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  1. Election 2024
12 December 2019updated 08 Jun 2021 10:54am

Whatever its outcome, this election will deliver radical change to our economic model

By Stephen Bush

Voting is underway in which our economic model is on the ballot paper – or, to be more accurate, an election in which the one thing we can say for certain is that a radical change to our economic model is on the way. The only party that is defending the status quo – albeit a status quo coupled with a huge expansion in the size of the state thanks to their childcare policy and a step-change in government intervention to tackle the climate crisis – is the Liberal Democrats, and bluntly I think we can safely say they are not going to form a government.

But in different ways, the parties that are certain to win – in England, the Conservatives, in Wales, the Labour Party, and in Scotland, the SNP – are all proposing measures that mean a radical change in our economic system. The crucial difference is that that the latter two are honest about doing so. As far as the SNP is concerned, the clue is in the title: they are running on a platform of major and significant change to the way these islands govern themselves and, in the long term, to Scotland’s economic model. Labour thinks that loudly talking about their radicalism – even in policy areas where they are not that radical – is in tune with the mood of the times and will overpower doubts that voters have about their leader.

The Conservatives are pledging to take the United Kingdom out of the single market and customs union – the regulatory and trade arrangement that underpins our present economic model – and have presented this as, essentially, a steady-as-she-goes plan for the country. It’s intensely and transformatively radical – to the limited extent that it hangs together. And Boris Johnson proposes doing this while avoiding any rises in income or value-added tax, cutting national insurance, increasing NHS spending, and negotiating his exit deal in just a year.

It’s clear that most voters think they can’t trust Boris Johnson – but also that most voters do want Brexit to go away, and that enough of them might be willing to swallow the lie that his low-alignment, high-divergence Brexit end-state means a return to normality.

Johnson’s approach might well be being hailed as smart, statesmanlike even, if it turns out at ten o’clock tonight that the late uptick in Labour’s fortunes isn’t enough to secure a second successive hung parliament. But just as we looked back on Theresa May’s failure to use her moment of maximum power to come up with a serious, credible and honest set of Brexit objectives, I’m not convinced that Johnson’s decision to use this election to reinforce the bars of the Conservative cage is going to look all that smart in December 2020 – even if it secures a temporary triumph today.

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