Viva the vaccine passport rebellion

10 Dec

What a week it’s been for the Government. With the furore around whether or not Downing Street had a party – or three – the Electoral Commission’s verdict on Boris Johnson’s wallpaper and the arrival of his and Carrie Johnson’s baby daughter, the media has had no end of things to write about.

Unfortunately for the Government, much more negative attention is on its way, due to a growing Conservative rebellion around Coronavirus vaccine passports, which, on Wednesday, Johnson announced would be implemented in England (in what some have called a “diversionary tactic”). 

Although Conservative MPs have been generally supportive of measures to combat Coronavirus, from the Emergency Powers Bill to curfews, something about the passports has pushed them to their limits.

Tens of Conservatives, including Dehenna Davison, Andrew Bridgen and Johnny Mercer have tweeted their disapproval of vaccine passports (which have been introduced in Scotland and Wales), with William Wragg, a member of the Covid Recovery Group, being so brazen as to call for Sajid Javid to “resign” over the latest measures. Expect a mega rebellion on passports on Tuesday, when they’ll be voted on, with talks of up to 100 MPs rejecting the plans.

The Government’s justification for passports has been the quickly-spreading Omicron variant, which has prompted it to unleash its “Plan B” set of restrictions. This includes asking people to work from home when they can from next Monday, as well as making masks compulsory in many indoor settings; two requirements that have received much less, albeit some, criticism compared to passports.

Part of the reason why MPs may have become more concerned about these is the events elsewhere in Europe, which have brought into sharp focus how illiberal restrictions can become. Austria’s decision to make vaccines mandatory has been a wake up call – to say the least. The more cynical will say that some MPs are simply using passports as an opportunity to kick Johnson when he’s down, having disapproved of his policies for a while.

My own view, in regards to the introduction of vaccine passports, is one of mild disbelief that the Government ever contemplated them in the first place, never mind that Johnson said there should be a “national conversation” on mandatory jabs. 

There seem to be far more arguments against passports than those in favour (many of which are based on emotional reasoning – “well I like the idea” – and a desire to conform – “well France has done it”). They are divisive, literally separating society into two; don’t completely stop transmission; no one knows where the cut off point for such passports should be (flu?) and will make life complicated and miserable, with large economic consequences. The Night Time Industries Association has already said passes have caused a 30 and 26 per cent trade drop-off in Scotland and Wales, respectively.

Perhaps the most worrying thing, though, is we simply don’t know the long-term impact. Passports are one giant experiment, which we have discussed with all the seriousness of whether someone should change bank accounts.

In general, vaccine passports seem to symbolise a wider issue with the Government, in the Covid wars, which is that it hasn’t completely decided how to be “Global Britain” yet. Post-Brexit it has the opportunity to show the world a different approach to the pandemic; one that respects civil liberties, and isn’t so far away from Sweden’s more relaxed strategy. Instead, we seem to be “Herd Britain”, constantly keeping an eye on what France and Germany are up to, with a view to emulating them.

Either way, something has changed in the equation. The crucial question next week is how the Government groups the votes on “Plan B”. If MPs can vote on vaccine passports as a lone category, it makes it far easier for the idea to be shot down. On the other hand, if vaccine passports, masks and working from home are placed into a single “Plan B” vote, the Government might find all of its plans in disarray; as Bridgen warned “I will vote against any legislation that sees [passports’] introduction“. That, or it’ll be easier to sell to Labour, which is pro restrictions. Whatever the case, we need a cut off point as to how far measures can go; viva the vaccine passport rebels, I say.

Charlotte Gill’s Podcasts Review 2) Camilla Tominey with Liz Truss, Jack Blanchard with Lee Cain, Katy Balls with Dehenna Davison

13 Oct

Every fortnight, ConservativeHome will compile a handful of podcast recommendations – content that has been published in the weeks preceding – for its readers. Although these will mainly focus on podcasts for conservative listeners, we will try to include other options – should they be particularly interesting. Sometimes this feature will contain other types of media.

Title: Chopper’s Politics
Host: Camilla Tominey (NB. the show’s regular host is Chris Hope)
Episode: Chopper’s Politics podcast from the Conservative party conference: Liz Truss

Duration: 45:27 minutes
Published: October 6 (recorded on October 3)

What’s it about?

