©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Long gone are the days of a settled and predictable Johnson premiership, with rebellion and dissent now cascading down more freely than ever, from the surly crowd of disgruntled Tory backbenchers. A final coup d’oeil of the Cummings era was feasted upon by the beaming eyes of many, after a number of Symonds-led squabbles climaxed with two abrupt resignations, as number 10 morphed into Albert Square. With many now sensing a change to the disarray and dysfunction that had sufficiently overwhelmed the 80 seat strong government, with the positive news of three tip-top vaccines, the ideal time to reinstate harmony was in Johnson’s podgy mitts. Unfortunately however, the Prime Minister seemingly reached his potential some 35 years back, during his reign as Oxbridge’s most pompous, and so a potential week of vindication, has ended in the licking of several parliamentary wounds, as Boris experiences his most vicious and varied attack on his authority and party messaging to date, with more to inevitably follow.

Tuesday’s revolt sliced through to the bare bones of Boris’ political skull, as his handling of the pandemic was ruthlessly slashed to pieces by a 71 strong posse of Tory MP’s who either rebelled (55) or abstained (16). If it weren’t for the mass abstention by Labour, as whipped by the land baron Sir Keir Starmer, the new tier system for England would have failed to pass through Parliament. However, despite this fortunate legislative escape that paves the way for 99% of England to be under tier 2 or tier 3 restrictions, Johnson is now being outwardly confronted by a far more vocal and ambivalent Tory party, and the friendly fire has begun to catch on among even the most fresh faced parliamentarians poking their snouts through the ex-red wall. As the bizarre Christmas free-for-all policy looks set to disrupt and aggravate the already bleeding wound of Covid-19, the Prime Minister may be forced to complete his hat-trick of lockdowns after the new year, since the case numbers seem condemned to sky rocket. Three vaccines, three tiers — is a third wave a forgone conclusion? Will Boris Johnson score another own goal and lose the trust of even his most obsequious?

This mass Tory rebellion is of extremely diverse nature in terms of where the incoming attacks are coming from. To paraphrase, there is not one single breed of Tory MP who rebelled and spoke out against the proposal of the new proposed tier system. Johnson is not being accosted by one static group of unhappy politicians, but by a mixed, ideologically heterogenous assembly. The scrutiny is posing a major issue since the criticisms represent a number of different issues that exist solely within the Conservative party and the various factions that have certainly risen to the surface during the pandemic. The rebellion is going to live on beyond lockdowns and tier systems, because what it represents is widespread upset at the way things are being run at a base level, obviously by the opposition but more critically and that evokes more concern, Tory MP’s themselves. The public persona of this duplicitous government, and more broadly, this strain of conservatism is under heavy fire.

The group who have possibly been the most vocal and overt in their dissent during the Covid-19 crisis, are those greatly concerned with the value of individual liberty and the stark lack of freedoms that the crisis has forced out of government. In its raw form, it is more about ideology, with their disdain being caused by the imposition of restrictions within all societal areas. And so regardless of the political impetus at the root of these restrictive decisions, their worldview is being greatly tested. Secondly, there are those who are witnessing the unfurling of chaos within their own constituencies, and perhaps detecting a lack of transparency on the impact of this tier system. And this is for all sorts of different reasons as well. MP’s representing more affluent, reliably Tory voting regions, that are under new tougher restrictions and are now worried about their businesses that were just about surviving until the point at which these new more strict higher tier level restrictions were threatened. In vintage self-serving style, this group has not acknowledged that other places have been in much tighter restrictions since as early as July. Finally, there are those in areas where the Conservative party made important and crucial gains in the 2019 December general election. There are individuals who potentially took a gamble last election and, perhaps swayed by Brexit, a distrust of a Corbyn-led labour, or just because they fancied a change, placed their hope in Johnson’s smug squad. However, despite the promise to ‘level up’ the North, predominantly the most crucial area in which fading red seats turned a vibrant hopeful blue, the government’s abandonment of anywhere beyond the M25 ring, has incited anger, and many don’t like the less chummy treatment they’ve received during the last 9 months, as it significantly contradicts what was promised in the manifesto last year.

