OPINION: Absurd notion that Tories don't have to wear facemasks

A maskless Jacob Rees-Mogg smiles for the camera during the Conservative Party annual conference

A mask-free Jacob Rees-Mogg smiles for the camera during the Conservative Party annual conference - Credit: PA

Reader Peter King says the Tory party's attitude to wearing facemasks is at odds with most of the country

The comical notion that conviviality offers a sure-fire defence against coronavirus must bring tears to the eyes of the scientists whose advice the government follows so closely.

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s claim that Conservative MPs do not need to don masks during packed debates because they know each other – and that the party’s ‘convivial, fraternal spirit’ means that they are acting in line with government Covid guidance – has a whiff of the absurd about it.

Nevertheless, the Commons leader’s assertion must provide a straw to clutch at for clubbers and pub goers, who can now enjoy their huddling with impunity – and it must be a relief for students who will conclude that the danger of mixing with their classmates can be discounted and that the prospect of school lockdowns is gone for good.

By adopting the anti-mask stance Tory MPs are allying themselves with the bar bores and vaccine deniers who believe they have got hold of truths denied to the ‘mainstream media’ and who rant about their conspiracy theories to anyone desperate for mindless company.

Yet politicians are fond of kidding themselves that there is more wisdom to be found in the House of Commons than among the men and women in the streets outside.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s The Week In Westminster recently MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown explained why he would definitely wear a mask in the supermarket, but was not doing so in the chamber.

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He said: “I would trust my colleagues that the moment they felt ill they would go in for a test, whereas I wouldn’t be so sure with everybody in the supermarket.”

However, his faith in fellow politicians is belied by the follies they indulge in. When Sir Lindsay Hoyle became the new Commons speaker he pledged to end the ‘bear pit’ atmosphere of confrontation in the chamber.

We are fond of believing that England is the mother of Parliaments, but at times Westminster more closely resembles a mindless menagerie, a human zoo where braying and catcalls have drummed out oratory.

Not only has the glimmer of filthy lucre tempted a string of ex-members of the House to step out on Strictly Come Dancing, but we now have a new secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport – Nadine Dorries – who has taken up her £150,000-a-year post after a spell in the political wilderness when the jungle beckoned and she signed up for the reality television programme, I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here.

The folly of refusing to wear masks has extended to world leaders – and not just to those on the right of the political spectrum.

Side by side with the maskless Donald Trump and Brazilan president Jair Bolsonaro, who have taken monumental incompetence to whole new levels in their handling of the pandemic, have come Vladimir Putin of Russia, where death rates continue to soar, and President Xi Jinping of China, where the virus was first reported.

These leaders may not realize that heroism is sometimes self-effacing, as is the case with the masked freedom fighter in the film V for Vendetta, and that discretion can be the better part of valour.

They also seem unaware that there may be more wisdom in the aisles of supermarkets, where a cross-section of the electorate can be found, than in the corridors of power.

If conviviality, fraternity and contiguity are the catchphrase of the mask deniers in the Conservative party, they should hark back to a parallel slogan born of the French Revolution – liberty, equality and fraternity – and heed the warning of the weeping and the woe that that unleashed.

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