13 September 2021 | OPINION
The Government has dropped its hugely unpopular vaccine passport plans for nightclubs and large events – but probably only because of the foreseeable unpopularity of its tax rise.
Up until Sunday morning, the Government’s vaccine passport policy for nightclubs and large events (and inevitably more) was arguably the biggest issue that was universally unpopular across the political spectrum that it hadn’t U-turned on. It is a U-turn it should have made, but one that it should not have had to make in the first place, because it should not have even considered such an autocratic policy.
But this begs the question: why now? Why, after months of campaigning, petitions, letters to local MPs in opposition to the draconian and wholly unjustifiable policy, has the Government finally decided to drop its vaccine passport plans? I’d wager it is something to do with outrage towards – and slumping in Westminster voting intention polls as a result of – the Government’s recently announced manifesto-breaking increase in National Insurance contributions, which I discussed recently.
The timing of this decision seems too convenient.
But what we must not do is praise the Government for reversing its plans to introduce these entirely illiberal, authoritarian (something I’d say Boris Johnson is not, at heart) and universally unpopular plans. Why? Because they should never have been considered in the first place. To praise the Government over this would be to praise a remorseful murderer. Of course, I am not comparing the Government to killers, but simply making the point that they should not receive praise for backtracking, or ‘U-turning’, on a totally unacceptable, bad precedent-setting policy they never should have considered to begin with.
From a wide political perspective, to go ahead with vaccine passport plans may well have been the end of this Government – or certainly the Johnson Government – and the ideology of the Conservative Party as we know it. In addition, it would further alienate younger voters, whether they already backed the Tories or not – and would give them even fewer reasons to vote Blue [again].
Perhaps another reason, yet again, for a Government policy U-turn would be lack of internal party support. There have been several backbench Tory rebellions on important Covid legislation throughout the pandemic. Conceivably, the Prime Minister may want to avoid another embarrassment of being undermined by his own MPs – not least, by losing a significant amount of support over this policy.
Perhaps this backtrack is down to the newly appointed, though very experienced, Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, who has been vocal about taking a more liberal, less authoritarian view towards dealing with the pandemic – a stance favoured by the party’s backbenchers. He told the BBC on Sunday morning: “I’ve never liked the idea of saying to people you must show your papers or something to do with what is just an everyday activity,” and that he’s “pleased to say we will not be going ahead [with vaccine passports]”.
However, despite this being a politically popular decision to reverse the Government’s plans, the Health Secretary also told the BBC: “We’ve looked at it properly and, whilst we should keep it in reserve as a potential option, I am pleased to say that we will not be going ahead with plans for vaccine passports.”
So, essentially, the public must demonstrate good behaviour, otherwise we’ll be punished with vaccine passports. Wow.
The Government doesn’t seem to be trusted by many voters, and this is arguably fair given its record since the start of the pandemic – and there is little reason for them to start now. One thing that is certain, though, is that patronising and infantilising the public is politically unpopular, and won’t keep votes.