Nick Fletcher is MP for Don Valley.
I heard some time ago from a constituent of mine that the Government’s role, above everything else, was to keep its people safe and happy.
I can understand the view that the Government has a duty to keep people safe. After all, for most people, the very reason for the state is to ensure that life is not, as the saying goes, “nasty, brutish and short”.
In many ways, this is still one of the top priorities of the state. Keeping us safe from war, safe from starvation, safe when on the roads, streets and in our homes. We take this as a given, and rightly so.
More difficult a question is whether the Government has to ensure that people are kept happy. With human nature being so complex, the ability for a government to successfully pursue such a policy will always be questionable. In my view, and in the view of most ordinary people, ensuring happiness is usually the role of the individual.
Yet as the Covid-19 pandemic lingers on, it is clear that the belief that the state must also ensure the happiness of individuals has now crept into our public discourse.
I don’t believe in reliance on luck for happiness. Instead, I think that individuals must forge their own paths. They must make decisions and take ownership of their own futures. There are various ways in which any government can help remove obstacles for people and make some aspects of life smoother. Yet as happiness is such a subjective feeling, it may only be made possible by ensuring liberty and giving people choice.
If one of the roles of Government is to make people happy, the best (and arguably only way) this can be achieved is through preserving liberty so people can take charge of their own lives and make their own decisions.
During the pandemic, my views on this issue have only been reaffirmed. Currently, my constituents are roughly split into two camps: those who wish to open the country up again for their mental wellbeing, and those who are concerned about the increasing numbers of Covid cases. Half in the people of Don Valley want the Government to maintain or even reintroduce previous restrictions. The other half, meanwhile, want to have their freedom restored so they can do things which make them happy.
In these circumstances, the Government faces a significant dilemma. Yet it must not become a nanny state and appeal to only one faction – those who wish to be safe. Instead, there is another strategy which I believe the Government should pursue. It should introduce flexible measures which both keep people safe and allow others to pursue what they want to do. If we allow the vulnerable to shield and continue working from home, and the non-vulnerable to go about their business, then we will both save lives and preserve people’s liberties.
It is so essential both that those who want to be kept safe from the virus do not spoil the freedom of others, and those who want to go out respect the concerns of those shielding. This ensures that the vulnerable are safe, but by preserving liberty, it also allows other individuals to pursue activities which make them happy.
Would such a strategy be complicated? Perhaps. Yet those who felt threatened by the virus would feel safe, while those who felt that their liberty was threatened would feel reassured. In other words, both sides would be satisfied, and the Government could carry out the duties my constituent believes it should: keeping us all safe and happy.