BEL MOONEY: How could Britain be reduced to slaves to fear?

Snitches and snoopers, students and the elderly shut away… a nation cowering and an economy in tatters. Now BEL MOONEY asks: How could once-indomitable Britain be reduced to slaves to fear?

How long ago it seems now, VE Day on May 8 when, despite being in lockdown, people still celebrated in a sensible way, standing outside, waving flags and remembering the courageous men and women who died for our freedom.

2020 has been full of such proud events: the 76th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, the 75th anniversary of VJ Day on August 15, and (so recent) the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, when brave young pilots saw off the Luftwaffe.

We’ve thrilled at the sight and sound of historic Spitfires honouring their sacrifice in the skies, and mourned Dame Vera Lynn — a woman of indomitable spirit who summed up our nation when she sang, ‘Land of hope and glory, mother of the free’…

Where has it gone, that spirit? This year may well go down in history as the one in which Britain faced its biggest danger since the war.

How long ago it seems now, VE Day on May 8 when, despite being in lockdown, people still celebrated in a sensible way, standing outside, waving flags and remembering the courageous men and women who died for our freedom

No, I am not talking about the virus. Who would have thought that Britons would become slaves to fear? Who would have thought a proud nation like ours would so willingly relinquish the freedoms for which our countrymen fought and died?

But it’s happening. Look at the proof — if you can bear it.

A snooper army patrolling the streets, bending low to peer through the letter boxes of pubs and restaurants after 10pm to report on those resisting the curfew.

Students locked up in their digs. Politicians encouraging us to snitch on our neighbours and tell the police if they invite more than six people round.

A Prime Minister ramping up the fear, making it easier to control a population which is astonishingly (to me) actually in favour of more restrictions.

Those of us who question a cure which seems far worse than the disease are attacked by the lockdown-lovers whose collective sign-off should be ‘Cowed by Covid’.

Where has it gone, that spirit? This year may well go down in history as the one in which Britain faced its biggest danger since the war. Pictured: University students self-isolating in Glasgow

It’s as if we have joined up to a strange doomsday cult, utterly convinced that we are all going to die unless we ‘stay home’, ‘stay safe’… and any other craven, shivering, pathetic and totally unrealistic exhortation you care to squeak when the bogeyman stalks your dreams.

What is happening? For a start, we seem happy to destroy the lives of the next generation. You may not care much about students, you may bitterly resent the young people you called ‘Covidiots’ for assembling in groups — as merry young people have always done.

But can you remain indifferent to the picture of Glasgow university students barricaded in their halls of residence, unable to have the normal university life that some of us enjoyed?

I heard one young woman on the radio yesterday, doing her best to abide by the stringent new rules, saying she couldn’t even get groceries delivered.

Students have posted protest signs and messages on windows of their rooms in Parker House hall of residence at Abertay University in Dundee

This, remember, was on the back of 172 of her fellow students testing positive, with not one hospitalised. Now they are being threatened with not being allowed home for Christmas. It’s outrageous.

Not content with taking away their freedom, we are making sure the next generation has a wretched future, too.

When reading about the effects of lockdown on the economy, the figures make you reel. The national debt — with £36 billion borrowed last month alone — is terrifying. Our overall figure of more than £2 trillion is the biggest ever recorded, and will take at least two generations to pay off. Redundancy looms for millions.

As a grandmother of four, I grieve to think of the stunted future to which this economic suicide will condemn my children’s children.

Do I want them sacrificed for my generation? No, I do not.

City inspectors patrol the streets of Soho in central London on the first day of the 10pm curfew

You’ve read all the figures. Age is by far the biggest risk factor for severe illness and death from Covid-19.

Of the 52,514 virus deaths registered by the Office for National Statistics, 89 per cent have been over-65s. More than 22,000 over-85s have died, as well as some 17,000 aged between 75 and 84.

But in total, only 314 people under the age of 40 have died of the disease since March. NHS England figures show that more than 95 per cent of patients who die from coronavirus in hospital have an underlying health condition, such as diabetes, heart disease or obesity.

Meanwhile, a new report estimates that there will be a total of 74,000 deaths over the next five years due to the long-term financial and health impact of the pandemic.

Do such statistics warrant the wholesale sacrifice of the young, disguised by the cynical emotional blackmail of ‘Don’t kill Granny’? No, they do not.

Grandparents like me are horrified that young people are not only being cheated out of a good education (what will be the long-term effects of the school lockdown?) but job prospects, too.

A snooper army patrolling the streets, bending low to peer through the letter boxes of pubs and restaurants after 10pm to report on those resisting the curfew

Yet the madness continues. The economy is shutting down once more — with the whole House of Commons, it seems, bowing their heads in fear. Where is the debate? Who is listening to all the medical professionals and scientists, at home and abroad, who question the Government’s strategy and suggest that the only way to ‘deal’ with the virus is to learn to live with it?

When Chancellor Rishi Sunak proclaims that we must ‘live without fear’, he speaks the only truth that might give back any sort of future to our children and young people.

Let me assure you, back in March I agreed that lockdown seemed wise — and I was as anxious about the virus as anybody.

Nobody with an ounce of experience or empathy could possibly minimise the effects of Covid-19, or fail to comprehend the suffering of those who fell victim, or the grief of their loved ones left to mourn.

