Boris Johnson has a significant inbox of spending, parliamentary rows and a likely reshuffle coming this autumn. As parliament returns and Whitehall prepares to take a tentative step towards “politics as usual”, we take a look at the biggest coming clashes of the session.
Social care and national insurance rises
If Boris Johnson does decide to go ahead with an increase in national insurance to fund health and social care, some backbenchers say privately they would struggle to support it.
Some object to tax rises in themselves, others are concerned about the fairness argument, that young, low-income workers should not be paying to allow wealthy retired people hit by social care costs to pass on more to their children – national insurance contributions are not levied on pensioners. Jeremy Hunt and many other senior Tories have made this argument publicly.
Ultimately many MPs are keen enough to fix the social care crisis and reduce waiting lists that they may approve the plan; but perhaps only after considerable persuasion.
Triple lock on pensions
It will be two manifesto commitments jettisoned by the end of this week, with Boris Johnson also expected to break the “triple lock” commitment and limit a rise in the state pension.
The lock commits the government to increasing the state pension in line with inflation or wages or 2.5%, whichever is highest. But an artificial increase in wages fuelled by the end of the furlough scheme has seen wages rise by almost 9% – costing the government up to £5bn more in pension payouts.
Tory MPs are feeling less mutinous on this point than on NICs, but it will still be a worrying sign for some that manifesto pledges are not worth the paper they are printed on.
Details of which venues will be covered by new rules making it compulsory for customers to show they are double-jabbed have not yet been published but many Conservative MPs, including the former chief whip Mark Harper of the Covid Recovery Group, have already made clear they object vehemently.
With the regime due to come into force at the end of September, time is short for the government to win them round. Labour’s stance will also be crucial, but with more than 40 MPs signing a statement opposing domestic Covid passports, it is hard to see how the government will have a majority.
Vaccines for teenagers
The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations gave ministers a headache last week by not approving the rollout of vaccines for 12- to 15-year-olds.
Johnson and others had been hoping to stem any significant outbreaks from schools returning with a programme of jabs for younger teenagers, and the chief medical officers of the UK are expected to make that recommendation on the basis of other, non-medical factors, such as disruption to learning.
One of the most significant backbench rebellions this session could be on planning – though the government is already expected to significantly water down proposals that have angered more than 100 Tory MPs.
Ministers are considering dropping mandatory housebuilding targets but the changes would still see residents no longer being able to object to planning applications and designated “growth sites” where homes will be automatically approved.
Johnson needs a successful summit in Glasgow but is feeling the heat at home from rightwing backbenchers and his chancellor over the commitment to go net zero by 2050. Climate campaigners say the plans are not ambitious enough but the Treasury is said to have balked at some of the costs of decarbonisation.
There is also mounting internal opposition from the Net Zero Scrutiny Group of Tory backbenchers, led by Craig Mackinlay, to raising energy and travel costs for consumers.