Freedom, the foundation of a fruitful life. Yet some people fight their whole lives and never manage to savour that joyous feeling. The word conjures up the image of William Wallace fighting for the Scots independence and freedom from England. It conjures up Gandhi’s peaceful protests that were so effective in defying British rule in India. It conjures the image of Nelson Mandela fighting for the freedom of an oppressed majority against a system of apartheid in South Africa.
And then there was Monday 19 July 2021; a day labelled ‘Freedom day’ in the UK.
‘Freedom Day’ was the day the government removed all restrictions placed on society since the pandemic began. And what did freedom look like? It looked like people celebrating outside nightclubs as it reached midnight on the 19 July. It was at that moment that they could legally go clubbing again. Not exactly an iconic moment. Yet, the ill-informed title given to the day where social restrictions have been lifted is controversial for very different reasons to actual campaigns against oppression.
The decision made by the Conservatives to go ahead with ‘Freedom Day’ has not been driven by peoples safety — 1200 scientists have condemned it as ‘murderous’. The decision is based on the ideology of the party that has come to dominate in many countries worldwide. None more so than in America.
A conflict of ideology
There are two sides to the argument. From one perspective, with a high percentage of the population now vaccinated, decisions should be driven by the greatest good for the greatest number. The virus poses a risk of death to a small percentage of (mostly vulnerable) people, and that percentage has become even smaller due to the success of a vaccination programme.
Adding weight to the argument is the fact we can’t live like this forever. There needs to be a moment where we get back to normal and learn to live with the threat posed by the virus.
The problem with the greatest good for the greatest number argument is that it pushes the vulnerable and elderly to the sidelines, leaving them exposed and at risk. The majority may be better off, but the minority could die.
Essentially, this policy ignores those who are most vulnerable. It may be a relatively small number of people, but how would you feel if your life was at risk due to a decision made by the government?
The other side of the ideological argument is that policy decisions should prioritise the most vulnerable in society first. The majority should make sacrifices for the benefit of the minority. That is the basis of a healthy, thriving community and society. If we push the vulnerable to the sidelines and let them deal with their own problems, what sort of society are we fostering?
That is nothing more than a vicious system grounded in a world of rampant individualism. A ruthless society underpinned by an attitude of dog eat dog. Where the fittest and strongest thrive and the weak get chewed up and spat out. If you’re not fit enough to survive, well, that’s your problem.
But hang on — that kind of is how society functions. And it’s not done so by accident. The construct of society is grounded in neoliberalism, an economic doctrine that prioritises the power of the individual above all else.
Neoliberalism — or Thatcherism as it was known when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister from 1979 — argues the smaller government is and the less intervention in people’s lives and the economy, the better. The government is a meddling force. Less meddling creates a platform for each person to thrive and make something of themselves.
What about those who are vulnerable, some may ask?
What about the homeless? Well, that’s their own fault, they ought to get a job and then they wouldn’t be homeless. How about the unemployed? There’s plenty of jobs out there, they only need to get up off their backsides, and with the right attitude, they’ll find work. How about those who do have jobs but can’t afford to pay for bills or food because their wages are too low, so they end up taking high-interest payday loans? Well, they need to make more money, so they don’t go into debt.
From the perspective of neoliberals, the world is black and white. You have the weak and lazy who don’t have a ‘winners’ mentality. And then you have those who grab life by the scruff of the neck. They ‘win’ not because the rules of the game have been skewed in their favour — they win because they have a ‘winners’ attitude.
The most surprising thing of all
What is most surprising about events in the UK during the pandemic is that the Conservatives have persisted with a ‘for the benefit of all’ policy for so long. What this shows is the gravity of the situation we have been living through. The Conservatives had little option but to listen to scientific advice because had they not, the death rate would have been alarmingly high.
You imagine during the various lockdowns and social restrictions placed on society, they would have been desperate to get rid of these restrictions because they don’t believe in government interventions. They don’t believe in looking after the most vulnerable. The Conservative and the neoliberal ideology they believe in argues each person is an island. The government should get out of the way and make sure these islands have the best possible platform to thrive.
Usually, Conservative policy focuses on the greatest good for the smallest number. Reducing taxes on the rich. Cutting services for the poor and reducing welfare wherever possible because each individual should look after themselves.
Freedom Day then is much more in line with Conservative ideology.
It’s a high risk, high reward strategy. You please the majority by giving them their freedoms back. But you may inadvertently displease the majority due to the inevitable spike in cases that could translate into increased deaths.
In going against scientific advice, the Tories are risking needless deaths. So if the death count does spike, remember, this decision is not driven by peoples safety but to appease those who do not believe in society, only individuals. For some, government intervention has gone on for far too long, and the Conservatives simply couldn’t abide it any longer. Let’s hope for all our sakes they haven’t pulled the plug too early.