Economically and socially, the Prime Minister remains an instinctive libertarian
That’s it! True conservatism is dead. Boris Johnson, closet pinko, has ditched the Tories’ traditional low-tax, small state philosophy and, in its stead, adopted some kind of Blue Labour agenda.
Can this be true? Well, certainly it is the case being made by some Right-wing commentators in the wake of the hike in national insurance contributions and the resulting inevitability that the tax burden will hit its highest-ever level.
Assuming that these commentators are referring to the distinct Blue Labour movement, and not using the term as some loose pejorative, I for one don’t buy the analysis. While it is undeniable that the Tories have, over the past couple of years, adopted a kind of “radical on the economy, conservative on culture” Blue Labour posture — to great effect, it must be said, across much of working-class, provincial England, as the 2019 general election showed — there is little evidence that they “get it” instinctively or that the messaging will ever translate into reality.
Would a government that truly placed itself on the side of the working-class seek to make the poorer sections of society pay for the social care crisis, or risk plunging thousands of families into debt by withdrawing the universal credit uplift? It strikes me, as a longstanding supporter of the movement, that these are not measures Blue Labour would ever support.
And the government’s so-called “levelling-up” agenda seems to comprise of not much more than shifting a few offices from Whitehall to the regions, and similar limited or tokenistic measures. Where is the discussion about full employment and how to achieve it? Where is the critique of globalisation and its impact on our communities? How does the government propose to reduce the gap between rich and poor? Is that even its ambition? What radical plan exists to address the chronic shortage of housing? Where are the proposals to rebalance our economic system away from finance capital and towards those who live and work in the real economy? Did someone in government mention an industrial strategy, reindustrialisation or the need to strengthen collective bargaining? If they did, I didn’t hear them. What about workers on boards, vocational education, regional banks, the common good — all key Blue Labour themes?
There is little sense either that the government understands the value that Blue Labour attaches to relationships and community. Where is the recognition of the family as the bedrock of society and the plan to strengthen that institution? How does the government propose to revitalise our disempowered local and relational institutions — the little platoons that fill the space between market and state and are the lifeblood of our civil society: credit unions, friendly societies, faith groups, co-operatives, and other voluntary or campaigning groups.
All of this stuff matters, and any government genuinely concerned about fostering the deepest social solidarity, reinvigorating democracy and restoring a true sense of community, while making our nation more just and equal, would place these questions front and centre.
But it won’t happen under a Boris Johnson government. That’s because, at heart, the prime minister, economically and socially, remains an instinctive libertarian. Blue Labour’s “socialism with a small ‘c’” runs counters to this. Johnson may have the nous to recognise that the movement’s message plays well. But he doesn’t really believe in it.