This is an article by Chris Larkin, a professional filmmaker.
I think I have always voted Tory; I can well remember how pleased I was at John Major’s surprise victory in 1992, and have occasionally campaigned for the party locally. I make films for a living, and I’m one of the few people working in the media who is not on the left politically. I’m a practising Christian, a family man living in a Greater London suburb whose churches in particular have accepted wholesale the government’s version of events during this crisis. So how did I find myself confronting massed ranks of police in Hyde Park on Saturday?
In my line of work I know exactly how easy it is, should one ever be so tempted, to tell a true and emotive story in video form, that is entirely unrepresentative of wider realities. I have therefore avoided TV news bulletins since the crisis began, getting my news from other sources.
Usually, there is a politician out there who represents my views in some form. Yet in the heat of news-induced hysteria at the start of the crisis, the Conservative party evaporated. The BBC , meanwhile, imprisoned itself within the facile and self-reinforcing logic of the ‘lockdown assumption’. The executive and people were quickly infected with the mass hysteria virus. Increasingly my conscience told me that we had become victims of misrule by a collective distortion arising from our faith tradition. Many seemed to relish the cruelty of lockdown, believing that to suffer is redemptive, supported by rituals that are of no relevance to God, or to medical science. They forgot, however, that it is others (the young, the poor of the world, the lonely, cancer and heart patients), doing the suffering.
I’ve never before had a reason to take part in a demonstration, so to arrive at Speakers Corner on 16th May 2020 was, I admit, exhilarating, and did something to restore my damaged affection for public life. There was a Gilbert and Sullivan quality to proceedings as we processed up and down, the police laying on a spectacle at a time when theatres are closed. The paradox is that if the Met’s Tactical Support Group hadn’t been there in such force, the drama would have lacked focus. Though several hundred in number, it would have been possible to write us demonstrators off as a disparate group of single-issue blowhards milling around waving placards at each other. These cats would not have herded. As it was, massed ranks of police converged to arrest Piers Corbyn, a 73-year-old man, and our chorus line processed alongside the spear-carriers of the Metropolitan Police towards their patrol vans with chants of “shame on you”, making for a decent news event, and a united protest in defence of liberty. The atmosphere was rowdy, but not menacing; an operetta that never turned Wagnerian. My Tory-boy protestation to a policeman, “you’re handling this well, officer”, were met with the perfect reply as he glanced at his watch: “it’s still early days, sir”.
In our hyper-real world where everyone is filming everyone else the police high-definition camera presided over the demonstration like Cyclops at the end of a long stalk. Priti Patel supports the action of police against demonstrators in “monitoring them and breaking them up in order to protect the public”. What does the home secretary imagine there will be to monitor in someone like me? Let me save her the trouble; my days are spent loading and reloading the dishwasher, reading the letters of P.G. Wodehouse, and going for walks with my wife.
There’s an unacknowledged Christian theological question struggling to get out from under this crisis. Are we commanded to care for the sick at all costs, as the Gospel implies, or do we believe, as I do, that freedom itself is the precondition for any meaningful good to be done? And where is it implied in our teaching that one affliction should be allowed to claim a monopoly on compassion? Do the poor in those parts of the world where they must either trade with us or starve, no longer count? In first-century Palestine, there was no TV news agenda.
I haven’t got round to cancelling my Conservative party membership. I feel as I imagine conscientious objectors must have felt in wartime: despised, but unable to deny my own convictions. Johnson could find a way out of the mess in the forthcoming legal challenge to the lockdown measures. The government initially read the threat quite well, but was rolled over by force of events, by fear of TV news pictures, by the coincidence of Johnson’s own illness and of members of his modern version of the revolutionary ‘Committee of Public Safety’. Countries around the world are seeing results that would have occurred whatever they did or didn’t do. Admitting one’s mistakes: the only way anyone of us can find redemption.
Update: HD says: I have changed the second last sentence of this piece at Chris’s request.