Holding Covid times to account

Battle of Ideas festival 2023, Sunday 29 October, Church House, London


It can sometimes feel as though the whole lockdown period was a bad dream. Did it really happen? Most of the population might wish to forget and move on. Even while the fallout is still having a profound impact – such as the 140,000-plus ‘ghost children’ who haven’t returned to school after lockdown – there can be a reluctance to face up to what happened.

Perhaps we are suffering from an awkward defensiveness about having allowed our liberties to be suspended so easily. Did we really let the UK parliament declare itself ‘non-essential’ and shut down, only to reopen with legislation in place that allowed the then health secretary, Matt Hancock, to rule by decree? It is almost too depressing to remember that, for months on end, we were banned from leaving the house without a state-sanctioned excuse. Police rifled through people’s shopping baskets and arrested people for sitting on benches. We deprived children of schooling. Did we really sit by as diktats were issued on everything from casual sex to singing?

By now, there’s widespread cynicism about whether the public inquiry into the UK’s handling of the pandemic will really ‘rigorously and candidly’ investigate the government’s actions. Public hearings are not expected to end until 2026, but it already seems to have accepted the conventional, ‘expert’ narrative that the suspension of liberty was essential to save lives.

So, who will explore more sceptical lines of enquiry about the cost of lockdown – to freedom, education, social services, health and the economy? Three authors – Jennie Bristow, Laura Dodsworth and Thomas Fazi – have tackled the topic in new ways – writing accounts to help us learn lessons and allow a proper debate about the rights and wrongs of lockdown. Can we investigate this dark period without going down rabbit holes, obsessively demanding retribution or getting stuck in a grievance loop? Do we need to free ourselves from the ‘new normal’ by getting some closure on the old one?

Jennie Bristow
senior lecturer in sociology, Canterbury Christ Church University; author, The Corona Generation: coming of age in a crisis and Growing up in Lockdown

Laura Dodsworth
writer; photographer; author, Free Your Mind and A State of Fear

Thomas Fazi
journalist and writer; author, The Battle for Europe: how an elite hijacked a continent – and how we can take it back and The Covid Consensus: the global assault on democracy and the poor – a critique from the Left

Viv Regan
managing editor, spiked; director, Young Journalists’ Academy