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As Johnson draws a happy face, Britons face bad news

Britons are lining up for gas, staring at empty grocery shelves, paying high taxes and worrying about rising prices as a severe winter approaches.

But to visit the Conservative Party convention in Manchester last week was to enter a kind of happy valley, where cabinet ministers danced, sang karaoke and played the champagne flute – Pol Roger, Winston ChurchillFavorite brand, naturally.

No one captured Bonomi better than Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who told the crowd of party loyalists, “You represent the most vibrant, hip, happening and generally fun party in all of the world.”

Cognitive dissonance extends beyond the Mardi Gras atmosphere. In his spirited keynote address, Johnson characterized the many ills afflicting Britain as “an act of growth and economic revival” – challenging but necessary post-Brexit adjustments on the way to a more prosperous future.

This was at least their third explanation for the lack of food and fuel, which continued in some areas after three weeks. Initially, he denied that there was a crisis. Then, he said the shortage was not about Brexit – unlike analysts, union leaders, food producers and business owners – but was hitting every Western country as they emerged from the pandemic. And finally, he cited the tension as evidence that Brexit was doing its job in shaking up the economy.

A shell station in Slough, England. (Mary Turner/The New York Times)

“This is the ultimate in post-hoc rationalization – the idea that this is a well thought out plan, which we all intend to do with,” said Jill Rutter, a senior research fellow at A Changing Europe in the UK, a London think tank. .

Some politicians have either the indomitable enthusiasm or the ideological flexibility of Johnson, so it was hardly surprising that he tried to put the best face on Britain’s bad news. He remains entirely under the command of the Conservative Party, which has a majority of 80 seats in parliament, and is comfortably ahead of opposition Labor Party leader Keir Starmer in opinion polls.

Yet political analysts and economists said the Panglossian tone he struck in Manchester contained risk. Inflation is projected to continue at relatively high levels, and with the government acknowledging that shortages could continue until Christmas, voters could quickly turn sour on Johnson. Then the taxes go up the next year, when he broke his promise not to raise them last month.

Some say that this conference can be seen as a sign of haste for the Prime Minister.

Jonathan Ports, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London, said: “A few days of interruption in fuel supply makes the government fool.” “A huge fuel bill is a huge deal.”

Tim Bell, professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London, said Johnson could come across as a Labor prime minister, James Callaghan, who was toppled in 1979 after fuel shortages and runaway inflation, when he was not worried enough. Were. About a plethora of problems.

When Johnson arrived in the auditorium at the convention last week, stopping to kiss his wife, Carrie, he looked anything but worried. Amidst jokes and mockery in the opposition, he presented a blueprint for a post-Brexit economy that he said would provide higher wages for skilled British workers rather than low-cost immigrants from the EU, and put a foothold on businesses. will put bill.

Companies and previous governments “reached the same old lever of uncontrolled immigration to keep wages low,” Johnson said. “The answer is to control immigration, to allow people of talent to come into this country, but not to use immigration as an excuse for failure to invest in people, skills and equipment, facilities, machinery. Their Work.”

That model is a world away from Singapore-on-Thames, a catchphrase once used by the intellectual writers of Brexit to describe an open, lightly regulated, business-friendly hub that they said Britain was once Will remove labor laws and other restrictions. of Brussels. No one is talking about removing labor laws anymore (in fact, Johnson may soon move to raise Britain’s minimum wage).

The conflict between protectionists and free-marketers during the Brexit movement has been going on since the beginning.

“I’d Describe It as Little” England versus Global Britain,” Ports said, noting that Johnson, lacking certain convictions, was apt to hold this alliance together.

 

Since Johnson’s landslide election victory in 2019, gravity in the Conservative Party has shifted decisively toward protectionism and anti-immigration policies. It was this message that helped the Tories woo depressed, working-class, pre-Labor voters in the industrial Midlands and north of England.

Many of these voters want jobs that come with the revival of British heavy industry, not the better opportunities for hedge fund managers in London. Conservative politicians, who once supported the Singapore-on-Thames model, now downplay it.

Johnson has embraced the message of blaming business, which, contrary to the traditional principles of his party, is popular with his new base. He referred to the trucking industry, arguing that its failure to invest in better truck stops — “with infrastructure where you don’t have to pee in the bushes,” he said — was one of the reasons why young people didn’t want to be. used to have driver

“It’s a piece with his move toward a much more populist style,” Bell said. “As far as these people are concerned, Johnson is pushing the right button.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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