British PM demonstrates dominance over Tory party

PM doubles down on interpretation of supply shortages as a sign of recovery

From a circular stage in the centre of a custom-made arena, Boris Johnson teased, cajoled and delighted his audience with a performance that was as much a victory rally and a comedy turn as it was a party conference speech.

It was also a demonstration of his dominance over a Conservative Party that has reshaped itself around him and of the extraordinary political style that has driven his success.

Earlier in the week Johnson’s ministers addressed the conference in a smaller auditorium with little atmosphere, often to meagre crowds. Now they looked up at their leader like courtiers around their king, grinning uneasily as he tossed a little banter towards one or other of their colleagues.

Johnson doubled down on his interpretation of Britain’s fuel, food and labour shortages as a sign that the economy was recovering, telling businesses that they must increase wages to attract British workers. He promised a high-wage, high-productivity economy in place of low wages and low productivity fuelled by high immigration.


The problem, as every business group and economist in the country has pointed out, is that increasing wages will not on its own increase productivity. If you pay someone more to do the same job in the same way it is more likely to drive up prices, fuelling inflation that could in turn see interest rates rising.

Although Johnson blames EU membership and the free movement of people for Britain’s low-wage economy, its low productivity dates back decades and owes more to under-investment in skills and technology.

Supply chain

The prime minister thinks it is up to business to fix Britain’s supply chain problems, but a YouGov poll on Wednesday found that six in 10 people think it is the government’s responsibility. Even among Conservatives, a plurality agree that it is Johnson’s job to deal with the problem.

Johnson found no time in his speech to acknowledge that millions of the poorest people in Britain would on Wednesday see their incomes cut by £20 a week. The removal of the coronavirus uplift to the universal credit benefit will, according to some estimates, drive almost a million people into poverty.

Within the security cordon in Manchester, Conservative activists spent the week amusing themselves and one another in the warm glow of their political success. But the atmosphere outside is getting chillier as gas prices reach record levels, wages fail to keep up with price rises and businesses struggle with shortages exacerbated by Brexit.