Boris Johnson's half-baked lockdown is failing to appease Tory dissenters, and failing to protect the country, now is the time for action from below
Boris Johnson informed the Commons on Monday that “there is no alternative” to Lockdown 2. But that is not a view shared by swathes of Tory backbenchers, while many of those who agree blame the lack of alternative on Johnson’s own inept handling of the crisis.
The rebellion against the new Coronavirus measures, being voted on Wednesday, is not expected to pass 20 Tory MPs, but that doesn’t alter the “enormous frustration” felt by ministers and backbenchers nor reduce accusations of “incompetence”.
Sir Graham Brady, Chair of the influential 1922 Committee of Conservative Backbench MPs said on Sunday evening “If these kinds of measures were being taken in any totalitarian country around the world we would be denouncing it as a form of evil.”
Former Minister, Sir Desmond Swayne said he would not vote “for this disastrous course of action.” Another anonymous backbencher said, “There is an awful lot of anger across the party - not just the right or left... the fact that things are decided by a small group - Cummings and co - and then they don’t even tell the Cabinet, let alone backbenchers.”
Increasingly in the last few months, Boris Johnson has been especially ineffective in dealing with the pandemic out of appeasement to this group of Tory backbenchers who are set to rebel. This group mask their real concerns – the loss of profits for themselves and the class they represent – with libertarian language about freedom and the impact on their constituents, the same constituents whose children they voted to starve.
The Tory party is deeply divided. Whether it’s the government’s chaotic management and continual U-turns, or the view that the lockdown is responsible for economic damage and curtailing personal freedoms, the Tory rank and file are becoming increasingly anxious about the Johnson/Cummings lack of leadership.
To make matters worse this morning, not one, but two Cabinet Ministers got the new lockdown rules wrong, following in the footsteps of the PM himself who managed to confuse everyone yesterday over Scotland’s access to the UK furlough scheme.
Saturday’s scary Halloween modelling from Cambridge/PHE showed there could be up to 4,000 Covid deaths a day by Christmas unless further action was taken - a truly horrific number. This figure has been challenged, but even half that amount would be twice the April peak.
Sir Patrick Vallance described the stats as ‘scenarios' rather than predictions, but the poor communication and sloppy slides of Saturday’s press conference - it was impossible to see the axes on the graphs or any scale - was a gift to the anti-lockdown brigade.
Ready to pounce were Nigel Farage and Richard Tice, the former Brexit Party Chair and no-deal supporter, who launched their anti-lockdown party, Reform UK, first thing on Monday. Endorsing the Great Barrington Declaration - otherwise known as the let-it-rip or herd immunity manifesto, they are set to assist the libertarian right of the Tory party and oppose all Covid restrictions.
Although this new party is unlikely to do well electorally, it will no doubt receive more than its fair share of broadcast time and has already set the cat among the pigeons in Tory ranks.
There is no doubt that the chaotic Covid strategy has left the Tory party divided and in disarray. It faces opposition from its own MPs egged on by Farage’s Reform UK. The Labour Party is failing in its role as Official Opposition and is consumed with its own internal affairs/destruction of the left, leaving the government free to line the pockets of its mates. All the time jobs are lost, the economy is collapsing and people are dying.
Now is the time for action from below – it’s up to us to pile on the pressure for a zero-Covid strategy, for sick pay for those who need to self-isolate, for a reset of track and trace, and for an economic plan that protects jobs and workers’ rights. Boris Johnson is wrong - there is an alternative and our lives depend on it.