UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has decided to make muzzles — aka masks; aka face nappies — compulsory for everyone who wants to go shopping. Anyone caught not wearing one will, from July 24, be liable for a £100 fine.
Could this be the same Boris Johnson who, in 2018, had this to say on the subject of face coverings?
As for individual businesses or branches of government – they should of course be able to enforce a dress code that enables their employees to interact with customers; and that means human beings must be able to see each other’s faces and read their expressions. It’s how we work.
Why, indeed it could! What Boris wrote back then — he was talking about burkas — was very sensible. As a newspaper columnist, he has always been good at finding the common sense line, speaking up for Middle Britain and barding the whole with a few pungent phrases and jaunty jokes. It’s one of the reasons that so many people, women especially, find him so appealing and why they voted for him in such droves at the last election. Surely someone so jolly and down to earth and clearly in touch with the spirit of the nation could not fail to make a perfectly splendid Prime Minister?
I was one of those who suffered from this delusion too. But then, re-reading columns like the one above I think it’s a perfectly understandable one. Consider that phrase ‘It’s how we work.’ This is a direct appeal to us, the British, and our time-honoured way of doing things. We shake hands on an agreement. (Or did till very recently…) Our word is our bond. We look one another in the eye. We give one another the benefit of the doubt. And so on. All these fine traditions are understood in that phrase ‘It’s how we work.’ It was written by somebody who clearly understands what it means to be British.
Except it wasn’t, was it?
Boris has made many truly terrible decisions during his brief time as Prime Minister: handing Britain’s telecommunications network — against the strongest of objections from his American and Australian allies — to the Chinese Communist Party; forcing through, against all reason, the money-devouring white elephant that is HS2; instituting the unnecessary lockdown when Britain could so easily have followed the more effective Swedish model. But I don’t think anything he has ever done will prove quite as damaging to his country, to his party, and to his own reputation as his fatuous decision to make muzzles compulsory.
For many of his former supporters, it’s the final straw. Some them have taken to Twitter with pictures of their cut-up Conservative party membership cards.
I’m not very artistic, tried a sad face! pic.twitter.com/qz8qPZal3i
— The People (@WonPeople) July 14, 2020
Thought I'd add some flair with the diagonal cuts pic.twitter.com/9AOE9NnzID
— Alan Jones (@AJ858858) July 14, 2020
Of course, for more compliant members of the Conservative party (the Bedwetters, the Authoritarian Spankers and the Lunkheaded Boris Loyalists who’d go on backing Boris and insisting he was a cuddly genius even if he were to crucify a kitten live on Good Morning Britain), this response is a lot of fuss about nothing because what’s so wrong with covering our faces with a bit of cloth if it stops us all dying?
But there, already, you have a perfect example of why this compulsory muzzling announcement is such a suicidally stupid move: just when the Conservative movement was starting to get over the bitter divisions caused by Brexit, Boris has driven a wedge through it once more.
Those on the right who ought to be natural allies, working together in common cause now loathe and despise one another more than the Judaean People’s Front hated the People’s Front of Judaea. I know I certainly do. When I read on social media one of my former right-wing allies saying that they can’t see a problem with being forced to wear a mask, I think they’ve taken leave of their senses. In fact, I wonder whether I’ll ever be able to take seriously anything they say again because to hold such a view betrays at best a seedy, shaming, scheming, Westminster-bubble-style, Machiavellian ‘pragmatism’ at worst an abject inability to think according to first principles and a complete cluelessness as to what it means either to be a conservative or indeed to be British.
It’s so obvious why forcing us to wear masks is a bad thing that I really shouldn’t need to spell it out. But here, for the thickos at the back, are a few hints.
First, it’s an almost entirely pointless gesture. As wind turbines are to climate change, so face masks are to coronavirus: they’re ugly and intrusive; they’re a very public display of obeisance to what is essentially a religious rather than a scientific belief system; they do nothing to cure the problem they’re supposed to be curing.
For chapter and verse on the inefficacy of masks in combating Chinese coronavirus, I recommend a trip to Lockdown Sceptics, which quotes a lot of studies on the subject.
Here is an excerpt from one of them:
Sweeping mask recommendations – as many have proposed – will not reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission, as evidenced by the widespread practice of wearing such masks in Hubei province, China, before and during its mass COVID-19 transmission experience earlier this year. Our review of relevant studies indicates that cloth masks will be ineffective at preventing SARS-CoV-2 transmission, whether worn as source control or as PPE.
Not only will masks almost certainly not work, but even if they did, why now? The peak of the virus has long since passed. We are now in summer, when flu-like viruses are naturally killed off anyway.
— Ben Pile (@clim8resistance) July 14, 2020
It’s hard to imagine what kind of situation might have justified this draconian imposition by Boris. A sudden, massive resurgence of infections leading to many more deaths and an almost overwhelmed hospital system, perhaps. But since this hasn’t happened, not even remotely, Boris’s mask gesture looks like not merely shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, but welding it shut, burning down the stable and then shooting the horse on capturing it so that it doesn’t bolt again.
Clearly, then, the reasons for introducing this mask ruling have nothing to do with sound science. Rather, this is a political gesture borne of the Boris administration’s desperation to get Britain up and running again after months of lockdown indolence. So successful has UK government propaganda been in persuading the population that Covid 19 is almost unprecedentedly dangerous that a cowed and frit populace are now proving extremely reluctant to leave their homes.
The most honest, effective and decent way of achieving this would be for Boris to come clean. “We overegged the pudding slightly with our doomsday warnings,” he could say. “Most of the evidence now shows that Covid 19 is treatable, no more virulent than any of a number of other bad flu years, and only potentially dangerous if you’re in an at-risk group.” But Boris doesn’t do honest, effective and decent. So instead what we’re getting is Operation When In A Hole Keep Digging.
Sure it’s conceivable that if everyone now has to wear a mask in public, one or two bedwetters skulking at home may be more likely to venture into the light. But it’s equally possible, I would argue, that it will have the opposite effect – and make a bad situation even worse.
“Well if they’re making us all wear masks the problem must be even more serious than we imagined,” people will say. (And indeed are saying already: a friend of mine overheard this very comment after the announcement was made).
It will also send a signal to all the School Prefect types, all the Camp Commandants, all the Snitches and Snoopers and Petty Authoritarians that their work is far from done: there’s a new rule in town and boy they’d better start enforcing it and gold-plating it as if their very lives depended on it.
Up until now, there has been an uneasy but effective truce between Lockdown Sceptics like myself and Covid bedwetters. They get to scuttle around wearing masks, looking frightened, jumping whenever anyone gets too close, but slowly inuring themselves to the normal world after months in Covid paranoia fantasy land. I, and my ilk, get brush past them contemptuously, thinking that they are babyish and silly but not minding too much because at least we’re not having to wear those stupid masks ourselves.
Now, those of us on the sceptical side no longer have that liberty. And it makes us righteously angry because we know that this massive imposition on our freedom has nothing to do with health and safety but has everything to do with an overweening state flexing its muscles and getting far too comfortable with its new authoritarian powers.
James Delingpole is the host of the Delingpod podcast. If you want to buy one of Dick Delingpole’s special protest masks decorated with an NHS-style rainbow and the message ‘We’re all going to die’, you can get one here.