Graham Brady isn’t an MP given to criticising the government in public very often at all. As chair of the Conservative 1922 Committee, he tends to communicate his views and those of the party to the Prime Minister in private. So when he does speak out, it’s worth listening. His criticisms have been escalating over the past few weeks, and that says a lot about where the party is generally.
This morning on the Today programme, the Altrincham MP was highly critical not just of the local lockdown affecting his constituents, but also of the way the government is communicating with people more widely about whether or not it is safe to go back to work. He also fired a warning shot about the possibility of tax rises, arguing that they could stultify the recovery.
He said some of his constituents had been ‘in tears’ that they would be unable to see family members and that ‘the emotional hit of being told you can do things, and then you can’t has been really quite bad for a lot of people’. His criticism of the government’s mixed messaging on returning to their workplaces was even more damaging: he argued that he had been trying to persuade the Prime Minister to change the official guidance on whether people should work from home where possible since the mid-summer, but that there had been a ‘lag’ in updating that guidance.
Brady isn’t the only Tory MP to raise concerns about the way the government’s comms operation is failing. Chris Green, the MP for Bolton, yesterday appeared on the PM programme to say that people ‘need clear messaging so they can feel confident - communications haven't been as effective as we would like‘. As I reported in the Observer last month, their concerns are shared by many colleagues. Matt Hancock’s defence this morning, that ‘when the facts change, I change my decisions’ won’t be sufficient for these MPs, who think the government isn’t changing its comms across the board quick enough so that it isn’t offering mixed messages. The autumn is going to see plenty more changes of position, and ministers are already operating on borrowed time with their party.