In the past few weeks, society has been shut down, the economy has been put on hold, and civil liberties have been curtailed in the name of fighting against coronavirus. There has been hardly any scrutiny of or opposition against these ever-stricter measures. Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens has been one of the few dissenting voices in the media. He joined spiked editor Brendan O’Neill for the latest episode of The Brendan O’Neill Show. What follows is an edited extract. Listen to the full conversation here. Brendan O’Neill: We live in a country where parliament has been suspended, our most basic freedoms have been eroded, we are all virtually under house arrest, and there are a whole bunch of new rituals we all have to
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In the past few weeks, society has been shut down, the economy has been put on hold, and civil liberties have been curtailed in the name of fighting against coronavirus. There has been hardly any scrutiny of or opposition against these ever-stricter measures. Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens has been one of the few dissenting voices in the media. He joined spiked editor Brendan O’Neill for the latest episode of The Brendan O’Neill Show. What follows is an edited extract. Listen to the full conversation here.
Brendan O’Neill: We live in a country where parliament has been suspended, our most basic freedoms have been eroded, we are all virtually under house arrest, and there are a whole bunch of new rituals we all have to observe when we encounter other people, which is increasingly rare. Like me, are you a bit terrified by the speed and the ease with which Britain became this country?
Peter Hitchens: I wouldn’t say terrified – distressed and grieved, but not terrified. I am actually not shocked because in several controversies in recent years, where I have thought that the people of this country would stand against the way in which they were being bullied and messed around, I have noticed that there hasn’t been all that much spirit of liberty. I think there is an awful lot of conformism now in this country and people have accepted being pushed around.
I’m not sure parliament has been suspended exactly. It has just folded up or dissolved into a pool of blancmange. If it had any kind of leadership, it could insist on continuing to sit, just as it could have opposed the action or subjected it to anything remotely resembling scrutiny. But it just folded up and stole away in the night. All the institutions of civil society which are supposed to protect us did the same thing. The judiciary, the human-rights lot, the civil service, the media, parliament, Her Majesty’s Opposition and public opinion in general have simply failed to do their jobs. It has demonstrated that we don’t really have a civil society any longer.
In the Soviet Union, where I spent a lot of time, it was clear that there was only one official point of view and that people were being pushed around. I don’t recall ever being compelled to stay at home, and there was at least a pretence made of having a legislative body as well. But the point that strikes me here is that – particularly in the Eastern European countries, but also largely in Russia – most people regarded the Soviets’ rule with a certain amount of contempt and made jokes about it and realised they were being mocked and fooled. In this case, the population accepts what they are being told, without any question. It’s extraordinary. The old USSR would have loved to have had a population like that in the Western world and in the United Kingdom, which genuinely believes the propaganda and does what it is told. You could say, ‘The chocolate ration has gone up’, when in fact it has gone down and people will believe it.
O’Neill: You have written some very solid pieces, questioning the need for this kind of shutdown. Let’s just talk for a moment about the extraordinary situation we find ourselves in. There is this novel virus, which undoubtedly causes great harm, especially to older people and to medically vulnerable people, and in response to it – which is unprecedented in human history – we have closed down virtually the whole of society and most of the economy, and in the process we have stored up immeasurable problems for the future. I think you have found it a bit of a struggle to convince people that this might not be the best way to tackle a virus?
Hitchens: It’s extraordinary. Again, the willingness of people to accept that ‘something must be done, and this is something, so we will do this’. The argument goes, ‘We have a problem, the way of solving it is to shut down the country and strangle civil liberties. Therefore, let’s do that.’
What I have been surprised by is how little examination there has been to whether there is any logic to this. It is as if you went to the doctor with measles and the doctor said that this was serious measles and the only treatment for it is to cut off your left leg. And he cuts off your left leg and then later on, you recover from the measles and he says, ‘This is fantastic. I’ve cured you of the measles, sorry about your leg.’ That is more or less what is going on now. We are being offered a supposed treatment which has nothing whatever to do with the problem.
Other countries have not resorted to these measures. We have modelled ourselves, bizarrely, on the most despotic country in the world, the People’s Republic of China, whose statistics are wholly unreliable and whose media are totally supine, so we can’t really know what is going on there. And in fact, all the countries which have had serious outbreaks of Covid-19, they have almost all reacted differently. Even Singapore and Hong Kong, which are widely praised for what they did, did different things. And yet, oddly enough, the results in Singapore and Hong Kong were quite similar. Japan has done something different. South Korea did something different. And again, the virus actually did not continue to grow at the rates which Imperial College apparently think are inevitable if we don’t shut down our society.