The Daily Telegraph

Charles MOORE I no longer support lockdown. The Government is making a mistake and it will pay the price

- charles moore notebook

Until now, right through Covid, this column has taken rather a weedy middle-of-the-road position on lockdowns. I have argued that, although they are very undesirabl­e, our lack of ability to predict the extent and deadliness of the virus has made them necessary for public confidence.

This time round, I do not see how I can maintain that view. We knew, when restrictio­ns were eased in May, that cases would therefore rise. We also knew, however, that the majority of the population – and the overwhelmi­ng majority of the vulnerable population – would be vaccinated.

We therefore had reasonable confidence, even with the Indian variant, that both the health system and all but very small numbers of those infected would survive. All this remains the case.

So the decision this time is not about preventing overwhelmi­ng horrors, but about containing spread. As such, it comes within the normal range of decisions about life in a free society. The presumptio­n must therefore be on the side of normality. It is for those who want to continue emergency measures to prove that an emergency still exists, not the other way round.

You cannot really blame scientists and doctors for erring on the side of caution (though a handful of them sound politicall­y motivated to me). Their job is to spell out risk from a medical and public-health point of view. But I think you can blame political leaders, and now you should. The task of the elected Government is to weigh all the factors in the manner that they, not experts, are paid to do. The more quantifiab­le and containabl­e Covid risk becomes, the more heavily everything else – delayed cancer treatments, jobs, businesses, education, holidays, weddings, human freedom and fun – should weigh on the other side.

The Government’s decision yesterday is definitely a mistake. For the first time, I suspect, it will find itself paying a political price.

It has been pointed out that President Macron of France was simply wrong when he told Boris Johnson at the weekend that Northern Ireland is not part of this country.

One should add something else. If that is what President Macron thinks, it shows he does not understand the Good Friday Agreement which he, President Biden and the European Union keep saying they are fighting to defend.

The agreement (and the ensuing law) states that “It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom and shall not cease to be so without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll.”

Without this declaratio­n, the Good Friday Agreement would not exist. If presidents Macron and Biden and the EU do not recognise this, the agreement will collapse.

Last week, I went into a posh London chocolate shop. Before I could open my mouth, the kind assistant said: “I’m sorry, sir, I must warn you that we can take only cash. Our internet is down.” As a prize for paying in the traditiona­l manner, I was given a free chocolate truffle in its own little bag.

I was glad I was carrying cash, and it made me realise once again how tricky life will be if, as is the trend, we abolish cash altogether. In a world where everything is computeris­ed, we are totally vulnerable to computer error. If a machine refuses our card, there is nothing we can do. If it has a brainstorm or, more likely, a cyberattac­k, it can refuse everyone, and quickly bring life to a halt.

A related problem is that all payment linked to the computer is traceable, and therefore an opportunit­y for state (or private sector) snooping. With cash, the character and circumstan­ces of the person paying are irrelevant. Everyone’s money is the same. With a card, or internet transfer, the authoritie­s have the power to judge you, to delay or deny payment, and even to take your money directly. If negative interest rates are introduced, the money could be compulsori­ly deducted by banks at source (i.e. your account, or mine).

Obviously, in free countries, such powers are at least partly restrained by law, but in China your rights to your own money can be curtailed or suspended if the state doesn’t like the look of you (literally the look of you in some cases, due to facial recognitio­n technology).

It is true that banknotes, like digital money, are the creation of a central bank backed by political power. They have no value if that power declares them illegal. But in practice the circulatio­n of notes democratis­es the stuff. Anonymity offers freedom. The greatest victims of the abolition of cash will be casual workers, roadside sellers, poorer old people and the enterprisi­ng denizens of the “grey” economy – all of them people who deserve support against bureaucrac­y.

For some time now, railways have used the words “working toilets” in their tannoy announceme­nts. The usage was made necessary by the fact that so many of them were not working.

The absence of the full complement of toilets has become so well establishe­d, I see, that it is now mentioned on electronic noticeboar­ds at stations. The new phrase is “reduced toilets”, a most melancholy pair of words. Like “reduced circumstan­ces”, it implies there is nothing to be done about the situation.

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