Members of Parliament will vote today on whether to support a second national lockdown. These measures will undoubtedly inflict additional economic hardship, increase mental anguish and the loss of lives and livelihoods directly as a result of the policy. On the other hand, the measures offer the prospect that a potential overrun of critical care bed capacity in our hospitals can be avoided.
There will be limited time for debate today and I am unlikely to be selected to speak. I have therefore laid out my thinking in the attached pdf. As this is quite long, I have summarised the key points below.
On balance, I have decided that I cannot support the motion to impose a nationwide lockdown. I will abstain rather than vote against because my alternative approach does not currently have the requisite support from medical advisors. What is material, and which I hope the government will recognise, are my reasons for not supporting these measures and the actions I now wish the government to take.
My main arguments are that the measures represent an overreach of government powers in a free society; that alternatives, such as the recently adopted tiered approach, provide a more targeted response which should be given more time; and that the information provided does not demonstrate persuasively that the potential benefits outweigh the costs in lives and livelihoods.
We are a free country within the law. We are not an authoritarian system: freedoms have been fought for and matter: the freedom to associate, the freedom to worship, and the freedom to trade. Parliament should defend these freedoms not acquiesce in their limitation until all other options have been pursued. Sadly, these measures suggest the government has become too casual in its exercise of powers to restrain our freedoms. It is unacceptable that people should not be able to see their relatives in care homes; that communal worship should be prohibited; and that businesses which have spent considerable sums to make their premises COVID secure should be forced to close in areas where the virus is not prevalent.
I have given Ministers some suggestions for what they should focus on now. Firstly, to operationalise the rapid testing strategy being clear with the public of the constraints and timeline. Secondly to put COVID in context with other illnesses and diseases by galvanising the NHS to make progress on clearing the backlog of treatments and presenting statistics that broaden understanding rather than reinforce this unique focus. Thirdly, to restore the traditional disciplines on the scope of government action and by making available the full assessment of policy consequences before judgements must be made.