How easily we have surrendered our private freedoms….

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On Sunday we had a visit from a relative in the garden at a two metre distance.

On Monday they kindly returned and we hugged several times.

The difference between the two days? A date ordained, probably wrongly, by the UK government related to private behaviour in our home (and garden).

I can’t say that I particularly resented this. It was kind of the relative to return on Monday. I generally support the pandemic rules – if not the tardy application of them, PPE, Track and trace, border control etc etc.

But if, a few years ago, someone had outlined the scenario above I would have assumed that it was part of a George Orwell novel (to use a well-worn cliché).

Generally as a society, we have accepted the seriousness of the pandemic and obeyed the rules imposed by the government without great complaint.

And yet, as Dr Phil Hammond (Private Eye’s “MD”) often points out, we continue, as a country, general habits which put us at far more risk of early death than Covid-19 – for example, obesity, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, excess alcohol and tobacco etc etc – often as a result of poverty and poor education.

It’s a funny old world…

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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30 Comments

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 18th May '21 - 10:48am

    Paul, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. It is extraordinary – and worrying – how most people seem to have just accepted that the government can limit our personal freedom in this way.
    The response of the Liberal Democrats – the supposed “party of freedom”, has been extremely disappointing. Ed Davey and other Lib Dem parliamentarians have, as far as I can see, never questioned this loss of personal liberty. When they do criticise the government, it they often seem to be suggesting that the government should have introduced even more draconian measures, and introduced them sooner.
    How can this make sense, from a party that actually wants to legalise cannabis?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 18th May '21 - 11:29am

    I suppose one reason why people accepted the “rules”, was that initially many of the “rules” seemed sensible. In a pandemic, it clearly is sensible to limit social contact. But it is one thing to make a personal decision to stay at home and avoid social contact, and quite another for the government to tell you that it is actually illegal to meet friends and family.
    Why were liberal democrats silent when the government banned families from visiting elderly relatives in care homes, or relatives who were seriously ill in hospital? Clearly a violation of human rights.
    Why didn’t the party speak out when people were denied treatment for cancer and other life threatening conditions?
    Why isn’t the party protesting about he fact that many people still find it impossible to get a face to face appointment with their GP? A situation that has cost lives

  • nigel hunter 18th May '21 - 11:31am

    Poverty aand poor education lead to all the other ‘badnesses’ you mention.

  • nigel hunter 18th May '21 - 11:37am

    Our ‘private’ (all of them!)freedoms slowly taken away from us.Not allowed to protest (including noisily) slow creeping fascism appearing in front of our eyes whilst we are diverted by a virus WE SHOULD BE MAKING A LOT MORE NOISE

  • Katharine Pindar 18th May '21 - 12:02pm

    I welcome your piece, Paul, having felt very uneasy myself at our ready acceptance of rules, which were government-dictated and seemed not much scrutinised by Parliament or backed by law. So I agree to a great extent with Catherine and wanted Liberal Democrats to speak out, especially about the denial of access between people in care homes and sick people in hospital and their relatives, and the restrictions on family and friends’ meetings and direct contact inside their homes.

    I know plenty of people who are ignoring those last rules, fed up for some time with the constrictions, and I wish we had publicly protested about their unnecessary rigidity, as Paul may be suggesting here. At least let us make certain that restrictions are not normalised, and as Catherine says, for instance demand face-to-face meetings with doctors again. And be aware of any other rights we used to have which do not speedily return!

    It has too often been left to Tory right-wingers to raise objections and be classed as libertarians. Freedom is our watchword too, and we surely understand its desirable extent and necessary limitations better than they do. Don’t we?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 18th May '21 - 12:59pm

    Katharine, thank you, I do agree. Before the pandemic, it would have seemed inconceivable that our government would ever make laws about who we were “allowed” to meet, or for what reasons we were “allowed” to leave our homes. Or order us to wear masks (unless we were carrying out surgery). It would have seemed still more inconceivable that the British public would ever submit to this.
    The opposition parties have totally failed in their duty to oppose this. As you say, Katharine, opposition has come mainly from Conservative rebels, and from the conservative press.
    What is the point of the Liberal Democrats if they do not defend freedom?

