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  • Six Labour backbenchers and 26 Conservative ones spoke during yesterday’s Commons debate on the lockdown regulations – which tells you what you need to know about the Keir Starmer’s Covid-19 strategy.  It is to push the Government one way by voting with it on lockdowns, thus freeing Tory backbenches to pull it the other.  And to maximise Conservative dissent by leaving its MPs to quarrel among themselves.
  • Nonetheless, what’s striking about the Tory speeches was a certain unity of approach.  By our reckoning, only Luke Evans, Dehenna Davidson and Jane Hunt supported the Government without significant qualification.
  • Let’s leave aside for the moment Iain Duncan Smith, Graham Brady, Philip Davies, Jonathan Djonogly, Mark Harper, Tim Loughton, Charles Walker, Hugh Merriman, Craig Mackinlay, Steve Baker – the ten Conservative MPs who both spoke and voted against the regulations (and so between a third and half of that total number of Tory backbench speeches…
  • …And turn instead to the speeches of other Tory MPs who voted with the Government.  All of them raised particular criticisms of some aspects of the regulations – in particular, bans on some open-air activities, and the bar on religious services.  In a debate of this importance, the Whips usually have a series of speakers lined up to back the Government and rip into Labour.  This was a dog that didn’t really bark yesterday.
  • Now consider words from two speeches by ex-Ministers who voted with the Government – Jeremy Wright and Edward Timpson. Wright said.  Timpson said: “I urge my right hon. Friend…to ensure that we do not end up in a vicious cycle of lockdowns.”  Wright said: “We must now accept the need to live with this virus in the longer term… so these measures may be a short-term strategy, but they cannot be a long-term one.”
  • Both men are senior and experienced loyalists.  When backbenchers like these express anxiety about Government policy, and when even supportive speeches contain particular criticisms, the Conservative Parliamentary Party is giving notice that it may vote for a shutdown this time, but not necessarily next time.  And the thirty-four Tory votes against it was nearer the top of the range we expected than the bottom – itself a warning sign.
  • Next, note the emergence of a former Party leader and Prime Minister as a fully-fledged lockdown sceptic – namely, Theresa May.  If there is no Brexit deal, watch for her speaking out as a critic of that, too.
  • The former Prime Minister has been calling for an assessment of the costs of Government decisions on the virus for some – as has this site.  Nus Ghani and Bob Neil were among those making the same point.  We hope that Rishi Sunak is pressed on it when he makes his own statement to the Commons later today.  Finally, many Tory backbenchers clearly have no confidence in the scientific advisers’ projections.

 

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