As the Tory faithful gather in Manchester, says Andrew Neil in the Daily Mail, “you would expect them to be in a cheerful mood”. They arrive at conference with the worst of the pandemic over and the economy growing strongly. Despite long queues for petrol, rising food and fuel prices and empty supermarket shelves, the Conservatives are ahead of Labour in the polls. This would be “extraordinary” for any government halfway through a term, when the opposition usually leads. For one beset by as many gaffes and “mistakes of its own making” as this one, it is “unprecedented”.
But wiser Tories harbour a “deep sense of foreboding” over rising prices and wages: the Bank of England “guesstimates” that inflation will reach 4% by the end of the year, twice its target. As in the 1960s and 1970s, the cost of living is everything. A cold winter with unaffordable fuel prices – thanks to the government’s “virtue-signalling” carbon tax and the national insurance hike – could see Boris Johnson’s luck run out. The political culture has adapted to look more kindly on big government post-pandemic, just as it did after the war. But “big government requires big competence”, which Johnson and his “lacklustre Cabinet” clearly lack. Any hit to living standards and the Tories’ remarkable honeymoon with the British people will come to a sticky end.