James Butler, 16 April 2020
Tory politicians have been keen to emphasise that their policy has strictly followed the science, rather than being dictated by any other concern; one of the justifications for the extraordinary powers granted by the Coronavirus Act was that they would be used only if they became genuinely medically and scientifically necessary. Both the constructive disagreement intrinsic to science and the adversarial scrutiny necessary to politics disappear in this invocation of science as the ultimate authority – this trick will become familiar in the coming months. An extraordinary emergency requires extraordinary powers; no one disagrees with that. But it is politics, not science, which grants these powers legitimacy. How long will they endure? The law provides a mechanism for six-monthly renewal, though it is unclear how effective a means of restraint or scrutiny that is. Few believe Johnson is an Anglo-Orbán, eager to use the crisis to institute rule through decree; but it would be unwise to trust to his libertarian disposition.