by Freddie Sayers
Monday, 18
November 2019

Boris will move on economics more easily than culture

by Freddie Sayers

If, as is now perilously widely presumed, the Conservatives end up with a proper majority, what would Boris do next? Beyond Brexit, what sort of domestic agenda would he actually implement?

Both Nick Timothy and James Kirkup predict in this morning’s papers that the new, probably more working-class, Tory voter base will end up curtailing the libertarian instincts of many of Boris’s inner circle and lead to policies more tilted towards security. In other words, thanks to the Tories’ new Northern voters, ‘Singapore-on-Thames’ won’t actually happen.

As James Kirkup notes, “There is little to suggest that Leave-voting swing voters in towns far from the southeast are crying out for another round of Thatcherite deregulation. Instead, in an age of economic and political uncertainty, they are more likely to look to the state for shelter and security.”

On these issues of regulation and spending, Nick Timothy agrees:

There will be an open mind about the state’s role in rebalancing the economy through industrial strategy, and more support for intervening in markets that are failing consumers and workers. There will be a stronger commitment to workplace rights and higher wages. There will be less emphasis on tax cuts for the prosperous, and more spending on infrastructure and services.
- Nick Timothy

Both writers are surely correct on this — and if today’s Daily Express front page is to be believed, it’s already happening. The Tories are promising tax cuts for high street shops and pubs to help revive Britain’s community centres.

But on social issues, it’s much harder to predict which way they’ll turn. James points out that there are a bunch of socially progressive Tories coming in the new intake, and that Boris is at heart a social liberal: “If Johnson has a deep-seated political preference it’s probably to be seen as a liberal moderate, to disprove the claims he’s become a Trumpesque thug.”

This is absolutely true, but this is certainly not about appealing to his new voter base. On social and cultural issues, these instincts are much more aligned with his old southern, affluent voters — indeed the new Tory candidates James mentions (in Newbury, Wantage, Beaconsfield and Sevenoaks) are all like-for-like replacements in affluent southern Tory land. The new Northern voters, if they turn out, will be much more small-c conservative than these “moderates”. It remains an open question which pull on Boris will win over.

My own guess would be that on immigration (insofar as that is a cultural issue) he will make a big effort to seem tougher, because it is so bound up with the Brexit vote. But promoting non-economic Goods like marriage, family and community institutions? The faith-flag-family stuff? That’s alien ground for Boris, and will be much more of a reach.

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