The Sunday Telegraph
A missed opportunity for Mr Johnson
Last week was a disappointing one for supporters of the Prime Minister. Hosting the G7 in Cornwall might have been a PR success in a traditional sense, with great pictures featuring all of the world leaders and their families, but it’s hard to see what impact Britain’s Conservative, supposedly swashbuckling, Government had on the agenda. The meeting agreed on a social democratic and environmentalist manifesto that any one of the G7 leaders could have originated, reflecting everything that Davos Man believes in, from reducing carbon emissions to spending more taxpayers’ money. There wasn’t a trace of conservative or libertarian philosophy.
Yes, the decision to gift vaccines to emerging economies was right and moral, but everything on the menu could have been agreed by Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or Theresa May. What was the point of having a Brexiteer in No10? Most disappointingly, we appear to have sleepwalked into global tax harmonisation with the establishment of a minimum corporate rate; over time, it will almost certainly creep up.
On the culture wars, the PM was equivocal. On the economy, Mr Johnson called for a recovery that was at once “gender neutral” and “more feminine”: great, of course, but why say this if it isn’t accompanied by any specific policy? Wouldn’t it be more useful for the Prime Minister to enunciate a detailed, pro-market, centre-Right philosophy of economic growth and job-creation that helped women and men, young and old, white and ethnic minorities? Better that than throw out feel-good phrases devoid of genuine substance.
All of this was accompanied by a recitation of dogma about reducing inequality. Inequality of opportunity, yes; of outcome, please no. This is the language of Labour politicians, not a Tory PM, and certainly not the one who famously joked to his backbenchers that we have “greed” to thank for our vaccine – by which he presumably meant effort, ambition and the profit motive. These things create wealth. Redistribution, as Mr Johnson has long argued, destroys it.
A key question in politics is “would things be different if you weren’t in office?” If yes, then one is a leader. If no, then one is a place holder, a public servant curating orthodoxy like an antique vase liable to crack. Mr Johnson, needless to say, is a historic leader who has changed Britain forever, thanks to Brexit: it is worth highlighting that this, on the periphery and not directly relevant to the G7, was the one truly conservative perspective on display at the weekend.
There are many other ways in which this is a transformative Government keeping faith with its core constituency, from crime to the defence of free speech and heritage. So it is sad that given this opportunity on the world stage to showcase a generational shift in priority and policy, the Prime Minister sounded instead like Gordon Brown, whose latest book echoes the exact same themes, from redistribution to strengthening top-down institutions. Leavers wanted a departure from Blairism. Mr Johnson at the G7 sounded like its latest incarnation.
The greatest disappointment of the weekend, however, is the looming decision to delay the June 21 date for ending lockdown. If Britain cannot reopen this month, in the middle of a world-leading vaccine drive, then when? Won’t there now be endless delays? Has the Government decided to eradicate, rather than learn to live with, Covid?
Yet again, the goalposts have been allowed to shift, nudged along by the Whitehall blob. The original justification for lockdown was to save the NHS from being overwhelmed. Even with cases rising faster, and hospitalisations at a slower rate, nobody believes that will happen this time. Yes, deaths will rise, but why has the Government now decided that this disease takes priority over everything else, over allowing the vast majority to live freely again?
All in all, this was not the best week for this Government.
Leavers wanted a departure from Blairism. At the G7, the PM sounded like its latest incarnation