United Kingdom

PETER HITCHENS: Why our liberal elite cheered for this violent mob 

An armed and angry mob surround the seat of government in the capital of a democracy, claiming the most recent election is invalid. 

In ferocious clashes between the crowd and the police, several lie dead and many are wounded. Eventually, armed men force their way into the very debating chamber.

And what happens? The mob wins. The government flees for its life. Nice liberal-minded Western governments, especially the American one, along with nice liberal media, rejoice at the outcome of these events, the overthrow of an elected government by unconstitutional means and mass intimidation.

Some of you may recall these events in Kiev, capital of Ukraine, in February 2014. I certainly do, because I found them repellent and wrong. Almost alone among Western journalists, I argued that this had been a violent putsch. 

Just imagine the outcry if a Russian diplomat or politician had been mingling with the horrible rabble which stormed the US Capitol in Washington (pictured). And quite right too

The toppled government of President Viktor Yanukovych was ugly and corrupt, beyond doubt. But by the standards of Ukraine’s young democracy, it was still legitimate.

Elections were due within a year, which could have removed those in power lawfully. The mob did not wish to wait, and even shoved aside a deal brokered by several European statesmen to preserve the rules.

Not long before this explosion, many major figures were seen fraternising with the crowds which later became the mob, including the late US Senator John McCain and Victoria Nuland, then Washington’s Assistant Secretary of State, now tipped for a high place in the Biden administration. 

They did not call for the violent overthrow of the Yanukovych government. But they were all quite happy to associate with a partisan crowd in the capital of a sovereign nation, and the demonstrators must surely have taken heart from their presence.

Some of you may recall these events in Kiev, capital of Ukraine, in February 2014. I certainly do, because I found them repellent and wrong. Almost alone among Western journalists, I argued that this had been a violent putsch

Just imagine the outcry if a Russian diplomat or politician had been mingling with the horrible rabble which stormed the US Capitol in Washington. And quite right too. Foreign powers have no business taking sides in the internal matters of independent countries.

So answer me this, all you lofty liberals. I have always despised Donald Trump and the empty-headed movement he created, and I am here quite happy to say that the invasion of the halls of the US Congress by Trump supporters was a grotesque, evil and criminal enterprise, which I utterly condemn without the tiniest reservation.

But will you, even now, say that the violent putsch in Kiev, six years ago, was just as wrong?

No, you won’t. Because – as your failure to defend liberty shows – you have no real principles. You put them on as fancy dress when you need to pose. But in reality you will do what you have to, to get the power you want. Your outrage is phoney and selective, and I do not trust it.

Death rates don’t tell the full story

Those media who said that the excess deaths during 2020 were the greatest since 1940 were trying to hide the real facts with emotion.

Many of the statistics around Covid need very careful examination. The raw figures are (mostly) correct, but the way they are presented and interpreted is often fishy, and we will have to wait for an independent inquiry to make sense of many of them – if then.

But the comparison with 1940 is plain wrong because the population of this country has risen so much since then. If you allow for that growth, the excess deaths for last year were probably the highest since 2008. Bad, but not that bad.

Also please bear in mind that many of the excess deaths for the past year may well have been caused by delayed or missed medical treatment resulting from lockdowns – not Covid.

The Recovery campaign estimates that 6,000 people died because they failed to access accident and emergency treatment. And this will get worse.

Last week, official figures showed tens of thousands of cancer cases went undiagnosed as NHS waiting lists ballooned. And 4.46 million people in England are waiting for non-emergency surgery, the highest figure since records began in 2007. Lockdowns also kill. 

Some goodish news about my colleague Keeba Critchlow and her junior-doctor husband, Ben, who are having to pay for two homes. This is because Ben has had to move for his job but they cannot sell their old flat thanks to the tangle of fire-proofing regulations imposed after the Grenfell blaze. The Housing Ministry have looked into their case and are urging all involved to be more flexible.

They say: ‘This cannot be allowed to continue. We are working urgently with lenders to resolve these challenges, ensuring EWS1 [fire assessment] forms are requested only where absolutely necessary and that the number of surveyors able to complete them is increased significantly to meet demand. There is no doubt that the EWS1 form has sometimes been misinterpreted and demanded by some in the industry when it’s not needed – causing immense difficulty to leaseholders as a result. That’s not acceptable and must stop.’

Lenders, buyers, sellers and everyone involved, please note.

Stick to the law, judge, and spare us the lecture

Are judges entitled to deliver political lectures to defendants? In fact, are judges in criminal trials supposed to get involved in politics at all? I think that, in the days when I used to cover trials at Swindon Crown Court in the 1970s, everyone in the room would have fainted if such a thing had happened.

Yet it now seems to be allowed. In Bristol a few days ago, District Judge Lynne Matthews fined Robin Campbell, an anti-lockdown protester, a bruising £1,500 for the new and very unBritish crime of taking part in a gathering of more than two people.

In the course of sentencing Mr Campbell, who pleaded guilty, Judge Matthews chose to read out a long and moving description of the pain and stress of working in a Covid ward, written by an anonymous doctor and published in The Times.

But when Mr Campbell sought to respond, the judge retorted: ‘I know about the science. What is it about your predicament on November 14 that meant it was proportionate for you to put others at risk?’

I think this is just wrong. Some people believe that lockdowns work, though there is in fact no evidence that they do and quite a lot that they do not. I myself think street protests are a waste of time, but I think the law banning them is oppressive and more rigidly enforced than practically any other law in existence in the country. If only burglary was met with such steel and punitive vigour. But I am infuriated by the incessant false claim, by supporters of lockdowns, that their opponents are callous about the lives and health of others.

Did the judge honestly think the defendant knew or cared any less than her about the pain and suffering of Covid? Did she in some way know that he did so, or did she just presume this because of her own view of the matter?

If challenged, could she justify with hard scientific fact her assertion that, by demonstrating against a government policy he disagreed with, Mr Campbell had chosen to put others at risk? I greatly doubt it.

The whole point of the law is its cool impartiality, its judgment of the facts by a jury, and of the law by an impartial, dispassionate judge. If judges are going to start offering politico-medical lectures from the bench, it changes us into a completely different kind of country. In effect, a defendant in such cases is on trial for his opinions, not his actions.

Does Judge Matthews desire such a state of affairs? I doubt it. In that case she should not do this again. But I fear someone else will. Much that we used to know and trust about this country is vanishing with amazing speed.

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