OPINION - Tax cuts! Tax cuts! Tax cuts! Welcome to Johnsonism without Johnson

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 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

If nothing else, this leadership contest is proving the ‘Boris Johnson as a Brexity Hezza’ [Michael Heseltine] motif was largely correct, even if the glaring internal contradiction meant it would struggle to produce a coherent policy platform.

That is because each conceivable candidate, from Suella Braverman on the ERG right to Jeremy Hunt on the (theoretical) moderate wing, would represent a rightward shift on culture wars or fiscal policy or both.

In many ways, Johnson has been an aberration. It is easy to forget – because they combed their hair and exuded liberal vibes – that the David Cameron/George Osborne administrations governed to Johnson’s right – even while in coalition with the Liberal Democrats for the most part.

And for Johnson, it wasn’t all rhetoric. From net-zero carbon emissions to levelling up and higher taxes to fund the NHS, he stole Labour’s clothes. While at the same time, taking a hardline approach on immigration and ‘woke’, whatever meaning that term retains. He was hard to attack for this reason.

Yes, it all ended in tears. Johnson frittered away a decade’s worth of political capital in the space of a year. The belief that the rules do not apply to him, nor that he should be constrained by the truth, brought him down. But the politics that took him to the top were a potent mix.

Should this hypothesis be correct, it would suggest that a sort of Johnsonism without Johnson might be the sweet spot in British politics. Rhetorically anti-EU but high spending (ignoring the fact that Brexit will permanently shrink the productive capacity of the UK economy). So why do none of his potential successors seem to be advocating for this?

Instead, each is involved in a Dutch auction to promise the biggest tax cuts. From reversing the rise in National Insurance they all supported until five minutes ago to scrapping the Corporation Tax increase. Meanwhile, trivialities such as how these will be paid for, or whether the public would prefer to see a GP within three months of a phone call, are given short shrift.

This is partly about winning the battle to be the candidate to Rishi Sunak’s right and face the Tory membership. And anyway, politicians have always promised the world when campaigning.

But perhaps this is the real legacy of Johnsonism. Not a realignment on British politics that connects shire Toryism with post-industrial northern towns, but cakeism itself. Promising any and everything to get elected, trusting the details to tomorrow.

In the comment pages, Rob Rinder says that if last week had a lesson, it was probably “it’s better to quit too early than too late”. While Melanie McDonagh notes that as our weather becomes more Mediterranean, so must our attitude towards it – getting up early to avoid it and doing less around noon.

And finally – but don’t tell Melanie – as it’s hot and sunny, we’ve got the scoop on the best ice cream parlours in London, from Amorino to the Soft Serve Society.

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