As I See It: Terry Murden
Did Boris Johnson just change the mood of the nation? After years of downbeat messages on the Brexit mess and on cuts to public services, the new Prime Minister has bounded on to the stage and declared that positivity is back in fashion.
His attack on the “doubters, doomsters and gloomsters” was a clarion call to the country to stop moaning and draw on its enormous capacity for innovation as he announced a new “golden age” for Britain. Grant Shapps, who has replaced the hapless Chris Grayling at Transport, emerged like a Duracell bunny from the first Cabinet meeting to announce: “I’m energised”.
It was all too much for the sour-faced Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who sat opposite the fired up Mr Johnson with a look of dismay that he didn’t seem to have any interest in his list of Conservative Party failings on living standards and public services. The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford, who sounds increasingly like a recorded message, bleated on again about how Scotland would resist the dastardly plot to deny the country a voice and accused Mr Johnson of “living in a parallel universe”.
Yet Mr Johnson’s biggest challenges could lie within his own party, not least in Scotland where he faces resistance to his No Deal position from Tory leader Ruth Davidson and risks undermining the progress she has made.
Scotland aside he must turn his upbeat, “can-do” spirit into practical action. He’s made a start by ordering 20,000 new police officers for England and Wales and promising to solve the crisis in social care “once and for all”. As he rolls out his spending plans it will put pressure on Nicola Sturgeon to follow suit or else see her government badged as the austerity administration.
The Prime Minister’s predecessor and her Chancellor declared that austerity was over, or at least nearly over, but never managed to fulfil that pledge. Her successor seems to have found the keys to the money chest and may usher in a spending plan which will put a few more furrows on Mr Corbyn’s brow.
Mr Johnson responded to the Labour leader’s downbeat take on Britain’s record, by listing achievements on unemployment, record investment and the living wage. He may often be accused of empty rhetoric but the data backs up his message. Luke Davis, CEO of IW Capital says: “It is easy to get wrapped up in the theatre of Boris, Brexit and his cabinet, but this will not affect what is a hugely confident and innovative community of investors and entrepreneurs. So far in the small business arena we have seen more deal flow than ever as well as a huge amount of demand from investors.”
Indeed, in 2017/18 the Enterprise Investment Scheme experienced the highest amount of investment ever with close to £2billion of support for growing start-ups and scale-ups.
The first half of 2019 was the best first half on record, with a 15% increase in the total amount of investment received by the UK’s startups and scaleups.
The number of deals rose 10% since the previous half, and the majority of the increase was at the seed-stage. There was also a 17% increase in the number of growth stage deals and their average size rose from £16m to £17m.
FinTech saw more money invested than in any other half, and has already beaten figures for the whole of 2018.
Sadly, the old mantra that the economy determines the future of any PM or government has been shoved aside by Brexit and resolving the number one issue will determine how long Mr Johnson’s honeymoon lasts. That’s assuming he manages to overcome a possible no-confidence vote.
With a wafer thin majority of two in the Commons, he must hope that the victims of his ministerial sackings and those who stood down in protest at his Brexit No Deal policy do not come back to reek their revenge.
Former Chancellor Philip Hammond could spearhead a rebellion against a no-deal Brexit. He has also refused to rule out backing a vote of no confidence in the Government. Such a vote is very likely to be called by the opposition in the coming days, as it seeks to take advantage of divisions in the Conservative Party.
The Government will probably just about survive this time, but if it looks like it is becoming likely that a no-deal Brexit is going ahead, then the rebels could win out.
Analysts at Schroders say that given the low likelihood of a successful re-negotiation of the “agreement”, the mostly likely outcome ahead of the Brexit deadline is another delay. That would dent Mr Johnson’s vow to get Britain out of the EU by 31 October “no ifs, or buts” and deal a potentially fatal blow to his credibility.
According to Schroders a general election may eventually be called in an attempt to break the deadlock. However, recent opinion polls show a dramatic collapse in support for both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. The Conservatives, who won about 43% of votes at the 2017 General Election, are now polling on just 24% (taking the last 10 published opinion polls). Meanwhile, the main opposition party has gone from 41% to also just 24%.
A polarisation of views on Brexit has led a large proportion of voters to look for parties with clearer messages on Brexit. The newly-formed Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage is polling on 20% from a standing start in just four months.
Anti-Brexit supporters have decided to shift to the Liberal Democrat Party – the only party to stand for remaining in the EU. The Liberal Democrats, energised by having their own new leader, have seen their support rise from around 8% in 2017 to 18% in latest polling.
Given near four-way-split in polling, the next Government will probably have to include at least one other major party, and may still not be enough to secure a majority for Brexit.
Mr Johnson is likely to respond to these challenges to his confident statements on Brexit by diverting attention back on to the feelgood factor and coming good on his pledge for tax cuts. The next Budget will probably take place in November. That is just weeks after Britain leaves the EU, or maybe doesn’t. Either way the new Chancellor, Sajid Javid, will be required to inflate the Johnson balloon a little more. For the good of Britain we must hope it is not full of hot air and doesn’t burst.