Britain is nearly free again. Well, at least it is according to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Monday was ‘a major step forward in our roadmap to freedom…’, he has said, as pubs, gyms and ‘non-essential’ shops reopen for the first time since last year’s lockdown. He added: ‘I urge everyone to continue to behave responsibly.’
Hmm. I’m trying to make up my mind which of those statements is the most absurd.
The second one, certainly, takes the biscuit for comical hypocrisy. Being lectured on responsible behaviour by Boris Johnson, the serially unfaithful blond bonkmeister, father of at least six children by three different mothers (only one of them his wife), is a bit like being lectured on childcare by King Herod.
But it’s that first statement that sticks most painfully in the craw.
‘Roadmap to freedom’? If this is what ‘freedom’ looks like, then give me, for preference, the bracing liberty of Erich Honecker’s German Democrat Republic. Sure, things might have been grim behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. But rarely, I suspect, did the miserable party apparatchiks attempt to impose so widely on their oppressed citizenry rules quite so cruel, arbitrary and pointless as the ones Johnson and his cabal have inflicted on the once proudly free British people.
For example, I have not hugged my mother since before Christmas – not because I don’t love her or have avoided seeing her but because physically meeting up with her has been forbidden by the government. Pretty much everyone in the country has been in the same boat.
Is this normal? Was ever such a state edict passed in the Soviet-era – ‘nobody can see their parents because reasons’? Of course, I accept that life in Communist Eastern Europe was impoverished and constrained. But so did every objective observer of the era.
Romania, Czechslovakia, Hungary, Poland, East Germany, Russia…they were all famously complete dumps where the food was meagre and disgusting, the supermarket shelves all but empty, the architecture ugly and jerry-built, the people joyless, spied-upon and crushed. We in the free West looked on them with a mix of superiority and abject pity for it was perfectly obvious to us that this is what happens to nations where the State rather than the free market is the dominant force.
What’s odd about now is that this self-awareness and perspective seems to have deserted us.
Social media today is full of celebratory tweets rejoicing in the fact that once more we can go for a pint.
But in truth, there is little to celebrate: the weird killjoys who devise Britain’s lockdown rules have made sure of that by inserting all manner of subclauses which only confuse and complicate, and which suck most of the joy out of what few ‘freedoms’ the government has granted us.
For example, you can finally go for a haircut but only if it’s a quick trim.
Guidance published on the Government’s website says hair and beauty salons “should consider providing shorter, more basic treatments to keep the time to a minimum”.
The guidance adds that when doing longer procedures such as braiding or massages, workers should “consider how the length of the appointment could be minimised”.
Since when was it the government’s business to try to interfere with length of time hairdresser spends braiding your hair or a masseur spends doing a massage? This micromanagement is obscene and makes no sense.
Nor do the rules imposed on pubs and restaurants, which have only been permitted to open on the most restricted terms: you can’t sit indoors, only in outdoor areas – a vindictive trick which looks almost like it was deliberately calculated to mock returning drinkers and diners. After all, April in Britain can be very wet and cold. On Monday, in many parts of Britain, it was snowing.
The rules remind me of what Theodore Dalrymple famous said about political correctness:
Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.
These pettifogging regulations, in which we’re all being sort of given our freedoms back except not really, serve the same purpose. They are an expression of power, of control, not of restraint or reasonableness – let alone of generosity.
I notice that the thriller writer and former foreign correspondent Frederick Forsyth (author of bestsellers including The Day of the Jackal) feels the same way.
He recently wrote to the Daily Telegraph about his conviction that ‘the campaign of mass fear that reduced a once brave nation to trembling terror was deliberately organised to secure obedience to the policy of lockdown.’
The letter went on:
I have only once before seen anything like it. This was when I was posted to East Germany in 1962. Such a brainwashing tactic was employed to frighten East Berliners into believing that the Berlin Wall was a defensive measure to protect them from tiny West Berlin, and that the Stasi was their guardian. The wall was of course an instrument of enslavement.
I never thought that the government of a country whose uniform I once wore with such pride would sink so low. Those responsible should be identified without delay and ousted from all office over us.
On balance I think I shan’t be popping down to my local for my first pint in many months. What, really, is there to celebrate?