Even when Conservative MPs vote in the Commons, there can be ambiguity about what they’re up to. You might think that, with only a Yes or else a No lobby to go through, there would be none at all.
But there are also abstentions – and no single way to read these. Has an MP refused to cast his vote deliberately? Or was he abroad? Is he ill? Was he slipped on constituency business?
And when it comes to what Tory MPs say rather than do, we are in even deeper water. Here nonetheless is a risky take on their reaction to Boris Johnson’s Commons statement yesterday.
- Siobhan Baillie, Duncan Baker, Alberto Costa, Jeremy Hunt, Bernard Jenkin, Andrea Leadsom, Andrew Percy and Julian Smith were essentially supportive. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t have particular ideas, criticisms, or points to make – as Hunt did, for example, about NHS staff and regular testing.
- This group tends to merge into those who were a bit more neutral in tone, or had particular policy or constituency points to make. We count among these: Steve Baker, Andy Carter, Rehman Chisti, Greg Clark, David Davis, Nigel Fletcher, Gareth Johnson, Antony Higginbotham, Faye Jones, Edward Leigh, Jason McCartney, Tom Tugendhat and Craig Williams.
- A special mention for Peter Aldous, Ben Bradley, Sara Britcliffe, Pauline Latham, Stephen Metcalfe, James Sunderland and William Wragg – all of whom are concerned about restrictions on activities outdoors and indoors, such as golf, swimming and the use of gyms.
- Next comes a cluster of MPs who, like ConservativeHome, want an impact assessment of the effects of the virus, lockdown and restrictions; or else regular reports on their impact on lives and livelihoods – the same thing in effect. They were: John Baron, Graham Brady (an opponent of the new lockdown), Anne Marie-Morris, Bob Seely and Mel Stride, Chair of the Treasury Select Committee.
- Moving towards outright opposition, there were a series of MPs who didn’t go that far, and indeed may be fairly and squarely behind the new shutdown, but who pressed the Prime Minister on whether it will be over by December 2, or at least by Christmas. These were: Saqib Bhatti, Bob Blackman, Laura Ferris, Richard Holden, Simon Jump, Anthony Mangnall and Mark Pawsey. All these will presumably vote with the Government on Wednesday, but are swing voters to watch during the weeks ahead.
- Finally in this spectrum, those who were either unambiguously opposed to the lockdown, such as Philip Davies, and those who essentially sounded unsupportive. Our list of these is as follows: Peter Bone, Steve Brine, Davies, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Huw Merriman, Robbie Moore, Greg Smith and Charles Walker.
That leaves two contributions to make a special note of.
First, Douglas Ross, confirming that he intends to place clear tartan water between the Scottish Conservatives and Johnson is he considers it necessary: “will he explain why it seems that an English job is more important than a Welsh, Northern Irish or Scottish one?” he asked about furlough.
Second, Liam Fox, who believes that “a new parliamentary Committee—perhaps time limited, or made up of Privy Counsellors—should be established to reassure the British public that the cure is not worse than the disease?” It would “determine that decisions across all parts of Government have been taken on the best available evidence”.
That suggestion is very much in tune with what we and others have been calling for, and really ought to be a runner. Lots of MPs on all sides of the Chamber will like it: expect to hear more of it. Johnson replied that “I leave it up to the House to decide what arrangements it chooses to make”.
Fox followed his question up with a point of order designed to draw the Speaker into the discussion – and of which he had given notice. Nigel Evans replied, setting out the means by which such a committee might be set up, and suggested that Fox might seek further guidance from the Clerk of the House. That sounds like a door being left ajar.