Speakers persistently complain that governments make announcements to the media before making them to the Commons. And governments persistently take no notice whatsoever.
Lindsay Hoyle is not accepting this unvirtuous circle with a shrug, and had a right old go at the Government during Points of Order yesterday. Indeed, he accused the Government of misleading the Commons. The claim is traditionally followed by resignation if proven.
The Speaker may have been stung a little by the recent suggestion that he is soft on Ministers. Which arose when he ruled Andrew Mitchell’s ARIA Bill amendment on overseas aid last week out of scope (reasonably enough).
Hoyle is a decent bloke, and we believe that he has right on his side. That said, it’s not clear what the “other avenues” are that he referred to as a means of getting the Government to mind its manners.
And we have to add that, when Matt Hancock finally came to the Commons at eight thirty or so to make a statement (the Prime Minister was apparently at the NATO summit), MPs were not exactly queueing round the block to question him.
We count 14 Conservative questions from the session – not a large number. Perhaps few Tory MPs were around because no votes took place yesterday. Some will have pushed off elsewhere before the session was arranged.
Others will be holding their fire or still mulling Boris Johnson’s statement. Nonetheless, there was a discontinuity between what the site is told and what actually happened.
We’re informed that Cabinet Ministers are dubious about this further lockdown extension, and that a growing number of Conservative backbenchers are indignant that it’s happened, and are apprehensive that it will be extended.
That could well be so, but it’s impossible to tell from yesterday’s statement one way or the other. On our count, only one Tory MP who spoke, Jeremy Hunt, suggested that we may still be in it for the long haul.
Steve Baker, Aaron Bell, Peter Bone, Graham Brady, Steve Brine, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Liam Fox, Mark Harper, Greg Smith, Pauline Latham, Robbie More, Bob Neil and Caroline Nokes asked questions that were what whips call “unhelpful” – some very much so.
The difficulty for would-be readers of the Parliamentary runes is that these are by and large the usual suspects. Nothing wrong with that at all: the pursuit of causes is the lifeblood of backbenchers.
But the session didn’t tell us much about how Conservative MPs will treat the lockdown extension when they vote on it next week. And those Tory MPs who claim a growing revolt against shutdowns tend be those who most strongly oppose them.
To date, there has been an element, at least since last autumn, of the story of the boy who cried “wolf” – with the vital difference that the wolf hasn’t turned up, at least yet.
The sunny side of the street view comes from new information released for yesterday’s press conference. One dose of the vaccines gives a 57 per cent minimum hospitalisation reduction from the Delta variant, and two gives an 85 per cent minimum reduction.
The Prime Minister has a new target of double jabbing “around two thirds of the adult population including everyone over 50, all the vulnerable, all the frontline health and care workers and everyone over 40 who received their first dose by mid-May”.
Which will mean that the Government can save “many thousands of lives” by delaying in order to vaccinate “millions more people”. As things stand,” Johnson said, “I am confident we will not need any more than four weeks and we won’t need to go beyond July 19th”.
The shadowy side of the street view starts by zeroing in on another part of the his statement – in which he said that “even if the link between hospitalisation and death has also been weakened, I’m afraid numbers in intensive care, in ICU are also rising.”
As we pointed out yesterday morning, queues are integral to the NHS (that’s how it rations health, after all), and that it is run “hot”, for understandable reasons, means the service is finding it hard to cope both with the Delta variant and the Covid backlog at once.
“There are still millions of younger adults who have not been vaccinated and sadly a proportion of the elderly and vulnerable may still succumb even if they have had two jabs,” the Prime Minister also said.
Won’t that still be true on July 19? What will happen if, to borrow Johnson’s image, the virus is still outrunning the vaccines? And what guarantee is there that intensive care will be less stretched?
Finally, deaths remain at the heart of the political matter. Let’s suppose for the sake of the argument that this extension will indeed reduce deaths from “thousands”, as he put it, to “hundreds”.
Are Ministers really prepared to take a stand, and declare in July to a spooked, lockdown-supportive and anxious public that hundreds rather than thousands of deaths are acceptable?
“You cant run society just to stop the hospitals being full,” Jacob Rees-Mogg declares in our Moggcast this morning. We will soon find out how many of his colleagues agree.