Just how bad is it for Boris Johnson? In some ways it’s difficult to tell, this is a prime minister who seems almost unable to exist without a crisis.
But last night’s new Covid rules — mixed up with the unending stories about Downing Street parties in the depths of lockdown — seem to have ushered in a different level of Westminster discontent. It’s more the timing than anything else. On Tuesday morning, the Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said ‘We don’t think that Plan B is required’. On Wednesday evening the PM implemented Plan B. What happened?
During those intervening 36 hours, the data on Omicron only seemed to have improved. Further evidence emerged that while more transmissible, the effects of infection seem to be milder than previous strains. What’s more, the ONS released data showing that 95 per cent of Brits have some form of immunity. And Pfizer announced that a third jab would boost immunity back up to pre-Omicron levels. All promising signs that Britain was as well equipped as it could be for the spread of Omicron.
So why the new rules? After all, the restrictions brought in last night have already been shown to have failed in Scotland, as Michael Simmons pointed out on Coffee House last night. Perhaps it had something to do with those party stories? Allegra Stratton took the fall yesterday afternoon, announcing her resignation in an emotional statement outside her home. And yet a few hours beforehand, Boris Johnson was still insisting that as far as he was concerned no party had taken place.
What better way, a cynic might think, to distract from another embarrassing story of hypocrisy and deceit than by bringing in new restrictions on people’s liberties?
Certainly MPs are growing weary. Westminster smartphones have been lit up like profane Christmas trees. Tories of all stripes are venting their frustration at an 80 seat majority with nothing to show for it but angry constituents and grim headlines. This morning’s papers are probably the worst for the PM since that 2019 election. The Daily Mail sums it up better than perhaps anyone else with its front-page splash ‘One rule for them, new rules for the rest of us’:
Then there’s the Telegraph, which seethes at the contradictions in the new rules themselves. ‘Don’t go to work, but do go to parties’. In fact, it’s a medley of truly grim headlines, pointing to his call for a ‘national conversation’ about forceable vaccinations and a suggestion from the Scottish Tory leader that he might have to resign — all ties up with the question ‘Beginning of the end for Boris?’:
The Yorkshire Post meanwhile asks simply ‘Prime Minister: how do you sleep at night?’:
There is now a sense that Boris’s supporters are slipping away, both in parliament and in the wider country. One of the few firms to publish a survey yesterday was Redfield & Wilton, which found a six point swing to Labour, with Starmer’s party on 38 per cent and the Tories on 34. Meanwhile, ComRes found that 54 per cent of people thought that Boris Johnson should resign. Expect more polling to come out today, which should give a clearer picture of discontent in the country as a whole.
For those in his party though, the Boris Johnson pact was always that he was a winner — that he was able to convince voters which other Conservative politicians were unable to reach. His relationship with his party is transactional. If MPs start to feel that the PM has broken his part of the bargain, then the case for Boris will have been decisively weakened.
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