The Irish Times view on Boris Johnson’s priorities: New Tory, old Tory

With the wind in his sails from the vaccine rollout and a feel-good boost in last week’s elections, Johnson is stepping firmly onto Labour ground

The Queen’s Speech on Tuesday, setting out the British government priorities, was determinedly looking forward to the next election, casting Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party in its new interventionist-light, socially caring role. Photograph: Jessica Taylor/ AFP via Getty Images

The Queen’s Speech on Tuesday, setting out the British government priorities, was determinedly looking forward to the next election, casting Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party in its new interventionist-light, socially caring role. Photograph: Jessica Taylor/ AFP via Getty Images

 

‘My government will level up opportunities across all parts of the United Kingdom, ” Queen Elizabeth declared from her throne in the House of Lords,” Guardian columnist Rafael Behr reported with delicious irony. “Levelling up”, reviving the run-down “red wall” – newly-Tory constituencies in the English north and midlands – is Boris Johnson’s central political challenge now that lockdown is easing and Brexit is firmly in the rear-view mirror.

Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech, setting out government priorities, looked forward to the next election, casting Johnson’s Conservative Party in its supposed new role as interventionist-light, socially-caring, NHS-supporting converts. How convinced voters will be is yet to be seen, but with Johnson the substance has never mattered as much as the bravado. With the wind in his sails from the vaccine rollout and its feel-good boost in last week’s elections, he stepped firmly onto Labour ground.

The pitch to the red wall focused on subsidising lifelong learning and training, a hint – that was all – at a new willingness to splash state aid, and a boost to house-building by easing onerous planning regulation. But will training bring jobs in the absence of substantial industrial investment? It is also not clear that regulation is the main problem faced by builders in the north, while there is a danger that deregulation is likely to demolish layers of local democracy – a form of accountability that voters only last week seem to have strongly favoured. And where was the bill to improve the regulation, particularly safety, of social housing, promised after the Grenfell fire in London?

The speech made a passing reference – “proposals . . . will be brought forward” – to the long- promised reform in the social care system. How the UK will meet the needs of its elderly, an issue brought into focus by the neglect of care homes during the pandemic, had been championed by Johnson on his elevation to prime minister, but it appeared again that Treasury concerns about cost implications have long-fingered reform.

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