Greig Baker: I’ve been a Conservative member for the past 20 years – but vaccine passports have pushed me to my limit

28 Jul

Greig Baker is a former Chairman of the Canterbury Conservatives Association.

I am enormously proud to have been a Conservative member for the past 20 years, but I just can’t do it anymore. The threat of vaccine passports is the straw that is breaking this camel’s back.

I have supported the party through the rough and smooth. I have loved some of the things we have achieved (like saving the country in the ‘80s, gay marriage, and vaccines) and have had some doubts about others (I’d rather give tax breaks to entrepreneurs tackling climate change than ban things or fine people, for example).

But all told, I understand that being in a party is about sharing a broad set of beliefs and helping each other promote solutions, finding common ground with people and working to reach practical solutions that actually achieve stuff, rather than being a purist all the time.

Basically, until now I have been confident that being a Conservative meant helping to make things better for the people who need help most.

That confidence started to take a hit when the Government assumed far-reaching emergency powers early last year. Lockdown followed lockdown, laws gave local “emanations of the state” (to use a phrase from the PM’s past) the ability to detain people they simply “suspect” have Covid, and people were banned from seeing family, meeting friends, or shacking up with someone they fancy. Every measure was felt most keenly by people who could least afford to bear the burden.

But fine, we didn’t know what we were dealing with and maybe it was best to be cautious. Maybe it was right to borrow hundreds of billions of pounds, too. I honestly don’t know for sure either way.

What I do know is that making everyday life conditional on medical status from now on, or even just threatening to do so, is not what I thought Conservatism was all about.

I don’t want a vaccine passport and I don’t want anyone else to be coerced into having one either. I don’t want the Government spending vast sums on a system that could give the wrong people access to health records, is open to fraud, would discriminate by age and ethnicity, create new burdens on business, discourage personal responsibility and that would inevitably be used in an ever growing list of places for an ever growing list of reasons.

Precedents are called precedents because they are followed. Show your vaccine passport at the football or voting booth to prove you haven’t got flu or shingles, anyone? Presumably, that is, unless you’re on important “Government Business”…

If, in the best possible case, ministers espousing this kind of “certification” are just flying a kite to test public reaction, then I think that kite needs shooting down as quickly as possible. And if they are actually planning to introduce vaccine passports through the front, back, or any other door, I think that door needs to be slammed shut and double bolted right now.

Surely mandatory vaccines and certifications for inspection go against everything it means to be a Conservative? How on earth does a belief in personal responsibility, limited intervention and faith in your neighbour marry up with demanding to see vaccine passports?

I do see reasons for hope. MPs like Steve Baker (no relation) and Mark Harper offer constructive scrutiny of the restrictions we have faced or could be lumbered with.

Backbenchers gave another term at the head of the ’22 to Graham Brady, too, which says something important about how our MPs view their role and the best way to support the Government. I have also been reassured every time a minister has promised not to introduce a mandatory health certificate that would dramatically extend the state’s reach into our daily lives – I just wish they’d stick to it.

The prospect of vaccine passports, the creation of a more interventionist state, and the higher taxes that would be needed to pay for it, leave me cold. I just can’t feel comfortable with these proposals – let alone summon the will to go out and try to convince voters of them.

Membership has been a big part of my life and I have met true friends through the party. I sincerely wish them well and I get it when they say that it’s better to stay in and try to change things from the inside. I really hope they can.

But I can’t be a member of a party that makes people’s ability to go about their daily lives conditional on undergoing a medical procedure and then proving they’ve done so to anyone who asks. This seems to be counter to everything we stand for.

Of course, the party is so much bigger than any one person and, rightly, it will barely notice my leaving. But I hope senior Conservatives take a moment to think how some of the grassroots feel about our slide towards a state of affairs where the Government dictates terms in every area of normal life. I know I am not alone in my worries about this – just look at my Twitter feed.

I would be delighted if someone could reassure me that my idea of being a Conservative has not been wrong all these years. Indeed, if the PM could regain the enthusiasm for a truly liberal approach to Government that he showed in the years before he took office, I’m all ears.