by Martin Odoni

Normally, I would bitterly oppose any Government ‘Commandment-from-on-high‘ confining ordinary citizens to their homes, as though the country is just a primitive version of the West Europ Dome City from Blake’s 7.

Not in West Europ City dome - yet

Today’s lockdown has disturbing implications that should not be ignored, but dealing with the Coronavirus does come first. We have centuries to stave off the birth of the Terran Federation.

But these are about the only circumstances where I have to agree with it. The country does have to go into ‘lockdown’, as the threat of the Coronavirus CoVid-19 has not been slowed at all under the previous status quo. So, yes I will say it, Boris Johnson was correct to order the lockdown this evening. Along with the few other correct actions he has taken in this crisis, it was all a bit late in the day, and he only did it after an initial mixture of blunders and dithering. But we got there in the end.

I do have long-term concerns about this, and I hope no one gets me wrong about that. Curfews, whatever name you wish to give them, do give disturbing amounts of power to authorities, and I doubt it will be long before police officers, overstretched by short-staffing, start getting a little too comfortable with the idea of misusing them. The lockdown will rightly be subject to regular Parliamentary review, once every three weeks, and it is the duty of all of us, not just Opposition MPs, to make sure that that review is carried out every time, on time, no exceptions. The big danger with any ‘state-of-emergency’ is that a leader who calls one is often allowed to decide how the emergency is defined, and therefore when it is over. Or more insidiously, when it is not. It can carry on indefinitely, if they wish. I would not for one minute put it past Johnson to take advantage if he thought he could get away with it, simply by subtly changing the definition of the current crisis. His attempt last year to bypass scrutiny came within inches of destroying the constitution, if anyone needed reminding. So we had better all keep an eye on him over the next few months, eh?

In the shorter term though, I only have one problem, and to be fair, it would have been there even if Johnson had ordered the lockdown earlier. A population of 65+ million needs to stay at home. That is not exactly a law, and there are certain limited exceptions e.g. exercise, short journeys to buy essentials etc. But that is what the police are going to be expected to enforce.

The problem?

Er, how exactly does Johnson expect it to be enforced?

Unenforceable instructions

I am not terribly impressed with Johnson’s overdue call for a lockdown. Partly because it should have included an apology for his previous inertia, but primarily because the police do not have the numbers to enforce it.

This is yet another aspect of Austerity coming back to bite the Tories on the backsides. They have made it impossible for either themselves or the country more widely to deal with a crisis because they de-funded the state’s built-in protections against emergencies – in this case, the police force. Remember Theresa May as Home Secretary, with the patronising confidence of any rich, privileged person who has never had to do a real day’s work in her life, demanding the police learn to “do more with less”? A net loss of over twenty-one thousand police since 2010 has made it quite impossible for the forces up and down the country to maintain previous levels of law-and-order. And now, just one hundred and twenty thousand officers are being instructed to make sure the entire population of the United Kingdom stay at home, twenty-four-seven-three-six-five?

I suppose this really is not Johnson’s fault particularly, certainly not as much as it is Theresa May’s and David Cameron’s. Johnson really does have to give the lockdown order now – should have done at least a week earlier in fact – and it takes a long time to train up a dedicated police officer after you have thrown out twenty thousand experienced ‘bobbies’. But it does rather suggest a certain futility to what Johnson is trying to accomplish this evening; a command well-barked, but backed by no particular bite.

Yet again we see what a stupid, pointless, toxic, no-upside program Austerity always was.