IF YOU have watched the many TV outings of Diamonds Are Forever, you may recall the moment when the billionaire industrialist Willard Whyte emerges blinking from captivity by Bond’s arch-nemesis Blofeld and asks, “What the hell’s happened to me and what can I do about it?”
That’s what came to mind yesterday, watching Boris Johnson’s announcement that restrictions would not, after all, be lifted next week. As he stumbled and fumbled his way through yesterday’s announcement, even getting the key date wrong, it felt very much like seeing a hostage being forced by kidnappers to read out a statement to the world and doing his best in some small way to signal his distaste for the words he was repeating. I fear that the Bond villains have captured him and he’s now suffering from Stockholm syndrome.
He’s not alone. “What the hell’s happened to me and what can I do about it?’ are questions many of us are asking.
There are answers, but it will take many books to unpick them all. There have now been so many broken promises (‘three weeks to flatten the curve’ ‘this will be the last lockdown’), so many distortions of the truth, so many little manipulations and fingers on the levers of the data that drives all this, so many ways in which the debate has been distorted and critical voices silenced that to pick through it’s hard to know where to start with analysing them.
What we can see clearly now is the pattern behind all this:
(1) We’re promised relief from the pain of restrictions just a little way down the line if we behave like good little children and do what the clever scientists tell us;
(2) When we get close to the point of freedom, the clever scientists suddenly become very concerned on our behalf about some variant of the virus that could mean trouble (with over 350,000 already identified and many more to come, there will always be one to highlight);
(3) They start issuing dire warnings and there’s no alternative view, since Ofcom has told broadcasters that the scientists’ pronouncements must not be criticised;
(4) A public now preconditioned to unprecedented fear of Covid-19 tells pollsters that longer, stricter lockdowns are popular;
(5) Taking account of 2, 3 and 4 our leaders cave in – but offer a new hope just weeks away, once the current threat is averted;
(6) The whole cycle begins again.
It’s bad news for anyone who saw yesterday’s announcement and actually believes that we will unlock for good on Monday June 19th. This will not be the end of restrictions. I’ve been playing the part of Cassandra since January, predicting another harsh autumn/winter lockdown ‘to protect the NHS’. I’ll happily take the money off anyone who wants to gamble against it. At the start of 2021, I was almost alone in my view, even amongst Recovery supporters. I don’t expect many takers for that bet now.
It means we will be back right where we are today in 2022, with the same questions in front of us. Will this last until 2023? 2024? Perhaps we should take seriously what Boris Johnson actually announced yesterday when he said that restrictions will continue until Monday June 29, instead of treating it as a slip of the tongue? The next time that the 29th falls on a Monday will be in 2026: perhaps he genuinely meant that lockdowns will go on for at least five years?
Even that is too soon for leading figures on SAGE. It is dominated by behavioural scientists and Susan Michie, their figurehead, let slip on TV last week that she believes restrictions should last “forever.”
What I find perhaps most surprising is the extent to which many people are prepared to accept this. Most of us now have direct experience of Covid-19 and while there have been many tragedies, it should have taught us that hospitalisations and deaths are relatively rare – very rare indeed amongst people in reasonable physical health. Barring an unfortunate few whose family and friends have been particularly hard hit, we should have enough information to arrive at our own balanced view of the risk from this virus.
Of course, we see a very different story on TV, as broadcasters are forced by Ofcom to report only one side of the debate, and reporters gain glory from the most extreme and sensationalised stories, which pull in the most viewers. When there are no frightening pictures from the UK to show, there are always other parts of the world offering scary images to be edited into packages of televisual terrorism and sent to our homes.
However, the overwhelming majority should by now have noticed that their friends and family are mostly still alive and still healthy (leaving aside the many who have acquired mental health issues or who suffer from any of the serious conditions the NHS has stopped treating through its pre-occupation with Covid over the past year).
You might expect them to be questioning what they have been told. They should surely be wondering, for example, what the vaccine is good for if it doesn’t protect the vulnerable – or why restrictions are necessary given that all the data says that it is effective even against the new variants.
Do they, like me, notice the gaps on the High Street where healthy businesses once thrived? Do they worry that a very small number of powerful global companies have snapped up many of the rest? Do they worry about children whose education and socialisation have suffered, or friends who can’t get jobs? Have their lives not been touched by mental health problems caused by fear and restrictions over the past year?
If the polls are right, apparently not.
There is a good reason for this. Fear blocks critical thought. Experts psychologists on SAGE have spent the past year creating that fear in order to control behaviour. Those offering a counter-narrative have effectively been banned from our screen by our own broadcast regulator, Ofcom, in defiance of its statutory duty to protect freedom of speech.
