In recent weeks, ministers have announced compulsory vaccination for entering nightclubs, expressed support for companies demanding that workers be trapped, and raised the idea of banning university students who do not. have not been vaccinated.
New developments for members of the self-proclaimed “freedom-loving” party.
The question in Westminster is whether this is real politics – or just a publicity stunt.
“There are a lot of attempts to boost vaccine uptake and a lot of concepts are brought up subtly or not so subtly with no real intention behind them,” said a Whitehall official.
Conservative MPs agree, with several telling Sky News earlier this week they didn’t think plans to restrict access to nightclubs and other events would ever materialize.
One of the proposals has already been scrapped, with the government announcing over the weekend that there are no longer any plans to use the COVID pass to access learning.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has reportedly made it clear that there would have been legal implications and potentially little benefit, as polls show a large majority of students say they will have the jab .
But the fact that these ideas are even suggested is enough to make the backbench MPs abandoned.
Several MPs have already said they will not attend this year’s party conference if they are required to show their immunization status.
Others worry about navigating too close to mandatory vaccination and the ethical implications of an authoritarian approach.
“It was misguided and should have been done with the carrot,” says a top-ban of the plan for universities.
Those carrots now appear to be sprouting, with companies like Uber and Deliveroo offering discounts to customers who get vaccinated.
Scientists say these approaches are not without risk, but still avoid many of the problems with the negative incentive “stick” strategy.
“They are less likely to lead to perceptions of compulsion and generate a process of ‘reactance’ where people resist in order to reassert their autonomy,” said Professor Stephen Reicher, the government’s adviser on public behavior.
But in addition to the societal impact, there is also a business impact.
Those in the hospitality industry say that the initially bullish tone of Health Secretary Sajid Javid upon reopening resulted in an increase in the price of shares and the flow of funds.
Speculative COVID passport stories disrupt this, with a single front-page story potentially undermining weeks of growing confidence.
The government’s calculation may be that the long-term benefit of heavy vaccine use for the economy and society is worth any bump in the short term.
But some, like Professor Reicher, fear that neither the carrot nor the stick is enough on their own.
“What is essential is to show people that the authorities are from the community and act for the community,” he said.
“This is why engagement processes are generally much more efficient than incentive processes. ”