What ten months ago was unthinkable now looks increasingly likely: if the PM does not jump, he will be pushedby Jonathan Lis / November 5, 2020 / Leave a comment
Amidst the drama of the US election it was easy to miss, but something important happened in the House of Commons yesterday. Of the 38 MPs who opposed the new lockdown regulations, 34 were Conservatives. A further 16 abstained—including Theresa May. In normal parliamentary circumstances (that is, if the opposition parties hadn’t backed the measures) it would almost have been enough for the government to lose.
The issue here is not the vote itself, but the level of anger across the Conservative Party, both from those who supported another lockdown and those who opposed it. The firewall around the government is breaking down. But it is also personal. This is no longer just a question of policy, but of the prime minister.
For some in the party, the last straw was the fact they heard about the new shutdown via a media leak, which sparked a chaotic rush to finalise and announce the plans. None of it spoke to an administration in control of events or, indeed, itself. Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith declared that the leaker should be “strung up to dry, come here to apologise…and beaten on the way out.”
Far more important, however, was yet another example of Johnson dithering, finally deciding something, and then frantically changing course. Throughout this pandemic, every major decision has either come too late or represented a U-turn, and sometimes both. The initial lockdown, use of face masks and A-levels fiasco are just three of the many examples. This time, as in March, the delay has led to a longer shutdown, and as one SAGE adviser put it, many more lives lost. Johnson has been unable to explain why he did not follow the advice for a circuit-breaker in September, or why he accused Labour of wanting to “turn the lights out” when they advocated one three weeks ago.
These are dangerous moments for Johnson. The fiercest lockdown opponents are broadly the pro-Brexit hardliners who propelled the Prime Minister to power in the first place. He also faces dissent on the opposite flank, from Covid hawks who have consistently called for tighter action. Meanwhile, there is the middle group of MPs who recognise the difficult decisions but despair of the botched messaging and frequent handbrake turns.
This is not just about civil liberties but economics. Ominously,…