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So here we have it what Boris used to deride: The “Nanny State”

March 24th, 2020

The potential of the coronavirus crisis to change our politics

One of the great ironies of the current fight against the coronavirus is that the prime minister overseeing the biggest clampdown on personal liberties in peacetime is Boris Johnson who as a journalist made a name for himself by taking on what he would often term the “Nanny State”.

The headline that stands out on this morning’s front pages is that in the Daily Telegraph the paper that Boris used to work for and where he continued being a columnist before he became a minister. As can be seen it states simply the End of Freedom. This is about ideology and it must have been hard for Johnson to come to this decision in order to contain the massive threat that the coronavirus presents.

This is how Times columnist Rachel Sylvester sums it up in her excellent column this morning.

The prime minister, an instinctive libertarian who has spent his whole life railing against the “nanny state”, finds himself imposing unprecedented controls on individual freedom: closing restaurants, pubs, gyms and schools while also restricting travel. The “survival of the fittest” mentality of those in Downing Street who wanted to create a herd immunity to the virus in the population has been banished in favour of a concerted effort to encourage social distancing. Margaret Thatcher famously said: “There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people.” Mr Johnson is realising that sometimes people have to be made to do the right thing, and that there is such a thing as the common good. The Tory champions of capitalism, who understood the cost of everything but the value of nothing, have concluded that at a time of global emergency the state may be the only possible safety net..”

At this stage we do not know how long the use of restrictions on a liberties are going to continue for and it is hard to predict how this will impact on the image of the Conservative Party. A lot depends very much on how successful these moves are in containing the virus in the UK and how well the country does in relation to other similar nations. For one of the the features of the crisis is that it is something that encompasses the entire world and we are seeing so many comparisons being made that seek to set out what the UK has done in relation to other advanced nations.

The Second World War changed the Politics of the UK for good and created an environment in which things like the establishment of the NHS became a political necessity for all parties to support. I just wonder how the fight against the coronavirus is going to impact on future politics and how we view the role of the state. You can see this being a reference point so often in future discussions.

Mike Smithson