Can Boris Johnson survive fall-out from Covid vote?

MPs announcing the result of a Covid vote

The government won the vote on Plan B - but many Conservatives rebelled, especially over the issue of Covid Passports. - Credit: PA

This week the mood seems to have darkened with the rise in the Omicron variant numbers across the country and the very real threat that the NHS could be totally overwhelmed in the early weeks of 2022.

For that reason it is difficult to understand some of the arguments being put forward by the Tory rebels who voted against what most people in Britain seem to feel are proportionate and necessary actions to try to slow down its march.

Let's be clear. No one in the government is talking about re-introducing any form of lockdown at this stage (although polls suggest such a move would have a high degree of public support). No one is talking about closing pubs, nightclubs, restaurants or theatres.

A few measures are planned to try to keep tabs on the virus - to be honest I can't see why so many Tory MPs are so opposed to Covid Passports when they seem perfectly happy with the idea of having to provide some kind of identity paper to allow you to vote!

And let's face it, this is a limited response for a limited time while the true effects of the Omicron variant become clear. 

There's been much made of the experts in South Africa who say that while it spreads very quickly it appears to produce milder symptoms than earlier forms of Covid. 

Everyone will be hoping that is what happens - but it's very difficult to extrapolate a worldwide response from a single country (especially one that has a very young average population). 

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Until there is more data in three or four weeks time we have to be as cautious as we can be - that's why the NHS has declared a major incident. As Ipswich Hospital boss Nick Hulme said this week it's preparing for the worst but hoping for the best. That's what society as a whole should be doing.

One thing that the rebels do have a point about is that there is not enough government support for businesses that are being hit by the latest restrictions - the sandwich shops, pubs, and restaurants that are losing business because people are not going out.

The government should offer more support to business sectors affected by the restrictions. But it's also worth remembering that the restrictions will be giving some potential customers confidence to go out who who otherwise stay at home.

But to be honest, I don't think there's anything you can do to legislate to make people more confident about going out. People who are worried about catching the Omicron variant, or being forced into self-isolation because of it are unlikely to go out much anyway.

You can't legislate to build confidence - you can only build it by making people feel safer. 

Where some of the rebel MPs have really gone over the top is in the language they used. The only Suffolk MP to oppose the government, Ipswich's Tom Hunt, in fairness is not one of them.

He produced a long list of reasons for voting as he did on Covid Passports. They were well-argued and reasonable. I disagree with him on this, but he made a case.

However his colleague Marcus Fysh totally disgraced himself by comparing vaccine passports with what happened in Nazi Germany on the BBC. Another rebel Desmond Swayne described the proposals as "Stalinist". 

Frankly those comments were not only outrageous, but deeply offensive - and showed just how irrational some of the arguments against Plan B are.

One thing that has emerged in the hours following the vote is that many, if not most, of the rebels feel that the Prime Minister has passed his sell-by date and see this as the first in a series of manoeuvres to get a new tenant into Number 10.

Seeing what lobby journalists are hearing in Westminster, many of those from "red wall" seats feel he is no longer the asset he was in 2019. They are not yet confident enough to go public but saw this vote as a clear shot across the bows.

Today we do have new restrictions that will be in place until early in the new year - but the danger for the Prime Minister and his government has ramped up several gears.




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