Boris Johnson’s interview with Andrew Marr this morning revealed the line that the government hopes will carry them through a difficult few weeks, as the country faces an expected cost of living crisis.
“When people voted for change in 2016 and when people voted for change in 2019,” the Prime Minister told Marr, “they voted for the end of a broken model of the UK economy that relied on low wages and low skills and chronic low productivity. We’re moving away from that.”
In other words, the government won’t step in to tweak immigration rules to allow an influx of foreign workers to temporarily to alleviate the labour shortages that are driving the current crisis; instead, the government expects the economy to adjust, reskilling British workers and paying them more to fill the jobs where there are shortages.
But the Prime Minister’s argument is bigger than that. He is arguing that the pain of shortages and spiralling costs is the temporary price to pay for the readjustment of the economy: and indeed, that this is what people were voting for when they voted for Brexit. He bolstered that with a contested line that wages are growing for the first time in a decade, to argue that, effectively, the economic shift we want to see is already happening. In the interview, Marr countered that, as inflation increases, wages have gone down in real terms in the past three months.
Fuel crises typically come at a political cost: the first and only time New Labour’s poll ratings fell below those of the Conservatives during Tony Blair’s popular first term was amid the fuel shortages and protests of 2000. But Boris Johnson’s government so far has been apparently untouched by the crisis that is unfolding. As he and his party arrive in Manchester for Conservative party conference, they will be hoping that this framing – of temporary pain for long-term gain – will be enough to persuade voters as the country heads into a difficult winter.