Bristling Brock speaks out...

 

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The news media is full of recrimination and general hostility towards much of the government policy on lockdown.  Listening to the traffic dashing by Bristling Brock’s garden is another reminder that quite a lot of the population are exercising a choice - a choice to disregard the governments pleas to stay at home and prevent the COVID-19 spread.  So here we have two facets of civil response to government attempts to mitigate the expansion of viral contamination’s - responses from so called professional journalists and opinion formers across the spectrum to those who have chosen to jump in their cars and not only move about for necessary purposes but have also chosen to do their own thing (at speed if the traffic passing my garden is anything to go by) and flaunt their civil disobedience.

Some wise souls from the past - when Britain truly was a great nation - used to measure the nature of societal behaviour by its preparedness to obey the rule of law.  Those that accepted the principle of law - whether they entirely agreed with it or not - generally created wealthier and more agreeable environments in which to live and work.  Those that did not live by that principle tended not to flourish so well.  A century or more on from that observation we can see our society divided into two particular camps - those that regard the cohesiveness of society and duty toward it as something worthy of preservation and those that have slackened their grip on common good will and any semblance of respect for the principles of law and societal behaviour.  It is the curse of the 20th and now the 21st centuries that liberalism has been allowed to run rampant and beyond the frameworks of behaviour set by government.  It sounds old fashioned, doesn’t it, to regard government as a guiding force in our lives, even something very unfashionable and anti-liberal, for we have been brought up to recognise our human rights, our equalities, our freedoms to do almost anything we want - the very image of Western Hemisphere life.  Yet without effective government we have nothing.  We would become anarchic, driven by self interest and eventually destroy what little of our social structures remained.  Looked at from a different angle, the constitutional duty of government is to protect its citizens first and foremost, establish an environment in which it can create frameworks and strategies that lay the bedrock of those protections.  It’s far from perfect, almost inevitably, as conflicting demands dilute the effort in any one direction.  But the rule of law should be sacrosanct.  That’s not to say that the citizenry of the state should fear the law - as they possibly might in places like Russia, China and North Korea - but they should respect that it is there for a purpose.  It is the very substance of how societies function, it provides the boundaries, the creed by which we live our lives and the responsibilities and duties that every citizen is born with.  Life is not a free ride, it carries a weight of duties, tasks and obligations upon each and every one of us - the very stuff that makes societies function within certain parameters of acceptability.  Obeying the rule of law is fundamental to each member of our community.

All this is not to blithely accept everything government mandates - parliament is the forum for challenging and disputing the efficacy and wisdom of government decisions - and in normal circumstances that is where the resolution and amendment of grievances toward the rule of law is made.  Nothing is inviolate, even the rule of law, but it’s principle is inviolate if not its content.

So, to all those who have decided to increasingly abandon the notions of staying home whilst this national crisis occurs and disregarded their birth-given obligations to accept the guidance of government, you may get away with your selfish behaviour for a time but the time will come when you also wish to invoke your rights under the law.  What price the rule of law then ?  Will you be yelling from the rooftops that you are being treated unfairly ?  The rule of law is for everyone, it’s what makes nations what they are - and we need to shake ours up pretty robustly.

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Bristling Brock has read endless media reports on what the best strategy should be for the country to follow in combatting COVID-19 spread.   There seems to be a much divided scientific opinion, an equally much divided international opinion and a much divided medical opinion.  That's not entirely surprising given that the world is facing an unprecedented pandemic about which - in truth - we know very little.   There are bound to be a diversity of authoritative views and stratagems for containing and defeating this virus.

The bottom line, however, as anyone in the business world will appreciate, is that 'someone, somewhere' has to make a decision on a course of action - a plan, and usually with a Plan B as insurance.  Someone has to grasp the nettle and make a choice as to what to do.   Given the wide diversity of technical opinion over COVID-19 response this makes that choice all the harder to actually make and then steadfastly implement.   And it is to our governments that we look to review these choices and then make a decision; that is what we elect them to do, that is their constitutional role that is enshrined in law and precedent.   It's an unenviable burden.  What do we (as government) do to protect the citizens of the country whilst at the same time ensuring that we have the ability to rise up again once the crisis passes.   It's truly a Devil and the Deep Blue Sea choice.

