“Did you ever think you would be breaking the law so much?” | Christopher Winter
Imagine, for a moment, a place in which a large minority of the population are committing crimes multiple times a day, every day, for months on end. Imagine a place where even the average person is probably breaking rules at least once a week. What sort of place would this be? This kind of place sounds practically anarchistic or as if the people are in some sort of active resistance movement against a totalitarian regime. This place, of course, is neither of those things. This place is lockdown Britain.
This article is not a criticism of those breaking the rules, nor is it a criticism of those making or enforcing the rules. Neither is it supporting those who have broken lockdown rules. This article is merely an observation on the strangeness of our current situation and perhaps the long-term problems we may face because of it.
Let us get something out of the way first… you, dear reader, have broken lockdown rules at some point since March 2020. These incursions were probably accidental but possibly intentional. A smaller minority of you have been actively breaking the most serious lockdown rules for at least the last few months and certainly at Christmas. There is such a plethora of confusing and constantly changing rules that even with the best will in the world, the average person would struggle to follow them to the letter.
To break some of these rules would invite a slap on the wrist and nothing more; however, some carry large penalties (up to £10,000 for the very unlucky). Did you ever think at the start of 2020 that you could break a rule that, if enforced correctly, could result in you being fined for £10,000? In comparison to other crimes, this size of fine is roughly equivalent to the manufacture, import, and sale of imitation firearms; harassment without violence; or the sale of alcohol to children. I am sure that you would not be willing or capable of doing those things, and yet here you are violating laws, which carry the same level of punishment, more frequently than you would care to admit.
This, therefore, poses the question… why do normally law-abiding citizens think it is ok to violate these rules? How have we managed to normalise crime? Crime which could potentially lead to your death or the death of your loved ones. I do not think that this question has a simple answer. Firstly, cast aside those who break the rules by accident. Their disobedience can only be attributed to poor communication from the government and/or a lack of attention on their part. The people who we really should be interested in are the large amounts of people who routinely break the rules intentionally. There are many different factors that lead this group to break the imposed lockdown rules but one thing that unites them is the ability to rationalise and justify the lawbreaking to themselves. They feel as though the rules do not apply to them.
This is, in all fairness, rather understandable. The rapid change of laws regarding such humble acts as going outdoors frequently, meeting up with friends, or having a meal with the family have been very distressing. These are all simple freedoms which we took for granted pre-March 2020. The very basis of English common law, something which many of us understand only through cultural intuition and nothing more, is that an Englishman is free to do as he pleases if what he is doing is not explicitly illegal. It is therefore difficult for the Englishman to accept a more civil law style system, in which every rule must be defined and accounted for, as it has never been a part of his culture.
Professor Fay Short of Bangor University also argues that the urge to ‘take control’ of a situation is also a large factor in breaking the rules and that those who have had no direct or indirect experience of the coronavirus are less likely to take the regulations seriously. All of this leads to the culture of rule breaking which we now find ourselves in.
The health effects of breaking coronavirus related restrictions have no impact on this article, that is not to say that I do not care about the health effects of breaking lockdown, but that the implications of violating COVID-19 rules in relation to the spreading of coronavirus go beyond the scope of this article and my expertise. What concerns me is the way in which our culture may be changing more and more to one with little regard for the rules already in place. According to the Office for National Statistics, the rate of crime was already increasing pre-coronavirus. My worry is that, due to a further sense of normalisation, more and more people will be willing to break the law once lockdown has ended.
As well as a declining respect for the law, I also fear that this will lead to the further distrust and discontent with the British police force. The police have found themselves in a very awkward position in which, if they do not properly enforce Coronavirus rules, they are viewed as weak and toothless, and if they fully and rigorously enforce all the lockdown rules, they are viewed as tyrants. It appears as though that they attempted to find a middle ground between the two and failed completely. Coming across to the average person as both toothless and tyrannical. We may view this as only a problem for the present and not the future, but surely these examples of police inconsistency and incompetence will affect our relationship with them post COVID-19?
Unfortunately, there is no easy or straightforward answer to any of the questions posed in this article. I think that these lockdowns have certainly highlighted some clear issues with the current British police force and our system of checks and balances on government power (with some well overdue reform hopefully on the horizon.)
It is entirely possible that, come the end of lockdown, life will gradually return to normal. I sincerely hope that the institutions and systems we hold dear will be respected by the public at large. However, if that does not happen, then we are certainly looking at a concerningly long period of instability. A period where people are emboldened to violate rules which they feel should not really apply to them. A period where people see the government and the police as spineless to act but also as tyrannical monsters to be rebelled against.
In short, hope and pray for the best… but be prepared for the worst.