Not for the first time, metropolitan-based commentators and MPs have proved themselves to be out of kilter with the wider population. But there is an especially interesting disparity over the government’s proposals for ten-year jail sentences for travellers who try to conceal they have travelled from one of 33 ‘red list’ countries in order to avoid hotel quarantine.
The proposal caused outrage among Conservative MPs as well as legal commentators such as Jonathan Sumption. Sir Charles Walker, vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee, accused the government of going ‘full North Korea’. To wide astonishment, however, a YouGov poll has suggested that more than half of all adults think that a ten-year jail sentence for transgressors is ‘about right’, and 13 per cent think it ‘doesn’t go far enough’.
While many of us might agree with Sir Charles Walker, the Brexit-supporting MP for Broxbourne might find himself short of sympathy among constituents who would normally be his natural supporters. The poll shows that support for stiff jail sentences for people lying about travelling is especially high among older, Conservative-voting, Brexit-supporting voters in socio-economic groupings C2DE, outside London. Among Conservative voters, 57 per cent think the proposals are ‘about right’ and 15 per cent think they are ‘not harsh enough’. The corresponding figures for Labour voters are 46 and 11 per cent – yet Labour has been pretty quiet over the proposals.
The proportion of people thinking the measures are not harsh enough rises from 10 per cent among 18- to 24-year-olds to 17 per cent among the over-65s. Among Leave voters, 18 per cent say the measures don’t go far enough – compared with 10 per cent of Remain voters. Region-wise, the North and Wales have the highest proportions who want jail sentences longer than ten years – at 15 per cent. In London it is 6 per cent. Among ABC1s, 10 per cent want even stiffer sentences, compared with 16 per cent of C2DEs.
Should we surprised that people who tend to favour strong border controls to tackle migration also turn out to favour strong border controls to tackle Covid? Perhaps not. Both, indeed, are a reaction to outside threats. While many people might think these fears are exaggerated or irrational, they are hardly inconsistent with each other. Yet on the Tory backbenches there are many MPs who take opposite views on migration and Covid – they favour tough border controls for the former but not for the latter. It is a division, perhaps, which comes about due to relative wealth. While many Tory MPs share the views of their C2DE voters, they tend to be rather wealthier and more inclined to take foreign holidays and business trips – and hence take a ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ approach when it comes to the thought of people going to jail for fibbing about their travels. If you don’t go abroad often – and around 20 per cent of the population of England and Wales don’t even have a passport – it is less likely to be of concern.
Over Brexit, backbench Brexiteers, were found – to the surprise of some people – to be representative of the UK people as a whole. This does not appear to be the case with Covid restrictions.