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Starmer’s guilty conscience


‘NECESSITY’, said Pitt the Younger in the House of Commons in 1783, ‘is the plea for every infringement of human freedom: it is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.’

We have had an awful lot of ‘necessity’ in the past two years or so, perhaps rather too much.

The 329-page Coronavirus Act was passed a few weeks before the 80th anniversary of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act of 1940 which required all inhabitants of the British Isles to place themselves, their services and their property at the disposal of the state for unlimited use in the prosecution of war. The Coronavirus Act was more specific in its restrictions and requirements and yet it bears comparison to its predecessor in terms of the land-grab by the state of citizens’ lives.

Restriction and command by the state will always encourage evasion. A minor example from the Second World War was the imposition of ‘utility’ furniture to economise on raw materials, creating items so bland that they fell below the functional aesthetics of the Bauhaus. The consequence of the state restriction on furniture design was the rise of a black market in ornamentation, which rather sounds like the germ of a Monty Python sketch or an episode of The Goodies.

There was also evasion of the Coronavirus Act, and prevention of this reached preposterous levels. People who wanted to go out for a spot of fresh air in the largely empty countryside were hunted down by the police and ordered to return home. The law, or more likely its interpretation, took no account of the difference between being out of doors in a crowded city – metropolises being an ideal vector for infectious disease – and venturing further afield, where distancing and seclusion were nearly identical, and the fresh air would hardly be able to carry a dose of Chinese germs far enough to affect anyone. Certainly where I live in leafy Berkshire the police seemed far more sensible than their counterparts further north and did not stalk rural open spaces looking for victims to persecute.

In cities and towns, there were high-profile breaches of the law. No 10 Downing Street, allegedly the nerve centre for mitigating the effects of the pandemic, seems by some accounts to have been just a few steps short of a bacchanalian orgy. Expert advisers and even the then Health Secretary were found to have broken the rules of seclusion as well as those of fidelity. Kay Burley’s birthday party was a clear breach that attracted professional sanction, but no apparent judicial attention. A Muslim Labour MP attended a large gathering of his co-religionists, an SNP MP, having tested positive for Covid, decided to travel hundreds of miles using public transport. The Leader of the Opposition attended a curry night washed down with beer during a political campaign.

Join the dots and what do you have? They were all at it. It seems clear that a large portion of the allegedly great and good were actually rather bad, believing they were above the law. Their sense of superiority made them believe that the restrictions did not apply to them. Yet the law was assiduously applied to lesser people, with significant fines and a police record that may affect their futures.

Sir Keir Starmer promised to quit as Labour leader if he received a fixed-penalty notice from the Durham constabulary – which yesterday he learned would not be forthcoming. He trades on his alleged absolute honesty, although he and his party have been caught out on more than one occasion being ‘economic with the actualité’. He has amassed considerable political capital following the revelations of the goings-on in Downing Street, but the hesitant manner in which he and his party have been conducting themselves over ‘Beergate’ suggests a guilty conscience. Sir Keir is Leader of the Labour Party, or more accurately its parliamentary wing (the rest of the party is run by a politburo), and by his own standards, he should have shown leadership when a political gathering started to turn into a curry-and-lager session and closed it down before it got out of hand. He did not, perhaps because that would have clashed with the egalitarian Mr Nice Guy image that all Labour politicians try to cultivate when in opposition, and disgruntled party workers might have expressed themselves about it to the wider world sooner than its exposure as a riposte to the Downing Street revelations.

Sir Keir indirectly put immense pressure on the Durham Constabulary by stating that if the police moved against him he would quit. It is likely that the police do not like to have that kind of responsibility as it could also influence how they act. No serving officer wants to be remembered as a Batemanesque Man or Woman Who Destroyed The Leader of the Opposition’s Career. Sir Keir seems to have been trying to restore a deference towards him that people stopped applying to Conservative politicians decades ago.

The pandemic was a very disruptive event in our nation’s story. The country was put under severe stress, but unlike in 1940 or 1916 we did not have an emergency government of national unity and as I predicted, political opportunists made capital out of the restrictions. A lot of people were over-punished for breaking a law which goes against the desire to associate and be free to move. Perhaps instead of ducking and diving, Sir Keir could be a voice for those penalised by the law and argue for an amnesty. Who knows, in this he may have a supporter or two in Downing Street, if not on Sky News.

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Paul T Horgan
Paul T Horgan
Paul T Horgan worked in the IT Sector. He lives in Berkshire.

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