The Prime Minister’s first gamble for the legacy of his Tory Party
One has to give ‘gamble’ and ‘legacy’ the status of ‘pertinent words’ for Britain’s Conservative Party of now and ever. In regards to where these words may apply, there are several current major peacetime issues from which to choose. Brexit and climate change name just two, for the Prime Minister is apparently bent on another liberal mission: levelling up the country, that typical Tory dream. Whatever one may say about the modern inertia and austerity of the Cameron era, the Conservative Party ended the last decade and started this one with a marvellous majority and set of challenges to ponder and get stuck into in the pursuit of a renewed legacy. Remarkably, the Tory graph since 2010 shoots upwards overall and the Party is now in Government with challenges on its plate which may serve another decade of pretty safe rule. Like a successful business, this Tory Party, led by “f**k business” Boris Johnson, has somehow adapted to Britain and continues to prosper as Labour withers away in political aridity. The fact that the challenges of 2010 now seem distant and rather moved from these new ones cannot, dare we say, mean the Tory Party gave a pretty good crack at overcoming them? A decade is a breeze in the pages of the studious historian, however hard it is to actually live in for those at the time, and the history of the lazy reader will be clear. 2010-2020: Conservative Party. Continuous. Stronger at end than at start. Apparently united. Different challenges at end. Stronger to face them. Liberals defeated. Labour diseased.
However, akin to the words of some pages in Butterfield’s attack on the whig interpretation of history, one must note that while the Tory Party is behind much of their change in fortunes, the intentions are dubious, with figures like Cameron not intending the Brexit that revitalised the ambitions of figures like Johnson, who now has an interesting mandate to level up the country under a Conservative guise.
Campaigning for Brexit was Boris Johnson’s first big gamble for the premiership. It paid off. He may think he has already made it in life, but the life of true conservatism is at ‘renew or break’ - will the North be improved to bolster conservatism or will conservatism be degraded in the effort to bolster the North? Yesterday, the Prime Minister made his first big gamble.
First move. Yesterday was a day of transport, with HS2 given the northward Boris thumb and £5 billion pledged for bus and cycling services in England. Like many shifts great and small in the history of the Conservative Party, the parliamentary squabble around HS2 presented itself as a projection of the divisions within the Tory machine, which one can only imagine were more incendiary behind the scenes. Now, however, it has a honeymooning Prime Minster with a stylish majority. Sans the political jargon, this means: “if you’re a Conservative, you best agree with the Prime Minister”. Johnson seems to be getting projects on the go before they can be objected (quite unlike May), so we may see more big announcements from Number 10 in the coming weeks. For the conscientious reader of realpolitik, the £5 billion cycling and bus injection sweetens the pill for the now lowkey dissenters.
Nevertheless, the nod to HS2 is a gamble. Its costs have spiralled out of control and management has been a farce. A new special minister will be responsible for its smooth running. In the event of continued problems, this will provide a direct link between the Government and poor HS2 performance. It will also continue reliance on London, binding the North to it and initially only connecting the two biggest cities in the country. Indeed, the fruits of HS2 may not be ripe until after 2040; during the interval, existing transport links will be in need of improvement. Of all this, I think the greatest problem for the people is the continued reliance on London. On the topic of risks and long-term projects, why not make the North more self-reliant and connect the North with the North? This has been a suggestion in a previous article on this website on the issue of HS2, as well as the desires of some Northerners themselves, and it is one with which I do not only sympathise, but agree. It also puts responsibility in the court of the North, especially if the Prime Minister empowers local authorities on the project, but will boost the Government’s reputation in decision-making if it goes well.
Opted for in the face of theoretically better alternatives, the flight to HS2 may be testament to the Prime Minister’s realisation that levelling up the country will be a monumental task for the Government. If it goes well, the Prime Minister is one step closer to being championed in the history books for renewing the legacy of his Party and railroading greater prosperity to the North of England by a Tory train. If it goes poorly, it may become one factor behind our reflections on what might have been and how bluer the 2020s should have turned.
Next stop: Scotland or Wales?