Colin Brazier: Covid has given snooping nanny state a taste for more control

Covid has given a new lease of life to busybodies and other nosey parkers a fresh lease of life, says Colin Brazier

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Were he still alive, today would be the birthday of Matthew Parker. Matthew was the Archbishop of Canterbury whose reputation for snooping is so enduring that we still describe someone who sticks their nose into the affairs of others as a ‘Nosy Parker’.

Matthew also, apparently had a huge nose, hence the moniker. But he was also a man of his time. When he was born in Norwich in 1504, he felt no compunction in rooting around the private affairs of his fellow Britons. In those days it was the Church – not the state – which sniffed out your sins. And actually, they had an easier job of it.

When most people believed their every action was watched – and judged - by the Almighty, they tended to police themselves a bit more. They examined their own actions in the privacy of their own conscience. Nowadays, morality is a more public affair. If you’re virtuous you want to shout it to the world, not through private prayer, but by virtue signalling.

But Nosy Parker isn’t finished yet. In fact, Covid may have given him a fresh lease of life. There have always been nosy parkers, of course. Every suburban street had one - exercising moral guardianship from behind those twitching net curtains.

But now they have a smartphone and Facebook. And when lockdown happened they could monitor comings and goings and denounce their neighbours to the authorities and fellow scolds with a zeal that surely Matthew Parker would’ve recognized.

And now it’s even easier for them to spot Covid wrongdoers. In fact you don’t need to be a nosy parker to pry into a stranger’s life. Our new nosy parkers can shake their heads censoriously when they see someone enter a shop without a mask. But the nosy parker isn’t really an individual anymore.

He has become an 'it'. The state, the nanny state, the surveillance society, Big Brother. The biggest Nosy Parker of them all is the Chinese Communist Party, which thinks it has a moral duty to inspect every aspect of the lives of 1.4 billion citizens. But Nosy Parker is alive and well in British institutions too. I see you’re pregnant – don’t drink. I see you’re fat – put that chocolate bar down.

But it’s Covid that has given the Man from the Ministry rocket boosters. The virus has given Nosy Parkers in government a taste for control. Given the police an excuse for spying on swimmers using drones, when they might’ve been doing something useful, like confiscating thousands of illegal e-scooters.

The Nosy Parker state isn’t just watching, snooping, prying, it’s weighing our worth and judging our morality too. Not by any logical measure, with the time-honoured scales of justice that Matthew Parker would’ve recognized, but with cancel culture - where how things look matter more than how things evidentially are.

The best example, the worst example, is the police’s use of non-crime hate incidents. In the past five years 120,000 have been recorded. One celebrated case involved Harry Miller, a former cop, who was visited at work by an officer from Humberside Police over allegedly transphobic tweets. Even if police conclude no crime has been committed, a non-crime hate incident remains on police records and can then show up on vetting checks.

Britain’s Nosy Parker is alive and well then. But his natural home isn’t England anymore, but Scotland. A couple of years ago the SNP had to drop its misguided plans for a Named Person Scheme that would have meant every child born in the country would get their very own Nosy Parker. But that didn’t stop Nicola Sturgeon.

Earlier this year Scotland passed a Hate Crime Bill which should’ve received far more attention than it got. It did away with the dwelling defence and means that now, even in the setting of your own home, you can be accused of hate speech. Not even the Chinese have attempted that.