Boris Johnson keeps selling the Brexit pipedream as Labour struggles to land a blow – Scotsman comment

Beyond the desire to stay in power, what does Boris Johnson really believe in?

Boris Johnson delivers his keynote speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA)

It is a question many have puzzled over given his obvious ambition, coupled with an apparent lack of guiding principles.

Everyone understands what ‘Thatcherite’ means. Agree or disagree with the policies of the late Prime Minister, no one was in any doubt about what she stood for.

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‘Johnsonian’ politics is much more nebulous and, in his speech to the Conservative Party conference, he did little to refine the notion.

That’s not to say that some of the rhetoric does not sound appealing. He spoke passionately about his mission to “level up” the UK, which he described as “one of the most imbalanced societies and lop-sided economies of all the richer countries”.

“What monkey glands are they applying in Ribble Valley? What royal jelly are they eating that they live seven years longer than the people of Blackpool, only 33 miles away,” Johnson said in typical fashion. “Why does half of York’s population boast a degree and only a quarter of Doncaster’s? This is not just a question of social justice, it is an appalling waste of potential and it is holding this country back.”

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Cynics may suggest keeping the former ‘red wall’ of seats in Northern England, captured by the Conservatives in the 2019 election, was foremost in his mind.

But if he manages to make noticeable inroads on inequality, everyone will know what ‘Johnsonian’ means: the sort of One Nation Conservatism championed by Benjamin Disraeli.

However, the characteristic lack of detail in his speech should act as a stay on those who find themselves getting carried away.

Similarly, Johnson’s apparent belief that Brexit will lead to wage increases and help create a “high-skill, high-wage” workforce may soon collide with the reality that leaving the EU has caused real damage to our economy. Levelling up in the poorest places will be hard when the whole country has just been levelled down.

Fortunately for him, such woolly thinking is not being effectively challenged as Keir Starmer’s Labour struggles to find a line of attack that resonates with the public.

However, perhaps it is hard to land a blow on a ‘Johnsonian’ politician, who says things that may sound good while delivering little but pipedreams for those desperate enough to believe in them.

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