Politics explained

The promises over Brexit look broken – and there’s still plenty of political and economic damage to deal with

Inflation up. Taxes up. Gas bills up. If elections are won and lost on “the economy, stupid”, then perhaps the Conservatives should be as worried about what’s happening to the economy as they are about Partygate and public fury about the prime minister breaking his own Covid-19 guidance.

The government rightly point out that the economy has staged a remarkable bounce-back after numerous lockdowns, but it merely follows one of the steeper declines among comparable economies. The public finances will also suffer from “long Covid” for decades to come, such was the scale of support applied during the crisis. There will be few options for pre-election giveaways or splurging in the “red wall”. A government unable even to bribe the voters with their own money is in a weak position indeed.

The prospects for the economy post-Covid and post-Brexit are generally regarded as poor-to-middling, with labour shortages and feeble private sector investment and productivity growth being the biggest headaches. None are susceptible to quick fixes. Politically, the broader problem is that the “boosterism” and sunny optimism exuded by Boris Johnson during the 2016 Brexit referendum and the 2019 general election have perhaps raised expectations unsustainably high, and would have done so even without Covid.


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