If you love freedom, you also have to accept the responsibilities which come with it, and its corollary - risk. So after 18 months of accepting rules and regulations which no normal liberal democracy would even think of accepting - lockdown, work from home, wear masks, no socialising and so on - surely now is the right time to embrace the freedom which will be ours from next Monday. We also have to accept the personal responsibility to act sensibly thereafter.
That also implies risk: that there will be a sharp increase in infection; hospitals will once again fill up; and there will be sad deaths. We can but hope that the superbly successful vaccine programme (84% of the population now jabbed at least once) has broken the direct cause and effect link between Covid and Lockdown. I will be wearing a mask out of courtesy to others in enclosed spaces, or where people might be nervous; but I will otherwise be doing all I can to shake off the shackles of official rules and seek a return to ‘normal’. For example, I had my first physical ‘surgery’ last weekend thanks to the boldness of Malmesbury Town Hall, and I call on my other usual venues to reopen in time for the surgeries properly to recommence in September. (Details on my website, www.jamesgray.org). And in the few days left before the Summer Recess, I will hope that Parliament starts to return to something like normal.
In similar vein I feel uneasy about the ‘Food Strategy’ which Mr Dimbleby is proposing. It would in theory mean that everyone pays £120 a year more in order to be dictated to by those who think they know better. Surely it should be a matter for education rather than taxation. More taxation on fatty and sugary foods merely hits those who love them hardest. Will you really give up your early morning Frosties because they cost a few pence more? I think not. I don’t approve of cigarettes (although I do enjoy an occasional cigar); but I am certain that people should be allowed to smoke if they choose; they can drink, even to excess, and their hangovers will be the best training against doing so next time; they can risk their lives in dangerous sports. These are our freedoms, our rights. They were hard won, and we must now fight to get them back.
The whole purpose of the planning system is to constrain our freedom. The planners dictate what we can build and where and when. Yet they also listen to the voters as has been demonstrated this week by their abandonment of the ghastly Eastern by-pass round Chippenham, and the 7500 houses which it would have meant. It would have been an outrageous invasion of the countryside. The people rose up against it, and I congratulate the Council for binning it. The new proposal - a Southern bypass which will link the A350 at Lackham to the A4 at Pewsham makes good sense. I am worried about the 4000 or so houses which will still be needed to pay for it, but at least it will form an exterior boundary for the town. We give up our freedom to build; but we also trust our elected bosses to listen to our reasonably expressed concerns on the matter.
Free and open liberal democracy, which we are so lucky to enjoy here in the West, means liberty to do what we want, except where we voluntarily give up that freedom for the greater good of the greatest number. Democracy is about finding where that line lies between freedom, responsibility and risk.