RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: Boris once aspired to emulate mayor from Jaws

RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: Boris Johnson once boasted that his political hero was the mayor from Jaws. But just when you thought it was safe…

Boris Johnson used to boast that his political hero was Larry Vaughn, the mayor from Jaws, who kept beaches open despite the shark attacks.

That was then, pre-Covid. Today, Boris is still taking his cue from the Spielberg classic. But he’s singing a different tune. Just when you thought it was safe . . .

Britain may be on course to vaccinate 15 million of the most vulnerable people ahead of schedule. But that doesn’t mean we can expect a return to something approaching normal life any time soon.

Ministers and their advisers have been quick to crush any sense of euphoria which may briefly have been experienced by those of us lucky enough to receive our first jabs.

Even after we’ve all had our second dose there is no immediate prospect of regaining the freedoms we once took for granted.

Boris Johnson used to boast that his political hero was Larry Vaughn, the mayor from Jaws, who kept beaches open despite the shark attacks. That was then, pre-Covid. Today, Boris is still taking his cue from the Spielberg classic

Unlike Larry Vaughn, the Prime Minister has abandoned the notion of trying to balance civil liberties and the needs of the economy with the risk to public safety.

 Despite the vaccines affording a significant level of protection against Covid, we’re told we should carry on behaving as if we have the virus. 

That means staying at home, wearing masks and, if we must go out, continuing to observe social distancing.

The latest scare story coming out of SAGE, the Government’s scientific advisory body, is that, far from the straitjacket being loosened, we may have to endure an even harsher lockdown, following the discovery that a new South African variant has arrived in Britain.

Ministers remain confident that the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab will prevent this new strain causing serious problems. But SAGE member Professor Mike Tildesley says: ‘Even with high levels of vaccination there will be a lot of people who could potentially get infected and potentially pass it on, and it may mean more restrictions might be needed for longer.’

That’s a lot of ‘potentiallys’, ‘coulds’ and ‘mights’. So who are we supposed to believe — ministers or the ‘experts’? One minute we’re told by Health Secretary Matt Hancock that we can look forward to a ‘great British summer’. The next we’re informed that restrictions are likely to last ‘for the next few years’.

According to another expert, Professor Tim Spector, of King’s College London, we can forget about big weddings and attending major sporting events for the foreseeable future. ‘Those days are gone,’ he warned.

Confused? You’re supposed to be. At the weekend it was reported that pubs and restaurants will be allowed to reopen as early as April, but they won’t be able to sell alcohol. That’s since been denied, so who knows?

The huge standing army of jobsworths are having a field day drawing up ridiculous new rules. We’re back in scotch egg and ‘substantial meal’ territory here.

No doubt the pizza police are already exercising their tape measures, despite assurances that there will be no re-run of the idiocy we saw when the last lockdown was lifted, after a fashion.

What a nightmare it must be trying to make any kind of plans for reopening your business, especially in the hospitality sector. Pubs have already had to pour away 87 million pints of beer, which they’ve been unable to sell during lockdown.

Everywhere you go, shops and offices have been boarded up for good. It remains to be seen how many firms will survive once furlough and other business support schemes end.

Millions of people are going to find themselves unemployed, perhaps permanently.

Boris has hinted that he’ll outline a ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown later this month. But he insists it is ‘still early days’ to talk about a return to anything remotely resembling a pre-Covid normal.

Early days? This has been going on for almost a year. We were led to believe that vaccination would be our get-out-of-jail card.

Yet despite the magnificent efforts of the scientists at Oxford and Pfizer, and the hugely impressive rollout programme, there’s no end in sight.

Just as I predicted a couple of weeks ago, even when everyone in Britain has been vaccinated twice over, we will still be forced to curtail our freedoms.

We’ll all be required to wear masks and observe social distancing for years to come. The punishment culture will be stubbornly resistant to all attempts to dismantle it.

The most alarming development over the past year has been the inexorable rise of authoritarianism. New laws have been nodded through our emaciated Parliament with little or no scrutiny. Police and local authorities have been handed sweeping new powers by ministerial decree.

Fines for breaches of Covid restrictions, however harmless, have been handed out like confetti. Discretion has been conspicuous by its absence.

For instance, in Wiltshire, three motorists were fined £200 for driving their high-performance cars past the home of a young boy celebrating his ninth birthday.

Ministers remain confident that the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab will prevent this new strain causing serious problems

The drive-by was organised as a treat for Dalton Tilley, whose father is critically ill in hospital after suffering a stroke while being treated for Covid. How does fining these drivers for trying to cheer up a birthday boy missing his dad contribute to the fight against the coronavirus? Any more than fining two women out walking in Derbyshire carrying cups of peppermint tea?

Answer: it doesn’t. The police do it because they can.

If and when we ever emerge from this nightmare, Britain will be a different country. The relationship between Government and the people has been changed irrevocably for the worse.

When this pandemic kicked off, there was a sense that we were all in this together. Most of us went along with lockdown out of a sense of civic duty. We wanted to be seen to be doing our bit.

But as the months have dragged on, that communitaire spirit has been transformed into something more sinister.

People have been urged by police and ministers to grass up their neighbours for real or perceived breaches of coronavirus rules.

Disgustingly, children have even been encouraged to rat on their parents.

Rather than treating us as grown-ups and trusting us do the right thing, ministers and their cheerleaders have been turning the screw. Anyone questioning the wisdom of trashing the economy and suspending civil liberties is smeared disgracefully as a Covid ‘denier’ willing to watch people die.

More from Richard Littlejohn for the Daily Mail…

Just look at the latest round of Government advertising, featuring stricken patients in oxygen masks, which seeks to portray us all as potential murderers if we forget to wear a face covering or keep our distance.

We’re no longer seen as citizens; we’re seen as the enemy, a reckless rabble who have to be corralled into compliance.

Just as the vaccines hold out the hope of an end in sight, ministers have chosen deliberately to crank up the fear factor.

What they’re really scared of, as I’ve insisted all along, is being accused at the inevitable public inquiry of not doing everything to save lives. They’d much rather pass the buck and blame the rest of us.

We are asked to believe that Boris retains his libertarian instincts and yearns to set us free, but those pesky scientists won’t let him. I’m not so sure.

This nominally Conservative Government has developed a taste for authoritarianism and centralised control. It was reported at the weekend that ministers plan to restore to Whitehall the running of the NHS, reversing years of devolving powers locally.

Among their first acts will be launching a micro-managed anti-obesity campaign which will involve putting health warnings on packs of sausages.

It’s come to this. A Prime Minister who, in a previous life, applauded mothers who pushed fish and chips through school railings, in defiance of a healthy eating initiative, is now reduced to slapping ludicrous Government health warnings on bangers.

Boris once aspired to emulate Mayor Vaughn from Jaws. But he’s become so risk averse that even though the Covid shark is in retreat, he’s prepared to keep the beaches closed in perpetuity, just to be on the safe side, regardless of the continuing damage to the economy and the freedoms he formerly championed.

So much for the vaccine heralding a return to the Old Normal. Just when you thought it was safe…

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