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UK politics

A tale of two Johnsons

Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

The most important division in the Conservative party is between “Today Johnson” and “Future Johnson”, says Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times. The PM lives by his “wits, charisma and cunning”, and trusts his future self to solve problems he defers. Sometimes this works: Johnson “placed all his chips on the vaccine” early in the Covid crisis, and his bet paid off. Sometimes it doesn’t: he delayed putting India on the red list out of an “immediate fear” of undermining a potential trade deal. The “price” was the Delta variant spreading to the UK and the end of lockdown being pushed back.

There are other tricky issues Johnson has deferred. He wants to delay a Scottish independence referendum until after his premiership, but that could “bolster nationalist sentiment”. Brexit requires detailed planning and a clear economic strategy – trade deals like the Australian one, which will add only 0.02% to national income over 15 years, aren’t enough. Johnson is also exuberantly writing cheques for his future self to honour: levelling up the regions, fixing social care and cutting carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 will all require cash that hasn’t yet been found. This “unserious short-termism” will push Johnson’s lucky streak to its limits.

Why it matters The PM has a habit of making expensive announcements, like the construction of a £200m royal yacht, without telling the Treasury beforehand, says Tim Shipman in The Sunday Times. This has set up a showdown with Rishi Sunak. Faced with a “gargantuan” Covid bill, not to mention expensive plans for education and health catch-up, the Chancellor is preparing to assert his authority to keep costs down. 

Read the full article here (paywall).