Isabel Hardman

The vaccine may not stop a Tory tier rebellion

The vaccine may not stop a Tory tier rebellion
(Photo by Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament)
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Matt Hancock sounded like a man who had just been rescued from a rapidly sinking ship when he welcomed the start of the vaccine programme in the Commons this afternoon. Almost visibly dripping with relief, the Health Secretary told MPs that it was an 'emotional' day, and paid tribute to his civil servants and team in the Department of Health for being 'amazing'. The Health Secretary has naturally had one of the most challenging years of anyone to hold that post, and he hasn't always had the back-up of his colleagues as he has tried to grapple with the pandemic. Perhaps that is why when it was the turn of Health Select Committee chair and former health secretary Jeremy Hunt to ask the minister a question, he congratulated Hancock and then asked whether and where he would be going on holiday next summer.

Hancock may feel by then that he has earned a well-deserved rest, not least because his emphasis over the past few months has been on the need for a vaccine before life could start returning to normal — often to the despair of colleagues who worried that this could mean years of restrictions before any immunisation gained approval for use.

But Conservative patience with the restrictions has already worn thin, and the minister was clearly anxious that people may see what he has branded 'V day' as an excuse to start ignoring the guidelines on social distancing and meeting others. He finished his answer to the urgent question asked by Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth by saying: 

Help is on its way and the end is in sight — not just of this terrible pandemic but of the onerous restrictions that have made this year so hard for so many — but even while we can now see the route out, there is still a long march ahead. Let us not blow it now. There are worrying signs of the virus growing in some parts of the country, including parts of Essex, London and Kent. Over the coming weeks and months, we must all keep following the rules to keep people safe and make sure we can get through this safely together.

Whether the wider public keep on following the rules is one thing, whether his Conservative colleagues back Hancock's approach to the rules is another. The backbenchers who rebelled on the reintroduction of the tiered system last week are clear that they expect the system to change to a much more localised one when it is reviewed next week — and for many of the areas they represent to be moved down a tier as a result. Hancock's summer holiday (in Cornwall, apparently) is still a long way off.

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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