I know this, because over the months I have answered many letters from bereaved families in my advice column, and also privately. I understand why people feel afraid — and know what it’s like to be sleepless with anxiety. The virus made us all shudder at the thought of losing our lives or loved ones. All that is understandable.

But in no way am I minimising the disease when I say that I now feel so angry at the ‘cure’ we are being offered.

The NHS we were supposed to ‘save’ did not do its duty of saving the really sick. To cite one example, oncologists warn of an extra 30,000 deaths from cancers currently going undiagnosed.

In yesterday’s Mail, Dr John Lee, a welcome voice of sanity, pointed out that diabetics are not being properly monitored, and all, he wrote, to ‘slow the advance of a virus that is currently killing fewer than 40 of the 1,600 people who die every day in the UK’.

As the Mail also reports today, another study has found that there were 2,000 extra deaths from strokes and heart attacks this summer — all down to people being too afraid to go to hospital, so essentially dying in their homes.

Have we all gone mad, and become so afraid of the virus that we’ve lost the ability to read, to think and to question? You could argue that the fear of Covid-19 has become so all-consuming that it has become even more of a killer than the virus itself.

Surely we need to urgently examine our feelings, and distinguish between human anxiety and the abject terror which shuts down thought and action.

Experts know what fear does to the human mind. When a rabbit is caught in car headlights it freezes, terror making it unable to move.

Freud pointed out that ‘if fear is too strong, it proves absolutely useless and paralyses every action’ and he identified a ‘readiness to be afraid’ which becomes almost a purpose in life. Isn’t that where we are now — so compliant that a cowed populace seems to have no problem with snoopers and snitches?

Once what psychologists call the ‘fear pathways’ are ramped up, people are unable to think for themselves.

When people live in constant fear, whether from actual physical dangers or perceived threats, they can become incapacitated, because fear interrupts thought processes in the brain that allow us to regulate our emotions and process information.

Being told what to do and obeying can almost be a relief.

Let me give you a chilling example of how this can work.

At the beginning of World War II, a government pamphlet led to a massive cull of British pets. Just before the outbreak of war, the National Air Raid Precautions Animals Committee (NARPAC) was formed.

It drafted a notice: Advice to Animal Owners. The pamphlet said: ‘If at all possible, send or take your household animals into the country in advance of an emergency.’ It concluded: ‘If you cannot place them in the care of neighbours, it really is kindest to have them destroyed.’

It indicated pets would not be allowed in public air-raid shelters, and featured a do-it-yourself guide to putting animals down. This advice was printed in newspapers and announced on the BBC.

People panicked and obeyed in terror. Though animal charities and vets opposed the cull, as many as 750,000 British pets were killed in just one week. It was reported that some mobs became hysterical, insisting Fido and Tiddles were taken away to the slaughter.

Government was instrumental in this massacre. MI5 agents were set to watch animal rights activists, an anti-dog hate campaign was sponsored and the Government sanctioned the criminal prosecutions of cat owners for giving their pets saucers of milk.

What happened to the mentality of this alleged nation of animal lovers? Why did people think they were doing their patriotic duty by queuing up to hand over their pets to be killed, or dumping them in sacks? Fear happened, that’s what. People were terrified of food shortages, air-raid sirens, bombs, Hitler — everything. That fear deprived them of any ability to question the cruel and, historians agree, totally unnecessary policy and say, ‘No’.

You may think this horrible story has nothing to do with our current situation, but you would be wrong. Both concern a nation in the grip of panic and no longer able to distinguish acceptable diktats from those which will do actual harm.

Would you kill your dog if you were told it just might carry the virus? Would you condemn your very old parents to house arrest with no visitors — no matter how much distress it caused them?

Would you wish your daughter to endure labour alone, when there is no logical reason why a masked and scrubbed partner could not be present? Will you obey a kind of Sophie’s Choice and decide which of your children to banish on Christmas Day?

If the answer to any of the above is ‘Yes’ then I will say, not in anger but in sorrow, that we as a nation have surely never been so ‘frit’.

Back in March, when lockdown was ordered, spring was ahead. We had glorious weather, the clocks went forward, we spent time outside, we pulled together, presuming it would all be over by Christmas. Now, in autumn, we face the real pandemic — not Covid but mental health problems.

Suicides, loneliness, depression — all will become worse when the dark, cold nights hit, and we feel as if we have lost the whole way of living we knew and loved.

Believe me, ‘social distance’ is more than two metres — it can represent incalculable miles of isolation and distress.

Do you remember our Queen’s powerful message around Easter? She reassured us that, ‘We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return’ and promised: ‘We will meet again.’

How moving it was, especially to a passionate patriot like me. That echo of Vera Lynn’s hopeful message lifted our hearts.

And we kept the faith. We endured. The better days did return at last. We did meet again. Will we allow it to be taken away again — and all for the unbelievable promise that a vaccine will be found and we will beat the virus?

Let us not be slaves to terror but realise risk is a part of life. Let us growl like a Spitfire and tell each other that we just have to get on with it. Let us take back control of our lives and learn to live with the virus and without fear. Enough is enough. Wake up Britain! 

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