UK Politics: Johnson government splits into lockdown 'hawks' and 'doves'

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Boris Johnson and his adviser Dominic Cummings
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Prime Minister faces cabinet divided over lockdown and the rifts could deepen the longer it goes on, reports Max Liu in his UK politics update...

"This week’s YouGov polling on voting intention puts the Tories ten points ahead of Labour, although no overall majority [2.72] at the next election is the marginal favourite on the Exchange."

Boris Johnson is facing a cabinet split over the easing of the lockdown. All week the government has been sending mixed messages to the public about plans to relax the lockdown from tomorrow.

Johnson will address the country on Sunday but behind the scenes a chasm is opening up between Tory "hawks", who want to accelerate the easing of the lockdown to get the economy moving, and "doves" who think the government should tread carefully with a more gradual approach.

Johnson faces crucial choice

The World Health Organisation has warned that lockdown restrictions must be eased carefully, saying it would be "traumatising" for people to re-enter lockdown in the case of a second wave of the pandemic. Johnson appears to be minded to follow their advice - a move which could put him at odds with the right-wing press that has been telling its readers to expect imminent liberation from lockdown.

Johnson was initially reluctant to put the UK in lockdown seven weeks ago and did so only when he became convinced that it was the only way to contain the spread of Covid-19 and prevent the NHS from becoming overwhelmed. He was criticised by the opposition for being too slow.

Following his own hospitalisation with the virus, however, he is believed to have sided with the doves in his cabinet and is likely to announce fairly small changes to the lockdown tonight.

What does this mean for his political future? This is the first time since winning an 80-seat majority in December that Johnson has really had to manage his party and if lockdown has to continue in the UK, while it is eased in other countries, the divisions among Conservative MPs will grow.

Then there's Brexit. How will that be affected by the pandemic? A recent poll from YouGov showed the public voting 50 to 35 in favour of extending the transition period beyond December when it's supposed to end.

Polls continue to show public approval for Johnson's handling of the pandemic and this week's YouGov polling on voting intention puts the Tories ten points ahead of Labour, although no overall majority [2.72] is the marginal favourite on the Exchange.

Hancock to be government fall guy?

Health secretary Matt Hancock is believed to be the principal dove in the cabinet and Tory hawks have been briefing against him to the press for several weeks.

Matt Hancock 956.jpg

Hancock is feeling the pressure from libertarian right-wingers in his party and from the opposition. This week, he was widely criticised for warning the Labour MP and A&E doctor Rosena Allin-Khan to mind her tone when she took him on in the House of Commons.

Hancock's predecessor, Jeremy Hunt, was the longest-serving health secretary since the NHS began in 1948. It's highly unlikely that Hancock will serve anything like the almost six years that Hunt managed and it would be no surprise if Hancock is gone before the end of 2020.

Poll bounce for leaders who acted decisively

The Economist has published data that shows politicians who took the disease seriously have generally seen a boost in approval ratings.

Australia's Scott Morrison, who only three months ago was heavily criticised for his response to devastating bushfires, acted decisively and has an approval rating of 64%.

In France, Emmanuel Macron, who looked destined to become his country's latest one term president, is hovering in the mid-thirties and [1.73] on the exchange to win re-election in 2022.

At the opposite end of the scale, Brazil's Jair Bolsanaro, who has been steadfast in his flouting of lockdown measures, has seen his rating plummet to -47%.

Trump press conference.jpg

Donald Trump fares little better on -44% and this weekend it was reported that Barack Obama called his successor's handling of the pandemic "an absolute chaotic disaster."

It's no surprise that Obama thinks this but it is telling that the comments were leaked from a private conference call as he encouraged his former staff to go to work for Joe Biden's presidential campaign.

On the Exchange, however, Trump is [2.08] to win this year's presidential election, which will take place six months from this week, against his likely Democratic Party opponent Biden [2.4].

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