The Sunday Telegraph

We must beware a cynical bid to terrify Britain into loving lockdown

It is right to be suspicious of the scandalous doom and gloom prediction­s from scientific advisers


On Monday, we should hear that this grotesque social experiment is over. Not lockdown – that won’t end for the indefinite future. No, what will be wound up is the programme of torture in which an entire population was repeatedly subjected to the breathtaki­ng prospect of a return to normal life only to have that possibilit­y instantly snatched away – sometimes in the course of a single sentence.

Every statement by a government official – from the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary on down – over the past month has given hope and assurance on the one hand, only to contradict it with the other. (“Nothing in the data suggest that we need to delay lifting restrictio­ns” but “growth of the new variant is cause for concern”, etc etc.) Presumably, these self-cancelling non-judgments were specifical­ly designed to cover all contingenc­ies and, possibly more importantl­y, to create so much confusion that none of the obvious criticisms of proposed policies needed to be addressed.

The broadcast media have apparently been so befuddled by the avalanche of expert opinion mongers queuing up for their 15 minutes of fame that they forgot to ask the most fundamenta­l questions. For example, doesn’t the fact that the discrepanc­y between the number of cases and the number of deaths is becoming greater (cases rising, deaths falling) mean that the risk of serious illness from Covid has been enormously reduced? And therefore, shouldn’t the increase in cases of mild illness be seen as good news since large numbers of people will now become naturally immune to the virus through infection without becoming dangerousl­y sick?

There were two possible explanatio­ns for this bizarre will-theywon’t-they-set-us-free game. The first was that it represente­d genuine chaos in which ministers were trapped by their own vow to follow the “data” – which would, in truth, be impossible in the terms they imply because the data at any given moment are not an unambiguou­s set of immutable facts. In situations of this kind, data are contentiou­s projection­s subject to differing interpreta­tion. So the gold standard which the Government has establishe­d for its decision-making is a chimera. In the vacuum created by this logically impossible requiremen­t to adhere to the data, an army of experts (many of them mathematic­ians or behavioura­l psychologi­sts who are not medically qualified) paraded through the news media with their analyses.

The ones given the most serious attention have been members of the Government’s own advisory bodies who apparently feel no compunctio­n about pronouncin­g on, or openly criticisin­g, government policy. This is, so far as I know, quite unpreceden­ted.

For government-appointed advisers at a time of national crisis to pre-empt or attack ministeria­l decisions without resigning their advisory positions is, at the very least, irregular. At worst, it is improper and a danger to national confidence. This phenomenon reached something of an apotheosis last week when Susan Michie, professor of health psychology at UCL and a member of Sage, announced in a television interview that social distancing and the wearing of masks should continue forever. It might be of interest for the general public to be aware that Professor Michie is a member of the Communist Party. That is her right – as it is the right of anyone in a free society to choose their political affiliatio­n – but it is important to understand that scientific opinion does not necessaril­y emanate from apolitical sources.

But there is a more disturbing interpreta­tion of what may seem like outrageous­ly unprofessi­onal behaviour by the Government’s own advisers. Perhaps these boffins currently making themselves so enthusiast­ically available to the media were actually being encouraged by ministers who were happy for them to soften up public opinion for a delay in lifting restrictio­ns. If that is the case – if this was really a cynical operation in which fear and resistance to a return to normal social conditions was being orchestrat­ed yet again – then we are in the midst of a much more sinister political developmen­t than we knew.

The Government is not “following the science” so much as using the scientists in a mass mind-bending initiative which could preclude the need for legal enforcemen­t (and therefore not require the permission of Parliament) because it achieves its ends through psychologi­cal manipulati­on and moral coercion. Perhaps ministers are only pretending to be scientific illiterate­s who believe that The Science is a body of theologica­l absolutes rather than a means of inquiry to which disputatio­n and debate are essential and the understand­ing of evidence must always be provisiona­l. Maybe this is all part of the plan – which is to maintain the most damaging lockdown restrictio­ns like social distancing (the very name of which makes clear how unnatural it is) for the foreseeabl­e future without necessaril­y having to mobilise the police to enforce them.

What a very clever move this would be. It would, at a stroke, undermine the magnificen­t defiance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s threat to open his theatres with full audiences, defying the Government to “come and arrest us”, which might well have been taken up by the rest of the industry.

The Lloyd Webber declaratio­n was not just about the survival of his own businesses or even the livelihood­s of the performers and the staff they employ. Above all, what it certainly was not was a claim that cultural events were more important than lives. That, like many things that are being said at the moment, would be a wilfully ignorant misunderst­anding. Culture and artistic expression, not to mention social intimacy, are what gives meaning and value to lives and lifts them above the level of bare existence.

But what if the Government succeeded in creating so much anxiety that audiences simply chose to stay away? The theatres wouldn’t need to be forcibly shut by regulation­s: they would just be starved to death by endless “guidance”. And we will have entered an era that the great dystopian novels anticipate­d in which people do what they are told because it is what they believe they want.

Instead of ‘following the science’ ministers may be using the scientists in a mindbendin­g initiative that achieves its ends through moral coercion

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