THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

Posts categorized "COVID 19" Feed

Liberal democracy will be the biggest casualty of this pandemic

Liberal democracy will be the biggest casualty of this pandemic.

I tweeted several paragraphs from this excellent article before realising the way I used to do this was better and turned to my blog. The article lifted my spirits because Lord Sumption, pillar of the legal Establishment, is articulating all the concerns I had begun to fear marked me – not as a perfectly reasonable classical liberal – but some kind of sociopathic crank. That is after all, according to the opinion polls, what most Brits seem to think of those still speaking of Liberty in present circumstances. 
 
Lord Sumption quotes Professor Neil Ferguson, who in speaking of the Sage Committee's reaction to China's response to the COVID-19 virus, cheerily remarked;
It’s a communist, one-party state, we said. We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought. And then Italy did it. And we realised we could … If China had not done it, the year would have been very different.
With these words, Ferguson – whose botched, bodged and ballsed-up computer projections, none of which remotely matched the prophetic accuracy of a tabloid astrologer, were used to justify tyranny throughout the Western world – reveals himself as a monster. Not least because he evidently sees nothing sinister in them himself. I had feared since I first read them elsewhere that most fellow Brits would not be concerned by them. I had begun not just to fear that our liberties were in danger but that I had been deluded in believing we ever had them. 
 
Lord Sumption addresses that in his article. My executive summary of the British Constitution is just two words long: "Parliament rules". Unlike our American cousins, we have no legal constraints on state power. The name of our "Supreme Court" is just lasting proof that Tony Blair is a poor lawyer. The Judicial Committee of the House of Lords (its name before Blair changed it) was less snappy but less deceptive.
 
Much of our history consisted of Parliament trying to constrain the power of the monarch and our constitution reflects that. Parliament succeeded, and since then – as our democracy is absolute – it has not been law but convention that kept Britons free. As Lord Sumption puts it:
What makes us a free society is that, although the state has vast powers, there are conventional limits on what it can do with them. The limits are conventional because they do not depend on our laws but on our attitudes. There are islands of human life which are our own, a personal space into which the state should not intrude without some altogether exceptional justification.
The craven, cowardly surrender of the heirs of John Hampden to state tyranny shows how fragile those attitudes were. 
 
I don't subscribe to any COVID-19 conspiracy theory. This microscopic threat (all of which, I read somewhere, could be contained in a Coca-Cola can) is real. What is also real is the celebratory glee with which evil forces have used the fear of it to make us submit to power. The jaunty tone of Professor Ferguson's quote is blindingly revelatory of his attitude, and that of the Western Establishment as a whole. Boris Johnson would have us believe he's on the classically-liberal wing of the Conservative Party; a staunch defender of Liberty. Lord Sumption's comment on that is as searing as a mild-mannered Law Lord is ever likely to make;
The Prime Minister claims to believe in liberty and to find the current measures distasteful. Actions speak louder than words, and I am afraid that I do not believe him. He is too much of a populist to go against public sentiment. He lacks the moral and political stature to lead opinion rather than follow it.
Two evils are abroad in the world today – COVID-19 and a far older one; the lust for unconstrained power. One would fit easily in a Coke can. There's a real danger that the other may never be contained again.

Lost for words

I hope you had a pleasant Christmas and that it's not too late to wish you a happy new year. I hardly feel able to call myself a blogger now, given how infrequently I post. I blogged because I thought it better to light a candle than curse the darkness, but public support for our state's response to COVID-19 now seems to suggest modern Britons love the dark. 

It's hard to know what to write of the present situation. In a democracy no wise elector expects perfectly-right choices. We try to select the least bad of those on offer but what are we to do, say or think when government is wrong and opposition only demands it should be more so?

I confidently believe that historians will one day bracket the story of COVID-19 with those of the South Sea Bubble, the Salem Witch trials, and Tulip Mania. That's not to say the virus is not real or serious. It is. There was a South Sea Company. There was a trade in tulips. There may even have been witches in Salem. It's not the fact of the virus that I dispute but the validity, efficacy and morality of our response to it.

We are now many months into the "two weeks to save the NHS" in Britain and still that powder puff of a hulking institution is not safe. Not, at least, according to the rent-seekers who live upon it or the political types for whom it is the most sacred of all cows. It's certainly not safe for its customers. Many of those who caught the virus did so in its hallowed halls or in the care homes to which its angels of death despatched them for said angels' convenience and/or protection. In a classic example of Bastiat's notion of the error of focussing on the seen versus the unseen, our entire funded-by-state-force medical system is concentrating (with a remarkable lack of success even by its own low standards) on one virus while paying the least possible attention to all other ills.

