The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging” Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviour (SPI-B), 22 March 2020
The above quotation is from a Government advice paper and is quoted by Laura Dodsworth in the introduction to her excellent new book, A State of Fear: How the UK government weaponised fear during the Covid-19 pandemic (Pinter & Martin, paperback £9.99). Dodsworth’s book is an analysis of how the Johnson administration deployed fear in service of a lockdown agenda – and of how it continues to do so.
This is where we are: the UK is in a sort of Escher context in which the emergence of lockdown is not distinguishable from the entering of a new phase of it. How did we get here? Dodsworth offers an answer: people, when scared, are willing to embrace all manner of humiliations. And government, knowing this, will pile on the fear. Government is always like a child, attempting to see what it can get away with. Dodsworth explains why, if you like, the public declined to be the adult who pushes back. In March last year we had a chance to set the boundaries. We chose not to.
A State of Fear is part history, part data scrutiny, and part moral warning – that we never go down this route again. It is rigorously argued yet passionate. It interrogates the data while at the same time is sensitive to the fact – often overlooked in the lockdown discussion” – that there are certain rhythms of the human soul that can never be quantified, and which are allergic to the government slide. That is a difficult trick to pull off, but she manages it magnificently. Her prose is measured in a way that emphasises just how angry she is, and which seems to demand to know why so many people do not share in that anger. Her research is impeccable, and real people speak to us from the pages. She intuits a deep scientific truth: that anecdote is tangible evidence and is invariably more accurate than an Imperial College model”.
Dodsworth describes how the UK Government (and others) had, even before 2020, developed mechanisms of control designed to engineer consent” – to nudge” those of us too thick to know what is in our real interests in the direction of the Establishment consensus. To these murky and impenetrable engines of the Deep State, the Covid crisis was an opportunity. The toy was brought out of the box.