Last night, Boris Johnson’s attempts to stick with the 3-tiered system of local restrictions were in serious trouble, with Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, refusing to have the restrictions imposed on the city
Even more troubling for the Government is that Burnham has the backing of local MPs from both Labour and the Conservative Party. While some of the usual anti-lockdown suspects from the Tory backbenches are involved in the resistance, this is now a much more widespread issue within the party.
The complaints are multiple.
– Upset all of the people, all of the time –
For one, there is deep anger at the poor communication from Downing Street and the relative opacity of negotiations with local governments. But there is also a lack of faith that the tier system works, especially when the Government’s own scientific advisers don’t believe that it does; a lack of belief that there are proper parameters for going up a tier or any parameters for going back down a tier (Manchester has effectively been in Tier 2 for two months already); and, crucially, deep anger at the lack of financial support from the Treasury.
The new furlough system for businesses closed by pandemic measure is full of holes, very limited and doesn’t apply at all to areas under Tier 2 restrictions, despite the devastating economic effects. But, as Stephen Bush at the New Statesman has pointed out, that is very clearly by design. Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, has failed to win the argument for minimal restrictions, but he and the Treasury are making sure that they don’t have to foot the bill.
The long-term consequences of that clash between economic and healthy policy will be grim. But the short term effect is that it is creating perverse incentives to either dive into stricter but marginally better-funded restrictions (see Wales and Scotland) or, as in the case of Manchester, to resist them altogether.
– By silk or by steel –
That leaves Johnson and Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, without many options as to how to press ahead. One possibility being reported this morning is that the pair will target smaller/weaker local areas including the North East and Lancashire, pushing them into Tier 3 and thereby raising pressure on Burnham. The nuclear option is to impose the third tier via Parliament, without negotiating additional support.
All the while, a government whose key project was “levelling up” and closing the North-South divide finds itself impose ever stricter measure on the North. Whether that perception is fair or not, it’s leading to resentment not only from Northern Tory MPs but from those in London who think the capital is entering Tier 2 to appease the North.
While the tier system, which was intended to streamline and standardise local restrictions, is causing the Prime Minister no end of trouble, it’s not at all clear that it is going to work. Johnson’s scientific advisers remain unconvinced and it’s widely reported this morning that they are pushing for multiple short lockdowns over the winter to coincide with school holidays.
– Worst of both worlds –
The PM continues to be reluctant to impose national-level restrictions and with them the wide range of knock-on effects, and doing so could cause a substantial rebellion from his own party (albeit one counteracted by Labour). But the current worst-of-both-worlds approach in which Britain has half-baked restrictions matched by parsimonious financial support is neither holding back the virus nor protecting the economy nor holding the Tory party together.
Front Bench – Telegraph.