There has always been a significant danger inherent to the Government’s graduated approach to ending lockdown: that as the range of activities restricted continued to narrow, so would support for lifting the restrictions.
Last year, I asked Jacob Rees-Mogg if there was a risk of clubbers, in particular, being left behind. He assured me that whilst he wouldn’t be cutting shapes himself, he wanted to return to Mass and thus a common front could be maintained.
But with the Government reportedly preparing to push back ‘Freedom Day’ from June 21, it looks as if my pessimism was justified.
The big date must already feel a bit low-stakes for many. Pubs, restaurants, gyms, and even theatres are already open, after all. The bulk of what remains – nightclubs and concert venues – tend to be patronised by the young, who are scarcely going to start being treated as a priority now.
Worse still, Boris Johnson is reportedly planning to uncouple some of the activities previously pegged to June 21 from others. So funerals and weddings, pressure for the return of which is high, could go ahead. Great news for celebrants and mourners, but another tranche of lost allies for those still languishing in lockdown.
Such salami-slicing could easily happen again. With one government scientist on the record as saying that social distancing should be in place “forever”, one can easily imagine a world where we get most of the way back to normal and then the clubs just…stay shut.
No wonder then that the industry is getting desperate, with some venues threatening to re-open regardless on June 21 and their lobby looking to mount a legal challenge to any delay. But for a sector with relatively few allies at Westminster, it is difficult to see how such tactics can succeed.
What do we expect the people they serve to do in these circumstances? They’re going to party anyway, of course.
I wrote last year about how neglecting the legitimate night economy could see ministers giving a major boost to organised crime by gifting them a de facto monopoly on the party scene. Raves might have been a part of it for a long time, but tough policing and huge fines were likely to deter amateur organisers in favour of those with deep pockets and experience with the police.
A glimpse at last year’s headlines should give us a taste of what to expect: last summer, the police shut down over 500 raves across London in July alone – and that was just the ones they found.
If the clubs stay shut for a second summer, it increases the odds of these new networks becoming established features of the British scene even after the pandemic. Those organising and promoting the raves now have more experience, and a generation of ravers are building connections and habits they may not unlearn once ministers finally give the legitimate night economy the green light.
That’s all assuming that some of these black market promoters don’t start colonising the actual club scene, for example by buying up some of the 163 clubs which closed their doors in the 12 months to January 2021.
It is disappointing that clubs may get caught up in lockdown yet again, given that the results of the test club night seemed to be positive. But public health officers have a duty to advise the Prime Minister about the risk associated with any activity.
His responsibility, however, is to consider the broader picture. He must keep in mind that the choice is not simply between clubbing and no clubbing, but between people doing much the same stuff at legitimate venues or under railway arches and in fields. It’s about whether the profit goes to legitimate businesses, or flows tax-free into the pockets of black market organisers.
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