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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Tories dump austerity in pursuit of electoral success

In the Times. Daniel Finkelstein argues that the whole point of Conservative government is to provide an executive aware of its limitations and sensitive to the dangers of over-reaching them. He adds that Conservatives emphasise the value of unwritten conventions by treating those rules and traditions with the greatest respect:

'Without these things, what is the point of Conservatives and what is the value of Conservatism? Without them, what will Conservatives say when resisting the challenge of socialists and extra-parliamentary protesters? To endanger them in order to shave a few days off the parliamentary timetable is an epic mistake.'

These are very valid questions and no doubt Tory MPs and many others will be seeking an answer to them from the Prime Minister when Parliament resumes today, however it is not just the rule of law that Boris Johnson has apparently abandoned in his 63 days of sitting in Number 10 Downing Street, it is also the Tories' reputation for financial competence.

As the Guardian reports, a marked deterioration in the public finances means Sajid Javid will have to relax borrowing limits if the government is to boost spending and cut taxes before an early general election:

Boris Johnson’s government has pledged higher spending for the NHS, schools and the police since it was formed in late July, but against the backdrop of an economy flirting with recession. The ONS said borrowing in the first five months of the financial year was up 28% on the same period a year ago, at more than £31bn.

In addition, changes to the way the ONS accounts for student debt and public sector pensions, together with new corporation tax data, means the size of the deficit in the last full financial year, 2018-19, has almost doubled. A deficit of £23.6bn has been revised up to £41.3bn.

Analysts said that if the trend for the first months of 2019-20 continued for the rest of the year the deficit would be close to £53bn, £12bn higher than the government’s fiscal watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, estimated in March.

The actions of this Government are increasingly looking like a high stakes, do-or-die, winner-takes-all gamble by a Prime Minister who apparently has no regard for the consequences. Johnson has sought to exercise the royal prerogative in an unconstitutional manner to get his own way, and now he has jettisoned nearly a decade of fiscal rules laid down by his own party in an attempt to get a majority at a General Election.

He may or may not get away with it, but whatever the outcome, the recklessness he has exhibited in government means that nobody can pretend any more that he, or the party he leads, are the traditional Tories they want us to believe they are.
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