In the interviews and correspondence that followed my protest at the Government’s decision to require the wearing of face-coverings, a comparison has often been made with the requirement to wear a seatbelt in motor vehicles.
People say that it is for our own good, and for the good of others, yet we require it on penalty of a fine, so “what’s the difference they ask”, inferring that I wear my seatbelt by fixed habit and without complaint.
The difference is fundamental and I am surprised that it has been missed by so many. I recall the introduction of compulsory seat belts. The requirement was preceded by a public debate, a publicity campaign fronted by Jimmy Saville (remember “clunk, Click, every trip”), and -most important of all- debates and votes in Parliament with the full scrutiny of primary legislation going through its three stages in both houses.
There were opponents who felt that this was a step too far, with the state telling us what was good for us and them making us do it. The counter argument being, if it really is good for us, let us choose to do it for ourselves.
The opponents of compulsory seat belts accepted their defeat pretty gracefully and those who end up getting fined for not wearing one, are overwhelmingly not acting in defiance, they simply forget.
The acceptance rests on consent. Those who lost the Parliamentary battle against compulsory seat belts were given every opportunity to put their case in a democratic process.
The same is true of government generally, after a general election those of us who voted for losing parties consent to be governed by our opponents because it was a democratic process in which we participated.
Being required to wear a face covering -however, good it might be for us and others, and that is arguable- is nevertheless, a pretty fundamental intrusion into our personal liberty. What makes it so utterly different from seat belts, is that there was no debate in Parliament, the arguments were never heard, we were given no opportunity to put our case: there was no vote
The government simply issued the order using powers granted to it back in 1984.
Governing by directive is very convenient for ministers and will become a habit if not checked.