Enforcement and Consent

By Mike Speakman, Law & Order Spokesman

30th April 2020

There is much speculation about the government’s timing of the lockdown; were they too early or were they too late?   Many of the government’s opponents claim they were too late, citing South Korea or Taiwan who were very quick to introduce lockdowns. Taiwan in fact did it in December.   Allowing for the delay in the spread to Europe, most critics, with the benefit of hindsight say the government were a week late.   There is however another factor that is being overlooked and that is the question of consent.  There is no doubt that the current measures are draconian and a very severe limitation on the freedoms we have come to expect in a modern democracy.  One question the government will have asked is “Will the public accept these restrictions?”   It would be critical to the implementation of the restrictions that the majority of the public accepted their imposition. If they did not, they would not work.

So, one of the first tasks was to convince the public that there was a problem to deal with.  In the very early days of the outbreak in this country that might have been difficult. I seem to recall that the first case was traced to a tourist returning from a Ski Resort. It was seen as a foreign import and not an issue for this country.  I doubt that people would have accepted the new restrictions at that stage.   I think the government decided to wait until there were enough cases in this country for people to accept that there was a problem and that there was a need to deal with it.

There are actually some parallels with policing in this respect.  The British public do not like to see police in riot gear on the streets or “heavy handed policing” for no good reason.  They need to see that the police are justified in what they are doing.  To this end, police will often delay the deployment of riot officers in a deteriorating public order situation until they can demonstrate the need.  Even though you may have intelligence of what is coming when you find caches of petrol bombs and bricks in advance of an event, you can’t afford to be seen to anticipate the trouble. If you do you will be accused of causing the trouble.  Often you have to wait until it is very evident.

This I believe is the problem the government had to deal with, and I wouldn’t disagree with their timing.   It’s not just a question of the science, there is a clear political dimension to the decision to introduce a lockdown.

That doesn’t mean I think the government has got it all right. There are some serious flaws in the theory of a lockdown when you allow flights in from disease hotspots around the world and cooperate with illegal immigrants arriving by boat, whilst penalising lone sailors exercising in the boats offshore.  It is these inconsistencies that are now undermining public consent, along with, dare I say, some idiot police officers and some even more idiotic police leaders who want to search shopping trolleys.

The question of consent is at the heart of government and this virus has highlighted how fragile it is.  The government needs to do more to keep the public onside.

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