What on earth is happening to our country? Muzzled, acquiescent and fearful. Having fought and defeated one Project Fear, I never thought we would experience another. Sadly, unlike the first, the polls suggest that the majority of the population has succumbed to the second. Armed with that information, the decision makers feel they can creep out with their shovels and move the goalposts at will. Personally I am not surprised that the nation has been beaten into submission when, day after day and hour after hour, we are deluged with dire warnings of doom and gloom by Government advisers of one kind or another.
A section of the press and media must take responsibility for their role in creating this near Orwellian nightmare. Do not get me wrong; I have never underestimated the threat that this pandemic poses. Every death and illness is deeply regrettable, but surely there comes a time when, for the greater good of the majority, a sense of proportion must be adopted. This is not easy to do when graphs and statistics are presented to support this one-month extension, despite those far better qualified than I questioning their methodology, presentation and even accuracy.
So much that was predicted has not come to pass, and the so-called third wave is not killing or hospitalising anywhere near the numbers affected in waves 1 or 2. Why? Well, it is due to the remarkable vaccine rollout, for which the Government Front-Bench team and the NHS must take huge credit. From the initial promise of regaining our freedom when the vulnerable had been inoculated, I can understand the Government’s reluctance to give it back. First, it is easier to say no. Secondly, let us not forget that there is a public inquiry hanging over the Government like the sword of Damocles. The revelations from Dominic Cummings and the accusations that followed them were no doubt a sobering taster to Ministers of what is to come. However, fearing an inquiry and variants are not reasons for delaying freedom day.
Mistakes have been made. That was inevitable given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, but it does not mean being risk averse now. We desperately need a confident Government to take a proportionate stand in the face of the evidence. For months, the Government’s cry was, “Protect the NHS”. On Tuesday, the organisation’s chief executive said that only 1% of hospital beds are occupied by covid patients. We know that admissions are rising in the north-west, but not on the scale seen during the second wave. Yes, totally unlocking is a risk, but it is a proportionate one when considering the appalling damage being done to the risk takers—those who create our prosperity and jobs—and the continued successful rollout of the vaccines.
As for this place, I have been here long enough to know that, when there is agreement across the majority of the House, something is fundamentally wrong.