Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Using the word 'freedom' is a deliberate attempt to mislead


According to government statistics, an average of around 1800 people are killed on the roads in the UK each year. That’s around 5 people each and every day. Some of those are the result of drivers breaking the speed limits or driving under the influence, but the existence of laws prohibiting both undoubtedly means that fewer are killed as a result of speeding or drinking than would be the case of the laws didn’t exist. We don’t know exactly how many deaths have been prevented by those laws, but we do know that around 5000 fewer people are killed on the roads each year now than was the case in the 1960s. Those laws aren’t the only contributory factors in the reduction, of course: road improvements and vehicle improvements have also contributed. But the contribution of reduced speed is so strong that many are arguing for even tougher action. If we suppose, for the sake of argument, that all of the lives saved are due to the laws on things like speeding, drink driving and the use of seat belts, then simple maths tells us that the maximum numbers of premature deaths prevented is around 13-14 per day. There are very few people who would seriously argue that this number of deaths is so low that we should just ‘live with it’, and ‘restore people’s freedom’ to drive at whatever speed they choose and drink as much as they like before getting behind the wheel, depending instead on their own good judgement and sense of responsibility.

Yet that is exactly the approach being taken by the UK Government in response to Covid. It is now the official policy of the UK Government that, for the next month or three (after which they assume, with little by way of supporting evidence, that the pandemic will be over as far as the UK is concerned) up to 200 people per day should die at the peak of the third wave and up to 2,000 per day should be hospitalised in order to give us the ‘freedom’ to decide for ourselves whether or not to take some simple and inexpensive steps to protect ourselves and others from onward transmission of the virus.

It’s not as if the argument about ‘freedom’ is significantly different from that relating to driving laws. I’m old enough to remember that opponents of drink driving laws and compulsory seat belts both argued at the time that the laws were an unwarranted interference with their personal liberty, and they should have the ‘right’ to decide for themselves whether to wear a seat belt or drink before driving. And there were also the familiar arguments about banning drinking and driving having a disastrous impact on some businesses such as pubs and restaurants. The difference is that, at the time, the government of the day was convinced of the value of the laws and presented them in terms of taking necessary steps to protect lives rather than as a restriction on freedom. With consistent messaging along those lines, and the passage of time, public attitudes changed – those laws enjoy considerably more support now than they did at the time. Laws, even apparently unenforceable ones, can and do change perceptions and attitudes over time.

The current government has, from the outset of the pandemic, given the impression of acting only reluctantly if at all, and now seems to be valuing the right of some to infect others above the right of those others not to be infected. It values individual selfishness over any sense of collective solidarity to protect each other. They have deliberately chosen to frame the debate around relaxing restrictions in terms of ‘freedom’ (despite knowing full well that it will feel like anything but ‘freedom’ to the most vulnerable now being forced into some sort of self-imposed lockdown) rather than in terms of avoiding premature deaths. Worse, a weak and spineless opposition, aided and abetted by a sycophantic media which is unwilling to call out the government for its lies and spin, have allowed themselves to be bounced into debating on the same terms. The very use of the term ‘Freedom Day’ by anyone outside the government is itself a capitulation to a mindset which is prepared to sacrifice thousands of the weakest and most vulnerable members of society in order to advance the economic interests of the richest.

1 comment:

CapM said...

Freedom to Infect Day.

As you say
' It values individual selfishness over any sense of collective solidarity to protect each other.'

I think that neatly summarises Conservatism in general in a sentence.
'Freedom' is a popular thing and with a PM whose only skill is being popular we get "Freedom day"