I must move in unusual circles. Only one couple in my group of contemporaries is in the "lock us up, we're scared" camp to which opinion polls suggest most Britons belong. My other friends and family my age and older agree with me. None of us think there's a conspiracy. None of us deny the virus is real and dangerous. None of us question the need for a public health policy response to COVID-19. But all of us agree that the British Establishment is drunk with power and gleefully revelling in its unconstrained exercise. All of us agree that terrible damage is being done, not to some abstraction called "the Economy", but to the life expectancy of cancer, heart disease and other patients, to the livelihoods and future employment prospects of business-people and their employees, to children's education, to the mental health of people (and especially young people) denied healthy social outlets, and to the liberties of us all. All of us agree that the legions of the state are using this epidemic to bolster their power, increase their funding (and their numbers) and in many cases to enjoy even more well-paid leisure than usual; to make sinecures of jobs that were scarcely onerous to begin with.

I have tried to follow my own advice to my elders frustrated by this situation. "You are not in charge here. These mistakes are not yours. Focus on the joys you still have and remember that you're well-off compared to people really suffering. Read a good book. Read some poetry. Phone a friend. This too will pass." It's good advice because if I think about the political situation, I tend to despair. I am saddened that the liberties I praised and defended were so chimerical. At the first plausible pretext, the men of power suspended them so comprehensively that it seems they never existed. They were mere indulgences permitted to us by our masters rather than (as I had always thought) our inalienable rights as humans.

The man whose name I hubristically usurped as my nom de blog spoke of "the times that try mens' souls" to rouse his contemporaries to action. So faint a shadow am I that I am close to admitting my own soul has been tried and found wanting. The best encouragement I can offer is this. When the truth emerges, as it must, and the consequences of policy responses to this pandemic become apparent to the meanest of intellects, there will be the best opportunity in modern history to expose both the evil effects of statism and the wicked, self-serving natures of many within the state apparatus.

Keep your powder dry, fellow-citizens, and repeat under your breath Tom's wish that “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.” Let's strive to ensure that the gross misconduct of our authorities finally reveals to our young people (so sadly indoctrinated to the contrary by state-funded teachers and Marxist academics) Tom's truth that “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”


An hour well spent

I don't normally go for podcasts, as I can take in information faster by reading and don't spend much time in traffic these days. This however, is worth your time.

My last post was, I confess, a bit defeatist. I certainly felt defeated. Douglas Murray does not. On the contrary he is optimistic that the forces of evil are vulnerable and makes convincing arguments for going on the offensive. Rather than bemoan "cancel culture" he thinks it's overstated and urges the "silent majority" to speak up.

Referring to Kay Burley's ludicrous smears in relation to former Aussie PM, Tony Abbott, he is hilarious. He points out that she once grabbed a female fellow journalist by the throat in anger, squeezing so hard that she left a bruise. Playing her own game, therefore, it's possible to say that Kay Burley once grabbed a woman by the throat and injured her. Anyone who appears on her show is condoning the strangulation of women. By her own logic, she should be cancelled!

No right-thinking person wants Kay Burley silenced of course. Her bluster turns people off every argument she tries to advance and she serves a useful function in exposing the weakness of Tory ministers, but it takes Douglas to pierce the pompous veil so elegantly. I commend him to you.

 


A disappointed idealist speaks

The Misses Paine once said "Dad is not a cynic. He's a disappointed idealist." This may be so. Equally, it could be said that a man who reaches his 60s without becoming somewhat cynical has simply not been paying attention. There are some things in Britain I can still trust. The way the Common Law develops itself quietly, sensibly and practically (when not over-ridden by statute) for example. The jury system, for another. I would still trust a panel of British jurors over any tribunal known to Man if I were charged with a crime of which I was innocent.

Sadly I can't trust Parliament any more. John Bercow saw to that. Nor can I trust British Democracy more generally, alas. The past few months have shown us – even more than the long years of defiance of the popular will over Brexit - that the self-selected, self-serving members of the permanent apparatus of the state are far more important in practice than our elected representatives.