The old school libertarians, the grassroots Tory, and the number of new supporters who they’re trying to cling onto, have disrupted the unity that governments typically strive for, and have made redundant the large parliamentary majority present within the current government, that as of last year was characterised as impenetrable. This cocktail of the Tory voter base, all expressing different gripes with Boris’ judgements may have merely been viewed as a one off political statement that did not end up affecting the passing of legislation. However, the cynical among us likely have a stronger case, since it looks set to certainly cause a number of problems later down the line, especially as a rebellion friendly precedent has been set. An 80 seat majority, while classically allows a simpler passing of legislation, simultaneously means that rebellions can happen more frequently since it is likely, there are fewer consequences — a couple of unhappy voices is not, for the most part, going to divert the policies. However, as we have witnessed, a culture of dissent is something that is clearly becoming cultivated and many more are leaping on this bandwagon, and this spells imminent chaos. To use an annoying buzzphrase, there’s an emerging ‘squeezed middle’, where a percentage of the electorate are on the edge and quite obviously, as demonstrated by last election, happy to change sides and go into bat for the other team. In short, people have been pissed off in different ways.

This broadly Conservative preoccupation with the various pros and cons of lockdown in which a relaying of the political difficulties and objections to what nobody actually thinks is an ideal response, is occurring en masse. However, while they are somewhat shouting at the symptoms rather than calling out the main root failure that has caused a call for lockdown — a late and confused public health response, and a 22 billion pound test and trace system captained by an inexperienced, unqualified Dido Harding— it appears that time and sympathy is quickly depleting. In line with these abject failures from the government, the way in which the new tier system has been sold and articulated to the public was extremely poor and has contributed greatly to this rebellion.

Across the country, communities are being allocated a seemingly arbitrary number between 1–3, with Cornwall and the Isle of Wight hitting the tier 1 jackpot. However, for the vast majority, the freedoms are much more limited. People in Tunbridge Wells, for example, are saying ‘right well why am I in tier 3 when my case per 100,000 is lower than the national average? Why am I affected by this particular tier just because my neighbours have high infection rates?’ And it certainly seems like they have a case here. The simple answer to their qualms is that while they are a region, they are also an economic cluster and economic activity happens within this area more broadly and so you can’t meaningfully stop a rise in cases in only one place if people are still working and consuming in the other. This is a very simple answer, but those asking the original question are not stupid. Rather, this answer has never been properly articulated by any national politician behind this new legislation. No one has sat down and just explained why. Particularly if you are gearing up to raise taxes and increase cuts to try and fill up the deepening pit of national debt, why has nobody even bothered to properly explain this new, very economically detrimental policy, to these areas, so there’s at least a smidgen of trust that remains. The document explaining the new tier system was littered with question marks and gave no real further qualification. It doesn’t inspire confidence. I absolutely understand that, “probably yes it’s complicated.” The interconnectivity does of course tie you up and it is about these intersections of statistics — R numbers, case trajectory, hospital admissions, which demographic is most affected etc. However, announcing a new policy that affects the entire country, and rushing it to parliament, with minimal explanation, is extremely corrosive to public trust, and has rightly caused doubtful voices to gather.

The way this fits in with the Christmas restrictions or rather the quite outlandish lack of, similarly has not been communicated. If you are in an area that was in tier 1 and have ended up in tier 2 or 3 after lockdown, an obvious question is, ‘well did the month long lockdown that crippled my business not work at all then?’ And again this question has a simple answer that hasn’t been at all articulated. The government is obviously trying to factor in how their major loosening of restrictions over Christmas is going to affect these areas in the slightly longer term, but if you don’t communicate this, then how are you expecting the public to just go along with it all, and without real explanation, watch local and loved businesses shut their doors or pull their last pint. Ending up with the right public health response 2 weeks late is unfortunately futile for the rest of us. While Boris and his smarmy, self-interested cohort, naturally defend their every last minute decision and spout sentiments of unity and togetherness, they are likely already jumping the queue and booking their 3 year old niece a Covid vaccine, before slinking off to Val-d’Isère for the new year, while poor old Marjorie from down the road twiddles her thumbs and watches another repeat of pointless. It leaves us all in a limbo that is condemned to be repeated.

This back and forth between more freedom and then harsh restrictions is not reassuring for anyone. People are going let’s go out and drink and be merry before we get locked up again next month, and while this is wrong, this sort of mentality has been crafted solely by and is a consequence of the indecisive to-ing and fro-ing from number 10. This recent rebellion speaks volumes about the current, particularly miserable and frustrated political climate, and during a month where Brexit deadlines reach the so called 11th hour, Boris’ plate is piled high with the most substantial of meals, with a Christmas dinner to come.