Stand and fight to defeat the twin threats to liberty, says LEO McKINSTRY | Leo McKinstry | Columnists | Comment

The danger comes from a sinister pincer movement that seeks to exploit the climate of authoritarianism that is sweeping across our land. One arm represents the vast increase in the powers of the state in response to Covid, from bans on protests to wide-ranging travel restrictions. It is a pattern graphically highlighted in the plan – now under consideration by the Government – to impose a passport scheme on the hospitality trade, whereby customers could be barred entry to premises if they fail to provide proof they have been vaccinated.

“Show us your papers”, the cry of totalitarian regimes down the ages, is not something we would associate with the Great British Pub. But it is symbolic of the direction our society is heading.

The other arm of illiberalism can be found in the ideological assault on free expression through the intolerant “cancel culture”, which seeks to suppress any opinion that deviates from the fashionable progressive orthodoxy. A heavy blanket of political censorship hangs over Britain, where debate is silenced and dissent punished.

Only last week, a teacher was suspended from Batley Grammar School for reportedly showing an image of the Prophet Muhammad during a classroom discussion about blasphemy.

Amid protests by parents the school’s head and the local Labour MP issued apologies, but the teacher remains under 24-hour police protection. It is outrageous this kind of intimidation is happening in Britain.

We live in a democracy, not a theocracy. Tolerance and pluralism are meant to be society’s core values. But tragically, we are becoming a land scarred by witch-hunts and institutional appeasement, all in the name of progress. The state likes to prattle on about its fervent belief in cultural diversity, but it does far too little to uphold diversity of thought.

The great Ulster-born author CS Lewis once wrote that “of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive”.

Last week Parliament voted overwhelmingly for the Govern-ment to retain special Covid powers until September. When the pandemic was at its peak, it was understand-able that the state should be on an emergency footing similar to wartime.

Essential liberties had to be put in abeyance as the virus raged. 

But now that lockdown will soon be easing and half of all adults are vaccinated, it is profoundly depressing that there is not any urgency to give us back our civil rights.

In a healthy democracy, the state is accountable to the citizenry, but in post-Covid Britain the relationship could be inverted, with citizens accountable to the state.

With his deep wisdom, George Orwell wrote in 1984 that “no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it”.

During the war, the Coalition introduced national ID cards. Five years after the conflict was over, the cards were still in place. This was too much for one man, Liberal party activist Harry Willcock.

Stopped while driving in London in 1950, he refused a police request to produce his card and was prosecuted. But judges sided with Willcock, declaring the cards had outlived their wartime intention and were turning “law-abiding subjects into law-breakers”. The ID scheme was soon scrapped.

Meanwhile, a new form of brutal McCarthyism has been unleashed in Britain. Self- appointed guardians of the progressive creed hunt down “heretics”, whip up hysteria and conduct show trials by social media.

As freedom dies, they chalk up their victories: statues defaced or pulled down; definitions of hate speech ever widened; Twitter users questioned by the police; universities turned into arenas of indoctrination; language perverted so even the term mother is deemed “transphobic”; and the broadcast media transformed into an instrument of woke propaganda.

This very unBritish revolution will not end until our rulers stand up for the traditional principles on which our nation was built.

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