Our rights were not quashed because our politicians exercised scientific judgement. People who act on science they don't understand are every bit as blindly faithful as the religious and our MPs are a particularly ignorant bunch. Not only, by any means, on matters scientific. They possess precious little knowledge of anything useful and usually no great experience of the real world. Apart from a brief honourable spell as a DJ, my own MP (for example) has never received a penny of income freely paid under contracts with people who had other choices. Before she was a Marxist trying to foist Communism on us by stealth in Parliament, she was a tax-funded sociology lecturer trying to indoctrinate our impressionable young.

We have had one scientifically-knowledgeable Prime Minister (the first major political figure in the world to pay serious attention to the problem of climate change by the way) and she is now universally despised by the liberal arts-educated bureaucracy and most of her political successors. Even to say her dread name with approval is to mark yourself out as an untermensch. There have been many times since the pygmies drove her out of office when I have wished she was in Number 10 still. Never more so than in the past few months.

Lockdown (a horrible euphemism drawn from the prison system) happened because the apparatchiki of the Deep State decided it was necessary to close the useful parts of society. They have deprived the productive citizens who pay for everything – private and public, of their livelihoods, because they saw an opportunity to reassert their power after their embarrassing setback at the peoples hands over Brexit. They saw the chance to take an extended holiday on full pay from jobs (often non-jobs) that already pay more (on average) than those of the productive and which yield pensions substantially greater than those the private sector taxpayers who pay them can ever dream of. "Serve them right", our Deep State masters no doubt thought while trashing our lives, "for we are their moral superiors because of our [well-paid, over-pensioned] lives of 'public service'". They service us, in my personal view, more in the agricultural sense than any other.

My respect for the teaching profession in principle is great. No more important group of workers exists in a well-organised society. I personally owe a great deal to one or two conscientious teachers among the throng of idlers, wasters, lead-swingers and intellectual under-achievers who staffed my bog-standard comprehensives. But it would take a greater idealist than I have ever been to keep on rose-tinted spectacles now in viewing British teachers. They have shown themselves (with honourable exceptions who should really find a profession with worthier colleagues) to have absolutely no concern about the education or welfare of the young people in their charge. They have used COVID 19 both as an excuse to idle and a political stick with which to beat a government they consider to be their political enemy. "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach" was always (I thought) a rather unfair assessment. Now it seems generous. Those who can't be arsed, teach, might be closer to the mark.

I made some of these points in conversation with a fellow-photographer at a shoot I attended today – pointing out that Woodstock and the Isle of Wight Festival were staged, the worlds economies continued to function and social and sexual lives were unaffected globally during the just as deadly Hong Kong Flu pandemic of the Sixties and that the UK death toll this year will likely be greater from untreated cancers and other serious diseases because of the "save the NHS" strategy than from COVID 19 itself. "It's one of those situations," he opined, "when the politicians can't do right whatever they choose." He has a point. The cynic in me agrees and even perhaps feels sorry for our politicians. They have, after all, seen voters (scared senseless by outrageous propaganda from Deep State agencies everywhere) back the apparatchiki in opinion polls. The Great British Public is, it seems, a bunch of submissives clamouring for more not less of a spanking from their government. The battered idealist, from some deep crevasse in my soul, cries out that leadership should still be a thing and that they could have stood up to their advisors – if they only had a single ragged principle to their sorry names.

I cringe now as I remember all the times I told colleagues, clients and friends in the post-Communist countries where I worked for twenty years that "Brits would never accept" the various impositions that their governments, administrations and police (conditioned by decades of totalitarianism) were still inclined to attempt. All my proud talk of "yeoman spirit" and the ghost of Hampden, seems to have been so much embarrassing nonsense now as I angrily watch my fellow-citizens drop all claims to freedom while clamouring for more discipline from stern Father State. The only winners here will not be us or our politicians but the staff of the state apparatus that rumbles on regardless of our votes. Unless a party emerges that promises to do to the entire state apparatus what Ronald Reagan did to America's air traffic controllers, I shall probably not be voting again. It's not a matter of not encouraging the politicians. It's just recognising that – as things stand in modern Britain – they don't matter.


Pandemic, or catastrophic government failure?

 

This is one Australian journalist’s take on the situation in his home state of Victoria.  It’s the kind of voice I grew up with; thoughtful and robustly sceptical. It’s the kind of voice that belongs to, nay is essential to, nay forms a free society. It’s the kind of voice that — with honourable exceptions — I am not hearing in Britain.