  • You only have to look at India to see what happens when you don’t have serious restrictions on peoples contacts to reduce the spread.

    Hospitals running out of oxygen, people dying in the streets and bodies floating down rivers.

    The Government were nowhere near quick enough to act at every single opportunity and failed to learn lessons, hence we had a 2nd worse wave.
    I fear the Government are about to make another major mistake with the Indian Variant which we know is far more transmissible than the Kent Variant which I believe was already 60%?? more transmissible than the original strain, which makes this Indian Variant most concerning and it is going to be a matter of weeks before this becomes the new dominant strain in the UK.

    We are now going all going to be acting as guinea pigs in a real time trial on how effective our vaccines are over the next couple of weeks, hopefully they stand up to the test, but we must not forget there are still Millions of people unvaccinated, many of whom are living with underlying conditions but unaware that makes Covid more dangerous to them.
    As we have seen in the past, it does not take much for exponential growth to take hold and Hospitals to start becoming overwhelmed again.
    We have already seen Millions of people waiting for essential hospital appointments delayed because of what happened last year, we cannot afford for that to happen again

  • I find this all very strange. I’m pretty weary of hearing people putting business before people, wealth before health, and this new libertarian mantra ‘I can manage my own risks’ … We locked down because it was sensible in a pandemic – which is again increasing even here and remains deadly. Not interested in ‘what about’ or ‘my rights’ from people who are not experienced epidemiologists. Rights weren’t taken away and changed made last year are being undone now (so much for the great ‘they are stealing our freedom forever’ hoax. I saw an anti-vaccine/anti-mask meme on Facebook – ‘aren’t all these people who fell for the virus hoax going to feel stupid when they find out, ha ha’ …. well I’d rather risk feeling stupid for taking care of myself and others than wake up to realise that I have fatalities in my hands.

  • Barry Lofty 18th May '21 - 3:06pm

    It has not been the easiest of years for my wife and I, being in the vulnerable age group in relation to covid, we have abided by the rules supported by our family, because we deemed it necessary in the light of the overwhelming evidence from home and abroad. This government made some terrible errors throughout this pandemic costing many unnecessary deaths but the restrictions on our usual freedoms were a necessary evil, whether or not more people die each year from other ailments.

  • On Sunday we had a visit from a relative in the garden at a two metre distance.
    On Monday they kindly returned and we hugged several times.
    The difference between the two days?

    A line in the sands of time.

    You get these sorts of cut-offs when you have to formalise things into laws:
    Age of consent, vote, get married etc.

  • @matt – I see India and am looking closer to home – 70 cases is now 2323 and growing (nice to see that most of the victims are those who decided not to get vaccinated)…

    I note the recent BBC Reality Check failed to see the open swinging door in the UK’s Red/green list criteria…

    Basically, the criteria are permissive, even though logic and the evidence shows they should be conservative. The Indian mutation was allowed to gain a foothold in the UK because at the time it was first discovered there was no evidence about its virulence etc. The listing rules only kick in once there is evidence; something that naturally doesn’t exist for a new mutation…
    Given how many mutations have been found to be more virulent than the original Wuhan strain, it is clear the government and their advisors have come up with fundamentally flawed a set of criteria that do nothing to protect public health…

  • I didn’t realise freedom is extreme libertarianism which two of the above posters seem to promote. And I do not in any way feel ‘ordered’ to wear a mask in the same way some religions use head/face coverings I will continue to choose to wear a face mask inside buildings even when the pandemic is over. I feel very comfortable and happy doing so. As Johnmc says, not everyone believes in this attitude I do what I want and could not care less about anyone else thankfully so. On the whole the government has done a reasonable job with the vaccination roll-out, it has been very efficient and the furlough scheme. Interestingly as a council tenant, my local labour council were charging for food boxes when they were given out last year whereas the ones delivered by our government were free. Lib Dem councils should concentrate on looking after and helping their residents not compromising health and safety,

  • Welcome the article and comments from Catherine and Katherine.

