THE Government’s policy on gatherings and social distancing was always going to hit the buffers. It was just a question of when.
Now, after the disgraceful scenes at the weekend’s Black Lives Matter rallies, the policy has not only hit the buffers, it has been smashed to smithereens.
For a country which has traditionally enjoyed the freedom to protest and demonstrate, the lockdown rules restricting gatherings were never going to be popular. Many were against them from day one on March 23, but reluctantly held back from breaching them.
So it was not until May 16 that the first significant anti-lockdown protests were scheduled to take place nationwide under the banner of the so-called UK Freedom Movement.
In the run-up, promotion of the demonstrations was censored on social media platforms. The Government warned those thinking of participating that they would face the full force of the law for breaking the rules on gatherings. They were told that anyone attending was irresponsible and could spread Covid-19.
So it was not surprising that the turnout was low. During the protest in Hyde Park on May 16, 19 demonstrators were arrested, including Jeremy Corbyn’s brother Piers.
He was also arrested on May 30, when a second rally was held in Hyde Park. Corbyn was attacked as a Right-wing conspiracy theorist and much more.
So let’s compare and contrast what happened back then with the BLM protests at the weekend.
The attitude of the Government, and indeed much of the media, could not have been more different.
In the run-up to the BLM demonstrations, there was no social platform censorship, no threats of arrests and no warnings about the irresponsibility of breaching the lockdown laws. No one was called a conspiracy theorist, or branded an extremist.
Instead, there were simply calls – not warnings – for people not to attend. Worse, the Government and police actually said they could understand why people wanted to protest.
The message was effectively: ‘It is against the law to do this, but we are going to turn a blind eye as long as you do your best to observe social distancing.’
In the event, it was breathtaking see how swiftly the Leftie lockdown lovers U-turned on social distancing to justify the ensuing mayhem.
And so the weekend protests became a sort of trendy ‘must go to’ event, with little risk of retribution from the authorities.
If a government gives the impression that law-breaking is okay, people will be encouraged to break the laws even more badly. And that’s exactly what happened.
In London, numerous police were injured and Churchill’s statue defaced. In Bristol, the police did nothing as a statue of slave trader Edward Colston was hauled down and dumped in the harbour.
Disturbingly, the senior police officer in Bristol said he had ‘no regrets’ about not intervening.
So is the marker for future policing that officers will not prevent such actions if they support the political causes concerned?
This was a day when the Government lost control of law and order and surrendered to mob rule and criminal behaviour.
It is worth remembering that 10,000 troops are still on standby to deal with public disorder over lockdown policies.
In fact there was no need for troops. The only fault was the inaction of the police, which was solely the responsibility of their senior officers and political masters.
Home Secretary Priti Patel was reduced to merely condemning the violence. Boris Johnson emerged to tweet that protesters had ‘no right to attack the police’ and that the demonstrations had been ‘subverted by thuggery’.
All totally correct. But he continued with the mixed message of ‘people have a right to protest peacefully and while exercising social distancing.’ No mention of it being against the law to have gatherings of more than six people.
Over the weekend, a number of people enjoying themselves in parks and on beaches were fined for lockdown infringements.
There were no such penalties for BLM protesters, only a few arrests for criminal damage and breach of the peace. So it’s only fair now that all those who have been fined for social distancing offences are refunded.
The stark fact is that the social distancing policy was already in tatters after the Dominic Cummings scandal. Now, because of the Government’s double standards and hypocrisy, it is stone dead.
It was a major mistake to implement it in the first place. The Government has no alternative but to end it without delay.