No-one’s buying Matt Hancock’s excuse for more draconian restrictions on our lives

Matt Hancock on Andrew Marr
Emily Apple

Health secretary Matt Hancock appeared on The Andrew Marr Show on 5 April. He warned that unless people follow the rules on essential travel and social distancing then tougher restrictions would be introduced. Hancock stated that:

I don’t want to have to take away exercise as a reason to leave home… if too many people are not following the rules.

If you don’t want us to take the next step and ban exercise… then the message is very clear… you have to follow the rules.

But while every single one of us has a responsibility to stay at home and stop the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19), people on social media were quick to highlight that Hancock is trying to blame ordinary people instead of the government for the spread of the pandemic.

Class war

Many people highlighted the fact that the spread of the virus is far more likely to happen from people still forced to work in jobs such as construction and call centres:

Others pointed out the class distinctions in enforcing the lockdown:

This was a point Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner also made. Rayner stated:

It’s alright for people who have got big houses and huge back gardens to say that.

But actually if you’re stuck in inadequate accommodation, you’ve got no back garden, you’ve got nowhere to go and you’re all on top of each other, quite literally, then I think people should do social distancing and should keep their distance but also be reasonable and proportionate about that.

And as police vans drive around London’s parks telling people to go home, rich second homeowners are reportedly trying to find ways to circumvent the rules. According to North Wales Live, Dwyfor Meirionnydd MP Liz Saville Roberts stated that:

we also have people with holiday homes sharing advice with each other to travel at night to avoid the police, and even those who don’t care if they’re fined –  they’ve set out and want to arrive.

Even Scotland’s chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood didn’t think the rules applied to her. Calderwood was given a police warning after she was caught out visiting her second home:

Blame the government, not the people

While we all have a responsibility to stay at home and limit the spread of coronavirus, it’s important that we blame the right people for the spread of the virus. And that blame has to lie with the government.

UK policy and the government’s plans have been as clear as mud. First, Boris Johnson downplayed the virus; then there was herd immunity; followed by lockdown. And now, as the death toll tragically rises, it’s not going to be the people out sunbathing this weekend who are causing the spread, but government inaction weeks ago:

Undoubtedly, there are irresponsible people out there ignoring the fact we’re facing a pandemic. And none of us should be looking for loopholes or excuses to break the lockdown.

But Hancock’s threat to use stricter measures to limit the spread is a smokescreen to hide government failures over the pandemic. Luckily, social media users are making sure he isn’t allowed to get away with it.

Featured image via BBC Politics Twitter screengrab

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  • Show Comments
    1. Yes we should be focused on the conflict of interests situated within the means of achieving sensible behaviour and the capacity that a right wing government has, with a heritage of wilful and wasteful oppression under its belt, and as the continual author of systemic corruption, for bleeding some of their class and cultural antipathies into policy heavy-handedly.

      They are acting like a narcissistic parent who wants a quiet life, hadn’t planned having offspring and doesn’t really know how to square what is with what they’d have liked. They’re at risk of finding themselves to be somewhat like my dad, gluing back together a toy steering wheel he stamped on or selotaping up a Snakes & Ladders board he tore up because he did not invest in his role mindfully. It’s a sleight of perception they’re slipping toward, as with not acknowledging that prior shoddiness and the dismantling of the NHS are behind some of the extent of the problem, and then passing the buck.

      ‘Or we’ll ban all exercise outside’. I think they’re about to push their luck a bit too far. We know it’s serious and that steps need to be taken by us all, and we know measures need to be mindfully and proportionately forceful. But it would be thoroughly stupid to overstep the mark this way. You would have mass disobedience over it if that’s where we’re going. The threat is counter-productive, and even making the threat prior to delivering it is probably going to be damaging. Still, they’ve messed up the rest of the matter so it’s no surprise. Bit weird having someone who has symptoms being able to make statements like this anyway, as surely he has some delirium, I mean outside of the delirium that Conservatism is already.

    2. Excellent quality article Emily Apple! This should be the quality that the mass media aim for.

      Of note, Sweden has taken a markedly relaxed approach to this, in comparison. OfC, their health and welfare systems aren’t as previously devastated.

      https://www.anti-empire.com/swedish-spring-no-coronavirus-quarantine-or-police-state-lockdown/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily+Headlines

      (It’s a propaganda site, but I checked with a Swedish mate and it all fact-checks out).

      So in other words, it is EXACTLY as you said – the severity of Covid-19 in the UK will be directly due to the negligence and incompetence of this Tory “govt”, but they and the media will try to pin the blame on the general public instead.

      Unfairly, even the ones who didn’t vote for them.

    3. I do not condone in any way Catherine Calderwood’s behaviour. For a supposedly intelligent woman it was stupid in the extreme. However, I do not remember Grampian police turning up at Balmoral to warn the heir to the throne, along with his wife and an entourage of six, that he was breaking the Corona virus advice. Hardly the best example for him to set especially as he was already showing symptoms before he left for Scotland. Moreover, he and his wife (I don’t know about the entourage) were tested by Grampian health services ahead of medical staff. Surely the house and grounds he was living in before he left are quite big enough for him to self-isolate? Dreadful example to set.

    4. “A picture paints a thousand words.”

      Pictures can also be used to distort the facts.

      I live in Brighton. I read several reports at the weekend of how “scores” of visitors were flocking there. There were photos of “crowds” on the beaches and seafront. These were all taken with long lenses which foreshorten distances, and make people look to be much closer together than they are. Photos taken from a drone and a local webcam gave a far more measured impression; of scattered small groups of people, keeping well apart from one another.

      My own visits to the seafront confirm the latter impression; not the dramatised reports. I also note a small, and very reasonable police presence.

      I detect something far more pernicious, however. There is a certain sort of Puritanism creeping into news reports, as well as statements from the likes of Hancock. People are, God help us, sunbathing! There is a growing air of: “Don’t you know there’s a war on? How dare you take pleasure in anything at a time like this?” It is OK to exercise, but the clear implication is that exercise should not involve anything approaching pleasure. Once we have punished ourselves with exercise, we must hurry back home – and woe betide anyone caught not reading their Bible.

      Why this shock horror reaction to people sitting in the sun, well away from others – actually taking pleasure in the spring? Is all joy to be put on hold in a time of crisis?

      The photo to which the caption I quote at the start belongs, shows a couple, sitting on a very empty beach, eating sandwiches, and being addressed by a policeman. There is no real indication as to what the policeman is saying to them. If, however, he is urging them to leave the beach, the question in my mind is: why? What harm are they actually doing?

      What disturbs me all the more is how many on social media are buying in to this new Puritanism.

      We believe that there are merits in social distancing – and I am prepared to accept those recommendations until it is proven otherwise. We also know that there are serious implications for physical and mental health around being apart from our fellow human beings. There are grave consequences also from being separated from nature.

      My internal jury is out as to how well or badly this government has handled the current crisis. We won’t truly know for months. But, when my neighbours start to judge me for wanting a bit of harmless sunshine, and are then, as a consequence, willing to accept – even advocate – cruel and draconian restrictions on my most basic freedoms, then I do start to worry.

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