Lord Sumption says UK government’s handling of pandemic augurs authoritarianism



Lord Sumption

The actions of the UK government during the coronavirus emergency this year bear the hallmarks of authoritarianism, Lord Sumption has warned.

The former Supreme Court justice noted that authoritarian government promotes “loyalty at the expense of wisdom and flattery at the expense of objective advice”.

“Want of criticism encourages self-confidence and self-confidence banishes moderation and restraint,” he added.

Delivering the Cambridge Private Law: Freshfields Lecture 2020, he discussed the lockdowns imposed on the public this year and the habit that temporary laws have of becoming permanent.

He said that we ourselves, having acquiesced to fear, are in part to blame for the current situation.

“Historically, fear has always been the most potent of instruments of the authoritarian state. That is what we are witnessing today. But the fault is not just in our government, it’s also in ourselves.

“Fear provokes strident calls for abrasive action, much of which may be unhelpful or damaging. It promotes intolerant conformism. It encourages abuse directed against anyone who steps out of line, including many responsible opponents of this government’s measures, and some notable scientists who have questioned their empirical basis.”

These, he suggested, are the “authentic ingredients of a totalitarian society”.

Lord Sumption also accused the government of having “deliberately” stoked fear with the “language of impending doom” and the “alarmist projections of the mathematical models, the manipulative use of selected statistics and the “presentation of exceptional tragedies, as if they were the normal effects of Covid-19”.

Moreover, he said that authoritarian governments appeal to “the emotional and irrational in collective opinion”. The current government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis “exemplifies all of these vices”.

He warned that the “British public has not even begun to understand the seriousness of what is happening in our country”.

Many people will not care what happens until it is too late, he added.

“They instinctively feel that the end justifies the means – the motto of every totalitarian government which has ever existed.”

Lord Sumption predicted a “radical and lasting transformation in the relationship between the state and its citizens” in Britain in the coming years.

“And with it will come an equally fundamental change in our relations with each other – change characterised by distrust, resentments, and mutual hostility.”



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