Cromwell bojo
© Corbis via Getty Images/Photo by VCG Wilson
(L) Boris Johnson Getty Images/Justin Tallis - WPA Pool; (R) Oliver Cromwell after Samuel Cooper 1656. Oil on canvas, feigned oval, 29 3/4 in. x 24 3/4 inches. Located in the National Portrait Gallery, London, England, UK.
Publicans are under strict orders to prevent singing, dancing and general merriment from taking place in their establishments, as the Tories turn Britain into Bomont, the town from Footloose.

If anyone had said during the last election that the Tory Party was going to ban casual sex, singing and dancing, I think even the most ardent Corbynista would have thought that was a tad hyperbolic. But fast forward nine months into Boris Johnson's tenure as PM, and that's exactly what they have done.

New restrictions applying to pubs say that landlords must take "all reasonable measures" to stop singing and dancing on their property. That is now officially the law in the UK. Not in some Middle Eastern Islamic theocracy, not in some dystopian realm in a Margaret Atwood novel, not in the 1980s classic movie, Footloose, but 2020 Britain.

I know we are in a brave new world where coronavirus is a daily reality, and these are steps that the government's experts say will stem the spread, but they are just such deeply disquieting measures that one wonders if this proposed cure is worse than the disease. The last time dancing was banned in Britain was just after the Civil War, when the country was under the less than liberal stewardship of Oliver Cromwell, who also outlawed the theatre, bear-baiting and drunkenness. Worryingly the fanatical puritan also banned Christmas, which Boris still hasn't ruled out doing this year.

Singing and dancing may seem like trivial things, and they are, but having them expressly banned under law is such an extraordinary overreach. They are expressions of fun, joy, happiness; they often aren't planned, they happen spontaneously, but now they have to be stopped from "breaking out."

The reason why this is particularly galling coming from Boris, is that he has built his public brand on being a bon viveur (and indeed, an ardent fan of sex, casual or otherwise). A large part of his appeal was that people thought he seemed like a good bloke to have a pint with. This is a man who once told voters that voting Tory could cause "your wife to have bigger breasts and increase the chances of you owning a BMW M3". He also once controversially said of women in niqabs it was "ridiculous" anyone would choose to go around dressed as letterboxes. Oh, how the times have changed.

Since he has taken office he has presided over the biggest restriction on individual freedoms in centuries in this country, and he is showing no signs of letting up. Having relaxed the rules for a few weeks over the summer, new ones have recently come in which seem characteristically ill thought-out.

The new nationwide pub chucking out time of 10pm across England has led to huge crowds gathering in the streets of towns and cities. London in particular has seen hundreds of drinkers billowing out of socially distanced pubs and restaurants to cram onto packed Tube trains. Oxford Circus looked like an impromptu music festival over the weekend after Londoners were forced to call it a night early.

On top of these national restrictions, more regional lockdowns, with even harsher measures, are being brought in, most recently in the north east of England. This is all supposedly to avoid the much feared "second wave" of Covid19 that has been talked-about since the first one washed over us in March.

To underline the apparent seriousness of it all, tomorrow we are again being treated to a joint press conference with the PM and his top scientists, Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance. Far from being reassuring, these press conferences seem to be viewed as harbingers of doom for many, as most of them have resulted in the announcement of further curbs on freedom in the name of "safety."

Plainly these are unprecedented times, but can it really be right that the lives of so many fit and healthy people should be blighted for a disease which has a vanishingly small chance of killing them? It was revealed last week that the number of people under 60 with no underlying health conditions who have died from Covid-19 between February and early September was just 307. Infections may be rising, yes, but that is more a factor of our carrying out more testing. And we can't even trust the results of those tests, with Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, admitting that testing at airports would be successful in identifying the virus just seven percent of the time.

The government has also admitted that its figures for Covid-19 admissions to hospital had been inflated.


In view of all this, how can we compel people to isolate under threat of criminal action with inaccurate testing? How can we justify locking students up in their halls of residence with no clear guidance on when they are going to be allowed out? How can the government justify wrecking the economy again without a clear indication of when normality will return?

Banning singing and dancing may seem trivial, but the fact that the government believes it can ban such minor things is a huge indication of the overreach it now feels comfortable with. Let's be frank, it is actually completely unnecessary legislation, anyway, as there isn't really that much to sing and dance about these days anyway.
Guy Birchall, British journalist covering current affairs, politics and free speech issues. Recently published in The Sun and Spiked Online. Follow him on Twitter @guybirchall