The war on dissent

We live in strange times.

As a critical criminologist I have been very worried since the start of the pandemic about the lack of nuance. Critical thinking is attacked at every turn and people are blinkered.

We should all be very wary of what is happening. It is easy to mock people protesting against lockdown and to call them ‘conspiracy theorists’ and mental health slurs, yet in doing so we potentially push them into the hands of the far right.

There is a war on dissent taking place. Very few investigative journalists are speaking out against the government and holding state power to account. We are being fed an endless churn of Bojo approved propaganda. Charts and graphs that are deliberately unpalatable for the layperson.

If ask about the non-covid harms we are told we are selfish, that we don’t care about people dying. If we point out the sheer ridiculousness of some of the ‘rules’ then we are called ‘deniers’.

Orwell, Atwood and Kafka have nothing on this.

The most perplexing thing for me is that the criminologists usually fixated on misuses of police power and state surveillance are nowhere to be seen. Some are advocating for stricter lockdowns.

Lockdowns are given different names in a bid to sound more appetizing, such as ‘circuit breaker’ and ‘tiers’.

Alleged misuses of police powers are being shared via social media platforms. Statements are put out to blame the alleged victim. Most of this goes without critique.

I am incredibly grateful for investigative journalists such as Mattha Busby of the Guardian

There are also barristers such as Matthew Scott writing about the disproportionate policing of lockdown.

Patrick Butler of the Guardian writes that almost 700,000 people have been driven into poverty by Covid in the UK.

David Batty of the Guardian writes that UK universities fine students £170,000 for covid breaches

Since the beginning of the pandemic we have witnessed a range of dystopian and bizarre measures.

From fines given for ‘non essential trips to shops’,

criticisms of wearing jeans to ‘saunter’,

flying drones to spy on walkers in the Peak District,

and filling a lagoon with black dye to keep people away, my seminars are full of examples.

And who can remember the woman charged under a law that did not exist for ‘loitering’ at a railway station.

Now we have police “storming a church” over loud music and too many staff being present.

There is a French bill being pushed to ban images of on-duty police officers. This could concern everybody who appreciates accountability.

In the UK, the Conservatives are planning on introducing major changes on public order legislation to crack down on protest. The Protection of the Police and Public Bill is planned for 2021.

We have disabled people being harassed and threatened over not wearing masks, despite such behaviour contravening the Equality Act.

Yet for many people, including ‘journalists’ and academics, the end clearly justifies the means. They are switched off from anything other than Covid. Other harms and the terrifying descent into totalitarianism doesn’t seem to bother them.

As Nick Cohen wrote on 28th November in the Guardian, politicians were once held to account, now they are not.

Gove is blacklisting journalists who submit Freedom of Information Requests.

This pandemic has seen over £1.5 BILLION given to the Tories’ friends.

The clampdown on protest should alarm everybody, as should the response from police chiefs when the public complain about violence viewed on social media.

The web of governmentality grows even more sinister when we read how our data is being harvested to predict who will ‘break’ lockdown rules.

Updated to add this example from Lockdown 3.0. Derbyshire Police (yes, them again) stating that travelling to exercise is not in the ‘national spirit’ and that taking hot drinks on a walk is not allowed as it ‘constitutes a picnic’.

No matter what your thoughts on Covid are, should any of the above be happening in a democracy? As academics our job is to question, interrogate, prod, provoke, uncover, critique. Yet this is becoming harder and harder. People are governed by their funding and others are terrorised into compliance.

I am grateful for orgs such as Big Brother Watch, Liberty, Net Pol. I am grateful for the medics speaking out about the non-covid harms that many of us are battling. I am just thankful for those left who can add some nuance and critical thinking.

There are dark days ahead but we must not let this government and their cronies get away with this double-think. The critical social sciences have never been more crucial.

Gemma x