Why lockdown must now end and freedoms return – David Blunkett

I HEARD the expression on Radio 4’s A Point of View last weekend that “the past is another country”. It is, however, when you feel that the present is a different country that you need all your will not to go into defence mode.

David Blunkett supports the lifting of lockdown restrictions from June 21 - even though he is not a 'libertarian' by instinct.
David Blunkett supports the lifting of lockdown restrictions from June 21 - even though he is not a 'libertarian' by instinct.

In the United States, a book written by someone who embedded themselves in an overwhelmingly Trump-supporting family and community before the 2016 presidential election is entitled A Stranger in My Own Land.

As a lifelong Democrat, the author was shaken by the views and attitudes she experienced but came to understand the alienation and suspicion that those voting for Donald Trump felt for all the normal institutions and values of the prevailing elite.

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Of course, Trump, and those around him, are “elite”, in any normal sense of the word. Rich, with extraordinarily powerful friends and capturing the heights of political power, not to distribute wealth and influence to the masses, but rather secure it for those who had secured the president into office.

Left to right) First Lady Jill Biden, US President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Carrie Johnson walk outside Carbis Bay Hotel, Carbis Bay, Cornwall, ahead of the G7 summit in Cornwall.

You would think that it would be the Labour Party here who appealed most to those sceptical of the “establishment” and wished the interests of the many to be put over the entrenched well-being of the few.

Yet, here in Britain, the same traits show themselves – in the Hartlepool by-election and in the polls. How this will play out in the Batley and Spen by-election now underway is anyone’s guess. The make-up of the constituency is very different to Hartlepool but, in the politics of the moment, who can tell?

World summits held in the United Kingdom, and which give even more airtime and visibility to the ruling party, were often felt to be a plus. Maybe this will also play a part as the leading economic nations of the world meet under the auspices of the G7 in Cornwall this weekend.

But I suspect that, in the minds of the electorate, it will be more mundane issues about what’s happening to them, and who might best reflect those views, that come first.

David Blunkett supports the lifting of lockdown restrictions from June 21 - even though he is not a 'libertarian' by instinct

For perfectly understandable reasons, the Labour Party has been extremely cautious in relation to Covid-19 and any suggestion of accelerating a return to normality. An opposition party can be caught out very badly by advocating something that turns out to be a grave mistake.

The parallel is that it is always possible for the broadcast media to find a scientist who will pour doom and gloom on any optimistic moment as the vaccine rollout continues its inexorable progress.

I have found myself, therefore, in a very unusual situation. I have never been seen as a “libertarian”, but I am very strongly in favour of lifting the yoke of government diktat from the shoulders of the British people and encouraging men and women to think for themselves. If we believe that the vaccine is our great saviour, we should embrace it.

To find ourselves in a formulaic novel where one minute we’re on a terrific 
high, and the next we’re in 
the depths of despair, is 
risible. In the next few days, 
we will learn what the Government have decided in relation to the next phase of release from 15 months of “confinement”.

Do we believe that the vaccine protects us from getting the virus? If we do, then we can believe that people have not got the virus and are, therefore, not able to spread it.

If, by going abroad, they do not infect anyone else they meet, and if they’re protected by the vaccine from contracting the disease, then what stops us travelling is fear.

Of course, there may be other underlying reasons, but as I am not a conspiracy theorist, I set aside the idea that shutting down travel is all about encouraging people to spend money at home – irrespective of the damage we do, as a trading nation, to everything else that makes the economy tick, including our aviation industry which is perilously near to collapse.

This is as crucial to Yorkshire as it is to the rest of the country. Our income – measured by GDP – is around £12bn less than Scotland with a similar population. There is an irony in this week’s G7 group of nations seeking to level the tax take from global giants, while at the same time, we struggle to see any meaningful levelling-up process within the UK.

However, we need to up our game in terms of what we produce, how we produce it and where we sell it.

We are as reliant on trade as everyone else, and we will only succeed in improving profitability, productivity and, therefore, prosperity, if we understand this.

Above all, what we need is certainty. A line of approach, a clear plan and the courage to stick to it. We need to lift our horizons, not to the past or present, but to that future country, where we learn the lessons of the last 15 months, we determine that we will do things better, and then free ourselves to do just that.

Time to unlock our freedom to live our lives openly and in the way we always did, but also unlock the talent, energy and drive of those who have been on furlough, and those who might take time to get back into the normal rhythm of work and socialising – as we all so desperately need to do.

David Blunkett is a Labour peer and former Home Secretary.

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