On Wednesday, October 6th, Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered a joke-filled speech at the Conservative party conference in Manchester. Doubling down on his fundamental belief in the gains of post-Brexit Britain, the PM pledged to work exceedingly hard to ensure a “high wage, high productivity” society.
Of course, the Prime Minister has never been one for emotional, heartfelt speeches, but even in his comedic element, he managed to say all the right things to a thumping applause by Tory government officials present at the party convention.
However, despite pulling his “inner Margaret Thatcher” to deliver a fine performance to the adulation and encomiums of the audience, Mr Johnson had failed to address the elephant in the room. It was in many respects, a time to confront reality with guts and gusto, but Mr Johnson, unfortunately, decided to choose honey rather than vinegar.
Even though he was speaking at a party convention, which would have implicitly required pandering to the sentimentalities of the party faithful, Johnson was addressing the state of the nation, and doing that means squarely addressing the monumental problems facing contemporary British society, but he ended up treating these inevitable challenges like a cone in the middle of the road, bashed previous administrations for gross ineptitude while singing unctuous praises of his own government.
A Misconstruction Of The Brexit Reality
The United Kingdom in recent weeks has been plunged into a dire socio-economic crisis characterised by fuel shortages, gaps on supermarket shelves and rising inflation. Nonetheless, the Prime Minister, with a chance to appeal to frayed nerves and articulate realistic and feasible solutions to these increasingly daunting challenges ducked and elected to play the Troubador.
The Prime Minister, long before yesterday’s speech has been uncompromising in his stance on immigration into the UK, which constituted a key ingredient in the Brexit deal, and while he has indeed made a compelling argument as to what uncontrolled immigration is doing to the economy, is yet to articulate ways in which this “high wage, high productivity” society is going to be achieved in the post Brexit era.
Speaking at the party convention in Manchester, Johnson said: “I am pleased to say that after years of stagnation – more than a decade – wages are going up faster than before the pandemic began.”
“And that matters deeply, because we are embarking now on a change of direction that has been long overdue in the UK economy.”
“We are not going back to the same old broken model with low wages, low growth, low skills and low productivity, all of it enabled and assisted by uncontrolled immigration.”
“And the answer to the present stresses and strains, which are mainly a function of growth and economic revival, is not to reach for that same old lever of uncontrolled immigration, to keep wages low.”
Largely touted as the ostensible consequence of the fuel shortages and a snarled supply chain, the shortage of HGV drivers which emblematically represents a paucity in the workforce caused by post-Brexit immigration rules has had a far more damaging consequence than Boris Johnson or his Conservative comrades would care to admit; yet the Prime Minister is ready to yank this “broken model” and usher in a new era of high wages and productivity. This new model, he only paints, without articulating a blueprint as to how it will be achieved.
The Glossed Dynamics Of A Dwindling Economy
On Sunday, Johnson appeared on BBC, glossing over the tenuous and wobbly economic accomplishments of his administration, a sentiment he re-echoed at the party conference in Manchester. According to him, the United Kingdom is the “fastest-growing” of the G7 grouping of the world’s most advanced economies.
Statistically speaking, this claim is not untrue; regardless, given the givens of an economy gradually nursing itself back to optimum health following the deadly impact of the Covid pandemic, no one really expected it to be moving at a sprinter’s pace.
According to the International Monetary Fund, the UK economy is expected to grow 7% in 2021, equalling the US rate of 7%, and outpacing the rest of the G7.
However, the UK economy experienced a much more serious stretch than any other G7 country last year at 9.8%, which implies that growth projections for this year are being made from a lower base. Simply put, the UK economy has a mountain to climb to attain this projected growth.
Realistically, the UK is taking and could continue to take a longer time to recuperate from the damage inflicted by Covid as Britain’s GDP is not expected to return to its pre-Covid-19 level until the first quarter of next year; and, with no concrete measures to shore up the imminent consequences of a depleted foreign workforce and massive unemployment on the other hand, Mr Johnson is staring down the recipe for an economic disaster.
Taking A Swipe At The Opposition
The overriding theme of the Prime Minister’s speech was “levelling up” the UK, as Johnson stated the need to ensure equal growth across the board. He also found an opening to take a swipe at the opposition party, Labour, whom he described its leader, Sir Keir Starmer as a “seriously rattled bus conductor.”
“And that is why levelling up works for the whole country, and is the right and responsible policy, because it helps to take the pressure off parts of the overheating South East, while simultaneously offering hope and opportunity to those areas that have felt left behind.”
“And let us be clear that there is a huge philosophical difference between us and Labour because in their souls they don’t like levelling up, they like levelling down. They do!”
“They like decapitating the tall poppies and taxing the rich till the pips squeak.”
“They dislike academic competition, Latin I hear,” Johnson said.
This claim by Johnson has been described by many as an anti-thesis, particularly given the fact that his big idea of levelling up the economy came on the same day his government was gearing up to end the £20-a-week “uplift” to universal credit, decision experts say would push more than 800,000 people into poverty.
Not only did he spend the better part of his speech discrediting the opposition, Johnson also slammed previous administrations for lacking the guts to confront the monumental challenges faced by the UK, and that he alone has mustered the gall tackle critical issues that had been left unattended to by his predecessors.
“When I stood on the steps of Downing Street I promised to fix this crisis and after decades of drift and dither this reforming government, this can do government, this government that got Brexit done, that is getting the vaccine rollout done, is going to get social care done,” Johnson boasted.
“And we are dealing with the biggest underlying issues of our economy and society, the problems that no government has had the guts to tackle before, and I mean the long term structural weaknesses in the UK economy.”
Earlier this week, a former Manchester United skipper, Gary Neville, accused Conservatives of only “looking out for themselves” and using divisive language in its defence to end the £20-a-week “uplift” to universal credit.
Indeed, while Johnson’s speech may have reflected the common sentiments shared by his Conservative comrades, and even scored huge political points among the party faithful; the Prime Minister, in failing to come to grips with the unvarnished truth confronting the economy today, certainly did not score any political points amongst the people who have to face the gaunt reality of living in post-Brexit Britain.