Coronavirus has upended the world order and called basic liberal values into question. With authoritarianism on the rise, can democracy as we know it survive?by Steve Bloomfield / June 5, 2020 / Leave a comment
The announcement that democracy had been suspended in the United Kingdom was the seventh item on the BBC News at Ten on 13th March. The year-long postponement of around 120 local elections, including the mayoralties of London, the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, was mentioned in passing, with no voices raised in opposition. The last time elections had been postponed for longer than a month was during the Second World War.
Two weeks later, the prime minister’s declaration that all citizens must stay at home, with the warning that police forces would fine those refusing to comply, was made in advance of any vote by MPs. The Coronavirus Act, rammed through parliament two days later, included a swathe of new powers for the state over the citizen.
If you wanted to protest these decisions the most you could do was write a letter or sign a petition. For the first two months of lockdown, we were barred from meeting anyone outside our own household—the right to hold a demonstration was effectively suspended.
That such decisions could take place in a liberal democracy would have been unimaginable just a few short months ago. That those decisions had the overwhelming support of the population make this moment stranger still. Our entire way of life was changed, by fiat, and we accepted it.
It happened in other democracies too—indeed in almost every democracy around the world, and almost every member of the European Union. And as the lockdowns are eased, they are being replaced by mass surveillance. In return for the freedom to step outside their homes, citizens are allowing their governments to know where they are, who they have met and the state of their health—phone data, credit card payments, CCTV have all been used to track law-abiding citizens.
Politicians have discussed the idea of “immunity passports,” dividing populations into those who are free and those who are not. One of the tech companies consulted by the UK government has suggested the use of “facial biometrics.” The idea of governments tracking us through our movements, our phones, even our faces—proposals once seen as the preserve of paranoid dictatorships—have…