Tory triumphalism will anger voters in the face of empty shelves and famine | Andrew Rawnsley

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IA week is a long time in politics, 24 months is an eternity. The Tories are gathering in Manchester, knowing that their party last met for a personal conference two turbulent years ago. Boris Johnson has divorced his second wife, married his third, won his party for the fourth time in a row, and, he says, had his sixth child since he last strutted on a conference stage (other estimates are available).

He’s bungled through a pandemic that nearly killed him, both literally and politically, before the vaccine cavalry rode to the rescue. He tore Britain out of the EU after illegally adjourning Parliament, removing Remainers from his party and luring opposition leaders into foolishly allowing early parliamentary elections.

At their first non-virtual conference since this election, even the most skeptical Tories of Johnson will praise him for the big win. Conservatives like power, and they will forgive a lot to a man who has ensured their safety largest majority since Margaret Thatcher’s landslide in 1987. Speaking of which, some of Mr. Johnson’s more overwrought subordinates hailed the ruthlessness of his recent reshuffle as evidence that he was in “invincible mode“And plans to surpass the Iron Lady’s eleven years in 10th place. Before they are completely consumed by hubris, someone at this address should brush up on the classics. As victorious Roman generals marched through the streets before worshiping the crowds, they were accompanied by a slave whose job it was to constantly whisper an ego-checking message in the commander’s ear: “Remember death. ”

The Tories will be pleased with themselves in Manchester, but their best bet is to watch how much of that complacency they show the public when many Brits have failed to refuel their vehicles or had to waste their time standing in line. Even members of the government speak of an “EFFing” crisis because the fuel shortage goes hand in hand with rising energy prices and food shortages. The army was made ready. And they always said that Labor would turn Britain into a version of Venezuela.

This re-energizes a well-known question about the character of Mr. Johnson and his administration. When Dominic Cummings described the man he worked with on number 10 as “ridiculously” unsuitable to be prime minister, it wasn’t just non-Tories who suddenly came to an agreement with Mr. Cummings. There are many Tories who think Mr. Johnson just isn’t up to it. “The problem with Boris is that he’s not very interested in governing,” says a former Tory cabinet minister. “He’s only interested in two things. Be king of the world and fuck. “

The accusation that his regime is fundamentally incompetent, which has been made so often and with so much justice during the pandemic, is back and with a sting. One of the first responsibilities of any government is to ensure that vital goods and services are available to the public. The fuel and food crisis is the result of non-forward-looking planning stemming from an unwillingness to listen to expert warnings about the consequences of the shortage of truck drivers. A high-ranking Tory who was centrally involved in Brexit planning reveals: “You didn’t do the work. We looked at the driver shortage three years ago and what we can do about it. Where was the damn plan to prepare for it? “

Part of the disruption can be attributed to the strain on supply chains from the pandemic, but business groups agree that it was compounded by the severe break in relations with Britain’s closest neighbors, which has been Mr Johnson’s crucial contribution to our recent history became. The shortage of both key workers and vital goods is the result of the UK’s decision to downsize its pool of potential labor while abandoning a smooth trading system for one with high and costly frictional losses. After initially denying that these many crises could have anything to do with Brexit, ministers have since announced a limited ration of short-term visas for poultry workers and truck drivers from the EU, a reluctant concession to reality that is too late and is too little to put things right.

The biggest concern among Tory MPs is that the UK is headed into a “gritty midwinter,” described by a former cabinet minister, with empty store shelves and soaring food prices. In addition, there are sharply rising gas and electricity bills. Inflation wasn’t very important topic in British politics since Rishi Sunak was a teenager and Mr Johnson was still married to his first wife. One thing about inflation is that all of the decisions the government has to make regarding taxes and spending get much crispier and more controversial. As for the public, it’s probably a decent assumption that they will react in the same way as voters did when the cost of living was a hot topic of late. That is, it will make people dissatisfied with the government.

The households whose family budget is already tight will hurt the most. Many of them are the very working-class voters who gave the Conservatives a majority in the last election. That cohort, many of whom are Tory supporters for the first time in 2019, will also see the impact of the end of the vacation, the hike in national insurance eating into payrolls from next spring, and the cancellation of the £ 20 hike in Universal feeling credit that will bite on Wednesday, the day Mr Johnson makes his conference speech. Booster chatter about “leveling up” will sound especially hollow when the living standards of millions of people are slumped. This represents a serious test for the government and a significant opportunity for its opponents. Labor spokesmen are now instructed to use the phrase “Tory cost of living crisis” at every opportunity that arises. This is a sign that Labor, which had a divided but ultimately invigorating conference in Brighton, is stepping up its actions. “Starmer finally seems to be figuring out what his goals should be,” said a senior Tory, who admits he was slightly impressed with the Labor chief’s performance on the Sussex coast. “That should worry us a little.”

Of the Brighton speeches, two stood out as indicators that Labor is more focused on the terrain most likely to determine the outcome of the next election. In an impressive conference debut as Shadow Chancellor, Rachel placed Reeves their emphasis on the “everyday economy” and the people whose lives and livelihoods depend on it. Their offer was aimed directly at the electorate, many of whom are in provincial and small towns and who must attract Labor from the Tories. Ms. Reeves is putting her party on the side of hard-pressed workers against lazy employers, on the side of taxpayers against contractors who are ripping off public money, and on the side of small and medium-sized businesses who are facing unfair competition from tech giants who do this do not do. t make a fair contribution to the societies from which they benefit. It is a compliment to them that an advocacy group of Northern Tory MPs has since called for the government to cut business rates on High Street after pledging to abolish interest rates altogether.

In a speech given by a leader that had to be and was the best speech of his life, Sir Keir Starmer referred to his biography as the son of an experienced toolmaker and a dedicated nurse who rose from disadvantaged backgrounds to become director of the prosecution. He used his life story to defend himself as an advocate of the dignity of work, the nobility of service and the value of education, and against criminals, leftists who mouthed empty slogans, and unpatriotic tories who encouraged the booing of the English World Cup squad define. A sharp contrast was drawn with Mr. Johnson and a sharp line was drawn under corbynism. This signaled an intention to engage the Tories on parts of the political battlefield that Labor had given up under his previous leadership.

Despite the government’s current problems, it remains exceptionally difficult to find a Tory who fears Labor can win the next election. Even if the conference ended on a happy note, the Labor people remain discouraged by the immense mountain they will have to climb to regain power. However, competition should become more competitive as Labor builds on the successes of its conference and the Tories continue to tumble from one crisis to another while arrogantly telling themselves that they can never lose. As the turbulence of the past 24 months has shown, a lot can happen in two years and much can happen unexpectedly.

Andrew Rawnsley is Senior Political Commentator for the Observer



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