If it’s Boris, it has to be Boris version 2.0 - Brian Monteith

It was back in early August I suggested those who had called for Boris Johnson to go might come to regret what they wished for. They thought our political plight could only get better but clearly they did not think things through well enough.
Boris Johnson delivers a farewell address before his official resignation at Downing Street on September 6Boris Johnson delivers a farewell address before his official resignation at Downing Street on September 6
Boris Johnson delivers a farewell address before his official resignation at Downing Street on September 6

Now, after quite some difficulties with the replacement Conservative MPs did not support, downloading and reinstalling a Boris again is back on the cards, but some people will remember there were distinct problems with Boris Johnson 1.0.

If, however, that’s what Tory MPs decide, we need a new model of Boris, one with added and improved features without the bugs that plagued the earlier version and rendered it a glitch-ridden infuriating mess.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Those bugs and flaws were extensive. A root problem was his desire to please everyone. This was especially fatal in the case of public spending. He just couldn’t turn down a request for taxpayers’ money to be lavished on this or that pet project or quango-administered programme. Financed, of course, by borrowing that is merely taxation deferred. One could say he spent money like a drunken sailor but, as the distinguished economist Arthur Laffer observed, that just isn’t true. Drunken sailors spend their own money.

Thanks, however, to Liz Truss’s attempt to get the debt markets to finance an unnecessarily generous energy bailout (five times the cost of her proposed tax cuts), we now know definitively that carrying on with the borrowing spree is no longer viable. A lesson that shall be a greater epitaph for Truss than anything Theresa May managed.

We cannot just continue loading up the country with debt without a clear concept of how it will be paid back. We also now know that modern monetary theory, the foolish notion that central banks can conjure money out of thin air without causing inflation, is for the birds. (Sturgeon 3.0 please take note.) All politicians will now have to follow this coding.

Boris Johnson version 2.0 needs to be able to adapt to this new reality – the end of the era of excessive borrowing. He needs to channel his inner Jim Callaghan, who admitted back in 1976 “Britain has lived for too long on borrowed time, borrowed money… For too long this country – all of us, yes, – has been ready to settle for borrowing money abroad to maintain our standards of life.”

A wise Boris 2.0 would this week demonstrate his commitment to fiscal prudence by ditching at least one, preferably more of his big spending programmes of the past. The £86,000 cap on care costs, a subsidy to rich pensioners and their offspring, is a prime candidate, as is HS2. Since far fewer people are travelling on our existing railways we clearly don’t need yet another but much more expensive one.

It is in the area of tax policy, however, that Boris 1.0’s flaws need to be dealt with most urgently. In his final speech as Prime Minister to the House of Commons Boris 1.0 urged “Cut taxes and deregulate wherever you can to make this the greatest place to live.” Unfortunately, that is not how he governed.

Increasing corporation tax next year by over 30 per cent to give us the second highest effective rate of all developed countries is an exceptionally ill-judged policy that will push Britain further into recession, prolonging it and preventing economic growth that will increase tax revenues. Admittedly the tax increase wasn’t Boris 1.0’s idea, it was Rishi Sunak’s, but Boris went along with it, and he was the captain of the ship. The same is true of the increase in the NI tax – not only a direct breach of the Conservative manifesto but another of many growth-destroying tax grabs.

Fundamentally, it woz the tax rises wot done ‘im in. People lost confidence in Boris 1.0 because of his tax rises, not just because of birthday cake and prosecco (which came as much a surprise to him as to Rishi Sunak, who was also fined). Boris 2.0 must ‘Just Say No’ – not only to spending boondoggles but most particularly to schemes to raise taxes. Even more tax rises as we go into recession will only guarantee poverty and economic stagnation.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Thankfully, installing Boris 2.0 would in any case see him constrained by the debt markets from further spending splurges, but he would also inherit an economy weighed down by the highest tax levels since the last World War. The only way to break out of this prison is by pushing through growth-enhancing tax cuts. JFK managed it against the consensus and a period of unparalleled prosperity followed. Boris 2.0 needs to follow in JFK’s footsteps and use all his persuasive skills to achieve a similar revolution here.

Back in the distant mists of time when Edward Heath was leader of the Conservative Party, before even I had a vote, there was such a thing as the Heath Test. To find out the correct policy stance one checked Heath’s view and took the opposite position. You can take a similar approach with Boris’s opponents suffering from Boris Johnson Derangement Syndrome.

If Conservative MPs are wavering as to whether to support Boris they just need to look at those foaming at the mouth and shrieking at the prospect of re-installing Boris. It’s enough to make any open-minded person rush to back Boris. At least he has a “mandate”. But if it’s going to be him, the Tory MPs better be sure it’s the new improved version – and no, we don’t want to be offered Boris 2.1, 2.2 or 2.3 later. If Boris 2.0 does not work any better than the previous issue then we need to consider a new application altogether.

And that should be for the people to decide, not Conservative MPs.

Brian Monteith is a former member of the Scottish and European Parliaments and a Senior Adviser to the Tax Reform Council



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.