Conservative MPs’ commitments to liberty mean that the COVID-19 power grab is reversible

Matthew Parris is a former Conservative MP, Times and Spectator columnist and BBC broadcaster

[Editor’s note: This is one of a series of blog pieces on our spring issue, ‘COVID-19 and the Politics of Fear‘, edited by Matt Flinders, Dan Degerman and Matthew Johnson]

At home and abroad, the 2020-2021 Covid-19 pandemic may be interpreted as a power-grab by government over the populace. There’s no denying this. That is what has happened.

It is possible to call this a conspiracy by politicians. Fear of death and disease (runs the argument) is used to anaesthetise people’s normal appetite for individual liberty, and then, having stupefied our freedom-loving instincts, to leave us in an induced coma from which we never recover. Just as income tax was first used to raise money to pay for the Napoleonic wars but never subsequently discarded, so (you hear people say) a dangerous virus is being used to establish the principle that when and why we may leave home, whether or how we congregate, and even for what reasons we’re permitted to leave the country, have become legitimate matters for government. So once the pandemic is over, new reasons may be found for government to keep old powers that they enjoy exercising, whether justifiably or not.

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PODCAST: Understanding the politics of fear with Matt Flinders

Reproduced with permission from Transforming Society

Fear has played a significant role in our experience of the pandemic. So often ignored and downplayed, how should we be engaging with this emotion and thinking about it in the context of policy and politics?

In this episode of the Transforming Society podcast, Jess Miles speaks with Matt Flinders, co-editor of the latest themed issue of Global Discourse, about the role of fear in politics and public policy.

Black America and fear: Race-based data as a tool for effective COVID-19 policy

Leland Harper (, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Siena Heights University

Much of the data collection on COVID-19 infection and its long-term consequences among particular race groups, thus far, has been privately funded and limited in scope. Few governmental agencies have funded, analysed or appealed in meaningful ways to race-based data related to any aspects of this pandemic.

Effective policy relies on the most complete and accurate data available, especially regarding health, freedom and finance. Without complete data, policy makers’ work is compromised, and the resulting policy will likely be misguided and ineffective. The unique positioning of Blacks within American society, and the associated fears within Black America, requires that race-based COVID-19 data be collected and considered by public officials when drafting policy. Insofar as Black Americans are more susceptible to more profound, generational, defining loss than white Americans, race-based data is an essential tool for drafting and implementing effective policies related to lockdowns, economic recovery and vaccine distribution. Publicly funded race-based data collection and analysis, in this case, is the best available tool for policy makers to gain insight into a particular segment of the population and to ultimately draft policies that better respond to the specific needs of that community. Race-based data is a tool that needs to be used far more broadly than it has been up to this point in the pandemic.

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Editor’s Choice May 2021: COVID-19 and the Politics of Fear

Matthew Johnson, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Lancaster University (, Matthew Flinders, Professor of Politics, University of Sheffield ( and Dan Degerman, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, University of Bristol (

This Editor’s Choice features contributions examining the (mis-)management of the pandemic. A year ago, we (Flinders, Degerman and Johnson) came together out of shared concern for the place of emotions in politics and shared belief that many orthodoxies on fear as an instrument of public administration were just wrong. As the pandemic worked its way through communities and countries across the globe, it became increasingly clear that long-standing rejections of fear as a negative or pre-political emotion failed to grasp not just its adaptive evolutionary value, but the vital role it can play in enabling societies to deal with crises. We set out the ways in which key frames of analysis had been rendered inadequate by the pandemic. Our conclusion was that, as a consequence, there was space for new scholarship on the politics of fear. This issue is the most substantive iteration of that work.

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