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By Frank McKenna

By Frank McKenna

Is our Government Conservative?

In his latest blog, Frank McKenna asks: When is the government going to get a Conservative Leader?

In conversation with a Tory MP recently, I asked “When are you going to get a Conservative leader?”

My remark was partly in jest – but, in truth, there isn’t much sign of a traditional Tory agenda emerging with the policy programme that the government has mapped out since Boris Johnson won an 80- seat majority.

Of course, the reason for record levels of public expenditure can be placed, largely, at the door of the Pandemic. But, as the prime ministers’ position has become more precarious and his need for backbench support gets more desperate by the day, we can expect a significant splurge of ‘transactional’ cash to be thrown at the various constituencies that have MPs who once needed Boris – but whose boss now needs them more.

Add to that the transactional cheques that will have to be written for the so-called Red Wall seats, where Boris will be keen, in the run-up to the next General Election, to feature in photo ops, hard hat, and high vis jacket at the ready.

Add to that the NHS backlog that he has committed to reduce at pace. Add to that his very aggressive net-zero ambitions. Add to that his liking for ‘big’ infrastructure. Add to that the extra funding promised for the police. Add to that, add to that, add to that.

Johnson, in both his political and his personal life, clearly has a problem saying ‘no’.

The magic money tree is bare, and the only place for the chancellor to raise the massive amounts of cash he needs to meet the pledges made by his next- door neighbour is through tax hikes.

So, at a time when inflation is at record levels, energy prices are rocketing, the weekly shop is getting increasingly expensive, interest rates are on the up, and wage packets are shrinking, Rishi Sunak is readying himself to introduce a National Insurance rise that will hit everyone’s pockets – and hard.

From the low-paid worker through to the business owner, the NI hike will bite hard. George Osborne described Gordon Browns decision to increase National Insurance contributions following the financial crash of 2008 as “a tax on jobs.” He wasn’t wrong, given that businesses will be thinking hard about recruitment and retention in the second half of 2022.

This leaves us with a Conservative prime minister committing to spending levels that Jeremy Corbyn would be proud of; a tax-busting budget that would have had Tories screaming about financial incompetence on a grand scale had it been proposed by a Labour chancellor; and the notion, mostly adopted by Thatcherites over many decades, of a low tax, enterprise-led, business-friendly environment being the best way to drive economic progress, in tatters.

It would be impossible to describe Boris Johnson as a Socialist. But it is becoming equally challenging to identify him as a Conservative.

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