As Johnson makes a happy face, Britons face bad news

LONDON – Britain is lined up for gas, staring at empty grocery shelves, paying higher taxes and worrying about rising prices as a severe winter approaches.

But to visit the Conservative Party convention in Manchester last week was to enter a kind of happy valley, where cabinet ministers danced, sang karaoke and flute champagne – Pol Roger, Winston Churchill’s favorite brand, naturally. From.

No one captured Bonomi better than Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who told the crowd of party loyalists, “You represent the most vibrant, hip, happening, and generally fun party in all of the world. “

Cognitive dissonance extends beyond the Mardi Gras atmosphere. In his spirited keynote address, Mr Johnson characterized the many ills afflicting Britain as “an act of growth and economic revival” – challenging but necessary post-Brexit adjustments on the way to a more prosperous future.

This was at least their third explanation for the lack of food and fuel, which continued in some areas after three weeks. Initially, he denied that there was a crisis. Then, he said the shortage was not about Brexit – unlike analysts, union leaders, food producers and business owners – but was hitting every Western country as they emerged from the pandemic. And finally, he cited the tension as evidence that Brexit was doing its job in shaking up the economy.

“This is the ultimate in post-hoc rationalization – the idea that it’s a well thought out plan, which we intend to do with everyone,” said Jill Rutter, a UK Senior Research Fellow in Changing Europe. A London think tank.

Some politicians have either the indomitable enthusiasm or Mr Johnson’s ideological flexibility, so it was hardly surprising that he tried to put the best face on Britain’s bad news. He remains entirely under the command of the Conservative Party, which has a majority of 80 seats in parliament, and is comfortably ahead of opposition Labor Party leader Keir Starmer in opinion polls.

Yet political analysts and economists said there was risk in the Panglossian tone he struck in Manchester. Inflation is projected to continue at relatively high levels, and with the government acknowledging that the shortfall could continue until Christmas, voters could quickly turn sour on Mr Johnson. Then the taxes go up the next year, when he broke his promise not to raise them last month.

Some say that this conference can be seen as a sign of haste for the Prime Minister.

Jonathan Ports, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London, said: “A few days of interruption in fuel supply makes the government fool.” “A huge fuel bill is a huge deal.”

Tim Bell, a professor of politics at the University of London’s Queen Mary, said Mr Johnson could come like Labor Prime Minister James Callaghan, who was dropped in 1979 after fuel shortages and runaway inflation, when he did not appear. Worried enough about the plethora of problems.

When Mr Johnson arrived in the auditorium at the convention last week, stopping to kiss his wife, Carrie, he looked anything but worried. Amid jokes and mockery in opposition, he presented a blueprint for a post-Brexit economy, which he claimed would provide higher wages for skilled British workers rather than low-cost immigrants from the EU, and set a foothold on businesses. will put the responsibility of bill.

Companies and previous governments “reached for the same old lever of undocumented immigration to keep wages low,” Mr Johnson said. “The answer is to control immigration, to allow people of talent to come into this country, but not to use immigration as an excuse for their failure to invest in people, skills and equipment, facilities, machinery. Work.”

That model is a world away from Singapore-on-Thames, a catchphrase once used by Brexit intellectual writers to describe an open, lightly regulated, business-friendly hub, which they said Britain was once Will remove labor laws and other restrictions. of Brussels. No one is talking about removing labor laws anymore (in fact, Mr Johnson may soon move to raise the UK minimum wage).

The conflict between protectionists and free-marketers during the Brexit movement has been going on since the beginning. “I describe it as Little England vs Global Britain,” Ports said, noting that Mr Johnson, due to his lack of conviction, was apt to hold this alliance together.

Since Mr Johnson’s landslide election victory in 2019, gravity in the Conservative Party has shifted decisively towards protectionism and anti-immigration policies. It was this message that helped the Tories woo depressed, working-class, pre-Labor voters in the industrial Midlands and north of England.

Many of these voters want jobs that would come with the revival of British heavy industry, not better opportunities for hedge-fund managers in London. Conservative politicians, who once supported the Singapore-on-Thames model, now downplay it.

Mr Johnson has embraced the message of blaming business, which is popular with his new base, contrary to the traditional tenets of his party. Referring to the trucking industry, he argued that its failure to invest in better truck stops — “with infrastructure where you don’t have to pee in the bushes,” he said — was one reason young people didn’t aspire to be. was the driver.

“It’s a piece with his move towards a much more populist style,” said Mr. Bell. “As far as these people are concerned, Johnson is pushing the right button.”

His strict-business language has broken traditional lines in British politics. On Friday, voters were treated to Mr Starmer’s curious spectacle of attacks on Mr Starmer’s business and to project the Labor Party as a better partner for UK corporations.

For Mr Johnson, critics said, the biggest risk is a lack of credibility. His initial claim that the food and fuel shortages were not caused by Brexit seemed unconvincing, given that his own government in a 2019 report focused on potential disruptions in the event of a “no-deal Brexit” on both rising prices and shortage was predicted. Which Britain will leave the European Union without a trade deal.

The report, known as Operation Yellowhammer, made “reasonable worst-case planning assumptions”, among them “certain types of fresh food supplies will be reduced” and “customer behavior may lead to local fuel shortages”. . Although Britain negotiated a bare-bones trade deal with Brussels, the effect was the same as with no deal.

While it is true that Mr Johnson is unquestionably setting his party’s agenda, it is unclear whether the internal debate over the shape of the post-Brexit future has been fully settled. Popular Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak spoke at the conference about his years in California, and how he saw Silicon Valley as a model for Britain.

“I’m not sure that having a truck-driver shortage is part of that vision,” said research fellow Ms. Rutter.

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