Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, public opinion has tended to be authoritarian. At each stage, most British people have supported every restriction that has been imposed, with more people wanting stricter and compulsory rules rather than laxer and voluntary ones. Attitudes to borders have been particularly striking, with most people, for most of the period, wanting international travel banned altogether.
This has applied at all levels: until recently, most people in English holiday areas have wanted incomers to stay away. My cod psychology theory is that last year’s rise in support for Scottish independence – now abating – was partly caused by this instinct to shut down and shut ourselves away.
The current tension between government policy and public opinion is over whether face coverings should be compulsory or voluntary on public transport and in shops after next week. Boris Johnson wants to leave it to “common sense”; the British public overwhelmingly wants to be compelled.
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