to rationale the policy?

To allow a semblance of normality to return to life entirely reasonable precautions should be taken while protecting those most at risk. Technology could and should have been implemented earlier to help manage the response to the virus – a track and trace system should have been made available to the public months sooner. In the event of local hot-spots that risk overwhelming health provision then it is eminently sensible for the government to implement short term lockdowns albeit in a hyper localised fashion. A crude national lockdown would needlessly cause untold damage, to truly localise lockdowns when necessary allows individuals in areas without infection to continue to live without unnecessary impediments and businesses to operate.

The Welsh Government must resist the allure of imposing another crude national lockdown. Intervention by the government in response to Coronavirus should be reactive to data and scientific guidance, rather than merely posturing.

The response to Coronavirus must reflect that a vaccine may not be available for some time or even at all. We cannot have all of society cooped up at home to while away the days until deliverance. Long term lockdown is not desirable or sustainable in the long term, locking down society may protect people from the virus however it undoubtedly contributes to deaths from other health conditions due to delays and cancellations of treatments as well as suicide.

Rhetoric and posturing is no substitute for proper governance.

The Long View: Will Universities Become The Care Homes Of The Second Wave?

The Long View: Will Universities Become The Care Homes Of The Second Wave?

Sam Hall @shall_sam
Wales Coordinator, British Conservation Alliance

Casting my mind back to first year, I remember feeling quiet proud of myself if I made it to my 9am, sauntering down the slopes and steps of Aberystwyth University, and cramming into a lecture theatre for whatever horrific compulsory modules we happened to be studying. Masks were worn by terrorists and hand sanitiser- if I am honest I probably only ever bought it a handful of times before the present situation. Afterwards you might have a cheeky pint in the SU, scurry off to the Library for a book, or grab some lunch. Then, part way through my second year, university life was upended. Everything moved suddenly online after we all scrambled to get home for lockdown. Clubs and societies existed only in name. University leadership meanwhile tried to decide what to do with the unfolding situation.

Now here I am, 120 miles away from the paternal home, sipping coffee on a beautiful (if cold) autumnal day. It could be an ordinary Sunday on campus (save for the online Holy Mass I watched this morning)- yet it could be an extra-ordinary week. Teaching ‘begins’ tomorrow so it’s high time I gave the lovely locals of Aberystwyth and Ceredigion a peek inside the life we live (or are supposed to) during these turbulent times and answer the questions on everybody’s lips- will universities become the care homes of the second wave?

The first thing to note is that people breaking the rules on and around campus are much more obvious than those sticking to them. So, take this with a pinch of salt when I say that I haven’t actually observed anyone religiously following the rules. For context, when we arrived, each flat formed a household. In the same way that a person returning from holiday is supposed to self-isolate for two weeks if they come from designated area, we were supposed to do the same. Except this is quite hard when you do not have unique access to a kitchen or a bathroom. The universities’ solution? Have us all don masks in the communal areas, a set rota for using the kitchen and telling us to eat alone in our rooms for the first two weeks. I have not actually heard or seen of anybody doing this. Picture yourself as an 18-year-old fresher, giddy with the prospect of freedom and all the opportunities that university life entails. Aberystwyth is a fair journey from almost anywhere. You have just lugged all your paraphernalia into your student flat after having spent a decent chunk of your post-A Level summer in less than ideal circumstances. Are you going to follow the rules of the A3 sheet of paper you were given at check-in? Of course not! I have seen 15-strong groups of people piling out of flats. Mind you, I have also seen locals not bothering to socially distance in town and wearing masks incorrectly. When it comes to following the rules, it is a case of ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ because if we are all honest, nobody has been 100% compliant.

See the source image
Glasgow University

Masks were worn by terrorists and hand sanitiser- if I am honest I probably only ever bought it a handful of times before the present situation.

