Boris Johnson, the self styled champion of liberal and conservative views, has failed. Since his premiership, Johnson has abandoned conservative values for ideologically devoid policies. These have become more prominent and harder to ignore. National insurance is being increased, the statist handling Britain’s obesity crisis and the introduction of two anti-democratic bills show Johnson is not acting in a conservative fashion, and more in line with the socialist principles many feared from Jeremy Corbyn.
The worst example of this is the recent 1.25% rise in national insurance. This is a policy that is not rooted in a belief in Conservative economics, and Boris Johnson knows this. This policy completely contradicts the 2019 Conservative manifesto. While the pandemic has made it more difficult to keep promises of ‘levelling up’, and the foreign aid commitment has already been altered, the whole document shouldn’t be thrown out. The government was elected on it, after all.
This rise disproportionately affects young people, families and small businesses. The average 25 year old will now pay an extra £12,600 over their working lives, compared to pensioners who will pay nothing extra. Families who have been struggling during the pandemic will face a £100 yearly increase in National Insurance.
Many industry experts are also against this move. The British Chambers of Commerce has described the move as “a drag anchor on growth”, and the CBI said that “now is not the time for tax increases”. Finally, the chief economist at the Institute of Directors said that the plan demonstrated a lack of understanding of difficulties small businesses face. And this is true. Small businesses, who have been decimated by three lockdowns will find hiring staff more expensive, therefore harming Britain’s recovery.
Raising taxes is highly unconservative. It enlarges the size of the state, and takes a greater share of earnings from those who need it, especially after the pandemic.
This is not the only example. Johnson has embarked on a quest to solve Britain’s obesity crisis through methods of control. A pilot app is currently being tested, which would see participants report their shopping and exercise habits to the government. Participants would then receive rewards for meeting health goals. This move is highly interventionist, as it allows state access to private shopping and health data.
Accepting people’s right to a private life from the government is a key conservative principle, and requiring people to voluntarily submit their shopping and health data to the government flies directly in the face of this. The government should never be asking citizens to turn over this data, as it could be used for control. Evidence for this comes from the fact that Johnson got the idea for this from the dictatorship in Singapore, and officials have used phrases like “rewards linked to compliance with NHS checks”.
This scheme is not only patronising, but suggests “compliance” with state objectives, akin to how a dictatorship would act. Johnson should return to his libertarian roots and search for more effective measures. An NHS backed review found that health apps similar to the ones the government is proposing suggest they are actually bad for people’s health, as they don’t meet health standards nor keep people’s data secure. There is no reason why a state health app would perform any better.
Johnson has also strayed from the conservative path by introducing the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. While justice reform is needed, inside the bill is a vicious clampdown on protest. New restrictions would be introduced to increase police power such as time and noise limits being set on protests. Most worryingly, it will become an offence to cause public nuisance “intentionally or recklessly”. While extreme protests like Extinction Rebellion go too far, this bill makes dangerous steps toward criminalising all protests.
Finally, the reform to the Official Secrets Act would harm the freedom of the press.This reform would make “unauthorised disclosures” of sensitive information illegal, with no exception for journalists. This means they would no longer be able to leak information to the public, losing a vital tool to holding the government to account.
Both of these damage freedom of speech. While conservatives are quick to criticise cancel culture they forget about the damage right wing governments are doing to various freedoms. Stifling protest and the free media is not a conservative principle, and only increases the amount of government overreach in people’s lives.
By pushing through these acts, Johnson is no longer acting in a conservative fashion. These examples all increase the size of the state to unnecessary levels, and increase the control the government has on people’s lives. If Johnson doesn’t return to conservative values quickly, he will continue to alienate his support, and lose his historic majority. That would make for a very poor legacy indeed.
Words by Kieran Burt