Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 1 April 2020

Boris Johnson offers spending splurge to new supporters

Experts said his pledge to spend more on public services would go down well in northern England

Boris Johnson’s Conservatives surged to a commanding parliamentary majority by wooing voters in historically left-leaning seats who had voted for Brexit but grew disillusioned with Jeremy Corbyn’s confused approach to leaving the European Union.

While Mr Johnson’s immediate priority will be ratifying the European Union withdrawal agreement, experts believe the new government will tilt to a more interventionist and populist model away from decades of liberal economics and the recent implementation of austerity.

Paul Kelly from the London School of Economics said Mr Johnson possessed the philosophical flexibility to change the basis of Conservative attitudes towards taxation, public spending and state-run services.

“He travels light ideologically; his manifesto is fairly thin and now he has a lot of power but also a lot of responsibility. What does he really want to do on big questions like the future of the union?” he said.

“So I think we could be in for a surprisingly interesting times despite the transition now from hung parliament and minority government to a thumping great majority. Majoritarian politics is not easy either and that I think is one of the most interesting questions as we look forward from tonight’s result,” he added.

The first-time Conservative supporters that kept Mr Johnson in government differed from those that propelled David Cameron to a majority in 2015, and the Prime Minister acknowledged this as he said “may only have lent us your vote”. In the election campaign he pledged a raft of spending proposals and will now look to implement them.

He has pledged to support policies more aligned with moderate conservatism.

Martin Farr from Newcastle University said there were signs that Mr Johnson wanted to see the state take the lead on investing in infrastructure as a priority over the low tax or deregulation agenda.

“Brexit aside, he campaigned on what he saw as being centre-ground issues, as much as he could, I mean his own political instincts are essentially Liberal-Conservative ones,” said Mr Farr.

“I was very struck by having campaigned on peoples priorities, when he addressed the nation after his victory he had the new branding on the wall behind him, ‘the peoples government,’ as a very conscious way of suggesting that this is not merely a Conservative government but a government for the country,” he added.

In the election campaign Mr Johnson’s slogan was ‘get Brexit done’ but he also promised big public service spending campaigns such as increasing the number of hospitals, although many of his claims have since been found to be misleading and over the top.

Speaking in Downing St on Friday, Mr Johnson said his government would lavish more funding on health care as well as “levelling-up” infrastructure between the regions.

“In the next few weeks and months we will be bringing forward proposals to transform this country with better infrastructure, better education, better technology and if you ask yourselves what is this new government going to do, what is he going to do with his extraordinary majority I will tell you that is what we are going to do we are going to unite and level up – unite and level up bringing together the whole of this incredible United Kingdom,” he said.

After a bruising set of campaign exchanges on the National Health Service, the prime minister will not want the issue to become a political Achilles Heel.

“It wasn’t a very detailed manifesto but he did make pledges, so I suspect there will be considerable investment in police and the NHS not least because this is how he won over voters in the north and how he will retain voters in the north Brexit aside if he can demonstrate he’s invested in things that matter to them and those things matter to them more than anything else,” said Mr Farr.

“He realises it’s important to neutralise the threat the Labour party might offer, so I suspect the NHS will be a beneficiary as will the police,” Mr Farr added.

With its new support base and an influx of MPs brought in specifically by Mr Johnson, a new kind of party could be emerging as its geographical support base widens.

Simon Hix from the LSE asked how the ruling party’s new political base would influence its agenda. “Who do the Conservatives now represent?” he asked.

“All of those new Tory MPs are going to be in the midlands and in the north of England in areas of the country dependent on public services, dependent on manufacturing, dependent on agriculture, he’s going to need to deliver a Brexit that minimises the impact of Brexit on the British economy and minimises the impact of Brexit on British public services,” he told an LSE election night event.

Updated: December 13, 2019 09:18 PM

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