Just eighteen short months ago we lived in a different world. What we then called normal life is now a distant memory. The danger is that, powered by fear, new behaviours are rapidly becoming normalised. Masks have been with us for less than a year but many people are now clearly terrified of the possibility that these oral comfort blankets may no longer be forced onto the faces of those they see around them.
The world we once called normal may never return. There are those who welcome that: Susan Michie’s call for restrictions to last “forever” tells you that. She and those who think like her are the key people advising the Government: the cabal of ‘scientists’ who hold our leading politicians captive.
She’s become a darling of the TV cameras over the past 18 months, given an uncritical platform to scare us into compliance with dire predictions of pandemic catastrophe if the Government fails to implement the harshest possible restrictions. We can reasonably assume that she is in favour of harsh authoritarian government, since she has spent much of her life as an activist in the Stalinist Communist Party of Great Britain and is the former partner of Andrew Murray, the key Corbyn adviser who famously expressed solidarity with North Korea. Like many of her colleagues on SAGE, her hard-left background suggests that she will care little for the impact of all the restrictions on businesses and the economy. She is feted by the media as an expert on pandemics and disease, yet her field is behavioural psychology: the science of understanding and manipulating behaviour.
It is to advisers like her that leaders in England, Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland have turned rather than the UK’s world-leading experts in epidemiology and virology. Nichola Sturgeon turns to Devi Shridhar for advice, whose degree is in anthropology. She has no medical qualifications or experience. They ignore the advice of those who dissent, even when they are as eminent in their field as Professor Sunetra Gupta, one of the world’s leading experts on the behaviour and control of diseases, who this week mourned the disaster of the misguided lockdown policies.
Boris Johnson’s announcement yesterday was the product of eighteen months during which those who think like Susan Michie, Devi Shridhar and Neil Ferguson (of the dodgy resignation) have been given an uncritical platform. Their every wish has been obeyed, their every pronouncement trumpeted.
What yesterday’s announcement tells us is that their approach has definitively failed. If lockdowns and restrictions worked, the pandemic should have been shorter than those in the past where we didn’t lock down. Instead, it’s stretching out endlessly. They have made many promises and predictions of an end to all this: none have been fulfilled. We have seen no benefit from complying with their rules worked, just new causes for fear. It should now be obvious that every month of lockdown and restrictions just means more of the same.
How is it that those who are sceptical of the lockdown approach were able to predict in January that all the vaccinations, lockdowns and restrictions would not end this, when apparently the scientists advising the Government could not? Either our deified scientists have this badly wrong, in which case their advice now should be held up to critical scrutiny, or they were not telling us the truth about what to expect, which would be disturbing. Either way, it is time to ask them tough questions.
If we look outside the UK, the picture is even clearer. California and New York went with harsh lockdowns, while Florida and Texas have rejected them – guess which states are doing better? The media made huge play of the impact of what’s now called the Delta variant in India, where a creaking hospital system gave lots of opportunities for scaremongering imagery, but has never once mentioned the countries like Peru, Hungary and Czechia, which top of the global list of countries worst hit by Covid-19. They were praised for their tough policies and their harsh, early lockdowns. Could it be that they go unreported because they don’t fit the narrative?
Worryingly, it may not even change events now. Once people are truly terrified, they are incapable of weighing up evidence or assessing risk and will accept any kind of pain. That is how our brains are wired, as the expert psychologists on SAGE know, because the first imperative of the brain is to survive and once a threat is established in our minds, it will produce hormones to prime us for the extreme actions required to survive.
In this state, we cannot think rationally about a threat but will clutch desperately at any offered escape. We actively expect the medicine to be painful, demand extreme solutions, and reject moderation or inaction as options. It’s the mindset in which a man trapped between rocks will saw off his own limb to free himself. I suspect that after a year of conditioning, there are people who would indeed saw off their own limbs if the media and SAGE scientists convinced them it was necessary to protect themselves from Covid-19. It really is that bad.
Logic and rational argument can make no impact once people are in this state. We need brave leadership: a Prime Minister with the Churchillian courage to take the tough, resolute decisions which will lead the country out of this mess. Sadly, what we saw instead yesterday was a man who has effectively resigned while continuing to hold office: a leader who can no longer think for himself and has effectively outsourced decision-making to pollsters and SAGE. As economic pain mounts, the success of the vaccination programme is squandered, and restrictions continue, his electoral popularity is likely to prove as short-lived as his promises to unlock the country.
Willard Whyte ended up a captive because he trusted the wrong people. The UK is imprisoned by fear that expert psychologists have constructed in our minds, abetted by the media, big digital companies which have made untold fortunes from the pandemic, and leaders who expect electoral success from terrified people. It’s no use looking for a James Bond to free Boris miraculously from his captivity. We will have to learn once again to value freedom for ourselves.