(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LONDON GUARDIAN)
Boris Johnson’s plan to prorogue parliament ahead of a Queen’s speech on 14 October is intended to provoke parliamentarians into blocking a no-deal Brexit, or triggering a general election through a vote of no confidence. Both are feasible in the time available.
The last time parliament stepped in to block no deal earlier in the year, the necessary legislation was passed in just three days. Johnson has deliberately left enough time for parliament to seize control again. That’s because Johnson’s real objective is to use Brexit to win a general election, rather than use a general election to secure Brexit. By forcing the hands of his opponents, he has defined the terrain for a “people versus parliament” election. Expect him to run on “Back Boris, Take Back Britain”. He will say that the only way to definitely leave on 31 October is to give him a parliamentary majority to do so. The man of Eton, Oxford and the Telegraph will position himself as the leader of the people against the hated establishment and “remainder elite”.
Johnson’s electoral strategy is simple: unite the Brexit-supporting right of politics behind him while remainders are fractured across Labor, the SNP, Liberal Democrats and Greens. Since the day he took office, Johnson has been acting to consolidate the votes of leave supporters behind him. From Brexit party supporters to leave-backing Labor voters, Johnson has sought to create a winning electoral coalition.
The Tories have spent recent weeks closing off predicted Labor attack lines. Sajid Javid has announced a one-year spending review will take place on 4 September. After nearly a decade of relentless reductions in spending, the public have plainly tired of austerity. Waiting times in the NHS are longer; class sizes are larger; and the police are no longer able to keep up with rising crime or keep many communities safe. Johnson’s government has already promised more spending in each of these areas.
But these are very Tory announcements, with an added right-wing edge. So the leaked proposal to invest in schools is to be accompanied by proposals to allow teachers to use “reasonable force” against pupils, and the additional resources for the police include proposals to allow all officers to carry Tasers. There is no serious public policy discussion about precisely how much force grown adults should use against children, just as the problem with knife crime is not the police’s ability to pacify knife-wielding youths with Tasers. These plans are red meat for the Tory base, designed to distract from rather than solve the problems our society faces.
The political logic is obvious. In 2017, Theresa May lost the slim Tory majority she inherited from her predecessor in an election campaign that turned away from Brexit and towards the state of the country at home. Labor’s clear anti-austerity message resonated across the Brexit divide and paid electoral dividends for the party. Johnson is aiming to prevent such a turn taking place this time.
Yet the public will be skeptical that the same people who needlessly degraded public services are now prepared to invest in them. While Johnson is unconstrained by principle or the shackles of ideology, he leads a cabinet of the hard right of the Conservative party. For those who have dedicated a lifetime to hacking back the state and severing Britain’s ties with the European Union, it seems unlikely that they are on board with a project of investment in public services. But they are certainly committed to a no-deal exit that is an Atlanticist project rather than a unilateral one – and to the aggressive tax cuts that Johnson has promised. This is a government that intends to realign Britain to the US and is set to govern just like US Republicans – cut taxes first, then maintain spending to blow up the deficit before using that to justify far deeper spending cuts.
So why would the public believe what Johnson says? The real secret of populists, from Donald Trump to Matteo Salvini to Johnson, is the conflation of transgression with truthfulness. The willingness to engage in bigotry and violate hard-won social norms against racist, homophobic or misogynistic language convinces people that these politicians “speak their mind” and “say what they think”. Paradoxically, their lack of virtue confirms their veracity.
Their bigotry is the result of calculation rather than miscalculation – and the predictable howls of outrage from critics only serves to amplify the message. The upcoming election will turn on whether Johnson is found out for what he is: Trump with a thesaurus, whose real agenda of a Brexit for the elite is disguised behind the thin veneer of a few spending announcements that come after a desperate decade of the degradation of Britain at home and abroad.
• Tom Kibasi is director of the Institute for Public Policy Research. He writes in a personal capacity
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