Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer have each issued a solemn Christmas message to the nation expressing sorrow at the heartbreak of families who have lost a loved one to COVID this year.
The prime minister, who says a coronavirus booster jab would be a “wonderful” Christmas gift, has called for thanks for those looking after people who have lost loved ones and who would otherwise be on their own.
And the Labour leader has spoken of families that have suffered “unimaginable loss” this year and said that for too many families there will be one less chair at the table for the Christmas meal.
A similar theme has been adopted by the Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Ed Davey, who says too many families are separated this Christmas and too many are mourning the loss of a loved one.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who this week announced tough new COVID curbs for Christmas and afterwards, has apologised that it will not be a “normal Christmas”.
Unusually, the two main party leaders have opted for a message more religious in tone than is typical from senior politicians even at this time of year, both referring directly to the birth of Jesus Christ.
The prime minister, not known for holding strong religious beliefs, even goes as far as to suggest that getting jabbed against COVID is in line with Christ’s teaching, because it is being a good neighbour.
The Christmas messages, in which both leaders also unusually steer clear of party politics, come after a turbulent few weeks in which the fortunes of Mr Johnson and Sir Keir have been turned upside down.
The prime minister has suffered a COVID curbs rebellion by 100 Tory MPs, lost a by-election to the Lib Dems in a seat with a near-23,000 Conservative majority, and seen one of his closest Brexit allies walk out of the Cabinet.
As a result, according to YouGov, Labour now has a six-point poll lead, Mr Johnson’s approval rating is as bad as Theresa May’s just before she was ousted, and Sir Keir’s lead over the prime minister is his biggest as Labour leader.
After defying calls to impose more COVID curbs in England this week or immediately after Christmas, the prime minister declares in his Christmas message: “After two years of this pandemic, I can’t say that we are through it.
“How can I? When Omicron is surging, when we all know, we must together try to stop the spread of this new variant.
“We must test ourselves and take extra care when meeting elderly or vulnerable relatives.”
Calling on the nation to “raise our glasses to those who can’t be with us”, Mr Johnson praises “the immense spirit of neighbourliness that the people of this country have shown”.
And he continues: “Getting jabbed not just for themselves, for ourselves, but for friends and family and everyone we meet.
“And that, after all, is the teaching of Jesus Christ, whose birth is at the heart of this enormous festival – that we should love our neighbours as we love ourselves.
“And so let’s think of all those who are being good neighbours and thinking of others.
“All those in the NHS working over Christmas, our care workers, everyone involved in the incredible vaccination campaign.
“Those looking after people who have lost loved ones this year, and who would otherwise be on their own.
“The many thousands of people who are selflessly self-isolating to keep others safe from COVID.
“And though the time for buying presents is theoretically running out, there is still a wonderful thing you can give your family and the whole country.
“And that is to get that jab, whether it is your first or second, or your booster. So that next year’s festivities are even better than this year’s.”
Sir Keir says that as well as celebrating Christ’s birth, Christmas is also a time of reflection, lamenting: “Too many families have experienced unimaginable loss.
“For too many, there will be one less chair at the table for the Christmas meal. But, in the darkest of times, Christian values of kindness, of compassion and hope have shone through.”
In a short message, the Lib Dem leader says: “Too many families are separated this Christmas. Too many are mourning the loss of a loved one.
“But the message of Christmas is one of hope, of a light to save us from darkness. Christians like me, believe that that hope, that light can sustain us through the darkest times.”
And Ms Sturgeon, after announcing tough new coronavirus restrictions in Scotland, says: “I know that, even three or four weeks ago, all of us were looking forward to a fairly normal Christmas.
“I am so sorry that this year’s won’t be quite like that. But for many of us, because of vaccination, it will still be more much normal than last year.”