Sam Hall

Secondly, I arrived on Wednesday 16th September and lo and behold the first case of COVID-19 in the student community was reported to us all via an email on the 26th September. It does not take a Greek Philosopher to work our why- students across the UK have recently returned to university halls from places all over the UK. I for one have been told that my attendance will be monitored for in-person teaching (a grand total of 23 hours between now and the Christmas break) so I have no real option but to come back. Realistically I would have come back anyway- over the course of my degree I have developed a deep affection for Wales beyond the holiday destination that I knew as a child- but the movement off all these different households to a single place was inevitably going to lead to more infections. In the same way the Eat Out to Help Out was a much-needed boost for the economy it also inevitably boosted the virus. Make no mistake- whatever the health implications of our return might be, we are critical to a local economy that would otherwise be unsustainable outside of the tourist season. But if there’s not much face-to-face teaching going on[1], where could students possibly be getting it you may ask?

This leads me neatly on the next part of university life- clubs and societies. The mainstay of any good university experience, they can involve anything from LARPING in the woods dressed as an Elf to competing in Rugby Union at nation-wide events. But equally like any groups with flexible working hours, alcohol tends to be involved. Now we cannot do our mainstay of pub socials with different households mixing in small spaces. Naturally with the limit being up to 30 people outside however, in a beachside town; we all end up on the beach with bonfires -much to the dismay of some locals who would rather we be locked up in our student flats as has happened elsewhere- of course if they’d rather we went to the pub out of their view and got drunk in households I’m sure they wouldn’t have a problem with it. But how have societies been told to operate this year?

I’m ideally placed to answer this- I’m President and Captain of Clay Pigeon Shooting (what a Tory novelty) as well as on the committee for the University Conservative Association and CathSoc- three reasons for the Liberal left to hate me! Over the summer all the ordinary committee training that we had to do moved online. In addition to normal years, we have also had to complete some COVID-specific training. Where we can hold events online, we are encouraged to do so. Where we cannot, we must complete a checklist, recording an individual’s temperature, their university and username, and then recording the action taken e.g. sent home. That is the general thrust but there are some specifics as well. For example, I cannot allow students to carshare to shoots- which really is not ideal as many would have assumed, quite rightly they did not need to bring their car to university- if they had one at all. The penalty for being found to have broken the rules- suspension of all club or society activity until further notice.

However, in my opinion this strategy may have backfired somewhat. Students are not going to stop being students because of COVID-19; a fact that the Student’s Union acknowledged in an email condemning the rise of ‘unofficial’ events. The effects of the contact tracing app that’s now available may now mitigate the effects, but otherwise there was the distinct possibility that students would just ignore the rules, act normally and not participate in the SU’s version of test and trace, thus hampering the open and transparent nature that would otherwise be needed to stop the spread of the virus- think about it- pub crawls are banned so instead you organise on off the radar and don’t bother to fill in the form, so you don’t get found out. Suppose one of your group tests positive. It would not get flagged because otherwise you would be effectively admitting you broke the rules. The group would be suspended. So now you have a potential positive case wandering about that you must hush up. Not ideal. But now we have got the app, the chances of that should hopefully be diminished.

As a final point, how exactly do you police the activity of thousands of students who could be anywhere from the promenade right up to Fferm Penglais? You cannot. I have seen campus security precisely once around my flat since I arrived. As I said at the start people breaking the rules on and around campus are much more obvious than those sticking to them. However, the smart ones are doing it in the numerous hidey holes in the town or the campus. People’s flats, smaller pubs, etc. Save from turning the entire town and campus into one massive big brother set, it is impossible to police what we get up to 24/7. That having been said, I for one thing that the university’s and the student’s union rules would work if the sole aim was to stop the spread of COVID-19 and comply with the law. Unfortunately they failed to account for the single biggest variable- the fact that a small minority of students, having had their summer ruined, working in key roles in the unstable hospitality sector and having a severely curtailed social life in the meantime- don’t care. Not to mention that like the rest of us they are confused by the rules that change because this is Wales not England (health is devolved remember), because certain areas of Wales are under local ‘lockdown’, and depending on your proximity to a card reader. Students are as angry, confused, and frustrated like all of us- but with no-one specific to direct that towards- is it Comrade Drakeford? Is it Boris? Is it university bosses?

