Analysis: Conservative rebellion against Covid restrictions is political gold dust for Labor


13 December 2021, 21:31

The Prime Minister appears certain to be affected by the biggest Tory rebellion in a vote in the House of Commons since he became Tory leader.

Image: Alamy

Boris Johnson’s scorching year-end is set to worsen on Tuesday night, as the PM looks certain to be hit by the biggest Tory rebellion in a House of Commons vote since taking office conservative.

Up to 80 of its own MPs will likely vote against some elements of the government’s so-called Plan B to tackle Covid this winter.

That is well over a fifth of all Conservative MPs.

While some may be convinced to align, this will likely be the biggest rebellion against the government that we have seen in several years.

Ministers cleverly divided the vote on Plan B into three parts, rather than bundling all the changes.

They hope this will allow the less controversial Plan B measures to be approved by the Commons without too much drama.

These changes relate to letting double-needled people who come in contact with a confirmed Covid case have daily tests for a week instead of self-isolation, and introducing mandatory face covers in more settings.

Read more: Starmer: Labor will vote for plan B because it is “our patriotic duty”

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It is the third part of the plan – the introduction of Covid certificates – that is by far the most controversial.

The government wants to demand that only people who suffer a double stroke be allowed into nightclubs and big events, although it has made a major concession by allowing the display of a negative test result as an alternative .

Many conservatives are fiercely opposed to this policy.

Some cite libertarian concerns about fundamental freedoms, while others wonder what science the change is based on given that early data suggests that two doses of the vaccine (especially that of AstraZeneca) are barely effective in preventing people to obtain, and therefore propagate, the Omicron variant.

The confirmation from Health Secretary Sajid Javid that the Covid certificates will ultimately require three doses of the vaccine makes much more scientific sense, but will further anger MPs who see this as a compulsory vaccination introduced through the door back.

All of this is political gold dust for Labor.

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Tomorrow’s vote gives Keir Starmer the opportunity to inflict a humiliating defeat on the government.

If he had ordered his MPs to join the Tory rebels and oppose Plan B, the changes would likely have been rejected.

It is a trap that he judiciously avoided.

It would be ludicrous for Labor to vote against the restrictions it has been calling for weeks and which are strongly supported by British science advisers.

Such a policy would leave Starmer open to attack that he was playing Westminster games with people’s lives.

By deciding instead to back the government tomorrow, he can say he is acting in the national interest while also pointing out that Johnson is relying on Labor votes to push his plans through Parliament.

This in itself is an opportunity for Starmer.

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Expect plenty of messages from Labor this week alleging that the prime minister is weak and unable even to convince his own party to support him.

In addition to Johnson, Mark Spencer, the chief government whip, who is already feeling the heat ahead of the Plan B vote, is already under enormous pressure after his role in forcing Tory MPs to vote for a motion that could have leave former minister Owen Paterson off the hook despite serious sleazy allegations.

It has become clear in recent weeks that the government’s flogging operation is woefully incapable of quelling the consistent and significant dissent by backbenchers.

A rebellion bigger than any since Boris Johnson took over as leader could be the last nail in the coffin of Spencer’s Cabinet career.

But it’s about more than Westminster power games; the implications of tomorrow’s vote for all of us are profound.

If Johnson now needs Labor’s support to implement vital Covid restrictions, then what will happen in the future if Labor decides he doesn’t like what the government is proposing?

Read more: At least one person died with Omicron, PM confirms

Read more: Health Sec warns some NHS appointments will be scrapped to meet tough new recall target

Considering the speed at which Omicron is spreading, it is very possible that more restrictions will be needed in the coming weeks – maybe even before Christmas.

However, there is no longer any guarantee that the government has the capacity to pass such measures through Parliament.

This could have major implications for all of us, for the NHS and for public health.

Equally important is what the Plan B vote says about Tory MPs’ views on Boris Johnson.

The list of Tory rebels who have already said they will defy party orders tomorrow includes many who are not typical troublemakers, some of whom will rebel for the first time.

This is perhaps the clearest sign to date of the Prime Minister’s loss of confidence, authority and goodwill towards his own MPs.

Weeks of anger, desperation and outrage among Tories over the dirt, sewage and parties in Downing Street mean Johnson’s stance with his party is at a new low.

The Prime Minister’s team is already concerned about mutinous Conservative MPs, growing discontent and whispers about possible successors. They will surely be even more worried after tomorrow’s vote.


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