Earlier this week, Fraser Nelson painted a picture of a Britain carrying out more tests per head than any other country, well boosted, and now deploying new anti-Covid wonder drugs. Meanwhile, our neighbours are either locking down or implementing more severe restrictions or more vaccine passports – or a mix.
England in particular is restriction-light. In Wales, nightclubs were closed on Boxing Day, and those visiting pubs, cinemas and restaurants must do so in groups of six or fewer. In Scotland, nightclub closures kicked in yesterday, and indoor events will be restricted to 100 people standing or 200 seated. In Northern Ireland, nightclubs were also closed on Boxing Day, and indoor standing events are banned.
Only in England, where Boris Johnson is fully in charge of Covid policy, will the clubs be open on New Year’s Eve – with Covid passports confined to larger venues.
Why, then, do more members of our panel believe that the Prime Minister is handling the Coronavirus badly than well? I hazard three main reasons.
First, they don’t – if the later responses to the survey are any guide. It went out on December 23, in the wake of a Cabinet meeting during which Johnson had explored further restrictions. It wasn’t clear then that none would be introduced, or even attempted, before the New Year, with Parliament recalled to debate them.
And the later the responses have come, the more favourably they have tended to judge the Prime Minister – or so it has seemed to me as I’ve watched them arrive. But the bulk of replies tend to come in very quickly. Were we to ask the question again now, I suspect his rating would be better.
Second, a large number of panel members, like a significant section of the public, are fed up with restrictions of any kind – and there’s resistance to vaccine passports too. Lots of panel members will have marked Johnson down for those reasons, as well as for mulling more restrictions with his Cabinet colleagues.
And finally, there will surely have been leakage into this question from the Prime Minister’s and the Government’s performance more widely. Parties, competence, Covid restrictions, Paterson, taxes and Net Zero will have taken their toll.
It may be that there is no NHS crisis next month, that Johnson claims that his measures worked – and voters come to believe that his resistance to the more draconian lockdown proposals has been proved right. And that he then recovers in the polls (and indeed in this survey).
However, you don’t need me to tell you that none of that may happen. All the same, the Prime Minister would be justified in feeling a bit rueful, in the event of him seeing this survey finding.
Earlier in the pandemic, he made some bad calls, but his ratings held up well. Now he appears to have made a good one – or at least one less bad than it might have been – yet his score is very poor.
For reference, it’s only been lower once than year: in June, in the wake of Matt Hancock’s resignation. Elsewhere, fifty-five per cent of our respondents say the Government is handling Covid well, and 39 per cent badly.