Whoever it is, this is an unsettling time to be a student- being told out of the blue that your entire block is in lockdown, being told that all of a sudden all learning will be online, and unhelpful speculations about where you’ll be allowed to spend Christmas. Most students are young, and I doubt we will see a high death rate because of that. But where the care homes analogy is most appropriate is constant blame deflection, the fault of students, of devolved government, of central government, of university bosses, etc. There is a level of naivety from the professionals who made the laws in government who have clearly forgotten what it was like to be 18 and constantly pushing the boundaries. This is contrasted with the delicate balance university officials are walking, trying to allow us a quality of life without the virus spreading like wildfire in Aberystwyth and elsewhere. Students, like the care home residents, are simply caught in the middle.


[1] As of that Sunday night all in person teaching was suspended indefinitely over two cases in the student community. It gives the impression of naivety on the university’s behalf.

A Skewed Relationship

A Skewed Relationship


Christopher Harries
@CjHarries14

On the Sharp End last night, chip connoisseur and Welsh Health Minister, Vaughan Gething MS stated that he would not rule out a mandatory coronavirus vaccination scheme.

Opposition to such a proposal is not due to an aversion to vaccines instead it is due to the mandatory nature of a such a proposal. Mandating a vaccine denies the individual the choice and presumes state control of the individuals body.

For the state to mandate individuals into having the vaccine would be an unacceptable proposal by the Welsh Government. Coronavirus has tested the relationship between individuals and the state with the state asserting greater control over individuals lives with the imposition of draconian measures such as lockdowns and curfews.

As with deemed consent, the proposal of mandatory vaccines demonstrates a skewed relationship between the individual and the state. Symptomatic of an absence of trust in the individual.

Contemplation of a mandatory vaccine is just the latest manifestation of a presumption of ownership of the individual by the Welsh Government. Five years ago, the Welsh Government introduced deemed consent for organ donation making it necessary for individuals to opt-out otherwise they would be seen as having no objection to organ donation.

Be under no illusion organ donation is the ultimate gift one can make to another. If anything, deemed consent devalues the act making the organ a mere commodity rather than a precious gift. Yes, the deemed consent system led to an increase in consent rate, but surely uptake could have been increased through education campaigns.

Vaughan Gething should abandon his paternalist tendencies. Instead of seeking to presume ownership and control over the individual, the Health Minister should seek to educate individuals and ultimately trust them to make the right choice.

The COVID Communication Kaleidoscope

The COVID Communication Kaleidoscope


Crispin John
@CrispinJohn



In the Welsh Government’s latest efforts to go off on a frolic of their own, they have announced their vision for 30% of the Welsh workforce to work remotely. This doesn’t just mean working from home, however. They also say they are going to investigate the possibility of using local “hubs”. They claim;

“These hubs, within walking and cycling distance of people’s homes, could be used by public, private and third-sector employees. They could also help encourage new partnerships to develop between Welsh Government, local government, industry, and others.”

Meanwhile in London, Boris Johnson has ordered the Civil Service, and everyone else to get back to work, but the Welsh Government have dictated that people should “work from home where possible.” Furthermore, meetings or gatherings indoors even within extended households must be limited to 6 people, meetings outdoors are still just about permitted so long as social distancing is maintained, and finally there’s been some movement on face coverings. Yet it’s a different picture in England, and Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Looking at COVID-19 messaging across the UK is like a communication kaleidoscope. Every time you look, you will see a different pattern.

Anyone looking at the pictures in the press of some of the bars in Cardiff City Centre will understand the potential problem, and it’s a rise in COVID-19 cases that has caused the first Welsh local lockdown in Caerphilly County. Perhaps too little was done on face coverings too late. Maybe too much hope has been clinging to the possibility of a vaccine. Unfortunately, the Oxford vaccine trial suffered a setback last week when it emerged that a volunteer had become seriously ill. The trial is resuming this week, but concerns have been raised about whether progress is too rushed.