    However in terms of surrendering our freedom, what choice did we have? Anyone who questioned any aspect of lockdown was heavily outnumbered and heavily stigmatised which put people off speaking up.

    Then there is the fact that the law is the law and and nobody wants to get fined all the time. And none of us are completely immune to all the scaremongering.

    The media don’t help either as their coverage is so biased towards total suppression measures. There have been anti-lockdown protests but the media always report them as being by “conspiracy theorists, anti-Vader’s, far-right, Qanon” etc.

  • Good to read Barry Lofty’s common sense.

    The impact of catching covid (or passing it on) has a profound effect on the civil liberties of those affected. It could also be argued that the welfare cuts under Sir Nick and pals had a profound effect on the individual liberty of the folk on the receiving end of them.

    ‘Freedom from’ is every bit as important as ‘Freedom to’

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 19th May '21 - 8:42am

    Gina, I don’t think any of the comments on this article advocate “extreme liberterianism”. Did you mean mine? Do you really think it is “extreme libertarianism” to say that the government should not be able to order people to stay at home except for specific purposes decided by the government, or that they should actually be banned from meeting friends and family?
    Actually I have kept all the rules. In the earlier stages of the pandemic, the “rules”, were on the whole, a sensible way to behave in the circumstances. But my feeling is that these should have been guidelines, rather than actual laws. People should have been *advised* to stay at home as much as was practically possible, and not to meet socially with people outside their household. There should have been more emphasis on people having the *right* to work from home, if at all possible, and employers should have been required to make this possible.
    My feeling is that wearing masks should never have been made compulsory. There is very little evidence that they have significantly reduced infections. Gina, you say that you do not feel that you have been “forced” to wear a mask. But you make it clear that you want to wear a mask anyway, and find it easy to do so. This means that you, personally, have not been “forced” to wear a mask. But many, perhaps most, people did not want to wear a mask, and dislike wearing one. They wear one, reluctantly, because the law requires it. So they are being “forced”.
    Wearing a mask in shops and other indoor settings only became compulsory in July 2020, when infection rates were very low. Many “experts”, on government briefings and elsewhere, had previously said that mask wearing would do more harm than good. Perhaps they were right, for infection rates began to rise again shortly after masks were made compulsory! I know “post hoc” does not necessarily equal “propter hoc”, but it could. I noticed that the day that masks became compulsory, people ceased, overnight, to bother with the “two metre rule” – or even the “one metre rule”
    Gina, you say that you will continue to wear a mask even after the pandemic. Could I possibly ask why you would want to? Of course it is your right to wear one if you want to. But you do need to accept that most people do not want to wear one, and many people find it extremely difficult to wear one. Being forced to wear a mask is causing many people very real distress

  • Antony Watts 19th May '21 - 8:47am

    OK, so I’m harping on, but the greatest freedom we have lost is not from the virus, but from our own government: Freedom of Movement within the EU (and the other freedoms too)

    UK belongs in the EU, Scotland, NI & Wales say so.

  • This is why I question my continuing membership of the Lib Dems. Does no-one understand that we have been fighting for our lives? No point in arguing about freedom when you are dead. I agree the government has got most things wrong, but lockdown, though much too late, was not one of them.

  • Alison C

    I think you will find that the party as a whole agrees with you on that – and indeed that has been the position of the party leadership.

    It would be a shame if you question your continuing membership of the Lib Dems based on a discussion here. We love being devil’s advocates.

  • Alison C

    I second Paul Walter’s remarks.

    I believe the overwhelming majority of party members, officers and elected MPs, councillors etc, recognise the necessity of these restrictions, which would normally be completely unacceptable to us as liberals.

    We are basically fighting a lethal virus, not a malign government.

    If these restrictions were to force us to protect ourselves, I’d have considerable
    misgivings: we should be free to make our own mistakes and live with the consequences to our own health and wellbeing.

    But they are actually to protect others.

