Two new opinion polls suggest that a significant proportion of Britons want Covid regulations controlling routine social interactions to continue permanently, as part of ‘normal’ behaviour
Note: this is the longer and updated version of my argument, made as one of the two contrasting arguments set out in an article originally published at 1828 on Friday 9th July 2021, on whether the alleged public enthusiasm for continuing Covid social restrictions after the pandemic is likely to be merely temporary, or more lasting.
The past 16 months have given us many unpleasant surprises, from the Government’s apparent cosiness with Big-Pharma extending as far as exempting from any product liability its manufacturers’ relatively untried and under-tested but nevertheless hastily approved ‘vaccine’ (aka experimental gene therapy), through its eagerness covertly to deploy techniques derived from behavioural psychology in order to ‘nudge’ Britons into following its ‘guidance’, to its readiness to spend large amounts of taxpayers’ money buying largely and favourably one-dimensional media coverage for its Covid-fearmongering messaging and authoritarian policy response.
But, to my mind, the most shocking of those surprises has been the seemingly supine acquiescence of the British public, traditionally assumed to harbour an instinctive visceral hostility towards, and intolerance of, excessive state-authoritarianism, to the most draconian restrictions on their economic and societal liberty imposed on them by their elected Government in peacetime.
The Coronavirus Act is the most authoritarian and illiberal legislation ever produced by a UK Government. It strips away parliamentary sovereignty towards rule by decree and suppression under the auspices of a national emergency. Until it goes, we are not free.#EnoughIsEnough
— James Melville (@JamesMelville) July 9, 2021
That recent Ipsos MORI and YouGov polls suggest this level of submission could be prolonged, if not permanent, then, though a frightening prospect, feels real, for three principal reasons.
Firstly, and unfortunately, fear works; especially when fresh ‘variant’ scares follow one another in quick succession. An induced apprehension about contracting in the near future – and, moreover, merely via participating in what would otherwise be perfectly innocuous everyday activities – a hitherto unknown virus with a lurid reputation, creates a perception of both imminent and potentially fatal personal risk far greater than, say, apocalyptic but scientifically flawed warnings about a 1°C temperature rise by 2050.
It’s the apparently threatening combination of immediacy, proximity and lethality which boost the fear’s potency, and thus in turn, the susceptibility and inclination to compliance.
Secondly, over the last few decades, the British population has become inculcated with an almost pathological aversion to risk. The twin official fixations with both health and safety culture on the one hand and consumer protection on the other, taken to sometimes absurd lengths, have not only eroded individuality and personal responsibility in favour of reliance on Authority, but also created an expectation of protection as something to be provided by others, and thus a lowered tolerance of risk.
Thirdly, the poll findings are supported by the conclusions of the IEA’s newly published paper on how favourable attitudes towards socialism and collectivism are no longer a youthful aberration, but now persist even among those in their 40s. Against this background, it’s perhaps reasonable to assume as a concomitant a greater inclination within that demographic to see the activist and controlling State as a solution rather than a hindrance, a source of beneficial pastoral care rather than oppressive restriction.
Will it take a long time for the attitudes suggested by Ipsos MORI and YouGov polls to change, even if they do at all?
Well, we know that public opinion is both notoriously fickle, and logically inconsistent. A year or two from now, with the Covid scare receding in the memory, today’s professed enthusiasm for perpetual State-authoritarianism, still relying on it for justification, could have subsided to merely a minority obsession, in the same way that somehow reversing Brexit and rejoining the EU is for a dwindling core of unreconstructed Euro-obsessives.
But at present, it doesn’t feel like it; this feels different.
As well as being a lifelong sceptic of State power, for the last four years I’ve gradually become more and more convinced that the globalist, ‘liberal’-elitist clerisy which has actually governed most Western countries for the last three decades, irrespective of whichever particular gaggle of politicians has happened to be nominally in power, was rocked to its core by the democratic-populist revolts epitomised by the votes for Brexit in Britain, for Trump in America, and for anti-EU parties in Europe, and has been searching ever since for a means of re-asserting its hegemony.
Covid has provided the ruling clerisy with that means. As well as the advantages of immediacy, proximity and lethality mentioned above, it also has the advantage of obscurity – few of us are medically qualified and even fewer of us are virologists or epidemiologists, so most of us lack a readily accessible alternative to believing in the accuracy of what we’re being told by professions which we’re culturally accustomed to regarding as independent, disinterested and trustworthy.
In my view, that naïveté has been cynically exploited by a political class intent on regaining its erstwhile hegemony over the public sphere, and assisted by the susceptibility of a large part of the population to a quantum expansion of both State and non-State social authoritarianism as the palliative for a partly manufactured apprehension.
Having lost, and then regained, its dominance comparatively quickly, the ruling clerisy will be determined to prevent that loss re-occurring, and so will have few qualms, either about periodically warning of an actual or imminent re-emergence of medical threat, or about employing behavioural ‘nudge’ to perpetuate enough public willingness to comply with an illiberal, authoritarian response.
After all, it has been shown to work; and nor do we need to delve far back into history to see how the State rarely gives up, either willingly or quickly, the freedoms and liberties which it seized from the people under the guise of national emergency, even long after any such emergency has passed. So, how seriously should those two opinion polls indicating a widespread public desire to keep Covid social restrictions in place, even once the Covid threat has fallen away, be taken?
Because those poll results presage a dystopian nightmare that’s simply too terrifying to contemplate, I’d prefer to hope that my argument in the preceding paragraphs is wrong, and the mistrust of polling organisations currently expressed by so many people is valid, so that the pollsters’ figures are therefore just an outlier, an over-statement which at present is conveniently agreeable to the State.
But I genuinely worry that my apprehension is, in fact, well-founded, and those truly alarming opinion polls might actually be right.
Thoroughly agree with this article? Vehemently disagree with it?
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