The British government is facing widespread criticism for its strategy of lock-down and its tardiness over testing preparations.  Some of the criticism might well be deserved and relevant but we overlook the fact that a choice and a decision had to be made at the outset based upon what was thought to be the right and proper action, what was, at the time, scientifically the best option.   No plan is foolproof and the best plans are flexible, adaptive and able to adopt stratagems using the very latest authoritative data.  In this we might argue that some of the governmental criticism is justified, for their stratagem is rigid and conditioned to some extent by bureaucratic inertia and a lack of preparedness amongst the scientific and medical advisory community to give joined up and coherent advice to government.   Nonetheless, we must have faith in the national advice for if we all start to revert to old ways - and there is some evidence to imagine that a growing number of people are giving up on some elements of social distancing and travel - then we will revert to an environment where there is no social control and an uncertain pathway to recovery.  China could socially control its populations through its draconian measures, we are less inclined toward that level of invasiveness in our softer, more open societal structure which makes it all the more important to voluntarily maintain adherence to the restrictions and limits being put upon us here.

The governments ways are beginning to adapt to circumstance, knowledge and need.   It's frustrating for all of us, but unless we maintain faith in our governance then we will slip into a semi-anarchic state of everyone doing their own thing, a sure slide toward national ruin.   If we can maintain the guidance regime, accelerate the testing programme and get essential workers back to the coal-face then we will start to make progress.  Once that testing is infinitely more widespread and individuals are proven to be risk free then we must get industry back up and running, pushing the economy on - for there is little merit in saving the population only to discover we are in such a ruinous economic state that the suffering merely transfers from a viral threat to a complete social and economic collapse from which it will be very difficult to recover.

With that scenario in mind, just consider the complexity of the decision making the government is battling with.   We may chunner behind their backs, but let's give them the space to make choices and decisions that none of us would wish to be faced with.       

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There is no question that we are all, globally, experiencing a unique social phenomena - that of social restriction, engagement and interaction.   The COVID-19 crisis has rapidly moved across the entire globe requiring our leadership to impose measures designed to inhibit the transmission of the virus and enable our healthcare resources to manage the process of recovery from within their capacities.

Some nations are taking this on-board in different ways.  Much depends upon other factors than just the virus itself - urban population densities, national habits and freedoms and, perhaps most significantly, our ability and desire to mingle closely with other people.  All of these, and more, interact in our attempts to stop the virus transmitting more widely.  The Swedes crop up as an exceptional example in this.   Admittedly, they have a much smaller and more widely distributed population than the UK, but whilst they have social distancing and stay at home measures, they are not mandatory, only advisory.  People still socialise in Stockholm, bars and restaurants are open - there is an air of carefully considered behaviour at work.  In short, the Swedish government trusts its citizens to behave responsibly and take responsible measure to protect the community at an individual level.  Much is said about the discipline and self-control of the Swedes - and this surely is a factor in their national behaviour and response to the viral crisis - and of their superior tech-savvy ability to work from home, remotely but effectively.   There hasn't been a significant impact upon Swedish industry because their workforce is flexible, adaptive and regarded as individually responsible.  So far, this is quite a unique approach in itself.

We cannot draw exact comparisons between Sweden and Britain - we are quite different in a number of ways - but the contrast does seem to raise the question of personal discipline, responsibility and community consideration here in Britain.  We laud our carers, quite rightly, our media pumps out tales of community spirit, equally rightly, yet there remains a strata of the population that have not engaged with the restriction measures the government are now on the verge of enforcing more stringently - and this strata is the dangerous one that can perpetuate viral spread to everyone else's cost.   Look around, you will see those that are ignoring responsible curtailment measures and merely suiting themselves.  It would be wrong to suggest they are anything other than a minority, but they are there, and their behaviour presents risk to the sensible majority.   The very fact that the government are having to consider more penal enforcement is a recognition that our society, our social structures and sense of individual responsibility is not as comprehensively evident at ground level as it might appear elsewhere.  Our history has led us to a position of maximising our freedoms, albeit somewhat skewed by an obsession with political correctness, and our society has come to expect that it can pretty much do what it likes.  Recent decades of cut-backs in policing, military and national infrastructures, eg, nuclear power, electrification, transport, etc, and not least the NHS have all been indicative of a slacker, more laissez-faire approach to Britain's national life.  Until very recently, successive governments have got away with constantly eroding the investments that other nations have continued to make in national infrastructure.  COVID-19 has brought that shortcoming into a stark reality. 

Yet blaming the past is not a solution - it may well highlight the way for a future behaviour model - but in the here and now we have to have our government enforce compliance to the measures deemed necessary.  In this we must trust.  But let us all reflect on how we, as individuals, exercise responsibility and discipline in these unique times - it is the very condition that will get us all through this crisis if we are true to our beliefs in ourselves.