    If we ignore the restrictions, and allow ourselves to become infected, we may die or suffer health consequences but the overwhelming probability is that we won’t. But once we are infected, continuing those behaviours is very likely to cause major suffering or death to other people. And we’ll also contribute to the overwhelming of the health service, which in turn means that people with dangerous, growing cancers will die because they are not be diagnosed or treated in time; this is happening now.

    As liberals, we recognise that we all have a duty of care to other people. Personal freedom does not include the freedom to recklessly put the health and lives of others in danger.

    And, of course, we also recognise the need to ensure that the freedoms we value are restored when it is safe to do so.

    We’re with you on this! Please stick with us.

  • Alison C, I totally agree with you and will not be supporting the party again or voting for them. I’ve known people who have died from covid and been extremely ill with it. I believe it’s essential to be unselfish and think about others, not just me me me all the time as the libertarians do. They’ve even started to talk about reversing the ban on smoking in buildings next, so much for all the good work the NHS is doing preventing respiratory illnesses and lung cancer. There are plenty of people who do not wear masks still in supermarkets and on public transport. As someone with cancer and IBD myself, I would prefer to protect myself and others and will carry on wearing a mask, happy to do so of my own freewill and will not have my position undermined by others.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 19th May '21 - 12:54pm

    Alison, I’m so sorry if you were offended by my remarks. We will never really know what would have happened if there had been fewer, or more flexible, restrictions. I suppose I just feel that we need to be very, very careful about any loss of freedom, even during a crisis. And if restrictions are necessary, then we need to make sure they are temporary, and are lifted at the first possible opportunity.
    As Paul said, and indeed as I mentioned in my first comment, Ed Davey and other Lib Dem parliamentarians have actually been very pro lockdown, so you shouldn’t be put off the party by a few comments on Lib Dem Voice!

  • Andrew Tampion 19th May '21 - 1:23pm

    Catherine Jane Crosland. I wouldn’t take the term Libertarian to heart if I were you. It seems to be used by many people, mostly on the centre or left to refer to anyone they don’t approve of and therefore to have lost any real meaning.
    I for one agree with almost all of what you suggest. To answer Paul Walters question I for one have not given up anything but rather have consented to loan certain of my rights and freedoms for the duration of the emergency. I fully expect to have them returned to me by the government. If they aren’t then I intend to campaign to get them back. I hope the Liberal Democrat’s will be a Party who will support such a campaign should it be needed.

  • Nonconformistradical 19th May '21 - 2:08pm

    @Catherine Jane Crosland
    “We will never really know what would have happened if there had been fewer, or more flexible, restrictions.”
    Exactly. How would you feel if restrictions had been more flexible, significant numbers of people had disregarded them and the number of infections and occupancy of hospital beds had been much greater?

    Some of the restrictions did seem to be flexible in thst some have been described as confusing. Difficult for everyone to abide by confusing restrictions and there were people taking liberties e.g. visiting tourist hotspots and wasting police time. Is that OK with you?

    It would have helped if our supposed leaders in government and their influencers had set a better example themselves e.g. boris johnson’s shaking hands with all and sundry in a hospital. Such as dominic cummings’ ‘eye test’ jaunt.

    “I suppose I just feel that we need to be very, very careful about any loss of freedom, even during a crisis. ”
    Do you think there shouldn’t have been any restrictions in the shape of ‘rules’ as opposed to ‘guidelines’? Guidelines are open to a wide range of interpretation.

    “And if restrictions are necessary, then we need to make sure they are temporary, and are lifted at the first possible opportunity.”
    Provided there is clear evidence that doing so would not risk making the original problem – whatever it is – worse.

  • Helen Dudden 19th May '21 - 3:43pm

    I would have thought restricted flights from red areas should be the answer.
    I know if I mention the fact, I visit a synagogue my comments are always with held. One comment from some one when I was speaking on International Child Abduction at an EU meeting, not far from where I live was, I had no right. I have been called a White Jew.
    As you may have noticed, there have been no arguments from me on any connected comments.
    We do have respect for those who have passed and prayers are said for sometime after, and the anniversary.
    Many year’s ago, I decided, I wouldn’t run or hide.

