Photo by Dinendra Haria
Artillery Row

Covid amnesty for everyone but the politicians

MPs made their bed, but that doesn’t mean we have to lie in it

How many of us broke the rules? Come on, ‘fess up, as they say. I did. Knowingly, repeatedly. Indeed on the very day the first Welsh regulations were made, I intentionally broke this silly rule: “take exercise, no more than once a day, either alone or with other members of the household”.

It would be a farce if it were not so serious

I went for two walks that day. It is obvious to us now that a second constitutional was not any risk whatever. It probably was obvious, or it ought to have been, to those who promulgated rules like this.

It is no defence to say that the virus was unknown, and therefore excess restrictions were needed. Lack of knowledge is not an excuse for mistakes. Instead, what we now know were over-broad and over-strict rules were created, and then enforced via social opprobrium and exaggerated fear. Coronavirus is not trivial, don’t get me wrong, but the way fear was used went too far.

Then those who wrote the laws, and terrified the population into following the laws, decided to ignore them. Ferguson was first, but then everything he touches (see writings by me passim) turns out to be mistaken. Cummings, the so-called savant, was second. It now seems Boris and his acolytes were close behind. There was a Scottish chief medical officer, too. It is not a short list.

If the architects, those who supposedly have all the expert data and evidence, can’t follow the laws, then the laws themselves are shorn of moral force. Of course, the laws were already on a short string, with late night promulgation, and sometimes downright secret laws, becoming almost the norm in the summer and autumn of 2020. Defended, of course, by this being an “emergency”.

An emergency does not absolve the state from all blame. The leaders of the state made grievous mistakes, and repeated mistakes. It is trite to say that Caesar’s wife should be above reproach, but it should be beyond obvious that Caesar himself must be.

Others have written of the rank injustices meted out by the state when enforcing the lockdown laws. The stories are so numerous it would be a farce if it were not so serious. I myself have written about the enforcement of fake laws, and how that alone is deeply troubling. None of that should have happened, but happen it did.

The corrective tonic which must now be applied is a general amnesty. An act, to steal a phrase from the time of Charles II, of Indemnity and Oblivion. Casting every Covid related punishment into the aether, deleted, forgotten. Fines refunded. Ideally, compensation paid. The balance reset.

That would not only correct an injustice after all, Boris and his acolytes couldn’t follow the rules. It would also act as a salutary reminder to the state that it exists for the people, not despite the people. And certainly not, as it seems to have behaved in Number Ten in 2020 and 2021, to spite the people.

It would act as a warning for next time. For there will be a next pandemic, and a third, and fourth. We need a warning that mistakes, grievous or trivial, have consequences — and a warning to impose measured, considered rules. For a Prime Minister, it would also act as a warning to follow those rules.

It wasn’t just Boris at those so-called parties

Which brings us back to Indemnity and Oblivion. There was an exception in 12 Chas. II. cap. 11, for the regicides. There should be a similar exception here for MPs and Civil Servants. While the delicts of you and I should be cast aside and forgotten, theirs should persist.

A leader who imposes the most draconian rules ever seen in peacetime and who can’t follow them should not benefit from an amnesty. Neither should his acolytes. Instead, their penalties should stand as a sign that the people will not and can not tolerate a hypocritical ruling class.

There were grounds enough to do this even before we all obsessed over ambushes with cakes. Whole swathes of the laws were deeply and systematically cruel and unjust. That those responsible felt the laws did not apply to them, merely amplifies the call.

Indeed, it should make such an amnesty irresistible. What was originally just arcane points about procedure and debates about the quality of evidence has now transcended into something else. We now have a debate about whether our leaders honestly believed in the cruel rules they were imposing. The mere fact that debate is happening destroys the moral force behind every fine and every conviction. If Boris couldn’t or wouldn’t follow his laws, then why should you or I be punished for not doing so?

Many will call for Boris to resign. Which may be right and proper but it misses the point. It wasn’t just Boris at those so-called parties. It was his advisors, his civil servants and it seems his Chancellor of the Exchequer. A resignation would not be the correct and sufficient marker. Exclusion from an otherwise general amnesty would be — it would mark out their serious errors for what they were.

An amnesty, limited like this, would correct the cruel injustice that many of the laws imposed and also punish the hypocritical rule breakers and mistake makers. To punish someone for breaking a rule you impose but don’t follow, is simply amoral.

Throughout the emergency I made a point of never criticising anyone who “broke” the “rules”. Partially because I am no fool, and I knew how I was bending and twisting them. But also because unlike our tone deaf, cake loving, leaders, I remembered the words of John 8:7.

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