Last week, the Establishment guillotine descended on Andrew Bridgen MP following his recounting via Twitter of the opinion of a consultant cardiologist that the global Covid19 vaccine rollout “is the biggest crime against humanity since the Holocaust”.
As has been by now well reported, the phalanx of current and former ministers responsible for the vaccine rollout duly rushed to deploy anti-semitic and anti-vax labels to Bridgen’s comment, culminating in Bridgen’s suspension from the Conservative party. In turn, that was followed by a second suspension, that of Councillor Alex Stevenson, who had the audacity to say he “stood with” Bridgen.
I do not find Bridgen’s comment offensive, let-alone anti-semitic
My family is of Jewish origin. The majority of my mother’s side of our family were murdered in concentration camps. The horrors of that period are an inescapable and indelible aspect of our familial history and identity, passed down to me through family stories, discussions, reflections and written memoirs of a handful of surviving relatives.
I do not find Bridgen’s comment offensive, let-alone anti-semitic. However I am sickened by the weaponisation of the “anti-semitic” label by those with a clear agenda of their own to pursue.
In handing an open goal to his detractors, allowing them to discredit him personally and to dismiss his vaccine harms advocacy, Bridgen’s mentioning of the Holocaust was undoubtedly misguided and clumsy. Worse, it was unnecessary, as if conduct meets the legal test of a crime against humanity any relative measure of that crime is otiose: there is no Richter scale for crimes against humanity – they are all heinous.
However, there is no plausible way to read his words as anti-semitic. Far from trivialising the Holocaust as his critics appear to allege, Bridgen’s words affirmed it as the high water mark of legal and moral criminality. Doubtless there will always be some who can be offended by any use of the Holocaust as a relative reference point, but if the mere evocation of that historic event in modern history is now anti-semitic, we belittle the seriousness of true anti-semitism, a point made by the Israeli academic, Dr. Josh Guetzkow, whose article detailing the recently-released analysis of vaccine adverse event data from the US CDC Bridgen had tweeted, when he said “The hollow accusations against him only distract from genuine examples of anti-Semitism”.
However poorly executed Bridgen’s commentary, ultimately what he expressed was not only implicitly, but expressly, an opinion – an entirely lawful one, and one he appears to hold, honestly. Whist politcal parties have the right to withdraw the whip from miscreant MPs, by seeking to marginalise, isolate or silence elected representatives for expressing honestly held lawful contrarian opinions, the Conservative party appears to be attempting to impose a hegemony of state-sanctioned political thought that should be anathema to our system of representative democracy.
If it were ever revealed to be the case that the Covid vaccine programme has caused serious harm on a significant scale, given the overtly coercive nature of that programme nationally and internationally (including workplace mandates in the NHS and UK care sector and vaccine passports for nightclubs, restaurants and travel) it appears eminently possible that crimes could have been committed.
Were knowledge of the risk of that harm ever to be established, the fact that coercion extended to the vaccination of children, at demonstrably negligible risk from the virus itself, increases the seriousness of the charge.
Additionally, one can imagine the possibility of legal consequences for those who have coordinated the silencing of dissenting views at the behest of government officials and pharmaceutical companies and for those responsible for the industrialised broadcast of vaccine endorsements subsequently shown to have been false, reckless or simply less than fully accurate (the vaccine stays in your arm, it prevents transmission, the benefit is “completely completely” in favour of vaccinating 5-11 year olds).
While Bridgen’s statement might legitimately be critiqued as inflammatory, with concerns relating to vaccine harms now being frequently asked by medics and elected representatives around the world, it cannot legitimately be said that the topic is so fanciful as to be beyond mention. Indeed, Senator Ron DeSantis, tipped by some to be the frontrunner for the 2024 US Presidency, has recently called for a statewide grand jury to investigate the alleged “crimes and wrongdoings” surrounding the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 mRNA vaccines.
In a self-certified liberal parliamentary democracy, it is unconscionable for elected representatives to be, in effect, censored for expressing entirely lawful opinions and airing genuinely-held concerns in the public square.
One wonders, also, to where this leads. Which other lawful but wrongly-held opinions will result in political exile? Which other awkward-squad MPs are now at risk? What of Conservative MP Adam Holloway, who suggested that the Conservatives in expelling Bridgen were behaving in “an almost fascist way”; or Conservative MP Heather Wheeler who was reported as saying she was “truly sorry” Bridgen lost the whip “for what is seen as leading the anti-vaccination group”. Should they now expect a call from the Whip office executioners?
Free speech matters most when at its most awkward
For as long as we continue to live in a period of almost exclusively government controlled ‘narrative’ about the vaccine roll-out and pandemic response, an approach of silencing dissenters may be sustainable. Even now, though, the weight of anecdotal evidence is mounting – as Danny Kruger MP noted, public attendance at the vaccine harms APPG was, “well over a hundred”, which, he went on to say, “is not the usual story for an APPG.” It may well be that there will come a tipping point of real world experience when it becomes impossible to sustain what will by that point have become obvious propaganda. Bridgen could well then be proved to have been on the right side of history.
Free speech matters most when at its most awkward, and particularly when the exercise of that freedom to speak is central to the process of holding governmental power to account. There are many within and outside Parliament for whom questions about the coercive nature of the vaccine programme is now increasingly uncomfortable: the ministers responsible, the politicians of all parties who endorsed and enabled, the journalists who unquestioningly distributed the official narrative, and perhaps even the public — those of us who acquiesced — all in some way invested in perpetuating a collective denial.
The single most damaging failing of the pandemic era was arguably the censorship and suppression of valid, reasonable and often essential questions. If it is said to be irresponsible or dangerous to debate fully and openly our policy approaches to lockdowns, vaccine roll-outs, the role of natural immunity and the efficacy of masks, the problem is with the policies not with the debate.
Party political attacks on elected representatives for expressing lawful and honestly held opinions erodes our democratic system; indeed it is only a few short steps from authoritarianism.
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