Does a Crisis Permit Curtailing Personal Freedoms?

Southfield ward councillor Gary Busuttil looks at the broader impact of Covid-19

Gary Busuttil at a time when travel was taken for granted
Gary Busuttil at a time when travel was taken for granted

For much of my lifetime I’ve seen many world changing events. The ones I remember vividly as a child was the fall of the Berlin Wall - a symbol of suppression - and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union. For so long, many people in East Germany and the Soviet Union were severely constricted to where they could travel and what they could do. I remember the jubilant crowds celebrating these two symbolic events, and their hard won right to travel wherever they want and express themselves freely without fear of retribution, something I have taken for granted throughout my whole life.

On the 23rd March when the lockdown was introduced, and I remember the police being present on the streets, at rail stations, and for the first time in my life I was questioned what I was doing and where I was going. The stark reality is that we should never take our freedoms for granted.

For some of my friends who grew up in East Germany and the Soviet Union, the lockdown conjured up painful memories of when they were children growing up in restrictive societies. After being questioned a couple of times by police about my movements, I was heading to work on both occasions, I had a taste of what those friends endured earlier in their lives, and I could only sympathise with how they were feeling.

Over the last twenty years there has been many crises from 9/11 terrorist attacks in America in 2001 to 07/07 London bombings in 2005, the financial crisis in 2008 and now the coronavirus pandemic. In each and every one of those crisis governments have tried to increase executive power, regardless of these crises we should reject such attempts at all costs. In 2005 Tony Blair’s government tried to legislate the Terror Bill allowing a 90 day detention of terror suspects, without question, which would have no doubt been disproportionately used on certain minorities, similar to how “stop and search” is being used by police today. Neither has been proven to significantly reduce crime.

Liberal Democrats say that expanding executive power will not save lives or address the root cause of the crisis. It has been proven that executive power responses not only fail to solve the problem, the debacle over PPE highlighted the complacency, and haphazard decision making that even exacerbate the original cause. The coronavirus according to Forbes, is being used as a test bed in surveillance capitalism via smartphone technology as it is in many other European and Asian countries, in the guise of public health benefits. Perhaps health is more important than civil liberties, personal freedoms and privacy, but what is true, once such freedoms have been curtailed they are rarely reversed once back to normality.

Liberal Democrats say the least we should be doing is agreeing on a set of responses that reject authoritarian exercises of executive power at the expense of the general public. Instead, we should be responding to such national crises by saving lives and fortifying the common good. Extending executive power, doesn’t determine how the NHS operates in a pandemic. Extending executive power doesn’t determine how the police respond to crime or a terrorist attack. Such incidents should be left in the capable hands of those organisations that know what they are doing. As the old saying goes “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone”.

Councillor Gary Busuttil

Southfield ward councillor for the Liberal Democrats

August 29, 2020