Unlike a number of Tory policies, Covid -19 has survived the most politically turbulent period in recent times. The measures implemented to deal with Covid have further exposed the breakdown in societal relations in ways that few would have foreseen. The explosive response to the death of George Floyd, the North- South divide, devolution, child poverty and the Nanny state have all gained significant media traction in recent months.
When the first lock down was announced in March, Johnson made a predictably Churchillian call for unity and compliance in the face of a national emergency. At this point in time there was a surface level consensus amongst the public and political opposition that this was the right decision. A newly elected Sir Kier Starmer offered a diplomatic and non combative response to the tory party, stating Labour would not provide “opposition for opposition’s sake”.
At this early stage, the message that we would have a national lock down was at least coherent and unanimous in the face of such uncertainty, a decision that had broad support as the public and press pondered the economic difficulty we would likely face in the coming months.
The Tories were seeing some of their best polling figures since Thatcher whilst Labour’s image was still held hostage by the Corbyn era. Fast forward 7 months, Labour have overtaken the Tories in the polls as Starmer is rapidly gaining popularity. This may well be a result of the party’s rebranding as well as a break down in relations between the public and the conservatives. Boris Johnson in particular as failed to resonate with the electorate.
Contrary to the diplomacy we saw forged between the two parties, relations have now predictably deteriorated as the Tories oscillate between confronting their growing opposition and providing an organised response to the pandemic.
A matter of weeks ago a defiant Boris stated during PMQ’s ,“we are pursuing a localised approach’ as this was the supposed scientific consensus at the time. Claiming that Starmer “wants to plunge the whole country back into a damaging lock down for weeks on end”. Starmer’s proposed circuit breaker lock down had lead to accusations of political opportunism, regardless, the inconsistencies in the government’s Covid strategy have made this a lucrative period for the opposition.
The contrasting policies and lack of continuity have lead to a break down in public understanding of restrictions. A study conducted by UCL established that in July 45% of the public had a strong understanding of restrictions compared to 90% during the initial lock down, this fell as low as 13% claiming a full understanding in October.
The monotonous months of daily briefings have exhausted the patience of the nation, as many feel the governments communication has been saturated with data and dogma, we arrive at the Christmas season back in another National Lockdown.
Despite the relentless briefings and public announcements, it is the internal communication of the Tory party that appears to have done them the most damage. A national lock down was always destined to ruffle the feathers of the more libertarian minded Tory MP’s, seemingly not as acutely as being out of the loop with Boris and his inner circle. In early September the press were made aware of alterations to social distancing policy for groups of 6 or more before MP’s had been informed, triggering a significant backlash in the commons.
More notably, last weekend the news of a national lockdown was leaked to several high-profile news outlets by a member of the cabinet. Whilst the culprit is unknown, the lock down not only suggests to the public that we are due a quiet November, but that there is dissent and dissatisfaction within the Tory party. With 32 Tory MPs voting against the most recent lock down there is growing dissent within the party.
As the Labour party have learned in recent years, a fractured party is found wanting in the courts of public opinion, they would do well to improve the continuity in their Covid strategy to ensure the public continue to engage with the efforts to combat the virus.
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