Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Conservatives
3 October 2021updated 04 Oct 2021 9:53am

Boris Johnson argues the pain of shortages is worth it – is it?

In his interview with Andrew Marr, the Prime Minister’s message on the fuel crisis was that this is temporary pain for long-term gain.

By Ailbhe Rea

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.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy