With all his over-promising, Tory backbenchers no longer trust the prime minister’s claims about life getting back to normal
One of the worst things about the perpetual winter visited upon Narnia is that it is “always winter and never Christmas”. CS Lewis’s most faithful character, Lucy Pevensie, describes this as “awful” when first told about it: a reaction Conservative MPs can probably empathise pretty well with today. First their government effectively cancelled Christmas for millions of Brits with the last-minute introduction of a fourth tier of coronavirus restrictions. Now, even more areas are heading into the higher tiers, and a third national lockdown looms as the new variant of Covid surges in the south-east and takes a foothold in the rest of the country.
The Covid winter is starting to feel as long as the one wrought by the White Witch in Narnia – and at least she did this deliberately, rather than constantly promising that things would be all right in a few months’ time.
Boris Johnson started this year by promising it would be a “fantastic” one for Britain. Of course, he couldn’t have foreseen that he would have to repeatedly downgrade those expectations – to hoping at one point that people might be able to see their families over Christmas, and then saying that many couldn’t even do that. But now the prime minister’s consistent refusal to confront reality, stringing everyone along with increasingly incredible promises, has left many Conservative MPs feeling shaken.
More and more, private conversations with backbenchers yield the phrase, “We can’t really take him at his word any more.” This is a stunning and swift loss of trust in a prime minister who in normal times would still be celebrating the stonking majority he won a year ago. It should be the kind of accusation a leader of the opposition would throw hopefully across the Commons, not something Johnson’s own MPs have largely come to terms with.