• July 16, 2021

Summary of the week: even the emperor knows he has no clothes

The prime minister has no idea what he is doing. But worse than that: nobody is even surprised. We all know it, from top ministers to political reporters to the guy sitting on the couch watching the news. And yet we continue to participate in this charade, of acting as if Boris Johnson has a plan, a strategy, or indeed something significant to say about the conditions facing the country.

Your speech yesterday on the ‘leveling agenda’ – you are actually flattered to use this framing because it suggests it exists, but what can you do? – It was an exercise in a vacuum. It had been tracked for weeks. This, we were told, was what the prime minister really wanted to do had it not been for the pandemic supposedly distracting him. So what did he have to announce?

Nothing. It turns out that ‘leveling up’ is such a broad concept that it contains the entire policy agenda that the government has already announced: crime, provision of broadband, education, main streets. Over and over the list went. But there are no new announcements except £ 50 million for new football pitches.

In the end, it had essentially come down to asking people to email their ideas. “So my offer to you, and I’m talking to all of those who see a role for you in this local leadership, come to us … with your vision of how you will level up, support business, attract more good jobs, and improve your business. local. services. “This is supposedly the defining mission of the government and in two years they have reached the point of asking for suggestions.


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No one can claim to be surprised by this and, in truth, people were not. We all know that Johnson has no values. Your MPs know it, political journalists know it, and voters know it. His MPs ignore him because he offers them an edge in the polls, journalists ignore him because the Westminster pace demands that we cover the prime minister’s speeches, and his supporters ignore him because they admire the cheeky, chappy, nod and wink. -algae-with-the-energy it has. It was perfectly obvious what it was years ago, before the Brexit campaign. After that, it became demonstrably clear. And now everyone gets it.

This would be less important if the country was in good shape. But, as Johnson himself correctly put it yesterday, it is not. It is, as he put it, “an outrage that a man in Glasgow or Blackpool is an average of ten years younger on this planet than someone who grows up in Hart in Hampshire or Rutland.”

So what to do about it? At some point soon there may be more meat on the bones of Johnson’s trademark exercise. Conservative MP Neil O’Brien, not an idiot, has been hired to advise, with director roles in certain policy areas and a team of public officials. But even if ideas start to come thick and fast, there is a problem implementing them.

During the question-and-answer session after the speech, Johnson said something interesting: “The idea of ​​additional tax increases for working people doesn’t appeal to me.” That’s particularly pertinent when you consider what happened earlier this week during the foreign aid debate. Chancellor Rishi Sunak wanted to keep the reduction in international aid so that the government can reduce loans. He managed to stop a conservative rebellion by threatening that there would be “fiscal consequences” if the 0.7% level of spending was restored. What would those consequences be? Tax hikes or spending cuts.

You can do the math on that. Leveling up is an expensive business. It’s not easy to reverse decades of decline or the deep-seated industrial, geographic, and educational factors that have influenced it. It requires spending. But it is clear that it will not be paid with loans or tax increases. Then it won’t happen. It cannot happen, by virtue of the priorities that the government has committed to.

And that’s really the problem. You can be in favor of leveling up or you can be a fiscal conservative. But you can’t be both.

It is not clear that Johnson understands this. He hardly seemed aware of the consequences of what he was saying in that question and answer session yesterday. He was just going into his standard Telegraph columnist mode. So not only is there a deadlock in politics, there is a prime minister who seems not to understand that his government is losing a wrestling match against its own inconsistencies.

This is what it means for the emperor to have no clothes. You can live in a country with fierce injustices and a lack of opportunities, but you can’t do anything about it. The prime minister does not have the ethical drive, the emotional investment, or the mental capacity to address them. So we will have to see how this charade continues to unfold, over the years, as injustice continues.

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