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Boris Johnson in Downing Street for five years: what could possibly go wrong?
Boris Johnson is going to deliver Brexit by 31st January, 2020. On 1st February he will announce, without any sense of irony, that he will solemnly deliver Brexit by 31st December, 2020: deal or no deal. So Britain is still in the EU in January, and we still do not know whether we have a deal. In the immortal words of Theresa May, ‘nothing has changed’. Except that Boris Johnson, with a majority of 80 in the House of Commons, can now do whatever he likes, or at least whatever Dominic Cummings (the Prince of Darkness) instructs.
The Conservative Party is delighted with its best election result since 1987; except of course in Scotland, where the Party, overwhelmed with passive indifference when it lost its leader Ruth Davidson (for reasons nobody cared much about, even among Scottish Conservatives – only the Scottish media mourned). The Scottish Conservatives went on to lose over half its seats in the General Election; a setback so damaging that nobody in the Conservative Government appeared to notice, nor express much concern. It did not stop the Conservative celebration of victory; especially among Scottish Conservatives, who diligently represent a gerontocracy which is almost certainly going to be much happier with Boris Johnson than they ever were with Ruth Davidson.
The electorate has voted for a Conservative Party that, a little disconcertingly for some, no longer exists. In 2019, as the last old ‘one nation’ Tories like Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve or Rory Stewart were forced out by Boris Johnson, a new Conservative-Brexit Party was born. This is a party that is the improbable brainchild of Nigel Farage more than of Boris Johnson, and a Party that will owe its new purpose most of all to Dominic Cummings. If, like all political parties it supposes itself a broad church, or at least wishes to be seen as a broad church, bringing together different views; nobody yet knows what these views are, or what will hold this new, distinct Conservative-Brexit Party together: if only Brexit, what comes after? Who knows.
Boris Johnson has a big majority and now, improbably, represents a large swathe of traditional Labour voters, their votes only temporarily ‘on loan’; they will see; they will sit at home, arms folded, waiting to measure the nature of the pay-back. ‘Get Brexit done’ will, in the event and on its own, butter no parsnips in Blythe Valley. If there is ‘No Deal’, there will probably be no parsnips to butter. Johnson, however is going Spend Big in the North. He says. He has already announced that Austerity is over. Remember Austerity? Once-upon-a-time it was necessary. It was vital to Britain’s survival. It was set out in bald, stark terms. It was unavoidable. Worse, we were all-in-it-together (actually we weren’t, but let us not be churlish). Austerity was real.
Why was Austerity necessary? Because the financial Deficit in 2010 was unsustainable. The National Debt had reached £1.0 Trillion. There was no responsible choice for Government, except Austerity: to reduce the Deficit; eliminate it over a number of years; turn the Deficit into a Surplus, and reduce the National Debt; this was the economic mantra of Conservatism, and of the Conservative-Brexit Party. This is what you discover at the core of the ideology. The Conservatives have remained in Government for ten years since 2010. Austerity has caused considerable pain and suffering, especially for the poor or disabled, who have paid the direct cost of Austerity in the deprivation of their resources and lives; they have paid the price, to deliver a Government Surplus.
How well has Austerity worked? It hasn’t. Deficits have not been eliminated. There are no decisive Surpluses in prospect. The National Debt in 2019 is now over £1.8 Trillion (over 80% higher than the unsustainable level of 2010); in ten years the National Debt has increased at an almost unprecedented rate in peace time. Austerity has failed, by its own test, and failed spectacularly; and we have nothing to show for all the pain and suffering it has caused. Nothing.
The Conservative-Brexit Government solution to this little problem is to declare a victory over Austerity and start spending money: increasing the Deficit that they declared was unsustainable, and continue to increase the National Debt to ever higher levels; beyond £2.0 Trillion appears inevitable. There are only two consequences that follow from this: either the Conservatives were wrong to institute the regime of Austerity in 2010 following the Financial Crash, and it wasn’t necessary after all; they were disastrously wrong in both their policy and their economic ideology; or they were right then to implement Austerity, and they are wrong now because the Deficit and Debt are unsustainable, as they always said, and Boris Johnson is now going to implement a disastrous economic policy in consequence. They can’t both be right.
The General Election, 2019 has produced a large Conservative-Brexit Party majority. Somehow it is believed that this fixes everything. Political reputations never end in tears and recriminations; and never on the steps of 10, Downing Street. All the problems we may discuss are trifles. Already we are faced with a phalanx of precious opinion-formers, journalists and party-spinners who seem to believe that everything has now been politically fixed in Britain. The problems are all somewhere else, like Scotland; because of Indyref2, but in Scotland all the cards are held by Boris Johnson. All the cards are held by Johnson because he has the answer to all the problems facing Britain. Save, perhaps one: what could possibly go wrong for Boris Johnson and his Government?