BOris Johnson quit the Conservative Party in la-la land politics. “Cakeism” was unleashed – vast, incoherent ambitions, detached from political, economic and commercial realities. So the aim is to be ‘Global Britain’, but a super-hard Brexit guarantees shrinking exports, lower foreign investment, less financial might and inevitably global setbacks.
Britain must be a high-wage, high-innovation economy, but there is only one high-tech company in the FTSE 100, and no strategy to add more. We must be a scientific superpower, but there is little chance that we will be excluded from the greatest transnational scientific organization on earth – the EU’s Horizon programme. There are targets to level Britain’s glaring geographical inequalities, but with few resources – with what little is earmarked for Conservative constituencies.
As the cost of living crisis intensifies, the government is consistently delivering too little, too late. A mid-tier European power must collaborate with others to gain leverage over any important policy area: instead, grudges, quarrels and illusions of an ability to go it alone dominate. There are commitments to fiscal responsibility while simultaneously advocating for more spending and lower taxes. It is an intellectual black hole.
The new Prime Minister’s problems begin with Johnson’s Brexit legacy – the sacred and undisputed truth of Conservative politics. But this supposedly “cookie-cutter” deal paid no heed to the realities of the 21st century economy, now dominated by products and services that compete on their knowledge content, resilience and compliance with regulatory standards. the highest. Excluding us from the EU’s single market, which sets the standards for the whole of the EU, is therefore a chain and chain around Britain’s growth potential – and by threatening our exports, worsens the deficit of our current balance of payments so that a sterling crisis is an ever-present risk.
Importantly, the attempt to bring Northern Ireland back into the UK market and suspend relations with the EU by unilaterally rewriting the NI protocol had led to no new contracts under the Horizon program from the EU and the cancellation of existing contracts. It’s a self-destructive debacle.
Beyond that, Johnson was an opportunistic political jackdaw — backing anything that seemed appealing to any audience, but unsure how it should be delivered or funded, or how it fit into a larger vision. Leveling up was his commitment to the former Labor ‘red wall’ seats in the Midlands and North which turned Conservative in the 2019 general election. They deserved better, he rightly insisted, from life expectancy and public transport to career prospects: but how?
The Leveling Up White Paper set out 12 interrelated economic, social and political priorities, but achieving them requires mobilization of resources, strengthened institutions and serious decentralization. Johnson, obsessed with favoring only Brexit Tories and their constituents, could offer nothing. Crucially, no serious creative thought had been given to how the UK could find the billions needed, over many years, to fund the upgrade. In this case, the HS2 link from Birmingham to Leeds has been cancelled. The whole strategy needs urgent attention if it is not to fall apart.
Yet, in principle, this should be a national priority. The same goes for the development of lifelong learning, the major bet on innovative projects, the renewal of our infrastructures, the fight against digital monopolies, securing energy resilience compatible with the reduction carbon emissions and providing a national social protection system for our seniors.
To neither of these challenges has Johnson given sustained attention. Will the Health Care and Social Services Tax even survive, let alone deliver on what was promised? Energy policy in the wake of the post-war price crisis in Ukraine is a particular jumble; grandiloquent and impossible-to-build ambitions of eight new nuclear power plants in the coming decade sit alongside the withdrawal of commitments to renewable energy. Any chance of meeting net zero commitments by 2050 (and capping energy bills) means insulating a million homes a year: the figure is a paltry 30-40,000, with no commitment to improvement.
The commitment to a smaller state and lower taxes looms in the background – and undermines it all. Rarely has a government or a party been confronted with so many contradictory directions at once, with so little chance of achieving any of its objectives. Exit Johnson – leaving behind a mess for others to clean up.