Freedom is a pretty tricky concept for the English. They are subjects, not citizens, and have no written constitution to be guided by. Daily Telegraph columnists may cite the absence of an event like the French Revolution in recent English history as evidence that the country is more stable and confident than its immediate rivals. But we know this isn’t the case. For one thing, 2016’s attempt to “take back control” by leaving the EU has left the country poorer, more divided and still ruled by an unelected upper house.
So, as “Freedom day” unfolds today, and the English are finally free from those pesky social distancing rules, a difference of opinion on what freedom actually means is understandable.
For backbench MPs, it means throwing off the “shackles” of facemasks and overthrowing the tyranny of social distancing, an act of emancipation that they can happily take a knee for. For nightclub owners, whose doors have been locked for over a year now, it means getting back to business. Yet only 20 per cent of people aged between 18 and 24 would be happy to go to a nightclub now they are open. Indeed, more than half of the UK public disagree with the reopening measures that come into effect today, seemingly happy to accept tyranny over freedom.
In a plot twist so crass it would be immediately dismissed in a Line of Duty writing session, the very architect of “Freedom Day” will spend a few days getting to know Chequers better, having been forced to self-isolate given his proximity to the new, er, Health Secretary. There will be no ‘sucking diesel’ for this same Minister, either, who only a few weeks ago said we would have to get used to the virus, and who will now have to get used to his own company in his Downing Street flat.
Reopening England while reminding the English to respect the virus, as the government has done, is asking for trouble. Because without any clear notion of what freedom is, many of the English don’t know how to act responsibly.
For one England fan, freedom means lighting a flare between his arse cheeks, doing 20 cans of Strongbow and a “bag of powders”, and finding himself in The Sun. For an English billionaire, it translates as a rocket-fueled ego trip to space, super-spreading carbon emissions and smiling all the way as he considers all those passengers willing to pay £250,000 for four unsteady minutes. Memo to Richard: Cider and cocaine would be cheaper and more effective.
And this is the point. As hot weather makes its annual but fleeting visit to the country, freedom for most people means firing up the barbecue, getting the beers in and getting out of it. The country may be divided, but whether you are sipping champagne on a manicured lawn or smashing the cans at a packed beach, you are celebrating freedom. Yes, one of the more robust and believable concepts of freedom for the English, and one that most would share, is the freedom to kick back.
Who needs a written constitution when the country seems to live by the refrain that marks the start of Primal Scream’s Loaded, itself a sample from the sixties biker movie, The Wild Angels?
“Just what is it that you want to do?” we are asked. Well, we want to take our newfound freedom and have a party. That’s what we want to do. Let’s go! Before the pub doors are locked once again, and we are back to wearing facemasks.