March 31, 2020
Author: Ralph Berry

RETURN TO ‘NORMAL LIFE’ MAY BE SIX MONTHS AWAY.  That is the Daily Telegraph‘s headline for March 29th.  Until lately, the Telegraph was  taken seriously as a solid right-wing organ that has regularly published words of good sense.  It has now abandoned reason and become a cheerleader for whatever policies the Johnson Government proclaims.  This is dishonest propaganda; the proof—the refutation—lies in the single word, ‘normal’.

What, conceivably, could be ‘normal’ in the world that awaits us all in six months’ time? The landmarks of social life are overthrown.  Foreign travel will not return in its past state; the experience of being stuck in a disobliging country, with no prospect of a rapid and inexpensive return home, will endure as only a folk memory.   Airlines are going down, and face a perilous and highly uncertain future .  Football and theatre, which depend on crowds and much else, have been stilled with no immediate prospect of return.  Football’s multi-millionaires, whose skills are confined to kicking and heading balls, face pay cuts of 70% with a rapid ripple-effect on the public.  Theatres might as well be located in Cromwell’s England.  Civil liberties are curtailed, with only the Government’s promise that they will be restored; countryside walkers in Derbyshire have been under drone surveillance by the police.  Non-essential shops—that is, the great majority–are closed, many never to re-open.  The ordinary activity of shopping for food in supermarkets  is now under strict control; one has to queue outside the Marks & Spencer food hall until the number of departing customers is sufficient to allow for their replacements to enter the store.  Citizens are ordered to stay at home, to ‘self-isolate”– a euphemism for mass house arrest.  The certainty of a huge contraction of Great Britain’s wealth now looms.  All this serves to legitimize the cry often heard, ‘war-time’ conditions.

The raison d’être for this mess is expressed with the solemn pomposity of the Telegraph’s economic sage, Jeremy Warner: Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor ‘understands better than most the principle that must always instruct the Government’s approach—that life is priceless.’  No, it isn’t.  Whose life, whose lives?  The life of the unnumbered many is threatened because they have the tragic misfortune not to have Covid-19.  If they are ill ‘only’ with cancer or some rarer disease they may not be prioritized.  To put it crudely, Covid-19 suspects are queue-jumping, by order of the State.  Others must suffer demotion.  More, the recognized sufferers from the virus are subject to the need to ration critical care due to issues of institutional capacity.  The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued a framework of rules instructing doctors to prioritize those most likely to survive.  That ruling, however necessary, is a sinister one. Those who invoke the metaphor of wartime should remember that in war human life is anything but sacred, whether the enemy’s or one’s own.

The economists have been absurdly deferential to the health specialists, whose voices now drown out everyone else’s in what is laughably referred to as the national ‘conversation’.  Economists are like that: As Roger Bootle once wrote, ‘forecasters are highly susceptible to group-think…they tend to huddle around the consensus like tramps around a fire.’  It suits economists to have some authority that they can defer to.  Group-think, the Government’s prime means of thought-control, now asserts that the Government is doing right.  I cannot believe that this delusion will be long-lived.

‘Where they make a desert they call it peace’ said Tacitus.  The rulers of Britain have consigned the country to economic and social devastation, from which we shall emerge, as from an induced coma, in (as they think) six months.  And the condition in which we find ourselves will be termed ‘normal’.