Tory MPs dislike Boris Johnson's Covid-19 strategy, but they don't have an alternative

While a handful of MPs have been willing to go public, most have confined themselves to anonymous whispering and coded rebukes. 

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Boris Johnson delivered a statement to the House of Commons yesterday repeating his announcement from Saturday that England will enter a second national lockdown from Thursday midnight, pending approval from MPs.

​​​​​​It is a decision that has angered many Conservative MPs, who have concerns not just about the economic and broader health impact of a second lockdown, but who fundamentally object to the restraints on civil liberties that such a move entails. They are, furthermore, dismayed at the move from a political perspective; barely two weeks ago, the Prime Minister stood in the exact same spot at the despatch box mocking Keir Starmer for proposing a circuit break. Now he is proposing the same approach, but for longer, and Tory MPs, yet again, have expended their own political capital backing a policy that Downing Street has abruptly U-turned on.

But despite the widely-reported discontent among Johnson's backbenchers, their opposition to the second lockdown was not in as much evidence yesterday as you might expect. Some, such as Graham Brady and Esther McVey, have gone public with their objections, but many more haven't put their opposition to the move on the record as of yet. 

[See also: Nigel Farage has launched an anti-lockdown party. What are his chances of success?]

Why? Perhaps it is because the case the Prime Minister makes is simply irrefutable. Yes, there are a great many objections in principle to such an extreme and blunt policy, and debates to be had about the UK's longer-term approach to the virus. But at this precise point in time, the government has run out of options. On the current trajectory, without a second lockdown, the NHS in England would have no capacity for any new hospital patients, be they patients with heart attacks, cancer or Covid-19, by Christmas, and sooner than that in the south west and Midlands. 

Those arguing against a second national lockdown at this point need to be able to say how they would avoid that scenario in a few weeks, or make the dubious case that they are prepared to let the NHS run out of capacity. That may be why so few Conservative MPs have put their heads above the parapet, despite their profound objections to the Prime Minister's course of action. A lockdown is prevented by putting in place the public health measures that prevent one, rather than arguing the case against it when it is too late.

Ailbhe Rea is political correspondent at the New Statesman

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