My Father was very proud of his British ancestry. When I was growing up as a child of the Commonwealth, he repeatedly told me that Britain was probably the freest country in the world. He called it the home of liberty and a direct contrast to the more repressive European nations.
In France, Italy and Spain for example the police tend to be overzealous and are widely distrusted by ordinary people. The State in such countries quickly resorts to violence when it feels threatened and this is repeatedly borne out in news clips.
Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory, two songs which the Beeb tried to ban recently from the Last Night of the Proms uninhibitedly celebrate British freedoms. The latter describes Britain as ‘mother of the free.’
I have no doubt that this belief that liberty is part of modern Britain is a little exaggerated but Britons understandably hang on to it as a rousing idea that differentiates them from other countries and defines them – us I suppose, as I am now an honorary Brit – as a nation.
But to my slightly jaundiced mind, freedom in this country is a concept long forgotten and unlikely to return in the foreseeable future. Over the past six months, a supposedly libertarian Prime Minister has presided over a government that has spewed out dozens of often tangled and usually contradictory regulations concerning the Coronabug. Those who break them – even unwittingly – face far larger fines than they would for merely breaking the law.
Yes of course we need sensible legislation to help beat the bug – well I think we do although an ever increasing number of ‘experts’ are speaking out against current regulations and restrictions. Since the bug arrived on these shores, I have tried hard to obey the regulations even when they seem daft or entirely baseless. But I do think power has gone to some ministers’ heads, and they have grown so accustomed to nibbling away at our freedoms that they sometimes abandon all logic and reason.
For instance, travellers returning from Italy were recently told they would have to quarantine for two weeks even though the infection rate there stands at about half that of the UK. Where on earth is the sense in that?
The police too have become officious and meddlesome in a way that makes a nonsense of the British concept of ‘policing by consent’ and seems indistinguishable from coercive police practices in banana republics around the world.
The latest example of overreach on the part of the Plod is a letter written by Scotland Yard to owners of pubs and restaurants, encouraging them to snoop on customers to make sure they obey lockdown rules.
God knows, the people who run these establishments, whatever ‘tier’ they might be in are under enormous pressure just to keep their businesses alive. Along come the cops, asking them all to request names, addresses and even photo ID from their patrons so how on earth can this do anything but antagonise customers and lead to further financial losses?
The asininely officious Health Secretary, Matthew Hancock has already urged people to report their neighbours for flouting coronavirus rules. It is one further step down a repressive path for the police to ask restaurant and pub owners to inform on clients. It is true that a couple of days ago the Met withdrew its ill-judged advice, but the fact that it had issued it in the first place says it all.
What appals me is the ease with which a constabulary I was once proud to be part of have assumed the role of Big Brother so easily. No sooner was the lockdown imposed in March, than coppers in Derbyshire were employing a drone to spy on walkers in the Peak District.
Why for God’s sake? It was perfectly legal for people to exercise in such a way. Moreover, as they were outdoors and presumably observing social distancing, they posed no threat to anyone at all. This was just a complete abuse of power and it does not end there.
The Department of Health has recently decided to pass on contact details to police of people told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, that ineffectual but apparently ‘world beating’ system that is being used to terrify people into complying with government diktats, no matter how daft or obscure they might seem.
Even the Chief Medical Officer and official purveyor of doom Chris Witless reportedly baulked at this development. I do not suspect he was moved by respect for civil liberties though. He merely realised that people will be less likely to cooperate with Test and Trace if their details are shared with the police.
Not that the police have needed any encouragement so far to check up on those who have been told to self-isolate. The maximum penalty for failure to do so is a hefty ten thousand quid. You don’t get a fraction of that if found guilty of a serious assault damnit!
Officers in Scotland are possibly demonstrating an even greater appetite for prying than their counterparts down south, operating as they do under the joyless eye of the poison dwarf, Nicola Sturgeon.
In Ayrshire to give you just one example, two officers turned up at a ten-year-old girl’s birthday party after a neighbour reported the family for breaking Coronabug rules. The mother said that two relatives had ‘nipped in’ to deliver presents. She was told she would be charged and fined if she errs again. I suppose she should be grateful that she wasn’t fined then and there.
And so it goes on. What makes it even more insulting to us all is that, if we are burgled or mugged, the chances of getting the police to investigate the case, and find the culprit are close to zero. Slovenly in protecting our lives and property, the police become very enthusiastic when there is a sniff of Covid irregularity.
Officers may have looked on for several hours last month while Extinction Rebellion protesters stopped newspapers being distributed. They may have danced with the protesters or taken the knee with those from Black Lives Matter. They may have stood aside in June when a mob in Bristol toppled the statue of a slave trader into the harbour, but the long arm of the law will stretch out and grab the collar of the most insignificant Coronabug offender. In the Wirral, a gym owner received a visit from two vanloads of coppers after he refused to close his premises. He was handed a thousand pound fine, while being warned of having to pay ten times more if he offends again.
The fact is that those who break these damned silly rules are easy pickings. Although some forces have declined to dole out fines to people who forget to wear a mask, such common sense seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
Can Britain therefore be classed as a police state? Not yet of course, but if any of us had been told a year ago that law-abiding people might receive a knock on the door to check that they are home alone or that restaurant owners would be asked to sneak on their customers, we would have laughed in disbelief.
Great though the damage inflicted by the pandemic has been, we are not at war. The virus is not going to march in jackboots down city streets. Why, then, does the Government think it right to behave as though we are engaged in a life-and-death struggle with a human enemy?
As it happens, there is one Covid culprit whom Boris Johnson and the police chose to let off and that is Dominic Cummings. His sixty mile round trip by car to Barnard Castle in April contravened lockdown rules, but there was no fine, not even a warning for the Prime Minister’s chief adviser.
When the pandemic does die down and we all look back at this time of governmental idiocy, I believe the foolish indulgence of that journey will be seen as a turning point.
The inconsistencies and contradictory regulations have been bad enough, but they have probably done less damage to public confidence and faith in the Government’s good sense and integrity than the exoneration of Cummings.
The boys in blue cheerfully hound we lesser mortals. We are enjoined to observe sometimes silly laws, and punished if we do not, while the Prime Minister’s favourite is spared. I have lived in a police state and seen it all before. I am only glad that my Father is not around to see what has happened to the land he was so proud to have been part of.