We've been steered into lockdown - but government is too weak to admit it

Quiet Ipswich town centre

Far fewer people than normal were out in Ipswich on the weekend before Christmas - we seem to be in lockdown by stealth. - Credit: Paul Geater

I really didn't want to write yet another political column about Covid two days before Christmas, but the fact is this really does remain the only show in town - and it is dominating the lives of just about everyone.

At the time of writing this, no new restrictions have been imposed in the run-up to Christmas - but to some extent that is almost academic.

The vast majority of the British public have heeded the warnings from government scientists - even if the Prime Minister and Health Secretary are too politically weak to act on their experts' advice.

Pubs and restaurants are almost empty as people are cancelling reservations. The benefit for ministers from this is that although few people are going there, they don't have to pay out compensation because they haven't TOLD customers to stay away.

It's not a particularly moral position for the government take - but it does appease the anti-lockdown extremists who are giving nightmares at the moment.

And while the authority of the government and Prime Minister is now shot with the drip-drip-drip of party revelations and all the other sleaze issues swirling around, ministers are still having to deal with a very serious situation.

No one knows how it will play out. Covid and its variants don't follow any roadmap. Once again the Prime Minister has been exposed for over-promising an "irreversible" easing of restrictions when he had no idea what variant it would hit us with next.

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Too often Prime Ministers have a "God Complex". Gordon Brown kept going on about "an end to boom and bust" before we hit the mother and father of all busts in the late noughties - any economist could have told him that the cyclical nature of economic activity was bound to end like that.

Frankly, Mr Johnson is one PM who appears to have been born with a God Complex - but his claims to be master of the world are now looking increasingly forlorn.

But he isn't the only politician apparently out of touch with reality - there's been a load of twaddle here in Suffolk after the Tories' humiliation in the North Shropshire by-election last week.

This produced a sensational result with the Liberal Democrats coming from third place in 2019 to turn a 23,000 Tory into a 6,000-vote victory for themselves.

But to suggest that means Suffolk's Tory MPs will be at risk from a resurgent LibDem swing at the next general election is totally bonkers - and shows how divorced some of their members are from political reality.

Shropshire North was a by-election caused by a very specific political scandal involving the outgoing MP Owen Paterson.

His actions clearly hacked off many of his constituents. They wanted to show the world what they thought of him and his party. But they knew however they voted the Tories would still be in power on the Friday morning.

I will be astonished if the Liberal Democrats hold Shropshire North at the next general election when the turnout is nearer 70% than 40%.

For the Liberal Democrats in Suffolk to suggest this result means the likes of Therese Coffey, Peter Aldous or Dan Poulter are at risk from them because of this result shows they really are out of touch.

What we know about the LibDems in this county is that they are very good and very motivated in some areas in local elections - but much less so when it comes to parliamentary elections.

They don't have any track record in Suffolk's parliamentary seats - the last Liberal seat in the county was Eye which was lost in 1951 - and despite the party's success in Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire over the last 25 years, they have never come close to winning a seat here.

But the mood music has changed significantly over the last couple of weeks so far as the Prime Minister's position is concerned - certainly in this part of the world.

There's no blinding change in the attitude of Suffolk's MPs. But looking at the social media feed of councillors, including some who had been firm supporters of him from the start, it looks as if many grass-root Tories are fed up with his leadership.

They seem increasingly exasperated with his Covid position after all that has been happening from Paterson to Christmas parties via the wallpapergate issue and the bizarre speech to the CBI. 

Unless things change dramatically over the next few months I really can't see him still being in place next Christmas.