Comment

I supported the lockdown – but the Rule of Six treats us like toddlers

The Government should allow us to take personal responsibility in the ongoing battle against Covid, not put us on the naughty step

Boris Johnson announces Rule of Six
Boris Johnson has gone too far with the Rule of Six, Julia Hartley-Brewer argues Credit: Stefan Rousseau/AFP

Courage shows itself in many different ways. A soldier heading off to war, a freedom fighter giving their life, or even a nurse braving a deadly virus as she heads to work in a hospital ward every day.

Sometimes, though, courage does not require the ultimate sacrifice. As Sir Winston Churchill once said: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

It is high time our current Prime Minister started doing both and stopped treating the British people like badly behaved children incapable of taking responsibility for ourselves.

With the arrival on our statute books of the Rule of Six this week, the Government has made it very clear that, when it comes to this pandemic, they do not have the courage to listen to or to speak the truth to us.

After months of slowly emerging, inch by inch, from lockdown, we are now being sent back to the naughty step like badly behaved toddlers because some people – mostly the young and healthy – have not been social-distancing.

Like a teacher dealing with one unruly pupil by putting the entire class in detention for weeks, we have all been punished for the actions of the few. But for what?

The new rule betrays not just the unfairness and illogicality of such infringements of our civil liberties, it also shows that our political leaders apparently have no trust in the British people’s sense of responsibility or willingness to do the right thing by our fellow citizens.

This is a very dangerous state of affairs. The Government and the police are only able to do their jobs with the consent of the people. And yet, here we are, in 2020, being told we cannot hold a child’s birthday party in a garden with more than six people, despite zero evidence that the addition of that extra person – or, indeed, another 15 – would risk any lives at all. When did we consent to that?

As someone who supported the initial lockdown as a temporary measure to allow us to build up NHS capacity to deal with a vicious new virus about which we knew very little, I have had little time for the conspiracy theorists who think Covid is a global hoax being used by dark forces to control us.

I also do not mind wearing a mask in shops or on public transport and, like the vast majority of Britons, I have done my best to stick to both the letter and the spirit of the law throughout.

But enough is now enough. After months of being told the Government is following “The Science”, it is clear that there is more than just one science to follow and that ministers and their advisers are wilfully ignoring all the evidence that suggests the virus is no longer the existential threat we once thought it was.

True, Boris Johnson faced a terrible dilemma back in March when he took the tough decision to close down our economy and our freedoms in order, he hoped, to save tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of lives.

As we learn more about the pandemic, it seems we may well have thrown away our economy, our children’s education, millions of jobs and many thousands more lives to cancer and other untreated diseases for a virus that is not, in fact, the harbinger of the end of the world as we know it.

The Science tells us that the vast majority of the population are at little to no risk from this virus, with only 307 healthy people under the age of 60 without underlying serious health conditions having died of Covid-19 in hospitals in England since February. The Science also tells us that the vast majority of very elderly people who get the virus will also survive.

Eminent experts such as Carl Heneghan, the professor of evidence based medicine at Oxford University, argue that a second wave is highly unlikely, that the uptick in infections due to increased testing will not lead to many thousands more dying, and that the rising hospitalisations and deaths from respiratory disease we are going to see this autumn and winter happen every year, with or without Covid-19.

Yet here we are, having our freedoms snatched away yet again and being urged to become a nation of grasses, dobbing in our neighbours, East German-style, all policed by Covid marshals in hi-viz jackets chanting “Rule of Six” at all and sundry.

When I interviewed Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, on my talkRADIO show yesterday, she said she would not call the police on her neighbours if they broke the law to have a birthday party outdoors with – gasp! – seven people,  because “I’m not interested in policing my neighbours – I’m interested in stopping the spread of the virus”, before adding, in the very same breath, that people should “take personal responsibility”.

Priti Patel has said she would not call the police if her neighbours broke the Rule of Six Credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP

And yet this new Rule of Six snatches away our personal responsibility to make decisions about our own lives.

As a nation, we need to ask ourselves some serious questions. Is this what we want? Is this really how we want to be treated?

A Prime Minister with courage would never have brought in the Rule of Six. A courageous Boris Johnson would tell the nation the truth about the virus, admitting that, yes, more elderly and sick people are going to die whatever we do but that, sadly, it is the price to be paid for 67 million of us to return to some semblance of a normal existence.

Opposition parties would shout loudly about “the evil Tories” and suggest they have blood on their hands for every single Covid death, while happily ignoring the many thousands more losing their lives to untreated cancer, heart disease and dementia.  

Yet millions of Britons would thank Boris Johnson for having the courage to talk to us like grown-ups and to trust us to take responsibility for own lives and those of our fellow citizens.

Trust us, Prime Minister, we’re not children. We can handle the truth.  

Julia Hartley-Brewer presents talkRADIO’s breakfast show every weekday, 6.30am-10am

What would you like to see as an alternative to the 'Rule of Six'? Let us know in the comments section below.