Vaccines, ideology and Britain on the world stage

By Simon Gentry

The vaccination programme is progressing well (in England and Northern Ireland anyway) with over four and a quarter million vaccinated as of today and it increasingly looking like the target of 14 million by mid-February will be reached.  With new vaccination centres being added every day, the Westminster government is pleased with progress and the polls indicate that the public agree with them.  It’s likely that they will benefit from this good performance in the polls in due course.  

There are, however, some very strange decisions that continue to be made.  For instance, today it emerged that the man who is leading the national response to the pandemic, the man upon whose shoulders the NHS rests, the man we are hoping can get us all vaccinated and the country opened up before the summer, is going to have to self-isolate for five days. The NHS Covid App has indicated that Matt Hancock, the Heath Secretary, has been in contact with someone who has tested positive…  You are forgiven for asking why he, and indeed the whole Cabinet, have not been vaccinated already.  We can only speculate that it might be fear of the media finding out that they have been protected whilst some of the very vulnerable have not.

Fear of the media and the need to satisfy the insatiable is a feature of Boris Johnson’s government and not one that endears him to his backbenchers or critics. Take the issue of half-term food for children from poor families.  The Government has given local Councils £ 150 million for this purpose.  That has not, however, stopped their critics in the media claiming that government is cutting off support during the half term.  Word is that the Prime Minister will relent and Councils will get to keep the money, and Whitehall will pay for the food parcels.  Why, Tory backbench MPs ask, does the government give in all the time?  Why does the Prime Minister not simply explain that this is the responsibility of local Councils and that they have been given the money for it already? The perception of weakness, of a lack of direction, a lack of an ideological star by which to navigate, worries many MPs, particularly those with experience of the ups and downs of government.

That having been said, there is also a murmur of excitement about the prospects for the government in the second half of this year.  With most adults vaccinated, lockdowns can end and although it won’t be truly back to ‘normal’, the economy will be rebounding, the UK will host the G7+3 in June, will chair the UN Security Council and the COP26 later in the year and, if the elections in Scotland, Wales, London and the other locals are delayed, the Conservatives might reap the benefits electorally.

Well, that’s the theory anyway.