Will Boris Johnson Turn From Santa Into Scrooge This Christmas?

Paul Waugh
·Executive Editor, Politics, HuffPost UK
·4-min read
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a news conference on Thursday. (Photo: REUTERS)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a news conference on Thursday. (Photo: REUTERS)

You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.

The clocks go back this weekend, and as the darkness kicks in Boris Johnson must be desperately hoping he can somehow rewind the clock back to summer’s relative Covid calm.

No.10 is acutely aware that for many of the public the PM’s success or failure in tackling the virus will be judged by one blunt test this winter: will he have it under control in time for a “normal” Christmas?

That’s certainly the aim of the localised tiered system of restrictions. If your area stays in Tier 1 or returns to it from Tier 2, then at least you’ll be able to spend the holiday period with some of your extended family. If you’re still in Tier 2 or 3, the ban on household mixing means only those who are in a social ‘bubble’ will be able to sit down together for Xmas lunch.

But even in Tier 1, the ‘Rule of Six’ will apply, meaning for larger families there’ll be no room at the inn for grandparents, aunts. uncles and cousins. At one point a few weeks ago, before cases escalated dramatically, someone in government floated the idea that the Rule of Six could be suspended just for a few days at Christmas. Right now, that seems fanciful, though an exemption for young children in England could well be one way Johnson could ease the pain.

So at some point in the next few weeks, the PM is going to have to, to use the phrase he deploys for bad news, “level with you” that this will not be a normal Christmas. In Scotland, at least national clinical director Jason Leitch has been candid that it’s a “fiction” to presume the festive period will be normal and the public should “get their digital Christmas ready”.

Yet the emotional pull of the holiday period, with all its associations of the one time in the year when people forget their woes and meet family and friends, is strong in all parts of the UK. Wales’ first minister Mark Drakeford defended his ‘firebreak’ by saying “provided we do the right thing we will still be able to enjoy a version of the holiday”.

Circuit-break supporter and Sage member Professor John Edmunds told the Press Association “the only way that we can have a relatively safe and normal Christmas is if we take radical action now”. “The notion that we can carry on as we are and have a Christmas that we can celebrate normally with friends and family is wishful thinking in the extreme,” he said.

There was good news on the R number reducing slightly today, but given the lag in the system it’s going to take some serious reductions in cases before it gets below 1. And even if it does, it seems there’s just not enough time between now and December 24 to abandon that Rule of 6.

Still none of that stopped cabinet minister Steve Barclay told the Today programme a normal Christmas was “a shared endeavour for all of us..the ability of families to spend Christmas together – that is something we all hope to be in a position to do”. The PM’s spokesman added: “we’ve been clear about the ambition to ensure that people may celebrate Christmas as a family this year.”

Yet the same spokesman was remarkably coy on another topic that really does get to the heart of family life for millions this Christmas: child hunger. He repeatedly refused to welcome the moves by businesses and local councils that have stepped in to provide free school meals this half-term and over the festive season.
Marcus Rashford’s Twitter feed – “selflessness, kindness, togetherness, this is the England I know” – was simultaneously a thing of joy for many and a deep embarrassment for Tory MPs, exposed as they are by Johnson’s refusal to spend a relatively small sum on the extra provision. Backbencher Ben Bradley’s tweet tonight that meal vouchers “effectively” went to a crack den and a brothel in his constituency only served to show how tone deaf some in the party still are on the issue.

Time is running out for the PM to admit Christmas will be different for many this year. But although the October half term has now arrived, he still has time to ensure poorer families get the meal voucher help over the late December and New Year holiday.

To adapt that Band Aid single from all those years ago, Johnson could feed the world under his political control – and let them know it’s Christmas time. If he doesn’t, some voters really will think the man they thought was a jolly Santa has transmogrified into Scrooge.


Is Boris Johnson Revealing Himself As The Bully He Always Claimed He Wasn’t?

Boris Johnson Begins To Say No, Apart From When He Says Yes

Has Boris Johnson’s Test And Trace Gone Beyond The Point Of No Return?

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.