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  • Alastair Cavendish

The Disappearance of Dissent

Updated: May 8

The range of responses to the April protests against lockdown from what we might now call the media-political complex has been impressive. If some counter-revolutionary Saul Alinsky were to come up with a revised version of Rules for Radicals (Advice for Autocrats? Dogma for Dictators? Tenets for Tyrants?), it might well include the following points:


You can’t join a protest if you don’t know it’s happening.


If Google and the other Silicon Valley search engines fail to display websites that mention the protest, this restricts attendance to people who were already sufficiently sceptical of lockdown, the government, and the media to seek out alternative news sources. As an effective tyrant, you will, of course, have stifled online discussion and prevented in-person meetings already.


If everyone ignores it, nothing happened anyway.


The simplest way to deal with dissent is simply to pretend it isn’t there. After all, if there had been significant anti-lockdown protests involving tens of thousands of people in central London, the BBC, CNN and every other mainstream media outlet would have reported these events, would they not? Their lack of interest, therefore, shows that there really wasn’t a story here at all.


Say that it was just a few cranks.


This is where photography comes into its own. Find a few stragglers to make it look as though the entire protest consisted of five people and a dog. Seek out the two or three placards about conspiracy theories, ignoring the thousands that make cogent criticisms of lockdown or vaccine passports. Ensure that Piers Corbyn, or someone who looks like him, features prominently.


Say that the protesters were violent.


You might need to employ a bit of latitude here. Find any violent altercation that happened in London on the same day as the march and tack it on to the end of your footage. Or send in some masked thugs masquerading as protesters. This is what the Chinese government does, and Chinese tactics for social control are terribly fashionable these days.


Argue that the protest was pointless in any case.


Lockdown is ending. Life is returning to normal. The people on the march may not be bright enough to know how calendars work. When they are not tearing down 5G masts and throwing bottles at the police, many of them are to be found on Salisbury Plain, scratching their heads over the function of Stonehenge. Most people, however, know that in June, which is only next month, freedom will reign supreme, and all restrictions will vanish away like the dew in the morn.


The last of these tactics is worth considering, for it is the most insidious, and has been bruited about a good deal in the past couple of weeks. The first and most obvious response is to ask whether you trust Boris Johnson any farther than you could throw a Nightingale hospital. It would be both complacent and naïve to assume that something will happen merely because he has said it will. Let us be optimistic for a moment, however, and assume that the government is as good as its word. In June, all the restrictions are lifted, and a grateful nation breathes a sigh of relief. Lockdown and all its woes are forgotten.


What will be the political consequences of this? Do you think it likely that Matt Hancock will apologise for being a swivel-eyed maniac and destroying the rule of law, Michael Gove will admit that every word he has uttered for the last year has been a whopping lie, Rishi Sunak will confess that he ruined the economy for nothing, and the whole cabinet will don sackcloth and ashes? Or is it rather more likely that they will all double down and insist that they did the right thing? Remember that the only thing this government does really well is propaganda. If we fail to stand up for the truth at this stage, the narrative in the history books of the future will read something like this:


“At the beginning of 2020, the world was hit by a devastating pandemic of unprecedented virulence. The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, a man of Churchillian eloquence matched only by his steely determination and sea-green integrity, reluctantly plunged the country into a new procedure called “lockdown,” a brilliant public health strategy devised by the world’s finest scientific minds. This was tough medicine, but by gum it was effective. Johnson’s brilliant lockdown strategy undoubtedly saved millions of British lives, perhaps billions. This episode contains a clear lesson for every country in the world. At the first hint of danger, run, don’t walk, to give up all your personal freedoms to the government, and barricade yourself inside your bedroom. Lockdown proved to be a universal panacea, quite literally the best idea anyone ever had. Its uses have since proved to be endless. How to tackle pollution? Have a lockdown! Climate change? Several more lockdowns. Knife crime? Lockdown. Hay fever? Lockdown. The pangs of despised love? Existential dread? The disappointing lack of training opportunities for our young British tennis players? The solution, in all cases, begins with “l” and ends with “ockdown”.”


This is an approximation, of course. The history books of the future will all be written in Chinese, and the Chinese have no expression for “by gum”. The nearest phrase in Chinese is “adjacent to adhesive” and they probably won’t use that because it is too informal an expression for an academic text and, in any case, I just made it up.


What remains true is that lockdown must be opposed even when it appears to be over. This barbaric and ineffective approach to public health has to be seen for the disaster it is, or we shall never be free of it. Every time the country faces a new virus, an environmental disaster, or one of many other potential difficulties, a certain section of society which has enjoyed the last three lockdowns will start clamouring for another. The protests against lockdown have not been small, or violent. They have included a diverse array of thoughtful, peaceful citizens whose public-spirited concern for freedom and democracy does not deserve the orgy of sneering and snarling with which it has been greeted by those sections of the media which have deigned to acknowledge it at all. To say that their protests are redundant as we approach the sunlit uplands of universal liberty is a more subtle smear than the others, but it is equally dangerous and untrue.

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