Disagree with the rules if you like, but let’s not pretend they are baffling

Prime Minister Boris Johnson attending a remote press conference to update the country at Covid-19 – PIPPA FOWLES / AFP

We have been pampered in recent years. Extremely complex issues, with persuasive arguments on both sides, have been reduced to simple slogans. "Take Back Control" and "Get Brexit Done" took advantage of the dominant psychological dynamics of our time to overcome facts, experts and reasons. Whether you agreed or not, they worked.

"Stay Home" was equally convincing, an invitation to enter the terror represented by an unrestrained pandemic and face it with general prohibitions, mass restrictions and universal prescriptions. We never tried a scalpel – it was time for the sledgehammer.


However, even within the comparatively clear parameters of the original government councils, in the policy approval process, we ended up with police drones and local police officers curing our weekly store.

We are now informed of the government's communication strategy, which sought to loosen the blockade, causing widespread confusion. For example, on the one hand, we are encouraged to go to work, but on the other, we are discouraged from using public transport. How do you agree with that, ask us.


I am sure that I am not the only one who does not think it is so difficult to develop the right course of action. I am also not alone in disapproving the idea of ​​Downing Street making individual travel plans for all of us.

The best approach would be for the central government (and the devolved administrations) to define the broad strategy and allow us to join the dots.


What has changed in England is a shift from a presumption that we should not work, unless it is critical to a presumption that we should work if possible, while remaining safe. This is not confusing, nor is it a particularly difficult message for Boris Johnson and his team to sell.

What created a sense of confusion is that the prime minister ignored his own liberal instinct and allowed his government to be more prescriptive, venturing beyond setting broad parameters for implementing specific prohibitions.

Surrendering to a more authoritative persuasion, establishing a comprehensive list of exactly what is going in and out, would always end badly. It is impossible to develop rules for all possible scenarios. Trying to do so was in danger of ending all sorts of nonsense, such as the stipulation that people can see one parent, but not both together.


The Prime Minister now needs to decide whether he wishes to draw up the list properly, with complete regulations for numerous hypothetical situations, or to step back and choose to allow us to apply the so-called "common sense" within broad parameters.


There is no reason why the latter will not work. Some of the most obviously ridiculous guidelines would need to be fixed, guaranteed, but much of the supposed confusion is easy to resolve. The prime minister could, for example, remind the police that what is not specifically prohibited in our mature democracy is generally allowed. Now that the cops know that we can exercise all day, sit on a bench, direct a golf ball, or throw a fly (as long as we're two meters from another human being), they can keep their tape measures.

The diversity of devolution is also not confusing. Different administrations in different parts of the UK may issue different guidelines on what is and is not allowed. It creates strange anomalies, of course. You could fish for the Wye near Hereford today, but not in Builth Wells. You could walk one side of Twyn Llech in the Black Mountains, but not the other. This may be strange, but it is wrong to say that it is confusing.

This would be helped by a more constructive attitude from government critics. It is vital that we question the merits of more liberal and less liberal approaches, and do not stop pretending that we are intellectually overwhelmed by the fact that two different policies apply.

Let's stop self-infantilizing and question whether the politicians of London, Edinburgh Cardiff and Belfast are doing the right thing, instead of acting as if we don't understand what they are doing.

Guto Harri was communications director for Boris Johnson during his time as Mayor of London

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