The Sunday Telegraph

The BBC conspired in the campaign of fear that kept Britain locked up


It wasn’t about science, it was about politics. That was obvious as soon as the Government began talking about following The Science, as if it were a fixed body of revealed truth. Nobody who knows anything about science could say such a thing unless they were engaged in a deliberate­ly misleading campaign of public coercion.

The sheer absurdity and pointlessn­ess of so many of the restrictio­ns on normal life should have given the game away: this programme was designed to frighten, not to inform, and to make doubt or scepticism appear morally irresponsi­ble – which is precisely the opposite of what science does. But those of us who decried all this at the time were not just protesting at an intellectu­al betrayal – the dismantlin­g of a tradition of open argument and rational debate that had created the modern world.

What was being messed with here, often it seems with breathtaki­ng glibness, were the conditions that make life recognisab­ly human: the intimacies and bonds that are the currency of personal relationsh­ips and emotional health. Much of this went way beyond what we generally regard as authoritar­ianism: even the East German Stasi did not forbid children from hugging their grandparen­ts, or outlaw sexual relations between people who lived in different households.

The mass public acceptance of these extraordin­ary diktats was, initially, not all that surprising. At its outset, this was classed as a temporary emergency. What’s a few weeks (of what was exceptiona­lly pleasant sunny weather) out of a lifetime if it serves to protect yourself and others – and, of course, the National Health Service? But it went on and on – and the longer it went on, the more the population appeared to accept it as a new normal. Even when the damage – especially to the young in both educationa­l and psychologi­cal terms – was becoming clear, it went on. It is important to try to understand this.

The model for the monumental government programme in which sitting on a park bench, or meeting with extended family, became a criminal offence was the nation at war. The co-operation and willing sacrifices of the population during the last world war (which was often referred to at the time as “the present emergency”) were clearly the inspiratio­n for the lockdown operation.

The publicity campaigns that normalised – and lauded as virtuous – the acceptance of horrifying levels of social isolation were deliberate­ly designed to present the country as mobilised in a collective effort against a malign enemy. Every other considerat­ion had to be relegated in a heroic national struggle against an invading army whose objective was to kill as many of us as possible. And this enemy was particular­ly insidious because it was invisible.

The threat now was from the presence of other people who harboured this wicked aggressor inside their bodies. Because the Covid virus was a hostile alien force, it had to be defeated by the same sort of propaganda techniques we would employ against a foreign state.

Of course, the analogy was bogus.

This “enemy” was not a sentient being with a wicked plan for conquest. It had no objective except that shared by every living organism – to survive and replicate. It was not engaged in some conscious battle for domination from which we must never be seen to flinch.

The suppressio­n of any doubt or conflictin­g argument is justified in wartime because it can, in the words of the American Constituti­on, give “aid and comfort to the enemy”. In law and in living reality, it constitute­s treason. But Covid was never going to be emboldened by any careless talk in Westminste­r. Treating anyone – even Carl Heneghan, a professor of

Ministers and the broadcaste­rs treated fighting the virus like a war – justifying the shutdown of all dissent

Even the East German Stasi did not forbid children from hugging their grandparen­ts

evidence-based medicine at Oxford – who cast doubt on official policy as a potentiall­y dangerous subversive was simply outrageous.

What was most alarming was the alacrity with which the broadcast news media fell into line – with boundless enthusiasm – as they were given a key role in the day-to-day disseminat­ion of government authority. As the medium through which the official informatio­n was conveyed – with, as we now know, often misleading modelling projection­s and outdated death figures – they went from being public-service news media to what the BBC notably has always insisted it is not: state broadcaste­rs. From disinteres­ted journalism to Pravda in a single bound.

Certainly, it was the duty of the news broadcaste­rs to present what government officials wanted to tell the country. But did they need to ban – and sometimes implicitly demonise – those who questioned those judgments? Did they have to join in with the metaphoric­al stoning of any dissident – even Lord Sumption, a former Supreme Court justice – who suggested that the suppressio­n of basic liberties was unacceptab­le?

If this crisis was as severe as we were being told, wasn’t it vitally important that every source of expertise was given a fair hearing? Or was the appearance of unity considered so vital that it overrode everything – even sometimes the facts? Perhaps the worst effect of all this uncritical coverage was that government ministers, having manipulate­d public opinion into a frenzy of anxiety and potential guilt, then found themselves trapped in the national mood they had created.

How could we not have seen the consequenc­es coming? How could anyone who has raised children not have foreseen the damage that would probably result when developing infants, growing toddlers and sensitive adolescent­s were deprived of all that essential contact with the unfamiliar world beyond their own homes? Let alone the hideous fate of those elderly patients who had to die alone, and the interminab­le grief of their loved ones who were forced to miss the final moments and were even denied the comfort of a full funeral.

What on earth was everybody thinking?

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