Two things are presently certain: First, that while we might argue about the precise timing and mechanisms of easing the Coronavirus lockdown and getting back to some semblance of normal life, we will, ultimately, end the lockdown and get back to normal life. It’s just a question of timing. A debate about opening the Schools in June, or opening them in September, is nothing more than a debate about convenience. The schools will, ultimately, re-open. As will pubs, and restaurants, and workplaces.
Second, there will be those, and the media will give them immense prominence, who will attempt to use the present crisis to sneak through permanent restrictions that they have always wanted to put in place, and will use the lockdown to do so.
There were two examples of that, this week. First, a British MP declared that in order for the Lockdown to be eased, a long standing policy goal of the anti-smoking lobby would have to be met:
Mark Pritchard, MP for The Wrekin, said it would also be necessary to consider the safety of non-smokers if it was decided that outside areas at pubs, restaurants and cafes could reopen.
The Prime Minister is expected to announce his ‘road map’ for relaxing some of the restrictions on Sunday, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock has hinted that outdoor seating at cafes could reopen.
But Mr Pritchard said new rules would need to be introduced if that was the case.
“If cafes, restaurants & pubs with outside areas open next week then new rules on smoking in external public areas should be introduced by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government,” he said.
“Outside seating should not be dominated by smokers exposing customers to secondary smoke.”
It’s very convenient, isn’t it, that the people who have always wanted to ban smoking are now saying “we must ban smoking because of the lockdown”?
Second, there’s the issue of cars in the Phoenix Park:
Amazing! Just hit 1,000 signatures (in 3 hours!) for our @greenparty_ie petition to remove motor traffic going *through* the Phoenix Park.
Some great comments too!
— Michael Pidgeon (@Pidge) May 14, 2020
Let’s be very clear on this: The Green Party doesn’t want to ban cars in the Phoenix Park because of anything to do with the Coronavirus. The Green Party wants to ban cars in the Phoenix Park because the Green Party doesn’t like cars, and ultimately wants to ban them everywhere.
One of the things that is certain to happen over the next few months is that various lobby groups will pull versions of this stunt. “These restrictions on your freedom”, they’ll say, “while introduced to protect your health”, “have actually revealed a whole better way of living and we shouldn’t go straight back”.
What they won’t say, of course, will be “these restrictions have actually lined up perfectly with things we have always wanted but were never popular”.
Air Travel, in particular, is an area that we should keep a very close eye on. It has been a long standing problem for global advocates of man-made climate change that air travel is the single biggest contribution each of us makes to emitting carbon dioxide every year. One round-trip flight to the USA puts more carbon into the atmosphere than a whole year of driving an average family car. If you wanted to reduce carbon emissions dramatically, you’d start by reducing air travel dramatically.
And of course, the Coronavirus has made air travel “unsafe” and “dangerous”, hasn’t it? For both the passenger and those in the country of destination.
As consumers, while we might support temporary restrictions today, we should be very wary of those who will seek to exploit the Coronavirus to create permanent and expensive new barriers to things like air travel, which are draped in the language and clothing of health and safety but have the added and absolutely intentional side effect of discouraging you from heading to Gran Canaria with the kids over the Halloween break.
These restrictions were introduced – with massive public support – to tackle a particular and immediate and grave problem. They were not introduced to become, and they should not be allowed to morph into, a permanent part of our lives designed to achieve other policy goals.
That will be the big political fight of the next few years in the Western hemisphere. The nannies are waiting, and sharpening their arguments, and rehearsing their sympathetic faces and phrases like “but isn’t it actually better this way”.
No, it’s not. And those of us who actually want to get back to normal life – even if we disagree on whether that should be tomorrow, next month, or next year – need to prepare to fight this nonsense head on.
Beware of the anti-smoking, anti-car, anti-meat eating, anti-flying people. They will try to use this crisis to shoehorn their agenda in through the back door. They must, at all costs, be resisted.