PETER HITCHENS: We’re in the Age of the Curfew – and there’s no escape

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Prepare to be confined to your home again. Prepare to be prevented from working and put on a state dole. Prepare to have your education trashed. 

Prepare to be banned from travelling and required to show wads of paper or permit intrusive apps to be installed on your phone.

I can’t say when this will be. But after last week’s parliamentary report on the Covid panic, you may be sure it will happen. Next time it may well not be Covid. But that does not matter. 

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A terrifying principle has been established, that shutting down society is a wise and proportionate response to disease.

If you want to know how bad this can get in a supposedly free country, look at what has being going on, over and over again, in the Australian state of Victoria and especially the once-delightful city of Melbourne. 

Prepare to be confined to your home again. Prepare to be prevented from working and put on a state dole. Prepare to have your education trashed. (Above, an empty street in Leicester in March 2020)

Prepare to be confined to your home again. Prepare to be prevented from working and put on a state dole. Prepare to have your education trashed. (Above, an empty street in Leicester in March 2020)

A bullying and overbearing police force has allowed itself to be used to enforce the orders of a not very intelligent head of government. Life has been miserable, confined and under surveillance. 

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And nobody knows when this will stop or whether it will start again.

I mention this because I am pretty sure that the next time our country goes for a national shutdown, it will be much better prepared and have many fewer loopholes than it had last time. 

Those who like this sort of thing will have been watching carefully and they will have noticed how some people managed to stretch the rules a bit to make life more bearable. There will be none of that. Show your papers, get scanned, or else.

And all on the basis of what? Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee simply assume that shutdowns work.

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If you want to know how bad this can get in a supposedly free country, look at what has being going on, over and over again, in the Australian state of Victoria and especially the once-delightful city of Melbourne. (Pictured, Victoria Police in early October)

If you want to know how bad this can get in a supposedly free country, look at what has being going on, over and over again, in the Australian state of Victoria and especially the once-delightful city of Melbourne. (Pictured, Victoria Police in early October)

This belief is now the conventional wisdom, the groupthink which these MPs weirdly claim that others suffer from.

Evidence from around the world does not support this at all. From Japan to Sweden, nations which instead used light-touch restrictions did not do significantly worse than those which put their people under rigid house arrest.

And the hardliners did not do particularly well. Take the Czech Republic, to begin with much praised by shutdown enthusiasts. 

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It ‘locked down’ on March 16, 2020, slammed tight controls on its frontiers and issued Europe’s first mask decree. Yet that autumn the disease returned in force, leading it to shut down again – and the process was repeated in December.

It currently has the sixth-highest number of deaths per million, 2,860, compared with relaxed Sweden’s 1,451. And that is despite the fact that Sweden, like us, badly mishandled its care homes.

Studies from around the world show there is no obvious link between shutdowns and the containment of the disease. What’s more, this is the first time in human history in which the healthy, rather than the sick, have been quarantined. 

What we need is better MPs and a more vigilant media. But without them, we’ll be back before long to the days of the Sunbathing Squad, the Picnic Squad, the Front Garden Squad, and drones flying over remote moorlands, tracking hikers trying to get away from it all.

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This is the Age of the Curfew. I wonder which other bit of the Middle Ages they will reintroduce next?

On a rare trip on the London Underground, I suddenly realised that a public address announcement had just told me to make sure my shoelaces were done up. 

I braced myself for a maternal voice telling me to tuck my shirt in, or perhaps a mechanical arm reaching out to wipe my nose for me.

I’ve never really been keen on the expression ‘Nanny State’, as it’s unfair on nannies, who often do a good job. 

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But the era of the facemask and of hand sanitiser has reduced us to infancy and given the authorities some pretty weird ideas about what is now their business.

The Good Life now takes on a nasty side 

A nasty stage version of the TV classic The Good Life shows just how much our national mind has been addled by dope. 

In the play, previewed in Bath but I fear destined for a London theatre, the Goods smoke marijuana and feed cannabis-infused bread to their respectable neighbours, the Leadbetters. Tee hee. Very funny, or not.

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Actually, this drug was already far too common in the English middle classes in the 1970s. But then and for many years afterwards, those who used it were often either embarrassed or afraid to admit to doing so.

A nasty stage version of the TV classic The Good Life shows just how much our national mind has been addled by dope. In the play, previewed in Bath but I fear destined for a London theatre, the Goods smoke marijuana and feed cannabis-infused bread to their respectable neighbours, the Leadbetters. Tee hee. Very funny, or not. (Above, Rufus Hound as Tom and Sally Tatum as Barbara in the production)

A nasty stage version of the TV classic The Good Life shows just how much our national mind has been addled by dope. In the play, previewed in Bath but I fear destined for a London theatre, the Goods smoke marijuana and feed cannabis-infused bread to their respectable neighbours, the Leadbetters. Tee hee. Very funny, or not. (Above, Rufus Hound as Tom and Sally Tatum as Barbara in the production)

In the intervening half-century, hashish has become less and less of a joke. A frightening number of people have suffered mental illness after using it and it is increasingly linked with crazy violence. 

The suspect in last week’s bow-and-arrow mass killing in Norway was swiftly found to be a known marijuana user.

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Is there any other instance of a drug becoming more acceptable as it also becomes more obvious that it is dangerous to its users and to society?

RNIB should stop taking e-scooter money 

I have been puzzled by how little we have heard from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) about the e-scooter menace. 

After all, these nasty little motorised toys, so often ridden on the pavement, are more of a threat to the blind and partially sighted than they are to almost anyone else.

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Well, now I learn that the RNIB – an organisation I normally much admire – has been taking fees from e-scooter companies for ‘consultancy’. They told me: ‘We do provide consultancy services for which we charge.’ 

But when I asked how much these fees were, they responded: ‘We can’t go into any detail of those charges.’ When I said this might have affected their attitude towards e-scooters, they said it didn’t.

They argued: ‘While we work with e-scooter operators to make the industry more inclusive, that doesn’t stop us from campaigning on key aspects of the e-scooter debate and in being vocal that there are behaviours, such as pavement riding, that cannot be tolerated. 

I have been puzzled by how little we have heard from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) about the e-scooter menace. (File image)

I have been puzzled by how little we have heard from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) about the e-scooter menace. (File image)

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RNIB believes a combination of campaigning, influencing, training and consultancy provides the best chance of bringing about change.’ Well, I disagree. If e-scooters are legalised, they’ll be everywhere. 

The police, largely absent from the streets, will do next to nothing about it. Smaller organisations than the RNIB have been warning that legalising e-scooters will make our roads and pavements very much more dangerous.

But they have had little impact on Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. He shows every sign of having made his mind up to unleash this extra misery on our streets next year. Alleged ‘experiments’ all over the country are undermining the existing law, under which they are completely banned. 

Even the police are confused about what the law is. When I confronted an illegal e-scooter rider speeding along a footpath last week, he sneered it would soon be legal, so I could get lost.

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Meanwhile, a slick PR campaign, falsely claiming e-scooters are green and will reduce car use, is working. If only the full power of the RNIB was directed against it, I think things would change. 

If they will stop taking e-scooter money, and mount such a campaign, I will happily rattle a tin for them, to help make up for what they have lost.

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