Oxford For Europe
9 October 2021
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The fantasy of ‘Green Britain’ is just a small part of the deception.
So the Johnson speech was the climax of this week’s Tory Superspreader Event in Manchester. What will be the enduring headline? I suggest “Build Back Beaver”. Johnson was celebrating rewilding and the return of beavers to some of England’s rivers. That sound bite has it all: a three word slogan, alliterative, trivial and vacuous, with Johnson once again taking the credit for the work of others, and a demonstration of rank hypocrisy. Aware that he’s about to host the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Johnson tries to flaunt his green credentials. The punters swallow it – certainly better than the UN received his Kermit the frog reference.
But is there anything behind it? This is a man whose policies have taken the country to a point where 120,000 healthy pigs are about to be slaughtered and incinerated, at a time where genuine food poverty is rampant. An animal welfare tragedy, a huge loss for the farmers without even the compensation they received during the foot and mouth epidemic, and an environmental catastrophe. And a direct result of workforce shortages caused by Brexit. This same Prime Minister never tires of telling us how wonderful it is to trade with partners far away in place of our nearest neighbours: not only commercial insanity but a huge avoidable waste of sea miles and another massive blow against the environment. What on earth possessed him to boast about £60 million worth of beef exports to USA, firstly a paltry sum, and secondly a long journey to a country which is self sufficient in beef from one which is not. How is he going to explain all that to his guests in Glasgow?
But we should not be surprised to hear our prime minister saying precisely the opposite of what he knows to be true. Newspeak comes naturally to him. He talks about prosperity when all around is impoverishment, on the very day that the £20 Universal Credit uplift is withdrawn from families already reliant on food banks. He talks about migrants undercutting British workers when we know they have been doing essential work and that no British person will be available to fill their shoes for many years to come. He blames the shortfall which he himself has created, on the same employers he reassured 5 years ago that this would never happen. He boasts about rising wages, as if somehow inflation were to be welcomed. Rising wages mean rising prices, which will hurt the poorest the most, and the reality is that average wages are falling in real terms. He boasts about a million job vacancies as if this was somehow not a severe indictment of the government’s failure to plan for the massive skills gap which Brexit has created. In deference to the xenophobes and petty nationalists in his party, he talks about employing more British workers, doing the same work for more money, and pretends that this is a route towards greater productivity. He does not even understand the word. Productivity is the ratio between outputs and inputs, so obviously if you increase your inputs by raising wages, then by definition you reduce productivity rather than increase it. Haven’t any of his acolytes attempted to explain this to him? Or are they terrified into pretending to accept every ounce of drivel that comes from the great Mans mouth? He is being called out for his economic illiteracy not only, as you might expect, by the TUC, but now also by formerly reliable allies such as the Adam Smith Institute, the institute of Economic Affairs, the CBI and by prominent Brexiters such as Simon Wolfson of Next. That should perhaps give him pause for thought. Friends are starting to say publicly that he privately regrets not taking the other path in April 2016, when he wrote but never published an article saying ‘Britain is a great nation, a global force for good. It is surely a boon for the world and for Europe that she should be intimately engaged in the EU. This is a market on our doorstep, ready for further exploitation by British firms: the membership fee seems rather small for all that access’. Too late, BJ. Tell the truth now and you’re toast.
We’ve had two conflicting narratives from the Tories about the economic car crash of the past few weeks. Once they could no longer pretend that it wasn’t happening, they alleged that it was a worldwide phenomenon and was in no way connected with leaving the European Union. As it became increasingly clear that UK was the only country with petrol queues, empty shelves and fruit rotting in the fields, the narrative changed. Yes indeed, it was a consequence of Brexit, but it was in no way the fulfilment of Project Fear. On the contrary it was part of the “bumps in the road” which were inevitable on the way towards the sunlit uplands. In fact it was part of the plan. Tell that to the bankrupt fishermen, pig farmers, musicians, exporters, importers… the list goes on and on. Tell them please why you did not write that on the side of a bus.
And amidst all the blether, were there any new proposals? The best he could do was the promise of £3000 resettlement grants for teachers. An investment of £60 million. To put that in perspective, it is about 0.2% of what the government has wasted on the Test and Trace programme.
Of course the Tory faithful will have become used to suspension of disbelief. What mattered was the performance, and what they saw on that platform was BJ in his comfort zone, their ticket to success in the next election. The supreme confidence of a man untroubled by guilt, unburdened by any acquaintance with the truth, a man capable of producing word salad but delivering it with style, panache and timing, knowing that every punchline will be lapped up. A consummate entertainer, the perfect after dinner speaker. How much better a world we would live in if only he had stuck to that career.
Please also keep an eye out for our regular series of meetings featuring brilliant speakers. Details here. Look out for Lord Andrew Adonis, coming to Oxford on 28th October.
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