Race to replace Boris Johnson raises alarm bells about 'irresponsible' populism – Scotsman comment

As the Conservative MPs hoping to become their party’s next leader jostle for position, some alarming ideas have emerged that raise concerns about a continuation of populist politics, even if in a different form.

The volume and size of the chorus of voices promising tax cuts – with former Chancellor Rishi Sunak a notable exception – suggests many of the contenders think this is a policy essential for victory.

However, anyone proposing significant reductions must first address a number of alarmingly large elephants in the room.

In any discussion about tax, the UK Government’s vast debt simply cannot be overlooked. According to figures released in April, it reached nearly £2.4 trillion in 2021, compared to just under £1.9 trillion in 2019, before the pandemic hit.

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So any candidate who suggests the country should get further into debt in order to fund tax cuts would be gambling recklessly with the financial health of the nation. Former Conservative Chancellor Norman Lamont yesterday warned that the leadership contest risked becoming a “Dutch auction” of “unfunded, irresponsible tax cuts”.

Another problem is that cutting taxes is only likely to increase inflation at a time when we are facing an inflation crisis, adding to the pressure to raise interest rates.

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Furthermore, reducing government spending in order to pay for tax cuts – with some even hinting at a decrease in NHS spending – will inevitably mean further hardship for those struggling the most in the cost-of-living crisis.

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Who will replace Boris Johnson in Downing Street? (Picture: Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

There is widespread acceptance that Russia's invasion of Ukraine demands an increase in defence spending. But if that is to happen alongside tax cuts – as promised by current Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi – other departments would be squeezed even harder.

Some candidates have also signalled they might abandon the UK’s target of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This suggests they do not understand the reality of our situation as described by the world’s leading scientists, which is that humanity must take urgent action if dangerous climate change is to be avoided.

Populist politicians are so named because they tell people what they want to hear, regardless of the facts, driven by their desire for power, rather than what is best for their country.

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A true leader, most especially in tough times, needs to be better than that.

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