In a dispiriting conversation with an old friend this week I was barraged with “official” information and accused of callous indifference. The social media ban on criticism of official messaging on the pandemic (even where it’s self-contradictory) is apparently redundant. The population is policing itself; sending to Coventry anyone who dissents. I’m beginning to feel like metaphorical Coventry is my home town.

If you try to research the issue on Google you will find yourself steered to the state’s agitprop (sorry “official information”). I distinctly recall reading an article reporting a study by medical researchers at Oxford University, which estimated that 63,000 life years will be lost in the UK to cancers undiagnosed/untreated because of the “save the NHS” focus on COVID 19. I remember the detail that twenty years of a young cancer patient’s life could be lost to a late diagnosis. I remember mentally contrasting that with the weeks or months of life of those most vulnerable to coronavirus that might be “saved” by lockdown. Or rather might have been saved if it had not been combined with sending infected old folk back to their care homes. I should have kept a link because that article has vanished into the search engine’s sinister, algorithmic “memory hole”. 

The old-fashioned blogosphere comes into its own here (though weakened by search engine manipulation). This excellent post makes several important points, for example, and I suggest you add the blog in question to your regular RSS feed or bookmarks. Unless, of course, you’d prefer to take the blue pill and be happy in the carefully-crafted search engine matrix of мистификация (Russian for “mystification” or what we call disinformation)  

If the criterion is severity of the pandemic or likelihood of death from the disease, this disease is not unprecedented at all — and not even within my own lifetime. In 1968-69 we had the so-called Hong Kong flu. Look up how many people died of it, and you will find a figure of “approximately” 100,000. They didn’t even try to keep exact track of the figure; but of course the seeming precision of today’s number is an illusion anyway. The 100,000 may sound like a lot fewer than the recent Covid-19 numbers, but remember that the U.S. population was much smaller — under 200 million, compared to today’s 331 million. Gross up the 100,000 figure for today’s larger population, and you would have had about 165,000 deaths, which is approximately the same as the worldometers site is reporting today as the number of U.S. deaths in the current pandemic. Then there was the so-called Asian flu of 1957-58. U.S. mortality for that one is given at about 70,000, but this time with a population of only 172 million. Grossed up for today’s population would give close to 140,000 deaths.

What was different about the Asian flu and Hong Kong flu pandemics was not the severity of the disease or likelihood of death, but that governments and bureaucrats had not taken on the arrogance of power to think that they could make the disease go away by scaring everybody out of their wits and locking down the economy and throwing millions of people out of work. We went about our lives as normal. People went to work. Children went to school. Social events and plays and concerts continued. Indeed, the Woodstock festival was in 1968, just as the Hong Kong flu epidemic was cranking up.

Our Western leaders put us all under house arrest. Our leaders in the 1960s never thought to stop their “flower children” going to Woodstock or the Isle of Wight. Consider how different our cultural history would have been if those “happenings” had been prevented. Quite apart from economic impoverishment and (for the most unfortunate among them) lost years of life, what Woodstocks has this generation lost? What moral right did our political leaders have to make these choices for them? What does it say about us that, not only did we allow it, but most of us ostracised or even demonised those who questioned?

 

POST SCRIPT

Encouraged by David Bishop's comment (below) I went back to Google and managed to track down if not the article (behind the Daily Telegraph paywall) that I was remembering, then one very like it referring to similar research. More helpfully I found the article in The Lancet Oncology that it was referencing, along with this alarming chart (click to enlarge). The number of "life years" lost seems to be more than I remembered, when you add up all their careful calculating, cancer by cancer (the effects of delayed diagnosis vary).

Image 10-08-2020 at 18.20

My "memory hole" point stands in that Google puts lots of approved data in your way when you are trying to find something specific. There are clearly algorithms that detect searches looking for such things as "lockdown causing cancer deaths" (which is what I searched for). Back at the beginning of this self-inflicted "crisis" I said I would not be surprised if measures to "fight" coronavirus caused more deaths than the virus itself. Given that these stats refer ONLY to cancer (and there will be lots of heart patients and others who failed to present for diagnosis because of the corona-panic) it's sadly beginning to look like I may have been right. I take no pleasure in that, but I do think heads should roll among the apparatchiki. With great power, as I believe someone's Uncle Ben once said, comes great responsibility. They must take responsibility for the way they abused the great powers we should never have granted them.

POST POST SCRIPT

This tweet links to the actual article I was remembering. I mis-remembered 63,000 as 68,000 and have corrected that above.