Poor Nadhim Zahawi. After spending most of last week gamely making the case for vaccine passports, he becomes the latest to have the rug pulled from beneath him by the Prime Minister’s fickle whim.
The vaccines minister wasn’t even given the opportunity to make the announcement, that honour being taken by Sajid Javid during his tour of the Sunday morning TV studios.
As we noted last week, the odds of a u-turn on this seemed pretty high. Not only was it a source of much disquiet on the Conservative backbenches, but the Government seemed reluctant to state the actual case for the policy – creating an incentive for hesitant people to get the vaccine.
Instead, Zahawi was left to allude to (but not actually make) a case that targeting onerous restrictions on venues used overwhelmingly by young people has tangible public health benefits. Few seemed convinced. At least now he can go back to his earlier firm commitments that the Government would not introduce vaccine passports, which people have been cruelly digging up on Twitter.
This inconstancy of policy means that opponents of vaccine passports probably shouldn’t rest on their laurels. It remains to be seen if Boris Johnson’s new ‘winter plan’ will survive contact with a winter surge. If it doesn’t, it will be extremely vexing to many voters if extra restrictions are placed on everybody because we refused to target them at the unvaccinated.
We cannot take the Prime Minister’s words about no more national lockdowns – or indeed the Health Secretary’s promise that we’ll get a proper Christmas this year – than ministers’ earlier undertakings on similar subjects. That’s the price a government pays for making cheap promises and too frequently changing its mind.
Nor will ministers be keen to go out and make difficult cases on Johnson’s behalf if they think senior colleagues will undercut them on the Sunday shows. Although that will only be a problem so long as the Government still has controversial arguments to make, and this weekend’s fold on planning reform suggests Johnson may be trying to put those days behind him.
🚨🚨 | BREAKING: Boris Johnson says Sajid Javid (who says vaccine passports are scrapped) and Nadhim Zahawi (who says vaccine passports are going ahead) are “both right”
— Politics For All (@PoliticsForAlI) September 13, 2021