Comment

This snitches’ charter is a recipe for chaos

It may sound distinctly un-British - but I fear too many of us will leap at the opportunity to rat out our fellow citizens

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson's new rules could create a nation of snitches, writes Michael Deacon Credit: NEIL HALL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/ Shutterstock

Remarkable how fast things have changed. Only a couple of months ago, the Prime Minister was easing lockdown restrictions and declaring that “the good, solid common sense” of the public would see Britain through.

Since then, however, our poor, long-suffering Government has lost faith in us. It’s decided it can no longer trust us to act safely and responsibly. So it’s having to resort to Plan B.

Ordering us to snitch on our neighbours.

That’s the latest message from ministers. If we believe we’ve seen anyone breaching the Government’s simple, reasonable and immaculately coherent new rules, it’s our patriotic duty to dob them in. Pick up the phone and inform the authorities at once. That’s the spirit, comrades. Your loyalty will be rewarded.

It may sound officious, nosy, interfering and distinctly un-British. But all too many of us, I fear, will leap at the opportunity to rat on our fellow citizens. Remember the early days of the lockdown, when users of Twitter would visit their local park, expressly to tweet their disapproval of people visiting their local park?

The truth is, few drugs are more thrilling, or more addictive, than self-righteousness. And so, powerless to resist, we’ll station ourselves at our bedroom windows, binoculars in hand, hungrily scanning the horizons for signs of non-compliance.

Look. Down there. The little old lady from number 43, slipping those envelopes into the postbox. No doubt she’ll insist they were merely letters and forms and payments for bills. But what if they’re actually invitations to an all-night rave in an abandoned barn? Can’t be too careful. Best report it, just to be sure.

And look, over at number 52. A van emblazoned with the logo of the Majestic website, delivering what is unmistakably a crate of wine. Of course, the recipients may simply be innocent, law-abiding alcoholics. But how can you be sure that they aren’t planning to host a drunken Roman orgy for 300 people? Mustn’t take any chances. Dial 101 straight away, and let the authorities decide.

Soon, however, spying from home won’t be enough to satisfy our cravings. We snitches will take to the streets of Britain, roaming the land for gatherings to snitch on.

Important to be careful, though. Gatherers could easily turn nasty when we order them to disperse. So, for the sake of our own safety, we’d better patrol in groups. Nice big groups. Say, seven or eight people in each. Maybe 10. Fifteen. Twenty. The point is: the bigger our group, the more effective our snitching will be.

Then again, patrolling in groups will carry its own risks. After all, another group of snitches might mistake our group of snitches for a social gathering and try to arrest us. We could, of course, try arresting them back, on the same grounds. But then, while we’re all arguing about who’s arresting whom, a third group of snitches might turn up and arrest the lot of us for mingling.

We can’t have that. This kind of internecine conflict would be completely self-defeating. If we want to break up dangerous gatherings, we groups of snitches must all stick together.

At least we’ll have the police on our side. Mind you, they’ll have problems of their own. There’s yet another new batch of restrictions for them to memorise and enforce. It can’t be easy, keeping up with these endless changes. For example: according to the latest set of diktats, you can’t go to the park in a group of seven – but you can go grouse shooting in a group of 30.

That exemption for grouse shooting is just ripe for abuse.

“Afternoon, sarge. Just been out doing a bit of Stop and Search.”

“Very good, constable. Anyone carrying a knife?”

“Not today, sarge. Quite a lot of lads carrying shotguns, but then it is grouse shooting season, so we waved them on their way. Good to see these young ruffians taking up a hobby. That’ll help keep them out of trouble.”

To encourage the rest of us, the Home Secretary Priti Patel has told an interviewer that she would happily snitch on her own neighbours, should she catch them breaking the law. (British law, that is. Breaking international law is, of course, a completely different matter.)

Reporters duly travelled to Witham in Essex, to ask Ms Patel’s neighbours for a response. One woman replied that, in the circumstances described, she would cordially invite the Home Secretary to “do one”.

Tellingly, the woman added: “It was all right for Dominic Cummings to drive up to his second house. It seems like one rule for them and one rule for us.”

Sadly for the Government, it may find that such sentiments are all too widespread. Inevitable, I suppose. Back in May, the Prime Minister had a choice. He could have taken to his lectern in No.10 and said: “For the sake of public health, everyone has to follow the rules. And I really do mean everyone. Even the most important member of my team. And that is why he has quite rightly resigned from his role – just like Professor Neil Ferguson, the Government scientist, and Dr Catherine Calderwood, the chief medical officer for Scotland.”

That would have got the message across to the public, loud and clear. Instead, however, the Prime Minister decided that bending the odd little rule here and there really wasn’t a big deal, and everyone should stop making such a fuss about it. After all, Mr Cummings had given a perfectly plausible explanation for his actions.

Perhaps we snitches can follow his lead. If our neighbours catch us peering at them over the garden fence, we’ll just say we’re testing our eyes.

You can read Michael Deacon's  column every Wednesday from 7pm at telegraph.co.uk