The greatest menace, in my view, is the conflicting barrage of information. It is, to a large extent, not helped by the fact that the devolved administrations are doing their own thing, but that’s not the only problem. The media have their part to play in making it clear in their coverage which rules apply to which part of the UK, but even that isn’t easy. Scrolling through the Welsh Government website, you will find it difficult to see which regulations or guidance apply in any given scenario because it’s cluttered, technical, and is as easy to navigate as the Bermuda Triangle.

The Welsh Government may well aspire to create community hubs for people to work remotely, and surely there’s no harm in exploring that possibility. Obviously they’ll have to sort out the Superfast Broadband programme first – in some areas of Wales it’s still quicker to send a carrier pigeon – and many people have complained about slower internet speeds as more people have been online at home.

The clear priority of both the Welsh and UK Governments, however, should be to avoid a second lockdown. The country cannot afford it for a start, and politicians realise that it would be as popular with the public as a fart in a broken-down lift. Inconsistent and inapproachable messaging on COVID- 19, together with aspirational announcements about possible future policy, is not just unhelpful. It is downright dangerous.

Wales’ Mask Debacle

Wales’ Mask Debacle

Charlie Evans
@CharlieDEvans

Mark Drakeford has announced today Wales will finally adopt mandatory face coverings in public places, some two months after England adopted the same measure. The tipping point for such a decision? A rather terrifying 20 cases per…100,000 people.

The political and media consensus is “why did it take so long”. I have a slightly different steer- why have we adopted this policy based on this measure when it obviously is very inflated by significant local outbreaks in Caerphilly and Cardiff? In the rest of Wales we are talking single-digit increases daily. It is the one and only area I had a degree of respect for Welsh Government in that they stuck to their guns, given the adoption of face coverings seems to have had little to no effect on England and Scotland’s epidemiological curves. Moreover, it has been 10 days without a COVID death in Wales. Either *better* people are getting it (younger, healthier people) or viral load is less meaning less fatal levels of infection.

However, should we follow the logic that these masks are absolutely essential to preventing the spread of the plague then what was the point in the Welsh Government’s dither and delay? It is one of the many scenarios that we have seen throughout the pandemic where the relations between the nations of the United Kingdom have been stretched to breaking point, and without good reason.

I cannot stand the imposition of face coverings, but what makes me more nauseous is the unnecessary divergence throughout the UK which has meant chaos and confusion for the people of these islands. We must do things differently when similar challenges present themselves.

Piers Corbyn is a loon, but he shouldn’t be a Covid scapegoat

Piers Corbyn is a loon, but he shouldn’t be a Covid scapegoat


Matthew Paul


There is money to be made in forecasting the weather: America’s biggest forecaster, Universal Weather and Aviation, made more than $155m last year. For airlines and shipping businesses, accurate forecasts can be a matter of life and death. More generally, individual consumers now have access to an awesome amount of meteorological data, and predictions of the weather have become almost tediously reliable.

Not much of this business has gone the way of Piers Corbyn, founder of Weather Action Ltd, a forecasting business which operates out of a scruffy suite of serviced offices on the Borough High St. Piers –if you thought the name familiar– is the elder brother of Jeremy, the former Labour leader recently voted best Prime Minister we never had; the only plausible explanation for which being that respondents to the survey thought they were voting for the person that it’s best we never had as Prime Minister.

Sometimes Weather Action gets the weather right, in the same way that pine cones sometimes get it right. But the only meteorological value of the company’s twopenny-halfpenny, jumbled website is as a scary, capital letter-strewn window into the tempests of a troubled mind.

Piers’ schtick is that hegemonic herd opinion amongst scientists about the climate has got it all wrong; that the planet is cooling not warming, and that ‘climate science’ is part of a huge plot –by mega-corporations, the banks, Bill Gates and other people whom he doesn’t quite come out and name as The Jews– to establish a sinister New World Order through the “UN-EU (4thReich) diktats of the Tax and control narrative of the Fake science of ManMade Climate change” [sic; sic; sic and sic]. Pigtailed doom-goblin Greta Thunburg is in on it too.

