One of many capabilities of a celebration convention is that it forces politicians to suppose onerous about what their core message to the general public is on key problem of the day, and in his interview with Andrew Marr, Boris Johnson confirmed that the Conservative celebration is now investing all its credibility in a selected argument concerning the financial system.
Johnson, and his fellow Brexiters, at all times stated that Brexit, and the tip of free motion, would possibly drive up wages for native British staff going through competitors from “Polish plumbers” and different EU migrants. However this argument was by no means allowed to overshadow the a lot broader, greater (and extra flimsy) claims about how Brexit was going to learn the financial system general, with minimal disruption.
Now, as a substitute of claiming that Brexit has little or nothing to do with labour shortages in key industries, resulting in empty cabinets and queues at petrol station, Johnson is leaning into this argument, saying there’s a hyperlink, however the positive aspects shall be value it. He trialled these traces at PMQs final week, and once more this morning. (See 10.57am.)
It is a shift with essential penalties. Listed here are not less than 5.
1) Johnson is now conceding that there shall be no fast repair to the availability chain issues going through the financial system. When tales began showing about empty cabinets earlier this yr, ministers argued that this was primarily a Covid problem. When petrol stations ran dry, they argued that this was prompted by panic shopping for (which it was). However now that Johnson has linked the HGV driver scarcity to a wider, structural drawback, he’s successfully admitting that it gained’t be totally solved any time quickly.
2) Johnson is now admitting that Brexit is a consider these driver shortages. Solely final week a Treasury minister was claiming the other. However Johnson can not declare that Brexit is resulting in a driver scarcity that may push up wages with out additionally accepting that it has led to the identical driver scarcity which means items aren’t arriving on time.
3) This coverage positions the Conservatives clearly as a celebration for the working class. In some respects Johnson is simply responding to a development that has already occurred, as a result of since 2015 the Tories have changed Labour as the celebration that does proportionately higher amongst working-class voters than amongst middle-class voters. However increased pay for drivers and others doing jobs the place wages have been held down by low cost, EU migrant labour will imply increased prices for the shoppers who used to learn from a low-wage financial system, together with many conventional, middle-class Tory voters. What’s the Telegraph going to say when it realises that Johnson needs its readers to pay extra for Ocado deliveries?
3) Johnson now has a solution to what levelling up really means. In an interview on Friday he stated wage development can be how levelling up was outlined. He stated:
I’ve given you a very powerful metric – by no means thoughts life expectancy, by no means thoughts most cancers outcomes – have a look at wage development … Wage development is now being skilled quicker by these on decrease incomes. It hasn’t occurred for 10 years or extra. That’s what I imply by levelling up.
Johnson’s “by no means thoughts most cancers outcomes” remark attracted all the eye, but it surely was the clearest definition he has but given of levelling up. (Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, didn’t get the memo, as a result of in an interview for the Solar happening the identical day, he supplied a fairly completely different definition). One apparent drawback with Johnson’s method is that if wages don’t rise, or if a rise doesn’t really feel like a rise as a result of it will get eaten up by a tax rise, or by rising inflation, levelling up will really feel like a failure.
4) This new method sounds anti-business. Johnson was comparatively guarded in what he stated about companies in his Marr interview, however in an interview with ConservativeHome masking this problem Kwasi Kwarteng, the enterprise secretary, was a bit extra specific, criticising employers “benefiting from an inflow of labour that might maintain wages low” who at the moment are “resisting” stress to pay extra. In a latest Telegraph column, Fraser Nelson stated that in non-public Tories are much more blunt. He stated:
“Enterprise was served discover within the referendum that each one this [cheap labour] is ending,” says one minister. “They didn’t make investments, so now they’re paying the worth.”
And that is what’s so fascinating: the variety of Tories speaking about enterprise getting its simply deserts, seeing the present chaos as a painful however essential struggle of nerves. “Boris was fairly proper: f— enterprise,” one senior Tory says, referring to a now-notorious comment the prime minister made about company lobbyists. “They haven’t innovated, haven’t automated. Now they’ll must – and pay up.” Placing language for the celebration that was, as soon as, the celebration of enterprise.
This might be harmful for a celebration historically seen as pro-business. However it’s also yet one more lurch into conventional Labour territory, which might be electorally fruitful if this extra antagonistic method to low-wage employers is what voters need.