IN AN online Cambridge Union debate last Thursday, students voted by 362 votes to 309 to approve the motion ‘This House believes lockdown was a mistake’. Astonishingly, this defiant vote against the government and mainstream opinion received no media coverage at all. This is particularly surprising given the seniority and status of the Conservative proposer of the motion: Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee of backbenchers.
Where were the Telegraph and the Mail? If the students had voted for lockdown, would the MSM have eagerly covered it just as they do with the pro-lockdown polls?
Sir Graham was backed by the chairman of Reform UK, Richard Tice, and social commentator, journalist and author Toby Young, now of Lockdown Sceptics fame.
Opposing the motion were writer, novelist and journalist Laura Spinney, novelist and physician Phil Whitaker and Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran who chairs the all-party group on coronavirus. Interesting that no Conservative ministers or prominent Labour MPs were prepared to put their head above the parapet to defend lockdown. Where was Michael Gove, where was Sir Keir Starmer? It is hard to imagine that none were asked. Were they too worried that their practical and moral case for lockdown would appear what it is – paper thin – and that it would fall apart when confronted head-on by the sceptics?
For the motion, Sir Graham Brady, began by citing the Lancet medical journal report of December 23 on the efficacy of lockdowns and evidence that rates had started to fall before schools were closed earlier this month, or indeed last March, that ‘rates of transmission can fall without lockdown and can rise whilst restrictions are in place’, adding that ‘While some degree of restriction does, I’m sure, impact transmission, it remains, as the Lancet report says, unclear whether lockdown has any particular beneficial impact.’
He went on to highlight its negative impact, inter alia, the 800,000 people who have lost their jobs since March, those who may have no job to return to when furlough comes to an end, and ‘the growing number’ of people taking their own lives. He spoke of the ‘hideous toll’ on children and young people, the ‘three-fold increase’ in the reporting of eating disorders, and the NSPCC reporting a 43 per cent increase in referrals for child abuse.
He concluded: ‘We should be responsible, we should recognise our responsibility to look after our own health and to protect other people, but we also have to recognise the critical importance of these fundamental rights – and if we say that government has the right to take them away, we should then ask, “But for how long?”
‘For three weeks might have been one thing, for a year is quite another. We should do what we can to fight this terrible virus, but if we have lost our freedoms and all that makes life worth living, then lockdown has been a mistake, not just once but three times.’
Richard Tice pointed to Britain’s death rate per capita being the ‘worst in the world, about 25 per cent worse than Sweden’ which, he noted, has not had a full lockdown. He also cited the cases of Texas and Florida which implemented ‘soft restrictions’ yet experienced death rates some 40 per cent lower than Massachusetts and New York which had harder lockdowns.
He argued that the British government was using the lockdown ‘to cover up its multiple mistakes’.
Against all this, the opposition speakers’ claim that lockdowns, though undesirable, work and are necessary to stop the NHS from being overwhelmed looked rather thin.
Phil Whitaker provided the most powerful analogy: ‘So lockdowns work, but nobody on this side of the argument is suggesting that they’re a good thing. They are like chemotherapy: they cause a huge amount of harm in trying to achieve good.’
But it lost its effect against Toby Young’s argument about the ‘catastrophic harm’ caused by lockdowns.
‘Civil liberties haven’t been suspended on this scale ever before in Britain’s history, including during wartime,’ he noted, adding: ‘No one wants to “let it rip”, no one denies this is a deadly disease, but the truth is if you’re under 65 and you have no underlying co-morbidities, you’re more likely to die in a road accident than you are from Covid-19.’
Layla Moran rounded up the opposition by claiming she did not want to curtail anyone’s liberty, that she wanted small businesses to thrive, children to go to school but the fact that Covid is ‘far, far deadlier’ than other viruses in history justifies lockdown.
The full result of the debate was 362 ayes, 309 noes and five abstentions.
You can watch Toby Young’s anti-lockdown speech here.
The full debate is here.