STEPHEN GLOVER: Stop nannying us over Covid, it’s time to trust the people to know what’s best
There are at least two Boris Johnsons, two Prime Ministers, and they have very little in common.
The first version is the Lord of Misrule, the jolly, regulation-busting leader about whose misdemeanours we have read so much over recent days. This is the fundamental, original Boris, who wants everyone, especially himself, to have a rip-roaring time.
The second version, which has emerged since the outbreak of Covid, is the overbearing rule-maker, obedient to the diktats of scientists, ready to apply restriction after restriction — the man who only last week floated the profoundly unconservative idea of compulsory vaccination.
Perhaps such contradictions exist in many of us. We can be Cavaliers and Roundheads almost in the same breath. Certainly the Tory Party has at times put a high premium on personal liberty, while at other times extolling the rights of the state.
Boris Johnson addressed the public (pictured) to provide an update on the Covid-19 booster programme, at Downing Street on Sunday
But the two opposing versions of Boris Johnson co-exist. He has imposed Covid rules which recent revelations suggest he was unwilling to obey at the end of last year by allowing parties in No 10, and possibly attending them.
Let me observe that yesterday’s Sunday Mirror photograph — showing the PM presiding over an online quiz, flanked by two people in party garb — wasn’t quite the knock-out blow the paper believes it is. There was no glass of wine in front of him. He was not personally at a party.
More damaging, to my mind, is the allegation that he mixed with guests in a restaurant in October last year, and lingered beyond the 10pm curfew, thereby infringing the regulations which then applied. Trivial, in a way, but people have been fined for less under laws introduced by this Government.
Anyway, it can scarcely be denied that Mr Johnson has not always followed the Covid rules he has promulgated. That is a very bad thing which is bound to make people wonder about his judgment, as well as his fitness for office.
Speaking for myself, though, I am more concerned about the other Boris, since his rule-making proclivities could inflict a great deal of damage on this country.
MPs will vote on the so-called Plan B tomorrow. Although there will be a rebellion of 50, 60 or even more Tory MPs, the Government is certain to get its way with the support of Labour. Somewhat undignified, but not the end of the world for the Prime Minister.
Yet already Plan C is being hinted at by Cabinet ministers such as Michael Gove, who is more coercive than even the authoritarian version of Boris. Plan C would necessitate Vaccine Passports for entrance to pubs and restaurants, among other restrictive measures.
Advised by scientific experts, and in ever-closer communion with the bossy First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, Mr Gove may be formulating Plan D and even Plan E. A ban on the mixing of households, followed by the grimness of lockdown, could lie ahead.
It can scarcely be denied that Mr Johnson has not always followed the Covid rules he has promulgated
Mr Johnson’s announcement tonight that the booster roll-out will be significantly extended before the end of the year raises hopes that, for the time being at any rate, he is mounting a stand against repressive measures.
What is the rationale for the policies advocated by Mr Gove, as well as by alarmist epidemiologists with their speculative forecasts, which are accorded the status of Holy Writ by some in the media?
We were told yesterday by the Government that there have been some hospitalisations of people suffering from the Omicron variant, which is spreading like wildfire, but so far no deaths.
In South Africa, where Omicron first took root, the health minister has been upbeat about the variant’s severity: ‘Preliminary data does suggest that while there is an increasing rate of hospitalisation . . . it looks like it is purely because of the numbers rather than as a result of any severity of the variant itself.’
Maybe it will be different here, since South Africa has a younger population and many of them have already contracted Covid. However, it does seem possible that Omicron is less harmful than preceding variants of the virus, though apparently more easily transmitted.
I’ve heard several epidemiologists argue that we need tougher rules in case Omicron turns out to be lethal. But such precautionary measures are bound to inflict enormous damage on the UK economy, besides driving some of us to madness.
Trades unions have lost no time in calling for financial assistance to mitigate the effects of Plan B. Yet the Government has already borrowed more than £400 billion to deal with the pandemic — money that will have to be paid back. Rishi Sunak will impoverish our grandchildren’s grandchildren if he goes on another spending spree.
Mr Gove may be formulating Plan D and even Plan E. A ban on the mixing of households, followed by the grimness of lockdown, could lie ahead
There has to be a way other than resorting to the familiar repertoire of lockdown measures which offer only a temporary respite from the disease — while ruining the economy and shutting down society.
For isn’t it likely, if not certain, that after Omicron there will be another variant, and after that a further one, and so on for the foreseeable future, perhaps for the rest of the lives of many of us?
The best way, of course, is for the Government to redouble its energies in offering booster jabs to the willing, while doing its utmost to persuade the hitherto unwilling that they should get vaccinated, for their own sake as well as for the good of society.
Instead of reaching for its usual array of repressive weapons, which, as I say, offer only short-term relief at a dreadful cost, the Government must put more faith in our collective common sense. It should stop nannying us and trust the people.
Pubs and restaurants and other venues should be allowed to decide which precautions they wish to request of their customers — and let customers work out whether or not they want to accept them.
Instead of reaching for its usual array of repressive weapons, which, as I say, offer only short-term relief at a dreadful cost, the Government must put more faith in our collective common sense. It should stop nannying us and trust the people
Let me offer a tiny example. Later this week, we are having a dinner party at home for six guests, including two doctors, all of whom have received a booster jab. My wife and I will each do a lateral flow test in the morning. So, I imagine, will the guests.
Some of them may still prefer not to come. That is their choice. We should be permitted, as far as possible, to live our lives according to our own assessment of risk. To go, or not go, to the pub is a decision which we, not the Government, should make.
Granted, some risks, such as travelling to work, are unavoidable. The way to deal with these is to wear a mask — I can’t see any objection to that — and to get triple-vaccinated. Before Covid is vanquished, if it ever is, we are all going to need more boosters.
The Prime Minister’s undertaking last night to speed up the booster programme suggests he may understand that Plan C isn’t the solution to the new variant. For the time being, at least, he doesn’t seem about to unleash another set of regulations.
Let’s hope there is a third Boris Johnson — neither the irresponsible rule-breaker nor the authoritarian rule-maker, but a calm and measured leader who trusts the good sense of the people. Such a version of Boris could still save his prime ministership, and the country.
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