Guernsey Press

The price of freedom?

I KNEW it would get a reaction. Putting your head over the parapet always does.

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(Shutterstock picture) (28941079)

Mind you, if you can’t stand the heat, as President Harry S. Truman famously said, you should get out of the kitchen.

Last week, I was ‘doing The Papers’, the BBC News Channel’s late-night review of the next morning’s newspapers. There were two stories on which I could have taken the easy path and just been a rapporteur of the stories or I could take a position and argue my case.

Regular readers of this monthly offering will know that the latter path is the only way I know.

So when the story was on the anticipated pay freeze for non-frontline public sector employees I observed that:

u It was great that frontline doctors, nurses and care workers were excluded from the freeze. I think that those in this group should include the police, the Armed Services, the firefighters.

u I have been overwhelmed by the ingenuity, the innovation, the sheer hard work and resilience of the employees of so many businesses as they have faced the uncertainty, the furlough, the redundancies and the cuts in pay (pay freeze? They wish!) that have come with the fight against Covid.

u There are millions of public sector employees, not on the frontline, who have not suffered at all over the past eight months. They may well have had to work from home but their pay has not suffered any reduction, their jobs are safe, their pensions are unaffected, the shadow of redundancy is not hovering over their positions. All that is being proposed is one year of no pay rise. After all that the businesses of the UK have gone through as they fight to stay in business, making the profit that pays the tax to pay for the public sector, after all that the amazing public sector frontline people have done and the sacrifices (often in ways other than money) they have made, the only contribution being asked of those in the non-frontline public sector is not to have a pay rise for 12 months. Surely in relative terms that is not much to ask.

Next up came the story that asked the question ‘what happens next?’ when the national lockdown finishes in early December. I reflected that:

u There would be a terrible price to pay in the number of Covid-related deaths in January 2021 if people didn’t obey the rules in the run-up to Christmas.

u The government would be forced to bring in more serious financial and morale debilitating lockdowns if the end of national lockdown and an anticipated vaccine brought about a demob-happy atmosphere where people thought that rules were for someone else to comply with.

u No Prime Minister wanted to be forever known as the Man Who Cancelled Christmas but a restriction-free period would come with a huge health and economic price to pay.

u So it should be a time when all sectors of society accepted personal responsibility for their actions. Yes, the rules do also apply to certain communities in various parts of the country and furthermore students do have to obey the rules just like everyone else. Although many of the student population were encouraged back to university by their vice-chancellors and many have indeed obeyed the rules to protect themselves and others, when I saw, from Manchester to Bristol, from Liverpool to Newcastle, so many young people breaching social distancing regulations and mask-wearing recommendations and partying like it was their last night on Earth, I am entitled to form a view that there are many students who behave irresponsibly as if the rules are for someone else.

The newsreader running the programme observed that there would be many students who would disagree with me about their behaviour and no doubt they would let me know their views on Twitter.

I said I was delighted that the BBC didn’t operate a no-platform policy like some universities did; I am entitled to express my view just as any student (or anyone else, for that matter) disagreeing with me is entitled to express theirs. That’s called freedom, and a healthy, peaceful debate between people who disagree with each other is one of its hallmarks.

So I knew it would get a reaction. The social media tax-avoiding barons escape the laws that govern items appearing in these pages and ground personal liability on the editor. ‘We’re a platform not a publisher’ is a run for cover whose time for abolition has surely arrived.

The social media trolls who sit in their secrecy, sending out tweets with vile content that no newspaper or TV/radio station could ever countenance, no doubt feeling big and better for it, delivered the predicted bilge following my remarks.

It’s happened before and will no doubt happen again. I am lucky, I am low pond life – you should see the filth that females in the media have to put up with. Or politicians and sports stars who have a bad day at the office or commit the heinous crime of just not supporting the cause of the Tweeting trolls.

So to the many who took to Twitter to agree with me, thank you. To those who used social media to disagree with vigour and criticism but with politeness, thank you. But regarding ‘Dad Rants’, who was just one of many who used Twitter anonymity to show that he clearly thought that putting as many disgusting words as possible in a sentence enhanced his argument, and ‘Andrea Taylor Queen Elect’, who told me that ‘Covid is the greatest hoax perpetrated on mankind which is ushering in the antichrist system’, I can’t wait for the day when some democratically-elected government has the courage and the will to pass laws to ground upon Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google et al the obligations and responsibilities of a publisher. The filth would stop overnight.

Why do the trolls do it? Because we have become a polarised world stuffed full of envy and a sense of inadequacy. Because social media has destroyed unity and developed a sense of taking hate-filled sides. But I guess the main reason is just because, behind the shield of anonymity, they can.

So we say goodbye and good riddance to 2020, a year like no other in living memory peacetime.

We in Guernsey have been very fortunate but there is a degree of making one’s own luck. Good leadership of the tremendous social movement of Guernsey Together and the rigid discipline of strictly-enforced quarantine have spared us the worst of the ravages of the disease that we see elsewhere.

I know that the returning students and their families, in at last being able to be together for Christmas, will unwaveringly obey the rules for the full 14 days after getting home and won’t behave as if compliance is someone else’s responsibility. This island has come too far this year to fail at its final hurdle.

Pat and I wish everyone here on Guernsey, in our new home, a very merry Christmas and a peaceful, fulfilling and (above all) healthy New Year.