James Forsyth

Boris can’t afford a third lockdown

(Photo by Pippa Fowles / No. 10 Downing Street)
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Boris Johnson is holding a press conference at 5 p.m. on the new England-wide lockdown. This follows last night’s vote where thirty-odd Tory MPs voted against the new measures. But listening to that debate, it was clear that even among many of the Tories who voted for the lockdown there is deep scepticism about the measure.

The biggest danger for the government, as I say in the magazine this week, is that this lockdown turns out to be tactical, not strategic. The driving force behind it was the fear that the NHS would be overwhelmed. Johnson has indicated that if infection levels are falling on 2 December, he will deem his measures to have worked. But no one is arguing that lockdown does anything other than buy time. How, then, do you keep the virus shrinking even once restrictions are eased? The government now thinks that mass testing is the best way to keep on top of the virus — just look at the effort to test the whole city in Liverpool.

One of the Prime Minister’s strongest arguments against the circuit-breaker lockdown when Keir Starmer first backed it was that one would not be enough. When the scientific advisory group Sage initially proposed the plan, it admitted that another could be needed later in the winter. This is what Johnson needs to avoid now. A third lockdown would test the patience of the public and his party to a quite dangerous extent. 

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is political editor of The Spectator.

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