Levelling up? Freedom Day? The dark reality behind sloganeering populism

The debate about ‘levelling up’ prompts this summary of the Johnson government.

The Johnson government excels at ‘sloganeering populism’: ‘Get Brexit Done’, ‘Global Britain’, ‘Freedom Day’… and now ‘Levelling up’.

The rhetoric projects energy and is meant to show a governmentt devoted to ‘the people’s priorities’.

Behind the rhetoric, one might hope for some substance, and for at least the beginnings of a coherent policy agenda. And yet – be it the relationship with the EU or the wider world, COVID or tackling inequality – there is nothing.

On each of these issues, the Govt has shown itself to be unable to make choices. It seems paralysed. Whenever it moves in one direction, it backtracks.

The Tory Party (and in this it is not alone…) is internally divided and devoid of ideas.

This void is cast into ever sharper relief, when it is juxtaposed with the energy with which the government has pursued what has come to look like its central aim.

Its central aim is the pursuit of power. It seeks to ‘take back control’ not only from the EU, but also from Parliament, the civil service and the judiciary.

It uses its patronage and power to dominate the media. Cronyism and corruption are rife (and in the COVID crisis, have cost many thousands of lives).

As sites of accountability disappear, the only constraint on its power is the popular vote.
The first past the post system is already in its favour. And it is taking steps (eg on voter ID, the Fixed Term Parliaments Act and constituency boundaries) to load it still further.

The ‘sloganeering populism’ is intended to do the rest. That is now coupled with a relentless culture war – a ‘stoking of division’. This strategy works (in electoral terms) so long as the minority which supports the government is ‘large enough’.

In short: They say that they are doing fine things ‘for you’. But look at the evidence. They have done a lot more for themselves than they have done for anybody else.

Originally tweeted by Phil Syrpis (@syrpis) on 16/07/2021.