One of the most widely hated features of the Government’s Tier system is the profound sense of unfairness it generates. A localised approach to restrictions, however you manage them, will always mean there’s a border somewhere, where people on one side find themselves living under drastically different rules to their neighbours. But nowhere in the country generates this sense of unfairness quite like London does.
The idea that London gets special treatment is as old as the city itself, and there is no doubt that anti-London sentiment has skyrocketed during the pandemic. Now, the re-introduction of the Tier system since the end of Lockdown 2.0 has given London-haters yet another reason to grumble and with cases rising faster in the capital than in any other part of the country, the Government faces another impossible choice over what to do with the city.
Lockdown hawks such as Michael Gove and Matt Hancock are clearly pushing for London to be moved into Tier 3 – the highest level of restrictions. When considered in terms of cases they have a point, figures from this week show that London now has the highest average case rate of any region in England. Keeping London in Tier 2 despite these numbers, they can rightly claim, sends a very poor public health message. Similarly, for every day London remains in Tier 2, the more people in the north will think that London is yet again getting special treatment, with Londoners being allowed to sink pint after pint of their fancy-pants craft beer with their bloody substantial meals while many northerners are banned from so much as even looking through the window of their local!
So London it would seem is destined for a spell on the naughty-step for the sake of national unity. No more substantial meals for Londoners until the rest of the country is happy they have spent enough time thinking long and hard about they’ve done.
But the decision isn’t that simple – contrary to the claims of unfairness, London is, and always will be, a special case. As the nation’s economic heart and cultural powerhouse, the impact of Tier 3 restrictions will cause a disproportionately higher impact than they have had on say Manchester or Leeds, not to mention the eyewatering cost the Government will have to bear in business support. And it’s also important to remember that just because London’s numbers are higher than the rest of the country – it doesn’t automatically mean that the city is in crisis. London has the highest concentration of hospitals in the country and can handle higher rates of infections without the risk of its healthcare network being overwhelmed.
One possible compromise, suggested by London Conservatives keen to avoid Tier 3, is to consider London on a borough-by-borough basis. Infection rates differ widely across the city with some boroughs such as Havering in the east being clearly Tier 3-worthy, whilst places like Richmond and Westminster could make a good case for being moved to Tier 1. Yet, quite how different Tiers would be enforced in a city where people might easily cross through three or four different boroughs in an average day, remains to be seen.
Like almost every decision the Government has had to take throughout this pandemic, there will be no winners, only more people who feel like they’ve been handed a raw deal.