While there may be no such thing as a miracle cure for political unpopularity, Boris Johnson may have discovered the nearest thing to it – the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine. Like the Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax products also coming on stream, their arrival has boosted Johnson’s personal poll ratings and those of his party. For the first time in months, the prime minister and the Conservatives are starting to regain their poll leads, albeit by slim margins, over Sir Keir Starmer and Labour.
It certainly makes a change for the government, and the recent spat with the European Union over the supply of the proudly British Oxford-AstraZeneca jab added a patriotic, Brexit quality to the generally good news about the vaccine rollout. (Notwithstanding the fact that all vaccines have complex multinational supply chains and rely on global scientific collaboration). Even the most ardent Remainer has had to concede that the EU has recently misjudged things, and managed to make the British seem paragons of public health, even as Britain gained the unwelcome distinction of suffering the worst Covid death rate in Europe.
If, as Tony Blair says, Labour “should” be 20 points ahead in the polls, the fact that it is roughly neck and neck, given the margin of error, at about 40 per cent, is cause for concern. It is possible that as the vaccine programme exceeds expectations and the memories of Dominic Cummings and the disastrous decisions of the last year fade, then the Conservatives lead could stretch further as the big round of elections across the UK arrive in May. The hard work and brilliance of the scientists and the NHS have rubbed off on the popularity of the government, galling as that may be to some.
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