BY BHARTI SANSKRITI
This Pandemic is a perfect lesson of what can go wrong when a long ill system meets with an inept political leadership at a very crucial national-international juncture (Brexit). The future of Britain will get shaped by the seriousness (realistic policies, well-thought action, and cautious planning) and willingness of political leadership to transform deteriorating Britain. For the upcoming years, that will decide the fate of Britain in both the domestic and international context.
Before critically analysing what Johnson has in his ‘Magic cap’ for Britain’s future, it becomes significant to understand whether he has consolidated enough political power, general acceptance, and widespread legitimacy or not. The backing of strong political measures by the democratic institutions and stakeholders gives more credibility to the government and lessens the anxieties and fears of the citizens. The popularity of the US-born British Prime Minister and a Conservative Party leader, Boris Johnson, has sharply declined recently. It is evident by the BloombergQuint report in which Tim Ross and Kitty Donaldson show us that a poll conducted by YouGov Plc indicates that the government’s fortunes had been reversed now, with 49% disapproving, and only 32% saying they approve of his leadership. This is primarily because of the unexpectedly poor response in handling the COVID pandemic.
Many experts indicate that the problems that Britain is facing are so multidimensional that any unilateral approach to the challenges will give half-baked and incompetent results. The demands of present-day Britain can’t just be narrowed down to a better NHS or more incentives for investment, but it requires thorough and cautious planning as well as substantial interventions and implementations aiming at systemic changes.
Though there are many challenges, the economic situation of Britain is the most dwindling one. At the economic front, it became the worst-hit G 7 country, well evident by the 20.4 percent decline in GDP during the April-June quarter. It fuels the possibility of Britain’s present century ‘worst recession.’ But what worsens this situation is the fixed deadline and emphasis on a Brexit negotiation at the end of 2020. It gives London a little time to negotiate as per its aspiration, which can also add up to the economic damage during the COVID crisis. In this situation, Britain also has to pay £30bn to the European Union, which is an additional burden to Britain’s economy.
In late June 2020, he promised a £5bn “New Deal,” which he hopes will help revive the country’s economic situation post-pandemic which includes hospital maintenance, road projects and a school rebuilding programme. In addition to that, Infrastructure projects in England would be “accelerated”, and there would be an investment in green buses and new broadband (digital infrastructure). The designing of the ‘new deal’ is on the same lines with former US president Franklin D Roosevelt’s 1933 New Deal, which is famously known for helping America in rebuilding after the Great Depression.
His overemphasis is on ‘Build, Build, Build.’ This so-called ‘new deal’ was not as bright and new as it seems. Confederation of British Industry and Labour Party criticise that he was not focussing on saving enough jobs. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also challenges the newness as well as denies that it is much of a deal. He adds that “What’s been announced amounts to less than £100 per person.”
The BBC’s economic editor, Faisal Islam, points out that nothing is ‘really new’ in the plans, but can be treated as a pledge from the Treasury to “speed up capital investment that has already been announced and tolerate higher levels of debt”. On the same lines of ‘Build, Build, Build’, he said ‘Jobs.Jobs.Jobs’ when asked about the lost jobs and his plans to tackle unemployment while clearly stating that there is no going back to austerity.
His continuing use of ‘levelling up’, a slogan which was one of the most used slogans in his election campaigning as “too many parts” are “left behind, neglected, and unloved.” This also raises questions about whether Boris is even understanding the gravity and seriousness of the country’s situation and formulating beneficial policies.
Johnson reaffirmed the commitment to plant over 75,000 acres of trees (about 30,000 hectares) every year by 2025. Though Tree-planting is a devolved issue in the UK, it would be interesting to see how England acts on this promise in the future as the tree-planting record in England is particularly poor as compared with other European countries. A £40 million green recovery challenge fund will help in stopping the biodiversity loss and tackle climate change through local conservation projects, creating up to 5,000 jobs.
To conclude, it seems like Johnson is just playing Political Gimmicks and seriously lack a knack for details and relevant solutions. His announcements were only a little better version of the promises done in his election Manifesto. It won’t be too far-fetched to argue that his cabinet is most probably filled with “yes people,” therefore curbing the little scope of broader and more sensitive solutions and policies to the present times. Though painting a picture that everything Boris is saying is entirely wrong would also be flawed. Still, it is clear that his new announcements were either refashioning of the old ones or merely repeating the old ones with little or no new policies hence lacking the manifestation of the peculiarity of the pandemic in his ‘new’ plans. A holistic solution which integrates the new challenges of society, identity and lifestyle with medical, educational and economic infrastructure is yet to be seen.