But Piers Corbyn’s contrarianism extends well past his (asserted) area of expertise in meteorology. Pushed to the front of his aesthetically, if not commercially, busy website is a dire warning: “#Covid19-Alarm,” Piers gibbers “has replaced #ClimateChange-Alarm as the main propaganda tool of the megaRich and Mega Corporations for their declared NewNormal / NewWorldOrder world plunder and control scheming to end democracy and destroy Rights” [sic; sic; oh I give up].

Source: Newshub

Last Saturday, Piers Corbyn and several hundred others gathered together in Trafalgar Square to vent their frustration at the lockdown. An impressive diversity of moon-mad opinion was represented at the ‘Unite for Freedom’ protest. David Icke –who believes that the Royal Family are lizards– was the headline speaker. Present too were anti-vaxxers, people promoting the Q-Anon conspiracy (don’t bother looking this one up unless you have an awful lot of spare time), inadequates waving banners very like the British Union of Fascists’ banner, and the anti-5G brigade, about which atrocity Piers’ website warns “5G (military weapon rays) destruction of trees, bees and other insects and making people and animals infertile to enable SMART METERS TO CONTROL YOU etc etc etc.”

Typically, it is one of our country’s strengths that several hundred nut jobs, conspiracy theorists and neo-Nazis can assemble together, give vent to their eccentric ideas and peacefully disperse. As Piers’ brother found out last December, the more the public hears from members of the Corbyn family, the less inclined they are to set much store by what they say. But peaceful protest, it appears, is now a serious criminal offence. That must be the case, because on Saturday Piers Corbyn was shoved into a Black Maria, held in the cells for ten hours, and sent on his way with a £10,000 fixed penalty notice. He is refusing to pay it, and quite right too.

Typically, it is one of our country’s strengths that several hundred nut jobs, conspiracy theorists and neo-Nazis can assemble together, give vent to their eccentric ideas and peacefully disperse.

Passed as a supposed emergency –and so avoiding even the derisory scrutiny usually afforded by Parliament towards statutory instruments– the Covid-19 regulations allow a policeman (or Police Community Support Officer) to dish out an instant £10,000 fine for ‘organising’ an event in breach of the lockdown. Fixed penalty notices were designed to be £60 fines for trivial offences like pissing in public. What is an emergency about a bank holiday weekend that anyone with a 2020 calendar could have anticipated isn’t immediately obvious; there have been months of Parliamentary time in which laws used to restrict the right to protest could have been debated.

Being around other people outside is fundamentally safe. The Government hasn’t chosen to forbid hundreds of people massing together on the same beach or park, and rather wishes they would get back to bustling past each other on Oxford Street, instead of leaving the place looking permanently like a scene from 28 Days Later.

The #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations –far, far larger; no more socially distanced– have come and gone and we haven’t yet read an article in the Daily Mail bubbling with suppressed glee at someone having died as a result. You may also be driven to wonder whether the Police would have demonstrated the same enthusiasm for slapping £10,000 fixed penalty notices on Star Wars actor John Boyega and the organisers of the #BLM demonstrations as they have for punishing a poor mad schmuck like Piers. Or if a PCSO attempting to serve a fixed penalty notice on Boyega would have emerged in one piece.

Many of us are lizard-sceptics, and tend towards the belief that a skewed attitude to risk, and terror at being blamed for a single avoidable death –not reptiles or SMART METERS– is what led politicians across the developed world to destroy their economies and put their electorates under house arrest. Still, Piers and the lizard people are entitled to their doolally points of view, and in any free country must have the liberty to express them. Piers Corbyn might be an even bigger fool than his brother, but his treatment –in a supposedly free, democratic society– is an outrage.

This article was originally posted in The Pembrokeshire Herald.