|Labour MPs Rosena Allin-Khan and Khalid Mahmood|
Labour frontbencher Rosena Allin-Khan has been forced into a humiliating apology after she published a string of late night tweets on Saturday accusing vaccine minister Nadhim Zarhawi of jumping the vaccine queue. In the first tweet she wrote: "I have heard rumours that @nadhimzarhawi got him and his family vaccinated in Wandsworth. Nadhim, can you please tell us if it's true? I really hope it's not, unless you meet the necessary criteria. There are millions of vulnerable people waiting patiently in the queue". In a second tweet she pleaded with Twitter users to 'avoid throwing unnecessary attacks' at Zarhawi, reminding her followers that she didn't know if the rumour was true, but that she hoped Zarhawi would clarify.
In a third message she confirmed that she had deleted her original tweet and apologised for inviting a 'pile-on' which she said was not her intention. She added: "I await a prompt response to the email I sent him [Zarhawi] about the matter which I hope is answered in good time". This tweet was posted at 23 minutes past midnight, less than an hour after the first. In a fourth tweet just before 1am she announced she would confirm as and when Zarhawi responded. Was she seriously expecting a response at such a late hour or was she, perhaps, well oiled? Minutes later she had a complete change of heart and deleted all her previous tweets and issued a formal apology to Zarhawi and his family. Had Sir Keir been in touch?
Prior to deleting her tweets, Allin-Khan received support from another notorious late night tweeter - Hull East MP Karl Turner. He tweeted: "It is not an allegation. It’s a fairly reasonable question to a Govt Minister publicaly [sic]". Turner deleted his tweet an hour later at around half past two in the morning.
For his part, Nadhim Zarhawi accepted Allin-Khan's apology at the reasonable hour of 08:52 and confirmed that the rumour was not true. At 53, Zarhawi is not in any of the priority groups currently eligible for the jab, but then neither is Labour MP Khalid Mahmood who received the vaccine last week. Unlike Allin-Khan's rumour, Mahmood's queue-jumping is not in question - the MP having bragged about it on Twitter (see below).
The MP for Birmingham Perry Barr is 59 years of age, far from the over 80 age group at the front of the queue and, needless to say, he does not live in a care home or work in a hospital either. Were his Labour colleagues Allin-Khan and Turner unaware of his blatant queue-jumping or had they conveniently forgotten? Either way, they have left themselves open to legitimate claims of hypocrisy.
The kidney transplant to which Mahmood refers in his tweet actually took place almost seven years ago in January 2014, but many reading his tweet would be forgiven for thinking that he'd had the operation recently. Following a backlash about his early vaccination, the MP explained how he'd managed to jump the queue. He says he was at Queen Elizabeth Hospital with an elderly relative who was due to receive the vaccine when he became aware that 'leftover' vaccines were available: "It's not very well known, but at the end of the day any vaccine unused because people have not turned up for their appointments is made available at the QE vaccination hub - we can't afford to waste any vaccine doses. I joined a queue at about 3pm and got a vaccine. I understand it happens every day if there is leftover vaccine, between 3pm and 4pm. I did not tell anyone I was an MP or ask for special treatment - it is something they do if they have doses left over, as otherwise they would be wasted.".
His explanation alarmed hospital bosses who hastily made it clear that such leftovers are not publicly available and are usually taken up by hospital staff. Anyone who turned up at the hospital without a prior appointment would not be seen.
It is not clear how Mahmood became aware of leftover vaccines or whether he will now be entitled to receive the second dose. What is known is that he has managed to get a jab many months before his priority group is due to be vaccinated. Some of his constituents are quite rightly outraged, as should anyone taken in by Rosena Allin-Khan's shameless hypocrisy.