It was a busy Conservative Party Conference for Liz Truss; indeed, readers of this site may have seen that ConservativeHome was lucky to have her as part of its fringe programme. The Telegraph, too, had her as part of its line up, in a lively conversation with Camilla Tominey, the paper’s Associate Editor.

During the course of the interview, Tominey probes Truss on a number of interesting subjects, from her reaction when Boris Johnson appointed her to Foreign Secretary, to the challenges of being a mother in politics, to what her strategy is in regards to getting Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe out of Iran. It’s well worth a listen.

Some teaser quotes:
  • “I was neither surprised or not surprised” – Truss on when she was appointed Foreign Secretary by Johnson.
  • “There’ll always be ups and downs in our relationship with the French”.
  • “People said that free movement of people wasn’t depressing wages and that clearly isn’t true, and we’ve seen the results.”
  • “I fundamentally don’t agree with identity politics. I don’t agree with the idea that you should have different policies for women and men… You should make sure that your policies are accessible to everybody.”
  • “I think we’ve taken the right approach with transgender people. We’ve made the process simpler, we’ve made the process kinder, I have full respect for transgender people. However, it wouldn’t be right to have self-identification with no checks and balances in the system”.

An entertaining discussion that demonstrates why Truss so often tops the ConHome Cabinet leaderboard.

Title: Politico Westminster Insider Podcast
Host: Jack Blanchard
Episode: Meet Lee Cain: Three Chaotic years as Boris Johnson’s closest aide

Link: Click here
Duration: 01:04:03 hours
Published: October 1

What’s it about?

In his first big interview, Lee Cain sits down with Jack Blanchard, the UK Political Editor of POLITICO Europe, to discuss his time as Boris Johnson’s right-hand man. The podcast covers everything from how Cain got to becoming Downing Street Director of Communications, to what happened behind the scenes when Johnson resigned over May’s Chequers deal, as well as how Cain developed a communication strategy for the Coronavirus crisis.

Some teaser quotes:
  • “You don’t know crisis comms until you’ve worked for Boris. It certainly set me up for the rest of my career”.
  • “Boris gets into all sorts of scrapes, but it’s good fun… We just clicked with a lot of that kind of thing. It allowed me to forge a really good bond with him.”
  • “I did the classic SpAd trick of, if you’ve got a difficult issue, just don’t answer your phone, which is – for those who don’t know – code for “whatever you’re thinking’s happening probably is happening”.
  • “The day he resigned over Chequers was really the day he became Prime Minister.”

A frank discussion, which leaves you under no illusions about the numerous challenges Downing Street has faced over the last few years. Though, when it comes to Boris Johnson, don’t expect the “Cummings’ treatment” from Cain, who shows real warmth towards the PM.

Title: Women With Balls
Host: Katy Balls
Episode: The Dehenna Davison Edition

Link: Click here
Duration: 30:35 minutes
Published: October 8

What’s it about?

In another interview recorded at Conference, Katy Balls, Deputy Editor of The Spectator, sits down with Dehenna Davison, the MP for Bishop Auckland, to chat about her parliamentary career so far. Although the interview is only 30 minutes long, it covers a huge amount of ground, from Davison’s appearance on the Channel 4 show Bride and Prejudice, to how Jacob Rees-Mogg got her into politics, to the tragic death of her father, when she was 13, from a single-punch assault. Davison has since launched the All-Parliamentary Group for One Punch Assault, which looks at justice and sentencing reform around this crime; she explains more about its work in the discussion.

Some teaser quotes:

  •  On handing out “Tory Scum” badges at the Conservative Party Conference – “Quite a few ministers did take them. At one point Oliver Dowden wore one on a panel event he was doing, which was fantastic to see. And I did give one to the Prime Minister as well”.
  • “So many members of my family used to call me Hermione, because I was that little swot in school.”
  • “You have to marry up loyalty to the party, what’s right for your constituents and your own conscience; sometimes the three can be incredibly conflicted”.

An engaging and touching insight into one of parliament’s rising stars.