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Absolute Priorities

It has been a long while since I’ve blogged on this site, partly because there has been so much going on but also partly because we’ve been tweeting and meeting instead. However, with the pause for breath induced by a combination of the EU and Easter, it is time to share some thoughts. Today we heard Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, once an arch-remainer and moderate, now a hard-line leaver, say that the government’s “absolute priority” was to leave the EU before the European elections. Up until now, it has been hard to ignore Labour’s charges that the government is obsessed with party management issues rather than the national interest, but Hunt’s comments make it explicit. Does the government really believe that avoiding the Euros is the biggest priority in sorting out the Brexit mess, let alone the other challenges facing the country? Yes, the elections will cost over £100 million to hold, not obviously a major factor when set against the £1.5 billion wasted on preparations for a No Deal Brexit which Parliament has legislated to prevent. Yes, the elections will be embarrassing for the Conservative Party – elections sometimes are. But really. Hunt’s comment says it all. He is in Japan where the government has repeatedly warned that Brexit will be a disaster and whose warning that its companies will disinvest have been dismissed by Brexiteers – until they come true, which in the case of Honda and Panasonic they have. Back home, over 55% of voters now want to stay in the EU. Inward investment has slumped. UK growth is slowing. Schools and local councils are facing cuts. Costs of projects like HS2 and Crossrail continue to soar. On a bigger canvas, issues like the impact and potential of AI, the rise of antibiotic resistance, the need to invest in microbiology and nanotechnology, the lack of social mobility, the danger from Putin and the challenge of China’s outbound investment spree coming to an end all go unaddressed.

This is a government that seems to have given up trying to govern. That is, I believe, a first. Whether yo love them or hate them, the Tories have always been seen as a party of competence, or at the very least, of basic economic management. These days, the Conservative Party has become an embarrassment to the nation. Maybe it can recover its poise, throw out the ERG and start to listen again to business, to experts, to entrepreneurs, to scientists, to doctors, teachers and the young. Maybe. But time is fast running out.

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