  • James Fowler 19th May '21 - 10:53pm

    Thank goodness that at last these discussions are happening. It would have been even nicer to have seen them a year ago during the wild hysteria that saw sun bathing, sitting on park benches and busking become highly reprehensible if not illegal activities – cheered on by numerous ‘liberals’. On one level it was embarrassing just how quickly core beliefs were ditched, new standards of personal conduct vigorously yet selectively adopted and other peoples arbitrarily inflicted hardship stoically ignored or talked down as ‘nothing’ in comparison to the virus. But it was also desperately depressing and frankly a frightening spectacle, reminiscent of an outburst of an oppressive new religious orthodoxy. Thankfully, I think peak enthusiasm for lockdown may have passed. The moral wounds to civil society arising out the widespread enthusiasm for, rather than acceptance of, lockdown have been considerable.

  • Ronald Murray 19th May '21 - 11:00pm

    I can only empathise with those in care homes and old people’s homes. From my own experience, my mother went into an old people’s home at the end of 1998 and had passed by 2000. If this had covered the last two years I would never have seen her again. A friend has not seen his son with cerebral palsy face to face for over a year. Also given the numbers of Covid positive patients released to homes from hospital makes a mockery of the restrictions. The public seems more obsessed with foreign holidays than saving peoples lives. Restrictions seem not to apply to the politicians and high level rule breakers. Hopefully our freedoms will be restored soon.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 20th May '21 - 3:07pm

    i really think anyone thinking of not supporting this party because it is too libertarian, does not understand, most in the party know mill and the harm the pandemic causes, and support strong restrictions in public.

    I think in public the restricting of individual liberty is not the issue. it is not you sitting room or mine. Its a shared area. The communal applies all year round and evermore because it belongs too us all. The libertarians are not liberals or democrats, they are selfish and anarchists.

    I agree with Paul, about the individual home, and understand the feelings there. But Catherine Jane, though well meaning, has put emphasis on areas almost pointless. The government has not restricted by choice, but self or community defence, against a virus that did and does the restricting. We are not talking about individual responsibility alone, but a national and international effort.

    We like people to be free to travel, but if it imports a varient, all borders, accept in a family emergency ought to be shut.

    If we did as New Zealand did, we would be free as are that country. The free market is all some care about, or the selfish me first attitude. Nobody here is like this, but equally nobody has led from the front, calling for more public restrictions to have soon, more private freedom.

    If we closed all borders, and all pubs and theatres and unnecessary shops, we , in a month, could be free, if we continue to close borders. If the world did thus, only travel would cease, and in months, the virus too.

    Zero covid as an approach, is pro freedom, not pro the loss of it.

    It is to be free from a virus.

  • @ Lorenzo

    Zero COVID is impossible as the virus is endemic.

    However, with the vaccines it is possible that societies can live with it as we do with other viruses so eradication is unnecessary.

  • Before the vaccine there were two important issues.

    I am against lockdowns and restrictions – so I am in favour of them! Assuming no vaccine – the earlier you do a lockdown and if you do it until it has gone the shorter you have to do it and the fewer deaths… Given you have to do it anyway then better to do it earlier. And ultimately that’s for a shorter time and is better for the economy and indeed less of an imposition on civil liberties.

    Australia has for example had 910 deaths on about 40% the UK’s population because they lockdowned early and they lockdowned until essentially it was gone. Along with an early and strict quarantine.

    Secondly covid unlike obesity, cancer etc. is an infectious disease. And even then you could argue that covid doesn’t necessarily warrant lockdowns. But it would continue increasing without lockdown until it got to herd immunity levels – say about 30 million cases – just think of how overwhelmed the NHS would be overwhelmed and how many would be dying of other diseases – cancer, heart attacks etc. at that level.

    So very, very sadly and reluctantly I have come to the conclusion that the best course is earlier, “longer”, harder lockdowns.

    But at some point we need to have a national conversation about all of this – in case a vaccine resistant covid strain emerges or something else similar.

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