One of the markers of the pandemic the UK, and elsewhere is he rise of the hashtag #covidiots. In part this is driven by genuine concern for people’s welfare, and in part with that prurient part of the population which loves nothing more than sneaking on their neighbours.
The simple fact is that even now, every bus stop, and every advertising break – every news bulletin, every news paper is filled with the key message from Her Majesty’s Government being absolutely on the message. Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives. But some people are still gathering for flat parties regardless. I saw one from my balcony only a couple of nights ago. 10 people cramming onto a balcony, cheek by jowl, ignoring all the increasingly desperate requests from the authorities. Death happens to other people it seems, the old, the weak, the sick, not the immortal millennials.
But these entitled ingrates are not the only covidiots. Another breed has come to the fore, and that is the very police forces that have been given the job of policing the lock down. It has always been the case that giving a man in uniform uncontrolled power has its own dangers. Sadly the evidence for their peculiar behavior is out there all over.
When the Police was set up by Sir Robert Peel, the core aspect was that policing must be by consent. Each officer was given a set of 9 rules to follow. Rule number 2 stated,
“To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws”.
This is one the great inheritances from that Victorian period of confidence in the state as a difficult but largely benevolent organization. The UK has uniquely in history created a consent based system derived not from fear but almost exclusively from public co-operation with the police, induced by them designedly by behaviour which secures and maintains for them the approval, respect and affection of the public.
It is this inheritance that is most severely at threat when the public witness an ongoing cavalcade of police behaving inappropriately and garnering to themselves excessive power under the cover of the country’s understandable concerns over the pandemic.
The Government rules for social distancing are crystal clear:
· stay local and use open spaces near to your home where possible – do not travel unnecessarily
· you should only go outside alone or with members of your own household
· keep at least 2 metres apart from anyone outside your household at all times
· gatherings of more than two in parks or other public spaces have been banned and the police will enforce this
· if you have a garden, make use of the space for exercise and fresh air
· take hygiene precautions when you are outside, and wash your hands as soon as you are back indoors
· if walking your dog in areas used by other people, you should walk your dog on a lead to ensure you can safely keep 2 metres away from others.
To date over 1,000 people have been fined by the police, and many others have been cautioned, often for idiotic gatherings (over 500 house parties over the Easter weekend for example). However there is expected to be a surge in complaints about officious, high-handed and illegal activity by the police. Two forces have warned people that they are thinking of monitoring what people put into their shopping baskets in supermarkets – “Essential items only Sir”, suggesting that the police can define what is and isn’t essential.
People have been arrested for helping their isolated parents with garden clearance, and others have had the police inform them they are not to play in their own gardens, against explicit Government advice.
As Suzanne Evans, a political commentator put it,
“The astonishing speed with which some police forces have turned us into a community oppressed, by confronting, fining and taking into custody people who are not even breaking the spirit of the law, let alone the law itself, is truly shocking.
It is state-sponsored moral vigilantism, made all the worse by the fact that, in normal times, the actual crime clear-up rate of these forces is poor, and what they usually call ‘petty crime’ is often ignored. If there is anything more shocking than the heavy-handed way in which the police are behaving, it’s the idiots who cheer them on, unable to see how tyranny begins. At least in the UK our police are not regularly armed with lethal weapons, thank God”.
There are signs of hope however. Despite the Royal College of Psychiatrists claiming without any evidence whatsoever that a drink would put someone at risk of catching the virus, the Government has announced that Off licences (bottle shops) are to be regarded as essential outlets.