Thursday , August 11 2022

And now, the end is near

The odds of Boris Johnson remaining Prime Minister in 2022 are now 1/41. If you think he will stay until 2023 you can get odds of 29/1 or until 2024 37/1. This means we are going to have a new Prime Minister soon.

There is no point any longer debating ought Boris to go. Unless something very strange indeed happens, he will depart probably within the week. A Prime Minister has required the support of a group of MPs to continue since the times when they were known as “friends of so and so”. That hasn’t changed. Boris has no friends left in Parliament.

Boris has turned out to be like Winston Churchill after all. He had one brief moment. Nothing Churchill did up to 1939 much merits the attention of history apart from negatively. A brief footnote about Gallipoli. So too from 1941 onwards Churchill’s contribution was subsumed in what the Americans did. Few remember his post war years. So, his reputation rests on what he did in 1940 and that was very much indeed. He was the difference between defeat and victory in May 1940.

Boris was the difference between defeat and victory in the EU referendum of 2016 and his becoming Prime Minister in 2019 both saved the Conservative Party and saved Brexit, but his hope now is that everything after winning the election in 2019 will be forgotten by history, just as history remembers Ulysses Grant for winning the Civil War rather than his later presidency.

In the short-term Boris has bequeathed his successor an almighty mess. The Conservatives reputation for economic competence is tatters, but crucially not because of truly Conservative policies that have gone wrong, but rather for adopting Labour policies.

During Covid the Government increased public spending to an extent that even Jeremy Corbyn could not have imagined, but this has not made the Conservatives popular with Labour voters nor the SNP.

Johnson’s Government was the most left-wing Conservative Government in history. Labour could hardly have taxed more and spent more if it had won in 2019. It is for this reason that the standard of living has fallen and inflation has increased to 1970s levels. It has been as if we were ruled by the ghost of Harold Wilson.

The key lesson of British politics comes from Margaret Thatcher. She was hated. Many of her policies were disliked even by her own side. But the standard of living in Britain was much higher when she left than when she started.

What matters is not short-term popularity. Lockdown was popular as was paying people to sit at home. What matters is long term prosperity.

It was hugely unpopular when Thatcher took on the miners, closed pits and steel works. The British people think they are socialists, but they are not. Each of us wants to earn more money and live in a society that is gradually more prosperous. If doing unpopular things gets you there you win.

After doing all those unpopular things in the 1980s Thatcher’s true victory was seeing Tony Blair try to imitate her economically. This is how you defeat Labour long term, by making Labour Conservative.

The other lesson of British politics is that voters elect Labour to give us socialism and the Conservatives to give us capitalism, but we end up with the grey mush of the centre no matter who we vote for because the Civil Service stops any Government doing anything.

With an 80 majority the Conservative Party could still in the next two years do what is necessary to make Brexit a success. The point of Brexit was to give Britain economic freedom so that we could undercut the EU by providing better trade terms to non-EU countries and by abolishing the rules and regulations that hinder business.

We are in part hindered by the Northern Ireland Protocol which was designed specifically to prevent us taking advantage of Brexit, by forcing us to align with the EU.

Civil Servants will tell ministers you can’t get rid of the Protocol, it will upset Ireland and the Americans. You can’t get rid of the EU bureaucracy because it will upset the Remainers. So, we do nothing.

But sometimes it is necessary to upset Ireland or the Americans or the Remainers or the EU. Let them be upset.

We keep promising to do something about the Protocol, but it never actually happens.

But if we could make British business more productive and efficient, if we could increase trade with non-EU countries, then the prosperity we would achieve would easily outweigh whatever short term unpopularity was necessary to achieve it.

Free market economics will make Britain more prosperous, but in many cases, it will be unpopular in the beginning. People lose jobs and have to work harder. But it is the job of a leader to do what is necessary for the long term good of the country.

We left the EU because we wanted to be in control of immigration, but find our efforts to stop migrants in dinghies thwarted because of various European judges. But with an 80 majority you can banish these judges. It would be wildly popular with voters, but the civil servant tells you that you mustn’t upset other countries.

It would equally be wildly popular if the Government had a bonfire of the woke and reverted to common sense views on what a woman is and ditched divisive ideas like Critical Race Theory and Black Lives Matter. This might be unpopular with Guardian readers and students, but everyone else would be delighted. The civil servant tells his minister that we mustn’t upset these people. So, nothing is done.

It is fear of short-term unpopularity that prevents Conservatives from doing what would make our country more united and prosperous.

If Nicola Sturgeon threatens unilateralism tell her that it would be very easy indeed with an 80 majority to repeal the Scotland Act, abolish the Scottish Parliament and bulldoze it. It would also be very easy to pass a bill banning all future independence referendums.

Oh, you couldn’t do that minister, you would upset the Scots. Sure, some would be upset in the short term, but there would be nothing they could do except march on London hoping for French support only to have to turn back at Derby.

The UK is legally a unitary state. Simply make clear as other European countries do that it is indivisible. An 80 majority can do that in an afternoon. Oh, we couldn’t do that minister. Why not?

This is Boris’s failure. Margaret Thatcher believed in something and this was why she was willing to go against the establishment, go against the civil service. It was why she was able to lastingly change our country. But Boris did not really believe in anything other than his own ambition and so failed to do what was necessary even if it was unpopular. It is why he has achieved nothing since being elected in 2019.

This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: Lily of St. Leonards (effiedeans.com)

About Effie Deans

Effie Deans is a pro UK blogger who works at the University of Aberdeen. She spent many years living in Russia and the Soviet Union, but came home to Scotland so as to enjoy living in a multi-party democracy! When not occupied with Scottish politics she writes fiction and thinks about theology, philosophy and Russian literature.

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