Isabel Hardman

Boris’s optimism has eroded backbench trust

(Photo by Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament)
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After hoping that MPs wouldn't notice that they'd been given a dud impact assessment of the new tiered system, Boris Johnson is now trying to reduce the size of the rebellion against these measures with the enticing prospect of areas moving down tiers within the next two weeks.

The Prime Minister opened the debate on the new tier regulations by telling MPs that they 'have it in their powers, in our power, to help move our areas down the tiers'. He also hinted at a more localised approach to the tiering system, which is something many Tory MPs have demanded, and promised to 'look in granular detail' at the 'human geography' of each area on a regular basis. He then tried to offer a rousing peroration in which he encouraged MPs to be patient for just a little longer. He said: 'All we need to do now Mr Speaker is to hold our nerve until these vaccines are indeed in our grasp, and indeed being injected into our arms.'

But it is clear from the speeches given so far in the debate that this prospect isn't quite enough to calm MPs down. Some have been further unsettled by the suggestion from new vaccines 'tsar' Nadhim Zahawi that while the immunisations won't be compulsory, people who refuse to have them will find their lives 'restricted' as a result. Others feel the Prime Minister has spent the majority of this year telling them and the public that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, only for that light to seem further away weeks or even months later. Johnson didn't further antagonise his MPs with his speech, but neither did it reassure them.

Sir Keir Starmer responded by sowing further doubt in those would-be rebels' minds, telling the chamber that Johnson was 'fuelling a promise' that areas had a realistic chance of dropping a tier in two weeks' time, saying darkly: 'Let's just see where we are in two weeks.' The Prime Minister is hoping his MPs will trust him that even in this period waiting for the mass rollout of the vaccines, things can get better. Tonight we will find out how much faith they really have in him.

Written byIsabel Hardman

Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator and author of Why We Get the Wrong Politicians. She also presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster.

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