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27 November 2020

The Conservative discontent over tiers is a problem of Boris Johnson’s own making

The Prime Minister struggles to deliver bad news and is unwilling to talk the language of shared sacrifice.

By Stephen Bush

England will re-enter the system of regional lockdowns after 2 December: but not as we knew them before. 

The revised tier three restrictions are pretty much identical to the England-wide lockdown restrictions people faced in November, while the new tier two restrictions (no inter-household mixing of any kind indoors, the closure of most hospitality venues other than restaurants and pubs serving meals) are essentially those in the old tier three. The only places in the UK in tier one are Cornwall (which has no major urban centre), the Isle of Wight and the Scilly Isles.  

[see also: How fair are the new Covid-19 tiers?]

It means that since moving to the system of regional lockdowns, just two places (London and Liverpool) have moved down a tier, and given that the restrictions they are subject to in the new version of tier two are largely identical to the old tier three, that is hardly progress. 

​​​​​​This is one reason why the system is attracting so much Conservative opposition, and why it’s possible that Boris Johnson will need Labour votes if he is to pass these restrictions into law. 

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[see also: The end of Covid-19 is in sight. But for lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs, victory feels like defeat]

The difficult truth for the government is that the need to continue very tough restrictions across the whole of England is partly due to the planned loosening of restrictions for the Christmas period, when large numbers of people will be cramped together in confined spaces with poor ventilation and lots of booze – and that’s just the train journey there and back. 

Johnson’s big problem is that he struggles to deliver bad news and is unwilling to talk the language of shared sacrifice. But that makes it impossible for him to adequately explain, let alone sell, to his MPs a policy that, at its heart, is based upon shared sacrifice and can only be understood through the sharing of bad news.